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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Butterfly Kiss" ***

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



                      The BUTTERFLY KISS

                   _by Arthur Dekker Savage_

[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.]

[Sidenote: _THE WAR WAS ON, THE FINAL CATACLYSM HAD BEGUN. THOUSANDS
WOULD DIE, EONS OF HUMAN HISTORY WOULD BE WIPED OUT, CENTURIES OF
CULTURE BE DESTROYED ... UNLESS ONE MAN COULD CARRY OUT HIS PLAN._]

[Illustration]


When Sykin Supcel was kidnaped, no one on Earth was less surprised than
Dr. Horace Wilton, Chief Military Psychologist of the Solar Navy. And
since he had been Sy's mentor, and obviously responsible for his safety,
Dr. Wilton was the first high official sought by representatives of the
news syndicates.

"It has become increasingly difficult," said the psychologist carefully
to the group sitting in his office, "to ignore such actions by the
Sur-Malic." He gazed through an open window-wall to where the newsmen's
tiny jet-copters glinted beneath a summer sun at the forest's edge. "Of
course, I might have predicted it; Sy insisted upon browsing through old
city ruins for relaxation, and he seemed to delight in eluding his
guard escort."

A reporter with the long nose and narrow head of a Venusian--or, for
that matter, a Sur-Malic--raised his voice. "Y'mean he was all alone
when he was snatched?"

The doctor rested one hip on the edge of a gleaming alloy desk. Military
specifications, like civilian preference, demanded that every artifact
possible be of enduring, stainless metal. "I am afraid so," he answered
slowly.

"Then how," demanded the reporter, "d'you know it was the Sur-Malic that
got him?"

"Simple logic. The Sur-Malic have been sporadically making off with
first-class Earth scientists for a century--and Sy had recently
developed an important improvement in our so-called cosmic ray engine.
If he is forced to divulge the information, there may be tragic
repercussions to the Interstellar League." Pencils raced eagerly across
note pads. "Furthermore, Sy was well equipped to handle any ordinary
emergency. Nor would a League world commit such an act, while any member
of the Radical Alliance other than the Sur-Malic would be incapable of
it."

A stocky brown Martian glowered. "Why the hell, sir, don't we wipe out
the Sur-Malic? We all know they're straining every seam to get a war
fleet built on Pronuleon II, and that their attack's only a matter of
time. If we hit them where they are, they'd never recover--but if we
wait for them to strike first...."

Dr. Wilton held up his hand to stem the torrent. "I can't speak for the
government, young man, but I might point out that it has never been our
policy to foment war. We are making such preparations as allotted funds
permit, and the combined Solar Fleet is on the alert. Also, _knowing_
that the Sur-Malic stole our laboratory speci--er--Unique, and being
able to _prove_ it are two different matters."

"Excuse me, doctor." A keen-eyed Earth reporter stood up. "You started
to say 'specimen'. How about that? Are Sy and the other Uniques in the
special lab groups actually some kind of humanoid robots or something? I
know it's top-drawer stuff, but are these Uniques actually people? Do
you make 'em, or are they born, or what? What are they for, and why
their odd names?" He resumed his seat. The others maintained an
expectant silence. It was not often they found themselves in the
tropical, trackless forest area of the American Great Lakes region,
which was almost invisibly dotted with naval installations, and personal
interviews with military psychologists were rare events; but data
pertaining to the almost fabulous Uniques would take news precedence on
every video screen of the meadow, valley and woodland homes of Earth.

Dr. Wilton neatly snipped the legal filter from a cigarette, evoking
sympathetic grins from his audience. Many took immediate advantage of
the tacit permission to smoke. "I can answer those questions safely, I
am sure. First," he smiled, "your shrewd observation of the term
'specimen': in some respects the Uniques are specimens--but only to the
extent that in childhood some of them underwent certain surgical
operations, mainly brain and glandular. All were kept on special diets
during their early youth, and were meticulously trained by special
instructors and psychologists. Other than having exceptional attributes
in one or more designated fields, they are as normal as you and I--if
you will pardon my hopeful attitude about myself."

There was a ripple of subdued laughter. The doctor cleared his throat
and shifted his position. "They are the children of normal Earth
parents, and are selected quietly, with parental approval, when certain
combinations of factors appear on their school entrance examination
records. They are naturally gifted; we try to encourage and improve
these gifts, so that when they reach adulthood they will have a
particular skill or skills to employ in the research and developmental
laboratories. They are citizens, of course--and extremely valuable ones;
they receive salaries commensurate with their military rank; they are
free to travel, but we try to guard them against accident and mishap.
Their real names are not revealed for security reasons; their laboratory
names, such as Sykin Supcel AA-87, are a sort of code which designates
their capabilities to their instructors and teammates."

He pressed a button on his desk. "To establish their complete normalcy,
you might like to meet Arna Matt A-94, who happens to be waiting in the
next room."

A door opened. A girl stopped on the threshold, a picture of poised
surprise. The men looked at her appreciatively.

"Come in, my dear."

She moved to the doctor's side, lithely and with an easy grace. The
shining metallic cloth of her brief uniform rustled in the silence. Many
breaths were expelled at the same time, and she repressed a smile.

Dr. Wilton introduced her. "You will notice--" he coughed "--you have
noticed," he continued broadly, "that Arna possesses several
attributes." There were low murmurings. "But the single A in her number
indicates that she ranks at the top of one field, and the number itself
means that she is the ninety-fourth to become a trainee in the program
which develops these unique humans; her code name reveals that she
possesses Awareness in Mathematics--which is to say that she somehow
immediately knows the answer to any mathematical problem presented,
without having to consciously calculate or even think about it. Her
particular gift was known on Earth as far back as the Seventeenth
Century, but it has always been extremely rare and relatively
undeveloped."

"Can she talk?" questioned a voice good-humoredly.

The psychologist chuckled. "Say something for the boys, Arna," he
invited.

With the timing of a video star the girl parted her lips provocatively,
leaned slightly forward and then, when expectancy was at its height,
said "Boo!"

[Illustration]

Friendly laughter echoed through the paneled room, coming from all but
the Venusian. He rose stiffly. "This is all very well, but we're here
t'get _all_ the dope on Sykin Supcel. Aren't you holding out something?"

Dr. Wilton looked at the man squarely. "Yes," he said softly. "Yes, I
am." His gaze swept the others. "The interview is terminated,
gentlemen--I hope your news stories will be sufficiently popular to make
your trip worthwhile. Your lapel cameras and their eyepieces will be
returned as you enter your 'copters."

The Venusian was the first to voice his thanks, with a ring of sincerity
as true as in the others' polite speeches.

Alone with Arna, Dr. Wilton punched several buttons on the desk,
consulted a memo and spoke briskly to a blank video screen.
"Start--all--in. Step seven two eight of Operation Catskin successful.
Sur-Malic spy among reporters, as predicted by eighty-two point
six probability. Lor'lsoon, posing as Venusian, exposed by his
inadequate training--probability about sixty; his unconscious
belligerency--probability about ninety. He is to be undisturbed for
forty-eight hours, then detained after an apparently routine round-up.
Any contacts he may reveal during the next two days are to be observed
but not disturbed. End--all--out."

Arna leaned over the desk and kissed him lightly. "Nice work, Dad."
Then she went on, tensely: "Any word from Sy--or is he supposed to make
contact later?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was by merest chance that Sykin Supcel happened to be at the military
spaceport of Dirik when the prisoner was made to land--and he had
brought along an alibi to prove it. A year after his capture and removal
to the key city of Pronuleon II, he had successfully convinced the
Sur-Malic High Command that he would have been a willing traitor even
without the rank and gold and promises. "Damned, dirty Earth lice," he
had been wont to growl--at precisely propitious moments--"murdered my
folks and stuck me in a stinking lab and cut up my insides--can't even
be comfortable in a room with regular people because my temperature's
too high. I'll wreck the whole League for that!" And he would angrily
swipe at a perspiring brow.

It was easily established that his normal body temperature stayed about
two degrees above average; he early established his need for long,
cooling outdoor walks through the semi-tropical city and surrounding
countryside. He had become the most trusted of all renegade aliens after
voluntarily becoming a Sur-Malic citizen of Pronuleon II.

This afternoon he had insisted that Commander Rilth, his immediate
superior in war fleet construction, walk with him in one of his restless
moods. They had left the mighty hangars where Sy was supervising
experimental work with the Earth-developed cosmic ray engines, and were
lounging on a stone bench at the edge of the field, shaded from blazing
yellow Pronuleon by a huge tree.

"It's the theoretical math, Rilth," complained Sy. "We just haven't got
the calculators that Earth has. Slows things no end."

The thin, grim commandant turned to him. "Cursed theory is always a
problem to a Sur-Malic. We hoped that your weak genius would be of
avail!"

"Well, it's availing, isn't it?" Sy demanded gruffly. "If I had
assistants that were anything but idiots, the job would be done!" In the
cruel, ruthless culture of the Sur-Malic, this was no argument, but an
accepted form of discussion, without rancor.

When Rilth did not answer, Sy gloomily watched the prisoner being
escorted across the field. Suddenly he stood up and squinted at the
group in the distance. "Say--who's that they're bringing in?"

Rilth strained to see. "Some rotten Earthling or Aldeberanian, no doubt.
They look alike to me--and both are Leaguers."

Sy tugged at the other's arm excitedly. "Come on--let's get over to
Detention Headquarters. If that's who I think it is, we'll have our new
engines--installed--in three months!"

The Sur-Malic jerked free of Sy's hand, but matched his trot across the
field. Although he moved carefully, it seemed that whenever he glanced
away from the ground, small stones somehow managed to be under the edges
of his soles, causing him to lurch, stumble and curse.

"You'll have to quit soaking up that cheap stuff, Rilth," taunted Sy.
"You're clumsy as a bovine!" He dropped slightly to the rear, his loose,
raw-boned frame jogging along without effort, his eyes darting ahead at
the terrain.

Rilth looked at him with a snarl, uttered a stream of invectives. But as
one foot landed on the end of a small branch the opposite end whipped up
and blocked his other ankle. He sprawled in the dirt.

"Slimy beast!" he raged. He drew away from Sy's mocking offer of
assistance. "It seems that in your vile presence all things go wrong!"

Inside the grey stone Detention building, Sy became suddenly exuberant.
He made for the prisoner eagerly. Guards, in deference to his uniform
insignia, stood aside at his approach.

"Arna!" He folded the girl in his arms, burying his face in the long
waves beneath her trim headgear. "Love me," he whispered quickly. "Hate
Earth--weak will--faint."

The girl looked at him. Her expression, which could be interpreted as
surprise either on the basis of recognition or of a stranger's
unexpected actions, changed to one of adoration. "Darling!" she gasped.
She tried to embrace him, but apparently the strain of her past few
hours had been too great; she slumped in his arms.

"Get a doctor!" Sy shouted to evoke maximum confusion. He lowered Arna
to the floor as though her weight were too much to hold; a living
pretense of physical weakness had served well to counteract envy. He
made no attempt to cover her long, smooth thigh when it became exposed
at the action--effectively diverting the guards' thoughts and
eradicating any suspicion they might have felt at his behavior. He
appealed to Rilth with his eyes. "She must be sick! Damn it, man, get a
doctor!"

The commandant regarded him narrowly. "Anyone with the mind of a worm
could see she has only fainted. She will revive shortly."

Arna did recover as predicted, coincident with the arrival of Lord Krut
of the High Command. Sy pleaded his case artfully. "It was the work of
genius, Your Lordship, to find Arna Matt--the one person in space who
can hasten our plans! As you know, she is a human calculator, as well
as--well--we were just about to escape the Earth laboratories and get
married when you found me and brought me here."

Lord Krut glowered. He pondered before answering. "We neither planned
her capture nor knew her qualities, High Technician Supcel," he said
heavily. "Our scout-ships noticed her craft near Aldebaran, marked with
the League military insignia. Following our policy of harassment, the
scouts destroyed her escort ships. She," he gestured, "surrendered." His
eyes raked slyly over the seemingly bewildered girl's body. "If we can
use her talents, the Great Mokaine himself will be pleased. In view of
your relationship, is it your opinion that she will not require
indoctrination other than your efforts?"

"Hell, yes, Your Lordship. Why, they _tortured_ her in the labs. If
anything she hates the League worse than I do!" He placed an arm about
the girl. "How about it, honey?"

Arna looked at Lord Krut with wide eyes. "Damn right," she said
uncertainly. And then she asked meekly, "Could I have a drink of water,
please?"

Sy seemed in no hurry to leave Detention Headquarters, even after Arna
had been given over officially into his care with a token military rank.
She had not batted an eyelash when Sy had explained to Rilth, with a
leer, that his quarters would suffice for them both; she had even
managed to simper a bit.

But, alone with Sy in his ample, almost luxurious apartment, with her
personal gear from the _Needle_ stacked in the main room, she placed
both hands on her hips and stared at him questioningly.

"Big stakes," said Sy with meaning. He rattled on with a patter of
propaganda tailored for possible ears in the walls. He grinned at her
obvious relief when he silently indicated a comfortable room for her
private bedchamber. When at last they were outdoors, Sy ignored the
ground vehicle at his disposal and led Arna along a winding, tree-lined
roadway which led to the cavernous hangars. Once out of earshot of the
buildings, he spoke abruptly: "They kill your escort?"

Arna looked surprised, then laughed throatily. "Poor Sy--always worrying
about our personnel!" Her voice was soothing and melodious. "The other
ships were dummies; Mek Enj rigged up a neat little auto-tronic device,
tuned to the _Needle's_ controls. After your message for aid came to
young Tel, I played meteor through half the galaxy, trying to get picked
up!" She smiled at him. "Anyway, here I am. Have you run into trouble?"

He slipped an arm about her waist. "Sure have. I missed you like the
devil."

Arna's smile faded. She slipped out of his embrace. "Sy! Do you mean to
say you risked exposure of the only Sur-Malic-type telepath that young
Tel can receive, when you didn't need help?"

Sy evaded the question. "Tomorrow we can shoot over to Haldane," he
suggested. "There's an old Earth clergyman there who got stranded when
the Alliance broke off chummy relations with Leaguers."

Arna eyed him icily. "And why should we visit this clergyman?"

"Well," said Sy innocently, "the old guy's almost two hundred now, which
is crowding the limit for his generation. And you know the Sur-Malic
don't have any marriage cere--"

"Oh, you knobhead! Here you have the most critical job of anyone in the
League, and--and--who said I was going to marry you, anyway?"

"I did," returned Sy promptly. "Remember? I've been telling you that
since we were kids--and you never once denied it."

Arna made a sound that was partly a sob and partly a laugh. She shook
her head unbelievingly. "With the fate of a galaxy depending on your
abilities and judgment, you drag me across a thousand million miles of
space to prate about marriage."

"Yes," admitted Sy, "but think of how far it might have been. If spatial
distances were actually as great as the old astronomers used to think,
before they learned that light slows down after it travels--"

There was no slightest chance that Arna's small hand would actually
strike Sy. She knew the attempt was futile, but she tried her best--and
uttered a rueful sound when the blow seemed to pass right through his
cheek, while he apparently stood still, grinning. "Some day," she
promised, "I'm going to shoot you in the back--just to see what
happens."

"That sounds more like my cheerful little calc-bird," he said. "But
let's wait till after we're married, huh?" They continued along the
unpaved road.

"I think," Arna said levelly, "there will be no marriage. There will
certainly be none for me until the completion of the unimportant,
completely insignificant Operation Catskin--or," she finished sweetly,
"have you given that any thought lately?"

Sy frowned. A small stone in the road suddenly sped along the ground and
cracked against another; the other snapped away, rolled, slowed,
reversed, shot backward and hit the first one. He spoke thoughtfully.
"Yes, I've given it a great deal of thought. And there's going to
be--uh--a slight change of plan. That's really why I needed you here,
Arna."

The girl stared. "Sy! Have you shorted a circuit? For heaven's sake,
don't you realize this thing has been planned, and calculated, and
re-arranged bit by bit for twenty years? That each of us is merely a
small--no matter how important--cog in a far-reaching activity of
infinite complexity? Don't you understand that everything is in a state
of delicate, constantly shifting balance, with ambassadors, scientists
and agents making each tiny move with precise timing and skill
throughout a hundred worlds? And you want to change things!" Her voice
softened, and she laid a hand on his arm. "Sy," she pleaded, "if you've
run into some insurmountable obstacle, let's report it and try to ease
out without upsetting everything. That's happened three times before,
you know, and it's no disgrace if you can't--"

[Illustration]

"Hell!" said Sy bitterly. "I can do it--I think. And if I can do it at
all, I can go one step better. But I need help."

"But can't you see, Sy, that you can't change the plans now? Why, no one
even knows what you have in mind--and I won't have anything to do with
it!"

The hangars loomed not far ahead. Sy spoke patiently. "Look. As it
stands, Operation Catskin now boils down to installing new engines in
the Sur-Malic fleet, slipping gimmicks into the stabilizer works and
controlling the gimmicks psychokinetically when the League and Alliance
fleets meet for battle. If the Alliance ships operate erratically, they
can't bring their guns to bear, and the League will mop up--even with
our pint-sized fleet and inferior armament. Check?"

"Of course. That's what--"

"Okay. Now suppose we can rig a deal so it won't be necessary to shoot
up the Alliance boats nor kill the poor deluded devils in them? The
League wins the war, gets a brand-new, superior fleet, and hardly anyone
gets smeared."

Arna sighed. "Let's be practical, Sy. All you know about engineering has
been implanted hypnotically just for this job; all I can do is answer
questions of pure math. I wouldn't know how to devise any gadgetry, and
you're in no position to waste time trying--and in war some must be
destroyed that others may survive."

"But suppose I've just about got the thing whipped already? I've learned
enough, since I've been here, to rate Mech C even home."

"Sy, I just won't be a party to anything that might possibly upset
League plans!"

Sy's chest heaved resignedly. "Will you help me with the computational
math needed to finish Operation Catskin?"

"That's better!" Arna squeezed his arm happily. "Of course I will, you
big, bony, restless idealist!"

He smiled fondly at her--at her answer, her young beauty and her
nearness.

       *       *       *       *       *

The weeks passed swiftly--weeks in which the swarming Sur-Malic workmen
ripped from their foundations the massive, cumbersome atomic converters
of the mighty space fleet and replaced them with light, radically
designed engines which would feed eternally upon the all-pervading
cosmic emanations that streaked the universe.

Sy and Arna had worked furiously. Surrounded by a corps of physicists,
mathematicians, engineers, technicians and draftsmen, Arna had
unerringly replied to endless queries as fast as she could speak. Sy had
translated equations, converted values, integrated, correlated and
directed. Subtly, he had inserted certain innocent equations of his own
bit by bit, fed his results into the basic plans and disguised the
all-important device with the cloak of dual function--one of which was
vital to ship performance, the other of which was vulnerable to his
psychokinetic ability to move objects of small mass by mental
concentration alone.

But all things are subject to the vagaries of pure chance. Commandant
Rilth, as chief of the project, continually prowled the immense planning
rooms, workshops and assembly areas, giving of his not-inconsiderable
technical knowledge where needed. And one day he came upon Sy delicately
checking the tiny installation which would spell doom to Alliance
schemes of conquest.

"You have found a flaw, perhaps?" demanded the Sur-Malic officer. He
squatted and peered through the maze of ducts and cables at the
shielded mechanism.

Sy crawled back out of the metallic web. "Not yet," he grunted. "I was
just testing my brainstorm--works like a charm."

"To me," sneered Rilth, "it looks clumsy and inefficient. Could not your
addled brain devise an electronic circuit, instead of a mechanical
device subject to frictional wear?"

Sy wiped the perspiration from a dripping brow and spoke boldly. "This
simplifies the master controls for your stupid crewmen. See those little
plates on the shaft--like a butterfly's wings? When they fold up, the
ship revolves; the closer together they get, the greater the artificial
gravity. When they touch, you've got normal gravity in the ship. They
function perfectly--and if you don't like them, rip them out of every
boat and design your own G control!"

Rilth smiled coldly. "I suppose we must accept some of the more
imbecilic aspects of your warped genius." He turned on his heel and
left.

Sy whispered at his retreating back. "You'll never know _how_ warped
until that butterfly folds its wings _down_--and they kiss like little
angels."

As the gigantic task of installation hummed and whined and boiled its
way to completion, Sy and Arna found time to slip away into sprawling,
dirty Dirik, where war-feverish activity catered to the whims and
desires of teeming, pleasure-seeking officers and common warriors. In
the boisterous cafes the Earth couple sat close together and whispered
freely, relaxing from their grueling pace. They watched the dull,
surging masses of characteristically thin Sur-Malic commoners ebb and
flow along the dim, moonless, star-canopied streets, seeking surcease
from the demands of their cruel and exacting lords. Under the sting of
stimulants, listless, drab women became as gay as their noisy
companions. There was endless bicker and chatter.

Frequently the Earth pair walked along winding country lanes, hand in
hand, inhaling deeply of cool, sweet air beneath the everlasting ebon
arch of the heavens. On one such evening Sy turned in to a farmer's
dimly lit cottage, almost concealed in a stygian grove of fruit trees,
and called its occupant to the door. He introduced Arna to a lean,
toothless, grinning man.

"This is Loor, darling, our loyal Venusian agent--our contact with young
Tel and the League."

Loor served them with simple wine. He showed Arna the delicate
telepathic amplifier which carried his mental transmissions across the
dust-voids of space, to be received by the unaided mind of a youthful
Unique. Afterward, he returned the apparatus to its place of
concealment beneath the floor.

It was but a few days before the scheduled space trials of the fleet
when Arna brought Sy disquieting news.

"I overheard Rilth say he was going to investigate the ships' G
mechanism," she whispered rapidly. "He seems to be suspicious of--"

"Poor kid," Sy said loudly. "You can't work when you feel like that. You
go on home and sleep." He added casually, "I may be late tonight--lots
of work to do." He located Rilth in a great noisy hangar and piloted him
away from a crowd of noisy engineers. "Filthy vermin," he said by way of
greeting, "you look like you need an airing." He lowered his voice.
"Let's dodge our females tonight and slice up Dirik a bit--it'd do us
both good."

Rilth grimaced. "It is unfortunate, gutter-born, that Ruza wants to
celebrate tonight. Some miserable party or other."

"You can always work late, can't you, son of cattle? We'll snag a couple
of lively young peasants from one of the pleasure dens."

Rilth's cold eye glittered. "Your vile mouth speaks temptingly."

"I'll meet you at a sidewalk table of the Wild Snake, on the Street of
Delight. We'll blast the town!"

It was completely dark when the two met at the cafe. They finished a
goblet of wine, and Sy suggested they move on to a place he knew. They
threaded their way through jostling crowds and walked along side streets
which led away from the city's riotous heart. Pedestrians became fewer.
Rilth cursed Sy for not thinking to use a vehicle.

"It's just around the next corner, slimehead," Sy assured him. "And I've
already made arrangements."

But there was a narrow, lightless alleyway a few steps ahead. Had Arna
been following them, instead of at home worrying, she would have seen Sy
stumble sideways at the mouth of the alley, bumping hard against his
companion. She would have seen them both disappear into the blackness
for an instant, and then would have seen Sy emerge from the shadows and
reel onward alone, obviously drunk. Had she then rushed into the alley,
she would have found Rilth's corpse sprawled on a pile of rubbish, still
oozing gore from death wounds in throat and heart, and she might have
noticed that his needle gun was gone, and that his empty money pouch lay
on another wet stain of his uniform where a blade had been wiped clean.

By the time Sy returned to the Street of Delight his staggering gait had
almost disappeared, and by the time he located a group of technicians
whom he knew, dicing in a gambling establishment, it was gone entirely.
He was welcomed with hearty curses into the group--and he began to
play....

It is not known how far the story eventually traveled--and certainly it
did not penetrate even all of the city for many hours, or every gambling
den would have bolted its doors--but by morning a goodly sector of
Pronuleon II was buzzing with the tale. It seemed that a certain group
of Fleet Technicians, led by a High Technician--an Earth renegade--known
as Sykin Supcel, had broken the hearts and some of the furniture of
every gambling proprietor in Dirik. Each player had made good every cast
of the dice in a run of luck unequaled in the known universe, and had
returned to their quarters in groaning ground vehicles only when there
was no more gold coin to be found on the Street of Delight, the Avenue
of Pleasure or the Way of Joy.

But Sy's exuberance was dulled the next day when he heard of the brutal
robbery-assassination of his friend, Commandant Rilth. "Not that I bore
any love for the reptile," he said sorrowfuly to Lord Krut, thus
spreading a counter-irritant for possible suspicion, "but he had a good
head--a keen and valuable mind we would have missed sorely a month ago.
As it is...." He straightened resignedly and accepted the responsibility
of Acting Commandant of Fleet Construction Technicians.

A week later, in the midst of official excitement at the gratifyingly
successful fleet trials, Sy and Arna slipped away by fast ground vehicle
to the tiny isolated cottage of old Loor. Hurriedly they set up the
ampli-tel apparatus. Loor reclined on his rude cot with his long, narrow
head in the mesh helmet, and Sy taped down contacts and checked
adjustments. He and Arna huddled over the Venusian for half an hour,
until he finally opened his eyes and smiled toothlessly.

"Contact with Tel. He says hello."

Sy's face was strained. "Okay. Give him this: Start--all--in. A nail and
a corncob, a book and a button. No nail, no corncob, no book, no button.
You can strum a zither. End--all--out."

Loor was silent in concentration. Finally he spoke. "Start--all--in. You
need a drink. End--all--out."

"Good work, Loor!" Sy began to untape the contacts. "Your job here is
now fin--"

The door creaked viciously wide. Arna gasped. A Sur-Malic officer behind
a needle gun moved into the small room. Five others crowded in behind
him, similarly armed.

The leader smiled venomously. "Very convenient, Sykin Supcel, for you to
leave your vehicle in the open. We have been watching your purulent
friend for days, but we didn't suspect tele--"

Even Arna, who knew what to expect, could detect only a blur of motion.
Loor jumped nervously as a pistol stuttered four times and four tiny
needles exploded in the floor; he blinked and finally managed to focus
his eyes on Sy only as the last Sur-Malic crumpled lifelessly.

"Solar Mother!" he muttered. "What happened?" He tore the helmet from
his head and leaped spryly to his feet.

Arna answered while Sy wiped his long knife on one of the bodies and
returned it to a sheath under his jacket. "Sy is able to move pretty
fast," she explained. "It's one of his lab-developed abilities. The
normal eye can't keep up with him when he puts on a spurt."

Loor continued to blink while Sy reduced the amplifier to jumbled scrap,
and then the old man found his voice again. "Why," he asked Sy, "didn't
you use your pistol on them? Wouldn't that be easier?"

Sy dragged the dead officers out of the doorway. "Can't depend on
mechanical things," he said briefly. He mopped perspiration from his
forehead and neck. "It's a matter of timing; I size up a situation, sort
of estimate distances and positions, and kind of _see_ myself carrying
out the actions--and then I go into high gear. It's hard to see, hear,
or even consciously think while I'm speeded up. At that speed triggers
just don't pull fast enough."

"If those men had been able to move aside fast enough," said Arna, "Sy
might have missed them entirely and not even known it until he slowed
down again." She looked with distaste at the bodies, but without
repugnance or fear.

Sy hurriedly thrust a bulging pouch of gold into Loor's hand. "Lock this
place up," he directed, "and start walking immediately for Haldane.
We've got to assume we're all known to Sur-Malic Intelligence. Arna and
I will remove the outside evidence. All we need now is a little chunk of
time!"

He walked out warily and soon pulled away in the dead officers' vehicle.
Arna followed close behind.

Having driven slowly back to Dirik, Sy parked beside a row of similar
vehicles to the rear of a city food market in the merchandise district.
He walked to where Arna waited and climbed into his own conveyance.
"Head for our little love-nest, slave," he directed. "You'll want your
toothbrush, and it would be a shame to leave my hard-won gold behind."

Arna breathed excitedly. "Are we leaving the planet, Sy? Is our work
completed? Was that what your message meant?"

"My, what a curiosity!" he taunted. He placed an arm about her
shoulders. "We're going into seclusion," he leered. "I'll have you all
to myself for days and days! Won't that be fun?"

Arna squirmed. "Stop it, Sy--I almost hit that old woman! And stop
making those pebbles jump up in the road!" She glanced at him bitingly.
"I suppose you've got things all arranged so we'll have to hide in a
single room!"

"The choice is yours, love." He waved expansively. "Either we steal a
scoutship or--how's the _Needle_ for speed?"

"Oh, Sy! Can we actually get the _Needle_? She'll outstrip any warship!
_And_ she has a nice private compartment, with a good solid deck outside
it for you. I'll loan you a pillow, maybe."

They took from the apartment only what would fit into small shoulder
bags that were matched to their uniforms. Sy briefed Arna while they
sped to the vast enclosure which walled off hundreds of impounded alien
ships.

His towering rage was very evident even as he climbed from the ground
vehicle. A callow sentry straightened at the approach of his glittering
insignia. Sy fixed him with a malific eye. The youth's mouth began to
twitch.

"Where," shouted Sy furiously, "is the moronic officer-in-charge?"

The sentry tried to speak.

"Never mind, you brainless rodent!" Sy roared. "Why wasn't that accursed
League ship delivered to the testing grounds this morning?"

The boy began to stammer.

"Quiet, you miserable lump of offal!" screamed Sy. He turned and
brutally cuffed Arna toward the gate. "Get in there, filthy drone, and
raise that ship before I kick your belly to pulp!"

The sentry unlocked the high gate frantically. He watched with ashen
features as Sy followed Arna across the yard, cursing, striking and
reviling her.

Out of the guard's sight, Sy quickly located the _Needle_ and broke the
port seal. Arna clambered in, adjusted controls to planetary drive,
wakened the powerful engines to a sighing song of readiness and then ran
to her bunk to strap herself down. Sy sealed the port and dived into the
soft, deep clutches of the pilot's gimbaled throne. Within seconds the
craft darted for the horizon, veered, and streaked out from the planet
on a straight drive for the blinding orb of Pronuleon.

A hundred miles or more from the blue world behind, the _Needle_ shot
through the detector field of a Sur-Malic scoutship. Sy didn't bother to
switch on audio for a challenge. Grimly, he located the scoutship's
relative position by the pip on his detector screen and stabbed a
pattern of buttons to spew quickly-congealing clouds of magnetized dust
into automatically calculated trajectory paths. He smiled with relief as
pips sparked into life, indicating the interception of homing missiles.
Out of the pursuer's range, he set an erratic course for the sun and
called to Arna.

For three clock periods they hugged blazing, searing Pronuleon in an
orbit that was almost too close for safety. Refrigeration units strained
far beyond specified tolerances. Twice, tail toward the inferno for
minimum radiation absorption, they barely fought clear of stupendous,
surging tentacles of the shifting, agonized gravitational fields of
Pronuleon. But they could not be detected so close to a raging sun.

Arna, wretched and exhausted, the thin fabric of a single garment
clinging wetly to her body, leaned wearily against the throne. "Isn't it
possible they think we took a fast course for Sol?" she sighed.

"Very probable," Sy whispered gauntly. Only an hour before he had
revealed what the girl already suspected--that his code message had been
the long-awaited signal for the entire Interstellar League fleet to ring
the void about Pronuleon II. "But on this mission we can't take
chances."

Arna laughed feebly. "Can't take chances!" she echoed, and shook her
head.

Sy attempted a smile, sopped the streaming sweat from his eyes and
studied a chronometer. He clamped a drinking tube, then let it fall from
his mouth. "Get on some clothes and G-shoes, woman. We're going to keep
an appointment."

The _Needle's_ rotation slowly died; the vessel turned, lined up with
Pronuleon's orbit, burst her bonds with a tangential spurt and then
arced away from the seething fury behind.

Free of the obliterating sea of sun static, Sy threw open all detection
and reception circuits and flung his detector field to its farthest
reaches, dimming its accuracy but increasing its range. Immediately he
stared in consternation at the activity in the three-dimensional depths
of his screen. "Arna!" he called hoarsely. "Arna!" The girl ran
clinkingly to him on jointed shoe-plates. "We're damn near too late," he
groaned. "Look, the fleets are approaching each other!" The tiny red
screen dot which indicated their position showed them to be on a course
that would slice directly between both fleets. Sy leaped from the throne
and fairly threw Arna into its confines. He braced his metal-shod feet
on the deck and seized a ring cleat beside the control panel. "Steady as
you go!" he gritted. "This is it--and we've got to make it!"

"Sy! Can you control the gadgets from this distance?"

"Yeah--but we've got to stay in planetary range. _Don't leave the
Pronuleon system._" His fingers sped along a row of knobs. "I've got to
call our fleet."

"Contact the fleet _now_? But Sy--"

"Quiet, honey!" He glanced at her once, quickly. "I rigged those gadgets
like I intended to."

"_Sy!_" It was almost a scream. "What have you--"

"Shut up!" he snapped. "And that's an order!" Ignoring secrecy, code and
even special wavelength, he signaled the League flagship on an open
channel. He arranged a three-way video hook-up between the _Needle_,
Admiral Grimes on the _Forward Star_ and Dr. Horace Wilton on the _Mars
Moon_. "No time," he ground out. "Operation set up as scheduled--_but
you won't have to fire_. In five minutes all enemy crews will be flat
under eight G's; when ships stop, grapple and board. Out!" He broke
contact and turned to Arna. "Skitter and spit dust--use it all, but keep
us clear for three minutes!" He locked both hands on the cleat and
closed his eyes in concentration.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the deep recesses of his mind, he created a clear picture of a
typical, prototype butterfly gimmick. He imagined it in the approximate
position it would be to keep a ship spinning slowly on its longitudinal
axis--to exert the mild centrifugal force permitted for battle alert and
preliminary maneuver. Then he _willed_ the little wings to bend
downward--slowly--past the null-G setting--to fold--down ... to kiss ...
to _close_....

After a seeming century, and from a great distance, Arna's voice reached
him, dragged him up from autohypnotic depths. "Sy! Sy! They've stopped
firing! The League's closing in! Sy!"

He straightened, relaxed his bloodless grip on the cleat, drew a deep,
shuddering breath, shook his head to clear it. Throbbing pains began to
course from his arms and shoulders, where they had been buffeted against
the panel housing during Arna's wild, skillful gyrations. He looked at
the screen, adjusted it for close range.

Mote beside mote, League ships had paired off with the furiously
whirling Alliance craft, attending all the major vessels and as many
smaller ones as their fewer numbers could cover. Sy smiled tiredly. He
could almost see the Sur-Malic crewmen, unconscious, lying pinned to
their decks by their own terrible weight. Briefly, he closed his eyes
again....

       *       *       *       *       *

"I couldn't actually test the gadget's reverse setting, of course," Sy
explained to Dr. Wilton, "but I knew Arna's calc would check out to
infinity." He glanced through a window at the celebrating throngs below,
in the streets of Dirik. "And now, sir," he turned to the girl at his
side, "I think she--uh--I mean we--or rather I have something to say to
you, sir. Uh...." He flushed and hesitated.

Arna took over competently. "I guess I'll simply have to marry this
bumbling hero, Dad. Not that I want to," she added, with a mischievous
glance at Sy, "though his psychokinetics aren't much of a problem--but I
just can't do a thing against that darn Superior Celerity he's been
using on me!"





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