Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: This World Is Taboo
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 "This World Is Taboo" ***

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



                         Transcriber's note:
  Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright
                   on this publication was renewed.


                              THIS WORLD
                               IS TABOO


                                  by
                           MURRAY LEINSTER



                           ACE BOOKS, INC.
               23 West 47th Street, New York 36, N. Y.

       *       *       *       *       *



THIS WORLD IS TABOO

1


The little Med Ship came out of overdrive and the stars were strange
and the Milky Way seemed unfamiliar. Which, of course, was because the
Milky Way and the local Cepheid marker-stars were seen from an
unaccustomed angle and a not-yet-commonplace pattern of varying
magnitudes.

But Calhoun grunted in satisfaction. There was a banded sun off to
port, which was good. A breakout at no more than sixty light-hours
from one's destination wasn't bad, in a strange sector of the galaxy
and after three light-years of journeying blind.

"Arise and shine, Murgatroyd," said Calhoun. "Comb your whiskers. Get
set to astonish the natives!"

A sleepy, small, shrill voice said: "_Chee!_"

Murgatroyd the _tormal_ came crawling out of the small cubbyhole which
was his own. He blinked at Calhoun.

"We're due to land shortly," Calhoun observed. "You will impress the
local inhabitants. I will get unpopular. According to the records,
there's been no Med Ship inspection here for twelve standard years.
And that was practically no inspection, to judge by the report."

Murgatroyd said: "_Chee-chee!_"

He began to make his toilet, first licking his right-hand whiskers and
then his left. Then he stood up and shook himself and looked
interestedly at Calhoun. _Tormals_ are companionable small animals.
They are charmed when somebody speaks to them. They find great, deep
satisfaction in imitating the actions of humans, as parrots and
mynahs and parakeets imitate human speech. But _tormals_ have certain
valuable, genetically transmitted talents which make them much more
valuable than mere companions or pets.

Calhoun got a light-reading for the banded sun. It could hardly be an
accurate measure of distance, but it was a guide.

"Hold on to something, Murgatroyd!" he said.

Murgatroyd watched. He saw Calhoun make certain gestures which
presaged discomfort. He popped back into his cubbyhole. Calhoun threw
the overdrive switch and the Med Ship flicked back into that
questionable state of being in which velocities of hundreds of times
that of light are possible. The sensation of going into overdrive was
unpleasant. A moment later, the sensation of coming out was no less
so. Calhoun had experienced it often enough, and still didn't like it.

The sun Weald burned huge and terrible in space. It was close, now.
Its disk covered half a degree of arc.

"Very neat," observed Calhoun. "Weald Three is our port, Murgatroyd.
The plane of the ecliptic would be ... Hm...."

He swung the outside electron telescope, picked up a nearby bright
object, enlarged its image to show details, and checked it against the
local star-pilot. He calculated a moment. The distance was too short
for even the briefest of overdrive hops, but it would take time to get
there on solar-system drive.

He thumbed down the communicator button and spoke into a microphone.

"Med Ship _Aesclipus Twenty_ reporting arrival and asking coordinates
for landing," he said matter-of-factly. "Purpose of landing is
planetary health inspection. Our mass is fifty tons, standard. We
should arrive at a landing position in something under four hours.
Repeat. Med Ship _Aesclipus Twenty_...."

He finished the regular second transmission and made coffee for
himself while he waited for an answer. Murgatroyd came out for a cup
of coffee for himself. Murgatroyd adored coffee. In minutes he held a
tiny cup in a furry small paw and sipped gingerly at the hot liquid.

A voice came out of the communicator:

"_Aesclipus Twenty_, repeat your identification."

Calhoun went to the control board.

"_Aesclipus Twenty_," he said patiently, "is a Med Ship, sent by the
Interstellar Medical Service to make a planetary health inspection on
Weald. Check with your public health authorities. This is the first
Med Ship visit in twelve standard years, I believe--which is
inexcusable. But your health authorities will know all about it. Check
with them."

The voice said truculently:

"What was your last port?"

Calhoun named it. This was not his home sector, but Sector Twelve had
gotten into a very bad situation. Some of its planets had gone
unvisited for as long as twenty years, and twelve between inspections
was almost commonplace. Other sectors had been called on to help it
catch up.

Calhoun was one of the loaned Med Ship men, and because of the
emergency he'd been given a list of half a dozen planets to be
inspected one after another, instead of reporting back to sector
headquarters after each visit. He'd had minor troubles before with
landing-grid operators in Sector Twelve.

So he was very patient. He named the planet last inspected, the one
from which he'd set out for Weald Three. The voice from the
communicator said sharply:

"What port before that?"

Calhoun named the one before the last.

"Don't drive any closer," said the voice harshly, "or you'll be
destroyed!"

Calhoun said coldly, "Listen, my fine feathered friend! I'm from the
Interstellar Medical Service. You get in touch with planetary health
services immediately! Remind them of the Interstellar Medical
Inspection Agreement, signed on Tralee two hundred and forty standard
years ago. Remind them that if they do not cooperate in medical
inspection that I can put your planet under quarantine and your space
commerce will be cut off like that!

"No ship will be cleared for Weald from any other planet in the galaxy
until there has been a health inspection! Things have pretty well gone
to pot so far as the Med Service in this sector is concerned, but it's
being straightened up. I'm helping straighten it! I give you twenty
minutes to clear this! Then I am coming in, and if I'm not landed a
quarantine goes on! Tell your health authorities that!"

Silence. Calhoun clicked off and poured himself another cup of coffee.
Murgatroyd held out his cup for a refill. Calhoun gave it to him.

"I hate to put on an official hat, Murgatroyd," he said, annoyed, "but
there are some people who demand it. The rule is, never get official
if you can help it, but when you must, out-official the official who's
officialing you."

Murgatroyd said "_Chee!_" and sipped at his cup.

Calhoun checked the course of the Med Ship. It bore on through space.
There were tiny noises from the communicator. There were whisperings
and rustlings and the occasional strange and sometimes beautiful
musical notes whose origin is yet obscure, but which, since they are
carried by electromagnetic radiation of wildly varying wave lengths,
are not likely to be the fabled music of the spheres.

In fifteen minutes a different voice came from the speaker.

"Med Ship _Aesclipus_! Med Ship _Aesclipus_!"

Calhoun answered and the voice said anxiously:

"Sorry about the challenge, but we have the blueskin problem always
with us. We have to be extremely careful! Will you come in, please?"

"I'm on my way," said Calhoun.

"The planetary health authorities," said the voice, more anxiously
still, "are very anxious to be cooperative. We need Med Service help!
We lose a lot of sleep over the blueskin! Could you tell us the name
of the last Med Ship to land here, and its inspector, and when that
inspection was made? We want to look up the record of the event to be
able to assist you in every possible way."

"He's lying," Calhoun told Murgatroyd, "but he's more scared than
hostile."

He picked up the order folio on Weald Three. He gave the information
about the last Med Ship visit.

"What?" he asked, "is a blueskin?"

He'd read the folio on Weald, of course, but as the ship swam onward
through emptiness he went through it again. The last medical
inspection had been only perfunctory. Twelve years earlier--instead of
three--a Med Ship had landed on Weald. There had been official
conferences with health officials. There was a report on the birth
rate, the death rate, the anomaly rate, and a breakdown of all
reported communicable diseases. But that was all. There were no
special comments and no overall picture.

Presently Calhoun found the word in a Sector dictionary, where words
of only local usage were to be found:

     "_Blueskin: Colloquial term for a person recovered from a plague
     which left large patches of blue pigment irregularly distributed
     over the body. Especially, inhabitants of Dara. The condition is
     said to be caused by a chronic, nonfatal form of Dara plague and
     has been said to be noninfectious, though this is not certain. The
     etiology of Dara plague has not been worked out. The blueskin
     condition is hereditary but not a genetic modification, as markings
     appear in non-Mendelian distributions_."

Calhoun puzzled over it. Nobody could have read the entire Sector
directory, even with unlimited leisure during travel between solar
systems. Calhoun hadn't tried. But now he went laboriously through
indices and cross-references while the ship continued to travel
onward.

He found no other reference to blueskins. He looked up Dara. It was
listed as an inhabited planet, some four hundred years colonized, with
a landing-grid and, at the time the main notice was written out, a
flourishing interstellar commerce. But there was a memo, evidently
added to the entry in some change of editions: "_Since plague, special
license from Med Service is required for landing._"

That was all. Absolutely all.

The communicator said suavely:

"Med Ship _Aesclipus Twenty_! Come in on vision, please!"

Calhoun went to the control board and threw on vision.

"Well, what now?" he demanded.

His screen lighted. A bland face looked out at him.

"We have--ah--verified your statements," said the third voice from
Weald. "Just one more item. Are you alone in your ship?"

"Of course," said Calhoun, frowning.

"Quite alone?" insisted the voice.

"Obviously!" said Calhoun.

"No other living creature?" insisted the voice again. "Of--oh!" said
Calhoun, annoyed. He called over his shoulder. "Murgatroyd! Come
here!"

Murgatroyd hopped to his lap and gazed interestedly at the screen. The
bland face changed remarkably. The voice changed even more.

"Very good!" it said. "Very, very good! Blueskins do not have
_tormals_! You are Med Service! By all means come in! Your coordinates
will be...."

Calhoun wrote them down. He clicked off the communicator again and
growled to Murgatroyd, "So I might have been a blueskin, eh? And
you're my passport, because only Med Ships have members of your tribe
aboard! What the hell's the matter, Murgatroyd? They act like they
think somebody's trying to get down on their planet with a load of
plague germs!"

He grumbled to himself for minutes. The life of a Med Ship man is not
exactly a sinecure, at best. It means long periods in empty space in
overdrive, which is absolute and deadly tedium. Then two or three days
aground, checking official documents and statistics, and asking
questions to see how many of the newest medical techniques have
reached this planet or that, and the supplying of information about
such as have not arrived.

Then the lifting out to space for long periods of tedium, to repeat
the process somewhere else. Med Ships carry only one man because two
could not stand the close contact without quarreling with each other.
But Med Ships do carry _tormals_, like Murgatroyd, and a _tormal_ and
a man can get along indefinitely, like a man and a dog. It is a highly
unequal friendship, but it seems to be satisfactory to both.

Calhoun was very much annoyed with the way the Med Service had been
operated in Sector Twelve. He was one of many men at work to correct
the results of incompetence in directing Med Service in this sector.
But it is always disheartening to have to labor at making up for
somebody else's blundering, when there is so much new work that needs
to be done.

The condition shown by the landing-grid suspicions was a case in
point. Blueskins were people who inherited a splotchy skin
pigmentation from other people who'd survived a plague. Weald plainly
maintained a one-planet quarantine against them. But a quarantine is
normally an emergency measure. The Med Service should have taken over,
wiped out the need for a quarantine, and then lifted it. It hadn't
been done.

Calhoun fumed to himself.

The world of Weald Three grew brighter and brighter and became a disk.
The disk had icecaps and a reasonable proportion of land and water
surface. The ship decelerated, voices notifying observation from the
surface, and the little ship came to a stop some five planetary
diameters out from solidity. The landing field's force-field locked on
to it, and its descent began.

The business of landing was all very familiar, from the blue rim which
appeared at the limb of the planet from one diameter out, to the
singular flowing-apart of the surface features as the ship sank still
lower. There was the circular landing-grid, rearing skyward for nearly
a mile. It could let down interstellar liners from emptiness and lift
them out to emptiness again, with great convenience and economy for
everyone.

It landed the Med Ship in its center, and there were officials to
greet Calhoun, and he knew in advance the routine part of his visit.
There would be an interview with the planet's chief executive, by
whatever title he was called. There would be a banquet. Murgatroyd
would be petted by everybody. There would be painful efforts to
impress Calhoun with the splendid conduct of public health matters on
Weald. He would be told much scandal.

He might find one man, somewhere, who passionately labored to advance
the welfare of his fellow humans by finding out how to keep them well
or, failing that, how to make them well when they got sick. And in two
days, or three, Calhoun would be escorted back to the landing-grid,
and lifted out to space, and he'd spend long empty days in overdrive
and land somewhere else to do the whole thing all over again.

It all happened exactly as he expected, with one exception. Every
human being he met on Weald wanted to talk about blueskins. Blueskins
and the idea of blueskins obsessed everyone. Calhoun listened without
asking questions until he had the picture of what blueskins meant to
the people who talked of them. Then he knew there would be no use
asking questions at random.

Nobody mentioned ever having seen a blueskin. Nobody mentioned a
specific event in which a blueskin had at any named time taken part.
But everybody was afraid of blueskins. It was a patterned, an
inculcated, a stage-directed fixed idea. And it found expression in
shocked references to the vileness, the depravity, the monstrousness
of the blueskin inhabitants of Dara, from whom Weald must at all costs
be protected.

It did not make sense. So Calhoun listened politely until he found an
undistinguished medical man who wanted some special information about
gene selection as practised halfway across the galaxy. He invited that
man to the Med Ship, where he supplied the information not hitherto
available. He saw his guest's eyes shine a little with that joyous awe
a man feels when he finds out something he has wanted long and badly
to know.

"Now," said Calhoun, "tell me something? Why does everybody on this
planet hate the inhabitants of Dara? It's light-years away. Nobody
claims to have suffered in person from them. Why make a point of
hating them?"

The Wealdian doctor grimaced.

"They've blue patches on their skins. They're different from us. So
they can be pictured as a danger and our political parties can make an
election issue out of competing for the privilege of defending us from
them. They had a plague on Dara, once. They're accused of still having
it ready for export."

"Hm," said Calhoun. "The story is that they want to spread contagion
here, eh? Doesn't anybody"--his tone was sardonic--"doesn't anybody
urge that they be massacred as an act of piety?"

"Yes-s-s-s," admitted the doctor reluctantly. "It's mentioned in
political speeches."

"But how's it rationalized?" demanded Calhoun. "What's the argument to
make pigment-patches involve moral and physical degradation, as I'm
assured is the case?"

"In the public schools," said the doctor, "the children are taught
that blueskins are now carriers of the disease they survived--three
generations ago! That they hate everybody who isn't a blueskin. That
they are constantly scheming to introduce their plague here so most of
us will die and the rest will become blueskins. That's beyond
rationalizing. It can't be true, but it's not safe to doubt it."

"Bad business," said Calhoun coldly. "That sort of thing usually costs
lives in the end. It could lead to massacre!"

"Perhaps it has, in a way," said the doctor unhappily. "One doesn't
like to think about it." He paused. "Twenty years ago there was a
famine on Dara. There were crop failures. The situation must have been
very bad: They built a spaceship.

"They've no use for such things normally, because no nearby planet
will deal with them or let them land. But they built a spaceship and
came here. They went in orbit around Weald. They asked to trade for
shiploads of food. They offered any price in heavy metals--gold,
platinum, irridium, and so on. They talked from orbit by vision
communicators. They could be seen to be blueskins. You can guess what
happened!"

"Tell me," said Calhoun.

"We armed ships in a hurry," admitted the doctor. "We chased their
spaceship back to Dara. We hung in space off the planet. We told them
we'd blast their world from pole to pole if they ever dared take to
space again. We made them destroy their one ship, and we watched on
visionscreens as it was done."

"But you gave them food?"

"No," said the doctor ashamedly. "They were blueskins."

"How bad was the famine?"

"Who knows? Any number may have starved! And we kept a squadron of
armed ships in their skies for years--to keep them from spreading the
plague, we said. And some of us believed it!"

The doctor's tone was purest irony.

"Lately," he said, "there's been a move for economy in our government.
Simultaneously, we began to have a series of overabundant crops. The
government had to buy the excess grain to keep the price up. Retired
patrol ships, built to watch over Dara, were available for storage
space. We filled them up with grain and sent them out into orbit.
They're there now, hundreds of thousands or millions of tons of
grain!"

"And Dara?"

The doctor shrugged. He stood up.

"Our hatred of Dara," he said, again ironically, "has produced one
thing. Roughly halfway between here and Dara there's a two-planet
solar system, Orede. There's a usable planet there. It was proposed to
build an outpost of Weald there, against blueskins. Cattle were landed
to run wild and multiply and make a reason for colonists to settle
there.

"They did, but nobody wants to move near to blueskins! So Orede stayed
uninhabited until a hunting party, shooting wild cattle, found an
outcropping of heavy-metal ore. So now there's a mine there. And
that's all. A few hundred men work the mine at fabulous wages. You may
be asked to check on their health. But not Dara's!"

"I see," said Calhoun, frowning.

The doctor moved toward the Med Ship's exit port.

"I answered your questions," he said grimly. "But if I talked to
anyone else as I've done to you, I'd be lucky only to be driven into
exile!"

"I shan't give you away," said Calhoun. He did not smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the doctor had gone, Calhoun said deliberately, "Murgatroyd, you
should be grateful that you're a _tormal_ and not a man. There's
nothing about being a _tormal_ to make you ashamed!"

Then he grimly changed his garments for the full-dress uniform of the
Med Service. There was to be a banquet at which he would sit next to
the planet's chief executive and hear innumerable speeches about the
splendor of Weald. Calhoun had his own, strictly Med Service opinion
of the planet's latest and most boasted-of achievement. It was a domed
city in the polar regions, where nobody ever had to go outdoors.

He was less than professionally enthusiastic about the moving streets,
and much less than approving of the dream broadcasts which supplied
hypnotic, sleep-inducing rhythms to anybody who chose to listen to
them. The price was that while asleep one would hear high praise of
commercial products, and might believe them when awake.

But it was not Calhoun's function to criticize when it could be
avoided. Med Service had been badly managed in Sector Twelve. So at
the banquet Calhoun made a brief and diplomatic address in which he
temperately praised what could be praised, and did not mention
anything else.

The chief executive followed him. As head of the government he paid
some tribute to the Med Service. But then he reminded his hearers
proudly of the high culture, splendid health, and remarkable
prosperity of the planet since his political party took office. This,
he said, despite the need to be perpetually on guard against the
greatest and most immediate danger to which any world in all the
galaxy was exposed.

He referred to the blueskins, of course. He did not need to tell the
people of Weald what vigilance, what constant watchfulness was
necessary against that race of deprived and malevolent deviants from
the norm of humanity. But Weald, he said with emotion, held aloft the
torch of all that humanity held most dear, and defended not alone the
lives of its people against blueskin contagion, but their noble
heritage of ideals against blueskin pollution.

When he sat down, Calhoun said very politely, "It looks as if some day
it should be practical politics to urge the massacre of all blueskins.
Have you thought of that?"

The chief executive said comfortably, "The idea's been proposed. It's
good politics to urge it, but it would be foolish to carry it out.
People vote against blueskins. Wipe them out, and where'd you be?"

Calhoun ground his teeth--quietly.

There were more speeches. Then a messenger, white-faced, arrived with
a written note for the chief executive. He read it and passed it to
Calhoun. It was from the Ministry of Health. The spaceport reported
that a ship had just broken out from overdrive within the Wealdian
solar system. Its tape-transmitter had automatically signaled its
arrival from the mining planet Orede.

But, having sent off its automatic signal, the ship lay dead in space.
It did not drive toward Weald. It did not respond to signals. It
drifted like a derelict upon no course at all. It seemed ominous, and
since it came from Orede, the planet nearest to Dara of the blueskins,
the health ministry informed the planet's chief executive.

"It'll be blueskins," said that astute person firmly. "They're next
door to Orede. That's who's done this. It wouldn't surprise me if
they'd seeded Orede with their plague, and this ship came from there
to give us warning!"

"There's no evidence for anything of the sort," protested Calhoun. "A
ship simply came out of overdrive and didn't signal further. That's
all!"

"We'll see," said the chief executive ominously. "We'll go to the
spaceport. There we'll get the news as it comes in, and can frame
orders on the latest information."

He took Calhoun by the arm. Calhoun said sharply, "Murgatroyd!"

During the banquet, Murgatroyd had been visiting with the wives of the
higher-up officials. They had enough of their husbands normally,
without listening to their official speeches. Murgatroyd was brought,
his small paunch distended with cakes and coffee and such delicacies
as he'd been plied with. He was half comatose from overfeeding and
overpetting, but he was glad to see Calhoun.

Calhoun held the little creature in his arms as the official groundcar
raced through traffic with screaming sirens claiming the right of way.
It reached the spaceport, where enormous metal girders formed a
monster frame of metal lace against a star-filled sky. The chief
executive strode magnificently into the spaceport offices. There was
no news; the situation remained unchanged.

A ship from Orede had come out of overdrive and lay dead in emptiness.
It did not answer calls. It did not move in space. It floated eerily
in no orbit, going nowhere, doing nothing. And panic was the
consequence.

It seemed to Calhoun that the official handling of the matter
accounted for the terror that he could feel building up. The
unexplained bit of news was on the air all over the planet Weald.
There was nobody awake of all the world's population who did not
believe that there was a new danger in the sky. Nobody doubted that it
came from blueskins. The treatment of the news was precisely
calculated to keep alive the hatred of Weald for the inhabitants of
the world Dara.

Calhoun put Murgatroyd into the Med Ship and went back to the
spaceport office. A small spaceboat, designed to inspect the circling
grain ships from time to time, was already aloft. The landing-grid had
thrust it swiftly out most of the way. Now it droned and drove on
sturdily toward the enigmatic ship.

Calhoun took no part in the agitated conferences among the officials
and news reporters at the spaceport. But he listened to the talk about
him. As the investigating small ship drew nearer to the deathly-still
cargo vessel, the guesses about the meaning of its breakout and
following silence grew more and more wild.

But, singularly, there was no single suggestion that the mystery might
not be the work of blueskins. Blueskins were scape-goats for all the
fears and all the uneasiness a perhaps over-civilized world developed.

Presently the investigating spaceboat reached the mystery ship and
circled it, beaming queries. No answer. It reported the cargo ship
dark. No lights anywhere on or in it. There were no induction-surges
from even pulsing, idling engines. Delicately, the messenger craft
maneuvered until it touched the silent vessel. It reported that
microphones detected no motion whatever inside.

"Let a volunteer go aboard," commanded the chief executive. "Let him
report what he finds."

A pause. Then the solemn announcement of an intrepid volunteer's name,
from far, far away. Calhoun listened, frowning darkly. This pompous
heroism wouldn't be noticed in the Med Service. It would be routine
behavior.

Suspenseful, second-by-second reports. The volunteer had rocketed
himself across the emptiness between the two again separated ships. He
had opened the airlock from outside. He'd gone in. He'd closed the
outer airlock door. He'd opened the inner. He reported--

The relayed report was almost incoherent, what with horror and
incredulity and the feeling of doom that came upon the volunteer. The
ship was a bulk-cargo ore-carrier, designed to run between Orede and
Weald with cargos of heavy-metal ores and a crew of no more than five
men. There was no cargo in her holds now, though.

Instead, there were men. They packed the ship. They filled the
corridors. They had crawled into every space where a man could find
room to push himself. There were hundreds of them. It was insanity.
And it had been greater insanity still for the ship to have taken off
with so preposterous a load of living creatures.

But they weren't living any longer. The air apparatus had been
designed for a crew of five. It would purify the air for possibly
twenty or more. But there were hundreds of men in hiding as well as in
plain view in the cargo ship from Orede. There were many, many times
more than her air apparatus and reserve tanks could possibly have
taken care of. They couldn't even have been fed during the journey
from Orede to Weald.

But they hadn't starved. Air-scarcity killed them before the ship came
out of overdrive.

A remarkable thing was that there was no written message in the ship's
log which referred to its takeoff. There was no memorandum of the
taking on of such an impossible number of passengers.

"The blueskins did it," said the chief executive of Weald. He was
pale. All about Calhoun men looked sick and shocked and terrified. "It
was the blueskins! We'll have to teach them a lesson!" Then he turned
to Calhoun. "The volunteer who went on that ship--he'll have to stay
there, won't he? He can't be brought back to Weald without bringing
contagion."

Calhoun raged at him.

       *       *       *       *       *



2


There was a certain coldness in the manner of those at the Weald
spaceport when the Med Ship left next morning. Calhoun was not popular
because Weald was scared. It had been conditioned to scare easily,
where blueskins might be involved. Its children were trained to react
explosively when the word _blueskin_ was uttered in their hearing, and
its adults tended to say it when anything causing uneasiness entered
their minds. So a planet-wide habit of irrational response had formed
and was not seen to be irrational because almost everybody had it.

The volunteer who'd discovered the tragedy on the ship from Orede was
safe, though. He'd made a completely conscientious survey of the ship
he'd volunteered to enter and examine. For his courage, he'd have been
doomed but for Calhoun.

The reaction of his fellow citizens was that by entering the ship he
might have become contaminated by blueskin infectious material of the
plague still existed, and _if_ the men in the ship had caught it (but
they certainly hadn't died of it), and _if_ there had been blueskins
on Orede to communicate it (for which there was no evidence), and _if_
blueskins were responsible for the tragedy. Which was at the moment
pure supposition. But Weald feared he might bring death back to Weald
if he were allowed to return.

Calhoun saved his life. He ordered that the guardship admit him to its
airlock, which then was to be filled with steam and chlorine. The
combination would sterilize and even partly eat away his spacesuit,
after which the chlorine and steam should be bled out to space, and
air from the ship let into the lock.

If he stripped off the spacesuit without touching its outer surface,
and reentered the investigating ship while the suit was flung outside
by a man in another spacesuit, handling it with a pole he'd fling
after it, there could be no possible contamination brought back.

Calhoun was quite right, but Weald in general considered that he'd
persuaded the government to take an unreasonable risk.

There were other reasons for disapproving of him. Calhoun had been
unpleasantly frank. The coming of the death-ship stirred to frenzy
those people who believed that all blueskins should be exterminated as
a pious act. They'd appeared on every vision screen, citing not only
the ship from Orede but other incidents which they interpreted as
crimes against Weald.

They demanded that all Wealdian atomic reactors be modified to turn
out fusion-bomb materials while a space fleet was made ready for an
anti-blueskin crusade. They confidently demanded such a rain of fusion
bombs on Dara that no blueskin, no animal, no shred of vegetation, no
fish in the deepest ocean, not even a living virus particle of the
blueskin plague could remain alive on the blueskin world.

One of these vehement orators even asserted that Calhoun agreed that
no other course was possible, speaking for the Interstellar Medical
Service. And Calhoun furiously demanded a chance to deny it by
broadcast, and he made a bitter and indiscreet speech from which a
planet-wide audience inferred that he thought them fools.

He did.

So he was definitely unpopular when his ship lifted from Weald. He'd
curtly given his destination as Orede, from which the death-ship had
come. The landing-grid locked on, raised the small spacecraft until
Weald was a great shining ball below it, and then somehow scornfully
cast him off. The Med Ship was free, in clear space where there was
not enough of a gravitational field to hinder overdrive.

He aimed for his destination, his face very grim. He said savagely,
"Get set, Murgatroyd! Overdrive coming!"

He thumbed down the overdrive button. The universe of stars went out,
while everything living in the ship felt the customary sensations of
dizziness, of nausea, and of a spiraling fall to nothingness. Then
there was silence.

The Med Ship actually moved at a rate which was a preposterous number
of times the speed of light, but it felt absolutely solid, absolutely
firm and fixed. A ship in overdrive feels exactly as if it were buried
deep in the core of a planet. There is no vibration. There is no sign
of anything but solidity and, if one looks out a port, there is only
utter blackness plus an absence of sound fit to make one's eardrums
crack.

But within seconds random tiny noises began. There was a reel and
there were sound-speakers to keep the ship from sounding like a grave.
The reel played and the speakers gave off minute creakings, and
meaningless hums, and very tiny noises of every imaginable sort, all
of which were just above the threshold of the inaudible.

Calhoun fretted. Sector Twelve was in very bad shape. A conscientious
Med Service man would never have let the anti-blueskin obsession go
unmentioned in a report on Weald. Health is not only a physical
affair. There is mental health, also. When mental health goes a
civilization can be destroyed more surely and more terribly than by
any imaginable war or plague germs. A plague kills off those who are
susceptible to it, leaving immunes to build up a world again. But
immunes are the first to be killed when a mass neurosis sweeps a
population.

Weald was definitely a Med Service problem world. Dara was another.
And when hundreds of men jammed themselves into a cargo spaceship
which could not furnish them with air to breathe, and took off and
went into overdrive before the air could fail.... Orede called for no
less of worry.

"I think," said Calhoun dourly, "that I'll have some coffee."

_Coffee_ was one of the words that Murgatroyd recognized. Ordinarily
he stirred immediately on hearing it, and watched the coffeemaker with
bright, interested eyes. He'd even tried to imitate Calhoun's motions
with it, once, and had scorched his paws in the attempt. But this time
he did not move.

Calhoun turned his head. Murgatroyd sat on the floor, his long tail
coiled reflectively about a chair leg. He watched the door of the Med
Ship's sleeping cabin.

"Murgatroyd," said Calhoun. "I mentioned coffee!"

"_Chee!_" shrilled Murgatroyd.

But he continued to look at the door. The temperature was kept lower
in the other cabin, and the look of things was different than the
control compartment. The difference was part of the means by which a
man was able to be alone for weeks on end--alone save for his
_tormal_--without becoming ship-happy.

There were other carefully thought out items in the ship with the same
purpose. But none of them should cause Murgatroyd to stare fixedly and
fascinatedly at the sleeping cabin door. Not when coffee was in the
making!

Calhoun considered. He became angry at the immediate suspicion that
occurred to him. As a Med Service man, he was duty-bound to be
impartial. To be impartial might mean not to side absolutely with
Weald in its enmity to blueskins.

And the people of Weald had refused to help Dara in a time of famine,
and had blockaded that pariah world for years afterward. And they had
other reasons for hating the people they'd treated badly. It was
entirely reasonable for some fanatic on Weald to consider that Calhoun
must be killed lest he be of help to the blueskins Weald abhorred.

In fact, it was quite possible that somebody had stowed away on the
Med Ship to murder Calhoun, so that there would be no danger of any
report favorable to Dara ever being presented anywhere. If so, such a
stowaway would be in the sleeping cabin now, waiting for Calhoun to
walk in unsuspiciously, only to be shot dead.

So Calhoun made coffee. He slipped a blaster into a pocket where it
would be handy. He filled a small cup for Murgatroyd and a large one
for himself, and then a second large one.

He tapped on the sleeping cabin door, standing aside lest a
blaster-bolt come through it.

"Coffee's ready," he said sardonically. "Come out and join us."

There was a long pause. Calhoun rapped again.

"You've a seat at the captain's table," he said more sardonically
still. "It's not polite to keep me waiting!"

He listened, alert for a rush which would be a fanatic's desperate
attempt to do murder despite premature discovery. He was prepared to
shoot quite ruthlessly, because he was on duty and the Med Service did
not approve of the extermination of populations, however justified
another population might consider it.

But there was no rush. Instead, there came hesitant foot-falls whose
sound made Calhoun start. The door of the cabin slid slowly aside. A
girl appeared in the opening, desperately white and desperately
composed.

"H-how did you know I was there?" she asked shakily. She moistened her
lips. "You didn't see me! I was in a closet, and you didn't even enter
the room!"

Calhoun said grimly, "I've sources of information. Murgatroyd told me
this time. May I present him? Murgatroyd, our passenger. Shake hands."

Murgatroyd moved forward, stood on his hind legs and offered a skinny,
furry paw. She did not move. She stared at Calhoun.

"Better shake hands," said Calhoun, as grimly as before. "It might
relax the tension a little. And do you want to tell me your story? You
have one ready, I'm sure."

The girl swallowed. Murgatroyd shook hands gravely. He said,
"_Chee-chee!_" in the shrillest of trebles and went back to his former
position.

"The story?" said Calhoun insistently.

"There--there isn't any," said the girl unsteadily. "Just that I--I
need to get to Orede, and you're going there. There's no other way to
go, now."

"To the contrary," said Calhoun. "There'll undoubtedly be a fleet
heading for Orede as soon as it can be assembled and armed. But I'm
afraid that as a story yours isn't good enough. Try another."

She shivered a little.

"I'm running away...."

"Ah!" said Calhoun. "In that case I'll take you back."

"No!" she said fiercely. "I'll--I'll die first! I'll wreck this ship
first!"

Her hand came from behind her. There was a tiny blaster in it. But it
shook visibly as she tried to aim it.

"I'll shoot out the controls!"

Calhoun blinked. He'd had to make a drastic change in his estimate of
the situation the instant he saw that the stowaway was a girl. Now he
had to make another when her threat was not to kill him but to disable
the ship. Women are rarely assassins, and when they are they don't use
energy weapons. Daggers and poisons are more typical. But this girl
threatened to destroy the ship rather than its owner, so she was not
actually an assassin at all.

"I'd rather you didn't do that," said Calhoun dryly. "Besides, you'd
get deadly bored if we were stuck in a derelict waiting for our air
and food to give out."

Murgatroyd, for no reason whatever, felt it necessary to enter the
conversation:

"_Chee-chee-chee!_"

"A very sensible suggestion," observed Calhoun. "We'll sit down and
have a cup of coffee." To the girl he said, "I'll take you to Orede,
since that's where you say you want to go."

"I have a sweetheart there...."

Calhoun shook his head.

"No," he said reprovingly. "Nearly all the mining colony had packed
itself into the ship that came into Weald with everybody dead. But not
all. And there's been no check of what men were in the ship and what
men weren't. You wouldn't go to Orede if it were likely your
sweetheart had died on the way to you. Here's your coffee. Sugar or
saccho, and do you take cream?"

She trembled a little, but she took the cup.

"I don't understand."

"Murgatroyd and I," explained Calhoun--and he did not know whether he
spoke out of anger or something else--"we are do-gooders. We go around
trying to keep people from getting sick or dying. Sometimes we even
try to keep them from getting killed. It's our profession. We practise
it even on our own behalf. We want to stay alive. So since you make
such drastic threats, we will take you where you want to go.
Especially since we're going there anyhow."

"You don't believe anything I've said!" It was a statement.

"Not a word," admitted Calhoun. "But you'll probably tell us something
more believable presently. When did you eat last?"

"Yesterday."

"Would you rather do your own cooking?" asked Calhoun politely. "Or
would you permit me to ready a snack?"

"I--I'll do it," she said.

She drank her coffee first, however, and then Calhoun showed her how
to punch the readier for such-and-such dishes, to be extracted from
storage and warmed or chilled, as the case might be, and served at
dialed-for intervals. There was also equipment for preparing food for
oneself, in one's own chosen manner--again an item to help make
solitude not unendurable.

Calhoun deliberately immersed himself in the Galactic Directory,
looking up the planet Orede. He was headed there, but he'd had no
reason to inform himself about it before. Now he read with every
appearance of absorption.

The girl ate daintily. Murgatroyd watched with highly amiable
interest. But she looked acutely uncomfortable.

Calhoun finished with the Directory. He got out the micro-film reels
which contained more information. He was specifically after the Med
Service history of all the planets in this sector. He went through the
filmed record of every inspection ever made on Weald and on Dara.

But Sector Twelve had not been run well. There was no adequate account
of a plague which had wiped out three-quarters of the population of an
inhabited planet! It had happened shortly after one Med Ship visit,
and was over before another Med Ship came by.

There should have been a painstaking investigation, even after the
fact. There should have been a collection of infectious material and a
reasonably complete identification and study of the agent. It hadn't
been made. There was probably some other emergency at the time, and it
slipped by. Calhoun, whose career was not to be spent in this sector,
resolved on a blistering report about this negligence and its
consequences.

He kept himself casually busy, ignoring the girl. A Med Ship man has
resources of study and meditation with which to occupy himself during
overdrive travel from one planet to another. Calhoun made use of those
resources. He acted as if he were completely unconscious of the
stowaway. But Murgatroyd watched her with charmed attention.

Hours after her discovery, she said uneasily, "Please?"

Calhoun looked up.

"Yes?"

"I don't know exactly how things stand."

"You are a stowaway," said Calhoun. "Legally, I have the right to put
you out the airlock. It doesn't seem necessary. There's a cabin. When
you're sleepy, use it. Murgatroyd and I can make out quite well out
here. When you're hungry, you now know how to get something to eat.
When we land on Orede, you'll probably go about whatever business you
have there. That's all."

She stared at him.

"But you don't believe what I've told you!"

"No," agreed Calhoun, but didn't add to the statement.

"But--I will tell you," she offered. "The police were after me. I had
to get away from Weald! I had to! I'd stolen--"

He shook his head.

"No," he said. "If you were a thief, you'd say anything in the world
except that you were a thief. You're not ready to tell the truth yet.
You don't have to, so why tell me anything? I suggest that you get
some sleep. Incidentally, there's no lock on the cabin door because
there's only supposed to be one person on this ship at a time. But you
can brace a chair to fasten it somehow or other. Good night."

She rose slowly. Twice her lips parted as if to speak again, but then
she went into the other cabin and closed herself in. There was the
sound of a chair being wedged against the door.

Murgatroyd blinked at the place where she'd disappeared and then
climbed up into Calhoun's lap, with complete assurance of welcome. He
settled himself and was silent for moments. Then he said, "_Chee!_"

"I believe you're right," said Calhoun. "She doesn't belong on Weald,
or with the conditioning she'd have had, there'd be only one place
she'd dread worse than Orede, which would be Dara. But I doubt she'd
be afraid to land even on Dara."

Murgatroyd liked to be talked to. He liked to pretend that he carried
on a conversation, like humans.

"_Chee-chee!_" he said with conviction.

"Definitely," agreed Calhoun. "She's not doing this for her personal
advantage. Whatever she thinks she'd doing, it's more important to her
than her own life. Murgatroyd...."

"_Chee?_" said Murgatroyd in an inquiring tone.

"There are wild cattle on Orede," said Calhoun. "Herds and herds of
them. I have a suspicion that somebody's been shooting them. Lots of
them. Do you agree? Don't you think that a lot of cattle have been
slaughtered on Orede lately?"

Murgatroyd yawned. He settled himself still more comfortably in
Calhoun's lap.

"_Chee_," he said drowsily.

He went to sleep, while Calhoun continued the examination of highly
condensed information. Presently he looked up the normal rate of
increase, with other data, among herds of _bovis domesticus_ in a wild
state, on planets where there are no natural enemies.

It wasn't unheard-of for a world to be stocked with useful types of
Terran fauna and flora before it was attempted to be colonized. Terran
life-forms could play the devil with alien ecological systems--very
much to humanity's benefit. Familiar microorganisms and a standard
vegetation added to the practicality of human settlements on otherwise
alien worlds. But sometimes the results were strange.

They weren't often so strange, however, as to cause some hundreds of
men to pack themselves frantically aboard a cargo ship which couldn't
possibly sustain them, so that every man must die while the ship was
in overdrive.

Still, by the time Calhoun turned in on a spare pneumatic mattress, he
had calculated that as few as a dozen head of cattle, turned loose on
a suitable planet, would have increased to herds of thousands or tens
or even hundreds of thousands in much less time than had probably
elapsed.

The Med Ship drove on in seemingly absolute solidity, with no sound
from without, with no sight to be seen outside, with no evidence at
all that it was not buried in the heart of a planet instead of
flashing through emptiness at a speed so great as to have no meaning.

Next ship-day the girl looked oddly at Calhoun when she appeared in
the control room. Murgatroyd regarded her with great interest. Calhoun
nodded politely and went back to what he'd been doing before she
appeared.

"Shall I have breakfast?" she asked uncertainly.

"Murgatroyd and I have," he told her. "Why not?"

Silently, she operated the food-readier. She ate. Calhoun gave a very
good portrayal of a man who will respond politely when spoken to, but
who was busy with activities remote from stowaways.

About noon, ship-time, she asked, "When will we get to Orede?"

Calhoun told her absently, as if he were thinking of something else.

"What--what do you think happened there? I mean, to make that tragedy
in the ship."

"I don't know," said Calhoun. "But I disagree with the authorities on
Weald. I don't think it was a planned atrocity of the blueskins."

"Wh-what are blueskins?" asked the girl.

Calhoun turned around and looked at her directly.

"When lying," he said mildly, "you tell as much by what you pretend
isn't, as by what you pretend is. You know what blueskins are!"

"But what do you think they are?" she asked.

"There used to be a human disease called smallpox," said Calhoun.
"When people recovered from it, they were usually marked. Their skin
had little scar pits here and there. At one time, back on Earth, it
was expected that everybody would catch smallpox sooner or later, and
a large percentage would die of it.

"And it was so much a matter of course that if they printed a picture
of a criminal they never mentioned it if he were pock-marked. It was
no distinction. But if he didn't have the markings, they'd mention
that!" He paused. "Those pock-marks weren't hereditary, but otherwise
a blueskin is like a man who had them. He can't be anything else!"

"Then you think they're human?"

"There's never yet been a case of reverse evolution," said Calhoun.
"Maybe Pithecanthropus had a monkey uncle, but no Pithecanthropus ever
went monkey."

She turned abruptly away. But she glanced at him often during that
day. He continued to busy himself with those activities which make Med
Ship life consistent with retained sanity.

Next day she asked without preliminary, "Don't you believe the
blueskins planned for the ship with the dead men to arrive at Weald
and spread plague there?"

"No," said Calhoun.

"Why?"

"It couldn't possibly work," Calhoun told her. "With only dead men on
board, the ship wouldn't arrive at a place where the landing-grid
could bring it down. So that would be no good. And plague-stricken
living men wouldn't try to conceal that they had the plague. They
might ask for help, but they'd know they'd instantly be killed on
Weald if they were found to be plague victims. So that would be no
good, either! No, the ship wasn't intended to land plague on Weald."

"Are you friendly to blueskins?" she asked uncertainly.

"Within reason," said Calhoun, "I am a well-wisher to all the human
race. You're slipping, though. When using the word _blueskin_ you
should say it uncomfortably, as if it were a word no refined person
liked to pronounce. You don't. We'll land on Orede tomorrow, by the
way. If you ever intend to tell me the truth, there's not much time
left."

She bit her lips. Twice, during the remainder of the day, she faced
him and opened her mouth as if to speak, and then turned away again.
Calhoun shrugged. He had fairly definite ideas about her, by now. He
carefully kept them tentative, but no girl born and raised on Weald
would willingly go to Orede, with all of Weald believing that a
shipload of miners preferred death to remaining there. It tied in,
like everything else that was unpleasant, to blueskins. Nobody from
Weald would dream of landing on Orede! Not now!

A little before the Med Ship was due to break out from overdrive, the
girl said very carefully, "You've been very kind. I'd like to thank
you. I--I didn't really believe I would live to get to Orede."

Calhoun raised his eyebrows.

"I wish I could tell you everything you want to know," she added
regretfully. "I think you're ... really decent. But some thing...."

Calhoun said caustically, "You've told me a great deal. You weren't
born on Weald. You weren't raised there. The people of Dara--notice
that I don't say blueskins, though they are--the people of Dara have
made at least one space ship since Weald threatened them with
extermination. There is probably a new food shortage on Dara now,
leading to pure desperation. Most likely it's bad enough to make them
risk landing on Orede to kill cattle and freeze beef to help. They've
worked out--"

She gasped and sprang to her feet. She snatched out the tiny blaster
in her pocket. She pointed it waveringly at him.

"I have to kill you!" she cried desperately. "I--I have to!"

Calhoun reached out. She tugged despairingly at the blaster's trigger.
Nothing happened. Before she could realize that she hadn't turned off
the safety, Calhoun twisted the weapon from her fingers. He stepped
back.

"Good girl!" he said approvingly. "I'll give this back to you when we
land. And thanks. Thanks very much!"

She wrung her hands. Then she stared at him.

"Thanks? When I tried to kill you?"

"Of course!" said Calhoun. "I'd made guesses. I couldn't know that
they were right. When you tried to kill me, you confirmed every one.
Now, when we land on Orede I'm going to get you to try to put me in
touch with your friends. It's going to be tricky, because they must be
pretty well scared about that ship. But it's a highly desirable thing
to get done!"

He went to the ships' control board and sat down before it.

"Twenty minutes to breakhour," he observed.

Murgatroyd peered out of his little cubbyhole. His eyes were anxious.
_Tormals_ are amiable little creatures. During the days in overdrive,
Calhoun had paid less than the usual amount of attention to
Murgatroyd, while the girl was fascinating.

They'd made friends, awkwardly on the girl's part, very pleasantly on
Murgatroyd's. But only moments ago there had been bitter emotion in
the air. Murgatroyd had fled to his cubbyhole to escape it. He was
distressed. Now that there was silence again, he peered out unhappily.

"_Chee?_" he queried plaintively. "_Chee-chee-chee?_"

Calhoun said matter-of-factly, "It's all right, Murgatroyd. If we
aren't blasted as we try to land, we should be able to make friends
with everybody and get something accomplished."

The statement was hopelessly inaccurate.

       *       *       *       *       *



3


There was no answer from the ground when breakout came and Calhoun
drove the Med Ship to a favourable position for a call. He patiently
repeated, over and over again, that the Med Ship _Aesclipus Twenty_
notified its arrival and requested coordinates for landing. He added
that its mass was fifty standard tons and that the purpose of its
visit was a planetary health inspection.

But there was no reply. There should have been a crisp description of
the direction from the planet's center at which, a certain time so
many hours or minutes later, the force-fields of the grid would find
it convenient to lock onto and lower the Med Ship. But the
communicator remained silent.

"There is a landing-grid," said Calhoun, frowning, "and if they're
using it to load fresh meat for Dara, from the herds I'm told about,
it should be manned. But they don't seem to intend to answer. Maybe
they think that if they pretend I'm not here I'll go away."

He reflected, and his frown deepened.

"If I didn't know what I know, I might. So if I land on emergency
rockets the blueskins down below may decide that I come from Weald.
And in that case it would be reasonable to blast me before I could
land and unload some fighting men. On the other hand, no ship from
Weald would conceivably land without impassioned assurance that it
was safe. It would drop bombs." He turned to the girl. "How many
Darians down below?"

She shook her head.

"You don't know," said Calhoun, "or won't tell, yet. But they ought to
be told about the arrival of that ship at Weald, and what Weald thinks
about it! My guess is that you came to tell them. It isn't likely that
Dara gets news directly from Weald. Where were you put ashore from
Dara, when you set out to be a spy?"

Her lips parted to speak, but she compressed them tightly. She shook
her head again.

"It must have been plenty far away," said Calhoun restlessly. "Your
people would have built a ship, and made fine forged papers for it,
and they'd travel so far from this part of space that when they landed
nobody would think of Dara. They'd use make-up to cover the blue
spots, but maybe it was so far away that blueskins had never been
heard of!"

Her face looked pinched, but she did not reply.

"Then they'd land half a dozen of you, with a supply of make-up for
the blue patches. And you'd separate, and take ships that went various
roundabout ways, and arrive on Weald one by one, to see what could be
done there to--" He stopped. "When did you find out positively that
there wasn't any plague any more?"

She began to grow pale.

"I'm not a mind reader," said Calhoun. "But it adds up. You're from
Dara. You've been on Weald. It's practically certain that there are
other ... agents, if you like that word better, on Weald. And there
hasn't been a plague on Weald so you people aren't carriers of it. But
you knew it in advance, I think. How'd you learn? Did a ship in some
sort of trouble land there, on Dara?"

"Y--yes," said the girl. "We wouldn't let it go again. But the people
didn't catch--they didn't die. They lived--"

She stopped short.

"It's not fair to trap me!" she cried passionately. "It's not fair!"

"I'll stop," said Calhoun.

He turned to the control board. The Med Ship was only planetary
diameters from Orede, now, and the electron telescope showed shining
stars in leisurely motion across its screen. Then a huge, gibbous
shining shape appeared, and there were irregular patches of that muddy
color which is seabottom, and varicolored areas which were plains and
forests. Also there were mountains. Calhoun steadied the image, and
squinted at it.

"The mine," he observed, "was found by members of a hunting party,
killing wild cattle for sport."

Even a small planet has many millions of square miles of surface, and
a single human installation on a whole world will not be easy to find
by random search. But there were clues to this one. Men hunting for
sport would not choose a tropic nor an arctic climate to hunt in. So
if they found a mineral deposit, it would have been in a temperate
zone.

Cattle would not be found deep in a mountainous terrain. The mine
would not be on a prairie. The settlement on Orede, then, would be
near the edge of mountains, not far from a prairie such as wild cattle
would frequent, and it would be in a temperate climate.

Forested areas could be ruled out. And there would be a landing-grid.
Handling only one ship at a time, it might be a very small grid. It
could be only hundreds of yards across and less than half a mile high.
But its shadow would be distinctive.

Calhoun searched among low mountains near unforested prairie in a
temperate zone. He found a speck. He enlarged it manyfold. It was the
mine on Orede. There were heaps of tailings. There was something which
cast a long, lacy shadow: the landing-grid.

"But they don't answer our call," observed Calhoun, "so we go down
unwelcomed."

He inverted the Med Ship and the emergency rockets boomed. The ship
plunged planetward.

A long time later it was deep in the planet's atmosphere. The noise of
its rockets had become thunderous, with air to carry and to reinforce
the sound.

"Hold on to something, Murgatroyd," commanded Calhoun. "We may have to
dodge some ack."

But nothing came up from below. The Med Ship again inverted itself,
and its rockets pointed toward the planet and poured out pencil-thin,
blue-white, high-velocity flames. It checked slightly, but continued
to descend. It was not directly above the grid.

It swept downward until almost level with the peaks of the mountains
in which the mine lay. It tilted again, and swept onward over the
mountaintops, and then tilted once more and went racing up the valley
in which the landing-grid was plainly visible. Calhoun swung it on an
erratic course, lest there be opposition.

But there was no sign. Then the rockets bellowed, and the ship slowed
its forward motion, hovered momentarily, and settled to solidity
outside the framework of the grid. The grid was small, as Calhoun
reasoned. But it reached interminably toward the sky.

The rockets cut off. Slender as the flames had been, they'd melted and
bored thin drill-holes deep into the soil. Molten rock boiled and
bubbled down below. But there seemed no other sound. There was no
other motion. There was absolute stillness all around. But when
Calhoun switched on the outside microphones a faint, sweet melange of
high-pitched chirpings came from tiny creatures hidden under the
vegetation of the mountainsides.

Calhoun put a blaster in his pocket and stood up.

"We'll see what it looks like outside," he said with a certain
grimness. "I don't quite believe what the vision screens show."

Minutes later he stepped down to the ground from the Med Ship's exit
port. The ship had landed perhaps a hundred feet from what once had
been a wooden building. In it, ore from the mines was concentrated and
the useless tailings carried away by a conveyer belt to make a
monstrous pile of broken stone. But there was no longer a building.

Next to it there had been a structure containing an ore-crusher. The
massive machinery could still be seen, but the structure was in
fragments. Next to that, again, had been the shaft-head shelters of
the mine. They also were shattered practically to matchsticks.

The look of the ground about the building sites was simply and purely
impossible. It was a mass of hoofprints. Cattle by thousands and tens
of thousands had trampled everything. Cattle had burst in the wooden
sides of the buildings. Cattle had piled themselves up against the
beams upholding roofs until the buildings collapsed.

Then cattle had gone plunging over the wrecked buildings until there
was nothing left but indescribable chaos. Many, many cattle had died
in the crush. There were heaps of dead beasts about the metal girders
which were the foundation of the landing-grid. The air was tainted by
the smell of carrion.

The settlement had been destroyed, positively by stampeded cattle in
tens or hundreds of thousands charging blindly through and over and
upon it. Senselessly, they'd trampled each other to horrible
shapelessness. The mine shaft was not choked, because enormously
strong timbers had fallen across and blocked it. But everything else
was pure destruction.

Calhoun said evenly, "Clever! Very clever! You can't blame men when
beasts stampede. We should accept the evidence that some monstrous
herd, making its way through a mountain pass, somehow went crazy and
bolted for the plains. This settlement got in the way and it was too
bad for the settlement! Everything's explained, except the ship that
went to Weald.

"A cattle stampede, yes. Anybody can believe that! But there was a man
stampede. Men stampeded into the ship as blindly as the cattle
trampled down this little town. The ship stampeded off into space as
insanely as the cattle. But a stampede of men and cattle, in the same
place? That's a little too much!"

"But what--"

"How," asked Calhoun directly, "do you intend to get in touch with
your friends here?"

"I--I don't know," she said, distressed. "But if the ship stays here,
they're bound to come and see why. Won't they? Or will they?"

"If they're sane, they won't," said Calhoun. "The one undesirable
thing, here, would be human footprints on top of cattle tracks. If
your friends are a meat-getting party from Dara, as I believe, they
should cover up their tracks, get off-planet as fast as possible, and
pray that no signs of their former presence are ever discovered. That
would be their best first move, certainly!"

"What should I do?" she asked helplessly.

"I'm far from sure. At a guess, and for the moment, probably nothing.
I'll work something out. I've got the devil of a job before me,
though. I can't spend but so much time here."

"You can leave me here...."

He grunted and turned away. It was naturally unthinkable that he
should leave another human being on a supposedly uninhabited planet,
with the knowledge that it might actually be uninhabited, and the
future knowledge that any visitors would have the strongest of
possible reasons to hide themselves away.

He believed that there were Darians here, and the girl in the Med
ship, so he also believed, was also a Darian. But any who might be
hiding had so much to lose if they were discovered that they might be
hundreds or even thousands of miles from anywhere a space ship would
normally land--if they hadn't fled after the incident of the
spaceship's departure with its load of doomed passengers.

Considered detachedly, the odds were that there was again a food
shortage on Dara; that blueskins, in desperation, had raided or were
raiding or would raid the cattle herds of Orede for food to carry back
to their home planet; that somehow the miners on Orede had found that
they had blueskin neighbors, and died of the consequences of their
terror. It was a risky guess to make on such evidence as Calhoun
considered he had, but no other guess was possible.

If his guess were right, he was under some obligation to do exactly
what he believed the girl considered her mission--to warn all
blueskins that Weald would presently try to find them on Orede, when
all hell must break loose upon Dara for punishment. But if there were
men here, he couldn't leave a written warning for them in default of
friendly contact.

They might not find it, and a search party of Wealdians might. All he
could possibly do was try to make contact and give warning by such
means as would leave no evidence behind that he'd done so. Weald
would consider a warning sure proof of blueskin guilt.

It was not satisfactory to be limited to broadcasts which might or
might not be picked up, and were unlikely to be acknowledged. But he
settled down with the communicator to make the attempt.

He called first on a GC wave length and form. It was unlikely that
blueskins would use general communication bands to keep in touch with
each other, but it had to be tried. He broadcast, tuned as broadly as
possible, and went up and down the GC spectrum, repeating his warning
painstakingly and listening without hope for a reply.

He did find one spot on the dial where there was re-radiation of his
message, as if from a tuned receiver. But he could not get a fix on
it: nobody might be listening. He exhausted the normal communication
pattern. Then he broadcast on old-fashioned amplitude modulation which
a modern communicator would not pick up at all, and which therefore
might be used by men in hiding.

He worked for a long time. Then he shrugged and gave it up. He'd
repeated to absolute tedium the facts that any Darians--blueskins--on
Orede ought to know. There'd been no answer. And it was all too likely
that if he'd been received, that those who heard him took his message
for a trick to discover if there were any hearers.

He clicked off at last and stood up, shaking his head. Suddenly the
Med Ship seemed empty. Then he saw Murgatroyd staring vexedly at the
exit port. The inner door of that small airlock was closed. The
telltale light said the outer door was not locked. Someone had gone
out quietly. The girl. Of course.

Calhoun said angrily, "How long ago, Murgatroyd?"

"_Chee!_" said Murgatroyd indignantly.

It wasn't an answer, but it showed that Murgatroyd was vexed that he'd
been left behind. He and the girl were close friends, now. If she'd
left Murgatroyd in the ship when he wanted to go with her, then she
wasn't coming back.

Calhoun swore. He made certain she was not in the ship. He flipped the
outside-speaker switch and said curtly into the microphone, "Coffee!
Murgatroyd and I are having coffee. Will you come back, please?"

He repeated the call, and repeated it again. Multiplied as his voice
was by the speakers, she should hear him within a mile. She did not
appear. He went to a small and inconspicuous closet and armed himself.
A Med Ship man was not ever expected to fight, but there were
blast-rifles available for extreme emergency.

When he'd slung a power-pack over his shoulder and reached the
airlock, there was still no sign of his late stowaway. He stood in the
airlock door for long minutes, staring angrily about. Almost certainly
she wouldn't be looking in the mountains for men of Dara come here for
cattle. He used a pair of binoculars, first at low-magnification to
search as wide an area down-valley as possible, and then at highest
power to search the most likely routes.

He found a small, bobbing speck beyond a faraway hill crest. It was
her head. It went down below the hilltop.

He snapped a command to Murgatroyd, and when the _tormal_ was on the
ground outside, he locked the port with that combination that nobody
but a Med Ship man was at all likely to discover or use.

"She's an idiot!" he told Murgatroyd sourly. "Come along! We've got to
be idiots too!"

He set out in pursuit.

There was blue sky overhead, as was inevitable on any
oxygen-atmosphere planet of a Sol-type yellow sun. There were
mountains, as is universal in planets whose surface rises and falls
and folds and bends from the effects of weather or vulcanism. There
were plants, as has come about wherever microorganisms have broken
down rock to a state where it can nourish vegetation. And naturally
there were animals.

There were even trees of severely practical design, and underbrush and
ground-cover equivalent to grass. There was, in short, a perfectly
predictable ecological system on Orede. The organic molecules involved
in life here would be made up of the same elements in the same
combinations as elsewhere where the same conditions of temperature and
moisture and sunshine obtained.

It was a distinctly Earthlike world, as it could not help but be, and
it was reasonable for cattle to thrive and increase here. Only men's
minds kept it from being a place where humans would thrive, too.

But only Calhoun would have considered the splintered settlement a
proof of that last.

The girl had a long start. Twice Calhoun came to places where she
could have chosen either of two ways onward. Each time he had to
determine which she'd followed. That cost time. Then the mountains
abruptly ended and a vast undulating plain stretched away to the
horizon. There were at least two large masses and many smaller clumps
of what could only be animals gathered together. Cattle.

But here the girl was plainly in view. Calhoun increased his stride.
He began to gain on her. She did not look behind.

Murgatroyd said "_Chee!_" in a complaining tone.

"I should have left you behind," agreed Calhoun dourly, "but there was
and is a chance I won't get back. You'll have to keep on hiking."

He plodded on. His memory of the terrain around the mining settlement
told him that there was no definite destination in the girl's mind.
But she was in no such despair as to want deliberately to be lost.
She'd guessed, Calhoun believed, that if there were Darians on the
planet, they'd keep the landing-grid under observation.

If they saw her leave that area and could see that she was alone, they
should intercept her to find out the meaning of the Med Ship's
landing. Then she could identify herself as one of them and give them
the terribly necessary warning of Weald's suspicions.

"But," said Calhoun sourly, "if she's right, they'll have seen me
marching after her now, which spoils her scheme. And I'd like to help
it, but the way she's going is too dangerous!"

He went down into one of the hollows of the uneven plain. He saw a
clump of a dozen or so cattle a little distance away. The bull looked
up and snorted. The cows regarded him truculently. Their air was not
one of bovine tranquility.

He was up the farther hillside and out of sight before the bull worked
himself up to a charge. Then Calhoun suddenly remembered one of the
items in the data about cattle he'd looked into just the other day. He
felt himself grow pale.

"Murgatroyd!" he said sharply. "We've got to catch up! Fast! Stay with
me if you can, but--" he was jog-trotting as he spoke--"even if you
get lost I have to hurry!"

He ran fifty paces and walked fifty paces. He ran fifty and walked
fifty. He saw her, atop a rolling of the ground. She came to a full
stop. He ran. He saw her turn to retrace her steps. He flung off the
safety of the blast-rifle and let off a roaring blast at the ground
for her to hear.

Suddenly she was fleeing desperately, toward him. He plunged on. She
vanished down into a hollow. Horns appeared over the hillcrest she'd
just left. Cattle appeared. Four, a dozen fifteen, twenty! They moved
ominously in her wake.

He saw her again, running frantically over another upward swell of
the prairie. He let off another blast to guide her. He ran on at top
speed with Murgatroyd trailing anxiously behind. From time to time
Murgatroyd called "_Chee-chee-chee!_" in frightened pleading not to be
abandoned.

More cattle appeared against the horizon. Fifty or a hundred. They
came after the first clump. The first group of a bull and his harem
were moving faster, now. The girl fled from them, but it is the
instinct of beef-cattle on the open range--Calhoun had learned it only
two days before--to charge any human they find on foot. A mounted man
to their dim minds is a creature to be tolerated or fled from, but a
human on foot is to be crushed and stamped and gored.

Those in the lead were definitely charging now, with heads bent low.
The bull charged furiously with shut eyes, as bulls do, but the cows,
many times more deadly, charged with their eyes wide open and wickedly
alert, and with a lumbering speed much greater than the girl could
manage.

She came up over the last rise, chalky-white and gasping, her hair
flying, in the last extremity of terror. The nearest of the pursuing
cattle were within ten yards when Calhoun fired from twenty yards
beyond. One creature bellowed as the blast-bolt struck.

It went down and others crashed into it and swept over it, and more
came on. The girl saw Calhoun now, and ran toward him, panting. He
knelt very deliberately and began to check the charge by shooting the
leading animals.

He did not succeed. There were more cattle following the first, and
more and more behind them. It appeared that all the cattle on the
plain joined in the blind and senseless charge. The thudding of hoofs
became a mutter and then a rumble and then a growl.

Plunging, clumsy figures rushed past on either side. But horns and
heads heaved up over the mound of animals Calhoun had shot. He shot
them too. More and more cattle came pounding past the rampart of his
victims, but always, it seemed, some elected to climb the heap of
their dead and dying fellows, and Calhoun shot and shot....

But he split the herd. The foremost animals had been charging a
sighted human enemy. Others had followed because it is the instinct of
cattle to join their running fellows in whatever crazed urgency they
feel. There was a dense, pounding, wailing, grunting, puffing, raising
thick and impenetrable clouds of dust which hid everything but
galloping beasts going past on either side.

It lasted for minutes. Then the thunder of hoofs diminished. It ended
abruptly, and Calhoun and the girl were left alone with the gruesome
pile of animals which had divided the charging herd into two parts.
They could see the rears of innumerable running animals, stupidly
continuing the charge, hardly different, now, from a stampede, whose
original objective none now remembered.

Calhoun thoughtfully touched the barrel of his blast-rifle and winced
at its scorching heat.

"I just realized," he said coldly, "that I don't know your name. What
is it?"

"Maril," said the girl. She swallowed. "Th--thank you."

"Maril," said Calhoun, "you are an idiot! It was half-witted at best
to go off by yourself! You could have been lost! You could have cost
me days of hunting for you, days badly needed for more important
matters!"

He stopped and took breath. "You may have spoiled what little chance
I've got to do something about the plans Weald's already making! You
have just acted with the most concentrated folly, and the most
magnificent imbecility that you or anybody else could manage!"

He said more bitterly still, "And I had to leave Murgatroyd behind to
get to you in time! He was right in the path of that charge!"

He turned away from her and said dourly, "All right! Come on back to
the ship. We'll go to Dara. We'd have to, anyhow. But Murgatroyd--"

Then he heard a very small sneeze. Out of a rolling wall of
still-roiling dust, Murgatroyd appeared forlornly. He was
dust-covered, and draggled, and his tail dropped, and he sneezed
again. He moved as if he could barely put one paw before another, but
at sight of Calhoun he sneezed yet again and said "_Chee!_" in a
disconsolate voice. Then he sat down and waited for Calhoun to come
and pick him up.

When Calhoun did so, Murgatroyd clung to him pathetically and said
"_Chee-chee!_" and again "_Chee-chee!_" with the intonation of one
telling of incredible horrors and disasters endured. And as a matter
of fact the escape of a small animal like Murgatroyd was remarkable.
He'd escaped the trampling hoofs of at least hundreds of charging
animals. Luck must have played a great part in it, but an hysterical
agility in dodging must have been required, too.

Calhoun headed back for the valley where the settlement had been, and
the Med Ship was. Murgatroyd clung to his neck. The girl Maril
followed discouragedly. She was at that age when girls--and men of
corresponding type--can grow most passionately devoted to ideals or
causes in default of a promising personal romance. When concerned with
such causes they become splendidly confident that whatever they decide
to do is sensible if only it is dramatic. But Maril was shaken, now.

Calhoun did not speak to her again. He led the way. A mile back toward
the mountains, they began to see stragglers from the now-vanished
herd. A little farther, those stragglers began to notice them. It
would have been a matter of no moment if they'd been domesticated
dairy cattle, but these were range cattle gone wild. Twice, Calhoun
had to use his blast-rifle to discourage incipient charges by
irritated bulls or even more irritated cows. Those with calves darkly
suspected Calhoun of designs upon their offspring.

It was a relief to enter the valley again. But it was two miles more
to the landing-grid with the Med Ship beside it and the reek of
carrion in the air.

They were perhaps two hundred feet from the ship when a blast-rifle
crashed and its bolt whined past Calhoun so close that he felt the
monstrous heat. There had been no challenge. There was no warning.
There was simply a shot which came horribly close to ending Calhoun's
career in a completely arbitrary fashion.

       *       *       *       *       *



4


Five minutes later Calhoun had located one would-be killer behind a
mass of splintered planking that once had been a wall. He set the wood
afire by a blaster-bolt and then viciously sent other bolts all around
the man it had sheltered when he fled from the flames. He could have
killed him ten times over, but it was more desirable to open
communication. So he missed intentionally.

Maril had cried out that she came from Dara and had word for them, but
they did not answer. There were three men with heavy-duty
blast-rifles. One was the one Calhoun had burned out of his hiding
place. That man's rifle exploded when the flames hit it. Two remained.

One, so Calhoun presently discovered--was working his way behind
underbrush to a shelf from which he could shoot down at Calhoun.
Calhoun had dropped into a hollow and pulled Maril to cover at the
first shot. The second man happily planned to get to a point where he
could shoot him like a fish in a barrel.

The third man had fired half a dozen times and then disappeared.
Calhoun estimated that he intended to get around to the rear, hoping
there was no protection from that direction for Calhoun. It would take
some time for him to manage it.

So Calhoun industriously concentrated his fire on the man trying to
get above him. He was behind a boulder, not too dissimilar to
Calhoun's breastwork. Calhoun set fire to the brush at the point at
which the other man aimed. That, then, made his effort useless.

Then Calhoun sent a dozen bolts at the other man's rocky shield. It
heated up. Steam rose in a whitish mass and blew directly away from
Calhoun. He saw that antagonist flee. He saw him so clearly that he
was positive that there was a patch of blue pigment on the right-hand
side of the back of his neck.

He grunted and swung to find the third. That man moved through thick
undergrowth, and Calhoun set it on fire in a neat pattern of spreading
flames. Evidently, these men had had no training in battle tactics
with blast-rifles. The third man also had to get away. He did. But
something from him arched through the smoke. It fell to the ground
directly upwind from Calhoun. White smoke puffed up violently.

It was instinct that made Calhoun react as he did. He jerked the girl
Maril to her feet and rushed her toward the Med Ship. Smoke from the
flung bomb upwind barely swirled around him and missed Maril
altogether. Calhoun, though, got a whiff of something strange, not
scorched or burning vegetation at all. He ceased to breathe and
plunged onward. In clear air he emptied his lungs and refilled them.
They were then halfway to the ship, with Murgatroyd prancing on ahead.

But then Calhoun's heart began to pound furiously. His muscles
twitched and tensed. He felt extraordinary symptoms like an extreme of
agitation. He swore, but a Med Ship man would not react to such
symptoms as a non-medically-trained man would have done. Calhoun was
familiar enough with tear gas, used by police on some planets.

But this was different and worse. Even as he helped and urged Maril
onward, he automatically considered his sensations, and had it--panic
gas. Police did not use it because panic is worse than rioting.
Calhoun felt all the physical symptoms of fear and of gibbering
terror.

A man whose mind yields to terror experiences certain physical
sensations: wildly beating heart, tensed and twitching muscles, and a
frantic impulse to convulsive action. A man in whom those physical
sensations are induced by other means will, ordinarily, find his mind
yielding to terror.

Calhoun couldn't combat his feelings, but his clinical attitude
enabled him to act despite them. The three from Weald reached the base
of the Med Ship. One of their enemies had lost his rifle and need not
be counted. Another had fled from flames and might be ignored for some
moments, anyhow. But a blast-bolt struck the ship's metal hull only
feet from Calhoun, and he whipped around to the other side and let
loose a staccato rat-tat-tat of fire which emptied the rifle of all
its charges.

Then he opened the airlock door, hating the fact that he shook and
trembled. He urged the girl and Murgatroyd in. He slammed the outer
airlock door just as another blast-bolt hit.

"They--they don't realize," said Maril desperately. "If they only
knew...."

"Talk to them, if you like," said Calhoun. His teeth chattered and he
raged, because the symptom was of terror he denied.

He pushed a button on the control board. He pointed to a microphone.
He got at an oxygen bottle and inhaled deeply. Oxygen, obviously,
should be an antidote for panic, since the symptoms of terror act to
increase the oxygenation of the bloodstream and muscles, and to make
superhuman exertion possible if necessary.

Breathing ninety-five percent oxygen produced the effect the
terror-inspiring gas strove for, so his heart slowed nearly to normal
and his body relaxed. He held out his hand and it did not tremble.
He'd been affronted to see it shake uncontrollably when he pushed the
microphone button for Maril.

He turned to her. She hadn't spoken into the mike.

"They may not be from Dara!" she said shakily. "I just thought! They
could be somebody else, maybe criminals who planned to raid the mine
for a shipload of its ore."

"Nonsense," said Calhoun. "I saw one of them clearly enough to be
sure. But they're skeptical characters. I'm afraid there may be more
on the way here from wherever they keep themselves. Anyhow, now we
know some of them are in hearing! I'll take advantage of that and
we'll go on."

He took the microphone. An instant later his voice boomed in the
stillness outside the ship, cutting through the thin shrill whirring
of invisible small creatures.

"This is the Med Ship _Aesclipus Twenty_," said Calhoun's voice,
amplified to a shout. "I left Weald four days ago, one day after the
cargo ship from here arrived with everybody on board dead. On Weald
they don't know how it happened, but they suspect blueskins. Sooner or
later they'll search here.

"Get away! Cover up your tracks! Hide all signs that you've ever been
here! Get the hell away, fast! One more warning! There's talk of
fusion-bombing Dara. They're scared! If they find your traces, they'll
be still more scared! So cover up your tracks and get away from here!"

The many-times-multiplied voice rolled and echoed among the hills. But
it was very clear. Where it could be heard it could be understood, and
it could be heard for miles.

But there was no response to it. Calhoun waited a reasonable time.
Then he shrugged and seated himself at the control board.

"It isn't easy," he observed, "to persuade desperate men that they've
outsmarted themselves! Hold hard, Murgatroyd!"

The rockets bellowed. Then there was a tremendous noise to end all
noises, and the ship began to climb. It sped up and up and up. By the
time it was out of atmosphere it had velocity enough to coast to clear
space and Calhoun cut the rockets altogether.

He busied himself with those astrogational chores which began with
orienting oneself to galactic directions after leaving a planet which
rotates at its own individual speed. Then one computes the overdrive
course to another planet, from the respecting coordinates of the world
one is leaving and the one one aims for.

Then, in this case at any rate, there was the very finicky task of
picking out a fourth-magnitude star of whose planets one was his
destination. He aimed for it with ultra-fine precision.

"Overdrive coming," he said presently. "Hold on!"

Space reeled. There was nausea and giddiness and a horrible sensation
of falling in a wildly unlikely spiral. Then stillness, and solidity,
and the blackness outside the Med Ship. The little craft was in
overdrive again.

After a long while, the girl Maril said uneasily, "I don't know what
you plan now--"

"I'm going to Dara," said Calhoun. "On Orede I tried to get the
blueskins there to get going, fast. Maybe I succeeded. I don't know.
But this thing's been mishandled! Even if there's a famine people
shouldn't do things out of desperation! Being desperate jogs the brain
off-center. One doesn't think straight!"

"I know now that I was ... very foolish."

"Forget it," commanded Calhoun. "I wasn't talking about you. Here I
run into a situation that the Med Service should have caught and
cleaned up generations ago! But it's not only a Med Service
obligation; it's a current mess! Before I could begin to get at the
basic problem, those idiots on Orede--It'd happened before I reached
Weald! An emotional explosion triggered by a ship full of dead men
that nobody intended to kill."

Maril shook her head.

"Those Darian characters," said Calhoun, annoyed, "shouldn't have gone
to Orede in the first place. If they went there, they should at least
have stayed on a continent where there were no people from Weald
digging a mine and hunting cattle for sport on their off days! They
could be spotted! I believe they were.

"And again, if it had been a long way from the mine installation, they
could probably have wiped out the people who sighted them before they
could get back with the news! But it looks like miners saw men
hunting, and got close enough to see they were blueskins, and then got
back to the mine with the news!"

She waited for him to explain.

"I know I'm guessing, but it fits!" he said distastefully. "So
something had to be done. Either the mining settlement had to be wiped
out or the story that blueskins were on Orede had to be discredited.
The blueskins tried for both. They used panic gas on a herd of cattle
and it made them crazy and they charged the settlement like the
four-footed lunatics they are!

"And the blueskins used panic gas on the settlement itself as the
cattle went through. It should have settled the whole business nicely.
After it was over every man in the settlement would believe he'd been
out of his head for a while, and he'd have the crazy state of the
settlement to think about.

"He wouldn't be sure of what he'd seen or heard before-hand. They
might try to verify the blueskin story later, but they wouldn't
believe anything with certainty. It should have worked!"

Again she waited.

"Unfortunately, when the miners panicked, they stampeded into the
ship. Also unfortunately, panic gas got into the ship with them. So
they stayed panicked while the astrogator--in panic!--took off. They
headed for Weald and threw on the overdrive--which would be set for
Weald anyhow--because that would be the fastest way to run away from
whatever he imagined he feared. But he and all the men on the ship
were still crazy with panic from the gas they kept breathing until
they died!"

Silence. After a long interval, Maril asked, "You don't think the
Darians intended to kill?"

"I think they were stupid!" said Calhoun angrily. "Somebody's always
urging the police to use panic gas in case of public tumult. But it's
too dangerous. Nobody knows what one man will do in a panic. Take a
hundred or two or three and panic them all, and there's no limit to
their craziness! The whole thing was handled wrong!"

"But you don't blame them?"

"For being stupid, yes," said Calhoun fretfully. "But if I'd been in
their place, perhaps--"

"Where were you born?" asked Maril suddenly.

Calhoun jerked his head around. "No! Not where you're guessing, or
hoping. Not on Dara. Just because I act as if Darians were human
doesn't mean I have to be one! I'm a Med Service man, and I'm acting
as I think I should." His tone became exasperated.

"Dammit, I'm supposed to deal with health situations, actual, and
possible causes of human deaths! And if Weald thinks it finds proof
that blueskins are in space again and caused the death of Wealdians,
it won't be healthy! They're halfway set anyhow to drop fusion-bombs
on Dara to wipe it out!"

Maril said fiercely, "They might as well drop bombs. It'll be quicker
than starvation, at least!"

Calhoun looked at her, more exasperated than before.

"It is a crop failure again?" he demanded. When she nodded he said
bitterly, "Famine conditions already?" When she nodded again he said
drearily, "And of course famine is the great-grandfather of health
problems! And that's right in my lap with all the rest!"

He stood up. Then he sat down again.

"I'm tired!" he said flatly. "I'd like to get some sleep. Would you
mind taking a book or something and going into the other cabin?
Murgatroyd and I would like a little relaxation from reality. With
luck, if I go to sleep, I may only have a nightmare. It'll be a
terrific improvement on what I'm in now!"

Alone in the control compartment, he tried to relax, but it was not
possible. He flung himself into a comfortable chair and brooded. There
is brooding and brooding. It can be a form of wallowing in self-pity,
engaged in for emotional satisfaction. But it can be, also, a way of
bringing out unfavorable factors in a situation. A man in optimistic
mood can ignore them. But no awkward situation is likely to be
remedied while any of its elements are neglected.

Calhoun dourly considered the situation of the people of the planet
Dara, which it was his job as a Med Service man to remedy or at least
improve. Those people were marked by patches of blue pigment as an
inherited consequence of a plague of three generations past. Because
of the marking, which it was easy to believe a sign of continuing
infection, they were hated and dreaded by their neighbors. Dara was a
planet of pariahs--excluded from the human race by those who feared
them.

And now there was famine on Dara for the second time, and they were of
no mind to starve quietly. There was food on the planet Orede,
monstrous herds of cattle without owners. It was natural enough for
Darians to build a ship or ships and try to bring food back to its
starving people. But that desperately necessary enterprise had now
roused Weald to a frenzy of apprehension.

Weald was, if possible, more hysterically afraid of blueskins than
ever before, and even more implacably the enemy of the starving
planet's population. Weald itself prospered. Ironically, it had such
an excess of foodstuffs that it stored them in unneeded spaceships in
orbits about itself.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of grain circled Weald in sealed-tight
hulks, while the people of Dara starved and only dared try to
steal--if it could be called stealing--some of the innumerable wild
cattle of Orede.

The blueskins on Orede could not trust Calhoun, so they pretended not
to hear. Or maybe that didn't hear. They'd been abandoned and betrayed
by all of humanity off their world. They'd been threatened and
oppressed by guardships in orbit about them, ready to shoot down any
spacecraft they might send aloft....

So Calhoun brooded, while Murgatroyd presently yawned and climbed to
his cubbyhole and curled up to sleep with his furry tail carefully
adjusted over his nose.

A long time later Calhoun heard small sounds which were not normal on
a Med Ship in overdrive. They were not part of the random noises
carefully generated to keep the silence of the ship endurable. Calhoun
raised his head. He listened sharply. No sound could come from
outside.

He knocked on the door of the sleeping cabin. The noises stopped
instantly.

"Come out," he commanded through the door.

"I'm--I'm all right," said Maril's voice. But it was not quite steady.
She paused. "Did I make a noise? I was having a bad dream."

"I wish," said Calhoun, "that you'd tell me the truth just
occasionally! Come out, please!"

There were stirrings. After a little it opened and Maril appeared. She
looked as if she'd been crying. She said, quickly, "I probably look
queer, but it's because I was asleep."

"To the contrary," said Calhoun, fuming. "You've been lying awake
crying. I don't know why. I've been out here wishing I could, because
I'm frustrated. But since you aren't asleep maybe you can help me with
my job. I've figured some things out. For some others I need facts.
Will you give them to me?"

She swallowed. "I'll try."

"Coffee?" he asked.

Murgatroyd popped his head out of his miniature sleeping cabin.

"_Chee?_" he asked interestedly.

"Go back to sleep!" snapped Calhoun.

He began to pace back and forth.

"I need to know something about the pigment patches," he said jerkily.
"Maybe it sounds crazy to think of such things now--first things
first, you know. But this is a first thing! So long as Darians don't
look like the people of other worlds, they'll be believed to be
different. If they look repulsive, they'll be believed to be evil.

"Tell me about those patches. They're different sizes and different
shapes and they appear in different places. You've none on your face
or hands, anyhow."

"I haven't any at all," said the girl reservedly.

"I thought--"

"Not everybody," she said defensively. "Nearly, yes. But not all. Some
people don't have them. Some people are born with bluish splotches on
their skin, but they fade out while they're children. When they grow
up they're just like the people of Weald or any other world. And their
children never have them."

Calhoun stared.

"You couldn't possibly be proved to be a Darian, then?"

She shook her head. Calhoun remembered, and started the coffee.

"When you left Dara," he said, "you were carried a long, long way, to
some planet where they'd practically never heard of Dara, and where
the name meant nothing. You could have settled there, or anywhere else
and forgotten about Dara. But you didn't. Why not, since you're not a
blueskin?"

"But I am!" she said fiercely. "My parents, my brothers and sisters,
and Korvan--"

Then she bit her lip. Calhoun took note but did not comment on the
name she'd mentioned.

"Then your parents had the splotches fade, so you never had them," he
said absorbedly. "Something like that happened on Tralee, once!
There's a virus, a whole group of virus particles! Normally we humans
are immune to them. One has to be in terrifically bad physical
condition for them to take hold and produce whatever effects they do.
But once they're established they're passed on from mother to child.
And when they die out it's during childhood, too!"

He poured coffee for the two of them. Murgatroyd swung down to the
floor and said, impatiently, "_Chee! Chee! Chee!_"

Calhoun absently filled Murgatroyd's tiny cup and handed it to him.

"But this is marvellous!" he said exuberantly. "The blue patches
appeared after the plague, didn't they? After people recovered--when
they recovered?"

Maril stared at him. His mind was filled with strictly professional
considerations. He was not talking to her as a person. She was purely
a source of information.

"So I'm told," said Maril reservedly. "Are there any more humiliating
questions you want to ask?"

He gaped at her. Then he said ruefully, "I'm stupid, Maril, but you're
touchy. There's nothing personal--"

"There is to me!" she said fiercely. "I was born among blueskins, and
they're of my blood, and they're hated and I'd have been killed on
Weald if I'd been known as ... what I am! And there's Korvan, who
arranged for me to be sent away as a spy and advised me to do just
what you said: abandon my home world and everybody I care about!
Including him! It's personal to me!"

Calhoun wrinkled his forehead helplessly.

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "Drink your coffee!"

"I don't want it," she said bitterly. "I'd like to die!"

"If you stay around where I am," Calhoun told her, "you may get your
wish. All right, there'll be no more questions."

She turned and moved toward the door to the cabin. Calhoun looked
after her.

"Maril."

"What?"

"Why were you crying?"

"You wouldn't understand," she said evenly.

Calhoun shrugged his shoulders almost up to his ears. He was a
professional man. In his profession he was not incompetent. But there
is no profession in which a really competent man tries to understand
women. Calhoun, annoyed, had to let fate or chance or disaster take
care of Maril's personal problems. He had larger matters to cope with.

But he had something to work on, now. He hunted busily in the
reference tapes. He came up with an explicit collection of information
on exactly the subject he needed. He left the control room to go down
into the storage areas of the Med Ship's hull. He found an ultra
frigid storage box, whose contents were kept at the temperature of
liquid air.

He donned thick gloves, used a special set of tongs, and extracted a
tiny block of plastic in which a sealed-tight phial of glass was
embedded. It frosted instantly he took it out, and when the storage
box was closed again the block was covered with a thick and opaque
coating of frozen moisture.

He went back to the control room and pulled down the panel which made
available a small-scale but surprisingly adequate biological
laboratory. He set the plastic block in a container which would raise
it very, very gradually to a specific temperature and hold it there.
It was, obviously, a living culture from which any imaginable quantity
of the same culture could be bred. Calhoun set the apparatus with
great exactitude.

"This," he told Murgatroyd, "may be a good day's work. Now I think I
can rest."

Then, for a long while, there was no sound or movement in the Med
Ship. The girl may have slept, or maybe not. Calhoun lay relaxed in a
chair which at the touch of a button became the most comfortable of
sleeping places. Murgatroyd remained in his cubbyhole, his tail curled
over his nose.

There were comforting, unheard, easily dismissable murmurings now and
again. They kept the feeling of life alive in the ship. But for such
infinitesimal stirrings of sound, carefully recorded for this exact
purpose, the feel of the ship would have been that of a tomb.

But it was quite otherwise when another ship-day began with the taped
sounds of morning activities as faint as echoes but nevertheless
establishing an atmosphere of their own.

Calhoun examined the plastic block and its contents. He read the
instruments which had cared for it while he slept. He put the
block--no longer frosted--in the culture microscope and saw its
enclosed, infinitesimal particles of life in the process of
multiplying on the food that had been frozen with them when they were
reduced to the spore condition. He beamed. He replaced the block in
the incubation oven and faced the day cheerfully.

Maril greeted him with great reserve. They breakfasted, with
Murgatroyd eating from his own platter on the floor, a tiny cup of
coffee alongside.

"I've been thinking," said Maril evenly. "I think I can get you a
hearing for whatever ideas you may have to help Dara."

"Kind of you," murmured Calhoun.

In theory, a Med Service man had all the authority needed for this or
any other emergency. The power to declare a planet in quarantine, so
cutting it off from all interstellar commerce, should be enough to
force cooperation from any world's government. But in practice Calhoun
had exactly as much power as he could exercise.

And Weald could not think straight where blueskins were concerned, and
certainly the authorities on Dara could not be expected to be
levelheaded. They had a history of isolation and outlawry, and long
experience of being regarded as less than human. In cold fact, Calhoun
had no power at all.

"May I ask whose influence you'll exert?" asked Calhoun.

"There's a man," said Maril reservedly, "who thinks a great deal of
me. I don't know his present official position, but he was certain to
become prominent. I'll tell him how you've acted up to now, and your
attitude, and of course that you're Med Service. He'll be glad to help
you, I'm sure."

"Splendid!" said Calhoun, nodding. "That will be Korvan."

She started. "How did you know?"

"Intuition," said Calhoun dryly. "All right. I'll count on him."

But he did not. He worked in the tiny biological lab all that ship-day
and all the next. The girl was very quiet. Murgatroyd tried to enter
into pretended conversation with her, but she was not able to match
his pretense.

On the ship-day after, the time for breakout approached. While the
ship was practically a world all by itself, it was easy to look
forward with confidence to the future. But when contact and, in a
fashion, conflict with other and larger worlds loomed nearer,
prospects seemed less bright. Calhoun had definite plans, now, but
there were so many ways in which they could be frustrated.

Calhoun sat down at the control board and watched the clock.

"I've got things lined up," he told Maril, "if only they work out. If
I can make somebody on Dara listen, which is unlikely, and follow my
advice, which they probably won't; and if Weald doesn't get the ideas
it probably will get; and isn't doing what I suspect it is--why,
maybe something can be done."

"I'm sure you'll do your best," said Maril politely.

Calhoun managed to grin. He watched the clock. There was no sensation
attached to overdrive travel except at the beginning and the end. It
was now time for the end. He might find most anything having happened.
His plans might immediately be seen to be hopeless. Weald could have
sent ships to Dara, or Dara might be in such a state of
desperation....

As it turned out, Dara was desperate. The Med Ship came out nearly a
light-month from the sun about which the planet Dara revolved. Calhoun
went into a short hop toward it. Then Dara was on the other side of
the blazing yellow star. It took time to reach it.

He called down, identifying himself and the ship and asking for
coordinates so his ship could be brought to ground. There was
confusion, as if the request were so unusual that the answers were not
ready. The grid, too, was on the planet's night side. Presently the
ship was locked onto by the grid's force-fields. It went downward.

Calhoun saw that Maril sat tensely, twisting her fingers within each
other, until the ship actually touched ground.

Then he opened the exit port--and faced armed men in the darkness,
with blast-rifles trained on him. There was a portable cannon trained
on the Med Ship itself.

"Come out!" rasped a voice. "If you try anything you get blasted! Your
ship and its contents are seized by the planetary government!"

       *       *       *       *       *



5


It seemed that the smell of hunger was in the air. The armed men were
emaciated. Lights came on, and stark, harsh shadows lay black upon the
ground. Calhoun's captors were uniformed, but the uniforms hung
loosely upon them. Where the lights struck upon their faces, their
cheeks were hollow. They were cadaverous. And there were the splotches
of pigment of which Calhoun had heard.

The man nearest the Med Ship's port had a monstrous, irregular
dull-blue marking over half of one side of his face and up upon his
forehead. The man next to him had a blue throat. The next man again
was less marked, but his left ear was blue and there was what seemed a
splashing of the same color on the skin under his hair.

The leader of the truculent group--it might have been a firing
squad--made an imperious gesture with his hand. It was blue, except
for two fingers which in the glaring illumination seemed whiter than
white.

"Out!" said that man savagely. "We're taking over your stock of food.
You'll get your share of it, like everybody else, but--"

Maril spoke over Calhoun's shoulder. She uttered a cryptic sentence or
two. It should have amounted to identification but there was
skepticism in the armed party.

"Oh, you're one of us, eh?" said the guard leader sardonically.
"You'll have a chance to prove that. Come out of there!"

Calhoun spoke abruptly, "This is a Med Ship," he said. "There are
medicines and bacterial culture inside it. They shouldn't be meddled
with. Here on Dara you've had enough of plagues!"

The man with the blue hand said as sardonically as before, "I said the
government was taking over your ship! It won't be looted. But you're
not taking a full cargo of food away! In fact, it's not likely you're
leaving!"

"And I want to speak to someone in authority," snapped Calhoun. "We've
just come from Weald." He felt bristling hatred all about him as he
named Weald. "There's tumult there. They're talking about dropping
fusion-bombs here. It's important that I talk to somebody with the
authority to take a few sensible precautions!"

He descended to the ground. There was a panicky "_Chee! Chee!_" from
behind him, and Murgatroyd came dashing to swarm up his body and cling
apprehensively to his neck.

"What's that?"

"A _tormal_" said Calhoun. "He's not a pet. Your medical men will know
something about him. This is a Med Ship and I'm a Med Ship man, and
he's an important member of the crew. He's a Med Ship _tormal_ and he
stays with me!"

The man with the blue hand said harshly, "There's somebody waiting to
ask you questions. Here!"

A groundcar came rolling out from the side of the landing-grid
enclosure. The groundcar ran on wheels, and wheels were not much used
on modern worlds. Dara was behind the times in more ways than one.

"This car will take you to Defense and you can tell them anything you
want. But don't try to sneak back in this ship! It'll be guarded!"

The groundcar was enclosed, with room for a driver and the three from
the Med Ship. But armed men festooned themselves about its exterior
and it went bumping and rolling to the massive ground-layer girders of
the grid. It rolled out under them and onto a paved highway. It picked
up speed.

There were buildings on either side of the road, but few showed
lights. This was night, and the men at the landing-grid had set a
pattern of hunger, so that the silence and the dark buildings did not
seem a sign of tranquility and sleep, but of exhaustion and despair.

The highway lamps were few, by comparison with other inhabited worlds,
and the groundcar needed lights of its own to guide its driver over a
paved surface that needed repair. By those moving lights other
depressing things could be seen: untidiness, buildings not kept up to
perfection, evidences of apathy, the road, which hadn't been cleaned
lately, litter here and there.

Even the fact that there were no stars added to the feeling of
wretchedness and gloom and, ultimately, of hunger.

Maril spoke nervously to the driver.

"The famine isn't any better?"

He moved his head in negation, but did not speak. There was a splotch
of blue pigment at the back of his neck. It extended upward into his
hair.

"I left two years ago," said Maril. "It was just beginning then.
Rationing hadn't started."

The driver said evenly, "There's rationing now!"

The car went on and on. A vast open space appeared ahead. Lights about
its perimeter seemed few and pale.

"Everything seems worse. Even the lights."

"Using all the power," said the driver, "to warm up ground to grow
crops where it ought to be winter. Not doing too well, either."

Calhoun knew, somehow, that Maril moistened her lips.

"I was sent," she explained to the driver, "to go ashore on Trent and
then make my way to Weald. I mailed reports of what I found out back
to Trent. Somebody got them back to here whenever it was possible."

The driver said, "Everybody knows the man on Trent disappeared. Maybe
he got caught, maybe somebody saw him without make-up. Or maybe he
just quit being one of us. What's the difference? No use!"

Calhoun found himself wincing a little. The driver was not angry. He
was hopeless. But men should not despair. They shouldn't accept
hostility from those about them as a device of fate for their
destruction.

Maril said quickly to Calhoun, "You understand? Dara's a heavy-metals
planet. There aren't many light elements in our soil. Potassium is
scarce. So our ground isn't very fertile. Before the Plague we traded
metals and manufactured products for imports of food and potash. But
since the Plague we've had no off-planet commerce. We've been
quarantined."

"I gathered as much," said Calhoun. "It was up to Med Service to see
that that didn't happen. It's up to Med Service now to see that it
stops."

"Too late now for anything," said the driver. "Whatever Med Service
may be! They're talking about cutting down our population so there'll
be food enough for some to live. There are two questions about it. One
is who's to be kept alive, and the other is why."

The groundcar aimed now for a cluster of faintly brighter lights on
the far side of the great open space. They enlarged as they grew
nearer. Maril said hesitantly, "There was someone, Korvan--" Calhoun
didn't catch the rest of the name. Maril said hesitantly, "He was
working on food plants. I thought he might accomplish something...."

The driver said caustically, "Sure! Everybody's heard about him! He
came up with a wonderful thing! He and his outfit worked out a way to
process weeds so they can be eaten. And they can. You can fill your
belly and not feel hungry, but it's like eating hay. You starve just
the same. He's still working. Head of a government division."

The groundcar passed through a gate. It stopped before a lighted door.
The armed men hanging to its outside dropped off. They watched Calhoun
closely as he stepped out with Murgatroyd riding on his shoulder.

Minutes later they faced a hastily summoned group of officials of the
Darian government. For a ship to land on Dara was so remarkable an
event that it called practically for a cabinet meeting. And Calhoun
noted that they were no better fed than the guards at the spaceport.

They regarded Calhoun and Maril with oddly burning, eyes. It was, of
course, because the two of them showed no signs of hunger. They
obviously had not been on short rations. Darians had this, now, to
increase a hatred which was inevitable anyhow, directed at all peoples
off their own planet.

"My name is Calhoun," said Calhoun briskly. "I've the usual Med
Service credentials. Now--"

He did not wait to be questioned. He told them of the appalling state
of things in the Twelfth Sector of the Med Service, so that men had
been borrowed from other sectors to remedy the intolerable, and he was
one of them. He told of his arrival at Weald and what had happened
there, from the excessively cautious insistence that he prove he was
not a Darian, to the arrival of the death-ship from Orede.

He was giving them the news affecting them, as they had not heard it
before. He went on to tell of his stop at Orede and his purpose, and
his encounter with the men he found there. When he finished there was
silence. He broke it.

"Now," he said, "Maril's an agent of yours. She can add to what I've
told you. I'm Med Service. I have a job to do here to carry out what
wasn't done before. I should make a planetary health inspection and
make recommendations for the improvement of the state of things. I'll
be glad if you'll arrange for me to talk to your health officials.
Things look bad, and something should be done."

Someone laughed without mirth.

"What will you recommend for long-continued undernourishment?" he
asked derisively. "That's our health problem!"

"I recommend food," said Calhoun.

"Where'll you fill the prescription?"

"I've the answer to that, too," said Calhoun curtly. "I'll want to
talk to any space pilots you've got. Get your astrogators together and
I think they'll approve my idea."

The silence was totally skeptical.

"Orede--"

"Not Orede," said Calhoun. "Weald will be hunting that planet over for
Darians. If they find any, they'll drop bombs here."

"Our only space pilots," said a tall man, presently, "are on Orede
now. If you've told the truth, they'll probably head back because of
your warning. They should bring meat."

His mouth worked peculiarly, and Calhoun knew that it was at the
thought of food.

"Which," said another man sharply, "goes to the hospitals! I haven't
tasted meat in two years!"

"Nobody has," growled another man still. "But here's this man Calhoun.
I'm not convinced he can work magic, but we can find out if he lies.
Put a guard on his ship. Otherwise let our health men give him his
head. They'll find out if he's from this Medical Service he tells of!
and this Maril...."

"I can be identified," said Maril. "I was sent to gather information
and send it in secret writing to one of us on Trent. I have a family
here. They'll know me! And I--there was someone who was working on
foods, and I believe he made it possible to use ... all sorts of
vegetation for food. He will identify me."

Someone laughed harshly.

Maril swallowed.

"I'd like to see him," she repeated. "And my family."

Some of the blue-splotched men turned away. A broad-shouldered man
said bluntly, "Don't look for them to be glad to see you. And you'd
better not show yourself in public. You've been well fed. You'll be
hated for that."

Maril began to cry. Murgatroyd said bewilderedly, "_Chee! Chee!_"

Calhoun held him close. There was confusion. And Calhoun found the
Minister of Health at hand. He looked most harried of all the
officials gathered to question Calhoun. He proposed that he get a look
at the hospital situation right away.

It wasn't practical. With all the population on half rations or less,
when night came people needed to sleep. Most people, indeed, slept as
many hours out of the traditional twenty-four as they could manage. It
was much more pleasant to sleep than to be awake and constantly nagged
at by continued hunger.

And there was the matter of simple decency. Continuous gnawing hunger
had an embittering effect upon everyone. Quarrelsomeness was a common
experience. And people who would normally be the leaders of opinion
felt shame because they were obsessed by thoughts of food. It was best
when people slept.

Still, Calhoun was in the hospitals by daybreak. What he found moved
him to savage anger. There were too many sick children. In every case
undernourishment contributed to their sickness. And there was not
enough food to make them well. Doctors and nurses denied themselves
food to spare it for their patients. And most of that self-denial was
doubtless voluntary, but it would not be discreet for anybody on Dara
to look conspicuously better fed than his fellows.

Calhoun brought out hormones and enzymes and medicaments from the Med
Ship while the guard in the ship looked on. He demonstrated the
processes of synthesis and auto-catalysis that enabled such small
samples to be multiplied indefinitely. He was annoyed by a clamorous
appetite. There were some doctors who ignored the irony of medical
techniques being taught to cure nonnutritional disease, when everybody
was half-fed, or less. They approved of Calhoun. They even approved of
Murgatroyd when Calhoun explained his function.

He was, of course, a Med Service _tormal_, and _tormals_ were
creatures of talent. They'd originally been found on a planet in the
Deneb area, and they were engaging and friendly small animals. But the
remarkable fact about them was that they couldn't contract any
disease. Not any.

They had a built-in, explosive reaction to bacterial and viral toxins,
and there hadn't yet been any pathogenic organism discovered to which
a _tormal_ could not more or less immediately develop antibody
resistance. So that in interstellar medicine _tormals_ were priceless.

Let Murgatroyd be infected with however localized, however specialized
an inimical organism, and presently some highly valuable defensive
substance could be isolated from his blood and he'd remain in his
usual exuberant good health.

When the antibody was analyzed by those techniques of microanalysis
the Service had developed, that was that. The antibody could be
synthesized and one could attack any epidemic with confidence.

The tragedy for Dara was, of course, that no Med Ship had come to Dara
three generations ago, when the Dara plague raged. Worse, after the
plague Weald was able to exert pressure which only a criminally
incompetent Med Service director would have permitted. But criminal
incompetence and its consequences was what Calhoun had been loaned to
Sector Twelve to help remedy. He was not at ease, though. No ship
arrived from Orede to bear out his account of an attempt to get that
lonely world evacuated before Weald discovered it had blueskins on it.
Maril had vanished, to visit or return to her family, or perhaps to
consult with the mysterious Korvan who'd arranged for her to leave
Dara to be a spy, and had advised her simply to make a new life
somewhere else, abandoning a famine-ridden, despised, and out-caste
world.

Calhoun had learned of two achievements the same Korvan had made for
his world. Neither was remarkably constructive. He'd offered to prove
the value of the second by dying of it. Which might make him a very
admirable character, or he could have a passion for martyrdom, which
is much more common than most people think. In two days Calhoun was
irritable enough from unaccustomed hunger to suspect the worst of him.

Meanwhile Calhoun worked doggedly; in the hospitals while the patients
were awake and in the Med Ship, under guard, afterward. He had hunger
cramps now, but he tested a plastic cube with a thriving biological
culture in it.

He worked at increasing his store of it. He'd snipped samples of
pigmented skin from dead patients in the hospitals, and examined the
pigmented areas, and very, very painstakingly verified a theory. It
took an electron microscope to do it, but he found a virus in the blue
patches which matched the type discovered on Tralee.

The Tralee viruses had effects which were passed on from mother to
child, and heredity had been charged with the observed results of
quasi-living viral particles. And then Calhoun very, very carefully
introduced into a virus culture the material he had been growing in a
plastic cube. He watched what happened.

He was satisfied, so much so that immediately afterward he yawned and
yawned and barely managed to stagger off to bed. The watching guard in
the Med Ship watched him in amazement.

That night the ship from Orede came in, packed with frozen bloody
carcasses of cattle. Calhoun knew nothing of it. But next morning
Maril came back. There were shadows under her eyes and her expression
was of someone who has lost everything that had meaning in her life.

"I'm all right," she insisted, when Calhoun commented. "I've been
visiting my family. I've seen Korvan. I'm quite all right."

"You haven't eaten any better than I have," Calhoun observed.

"I couldn't!" admitted Maril. "My sisters, my little sisters so
thin.... There's rationing for everybody and it's all efficiently
arranged. They even had rations for me. But I couldn't eat! I gave
most of my food to my sisters and they--they squabbled over it!"

Calhoun said nothing. There was nothing to say. Then she said, in a no
less desolate tone, "Korvan said I was foolish to come back."

"He could be right," said Calhoun.

"But I had to!" protested Maril. "And now I--I've been eating all I
wanted to, in Weald and in the ship, and I'm ashamed because they're
half-starved and I'm not. And when you see what hunger does to
them.... It's terrible to be half-starved and not able to think of
anything but food!"

"I hope," said Calhoun, "to do something about that. If I can get hold
of an astrogator or two--"

"The ship that was on Orede came in during the night," Maril told him
shakily. "It was loaded with frozen meat, but one load's not enough to
make a difference on a whole planet! And if Weald hunts for us on
Orede, we daren't go back for more meat."

She said abruptly, "There are some prisoners. They were miners. They
were crowded out of the ship. The Darians who'd stampeded the cattle
took them prisoners. They had to!"

"True," said Calhoun. "It wouldn't have been wise to leave Wealdians
around on Orede with their throats cut. Or living, either, to tell
about a rumor of blueskins. Even if their throats will be cut now. Is
that the program?"

Maril shivered.

"No. They'll be put on short rations like everybody else. And people
will watch them. The Wealdians expect to die of plague any minute
because they've been with Darians. So people look at them and laugh.
But it's not very funny."

"It's natural," said Calhoun, "but perhaps lacking in charity. Look
there! How about those astrogators? I need them for a job I have in
mind."

Maril wrung her hands.

"C--come here," she said in a low tone.

There was an armed guard in the control room of the ship. He'd watched
Calhoun a good part of the previous day as Calhoun performed his
mysterious work. He'd been off-duty and now was on duty again. He was
bored. So long as Calhoun did not touch the control board, though, he
was uninterested. He didn't even turn his head when Maril led the way
into the other cabin and slid the door shut.

"The astrogators are coming," she said swiftly. "They'll bring some
boxes with them. They'll ask you to instruct them so they can handle
our ship better. They lost themselves coming back from Orede. No,
they didn't lose themselves, but they lost time, enough time almost to
make an extra trip for meat. They need to be experts. I'm to come
along, so they can be sure that what you teach them is what you've
been doing right along."

Calhoun said, "Well?"

"They're crazy!" said Maril vehemently. "They knew Weald would do
something monstrous sooner or later. But they're going to try to stop
it by being more monstrous sooner! Not everybody agrees, but there are
enough. So they want to use your ship--it's faster in overdrive and so
on. And they'll go to Weald in this ship and--they say they'll give
Weald something to keep it busy without bothering us!"

Calhoun said dryly, "This pays me off for being too sympathetic with
blueskins! But if I'd been hungry for a couple of years, and was
despised to boot by the people who kept me hungry, I suppose I might
react the same way. No," he said curtly as she opened her lips to
speak again, "don't tell me the trick. Considering everything, there's
only one trick it could be. But I doubt profoundly that it would work.
All right."

He slid the door back and returned to the control room. Maril followed
him. He said detachedly, "I've been working on a problem outside of
the food one. It isn't the time to talk about it right now, but I
think I've solved it."

Maril turned her head, listening. There were footsteps on the tarmac
outside the ship. Both doors of the airlock were open. Four men came
in. They were young men who did not look quite as hungry as most
Darians, but there was a reason for that. Their leader introduced
himself and the others. They were the astrogators of the ship Dara had
built to try to bring food from Orede. They were not, said their
self-appointed leader, good enough. They'd overshot their
destination. They came out of overdrive too far off line. They needed
instruction.

Calhoun nodded, and observed that he'd been asking for them. They
were, of course, blueskins. On one the only visible disfigurement was
a patch of blue upon his wrist. On another the appearance of a blue
birthmark appeared beside his eye and went back and up his temple. A
third had a white patch on his temple, with all the rest of his face a
dull blue. The fourth had blue fingers on one hand.

"We've got orders," said their leader, steadily, "to come on board and
learn from you how to handle this ship. It's better than the one we've
got."

"I asked for you," repeated Calhoun. "I've an idea I'll explain as we
go along.... Those boxes?"

Someone was passing in iron boxes through the airlock. One of the four
very carefully brought them inside.

"They're rations," said a second young man. "We don't go anywhere
without rations, except Orede."

"Orede, yes. I think we were shooting at each other there," said
Calhoun pleasantly. "Weren't we?"

"Yes," said the young man.

He was neither cordial nor antagonistic. He was impassive. Calhoun
shrugged.

"Then we can take off immediately. Here's the communicator and there's
the button. You might call the grid and arrange for us to be lifted."

The young man seated himself at the control board. Very
professionally, he went through the routine of preparing to lift by
landing-grid, which routine has not changed in two hundred years. He
went briskly ahead until the order to lift. Then Calhoun stopped him.

"Hold it!"

He pointed to the airlock. Both doors were open. The young man at the
control board flushed vividly. One of the others closed and dogged the
doors.

The ship lifted. Calhoun watched with seeming negligence. But he found
occasion for a dozen corrections of procedure. This was presumably a
training voyage of his own suggestion. Therefore, when the blueskin
pilot would have flung the Med Ship into undirected overdrive, Calhoun
grew stern. He insisted on a destination. He suggested Weald.

The young men glanced at each other and accepted the suggestion. He
made the acting pilot look up the intrinsic brightness of its sun and
measure its apparent brightness from just off Dara. He made him
estimate the change in brightness to be expected after so many hours
in overdrive, if one broke out to measure.

The first blueskin student pilot ended a Calhoun-determined tour of
duty with more respect for Calhoun then he'd had at the beginning. The
second was anxious to show up better than the first. Calhoun drilled
him in the use of brightness-charts, by which the changes in apparent
brightness of stars between overdrive hops could be correlated with
angular changes to give a three-dimensional picture of the nearer
heavens.

It was a highly necessary art which had not been worked out on Dara,
and the prospective astrogators became absorbed in this and other fine
points of space-piloting. They'd done enough, in a few trips to Orede,
to realize that they needed to know more. Calhoun showed them.

Calhoun did not try to make things easy for them. He was hungry and
easily annoyed. It was sound training tactics to be severe, and to
phrase all suggestions as commands. He put the four young men in
command of the ship in turn, under his direction. He continued to use
Weald as a destination, but he set up problems in which the Med Ship
came out of overdrive pointing in an unknown direction and with a
precessory motion.

He made the third of his students identify Weald in the celestial
globe containing hundreds of millions of stars, and get on course in
overdrive toward it. The fourth was suddenly required to compute the
distance to Weald from such data as he could get from observation,
without reference to any records.

By this time the first man was chafing to take a second turn. Calhoun
gave each of them a second gruelling lesson. He gave them, in fact, a
highly condensed but very sound course in the art of travel in space.
His young students took command in four-hour watches, with at least
one breakout from overdrive in each watch.

He built up enthusiasm in them. They ignored the discomfort of being
hungry--though there had been no reason for them to stint on food on
Orede--in growing pride in what they came to know.

When Weald was a first-magnitude star, the four were not highly
qualified astrogators, to be sure, but they were vastly better
spacemen than at the beginning. Inevitably, their attitude toward
Calhoun was respectful. He'd been irritable and right. To the young,
the combination is impressive.

Maril had served as passenger only. In theory she was to compare
Calhoun's lessons with his practise when alone. But he did nothing on
this journey which, teaching considered, was different from the two
interstellar journeys Maril had made with him.

She occupied the sleeping cabin during two of the six watches of each
ship-day. She operated the food-readier, which was almost completely
emptied of its original store of food, it having been confiscated by
the government of Dara. That amount of food would make no difference
to the planet, but it was wise for everyone on Dara to be equally
ill-fed.

On the sixth day out from Dara, the sun of Weald had a magnitude of
minus five-tenths. The electron telescope could detect its larger
planets, especially a gas-giant fifth-orbit world of high albedo.
Calhoun had his four students estimate its distance again, pointing
out the difference that could be made in breakout position if the Med
Ship were mis-aimed by as much as one second of arc.

"And now," he said briskly, "we'll have coffee. I'm going to graduate
you as pilots. Maril, four cups of coffee, please."

Murgatroyd said "_Chee?_" The Med Ship was badly crowded with six
humans and Murgatroyd in a space intended for Calhoun and Murgatroyd
alone. The little _tormal_ had spent most of his time in his
cubbyhole, watching with beady eyes as so many people moved about on
what had been a spacious ship before.

"No coffee for you, Murgatroyd," said Calhoun. "You didn't do your
lessons. This is for the graduating class only."

Murgatroyd came out of his miniature den. He found his little cup and
offered it insistently, saying, "_Chee! Chee! Chee!_"

"No!" said Calhoun firmly. He regarded his class of four young men
with their blueskin markings. "Drink it down!" he commanded. "That's
the last order I'll give you. You're graduate pilots, now!"

They drank the coffee with a flourish. There was not one who did not
admire Calhoun for having made them admire themselves. They were,
actually, almost as much better pilots as they believed.

"And now," said Calhoun, "I suppose you'll tell me the truth about
those boxes you brought on board. You said they were rations, but
they haven't been opened in six days. I have an idea what they mean,
but you tell me."

The four looked uncomfortable. There was a long pause.

"They could be," said Calhoun detachedly, "cultures to be dumped on
Weald. Weald is making plans to wipe out Dara. So some fool has
decided to get Weald too busy fighting a plague of its own to bother
with you. Is that right?"

The young men stirred unhappily. Young men can very easily be made
into fanatics. But they have to be kept stirred up. They can't be
provided with sound reason for self-respect. On the Med Ship there'd
not been a single reference to Weald except as an object toward which
the Med Ship was being astrogated. There'd been no reference to
blueskins or enemies or threats or anything but space-piloting. The
four young men were now fanatical about the proper handling of a ship
in emptiness.

"Well, sir," said one of them, unhappily, "that's what we were ordered
to do."

"I object," said Calhoun. "It wouldn't work. I just left Weald a
little while back, remember. They've been telling themselves that some
day Dara would try that. They've made preparations to fight any
imaginable contagion you could drop on them. Every so often somebody
claims it's happening. It wouldn't work. I object!"

"But--"

"In fact," said Calhoun, "I forbid it. I shall prevent it. You shan't
do anything of the kind."

One of the young men, staring at Calhoun, nodded suddenly. His eyes
closed. He jerked his head erect and looked bewildered. A second sank
heavily into a chair. He said remotely, "Thish sfunny!" and abruptly
went to sleep. The third found his knees giving way. He paid elaborate
attention to them, stiffening them. But they yielded like rubber and
he went slowly down to the floor. The fourth said thickly and
reproachfully, "Thought y'were our frien'!"

He collapsed.

Calhoun very soberly tied them hand and foot and laid them out
comfortably on the floor. Maril watched, white-faced, her hand to her
throat. Murgatroyd looked agitated. He said anxiously, "_Chee? Chee?_"

"No," said Calhoun. "They'll wake up presently."

Maril said in a tense and desperate whisper, "You're betraying us!
You're going to take us to Weald!"

"No," said Calhoun. "We'll only orbit around it. First, though, I want
to get rid of those damned packed-up cultures. They're dead, by the
way. I killed them with super-sonics a couple of days ago, while a
fine argument was going on about distance-measurements by variable
Cepheids of known period."

He put the four boxes carefully in the disposal unit. He operated it.
The boxes and their contents streamed out to space in the form of
metallic and other vapors. Calhoun sat at the control desk.

"I'm a Med Service man," he said detachedly. "I couldn't cooperate in
the spread of plagues, anyhow, though a useful epidemic might be
another matter. But the important thing right now is not keeping Weald
busy with troubles to increase their hatred of Dara. It's getting some
food for Dara. And driblets won't help. What's needed is thousands of
tons, or tens of thousands." Then he said, "Overdrive coming,
Murgatroyd! Hold fast!"

The universe vanished. The customary unpleasant sensations accompanied
the change. Murgatroyd burped.

       *       *       *       *       *



6


A large part of the firmament was blotted out by the blindingly bright
half-disk of Weald, as it shone in the sunshine. It had icecaps at its
poles, and there were seas, and the mottled look of land which had
that carefully maintained balance of woodland and cultivated areas
which was so effective in climate control. The Med Ship floated free,
and Calhoun fretfully monitored all the beacon frequencies known to
man.

There was relative silence inside the ship. Maril watched Calhoun in a
sort of despairing indecision. The four young blueskins still slept,
still bound hand and foot upon the control room floor. Murgatroyd
regarded them, and Maril, and Calhoun in turn, and his small and furry
forehead wrinkled helplessly.

"They can't have landed what I'm looking for!" protested Calhoun as
his search had no result. "They can't! It would be too sensible for
them to have done it!"

Murgatroyd said "_Chee!_" in a subdued voice.

"But where the devil did they put them?" demanded Calhoun. "A polar
orbit would be ridiculous! They--" Then he grunted in disgust. "Oh! Of
course! Now, where's the landing-grid?"

He worked busily for minutes, checking the position of the Wealdian
landing-grid, which was mapped in the Sector Directory, against the
look of continents and seas on the half-disk so plainly visible
outside. He found what he wanted. He put on the ship's solar system
drive.

"I wish," he complained to Maril, "I wish I could think straight the
first time! And it's so obvious! If you want to put something out in
space, and not have it interfere with traffic, in what sort of orbit
and at what distance will you put it?"

Maril did not answer.

"Obviously," said Calhoun, "you'll put it as far as possible from the
landing-pattern of ships coming in to the spaceport. You'll put it on
the opposite side of the planet. And you'll want it to stay out of the
way, where anybody can know it is at any time of the day or night
without having to calculate anything.

"So you'll put it out in orbit so it will revolve around Weald in
exactly one day, neither more nor less, and you'll put it above the
equator. And then it will remain quite stationary above one spot on
the planet, a hundred and eighty degrees longitude away from the
landing-grid and directly over the equator."

He scribbled for a moment.

"Which means forty-two thousand miles high, give or take a few
hundred, and--here! And I was hunting for it in a close-in orbit!"

He grumbled to himself. He waited while the solar-system drive pushed
the Med Ship a quarter of the way around the bright planet below. The
sunset line vanished and the planet's disk became a complete circle.
Then Calhoun listened to the monitor earphones again, and grunted once
more, and changed course, and presently made a noise indicating
satisfaction.

He abandoned instrument control and peered directly out of a port,
handling the solar system drive with great care. Murgatroyd said
depressedly, "_Chee!_"

"Stop worrying," commanded Calhoun. "We haven't been challenged, and
there is a beacon transmitter at work, just to make sure that nobody
bumps into what we're looking for. It's a great help, because we do
want to bump, but gently."

Stars swung across the port out of which he looked. Something dark
appeared, and then straight lines and exact curvings. Even Maril,
despairing and bewildered as she was, caught sight of something vastly
larger than the Med Ship, floating in space. She stared. The Med Ship
maneuvered very cautiously. She saw another large object. A third. A
fourth. There seemed to be dozens of them.

They were spaceships, huge by comparison with _Aesclipus Twenty_. They
floated as the Med Ship did. They did not drive. They were not in
formation. They were not at even distances from each other. They did
not point in the same direction. They swung in emptiness like
derelicts.

Calhoun jockeyed his small ship with infinite care. Presently there
came the gentlest of impacts and then a clanking sound. The appearance
out the vision port became stationary, but still unbelievable. The Med
Ship was grappled magnetically to a vast surface of welded metal.

Calhoun relaxed. He opened a wall panel and brought out a vacuum suit.
He began briskly to get it on.

"Things moving smoothly," he commented. "We weren't challenged. So
it's extremely unlikely that we were spotted. Our friends on the floor
ought to begin to come to shortly. And I'm going to find out now
whether I'm a hero or in sure-enough trouble!"

Maril said drearily, "I don't know what you've done, except--"

Calhoun blinked at her, in the act of hauling the vacuum suit up his
chest and over his shoulders.

"Isn't it self-evident?" he demanded. "I've been giving astrogation
lessons to these characters. I certainly didn't do it to help them
dump germ-cultures on Weald! I brought them here! Don't you see the
point? These are space ships. They're in orbit around Weald. They're
not manned and they're not controlled. In fact, they're nothing but
sky-riding storage bins!"

He seemed to consider the explanation complete. He wriggled his arms
into the sleeves and gloves of the suit. He slung the air tanks over
his shoulder and hooked them to the suit.

"I'll be back," he said. "I hope with good news. I've reason to be
hopeful, though, because these Wealdians are very practical men. They
have things all prepared and tidy. I suspect I'll find these ships
with stores of air and fuel, maybe even food, so that if Weald should
manage to make a deal for the stuff stored out here in them, they'd
only have to bring out crews."

He lifted the space helmet down from its rack and put it on. He tested
it, reading the tank air-pressure, power-storage, and other data from
the lighted miniature instruments visible through pinholes above his
eye-level. He fastened a space rope about himself, speaking through
the helmet's opened faceplate.

"If our friends should wake up before I get back," he added, "please
restrain them. I'd hate to be marooned."

He went waddling into the airlock with the coil of space rope over one
vacuum-suited arm. The inner lock door closed behind him. A little
later Maril heard the outer lock open. Then silence.

Murgatroyd whimpered a little. Maril shivered. Calhoun had gone out of
the ship to nothingness. He'd said that what he was looking for, and
what he'd found, was forty-two thousand miles from Weald. One could
imagine falling forty-two thousand miles, where one couldn't imagine
falling a light-year.

Calhoun was walking on the steel plates of a gigantic spaceship which
floated among dozens of its fellows, all seeming derelicts and
seemingly abandoned. He was able to walk on the nearest because of
magnetic-soled shoes. He trusted his life to them and to a flimsy
space rope which trailed after him out the Med Ship's airlock.

Time passed. A clock ticked in that hurried tempo of five ticks to the
second which has been the habit of clocks since time immemorial. Very
small and trivial noises came from the background tape, preventing
utter silence from hanging intolerably in the ship.

Maril found herself listening tensely for something else. One of the
four bound blueskins snored, and stirred, and slept again. Murgatroyd
gazed about unhappily, and swung down to the control room floor, and
then paused for lack of any place to go or anything to do. He sat down
and began half-heartedly to lick his whiskers. Maril stirred.

Murgatroyd looked at her hopefully.

"_Chee?_" he asked shrilly.

She shook her head. It became a habit to act as if Murgatroyd were a
human being. "No," she said unsteadily. "Not yet."

More time passed. An unbearably long time. Then there was the faintest
of clankings. It repeated. Then, abruptly, there were noises in the
airlock. They continued. They were fumbling noises.

The outer airlock door closed. The inner door opened. Dense white fog
came out of it. There was motion. Calhoun followed the fog out of the
lock. He carried objects which had been weightless, but were suddenly
heavy in the ship's gravity-field. There were two spacesuits and a
curious assortment of parcels. He spread them out, flipped aside his
faceplate, and said briskly, "This stuff is cold! Turn a heater on it,
will you, Maril?"

He began to work his way out of his own vacuum-suit.

"Item," he said. "The ships are fuelled _and_ provisioned. A practical
tribe, the Wealdians! The ships are ready to take off as soon as
they're warmed up inside. A half-degree sun doesn't radiate heat
enough to keep a ship warm, when the rest of the cosmos is effectively
near zero Kelvin. Here, point the heaters like this."

He adjusted the radiant-heat dispensers. The fog disappeared where
their beams played. But the metal spacesuits glistened and steamed,
and the steam disappeared within inches. They were so completely and
utterly cold that they condensed the air about them as a liquid, which
re-evaporated to make fog, which warmed up and disappeared and was
immediately replaced.

"Item," said Calhoun again, getting his arms out of the vacuum-suit
sleeves. "The controls are pretty nearly standard. Our sleeping
friends will be able to astrogate them back to Dara without trouble,
provided only that nobody comes out here to bother us before they
leave."

He shed the last of the spacesuit, stepping out of its legs.

"And," he finished wryly, "I brought back an emergency supply of ship
provisions for everybody concerned, but find that I'm idiot enough to
feel that they'll choke me if I eat them while Dara's still starving."

Maril said, "But there isn't any hope for Dara! No real hope!"

He gaped at her.

"What do you think we're here for?"

He set to work to restore his four recent students to consciousness.
It was not a difficult task. The dosage mixed in the coffee given them
as a graduation ceremony--the ceremony which had consisted solely of
drinking coffee and passing out--allowed for waking-up processes.
Calhoun took the precaution of disarming them first, but presently
four hot-eyed young men glared at him.

"I'm calling," said Calhoun, holding a blaster negligently in his
hand, "I'm calling for volunteers. There's a famine on Dara. There've
been unmanageable crop surpluses on Weald. On Dara, the government
grimly rations every ounce of food. On Weald, the government has been
buying surplus grain to keep the price up.

"To save storage costs, it's loaded the grain into out-of-date
spaceships it once used to stand sentry over Dara to keep it out of
space when there was another famine there. Those ships have been put
out in orbit, where we're hooked on to one of them.

"It's loaded with half a million bushels of grain. I've brought
spacesuits from it, I've turned on the heaters in its interior, and
I've set its overdrive unit for a hop to Dara. Now I'm calling for
volunteers to take half a million bushels of grain to where it's
needed. Do I get any volunteers?"

He got four. Not immediately, because they were ashamed that he'd made
it impossible to carry out their original fanatic plan, and now
offered something much better to make up for it. They raged. But half
a million bushels of grain meant that people who must otherwise die
might live.

Ultimately, truculently, first one and then another angrily agreed.

"Good!" said Calhoun. "Now, how many of you dare risk the trip alone?
I've got one grain ship warming up. There are plenty of others around
us. Every one of you can take a ship and half a million bushels to
Dara, if you have the nerve!"

The atmosphere changed. Suddenly they clamored for the task he offered
them. They were still acutely uncomfortable. He'd bossed them and
taught them until they felt capable and glamorous and proud. Then he'd
pinned their ears back. But if they returned to Dara with four enemy
ships and unimaginable quantities of food with which to break the
famine....

There was work to be done first, of course. Only one ship was so far
warming up. Three more had to be entered, in spacesuits, and each had
to have its interior warmed so breathable air could exist inside it,
and at least part of the stored provisions had to be brought up to
reasonable temperature for use on the journey.

Then the overdrive unit had to be inspected and set for the length of
journey that a direct overdrive hop to Dara would mean, and Calhoun
had to make sure again that each of the four could identify Dara's sun
under all circumstances and aim for it with the requisite high
precision, both before going into overdrive and after breakout. When
all that was accomplished, Calhoun might reasonably hope that they'd
arrive. But it wasn't a certainty.

Still, presently his four students shook hands with him, with the fine
tolerance of young men intending much greater achievements than their
teacher. They wouldn't speak on communicator again, because their
messages might be picked up on Weald.

Of course, for this high heroic action to be successful, it had to be
performed with the stealth of sneak-thieves.

What seemed a long time passed. The one ship turned slowly upon some
unseen axis. It wavered back and forth, seeking a point of aim. A
second twisted in its place. A third put on the barest trace of solar
system drive to get clear of the rest. The fourth--

One ship vanished. It had gone into overdrive, heading for Dara at
many times the speed of light. Another. Two more.

That was all. The remainder of the fleet hung clumsily in emptiness.
And Calhoun worriedly went over in his mind the lessons he'd given in
such a pathetically small number of days. If the four ships reached
Dara, their pilots would be heroes. Calhoun had presented them with
that estate over their bitter objection. But they would glory in
it--if they reached Dara.

Maril looked at him with very strange eyes.

"Now what?" she asked.

"We hang around," said Calhoun, "to see if anybody comes up from Weald
to find out what's happened. It's always possible to pick up a sort of
signal when a ship goes into overdrive. Usually it doesn't mean a
thing. Nobody pays any attention. But if somebody comes out here...."

"What?"

"It'll be regrettable," said Calhoun. He was suddenly very tired.
"It'll spoil any chance of our coming back and stealing some more
food, like interstellar mice. If they find out what we've done they'll
expect us to try it again. They might get set to fight. Or they might
simply land the rest of these ships."

"If I'd realized what you were about," said Maril, "I'd have joined in
the lessons. I could have piloted a ship."

"You wouldn't have wanted to," said Calhoun. He yawned. "You wouldn't
want to be a heroine. No normal girl does."

"Why?"

"Korvan," said Calhoun. He yawned again. "I've asked about him. He's
been trying very desperately to deserve well of his fellow blueskins.
All he's accomplished is develop a way to starve painlessly. He
wouldn't feel comfortable with a girl who'd helped make starving
unnecessary. He'd admire you politely, but he'd never marry you. And
you know it."

She shook her head, but it was not easy to tell whether she denied the
reaction of Korvan, whom Calhoun had never met, or denied that he was
more important to her than anything else. The last was what Calhoun
plainly implied.

"You don't seem to be trying to be a hero!" she protested.

"I'd enjoy it," admitted Calhoun, "but I have a job to do. It's got to
be done. It's more important than being admired."

"You could take another ship back," she told him. "It would be worth
more to Dara than the Med Ship is! And then everybody would realize
that you'd planned everything."

"Ah," said Calhoun, "but you've no idea how much this ship matters to
Dara!"

He seated himself at the controls. He slipped headphones over his
ears. He listened. Very, very carefully, he monitored all the wave
lengths and wave forms he could discover in use on Weald. There was no
mention of the oddity of behavior of shiploads of surplus grain aloft.
There was no mention of the ships at all. There was plenty of mention
of Dara, and blueskins, and of the vicious political fight now going
on to see which political party could promise the most complete
protection against blueskins.

After a full hour of it, Calhoun flipped off his receptor and swung
the Med Ship to an exact, painstakingly precise aim at the sun around
which Dara rolled. He said, "Overdrive coming, Murgatroyd!"

Murgatroyd grabbed. The stars went out and the universe reeled and the
Med Ship became a sort of cosmos all its own, into which no signal
could come, no danger could enter, and in which there could be no
sound except those minute ones made to prevent silence.

Calhoun yawned again.

"Now there's nothing to be done for a day or two," he said wearily,
"and I'm beginning to understand why people sleep all they can, on
Dara. It's one way not to feel hungry. And one dreams such delicious
meals! But looking hungry is a social requirement, on Dara."

Maril said tensely, "You're going back? After they took the ship from
you?"

"The job's not finished," he explained. "Not even the famine's ended,
and the famine's a second-order effect. If there were no such thing as
a blueskin, there'd be no famine. Food could be traded for. We've got
to do something to make sure there are no more famines."

She looked at him oddly.

"It would be desirable," she said with irony. "But you can't do it."

"Not today, no," he admitted. Then he said longingly, "I didn't get
much sleep on the way here, while running a seminar on astrogation. I
think I'll take a nap."

She rose and almost ostentatiously went into the other cabin, to leave
him alone. He shrugged. He settled down into the chair which, to let a
Med Ship man break the monotony of life in unchanging surroundings,
turned into a comfortable sleeping arrangement. He fell instantly
asleep.

For very many ship-hours, then, there was no action or activity or
happening of any imaginable consequence in the Med Ship. Very, very
far away, light-years distant and light-years apart, four shiploads of
grain hurtled toward the famine-stricken planet of blueskins. Each
great ship had a single semiskilled blueskin for pilot and crew.

Thousands of millions of suns blazed with violence appropriate to
their stellar types in a galaxy of which a very small proportion had
been explored and colonized by humanity. The human race was now to be
counted in quadrillions on scores of hundreds of inhabited worlds, but
the tiny Med Ship seemed the least significant of all possible created
things.

It could travel between star-systems and even star-clusters, but it
was not yet capable of crossing the continent of suns on which the
human race arose. And between any two solar systems the journeying of
the Med Ship consumed much time. Which would be maddening for someone
with no work to do or no resources in himself, or herself.

On the second ship-day Calhoun labored painstakingly and somewhat
distastefully at the little biological laboratory. Maril watched him
in a sort of brooding silence. Murgatroyd slept much of the time, with
his furry tail wrapped meticulously across his nose.

Toward the end of the day Calhoun finished his task. He had a matter
of six or seven cubic centimeters of clear liquid as the conclusion of
a long process of culturing, and examination by microscope, and again
culturing plus final filtration. He looked at a clock and calculated
time.

"Better wait until tomorrow," he observed, and put the bit of clear
liquid in a temperature-controlled place of safekeeping.

"What is it?" asked Maril. "What's it for?"

"It's part of a job I have on hand," said Calhoun. He considered. "How
about some music?"

She looked astonished. But he set up an instrument and fed microtape
into it and settled back to listen. Then there was music such as she
had never heard before. It was another device to counteract isolation
and monotonous between-planet voyages. To keep it from losing its
effectiveness, Calhoun rationed himself on music, as on other things.

Any indulgence frequently repeated would become a habit, in the sense
that it would give no special pleasure when indulged in, but would
make for stress if it were omitted. Calhoun deliberately went for
weeks between uses of his recordings, so that music was an event to be
looked forward to and cherished.

When he tapered off the stirring symphonies of Kun Gee with
tranquilizing, soothing melodies from the Rim School of composers,
Maril regarded him with a very peculiar gaze indeed.

"I think I understand now," she said slowly, "why you don't act like
other people. Toward me, for example. The way you live gives you what
other people have to get in crazy ways--making their work feed their
vanity, and justify pride, and make them feel significant. But you can
put your whole mind on your work."

He thought it over.

"Med Ship routine is designed to keep one healthy in his mind," he
admitted. "It works pretty well. It satisfies all my mental appetites.
But there are instincts...."

She waited. He did not finish.

"What do you do about the instincts that work and music and such
things can't satisfy?"

Calhoun grinned wryly, "I'm stern with them. I have to be."

He stood up and plainly expected her to go into the other cabin for
the night. She went.

It was after breakfast time of the next ship-day when he got out the
sample of clear liquid he'd worked so long to produce.

"We'll see how it works," he observed. "Murgatroyd's handy in case of
a slip-up. It's perfectly safe so long as he's aboard and there are
only the two of us."

She watched as he injected half a cc. under his own skin. Then she
shivered a little.

"What will it do?"

"That remains to be seen." He paused a moment. "You and I," he said
with some dryness, "make a perfect test for anything. If you catch
something from me, it will be infectious indeed!"

She gazed at him utterly without comprehension.

He took his own temperature. He brought out the folios which were his
orders, covering each of the planets he should give a standard Medical
Service inspection. Weald was there. Dara wasn't. But a Med Service
man has much freedom of action, even when only keeping up the routine
of normal Med Service. When catching up on badly neglected operations,
he necessarily has much more. Calhoun went over the folios.

Two hours later he took his temperature again. He looked pleased. He
made an entry in the ship's log. Two hours later yet he found himself
drinking thirstily and looked more pleased still.

He made another entry in the log and matter-of-factly drew a small
quantity of blood from his own vein and called to Murgatroyd.
Murgatroyd submitted amiably to the very trivial operation Calhoun
carried out. Calhoun put away the equipment and saw Maril staring at
him with a certain look of shock.

"It doesn't hurt him," Calhoun explained. "Right after he's born
there's a tiny spot on his flank that has the pain-nerves
desensitized. Murgatroyd's all right. That's what he's for!"

"But he's your friend!" said Maril.

Murgatroyd, despite his small size and furriness, had all the human
attributes an animal which lives with humans soon acquires. Calhoun
looked at him with affection.

"He's my assistant. I don't ask anything of him that I can do myself.
But we're both Med Service. And I do things for him that he can't do
for himself. For example, I make coffee for him."

Murgatroyd heard the familiar word. He said, "_Chee!_"

"Very well," agreed Calhoun. "We'll all have some."

He made coffee. Murgatroyd sipped at the cup especially made for his
little paws. Once he scratched at the place on his flank which had no
pain nerves. It itched. But he was perfectly content. Murgatroyd
would always be contented when he was somewhere near Calhoun.

Another hour went by. Murgatroyd climbed up into Calhoun's lap and
with a determined air went to sleep there. Calhoun disturbed him long
enough to get an instrument out of his pocket. He listened to
Murgatroyd's heartbeat, while Murgatroyd dozed.

"Maril," he said. "Write down something for me. The time, and
ninety-six, and one-twenty over ninety-four."

She obeyed, not comprehending. Half an hour later, still not stirring
to disturb Murgatroyd, he had her write down another time and sequence
of figures, only slightly different from the first. Half an hour later
still, a third set. But then he put Murgatroyd down, well satisfied.

He took his own temperature. He nodded.

"Murgatroyd and I have one more chore to do," he told her. "Would you
go in the other cabin for a moment?"

Disturbed, she went into the other cabin. Calhoun drew a small sample
of blood from the insensitive area on Murgatroyd's flank. Murgatroyd
submitted with complete confidence in the man. In ten minutes Calhoun
had diluted the sample, added an anticoagulant, shaken it up
thoroughly, and filtered it to clarity with all red and white
corpuscles removed. Another Med Ship man would have considered that
Calhoun had had Murgatroyd prepare a splendid small sample of
antibody-containing serum, in case something got out of hand. It would
assuredly take care of two patients.

But a Med Ship man would also have known that it was simply one of
those scrupulous precautions a Med Ship man takes when using cultures
from store.

Calhoun put the sample away and called Maril back.

"It was nothing," he explained, "but you might have felt
uncomfortable. We simply had a bit of Med Service routine that had to
be gone through. It's all right now."

He offered no further explanation. She said, "I'll fix lunch." She
hesitated. "You brought some food from the first Weald ship. Do you
want to--"

He shook his head.

"I'm squeamish," he admitted. "The trouble on Dara is Med Service
fault. Before my time, but still ... I'll stick to rations until
everybody eats."

He watched her unobtrusively as the day went on. Presently he
considered that she was slightly flushed. Shortly after the evening
meal of singularly unappetizing Darian rations, she drank thirstily.
He did not comment. He brought out cards and showed her a complicated
game of solitaire in which mental arithmetic and expert use of
probability increased one's chance of winning.

By midnight she'd learned the game and played it absorbedly. Calhoun
was able to scrutinize her without appearing to do so, and he was
satisfied again. When he mentioned that the Med Ship should arrive off
Dara in eight hours more, she put the cards away and went into the
other cabin.

Calhoun wrote up the log. He added the notes that Maril had made for
him, of Murgatroyd's pulse and blood pressure after the injection of
the same culture that produced fever and thirstiness in himself and
later, without contact with him or the culture, in Maril. He put a
professional comment at the end:

     _The culture seems to have retained its normal characteristics
     during long storage in the spore state. It received and reproduced
     rapidly. I injected .5 cc. under my skin and in less than one hour
     my temperature was 30.8° C. An hour later it was 30.9° C. This was
     its peak. It immediately returned to normal. The only other
     observable symptom was slightly increased thirst. Bloodpressure
     and pulse remained normal. The other person in the Med Ship
     displayed the same symptoms, in prompt and complete repetition,
     without physical contact._

He went to sleep, with Murgatroyd curled up in his cubbyhole, his tail
draped carefully over his nose.

The Med Ship broke out of overdrive at 1300 hours, ship-time. Calhoun
made contact with the grid and was promptly lowered to the ground.

It was almost two hours later, at 1500 hours ship-time, when the
people of Dara were informed by broadcast that Calhoun was to be
executed immediately.

       *       *       *       *       *



7


From the viewpoint of Darians, who were also blueskins, the decision
of Calhoun's guilt and the decision to execute him were reasonable
enough. Maril protested fiercely, and her testimony agreed with
Calhoun's in every respect, but from a blueskin viewpoint their own
statements were damning.

Calhoun had taken four young astrogators to space. They were the only
semiskilled space pilots Dara had. There were no fully qualified men.
Calhoun had asked for them, and taken them out to emptiness, and there
he had instructed them in modern guidance methods for ships of space.

So far there was no disagreement. He'd proposed to make them more
competent pilots; more capable of driving a ship to Orede, for
example, to raid the enormous cattle herds there. And he'd had them
drive the Med Ship to Weald, against which there could be no
objection.

But just before arrival he had tricked all four of them by giving them
drugged coffee. He'd destroyed the lethal bacterial cultures they'd
been ordered to dump on Weald. Then he'd sent the four student pilots
off separately, so he and Maril claimed, in huge ships crammed with
grain. But those ships were not to be believed in, anyhow.

Nobody believed in shiploads of grain to be had for the taking. They
did know that the only four partially experienced space pilots on Dara
had been taken away and by Calhoun's own story sent out of the ship
after they'd been drugged.

Had they been trained, and had they been helped or even permitted to
sow the seeds of plague on Weald, and had they come back prepared to
pass on training to other men to handle other space ships now
feverishly being built in hidden places on Dara, then Dara might have
a chance of survival.

But a space battle with only partly trained pilots would be hazardous
at best. With no trained pilots at all, it would be hopeless. So
Calhoun, by his own story, appeared to have doomed every living being
on Dara to massacre from the bombs of Weald.

It was this last angle which destroyed any chance of anybody believing
in such fairy-tale objects as ships loaded down with grain. Calhoun
had shattered Dara's feeble hope of resistance. Weald had some ships
and could build or buy others faster than Dara could hope to construct
them.

Equally important, Weald had a plenitude of experienced spacemen to
man some ships fully and train the crews of others. If it had become
desperately busy fighting plague, then a fleet to exterminate life on
Dara would be delayed. Dara might have gained time at least to build
ships which could ram their enemies and destroy them that way.

But Calhoun had made it impossible. If he told the truth and Weald
already had a fleet of huge ships which only needed to be emptied of
grain and filled with guns and men, then Dara was doomed. But if he
did not tell the truth it was equally doomed by his actions. So
Calhoun would be killed.

His execution was to take place in the open space of the landing-grid,
with vision cameras transmitting the sight over all the blueskin
planet. Half-starved men with grisly blue blotches on their skins,
marched him to the center of the largest level space on the planet
which was not desperately being cultivated. Their hatred showed in
their expressions. Bitterness and fury surrounded Calhoun like a wall.
Most of Dara would have liked to have seen him killed in a manner as
atrocious as his crime, but no conceivable death would be satisfying.

So the affair was coldly businesslike, with not even insults offered
to him. He was left to stand alone in the very center of the
landing-grid floor. There were a hundred blasters which would fire
upon him at the same instant. He would not only be killed; he would be
destroyed. He would be vaporized by the blue-white flames poured upon
him.

His death was remarkably close, nothing remaining but the order to
fire, when loudspeakers from the landing-grid office froze everything.
One of the grain ships from Weald had broken out of overdrive and its
pilot was triumphantly calling for landing coordinates. The grid
office relayed his call to loudspeaker circuits as the quickest way to
get it on the communication system of the whole planet.

"Calling ground," boomed the triumphant voice of the first of the
student pilots Calhoun had trained. "Calling ground! Pilot Franz in
captured ship requests coordinates for landing! Purpose of landing is
to deliver half a million bushels of grain captured from the enemy!"

At first, nobody dared believe it. But the pilot could be seen on
vision. He was known. No blueskin would be left alive long enough to
be used as a decoy by the men of Weald! Presently the giant ship on
its second voyage to Dara--the first had been a generation ago, when
it threatened death and destruction--appeared as a dark pinpoint in
the sky. It came down and down, and presently it hovered over the
center of the tarmac, where Calhoun composedly stood on the spot where
he was to have been executed.

The landing-grid crew shifted the ship to one side, and only then did
Calhoun stroll in a leisurely fashion toward the Med Ship by the
grid's metal-lace wall.

The big ship touched ground, and its exit port revolved and opened,
and the student pilot stood there grinning and heaving out handfuls of
grain. There was a swarming, yelling, deliriously triumphant crowd,
then, where only minutes before there'd been a mob waiting to rejoice
when Calhoun's living body exploded into flame.

They no longer hated Calhoun, but he had to fight his way to the Med
Ship, nevertheless. He was surrounded by ecstatically admiring
citizens of Dara. They shouted praise and rejoicing in his ears until
he was half-deafened, and they almost tore his clothing from them in
their desire to touch, to pat, to assure him of their gratitude and
affection, minutes since they'd thirsted for his blood.

Two hours after the first ship, a second landed. Dara went wild again.
Four hours later still, the third arrived. The fourth came down to
ground on the following day.

When Calhoun faced the executive and cabinet of Dara for the second
time his tone and manner were very dry.

"Now," he said curtly, "I would like a few more astrogators to train.
I think it likely that we can raid the Wealdian grain fleet one more
time, and in so doing get the beginning of a fleet for defense. I
insist, however, that it must not be used in combat. We might as well
be sensible about this situation! After all, four shiploads of grain
won't break the famine! They'll help a lot, but they're only the
beginning of what's needed for a planetary population!"

"How much grain can we hope for?" demanded a man with a blue mark
covering all his chin.

Calhoun told him.

"How long before Weald can have a fleet overhead, dropping fusion
bombs?" demanded another, grimly.

Calhoun named a time. But then he said, "I think we can keep them from
dropping bombs if we can get the grain fleet and some capable
astrogators."

"How?"

He told them. It was not possible to tell the whole story of what he
considered sensible behavior. An emotional program can be presented
and accepted immediately. A plan of action which is actually
intelligent, considering all elements of a situation, has to be
accepted piecemeal. Even so, the military men growled.

"We've plenty of heavy elements," said one. "If we'd used our brains,
we'd have more bombs than Weald can hope for! We could turn that whole
planet into a smoking cinder!"

"Which," said Calhoun acidly, "would give you some satisfaction but
not an ounce of food! And food's more important than satisfaction.
Now, I'm going to take off for Weald again. I'll want somebody to
build an emergency device for my ship, and I'll want the four pilots
I've trained and twenty more candidates. And I'd like to have some
decent rations! The last trip brought back two million bushels of
grain. You can certainly spare adequate food for twenty men for a few
days!"

It took some time to get the special device constructed, but the Med
Ship lifted in two days more. The device for which it had waited was
simply a preventive of the disaster overtaking the ship from the mine
on Orede. It was essentially a tank of liquid oxygen, packed in the
space from which stores had been taken away. When the ship's air
supply was pumped past it, first moisture and then CO_{2} froze out.

Then the air flowed over the liquefied oxygen at a rate to replace the
CO_{2} with more useful breathing material. Then the moisture was
restored to the air as it warmed again. For so long as the oxygen
lasted, fresh air for any number of men could be kept purified and
breathable. The Med Ship's normal equipment could take care of no more
than ten. But with this it could journey to Weald with almost any
complement on board.

Maril stayed on Dara when the Med Ship left. Murgatroyd protested
shrilly when he discovered her about to be closed out by the closing
airlock.

"_Chee!_" he said indignantly. "_Chee! Chee!_"

"No," said Calhoun. "We'll be crowded enough anyhow. We'll see her
later."

He nodded to one of the first four student pilots, who crisply made
contact with the landing-grid office, and very efficiently supervised
as the grid took the ship up. The other three of the four
first-trained men explained every move to sub-classes assigned to
each. Calhoun moved about, listening and making certain that the
instruction was up to standard.

He felt queer, acting as the supervisor of an educational institution
in space. He did not like it. There were twenty-four men beside
himself crowded into the Med Ship's small interior. They got in each
other's way. They trampled on each other. There was always somebody
eating, and always somebody sleeping, and there was no need whatever
for the background tape to keep the ship from being intolerably
quiet. But the air system worked well enough, except once when the
reheating unit quit and the air inside the ship went down below
freezing before the trouble could be found and corrected.

The journey to Weald, this time, took seven days because of the
training program in effect. Calhoun bit his nails over the delay. But
it was necessary for each of the students to make his own line-ups on
Weald's sun, and compute distances, and for each of them to practise
maneuverings that would presently be called for. Calhoun hoped
desperately that preparations for active warfare did not move fast on
Weald.

He believed, however, that in the absence of direct news from Dara,
Wealdian officials would take the normal course of politicos. They had
proclaimed the ship from Orede an attack from Dara. Therefore, they
would specialize on defensive measures before plumping for offense.
They'd get patrol ships out to spot invasion ships long before they
worked on a fleet to destroy the blueskins. It would meet the public
demand for defense.

Calhoun was right. The Med Ship made its final approach to Weald under
Calhoun's own control. He'd made brightness-measurements on his
previous journey and he used them again. They would not be strictly
accurate, because a sunspot could knock all meaning out of any reading
beyond two decimal places. But the first breakout was just far enough
from the Wealdian system for Calhoun to be able to pick out its
planets with the electron telescope at maximum magnification. He could
aim for Weald itself, allowing, of course, for the lag in the apparent
motion of its image because of the limited speed of light. He tried
the briefest of overdrive hops, and came out within the solar system
and well inside any watching patrol.

That was pure fortune. It continued. He'd broken through the screen of
guard ships in undetectable overdrive. He was within half an hour's
solar system drive of the grain fleet. There was no alarm, at first.
Of course radars spotted the Med Ship as an object, but nobody paid
attention. It was not headed for Weald. It was probably assumed to be
a guard boat itself. Such mistakes do happen.

Again from the storage space from which supplies had been removed,
Calhoun produced vacuum suits. The four first students went out, each
escorting a less-accustomed neophyte and all fastened firmly together
with space ropes. They warmed the interiors of four ships and went on
to others. Presently there were eight ships making ready for an
interstellar journey, each with a scared but resolute new pilot
familiarizing himself with its controls. There were sixteen ships.
Twenty. Twenty-three.

A guard ship came humming out from Weald. It would be armed, of
course. It came droning, droning up the forty-odd thousand miles from
the planet. Calhoun swore. He could not call his students and tell
them what was toward. The guard ship would overhear. He could not
trust untried young men to act rationally if they were unaware and the
guard ship arrived and matter-of-factly attempted to board one of
them.

Then he was inspired. He called Murgatroyd, placed him before the
communicator, and set it at voice-only transmission. This was familiar
enough, to Murgatroyd. He'd often seen Calhoun use a communicator.

"_Chee!_" shrilled Murgatroyd. "_Chee-chee!_"

A startled voice came out of the speaker: "What's that?"

"_Chee_," said Murgatroyd zestfully.

The communicator was talking to him. Murgatroyd adored three things,
in order. One was Calhoun. The second was coffee. The third was
pretending to converse like a human being. The speaker said
explosively, "You there, identify yourself!"

"_Chee-chee-chee-chee!_" observed Murgatroyd. He wriggled with
pleasure and added, reasonably enough, "_Chee!_"

The communicator bawled, "Calling ground! Calling ground! Listen to
this! Something that ain't human's talking at me on a communicator!
Listen in an' tell me what to do!"

Murgatroyd interposed with another shrill, "_Chee!_"

Then Calhoun pulled the Med Ship slowly away from the clump of
still-lifeless grain ships. It was highly improbable that the guard
boat would carry an electron telescope. Most likely it would have only
an echo-radar, and so could determine only that an object of some sort
moved of its own accord in space. Calhoun let the Med Ship accelerate.
That would be final evidence. The grain ships were between Weald and
its sun. Even electron telescopes on the ground--and electron
telescopes were ultimately optical telescopes with electronic
amplification--could not get a good image of the ship through sunlit
atmosphere.

"_Chee?_" asked Murgatroyd solicitously. "_Chee-chee-chee?_"

"Is it blueskins?" shakily demanded the voice from the guard boat.
"Ground! Ground! Is it blueskins?"

A heavy, authoritative voice came in with much greater volume. "That's
no human voice," it said harshly. "Approach its ship and send back an
image. Don't fire first unless it heads for ground."

The guard ship swerved and headed for the Med Ship. It was still a
very long way off.

"_Chee-chee_," said Murgatroyd encouragingly.

Calhoun changed the Med Ship's course. The guard ship changed course
too. Calhoun let it draw nearer, but only a little. He led it away
from the fleet of grain ships.

He swung his electron telescope on them. He saw a spacesuited figure
outside one, safely roped, however. It was easy to guess that someone
had meant to return to the Med Ship for orders or to make a report,
and found the Med Ship gone. He'd go back inside and turn on a
communicator.

"_Chee!_" said Murgatroyd.

The heavy voice boomed. "You there! This is a human-occupied world! If
you come in peace, cut your drive and let our guard ship approach!"

Murgatroyd replied in an interested but doubtful tone. The booming
voice bellowed. Another voice of higher authority took over.
Murgatroyd was entranced that so many people wanted to talk to him. He
made what for him was practically an oration. The last voice spoke
persuasively and suavely.

"_Chee-chee-chee-chee_," said Murgatroyd.

One of the grain ships flickered and ceased to be. It had gone into
overdrive. Another. And another. Suddenly they began to flick out of
sight by twos and threes.

"_Chee_," said Murgatroyd with a note of finality.

The last grain ship vanished.

"Calling guard ship," said Calhoun dryly. "This is Med Ship _Aesclipus
Twenty_. I called here a couple of weeks ago. You've been talking to
my _tormal_, Murgatroyd."

A pause. A blank pause. Then profanity of deep and savage
intemperance.

"I've been on Dara," said Calhoun.

Dead silence fell.

"There's a famine there," said Calhoun deliberately. "So the grain
ships you've had in orbit have been taken away by men from
Dara--blueskins if you like--to feed themselves and their families.
They've been dying of hunger and they don't like it."

There was a single burst of the unprintable. Then the formerly suave
voice said waspishly, "Well? The Med Service will hear of your
interference!"

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I'll report it myself. I have a message for you.
Dara is ready to pay for every ounce of grain and for the ships it was
stored in. They'll pay in heavy metals--irridium, uranium, that sort
of thing."

The suave voice fairly curdled.

"As if we'd allow anything that was ever on Dara to touch ground
here!"

"Ah! But there can be sterilization. To begin with metals, uranium
melts at 1150° centigrade, and tungsten at 3370° and irridium at
2350°. You could load such things and melt them down in space and then
tow them home. And you can actually sterilize a lot of other useful
materials!"

The suave voice was infuriated: "I'll report this! You'll suffer for
this!"

Calhoun said pleasantly, "I'm sure that what I say is being recorded,
so that I'll add that it's perfectly practical for Wealdians to land
on Dara, take whatever property they think wise--to pay for damage
done by blueskins, of course--and get back to Wealdian ships with
absolutely no danger of carrying contagion. If you'll make sure the
recording's clear...."

He described, clearly and specifically, exactly how a man could be
outfitted to walk into any area of any conceivable contagion, do
whatever seemed necessary in the way of looting--but Calhoun did not
use the word--and then return to his fellows with no risk whatever of
bringing back infection. He gave exact details.

Then he said, "My radar says you've four ships converging on me to
blast me out of space. I sign off."

The Med Ship disappeared from normal space, and entered that
improbably stressed area of extension which it formed about itself and
in which physical constants were wildly strange. For one thing, the
speed of light in overdrive-stressed space had not been measured yet.
It was too high. For another, a ship could travel very many times
186,000 miles per second in overdrive.

The Med Ship did just that. There was nobody but Calhoun and
Murgatroyd on board. There was companionable silence, with only the
small threshold-of-perception sounds which one did not often notice.

Calhoun luxuriated in regained privacy. For seven days he'd had
twenty-four other human beings crowded into the two cabins of the
ship, with never so much as one yard of space between himself and
someone else. One need not be snobbish to wish to be alone sometimes!

Murgatroyd licked his whiskers thoughtfully.

"I hope," said Calhoun, "that things work out right. But they may
remember on Dara that I'm responsible for some ten million bushels of
grain reaching them. Maybe, just possibly, they'll listen to me and
act sensibly. After all, there's only one way to break a famine. Not
with ten million bushels for a whole planet! And certainly not with
bombs!"

Driving direct, without pausing for practising, the Med Ship could
arrive at Dara in a little more than five days. Calhoun looked forward
to relaxation. As a beginning he made ready to give himself an
adequate meal for the first time since first landing on Dara. Then,
presently, he sat down to a double meal of Darian famine-rations,
which were far from appetizing. But there wasn't anything else on
board.

He had some pleasure later, though, envisioning what went on in the
normal, non-overdrive universe. Suns flared, and comets hurtled on
their way, and clouds formed and dropped down rain, and all sorts of
celestial and meteorological phenomena took place. On Weald,
obviously, there would be purest panic.

The vanishing of the grain fleet wouldn't be charged against
twenty-four men. A Darian fleet would be suspected, and with the
suspicion would come terror, and with terror a governmental crisis.
Then there'd be a frantic seizure of any craft that could take to
space, and the agitated improvisation of a space fleet.

But besides that, biological-warfare technicians would examine
Calhoun's instructions for equipment by which armed men could be
landed on a plague-stricken planet and then safely taken off again.
Military and governmental officials would come to the eminently sane
conclusion that while Calhoun could not well take active measures
against blueskins, as a sane and proper citizen of the galaxy he would
be on the side of law and order and propriety and justice--in short,
of Weald. So they ordered sample anticontagion suits made according to
Calhoun's directions, and they had them tested. They worked admirably.

On Dara, while Calhoun journeyed placidly back to it, grain was
distributed lavishly, and everybody on the planet had their cereal
ration almost doubled. It was still not a comfortable ration, but the
relief was great. There was considerable gratitude felt for Calhoun,
which as usual included a lively anticipation of further favors to
come. Maril was interviewed repeatedly, as the person best able to
discuss him, and she did his reputation no harm. That was all that
happened on Dara....

No. There was something else. A very curious thing, too. There was a
spread of mild symptoms which nobody could exactly call a disease.
They lasted only a few hours. A person felt slightly feverish, and ran
a temperature which peaked at 30.9° centigrade, and drank more water
than usual. Then his temperature went back to normal and he forgot all
about it. There have always been such trivial epidemics. They are
rarely recorded, because few people think to go to a doctor. That was
the case here.

Calhoun looked ahead a little, too. Presently the fleet of grain ships
would arrive and unload and lift again for Orede, and this time they
would make an infinity of slaughter among wild cattle herds, and bring
back incredible quantities of fresh-slaughtered frozen beef. Almost
everybody would get to taste meat again, which would be most
gratifying.

Then, the industries of Dara would labor at government-required tasks.
An astonishing amount of fissionable material would be fashioned into
bombs--a concession by Calhoun--and plastic factories would make an
astonishing number of plastic sag-suits. And large shipments of heavy
metals in ingots would be made to the planet's capital city and there
would be some guns and minor items.

Perhaps somebody could have predicted any of these items in advance,
but it was unlikely that anyone did. Nobody but Calhoun, however,
would ever have put them together and hoped very urgently that things
would work out. He could see a promising total result. In fact, in the
Med Ship hurtling through space, on the fourth day of his journey, he
thought of an improvement that could be made in the sum of all those
happenings when they got mixed together.

He got back to Dara. Maril came to the Med Ship. Murgatroyd greeted
her with enthusiasm.

"Something strange has happened," said Maril, very much subdued. "I
told you that sometimes blueskin markings fade out on children, and
then neither they nor their children ever have markings again."

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I remember that you told me."

"And you were reminded of a group of viruses on Tralee. You said they
only took hold of people in terribly bad physical condition, but then
they could be passed on from mother to child, until sometimes they
died out."

Calhoun blinked.

"Yes?"

"Korvan," said Maril very carefully. "Has worked out an idea that
that's what happens to the blueskin markings on Darians. He thinks
that people almost dead of the plague could get the virus, and if they
recovered from the plague pass the virus on and be blueskins."

"Interesting," said Calhoun, noncommittally.

"And when we went to Weald," said Maril very carefully indeed, "you
were working with some culture material. You wrote quite a lot about
it in the ship's log. You gave yourself an injection. Remember? And
Murgatroyd? You wrote down your temperature, and Murgatroyd's?" She
moistened her lips. "You said that if infection passed between us,
something would be very infectious indeed?"

"This is a long discussion," said Calhoun. "Does it arrive at a
point?"

"It does," said Maril. "Thousands of people are having their
pigment-spots fade away. Not only children but grownups. And Korvan
has found out that it always seems to happen after a day when they
felt feverish and very thirsty, and then felt all right again. You
tried out something that made you feverish and thirsty. I had it too,
in the ship. Korvan thinks there's been an epidemic of something that
is obliterating the blue spots on everybody that catches it. There are
always trivial epidemics that nobody notices. Korvan's found evidence
of one that's making _blueskin_ no longer a word with any meaning."

"Remarkable!" said Calhoun.

"Did you do it?" asked Maril. "Did you start a harmless epidemic that
wipes out the virus that makes blueskins?"

Calhoun said in feigned astonishment, "How can you think such a thing,
Maril?"

"Because I was there," said Maril. She said, somehow desperately, "I
know you did it! But the question is, are you going to tell? When
people find they're not blueskins any longer, when there's no such
thing as a blueskin any longer, will you tell them why?"

"Naturally not," said Calhoun. "Why?" Then he guessed. "Has Korvan--"

"He thinks," said Maril, "that he thought it up all by himself. He's
found the proof. He's very proud. I'd have to tell him how the ideas
got into his head if you were going to tell. And he'd be ashamed and
angry."

Calhoun considered, staring at her.

"How it happened doesn't matter," he said at last. "The idea of
anybody doing it deliberately would be disturbing, too. It shouldn't
get about. So it seems much the best thing for Korvan to discover
what's happened to the blueskin pigment, and how it happened. But not
why."

She read his face carefully.

"You aren't doing it as a favor to me," she decided. "You'd rather it
was that way."

She looked at him for a long time, until he squirmed. Then she nodded
and went away.

An hour later the Wealdian space fleet was reported massed in space
and driving for Dara.

       *       *       *       *       *



8


There were small scout ships which came on ahead of the main fleet.
They'd originally been guard boats, intended for solar system duty
only and quite incapable of overdrive. They'd come from Weald in the
cargo holds of the liners now transformed into fighting ships. The
scouts swept low, transmitting fine-screen images back to the fleet,
of all they might see before they were shot down. They found the
landing-grid. It contained nothing larger than Calhoun's Med Ship,
_Aesclipus Twenty_.

They searched here and there. They flittered to and fro, scanning wide
bands of the surface of Dara. The planet's cities and highways and
industrial centers were wholly open to inspection from the sky. It
looked as if the scouts hunted most busily for the fleet of former
grain ships which Calhoun had said the blueskins had seized and rushed
away. If the scouts looked for them, they did not find them.

Dara offered no opposition to the ships. Nothing rose to space to
oppose or to resist their search. They went darting over every portion
of the hungry planet, land and seas alike, and there was no sign of
military preparedness against their coming. The huge ships of the main
fleet waited while the scouts reported monotonously that they saw no
sign of the stolen fleet. But the stolen fleet was the only means by
which the planet could be defended. There could be no point in a
pitched battle in emptiness. But a fleet with a planet to back it
might be dangerous.

Hours passed. The Wealdian main fleet waited. There was no offensive
movement by the fleet. There was no defensive action from the ground.
With fusion-bombs certain to be involved in any actual conflict, there
was something like an embarrassed pause. The Wealdian ships were ready
to bomb. They were less anxious to be vaporized by possible suicide
dashes of defending ships which might blow themselves up near contact
with their enemies.

But a fleet cannot travel some light-years through space to make a
mere threat. And the Wealdian fleet was furnished with the material
for total devastation. It could drop bombs from hundreds, or
thousands, or even tens of thousands of miles away. It could cover the
world of Dara with mushroom clouds springing up and spreading to make
a continuous pall of atomic-fusion products. And they could settle
down and kill every living thing not destroyed by the explosions
themselves. Even the creatures of the deepest oceans would die of
deadly, purposely-contrived fallout particles.

The Wealdian fleet contemplated its own destructiveness. It found no
capacity for defense on Dara. It moved forward.

But then a message went out from the capital city of Dara. It said
that a ship in overdrive had carried word to a Darian fleet in space.
The Darian fleet now hurtled toward Weald. It was a fleet of
thirty-seven giant ships. They carried such-and-such bombs in
such-and-such quantities. Unless its orders were countermanded, it
would deliver those bombs on Weald, set to explode. If Weald bombed
Dara, the orders could not be withdrawn. So Weald could bomb Dara. It
could destroy all life on the pariah planet. But Weald would die with
it.

The fleet ceased its advance. The situation was a stalemate with pure
desperation on one side and pure frustration on the other. This was no
way to end the war. Neither planet could trust the other, even for
minutes. If they did not destroy each other simultaneously, as now was
possible, each would expect the other to launch an unwarned attack at
some other moment. Ultimately one or the other must perish, and the
survivor would be the one most skilled in treachery.

But then the pariah planet made a new proposal. It would send a
messenger ship to stop its own fleet's bombardment if Weald would
accept payment of the grain ships and their cargos. It would pay in
ingots of irridium and uranium and tungsten, and gold if Weald wished
it, for all damages Weald might claim.

It would even pay indemnity for the miners of Orede, who had died by
accident but perhaps in some sense through its fault. It would pay.
But if it were bombed, Weald must spout atomic fire and the fleet of
Weald would have no home planet to return to.

This proposal seemed both craven and foolish. It would allow the fleet
of Weald to loot and then betray Dara. But it was Calhoun's idea. It
seemed plausible to the admirals of Weald. They felt only contempt for
blueskins. Contemptuously, they accepted the semi-surrender.

The broadcast waves of Dara told of agreement, and wild and fierce
resentment filled the pariah planet's people. There was almost
revolution to insist upon resistance, however hopeless and however
fatal. But not all of Dara realized that a vital change had come about
in the state of things on Dara. The enemy fleet had not a hint of it.

In menacing array, the invading fleet spread itself about the skies of
Dara, well beyond the atmosphere. Harsh voices talked with increasing
arrogance to the landing-grid staff. A monster ship of Weald came
heavily down, riding the landing-grid's force-fields. It touched
gently. Its occupants were apprehensive, but hungry for the loot they
had been assured was theirs. The ship's outer hull would be sterilized
before it returned to Weald, of course. And there was adequate
protection for the landing-party.

Men came out of the ship's ports. They wore the double, transparent
sag-suits Calhoun had suggested, which had been painstakingly tested,
and which were perfect protection against contagion. They were double
garments of plastic, with air tanks inside the inner flexible
envelope.

Men wearing such sag-suits could walk about on Dara. They could work
on Dara. They could loot with impunity and all contamination must
remain outside the suits, and on their return to their ships they
would simply stand in the airlocks while corrosive gases swirled
around them, killing any possible organism of disease. Then, for extra
assurance, when air from Weald filled the airlock again, the men would
burn the outer plastic covering and step into the ship without ever
having come within two layers of plastic of infection.

What loot they gathered, obviously, could be decontaminated before it
was returned to Weald. Metals could be melted, if necessary. Gems
could be sterilized. It was a most satisfactory discovery, to realize
that blueskins could be not only scorned but robbed. There was only
one bit of irrelevant information the space fleet of Weald did not
have.

That information was that the people of Dara weren't blueskins any
longer. There'd been a trivial epidemic....

The sag-suited men of Weald went zestfully about their business. They
took over the landing-grid's operation, driving the Darian operators
away. For the first time in history the operators of a landing-grid
wore make-up to look like they did have blue pigment in their skins.
They didn't. The Wealdian landing-party tested the grid's operation.
They brought down another giant ship. Then another. And another.

Parties in the shiny sag-suits spread through the city. There were the
huge stockpiles of precious metals, brought in readiness to be
surrendered and carried away. Some men set to work to load these into
the holds of the ships of Weald. Some went forthrightly after personal
loot.

They came upon very few Darians. Those they saw kept sullenly away
from them. They entered shops and took what they fancied. They
zestfully removed the treasure of banks.

Triumphant and scornful reports went up to the hovering great ships.
The blueskins, said the reports, were spiritless and cowardly. They
permitted themselves to be robbed. They kept out of the way. It had
been observed that the population was streaming out of the city,
fleeing because they feared the ships' landing-parties. The blueskins
had abjectly produced all they'd promised of precious metals, but
there was more to be taken.

More ships came down, and more. Some of the first, heavily loaded,
were lifted to emptiness again and the process of decontamination of
their hulls began. There was jealousy among the ships in space for
those upon the ground. The first-landed ships had had their choice of
loot. There were squabblings about priorities, now that the navy of
Weald plainly had a license to steal. There was confusion among the
members of the landing-parties. Discipline disappeared. Men in plastic
sag-suits roved about as individuals, seeking what they might loot.

There were armed and alerted landing-parties around the grid itself,
of course, but the capital city of Dara lay open. Men coming back with
loot found their ships already lifted off to make room for others.
They were pushed into re-embarking-parties of other ships. There were
more and more men to be found on ships where they did not belong, and
more and more not to be found where they did.

By the time half the fleet had been aground, there was no longer any
pretense of holding a ship down until all its crew returned. There
were too many other ships' companies clamoring for their turn to loot.
The rosters of many ships, indeed, bore no particular relationship to
the men actually on board.

There were less than fifteen ships whose to-be-fumigated holds were
still emptied, when the watchful government of Dara broadcast a new
message to the invaders. It requested that the looting stop. No matter
what payment Weald claimed, it had taken payment five times over. Now
was time to stop.

It was amusing. The space admiral of Weald ordered his ships alerted
for action. The message ship, ordering the Darian fleet away from
Weald, had been sent off long since. No other ship could get away now!
The Darians could take their choice: accept the consequences of
surrender, or the fleet would rise to throw down bombs.

Calhoun was asking politely to be taken to the Wealdian admiral when
the trouble began. It wasn't on the ground, at all. Everything was
under splendid control where a landing force occupied the grid and all
the ground immediately about it. The space admiral had headquarters in
the landing-grid office. Reports came in, orders were issued,
admirably crisp salutes were exchanged among sag-suited men.
Everything was in perfect shape there.

But there was panic among the ships in space. Communicators gave off
horrified, panic-stricken yells. There were screamings. Intelligible
communications ceased. Ships plunged crazily this way and that. Some
vanished in overdrive. At least one plunged at full power into a
Darian ocean.

The space admiral found himself in command of fifteen ships only out
of all his former force. The rest of the fleet went through a period
of hysterical madness. In some ships it lasted for minutes only. In
others it went on for half an hour or more. Then they hung overhead,
but did not reply to calls.

Calhoun arrived at the spaceport with Murgatroyd riding on his
shoulder. A bewildered officer in a sag-suit halted him.

"I've come," said Calhoun, "to speak to the admiral. My name is
Calhoun and I'm Med Service, and I think I met the admiral at a
banquet a few weeks ago. He'll remember me."

"You'll have to wait," protested the officer. "There's some trouble--"

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I know about it. I helped design it. I want to
explain it to the admiral. He needs to know what's happened, if he's
to take appropriate measures."

There were jitterings. Many men in sag-suits had still no idea that
anything had gone wrong. Some appeared, brightly carrying loot. Some
hung eagerly around the airlocks of ships on the grid tarmac, waiting
their turns to stand in corrosive gases for the decontamination of
their suits, when they would burn the outer layers and step, aseptic
and happy, into a Wealdian ship again. There they could think how rich
they were going to be back on Weald.

But the situation aloft was bewildering and very, very ominous. There
was strident argument. Presently Calhoun stood before the Wealdian
admiral.

"I came to explain something," said Calhoun pleasantly. "The situation
has changed. You've noticed it, I'm sure."

The admiral glared at him through two layers of plastic, which covered
him almost like a gift-wrapped parcel.

"Be quick!" he rasped.

"First," said Calhoun, "there are no more blueskins. An epidemic of
something or other has made the blue patches on the skins of Darians
fade out. There have always been some who didn't have blue patches.
Now nobody has them."

"Nonsense!" rasped the admiral. "And what has that got to do with this
situation?"

"Why, everything," said Calhoun mildly. "It seems that Darians can
pass for Wealdians whenever they please. That they _are_ passing for
Wealdians. That they've been mixing with your men, wearing sag-suits
exactly like the one you're wearing now. They've been going aboard
your ships in the confusion of returning looters. There's not a ship
now aloft, which has been aground today, which hasn't from one to
fifteen Darians--no longer blueskins--on board."

The admiral roared. Then his face turned gray.

"You can't take your fleet back to Weald," said Calhoun gently, "if
you believe its crews have been exposed to carriers of the Dara
plague. You wouldn't be allowed to land, anyhow."

The admiral said through stiff lips, "I'll blast--"

"No," said Calhoun, again gently. "When you ordered all ships alerted
for action, the Darians on each ship released panic gas. They only
needed tiny, pocket-sized containers of the gas for the job. They had
them. They only needed to use air tanks from their sag-suits to
protect themselves against the gas. They kept them handy.

"On nearly all your ships aloft your crews are crazy from panic gas.
They'll stay that way until the air is changed. Darians have
barricaded themselves in the control rooms of most if not all your
ships. You haven't got a fleet. The few ships who will obey your
orders--if they drop one bomb, our fleet off Weald will drop fifty.

"I don't think you'd better order offensive action. Instead, I think
you'd better have your fleet medical officers come and learn some of
the facts of life. There's no need for war between Dara and Weald, but
if you insist...."

The admiral made a choking noise. He could have ordered Calhoun
killed, but there was a certain appalling fact. The men aground from
the fleet were breathing Wealdian air from tanks. It would last so
long only. If they were taken on board the still obedient ships
overhead, Darians would unquestionably be mixed with them. There was
no way to take off the parties now aground without exposing them to
contact with Darians, on the ground or in the ships. There was no way
to sort out the Darians.

"I--I will give the orders," said the admiral thickly. "I do not know
what you devils plan, but--I do not know how to stop you."

"All that's necessary," said Calhoun warmly, "is an open mind. There's
a misunderstanding to be cleared up, and some principles of planetary
health practises to be explained, and a certain amount of prejudice
that has to be thrown away. But nobody need die of changing their
minds. The Interstellar Medical Service has proved that over and
over!"

Murgatroyd, perched on his shoulder, felt that it was time to take
part in the conversation. He said, "_Chee-chee!_"

"Yes," agreed Calhoun. "We do want to get the job done. We're behind
schedule now."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not, of course, possible for Calhoun to leave immediately. He
had to preside at various meetings of the medical officers of the
fleet and the health officials of Dara. He had to make explanations,
and correct misapprehensions, and delicately suggest such biological
experiments as would prove to the doctors of Weald that there was no
longer a plague on Dara, whatever had been the case three generations
before.

He had to sit by while an extremely self-confident young Darian
doctor--one of his names was Korvan--rather condescendingly
demonstrated that the former blue pigmentation was a viral product
quite unconnected with the plague, and that it had been wiped out by a
very trivial epidemic of such and such.

Calhoun regarded that young man with a detached interest. Maril
thought him wonderful, even if she had to give him the material for
his work. He agreed with her that he was wonderful. Calhoun shrugged
and went on with his own work.

The return of loot, mutual, full, and complete agreement that Darians
were no longer carriers of plague, if they had ever been--unless Weald
convinced other worlds of this, Weald itself would join Dara in
isolation from neighboring worlds. A messenger ship had to recall the
twenty-seven ships once floating in orbit about Weald. Most of them
would be used for some time, to bring beef from Orede. Some would haul
more grain from Weald. It would be paid for. There would be a need for
commercial missions to be exchanged between Weald and Dara. There
would have to be....

It was a full week before he could go to the little Med Ship and
prepare for departure. Even then there were matters to be attended to.
All the food-supplies that had been removed could not be replaced.
There were biological samples to be replaced and some to be destroyed.

Maril came to the Med Ship again when he was almost ready to leave.
She did not seem comfortable.

"I wanted you to meet Korvan," she said regretfully.

"I met him," said Calhoun. "I think he will be a most prominent
citizen, in time. He has all the talents for it."

Maril smiled very faintly.

"But you don't admire him."

"I wouldn't say that," protested Calhoun. "After all, he is desirable
to you, which is something I couldn't manage."

"You didn't try," said Maril. "Just as I didn't try to be fascinating
to you. Why?"

Calhoun spread out his hands. But he looked at Maril with respect. Not
every woman could have faced the fact that a man did not feel impelled
to make passes at her. It is simply a fact that has nothing to do with
desirability or charm or anything else.

"You're going to marry him," he said. "I hope you'll be very happy."

"He's the man I want," said Maril frankly. "And I doubt he'll ever
look at another woman. He looks forward to splendid discoveries. I
wish he didn't."

Calhoun did not ask the obvious question. Instead, he said
thoughtfully, "There's something you could do. It needs to be done.
The Med Service in this sector has been badly handled. There are a
number of discoveries that need to be made. I don't think your Korvan
would relish having things handed to him on a visible silver platter.
But they should be known...."

Maril said, "I can guess what you mean. I dropped hints about the way
the blueskin markings went away, yes. You've got books for me?"

Calhoun nodded. He found them.

"If we had only fallen in love with each other, Maril, we'd be a team!
Too bad! These are a wedding present you'll do well to hide."

She put her hands in his.

"I like you almost as much as I like Murgatroyd! Yes! Korvan will
never know, and he'll be a great man." Then she added defensively,
"But I don't think he'll only discover things from hints I drop him.
He'll make wonderful discoveries."

"Of which," said Calhoun, "the most remarkable is you. Good luck,
Maril!"

She went away smiling. But she wiped her eyes when she was out of the
ship.

Presently the Med Ship lifted. Calhoun aimed it for the next planet on
the list of those he was to visit. After this one more he'd return to
sector headquarters with a biting report to make on the way things had
been handled before him.

"Overdrive coming, Murgatroyd!"

Then the stars went out and there was silence, and privacy, and a
faint, faint, almost unbearable series of background sounds which kept
the Med Ship from being totally unendurable.

Long, long days later the ship broke out of overdrive and Calhoun
guided it to a round and sunlit world. In due time he thumbed the
communicator button.

"Calling ground," he said crisply. "Calling ground! Med Ship
_Aesclipus Twenty_ reporting arrival and asking coordinates for
landing. Purpose of landing is planetary health inspection. Our mass
is fifty standard tons."

There was a pause while the beamed message went many, many thousands
of miles. Then the speaker said, "_Aesclipus Twenty_, repeat your
identification!"

Calhoun repeated it patiently. Murgatroyd watched with bright eyes.
Perhaps he hoped to be allowed to have another long conversation with
somebody by communicator.

"You are warned," said the communicator sternly, "that any deceit or
deception about your identity or purpose in landing will be severely
punished. We take few chances, here! If you wish to land
notwithstanding this warning--"

"I'm coming in," said Calhoun. "Give me the coordinates."

He wrote them down. His expression was slightly pained. The Med Ship
drove on, in solar system drive. Murgatroyd said, "_Chee-chee? Chee?_"

Calhoun sighed.

"That's right, Murgatroyd! Here we go again!"

       *       *       *       *       *



FEAR RIDES THE ROCKETS


The Interstellar Medical Service was just about the only remaining
galactic organization that every one of the hundreds of inhabited
planets respected. So when their service broke down in Star Sector
Twelve, it created a very dangerous situation.

When Calhoun took his Med ship out of overdrive near that sector's
planet Weald, he was vaguely aware of the risks. But the crisis came
home to him with a crash the moment he radioed in for landing
coordinates.

"Contamination! Full mobilization! Red alert! Death to blueskins!"
Such were the nature of his greetings.

And it began to look like a case of the cosmic jitters that only the
most drastic of orbital surgery could cure.

Murray Leinster, whose real name is Will F. Jenkins, has been
entertaining the public with his exciting fiction for several decades.
Called the dean of modern science-fiction, he was writing these
amazing super-science adventures back in the early twenties before
there ever was such a thing as an all-fantasy magazine. His short
stories, novelettes, and serial novels have appeared in most of the
major American magazines, both slick and pulp, and many have been
reprinted all over the world. He has made a distinguished name for
himself (or rather two names) in the fields of adventure, historical,
western, sea, and suspense stories.

Ace Books has still available the following Murray Leinster novels:
CITY ON THE MOON (D-277), THE PIRATES OF ZAN and THE MUTANT WEAPON
(D-403), and THE FORGOTTEN PLANET (D-528).

       *       *       *       *       *

Here's a quick checklist of recent releases of
ACE SCIENCE-FICTION BOOKS

35¢

D-498 GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre Norton

D-504 MASTER OF THE WORLD by Jules Verne

D-507 MEETING AT INFINITY by John Brunner
      _and_ BEYOND THE SILVER SKY by Kenneth Bulmer

D-508 MORE MACABRE Edited by Donald A. Wollheim

D-509 THE BEAST MASTER by Andre Norton
      _and_ STAR HUNTER by Andre Norton

D-516 THE SWORDSMAN OF MARS
      by Otis Adelbert Kline

D-517 BRING BACK YESTERDAY by A. Bertram Chandler
      _and_ THE TROUBLE WITH TYCHO by Clifford Simak

40¢

F-104 MAYDAY ORBIT by Poul Anderson
      _and_ NO MAN'S WORLD by Kenneth Bulmer

F-105 THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION
      Fifth Series. Edited by Anthony Boucher.

F-108 THE SUN SABOTEURS by Damon Knight
      _and_ THE LIGHT OF LILITH by G. McDonald Wallis

F-109 STORM OVER WARLOCK by Andre Norton

F-113 REBELS OF THE RED PLANET by Charles Fontenay
      _and_ 200 YEARS TO CHRISTMAS by J. T. McIntosh

If you are missing any of these, they can be obtained directly from
the publisher by sending the indicated sum, plus 5¢ handling fee, to
Ace Books, Inc. (Sales Dept.), 23 West 47th St., New York 36, N. Y.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "This World Is Taboo" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home