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´╗┐Title: Potential Enemy
Author: Reynolds, Mack, 1917-1983
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 "Potential Enemy" ***

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                             POTENTIAL ENEMY

                             by Mack Reynolds

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Orbit volume 1
number 2, 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



_Alexander the Great had not dreamed of India, nor even Egypt, when he
embarked upon his invasion of the Persian Empire. It was not a matter of
being like the farmer: "I ain't selfish, all I want is the land that
jines mine." It was simply that after regaining the Greek cities of Asia
Minor from Darius, he could not stop. He could not afford to have
powerful neighbors that might threaten his domains tomorrow. So he took
Egypt, and the Eastern Satrapies, and then had to continue to India.
There he learned of the power of Cathay, but an army mutiny forestalled
him and he had to return to Babylon. He died there while making plans to
attack Arabia, Carthage, Rome. You see, given the military outlook, he
could not afford powerful neighbors on his borders; they might become
enemies some day._

_Alexander had not been the first to be faced with this problem, nor was
he the last. So it was later with Rome, and later with Napoleon, and
later still with Adolf the Aryan, and still later--_]

       *       *       *       *       *

It isn't travel that is broadening, stimulating, or educational. Not the
traveling itself. Visiting new cities, new countries, new continents, or
even new planets, _yes_. But the travel itself, _no_. Be it by the
methods of the Twentieth Century--automobile, bus, train, or
aircraft--or be it by spaceship, travel is nothing more than boring.

Oh, it's interesting enough for the first few hours, say. You look out
the window of your car, bus, train, or airliner, or over the side of
your ship, and it's very stimulating. But after that first period it
becomes boring, monotonous, sameness to the point of redundance.

And so it is in space.

Markham Gray, free lance journalist for more years than he would admit
to, was en route from the Neptune satellite Triton to his home planet,
Earth, mistress of the Solar System. He was seasoned enough as a space
traveler to steel himself against the monotony with cards and books,
with chess problems and wire tapes, and even with an attempt to do an
article on the distant earthbase from which he was returning for the
_Spacetraveler Digest_.

When all these failed, he sometimes spent a half hour or so staring at
the vision screen which took up a considerable area of one wall of the

Unless you had a vivid imagination of the type which had remained with
Markham Gray down through the years, a few minutes at a time would have
been enough. With rare exception, the view on the screen seemed almost
like a still; a velvety blackness with pin-points of brilliant light,
unmoving, unchanging.

But even Markham Gray, with his ability to dream and to discern that
which is beyond, found himself twisting with ennui after thirty minutes
of staring at endless space. He wished that there was a larger number of
passengers aboard. The half-dozen businessmen and their women and
children had left him cold and he was doing his best to avoid them. Now,
if there had only been one good chess player--

Co-pilot Bormann was passing through the lounge. He nodded to the
distinguished elderly passenger, flicked his eyes quickly,
professionally, over the vision screen and was about to continue on his

Gray called idly, "Hans, I thought the space patrols very seldom got out

"Practically never, sir," the other told him politely, hesitating
momentarily. Part of the job was to be constantly amiable, constantly
watchful of the passengers out here in deep space--they came down with
space cafard at the drop of a hat. Markham Gray reminded Bormann of
pictures of Benjamin Franklin he'd seen in history books, and ordinarily
he didn't mind spending a little time now and then talking things over
with him. But right now he was hoping the old duffer wasn't going to
keep him from the game going on forward with Captain Post and the

"Just noticed one on the screen," the elderly journalist told him

The co-pilot smiled courteously. "You must have seen a meteorite, sir.
There aren't any--"

Markham Gray flushed. "I'm not as complete a space neophyte as your
condescending air would indicate, Lieutenant. As a matter of fact, I'll
stack my space-months against yours any day."

Bormann said soothingly, "It's not that, sir. You've just made a
mistake. If a ship was within reasonable distance, the alarms would be
sounding off right now. But that's not all, either. We have a complete
record of any traffic within a considerable distance, and I assure you

Markham Gray pointed a finger at the lower left hand corner of the
screen. "Then what is that, Lieutenant?" he asked sarcastically.

The smile was still on the co-pilot's face as he turned and followed the
direction of the other's finger. The smile faded. "I'll be a _makron_!"
he blurted. Spinning on his heel, he hurried forward to the bridge,
muttering as he went.

The older man snorted with satisfaction. Actually, he shouldn't have
been so snappy with the young man; he hated to admit he was growing
cranky with age. He took up his half completed manuscript again. He
really should finish this article, though, space knew, he hadn't enough
material for more than a few paragraphs. Triton was a barren satellite
if he'd ever seen one--and he had.

He had almost forgotten the matter ten minutes later when the ship's
public address system blurted loudly.


Battle Stations?

Markham Gray was vaguely familiar with the fact that every Solar System
spacecraft was theoretically a warcraft in emergency, but it was
utterly fantastic that--

He heaved himself to his feet, grunting with the effort, and,
disregarding the repeated command that passengers proceed to their
quarters, made his way forward to the bridge, ignoring the hysterical
confusion in passengers and crew members hurrying up and down the ship's

It was immediately obvious, there at the craft's heart, that this was no
farce, at least not a deliberate one. Captain Roger Post, youthful
officer in command of the _Neuve Los Angeles_, Lieutenant Hans Bormann
and the two crew members on watch were white-faced and shaken,
momentarily confused in a situation which they had never expected to
face. The two officers stood before the bridge vision screen watching,
wide-eyed, that sector of space containing the other vessel. They had
enlarged it a hundred-fold.

At the elderly journalist's entrance, the skipper had shot a quick,
irritated glance over his shoulder and had begun to snap something; he
cut it off. Instead, he said, "When did you first sight the alien ship,
Mr. Gray?"


"Yes, alien. When did you first sight it? It is obviously following us
in order to locate our home planet." There was extreme tension in the
captain's voice.

Markham Gray felt cold fingers trace their way up his back. "Why, why, I
must have noticed it several hours ago, Captain. But ... an _alien_!...
I...." He peered at the enlarged craft on the screen. "Are you sure,
Captain? It seems remarkably like our own. I would say--"

The captain had spun back around to stare at the screen again, as though
to reassure himself of what he had already seen.

"There are no other ships in the vicinity," he grated, almost as though
to himself. "Besides that, as far as I know, and I should know, there
are no Earth craft that look exactly like that. There are striking
similarities, I'll admit, to our St. Louis class scouts, but those jets
on the prow--there's nothing like them either in existence or

His voice rose in an attempt to achieve decisiveness, "Lieutenant
Bormann, prepare to attack."

Suddenly, the telviz blared.

_Calling the Neuve Los Angeles. Calling the Neuve Los Angeles. Be
unafraid. We are not hostile._

There was quiet on the bridge of the earth ship. Screaming quiet. It was
seemingly hours before they had recovered even to the point of staring
at one another.

Hans Bormann gasped finally, unbelievingly, "How could they possibly
know the name of our ship? How could they possibly know the Amer-English

The captain's face was white and frozen. He said, so quietly that they
could hardly make it out, "That's not all. Our alarms still haven't been
touched off, and our estimators aren't functioning; we don't know how
large they are nor how far away. It's unheard of--.Somehow they've
completely disrupted our instruments."

       *       *       *       *       *

Markham Gray followed the matter with more than average interest, after
their arrival at the New Albuquerque spaceport. Not that average
interest wasn't high.

Finally man had come in contact with another intelligence. He had been
dreading it, fearing it, for decades; now it was here. Another life form
had conquered space, and, seemingly, had equipment, in some respects at
least, superior to humanity's.

The court martial of Captain Roger Post had been short and merciless.
Free access to the trial had been given to the press and telviz systems,
and the newscasts had carried it in its entirety, partially to stress to
the public mind the importance of the situation, and partially as a
warning to other spacemen.

Post had stood before the raised dais upon which were seated SupSpaceCom
Michell and four other high-ranking officers and heard the charge
read--failure to attack the alien craft, destroy it, and thus prevent
the aliens--wherever they might be from--returning to their own world
and reporting the presence of man in the galaxy.

Markham Gray, like thousands of others, had sat on the edge of his chair
in the living room of his small suburban home, and followed the trial
closely on his telviz.

SupSpaceCom Michell had been blunt and ruthless. He had rapped out,
bitingly, "Roger Post, as captain of the _Neuve Los Angeles_, why did
you not either destroy the alien craft, or, if you felt it too strong
for your ship, why did you not blast off into space, luring it away from
your home planet?"

Post said hesitantly, "I didn't think it necessary, sir. His attitude
was--well, of peace. It was as if we were two ships that had met by
chance and dipped their flags in the old manner and passed on to their
different destinations. They even were able to telviz us a message."

The SupSpaceCom snapped, "That was undoubtedly a case of telepathy. The
alien is equipped in some manner to impose thoughts upon the human
brain. You _thought_ the telviz was used; actually the alien wasn't
speaking Amer-English, he was simply forcing thoughts into your minds."

Markham Gray, watching and listening to this over his set, shook his
head in dissatisfaction. As always, the military mind was dull and
unreceptive. The ridiculousness of expecting Post to blast off into
space in an attempt to fool the other craft in regard to his home
planet was obvious. The whole affair had taken place within the solar
system; obviously the alien would know that one of Sol's nine major
planets was mankind's home. Finding out which one wouldn't be too
difficult a job.

Roger Post was saying hesitantly, "Then it is assumed that the alien
craft wasn't friendly?"

SupSpaceCom Michell indicated his disgust with an impatient flick of his
hand. "Any alien is a potential enemy, Post; that should be elementary.
And a potential enemy is an enemy in fact. Even though these aliens
might seem amiable enough today, how do we know they will be in the
future--possibly in the far future? There can be no friendship with
aliens. We can't afford to have neighbors; we can't afford to be
encircled by enemies."

"Nor even friends?" Captain Post had asked softly.

Michell glared at his subordinate. "That is what it amounts to, Captain;
and the thing to remember is that they feel the same way. They must!
They must seek us out and destroy us completely and as quickly as
possible. By the appearance of things, and partially through your
negligence, they've probably won the first round. They know our
location; we don't know theirs."

The supreme commander of Earth's space forces dropped that point. "Let
us go back again. When you received this telepathic message--or whatever
it was--what was your reaction? Did it seem friendly, domineering, or

Roger Post stood silent for a moment. Finally he answered, "Sir, I still
think it was the telviz, rather than a telepathic communication, but
the ... the tone of voice seemed to give me the impression of pitying."

"Pitying!" Michell ejaculated.

The captain was nervous but determined. "Yes, sir. I had the distinct
feeling that the being that sent the message felt sorry for us."

The SupSpaceCom's face had gone red with indignation.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was three years before another of the aliens was sighted. Three
hurried, crowded, harassed years during which all the Solar System's
resources were devoted to building and arming a huge space fleet and
rushing space defenses. The total wars of the Twentieth Century paled in
comparison to the all out efforts made to prepare for this conflict.

The second view of the alien ship was similar to the first. This, time
the _Pendleton_, a four-man scout returning to the Venus base after a
patrol in the direction of Sirius, held the intruder in its viewer for a
full five minutes. Once again, no estimation of its distance nor size
could be made. All instruments pertaining to such detection seemed to
fail to function properly.

And again the alien had sent a message--seemingly, at least, by telviz.
_We are no danger to you, mankind. Seek your destiny in peace. Your
troubles are from within._

The _Pendleton_ would have attempted to follow the strange craft, but
her fuel tanks were nearly dry and she had to proceed to Venus. Her
captain's report made a sensation.

In a way, the whole business had been a good thing for Markham Gray. As
a free lancing journalist, he'd had a considerable advantage. First, he
was more than usually informed on space travel and the problems relating
to it, second, he had been present at--in fact, had made himself--the
first sighting of the aliens.

His articles were in continuous demand in both magazines and newspaper
supplements; editors clamored for additional material from his
voco-typer. There was but one complaint against his copy--it wasn't
alarmist enough, sensational enough. Humanity had been whipped into a
state of hysteria, an emotional binge, and humanity loved it.

And it was there that Markham Gray refused to go along. He had agreed
with poor Captain Post, now serving a life sentence in the Martian
prison camps; there had been no sign of hostility from the alien craft.
It was man who was preparing for war--and Gray knew of no period in
history in which preparations for war did not eventually culminate in

So it was not really strange that it was he the aliens chose to contact.

It came in the early hours of the morning. He awakened, not without a
chill of fear, the sound of his telviz set in his ears. He had left it
turned off, he knew that. He shook his head to clear it, impatient of
the fact that with advancing years it was taking an increasing time to
become alert after sleep.

He had not caught the message. For a brief moment he thought the sound
had been a dream.

Then the telviz spoke again. The screen was blank. It said, _You are
awake, Mr. Gray?_

He stared at it, uncomprehending.

He said, "I ... I don't understand." Then, suddenly, he did understand,
as though by an inspired revelation. Why they were able to speak
Amer-English. Why their ship looked like a Terran one. Why they had been
able to 'disrupt' the Earth ships instruments.

He said haltingly, "Why are you here?"

_We are familiar with your articles. You alone, Mr. Gray, seem at least
to seek understanding. Before we left, we felt it our duty to explain
our presence and our purpose--that is, partially._

"Yes," he said. Then, in an attempt to check the conclusion at which he
had just arrived, he added, "You are going from the Solar
System--leaving your home for a new one?"

There was a long silence.

Finally: _As we said, we were going to explain partially our presence
and purpose, but obviously you know more than we had thought. Would you
mind revealing the extent of your knowledge?_

Gray reached to the foot of the bed and took up his night robe; partly
because it was chilly, partly to give himself time to consider his
answer. Perhaps he shouldn't have said that. He was alone in this small
house; he had no knowledge of their intentions toward him.

But he had gone too far now. He said, "Not at all. I am not sure of
where we stand, but things should be much clearer, shortly. First of
all, your spaceships are tiny. Probably less than ten pounds."

_About four, Mr. Gray._

"Which explains why our instruments did not record them; the instruments
weren't disrupted, your ships were really too small to register. That's
where we made our first mistake. We assumed, for no valid reason, that
you were approximately our own size. We were willing to picture you as
non-human and possessing limbs, organs, and even senses different from
ours; but we have pictured 'aliens', as we've been calling you, as
approximately our own size. Actually, you must be quite tiny."

_Quite tiny, Markham Gray. Although, of course, the way we think of it
is that you are quite huge._

He was becoming more confident now; widely awake, it was less strange to
hear the words come from his commonplace home model telviz set. "Our
second mistake was in looking for you throughout space," he said softly.

There was hesitation again, then, _And why was that a mistake, Markham

Gray wet his lips. He might be signing his death warrant, but he
couldn't stop now. "Because you are not really 'aliens,' but of Earth
itself. Several facts point that way. For instance, your ships are
minute models of Earth ships, or, rather, of human ships. You have
obviously copied them. Then, too, you have been able to communicate with
humans too easily. An alien to our world would have had much more
trouble. Our ways, our methods of thinking, are not strange to you."

_You have discovered a secret which has been kept for many centuries,
Markham Gray._

He was more at ease now; somehow there was no threat in the attitude of
the other. Gray said, "The hardest thing for me to understand is why it
_has_ been kept a secret. Obviously, you are a tiny form of Earth life,
probably an insect, which has progressed intellectually as far beyond
other insect forms as man beyond other mammals. Why have you kept this
a secret from humans?"

_You should be able to answer that yourself, Mr. Gray. As we developed,
we were appalled by the only other form of life on our planet with a
developed intelligence. Why, not even your own kind is safe from your
bloodlust. The lesser animals on Earth have been either enslaved by
man--or slaughtered to extinction. And even your fellows in the recent
past were butchered; man killed man wholesale. Do you blame us for
keeping our existence a secret? We knew that the day humans discovered
there was another intelligence on Earth they would begin making plans to
dominate or, even more likely, to destroy us. Our only chance was to
find some refuge away from Earth. That is why we began to search the
other stars for a planet similar to this and suitable to our form of

"You could have fought back, had we attempted to destroy you," Gray said

The next words were coldly contemptuous. _We are not wanton killers,
like man. We have no desire to destroy._

Gray winced and changed the subject. "You have found your new planet?"

_At last. We are about to begin transportation of our population to the
new world. For the first time since our ancestors became aware of the
awful presence of man on the Earth, we feel that we can look forward to

Markham Gray remained quiet for a long time. "I am still amazed that you
were able to develop so far without our knowledge," he said finally.

There was an edge of amusement in the answering thought. _We are very
tiny, Mr. Gray. And our greatest efforts have always been to keep from
under man's eyes. We have profited greatly, however, by our suitability
to espionage; little goes on in the human world of which we don't know.
Our progress was greatly aided by our being able to utilize the science
that man has already developed. You've noted, for instance, how similar
our space ships are to your own._

Gray nodded to himself. "But I'm also impressed by the manner in which
you have developed some mechanical device to duplicate human speech.
That involved original research."

_At any rate, neither man nor we need dread the future any longer. We
have escaped the danger that overhung us, and you know now that we are
no alien enemies from space threatening you. We wish you well, mankind;
perhaps the future will see changes in your nature. It is in this
friendly hope that we have contacted humanity through you, Mr. Gray._

The elderly journalist said quietly, "I appreciate your thoughtfulness
and hope you are correct. Good luck to you in your new world."

_Thank you, Markham Gray, and goodbye._

The set was suddenly quiet again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Markham Gray stood before the assembled Military Council of the Solar
System. He had told his story without interruption to this most powerful
body on Earth. They listened to him in silence.

When he had finished, he waited for their questions. The first came from
SupSpaceCom Michell. He said, thoughtfully, "You believe their words to
be substantially correct, Gray?"

"I believe them to be entirely truthful, your excellency," the
journalist told him sincerely.

"Then they are on the verge of leaving the Earth and removing to this
other planet in some other star system?"

"That is their plan."

The SupSpaceCom mused aloud. "We'll be able to locate them when they
blast off en masse. Their single ships are so small that they missed
being observed, but a mass flight we'll be able to detect. Our cruisers
will be able to follow them all the way, blasting them as they go. If
any get through to their new planet, we'll at least know where they are
and can take our time destroying it."

The President of the Council added thoughtfully, "Quite correct,
Michell. And in the early stages of the fight, we should be able to
capture some of their ships intact. As soon as we find what kind of
insect they are, our bacteriologists will be able to work on a method to
eliminate any that might remain on Earth."

Markham Gray's face had paled in horror. "But why?" he blurted. "Why not
let them go in peace? All they've wanted for centuries is to escape us,
to have a planet of their own."

SupSpaceCom Michell eyed him tolerantly. "You seem to have been taken
in, Mr. Gray. Once they've established themselves in their new world, we
have no idea of how rapidly they might develop and how soon they might
become a threat. Even though they may be peaceful today, they are
potential enemies tomorrow. And a potential enemy _is_ an enemy, who
must be destroyed."

Gray felt sickness well through him "But ... but this policy.... What
happens when man finally finds on his borders a life form more advanced
than he--an intelligence strong enough to destroy rather than be

The tolerance was gone now. The SupSpaceCom said coldly, "Don't be a
pessimistic defeatist, Gray."

He turned to the admirals and generals of his staff. "Make all
preparations for the attack, gentlemen."

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