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´╗┐Title: Stairway to the Stars
Author: Shaw, Larry
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 "Stairway to the Stars" ***

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



      +------------------------------------------------+
      | Yes, Earth may be a sort of fenced-off area,   |
      | so far as other intelligent races of the       |
      | galaxy are concerned. But not for the          |
      | grandiose reasons that some have imagined....  |
      +------------------------------------------------+

[Illustration]



STAIRWAY TO THE STARS

By Larry Shaw

  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  | It was a stairway leading down, but it also led out into     |
  | space--indirectly. And the situation had the aspects of a    |
  | burlesque on Grand Hotel, but....                            |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+


John Andrew Farmer scowled at the octopus that sprawled on his
living-room couch, rubbed his stubbly jaw with a stubby fist, and said,
"I love you."

Farmer was uncomfortable. He was almost always uncomfortable, for
various reasons; though it rarely if ever occurred to him, as he
considered each individual irritant, that this was his normal state of
existence. Right now he was acutely conscious of how ridiculous it must
look for him to be making love to an octopus, but he was even more
conscious of the very real pains of unrequited love.

It wasn't even a respectable, ordinary-looking octopus. To be accurate,
it would have to be called a nonapus; each of the nine tentacles had a
lobsterish claw at its tip, and there were various other unusual
appendages. It would be hard enough to explain an earthly octopus in his
living-room if the necessity arose, Farmer reflected for the teenteenth
time--but how in the name of Neptune could he ever explain _this_?

It had all started with Judge Ray. Ray had not been a real judge,
obviously, but had used the title in lieu of any other first name. That
was the first of the inexplicable things; Farmer would have expected the
odd little old man to call himself a professor of something or other.
But Ray insisted on Judge.

Ray had come to the office of the _Stein, Fine, Bryans Publishing Co._,
where Farmer was working as an assistant editor, and announced that he
was about to write the greatest book of the age. And yes, he wanted an
advance against royalties--it didn't have to be large; Ray lived
simply--to tide him over while doing the actual writing, which shouldn't
take more than a very few weeks.

Now, Farmer wasn't much of an editor, even as editors go. The one useful
quality he had was a homespun, ingratiating air which put nervous young
geniuses at their ease, so that they could give a reasonably coherent
verbal picture of what their books were about. This often saved Stein,
Fine & Bryans a lot of reading of unpublishable manuscripts. At least,
that had been the theory when they gave Farmer the job; as it worked
out, John Andrew was a person who found it virtually impossible to say
"no"; he generally took the manuscripts in hand and, when he couldn't
stick some other member of the firm with the task, read them himself
until the wee hours.

Farmer was not able to say no to Ray, but even he looked dubious at the
small gray fellow's voluble outpouring of pseudo-scientific jargon. Ray,
made sensitive by years of open skepticism on the part of many
listeners, caught the look and insisted on a demonstration of his
fabulous invention.

So the oddly assorted pair--quick, foxlike little Ray and big, awkward,
uncomfortable Farmer--sputtered out into Long Island Sound in an
indescribable old motor launch, and the adventure was on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Finally Ray shut off the racketing engine and let out the rusty anchor.
He opened a large wooden case, which showed evidence of some really good
cabinet-work, and took out a peculiar machine, which showed evidence of
unarguably excellent machining. These details were the first things that
made Farmer think Ray might not be a complete crackpot, after all. If he
hadn't been feeling just the slightest touch of seasickness, John Andrew
would have breathed a sigh of relief.

Ray polished off the somewhat rabbit-from-hatty routine by bringing out
a portable television set, connecting it to the boat's electrical
generator, and stringing an assortment of wires between it and his
invention. He would not allow Farmer very close to the latter, but to
the editor's untechnical eye it looked like a fairly ordinary radio set,
with more than enough dials and switches added to it to furnish the
dashboards of several Rolls Royces.

Ray held up a hand--purely for drama, since there was silence already.
"This is a great moment in the course of human history," he said. "You
are about to witness the first demonstration of Ray's Ray, the work of
genius which will allow mankind his first really close contact with the
last remaining frontier on his home planet--the bottom of the sea!"

Farmer looked impressed, then began to realize what some of this meant.
He caught himself, straightened out his face, and licked his lips. "You
mean you've never tried the thing before?" he protested. "How do you
know it will work?"

Ray's glance took on a touch of icy fury. The launch rocked gently in
the swell for a long, silent minute, and Farmer began to feel slightly
afraid. Was he alone, in a spot like this, with a madman? The salty
breeze turned colder.

Then Ray smiled--a smile that was surprisingly soft and sweet. John
Andrew reached two decisions: that he was safe, and that he liked the
"Judge." (One of Farmer's weaknesses, in fact, was that--though
thoroughly masculine himself--he completely distrusted women, and was
too trusting with men.)

"I could go into theories and scientific details," Ray said; "I could
explain principles of operation and the construction of the machine for
hours. But you would be bored, and wouldn't understand anyway. It is
sufficient to say that the Ray will work because--I invented it!"

Farmer caught himself nodding, and blamed the boat's motion. He shifted
uneasily on the built-in seat, and got a splinter in a vital spot. He
frowned.

Ray was bending over his machine, making motions designed to impress as
well as to make it work. "In very simple terms," he was saying, "this is
a combination of color television and super-radar. It will bring in a
perfect color picture of the ocean at whatever depth I set it for, or
will set itself automatically to present a view of the ocean floor. It
will...."

His voice trailed off. The machine hissed, snapped, and crackled. The
television set flickered, hummed, gave out a flashing dance of
surrealistic doodles, and abruptly presented a picture. It was a picture
of Milton Berle.

Ray looked mad, started to aim a kick at the screen but thought better
of it. A small wave almost made him sit down on the deck before he got
both feet planted again. He swore and started to check the wiring.

"Maybe there's something wrong inside the dingus itself," John Andrew
suggested tentatively.

Ray turned on him with a look that would have seared the Sphinx.
"There's _nothing_ wrong with the machine!" he said,
almost-but-not-quite shouting. "There's _nothing_ wrong with the
television! There's _nothing_ wrong with the wiring! There _must_ be
something wrong at the other end--where the Ray is focussed! And I
intend to find out!"

Farmer pondered the idea of a transmitter that worked under water like a
ball-point pen, broadcasting weary vaudeville routines. He scratched his
head and looked wistfully at the New England shoreline--or was that Long
Island? He wasn't sure any more....

       *       *       *       *       *

A clank and clatter brought his attention to the launch. He gawked; Ray
had thrown back a deck hatch and produced a diving suit which looked as
un-shipshape as the rest of the boat's equipment.

Ray looked it over hastily, then turned a speculative glance on Farmer.
He shook his head. "Too small for you," he murmured. "You wouldn't know
what to look for anyway; I'll have to go down myself."

Farmer changed his mind again about Ray's being cracked. "Listen." He
said the first thing that came to mind. "Didn't you say you rented this
boat for the first time today? How do you know that thing doesn't leak?"

Ray smiled again, as he climbed briskly into the suit. "I'll be all
right," he said serenely. "You just keep an eye on things here--but
don't touch anything. I'll be right back...." He settled the helmet on
his head, motioned for Farmer to help him check the connections of the
suit's self-contained oxygen supply.

John Andrew was straightening up from doing this when he saw the nonapus
for the first time. It was climbing over the rail at the stern, and
already beginning to make a puddle on the deck. Farmer froze, and gulped
wordlessly.

Behind the barred faceplate, Ray looked puzzled, then annoyed. From the
corner of his eye, Farmer could see Milton Berle still cavorting
silently on the television screen, and this seemed to add the final
touch of insanity to the scene. Farmer finally succeeded in pointing,
and Ray clumped slowly in a half-circle, just as the nonapus dropped to
the deck with a plank-shivering thump.

The scene assumed some of the aspects of a bad movie comedy. The
background was an out-of-focus blur, although Farmer was dimly conscious
of motion in it somewhere--something else breaking the surface of the
water as it emerged. In the foreground, the boat and its occupants were
sharply etched, but seemed to have gone into slow motion.

The nonapus crept forward ponderously, and Farmer searched dazedly for a
weapon. It was Ray who first started stumbling in the direction of the
boathook, but John Andrew, in a sudden fit of bravery, shoved past him
and grabbed the fragile-looking thing from its cleats.

He swung to face the monster with a sick feeling in his stomach, and got
another surprise. The thing had stopped moving. Straddling the rail
behind it, and similarly dripping, was a--_migawd_!

It--he--looked almost like a man, but that only made the difference
worse. The details resolved as Farmer stared at him. The oddness about
head and shoulders became finny crests; what had looked at first like a
red skin-tight costume became a scaly hide. Farmer realized with a shock
that the creature wasn't wearing anything.

Farmer crouched. The point of the boathook wavered, aimed first at the
nonapus, then at the fishman. To the editor, both were alien--but he
couldn't decide which one was more dangerous. For a long moment, neither
of them advanced, and he wondered if they could really be frightened of
his puny weapon.

He doubted it. He was beginning to notice, among other things, that the
nonapus was more fearsome than it had seemed at first--in addition to
nine tentacles, claws, fangs and antenna became apparent. So did the big
glassy-red disks of the eyes--and Farmer aimed the point of the hook at
one of them, started to thrust.

It was wrenched from his hands and forced downward to stick quivering in
the deck. The development took Farmer completely unawares. Neither of
the aliens had moved; it was Judge Ray who had disarmed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Judge Ray was now frantically trying to remove his diving helmet again.
Excitement made his motions ineffective, and he signaled for Farmer to
help him, then continued to fumble with the fastenings himself. John
Andrew turned, feeling completely doomed, to aid the man, and they
started getting in each other's way and slowing down the operation even
more.

They finally succeeded, though; the helmet swung back, and Ray promptly
shoved Farmer aside. Some of Farmer's fear gave way to amazement at the
little inventor's audacity and what seemed to Farmer at least to be
foolishly optimistic scientific detachment.

Ray said: "My name is Ray. It is indeed fortunate that you have met me
immediately upon your arrival here, since I am the world's greatest
genius, and thoroughly equipped to tell you anything you wish to know
about my people and civilization. I take it you come from Atlantis?"

Amazingly, his tongue only got tangled once in the middle of this
speech, and he regained control of it quickly then. John Andrew felt a
touch of jealousy at the little man's capability in assuming control of
the situation. That, and a sudden idea of his own, forced him to speak
for himself.

It was a sad attempt. "Venus.... Spaceship...." he managed to croak,
before giving it up.

The launch rocked gently. The nonapus crouched motionless; the fishman
stood firmly, as if untouched by anything around him, his arms folded
and a faint smile upon his damp lips.

Finally he spoke too. What he said was: "Venus. Spaceship. My name is
Ray. It is indeed fortunate that you have met me immediately upon your
arrival here, since I am the world's greatest genius...."

He broke off. Apparently he interpreted the looks of consternation on
the faces of his audience correctly, for his smile became more friendly
and he continued in a casual tone.

"Excuse me," he said. "I didn't speak your language before I arrived
here, and I had to learn it and become accustomed to its use through
analyzing what you just said. I really didn't mean to puzzle you or make
you feel inferior by mimicking you."

Farmer's mind worked chaotically. This was puzzling, he decided, and
_did_ make him feel inferior--that is, it did if the man in the red
scales had really picked up English so quickly. And if not, why lie?

       *       *       *       *       *

The fishman came forward. His step was bouncy, as if he were used to a
higher gravity or greater pressure (_that_, Farmer complimented himself
on his cleverness, made sense at least), but he extended his hand and
said "Put 'er there!" like any ladies' wear buyer at an annual
convention. Ray and Farmer shook with him in turn. His hand was damp and
webbed, but felt fairly human for all that.

"My name is Garf," he said cheerfully. John Andrew tried not to stare at
him too noticeably, but Ray made no bones about it; apparently the
fishman thought nothing at all of his state of nudity. Farmer shivered.

It was Ray who brought the conversation back to earth--or sea--again. He
asked Garf, directly, exactly where he did come from.

Garf looked hesitant, then waved the two to the rail with him. "See
those?" he asked. They looked, and saw what seemed to be a flight of
steps, carved from stone, old, and worn, starting abruptly just below
the water level and leading downward. There was nothing on either side
of the steps, or underneath them as far as could be seen, but ordinary
ocean. "I came up those," Garf said.

Farmer stared, and Ray stared. The stairway shouldn't be there--it
certainly hadn't been there before. Garf's explanations, it seemed, only
compounded the confusion caused by his presence.

Farmer, muddled, looked again at the nonapus, which had apparently gone
to sleep. Even so, it looked deadly.

Something bit him on the arm. He discovered Ray's fingers, in the diving
glove, digging into his flesh in an amazingly powerful grip. Farmer
hunched his shoulders, trying to break loose, and then he saw what Ray
was staring at.

Garf had left them, and was strolling around the launch as if he had
just bought it--looking down his nose at it; at the same time, acting as
if he could afford not to give a damn how badly he'd been stung. But the
startling thing was that he had picked up the boathook and was twirling
it unconcernedly. He had not only picked it up, however--he had also
tied it in a knot.

It should have splintered in his hands, assuming he was strong enough to
bend it at all. It hadn't; it was in perfect shape, except for the knot.
Or so it seemed, at least, for even as Ray started forward with
outstretched hand, obviously hoping to examine the thing, Garf gave it a
final twirl and scaled it carelessly overboard.

John Andrew began to feel quick-frozen again. Being alone at sea in a
rickety craft with a possible madman had been bad enough. To have a
weird creature with superhuman powers, and an impossible pet monster,
added to the crew was a little too much.

       *       *       *       *       *

Garf turned his attention to the television set, which was still
presenting its hysterical vaudeville. "Great-uncle's gills!" he
exclaimed, and lapsed into a fascinated silence. He studied the
proceedings carefully, holding the arms-crossed pose again. Finally he
turned to Ray.

"Weren't you saying something about civilization a while ago, finless?"
he asked. His voice was sneering.

Ray frowned, and said something about mass-appeal. "Pay no attention to
_that_," he continued. "Just listen to _me_. I'll tell you about our
civilization, and our science, and...."

His voice broke off as if he had been struck in the face. In a way, he
had; Garf had deliberately turned his back on the old fellow. The
Judge's bloodshot little eyes darted about as if he wanted to pick up
something heavy and hit Garf on the crest with it.

John Andrew's brain had finally resumed normal operations; he was
thinking slowly, but clearly. He examined the evidence with care. He
decided that Garf's superior attitude and powers boded no good; that if
the fishman once became slightly irritated he would sic the nonapus on
Ray and himself. (Probably, in fact, Garf would try to conquer the world
anyway; that was how it went in stories as corny as this situation.)
Farmer further decided that Ray was too egocentrically eccentric to be
trusted to get them out of this fix; he decided he'd have to do
something himself.

Having decided all this, Farmer went back over the territory to see if
he could find any flaws in it--or any other way out. It still made
sense, and he added a decision to get the boat back to shore as fast as
possible. He approached the engine.

As he did so, the engine melted into a solid, irregular lump of metal.
John Andrew gulped, and put out a tentative hand toward the fused mess.
It was not particularly warm--but it had melted.

Farmer looked at Garf again with fear and awe, and the fishman looked
back with cold amusement. But not for long. Garf turned to the Judge's
invention--and started to show some genuine interest for the first time
since he had showed up.

He stood over the thing, webbed hands on scaly hips, peering at it
intently. After a long silence, he knelt, and started feeling over the
machine with his webbed hands. Finally he placed his fingers on the
largest of the control switches--then changed his mind and gestured
imperatively to Judge Ray.

"You--the 'intelligent' one," he said. The quotes around 'intelligent'
were clear in his intonation. "Explain this to me. It's obviously what
reactivated the gate--but whoever made it did a screwball job. There are
all sorts of things that don't seem to belong, and even the parts that
should be there seem wrong, somehow...."

He paused. "Of course," he added, smugly, "I'm not a transportation
expert. If I were, I'd have made my own activator long ago, and done
some visiting on the closed worlds before this. Not that they'd have
kept me from getting bored for long, but yours looks as if it's going to
be slightly amusing, at least."

A struggle showed in Ray's face. Farmer saw insulted anger, hurt pride,
a desire to brag about his gadgetry, a question about Garf's last words,
and a caution that was not too far from fear. John Andrew had stopped
trying to hide his own fear, and though he had plenty of questions of
his own, he was mainly concerned with looking for a means of escape.

Garf was rising again, looking impatient. Ray reached a decision, said
"Go to hell!", and turned his back on the fishman. Garf looked
astonished, then angry, and raised a hand. Ray jumped, not very far
because of the heavy diving suit, stumbled on oddly twisted legs, and
collapsed on the deck, writhing, moaning, and turning red in the face.
The diving helmet clattered on the planks.

Farmer got mad. He started to charge across the deck at Garf, but his
own feet went out from under him and he landed flat on his nose. There
were waves of fire chasing each other around his body, and his stomach
was trying to turn itself inside out.

       *       *       *       *       *

As instantaneously as it had come, the pain left him. It left him weak
and quivering, and John Andrew Farmer lay on his back waiting for his
strength to seep back. As the red haze drifted from before his eyes, he
realized that the launch had acquired another occupant.

In appearance, she could easily have been Garf's sister--or his wife.
Her figure was lithe and nicely curved. Her scales stopped in
eye-catching points just above her distinctly mammalian bosom; from
there on up she looked almost completely human. She wasn't wearing
anything either. The over-all effect was oddly beautiful. Farmer blushed
hotly, and tried to keep his eyes on her face.

Not that it made any difference to her. She ignored everyone and
everything but the fishman. Glaring at him angrily, she snapped out his
name in an icy voice. "Garf!"

"Dor!"

Garf was a changed fishman; he looked faintly frightened, moderately
worried, and definitely embarrassed. This passed, and he started to
smile in a placating manner.

"Garf!" Dor snapped again. She followed it up, this time, with a string
of intricate, foreign-sounding words that even Farmer could tell were
hot and stinging.

The fishman backed away. He seemed to be growing angry himself now under
the whiplashing woman's tongue. Finally he spoke, in English. He called
Dor a puddle-snake. That wasn't all of what he said, by any means; the
name was preceded by several adjectives and followed by an obscene
command. Dor blanched slightly.

"Oh, yes?" she said, her voice dripping danger. "I can speak this
language too, you know--I learned it years ago, before the gate to this
world was closed! And let me tell you something else...."

She told him something else. John Andrew blushed furiously again, and
covered his ears with his hands.

Little Ray was on his feet, trying to get a word in edgewise, but not
succeeding at all. He too started to get angry. Farmer hauled himself
upright, hoping to approach Ray, calm him, and get him to figure a way
out of this madhouse.

Garf yelled an expletive and gestured with his hand. A wave of pure heat
swept over the boat, blistering what paint it still boasted. The blow
had been directed at Dor, and she showed that she had absorbed most of
it by wilting visibly--but Farmer felt as much of it as he wanted. It
was as if a blast furnace had suddenly opened beside him; sweat popped
out on his brow and filmed his eyes. He wondered how uncomfortable he
could get.

A deadly silence descended.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Andrew was wishing that he could swim when Dor smiled, and he began
to be interested in living again in spite of himself. The girl, he
thought, was somehow radiant--really lovely, in spite of her scales and
fins. It was peculiar; he'd never liked women at all, and had certainly
never thought he'd like a mermaid, but....

Anyway, he decided, he wasn't going to take sides if the two aliens were
going to fight it out. His first interest was in saving his own hide;
his second, in getting back to shore to give warning of the invasion. As
for Dor--John Andrew had lived this long without going to the aid of a
damsel in distress--without, in fact, ever seeing one that he could
remember, who wasn't obviously more capable of helping herself than he
was. He wasn't going to start rescuing fair maidens now--even if she
needed rescuing. Still, there was something awfully attractive.... Damn,
but he was confused!

Dor's smile didn't really last that long; Farmer's thoughts were going
fast now, somehow. He had finished those just described before Dor said,
"All right, Garf. Fun's fun; now let's kiss and make up. After all, it's
illegal for us to be here--not only our own cops, but the Galactic
Federation, would be on our necks if they knew. Let's see if we can
close up the gate ourselves or if this needs to be reported. And then
let's go home."

Garf grinned. "Whatever you say, my dear." He dipped an eyebrow in a
wink. Behind Dor, the nonapus stirred sluggishly, extended a tentacle,
opened a claw, and nipped Dor neatly on the behind. She screeched.

There was an explosion in Farmer's brain. This was too much--Garf had
gone too far! The burly editor plunged across the deck, swinging a fist.
To his surprise, Garf did nothing to stop him; probably, John Andrew
figured later, the fishman expected no further trouble from the humans
after the treatment they'd had.

Farmer's haymaker connected.

Garf staggered across the deck until he brought up against the rail,
holding his jaw and shaking his head muzzily. Farmer braced himself for
retaliation, hoping it would be something less than a bolt of barbed
lightning. But Garf remained unpredictable. He mumbled something that
wasn't "Oh the hell with it" but sounded like it, and softly and
silently slid overboard. He disappeared under water with scarcely a
ripple.

"Good!" Dor said, briskly. "Now, I'll just.... Ah!" She strode directly
to Ray's invention, and Farmer wondered why both the aliens were so
interested in a gadget that didn't work.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dor wasted no time. She bent over, picked up the machine, yanking wiring
loose carelessly, straightened up, turned a beaming smile on Farmer and
Ray, said "Goodbye," and headed for the rail.

Ray yelped. He started after her, but his progress in the diving suit
was waddling and slow. She reached the rail first and went over. Ray was
not too far behind, and he slammed his helmet down angrily as he reached
the rail. Farmer, galvanized belatedly, gave chase as well.

Dor was picking her way slowly down the stone steps, the machine cradled
under her arm. Ray climbed up on the rail, poised there a second, then
attempted a swan dive. John Andrew yelled at him as he arced forward,
but it was too late. The old man dropped like a stone, flapping his
arms, bounced slightly on the top step, then slid forward down several
more steps on his faceplate.

Dor hesitated, her head just above water. She looked at the limp,
diving-suited body beside her, then back at the launch and Farmer.
Again, she came to a decision quickly.

Bending, leaving a trail of bubbles as her head went under, she set the
Judge's invention down on a lower step and picked up the Judge instead.
Cradling him in her arms, she started back up again, calling to Farmer
to be ready to take her burden aboard.

They got him on the boat with little difficulty, and John Andrew laid
him on the deck as Dor sprang lithely over the rail again, showing
interest in the little fellow's condition. The diving helmet came off
easily, not having been properly fastened down at all. Farmer bent
anxiously over the Judge, looking for signs of life.

The diving suit had shipped some water, and the Judge had gotten a nasty
crack on the head--but he was a tough bozo. There was no blood, his
breathing seemed almost normal, and he already showed signs of returning
consciousness.

John Andrew turned to Dor. "Well, I should thank you for bringing him
back, I guess," he muttered. "But now that you're with us again"--he
shot out a big paw and grabbed her by the wrist--"how about explaining
some of this?"

He was very gentle with the wrist. He didn't want to hurt her; he was
wondering already, in fact, what had made him get so rough at all. But
she didn't seem to mind.

"I've got to go quickly," she told him. "I think Garf will be all right
now, but he may take a notion to come back. And I have to see that the
gate is closed before ..."

"What gate? Get back where?" Farmer managed to put more curiosity than
impatience into his tone.

"Back to my own planet--Tamdivar, sun Nogore, member of the Galactic
Federation," she said patiently. "The gate is a matter-transmitter
between my world and yours. It was once in constant use, but my
government closed it when you people got to the point where you were
running around in submarines, using depth bombs, and just noticing our
aircraft too much."

       *       *       *       *       *

Somehow, what popped into Farmer's head was the chorus of an old song he
had sung in boy's camp when very young. "_There's a hole in the bottom
of the sea! There's a log in the hole...._"

"Your machine reactivated the gate from this side, even if that isn't
what you designed it to do," Dor went on. "It's a good thing I noticed
the gate was open. Of course, the area affected isn't large--it includes
those steps and a lot of water around them.

"The gate'll stay open now until it's closed from our side--but I'll
have to take your outfit back and destroy it, anyway. Our cops would be
tough with you if they found you operating the thing, and Federation
Securitymen would be even tougher. Take it as a warning: don't do it
again."

She turned to go, but Farmer held on. "What's this about a Galactic
Federation? And if they've banned all communication with Earth, why
haven't they just blasted the planet out of existence and gotten rid of
it? Of course, I know we're thoroughly uncivilized and too warlike for
any other race to trust, and all that. I can see how Earth might be
considered the plague spot of the universe...."

Dor gawked, and saw that he was very serious. Then she threw back her
head and laughed a merry laugh. "Listen, friend," she said at last. "The
only real trouble with you Earth people is that you have a tremendous
inferiority complex, collectively and individually--as you've just
illustrated. Get over that and you'll eliminate most of your trouble. As
for the Federation, they let _us_ in, and most member-races have wars
occasionally; they'll undoubtedly accept you, once you develop space
travel.

"Just at the moment, of course, you're at a crossroads. You could jump
in either direction, blowing yourself up or taking the big step into
space. I think you'll turn out okay, but not everybody agrees--and the
Federation can't take even small chances. So you can't be allowed to set
off your atom bombs, or worse, where they might get through to another
planet. We can't actually interfere with you, so we've closed the gates;
that's all."

John Andrew, thinking it over, said "Oh," and let go of her wrist. She
turned and went back to the rail again, after flashing him the most de
luxe smile so far. Farmer came out of a philosophic haze to notice she
was leaving. He said, "Hey!"

She looked over her shoulder. Farmer didn't know what to say, but he
wanted to delay her. Finally, he pointed to the nonapus, and said, "What
about that monster? You're not going to leave it here?"

She laughed again. "Oh, the robot? It'll follow me. It's designed to....
Oh damn!"

The damn was for something she saw in the water as she looked back over
the rail again. John Andrew rushed to her side and looked as she got set
for a dive. Garf, he saw immediately, had returned, and was picking up
the Judge's invention.

"Put that down!" Dor's yell was high-pitched. Garf faced them, and
Farmer could just make out his lazy, contemptuous smile through the
murky water. The fishman raised his arm in one of the now-familiar
gestures.

The boat heaved, wallowed, and sank.

Farmer thought desperately again that he couldn't swim, and then he
thought wildly of the Judge, who hadn't regained full consciousness. He
went under once, and came up choking and sputtering. He decided his end
had come--and he didn't even know the identity of the enemy who had done
him in. It was ironic. He should have asked Dor to tell him more about
Garf--was he a traitor, or a Tamdivarian gangster, or what? John Andrew
gasped and started sinking again....

To find himself hauled out of the water unceremoniously by the scruff of
his neck. As he rose, ropy tentacles twined about him, and he saw what
had saved him. He was being cradled, gently but firmly, by the nonapus,
which had Judge Ray in another set of tentacles. And the nonapus, it
became apparent, was not only a water-creature.

It could also fly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Garf paddled idly around Dor's apartment, pretending interest in the
shell-paintings that decorated the walls. He had presented her a bouquet
in which rare blossoms hid slimy, smelly weeds, and she was sore at
him--again. As she finished her conversation and switched off the
two-way radio, he turned to her. "Dor," he said softly.

She looked at him haughtily. "Don't speak to me!" she said. "I told you
you'd have to stop your irresponsible practical joking and settle down.
Some hard work wouldn't hurt you even if you did inherit a fortune. I
don't mind so much when you pull these stunts on me, but when I think of
how you practically drowned those poor, defenseless Earth-creatures...."

His mouth twisted. "Poor, defenseless Earth-creatures! How was I to know
they couldn't swim? Just imagine--beings that live on a world with
almost as much water as ours, who can't use their natural abilities any
more than that! It's ridiculous. I never saw such morons--the big, ugly
one especially!"

He had intended that to sting, and it did. Dor raised her nose another
notch. "I think he's cute, and I'm learning he's pretty intelligent,
too. He catches on fast to everything I tell him. He and his little
friend will have their spaceship finished soon now, and...."

"That's another thing!" Garf snapped, keeping her on the defensive.
"Maybe I violated Security by going to Earth when they accidentally
opened the gate, but what are you doing? What would the Fed say if they
knew you were giving out information the Earthmen hadn't acquired by
themselves--helping them get into space? What about that?"

Dor shrugged. "I'm not telling them anything, really. Just dropping a
few hints of the most elementary sort. Things they'd have figured out
soon anyway--and things they still have to work hard to make
practicable. Even if some of the inventions they've worked out so far
have enabled them to make enough money to live on nicely--after all,
those things are the merest toys to us--what could it possibly matter?"

Garf considered. This bickering was, as usual, getting them exactly
nowhere. He gave up. "All right, dear," he said. "You win; you're right,
of course, and I'm wrong. I only hope you won't bother so much with
talking to that Earth-slug on the radio after we're married."

Dor laughed a tinkly laugh and came into his waiting arms. "Darling,"
she cooed. "What a thing to say. I actually believe you're jealous--and
you know I only love you."

Which wasn't strictly true. The big Earthman _was_ cute, she thought,
and it was quaint of him to be in love with her, and to tell her so
every day over the radio built into the robot-nonapus. Of course, he was
inferior to her in every way, and she wouldn't think of marrying him or
anything like that. But even his inferiority was interesting, in a way.

Yes, it was nice to know he loved her.

And she loved him, too--like an amusing baby brother.

  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  |                     Transcriber's Note                       |
  |                                                              |
  | This etext was produced from "Future combined with Science   |
  | Fiction stories" September 1951. Extensive research did not  |
  | uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this         |
  | publication was renewed.                                     |
  |                                                              |
  |                                                              |
  |                           Errata                             |
  |                                                              |
  | The following typographical errors have been corrected:      |
  |                                                              |
  |                   |Error    |Correction |                    |
  |                   |effected |affected   |                    |
  |                   |to to    |to         |                    |
  |                                                              |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+





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