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

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

Title: People Minus X
Author: Gallun, Raymond Zinke
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 "People Minus X" ***

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



                            PEOPLE MINUS X

                         by RAYMOND Z. GALLUN


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


                            PEOPLE MINUS X

                Copyright, 1957, by Raymond Z. Gallun

       An Ace Book, by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

                          All Rights Reserved

                           Printed in U.S.A.

     [Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any
     evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was
     renewed.]



I


Ed Dukas was writing letters. Someone or something was also
writing--unseen but at his elbow. It was perhaps fifteen minutes before
he noticed. Conspicuous at the center of the next blank sheet of paper
he reached for, part of a word was already inscribed:

"_Nippe ..._"

The writing was faint and wavering but in the same shade of blue ink as
that in his own pen.

Ed Dukas said "Hey?" to himself, mildly.

The frown creases between his hazel eyes deepened. They were evidence
of strain that was not new. The stubby forefinger and thumb of his
right hand rubbed their calloused whorls together. Surprise on his
square face gave way to a cool watchfulness that, in the last ten years
of guarded living, had been grimed into his nature. Ed Dukas was now
twenty-two. This era was hurtling and troubled. Since his childhood,
Ed had become acquainted with wonder, beauty, hate, opportunity and
disaster on a cosmic level, luxury, adventure, love. Sometimes he had
even found peace of mind.

He put down his pen, leaving the letter he had been writing suspended
in mid-sentence:

... _Pardon the preaching, Les. Human nature and everything else seems
booby-trapped. They drummed the idea of courage and careful thinking
into us at school. Because so much that is new and changing is a big
thing to handle. Still, we'll have to stick to a course of action._

       *       *       *       *       *

Now Ed sat with his elbows on his table, that other, no longer quite
blank, sheet of paper held lightly in his hands. He sat there, a stocky
young man, his hair cut short like a hedge, the clues of his existence
around him: student banners on the walls; a stereoptic picture of his
track team--in color of course; ditto for his astrophysics class; his
bookcase; his tiny sensipsych set; and the delicate instruments that
any guy who hoped to reach the next human goal, the nearer stars, had
to learn about.

His girl's picture, part of any youth's pattern of life for the last
three centuries, smiled from beside him on the table. Dark. Strong as
girls were apt to be, these days. Beautiful in a rough-hewn way. But
even with all that strength to rely on, he was worried about her more
than ever now. Times were strange. He glanced at her likeness once.
Then his gaze bounced back to the paper in his hands.

His nerves tingled at the eerie thing that was happening there. He
didn't know whether to feel afraid of it or hopeful. Man was stumbling
toward ultimate mastery of his own flesh and the forces of the
universe. But the distance remained enormous, though technical science
was moving forward, perhaps too swiftly, on all fronts. Part of Ed's
fear before the unknown was like the stage fright of an inexperienced
actor. You never quite knew what was ahead or how to judge anything
strange that you saw.

"_Nippe...._"

At the end of the line which made the "e" there was a tiny speck of
blue ink. Almost imperceptibly, like the minute hand of a clock, it
crept on, curving and looping to form another letter.

"_Nipper_" the word was now.

This could be somebody's funny gag, Ed thought. Somebody with a gadget.
The world is full of gadgets these days. Maybe too full.

It occurred to him that a pal might be playing a joke with some simple
device bought in a novelty store. But probability leaned toward
something deeper and more costly. Who knew? Someone might have invented
a way to make a man invisible. You didn't deny that anything could be,
any more.

"Speak up!" he ordered softly.

But no answer came, and his wondering gaze found nothing unusual in the
room around him. He froze. "_Nipper._" It could be part of a message,
an honest attempt to convey vitally important information. Or it could
be the forerunner of violence aimed in his direction. Through no fault
of his own, he had had enemies for ten years. Tonight they might
really act. To die was still possible. In spite of vitaplasm. Or the
more tedious method that employed natural flesh. Or the tiny cylinders
hidden away in vaults. Lives were now in danger again. Human, and
almost human....

For a moment Ed wanted to give a warning and to call others into
consultation. He wanted to shout, "Dad! Mom! Come here!"

He didn't do so. Between him and the precise, benign personality that
he called Dad there was a gradually growing barrier. And for his
mother, beautiful and young by art and science, he had that feeling of
male protectiveness that takes the form of keeping possible dangers
hidden.

Ed decided to work on his own. Being essentially careful and slow
moving when it came to delicate processes, he had not touched that
creeping droplet of ink. Its secret might thus be destroyed. No, he'd
never do a thing so foolish.

Swiftly he folded the paper and fastened the writing under his
microscope. The ink speck was almost dry now, and nothing was hidden in
it. The line of the writing itself was odd under magnification. Here
and there it showed tiny, irregular dots at spaced intervals, connected
by fine, dragging marks. That was all.

Of course he realized that _Nipper_ might be only the first cryptic
word of a message and that he had only to wait and see what would
follow.

Until he began to wait, however, the significance of the word itself
eluded him. A child's nickname was all that it suggested.

But now his mind bore down on it. And he had the answer almost at
once. A small boy climbing the wall of a pretty garden. And his casual
christening by a pleasant stranger who met him thus for the first time.
Among more vivid and significant details, the memory of the name itself
had been mislaid. But Ed Dukas knew that in his boyhood one person had
always called him Nipper: Uncle Mitch Prell, and nobody else. Now it
seemed like a secret sign.

Ed gulped, his reaction suspended somewhere between shocked pleasure
and a frosty sense of eeriness. To have a friend, whom he had loved
as a child, vanish into space and into apparent nonexistence after
becoming a fugitive, and then to have what _seemed_ to be this
friend try to communicate again after ten years, and in this weird
manner--well--how would you say it? Ghosts, of course, were pure
superstition. But in this age one could still react as if to the
supernatural--with tingling hide and quickened heartbeats. In fact,
with the vast growth of technology, more than ever was such a feeling
possible.

"Uncle Mitch!" Ed Dukas called quietly.

Again there was no reply. The name on the paper still could be somebody
else's trick. Granger's, maybe. There were ways for him to have learned
a nickname. Many people might admire Granger as much as others despised
him. And it was hard to say what he might do, or when. Or how, for that
matter. He was clever. And wrong.

There was still another thing to remember. Ed did not altogether love
the memory of his uncle, Dr. Mitchell Prell. For this famous scientist
was marked with the stigma of responsibility for a terrific mishap. No,
Prell did not bear the burden alone. There were other scientists, it
was said, who had poked too roughly, and with too sharp a stick, into
Nature's deepest lair. Nature had snarled back. Ed had grown up with
the public hate that had resulted. He had fought against it, yet he had
felt it, until sometimes he did not know where he himself stood.

Now he waited for more writing to be traced on the paper under the
microscope. A minute passed, but there was nothing more. He did notice,
however, that the letters of that one word matched roughly the austere
handwriting of his uncle.

Once he glanced toward the window with some nervousness. Outside, the
night was glorious. Never again would nights be hideous as they once
had been. He saw lush gardens under silver light. If any devilish
thing not known until recent months slithered through the shadows, it
kept hidden. Ed saw other neighboring houses. New trees had grown to
fair size in ten years. Older and larger trees remained lopsided and
gnarled. But their burn scars had healed.

Otherwise there was nothing left to monument the past--except, perhaps,
the sullen mutter of voices in nearby streets.

But Ed Dukas's mind, triggered by the name _Nipper_ and by awareness
of Mitchell Prell, slipped briefly away from the present. He had
often explored memory to find understanding. At school, after the
catastrophe, psychiatrists had made every kid do that. So that neuroses
might be broken or lessened or avoided. So that animal terror would not
draw a curtain over a mental record of an interlude. So that memory
might not be lodged, like a red coal of hysteria, in the subconscious.

       *       *       *       *       *

Like a trained dog leaping through a flaming hoop, Ed Dukas's thoughts
plunged back to that zone where his earliest memories faded into the
mists of infancy:

A birthday cake with two candles. A fountain splashing in the patio of
this same house. A dachshund, Schnitz, which a little boy put in almost
the same category as the flat, rubber-tired robots that cleaned the
rooms. Where was the distinction between machines and animals?

Flowers, hummingbirds, and butterflies in the garden. The echoes of
footsteps on stone floors. Toy space ships and star ships at Christmas.
The star ships were things yet to become real.... There was endless
interest in life then. But even in those days there were signs of
cautious and puzzled guidance.

There was the sensipsych, of course. It was a wonderful box of dark
wood in the living room. A soft couch folded down from it. There you
lay, and for a moment strange golden light flickered into your eyes.
You went to sleep, but you did not really go to sleep. For you became
someone else. Maybe a cartoon character in a world where everything
looked different. Funny things happened to you that frightened you at
first; but then you laughed when you found that there was no harm in
them.

Or, instead of being in such a crazy fairyland, you might be a real
boy in space armor jumping across the surface of a huge chunk of rock
called an asteroid, while stars and a blazing white sun stared at you
from blackness. You were very busy helping others to roof the asteroid
with crystal, and to put air underneath, and to build houses and
factories where people might live and work. Always more and more people
spreading out and out to populate the empty worlds of space.

But you were never on that sensipsych couch for very long, or too
often. You would wake up, and there was Mom saying, "Enough, fella.
A little of that sort of thing goes a great way, even when the
experiences are rugged and educational and not just whimsical nonsense."

Ed Dukas would be angry and puzzled. For it had seemed that those
visions, going on without end, could bring joy forever.

"You'll understand sometime, Eddie," his mother would say, consoling
him. "What happens to you by sensipsych is just make-believe. What we
call recorded sensory experience. Some of it really happened to other
people. Some of it is just made up. It can teach you things. But too
much is very bad. Not so long ago folks found out."

There was something tender and hard and even scared in his mother's
words.

Ed's dad also had his comments. Dad was something called a minerals
expert.

"Come on, Eddie, let's rassle," he'd say. "Stick your chin out, boy.
Let's see how tough you can look. No, not mean-tough.... That's better.
We've got to lick the times we live in. And something in ourselves.
With machines doing so much for us, life can be soft. And sensipsych
dreams are soft. Everything in moderation. Dreams can make you feel as
helpless as an oyster. Until you despise yourself and the whole race.
Yes, people found out. They were always meant to feel strong and proud,
and they must have tasks equal to their increasing powers. Otherwise
there's spiritual rot. We've got to be ready for anything, feel our
way, try to be ready to keep our balance for whatever comes. Because
life could be terrible, too, if the wonderful forces we control got out
of hand. We've got to go on progressing--moving out to the planets, and
then maybe the stars. Got to go either ahead or backward. Can't stand
still. And it's easy to go backward nowadays. Got to fight that, Eddie,
or else there might be a kind of death."

"What is death, Dad?"

Ed's father would answer his son's serious expression with a gay grin.
"A kind of myth, now, boy. Just going to sleep and never waking up. We
hope it's mostly finished, for everybody. Even the disease of old age
turned out to be something like rust gathering in a pipe. Simple. It
can be fixed up. Some people even let themselves get old. But they can
be made young again. Always."

Eddie had other questions.

"You were born in the old way, Eddie," his mother said. "But _so many_
people are needed now to populate the solar system. So everybody can't
be born from his mother's body. There's another way; almost the same,
really. Babies are born--they're made, really--in a laboratory. Then
they live in a youth center, like the one on the hill."

Eddie saw its great white spire looming among the trees. Often he could
hear voices in the gardens and playgrounds on the terraced setbacks of
its many levels. The voices seemed mysterious somehow.

Even then Eddie sensed the groping and confusion that was in his
parents' minds. Sometimes his mother would speak fervently to his
father: "Jack, I'd never choose to live in another age. I love it.
Because it's rich, endlessly varied, exciting. Is that why I'm often
scared out of my wits? Even disgusted often enough with my selfish self
and all the automatic devices? I love my work, the planning of pleasant
interiors. I'm so busy there doesn't even seem to be time for another
child. Yet maybe there are centuries ahead, Jack. How does one fill
centuries without getting fed up? And are we supposed to be something
superhuman in the end? Or do we wind up like the ancient Martians and
the beings of the Asteroid Planet, before it was blown to millions of
pieces? Wiped out in super-conflict, before they could progress very
much further than we are now?"

Most of this went over Eddie's head. But it left a smoky tension to
lurk in his mind behind the peaceful presence of sun and trees. People
had made their world more beautiful for their own relaxed enjoyment.
Yet even in those days Eddie sensed the turbulent undercurrent deep
inside them.

Once his father expressed a vagrant thought: "Maybe we should go out
to Venus sometime, Eileen. Start life over more simply in an uncrowded
planet that's being conditioned to receive our ancient race. Maybe
we'll do it in just a few years." He grinned.

"Yes," Eddie's mother replied. "If being indefinitely young and alive
doesn't fool us before then. If our complicated civilization doesn't
crack open and spit fire, and vaporize everybody. Death by violence is
still definitely possible. You know, lots of our friends are getting
their bodies and minds recorded so that they can be restored in case
of serious injury. Maybe we should have done it long ago."

Jack Dukas met her concern with a light tease: "A woman's worry
matched against the stubbornness of a man--eh, Eileen? There's
something unnatural about being recorded that I rebel against. Don't
be too troubled, though. The centuries won't slip from our fingers so
immediately. I hardly ever touch a dangerous thing in my work. Besides,
safety devices are almost perfect."

Such serious, troubled thoughts did not dim the optimism and eagerness
of young Ed Dukas. His private dreams soared into the thrills of
Someday. His small hands were impatient to grasp the shadowy shapes
of the future, more legendary than the not-distant past with its
still-living heroes: Roland, who was largely responsible for the
rejuvenation process; Schaeffer, who developed the sensipsych, brought
on the dream-world period of decay, and in the end helped Harwell
defeat the trap of emasculating visions by urging mankind back toward a
vigorous grip on reality; and the hundreds of others who had taken part.

But the first visit of Mitchell Prell, when Ed Dukas was five, was,
to the boy, like acquaintance with a legend. "Hi, Nipper!" were the
first words his uncle had spoken to Eddie. Dr. Mitchell Prell was his
mother's brother. He was a much smaller man than Eddie's dad, and dark
instead of blond. He was famous. And he brought gifts.

"A piece of the Moon, Nipper," he said. "An opal imbedded naturally
in gold. For your mom. And this case of instruments dug up in Martian
ruins, for your dad. Fifty million years old but better than anything
designed by human beings for locating ores far underground. And this
for you--also from Mars. I haven't been there for a long time. But I
got an old friend to send me the stuff--to the labs on the Moon."

Maybe Eddie's gift had once been a toy for the off-spring of extinct
Martian monsters. It was triangular like a kite, metallic, with a
faint lavender sheen. When you whistled a certain way, a jet of air
made it rise high in the sky. But it always came back. Atomic power was
in it somewhere. For it never ran out of energy.

Uncle Mitch never seemed to say much. He didn't get deep into
philosophy. He set up queer apparatus in his room, and a kid could look
at it if he didn't touch. And to one of Dad's questions he answered
briefly, "Yes, we're making headway in the labs on the Moon. There'll
be a motor for star ships. If, in our experiments, hyperspace itself
doesn't burst at the seams under that level of power. No, we're not yet
trying for speeds of more than a fraction of that of light. A trip to a
star will take a long time."

It soon came out that Uncle Mitch had another interest. He kept in a
glass tube something that squirmed and wriggled, and felt like warm
flesh though its natural form, when at rest, was a slender cylinder of
pencil size.

About that he would only say, "Call it alive if you want to. But not
like us. Invented and artificial, and far more rugged than our flesh.
For the rest, wait and see if anything comes of it. Maybe it'll become
the clay of the superman. Schaeffer, here on Earth, is working on it,
too."

Uncle Mitch stayed for a week. Then he was gone, rocketing out to the
labs, isolated for safety at the center of a _mare_ on the always
hidden hemisphere of the Moon.

"Mitch knows what he wants and is direct about it," was Jack Dukas's
comment. "Simple. No conflicts. The scientist's approach. Wise or
stupid? Who knows?"

Eddie was six, and then seven. The years moved slowly, but he grew
and hardened with them. By the time he was twelve, sports and study
and awareness of realities had toughened his body and matured his
soul considerably. That was fortunate, for this was his and mankind's
fateful year. The day came when the household robots were fixing up the
guestroom specially for Uncle Mitch again. Dad was afield, a hundred
miles away, to look over a vein of quartz crystal that was to be
shipped to the lunar laboratories. At 9:00 P.M. Eddie's father
had not yet returned.

Eddie was sprawled on his bed looking lazily at the translucent blue
font of the lamp beside it. The color was rich and beautiful, the
carvings snaky and odd. Here was another gift, ordered by Uncle Mitch
from a friend in the region of the Asteroids. The font was an artifact
of a race contemporary with the Martians who had also lost their fight
to master nature and themselves through knowledge. The font had been
found floating free in space, among the wreckage of a planet blown to
pieces ages back.

Eddie was thinking of such things. He was also thinking of neighborhood
pals, to whom he had bragged about his uncle and his expected arrival.

As for what happened at that moment: there _was_ transpatial warning,
radioed out fifteen seconds ahead, telling of forces gone hopelessly
out of control in the lunar laboratories. But Eddie's set was not
functioning, and he did not hear it.

Beyond the windows of his room there was just calm, pale moonlight. The
Moon looked little different than it always looked, except for the blue
spots of the atmosphere domes of the great mining centers.

But then came the intolerable blue-white light. Perhaps, somewhere,
exposed instruments measured its intensity. On the roofs of
meteorological stations, maybe. Say conservatively that, for the space
of a few seconds, it was five hundred times as strong as full sunshine.

Night was broken off. But there was no day like this. For one fragment
of a second Eddie glanced at the window. Shadows seemed gone, utterly.
Even dark things like tree trunks reflected so much light that they
all but vanished in the shimmering glare. As yet, it was a soundless
phenomenon.

Eddie shut his eyes and buried his face in his pillow. This reflex
action, partly as natural as terror and partly the result of training
for emergencies at school, saved his vision. He might have screamed,
had he been able to find his voice. Distantly, he heard human sounds
that increased the sickness in his stomach. A gentle scene and mood,
product of science, had been utterly shattered by forces of the same
origin.

He did not see the fuzzy blob of incandescence that bloomed in the sky
and expanded slowly for many seconds. In fact, no one saw it; only
cameras, fitted with special dark filters, would have been able to do
so. For living eyes would have been charred by that splendor.

He heard his mother calling his name. Keeping his eyelids tightly
closed and an elbow bent over them, he fumbled his way to the hall, and
to her. They dropped to the floor and huddled there.

Outside, voices died away. By then the devilish glory in the sky was
fading a little, too, at the edges. Only the heart of the great blob
still blazed supernally, with its millions of degrees of heat. Around
it was a cooling fog of dust and gases that masked the hell within it.

The world grew still for a few moments, as it does at the center of
a typhoon. Then there was a great, soft roaring. The shock wave of
expanded, rarefied gases, speeding at many hundreds of miles per
second, striking the upper terrestrial atmosphere, and pressing down.
Eddie could feel the pressure of it, transmitted by the air--a light
but definite punching inward of his flesh, from all sides.

Then there was a distant sighing of wind--air, super-heated and
compressed, being forced outward. Next came the resurgence of human
sounds, if they were truly that any more.

Someone was yelling, "Oh, God ... Oh, God ... Oh, God...." There was a
crackle and smell of fire. Something blew up far off.

Then the earthquakes began. With a sharp snap, rock strata far
underground broke. Then came a jolt. Eddie Dukas and his mother,
huddled on the floor, were engulfed in a swaying sensation, smooth and
vibrationless. Then the ground quivered softly. After that, there
was a pause, as of something hanging precariously for a moment at the
jagged lip of a chasm. Suddenly the pathetic hold seemed to be broken,
and the whole world was seized by a tooth-cracking chatter. A pause....
Then it began again.

For a second Eddie's mother almost lost her control. She tried to rise.
"The house!" she stammered. "It'll fall on us."

Panic and reason fought inside Eddie. "No, Mom," he gasped. "The house
has a steel frame. It'll probably hold together. Outside, we don't know
what would happen to us."

They both braced themselves for the next seismic burst. They were
both creatures of luxury, science-made. But planning, training,
psychology--science it all was, too--had given them ruggedness and
courage, a reserve of strength against hysteria--while the earth
rattled again and again.

Eddie's mom kept saying things, and it was all something like a formula
that had been learned, a rote, a parroted incantation: "You're right,
Eddie. We've got to think before we do anything. They always tell us
that life is an adventure. We've got to meet a bigger future or be
destroyed, Eddie. Everything takes nerve."

At last the earthquake shocks lessened both in intensity and frequency.
Maybe the worst was over.

Eddie risked an eye, and then nudged his mother.

Beyond the undamaged flexoglass of the windows night had returned,
red-lit from both sky and ground. The firmament was smeared with
a ruddy glow extending in a great curve, beaded with more intense
blobs at several points. Dust of the Moon, it had to be. Of its rock
and pumice shell. And of its core of meteoric iron. But that sullen
effulgence was fading now, as matter cooled and began simply to reflect
solar light back to this dark side of Earth.

Yet everywhere outside there was fire. The towering glow in the
east--that would be the City, fifty miles away. Destruction and
confusion there would be unimaginable. Nearer at hand, trees were
aflame--leaves and branches that minutes ago had been cool with
greenness now blazed wildly. Mixed with the tumult of voices was the
clang of robot fire units.

Eddie rushed to the radio and turned it on, as he had been taught to
do in emergencies. You listened; you obeyed directions. "... lunar
blowup," someone was saying. "Follow the usual precautions and measures
for radioactive contamination and flesh burns. Rescue and relief units
are already in action. Fortunately most of our buildings are not made
of combustible materials...."

For minutes Eddie was furiously busy, rubbing special salves and
lotions into the skin of his entire body. Then, dressed in fresh
clothes, he and his mother just stared out of the windows for a while.
Outside, metal shapes were at work. Science and civilization were
working efficiently to recapture their balance after an upset that
might have been the end.

Eddie and his mother explored the house and found it mostly intact.
Then incident piled on incident in quick succession. The first of these
began with a whimper at the door. Masked with respirators against
possible radioactive taints in the outside air, they opened it. A
blackened thing without eyes dragged itself inside, quivered once, and
lay still. It was death among supposed immortals. The passing of a
dachshund called Schnitz.

Eddie was dazed. Child-grief or man-grief had no chance to come to him
then. Events moved too fast. There was too much to be done.

A half-dozen people in radiation armor came into the house. At once
it was converted into a first-aid station. Hard law and hard drills,
blueprinted long before for disaster, came into play. Eddie's mother
joined the crew. Nor was he left out of it. There was coffee for him to
prepare in the kitchen, and rugs and furniture to be cleared away, and
equipment to be set up.

He saw blood and death, and hysteria-twisted faces. He saw glinting,
complex instruments and apparatus, as the therapeutic methods of the
age were applied. There were blood pumps that could serve as hearts
and machines to duplicate the functions of kidneys and lungs. There
were devices to teleport scattered body cells from a dozen healthy
individuals, converting them briefly into mobile energy, and then back
into living tissue in the body of an injured person.

Mostly the maimed and burned remained stolid and calm. Luxury had
not weakened them. They, too, had known their era and had had some
preparation.

Eddie recognized a child of his own age among those who came into
his own house: a neighbor boy named Les Payten, the son of a noted
biologist. He had big ears and a freckled nose. He wasn't hurt badly.
His eyes were inflamed. He hadn't shut them quite quickly enough. He
had turned sullen, and his lip trembled a bit. Otherwise he was still
full of pepper.

"Braggin' about your Uncle Mitch _now_, Eddie?" he taunted. "Great
stuff, that guy! He and his pal scientists nearly got us all. Better
luck next time, huh?"

Young Ed Dukas might have growled back but he did not. As if he too
carried a burden of responsibility, his jaw hardened and his cheeks
hollowed. His back stiffened, as if to bear the load. He returned to
the kitchen. He had not yet noticed any other signs of blame. It was
too soon. The shock of cosmic catastrophe had deadened minds. Sometimes
prejudice and hatred need a certain leisurely brooding to build them up.

But another raw realization had come to Eddie. As soon as there was a
moment to speak to his mother he said, "Uncle Mitch was supposed to
land in the City spaceport tonight. It's a six-hour run from the Moon.
But now he'll never get here."

She shook her head. And in her expression there was fury mixed with her
sadness.

He didn't think about that very long as he helped carry a stretcher.
His mind was on Mitchell Prell--grinning, setting up a lab in the room
upstairs, even modeling wax with his swift fingers. He had once molded
little heads of Mom and Dad. A lump gathered in Eddie's throat for
someone who would never be back. Mitchell Prell. Even the name sounded
nice.

Then slowly another question came into his mind. _Where was Dad?_ He'd
gone out to that quartz lode and hadn't come back! Funny, thought
Eddie, I hadn't even thought about that. Well, it came from taking Dad
for granted. Someone never to worry about. Someone always around, like
the hills. Eddie clenched his fists to steady himself. No use worrying
yet.

Now the torrential rains began. Steam had been boiled out of the ground
by heat. Now it was condensing. Helping, maybe, as the radio said, to
wash away the poison of the radioactive meteorites and dust that were
falling to Earth--wreckage that hours before had been part of the Moon.

Somewhere out in the moaning storm a bell chimed out ten o'clock very
calmly. It must have been about then that what was left of Jack Dukas
was brought home in a truck. Eddie didn't see this happen. He was
helping again with the injured. And later, when Les Payten told him,
Mom wouldn't let him go into the locked room where his dad had been
taken. He almost told her that he had a right. But he did not want to
disturb her further.

Eddie was up till 4:00 A.M. By then the rescue crew had left
the house and a tentative calm had been restored in the world. The
injured were in hospitals, rigged in tents and public buildings. But
there were far more dead. Anyone caught more than a step from shelter
when the catastrophe had occurred was apt to belong to that endless
list. Half a planet had been scorched by heat and radiation.

While the guard-robots rumbled through the rain on their caterpillar
treads, Eddie simply passed out from weariness on the floor of the
living room. His mother managed to arouse him a little but not enough
to send him to bed. Rather, she folded down the twin couches from the
sensipsych set. She made her husky young son climb up onto one of them
and took the other for herself.

He slept, and his body was refreshed. And he had dreams--not dreams
in which he was an imaginary cartoon character; nor was he toiling to
make dead asteroids habitable; nor was he enjoying an adventure on
some imaginary planet among the stars. No, for the present he had had
enough of strain. Instead he lay in grass by a little lake. The sun
was bright. There were boats with colored sails, and blue flamingos
flying, and odd, elfin music. The sensipsych was not an opiate to fill
the emptiness of soft lives now. It was rest; it was honest, relieving
therapy.

Young Ed Dukas didn't see the mud-spattered truck arrive, to be parked
some distance from the house. He did not see the figure moving in the
dense shadows. It knocked cautiously at the front door, waited for a
reasonable time, and then went around to the porch in the rear. There
skillful fingers worked carefully to release the lock. Massive luggage
was lifted without sound inside the door.

Eddie awoke with a small, hard hand shaking his shoulder. His mother
was already awake. The light was on. At first only with simple
unbelief, they beheld a slight, disheveled figure.

Uncle Mitch's cheek was scraped. His hands were filthy. His recently
neat business suit was torn. An old jauntiness about his eyes fought
with worry, regret and wariness.

"Hello, Eileen," he said. "Hi, Nipper."

He received no answer. Somehow even Eddie felt compelled to silence. So
his uncle shifted to what was a rarity with him--a kind of historical
or philosophical summary.

"Progress," he said with a forced laugh. "The world government
answering the threat of atomic war, years ago. Then the greatest
boon of the human race: eternal youth, and death's defeat except by
violence, producing the problem of overpopulation, to be relieved by
the colonization of the solar system. Then peace and boredom and the
sensipsych dreams leading to decadence, loss of pride in self and even
rebellious violence; then the solution of vigorous, realistic action,
more and more people to enjoy life, more and more colonies. Then, as we
reach out for the stars, this. Life. The great adventure that can't be
stopped. The rise from barbarism. Is it even well begun?"

His words, half appropriate and half in supremely bad taste now, as
Mitchell Prell well knew--though he had to say them because of the need
to say something--still fell into a void of silence and echoed through
the house like a cheap speech.

Sighing raggedly, he tried again: "Yes, I'm alive, Eileen. The ship
from the Moon was in space before the blowup happened. We rode ahead of
the main shock wave at high speed. So we won through. From the final
warning message from the Moon, I gather that trouble started in the
warp chambers. The heat and pressure were restrained by the tight space
warp for a while, until inter-dimensional barriers ripped wide open.
The whole mass of the Moon was in the way. By old standards it couldn't
happen; but a lot of lunar atoms went all to pieces in a flare of high
energy. The tough part is that we achieved a workable motor principle
for stellar ships weeks ago. The blowup came from side line testing."

Once more no words answered Mitchell Prell when he stopped talking. He
waited, but his sister's eyes remained cold.

"All right, Eileen," he went on at last. "You're thinking that I am one
of the specialists who is responsible for this. Surely I'm the only
survivor among those research men who were on the Moon. But remember
this: we weren't working on our own. We were hired, under a democratic
system, and told what to hunt for. It was the best that could be
done, except that the lab should have been put farther away, on some
lonely asteroid. Logically, then, we are not solely to blame for what
has happened. But it doesn't work that way, Eileen. Under grief and
hysteria logic still collapses, even in our time. In a real crisis
there continue to be many people who need scapegoats. A collective
mishap, the result of a mass desire for more knowledge, then becomes a
personal guilt. So I'm a fugitive, Eileen."

It was a strange, bitter thing for Eddie Dukas to watch--his mother and
uncle facing each other, not friends, his mother's face a hard mask of
coldness.

Then, all at once, her icy poise crumbled. "Jack isn't alive any more,"
she said. "My husband. That's the fact that I know best. You with your
glib talk, my brother, are one person directly in the chain of events
that caused Jack's death. I don't accuse you, Mitch. I just say that I
can't look on you now with any pleasure. That's all."

Then, sitting there on the sensipsych couch, she began to cry. It was
painful for Eddie to watch. He had never seen her do that before.

But Mitchell Prell chuckled. He sat beside his sister and put his arm
around her. "Are things so bad?" he chided. "Look, Eileen. People used
to consider biological life the deepest secret of nature. Because
he was at the top of his local life scale, man would not have been
flattered to know that the vital force in him wasn't the greatest,
the most indecipherable of enigmas. But it's true, Eileen. Year after
year we've learned more about cell function, genes, chromosomes, the
natural molding of living things, and the final process in protoplasm,
which is the spark itself. Men like Schaeffer have been making simple
life for years, while they traced out more complex riddles. For a long
time they've been replacing diseased or damaged organs from scattered
cells drawn from the bodies of many donors. Now they've gone further
and have grown such organs in a culture fluid, from a microscopic bit
of tissue. It is already theoretically possible to re-create an entire
man, provided there is a pattern. It was for repair purposes, after
possible accidents, that everyone was urged to have his body structure
recorded--especially that of his brain. All you have to do, Eileen,
is have Jack's record turned over to the same laboratories that do
rejuvenation. In two or three years hell come back to you just as he
was. Soon there might even be a simpler, better way."

Eileen Dukas's laugh was brittle and bitter. "A roll of fine,
sensitized wire," she said. "Kept in a box no bigger than the first
joint of a finger. Supposed to be safe in a vault. The pattern of a
human being. Well, Mitch, there just isn't any such box for Jack. Or
for Eddie or me either, for that matter. We just didn't get around to
it. Jack was somehow half against it."

Again there was a silence. For Eddie it seemed to have the quiet of
forever in it. No whistling of Dad's tunes. No sly winks, or play at
being tough. Just memory.

"All bodies that are being picked up are being sent through the
recorder," Uncle Mitch offered at last. "Refined radar does the trick.
The finest variations of even brain structure--the mold of mind,
personality, and memory--are found and recorded. Wasn't that done for
Jack?"

Eddie's mother nodded. "Only," she stammered, "the whole top of his head
was charred. There wasn't enough of him left. Oh, you and your damned
science, Mitch."

She was weeping again. Mitchell Prell became either cruel or perhaps he
spoke in self-defense.

"The people that used to neglect things like insurance," he remarked,
"are still plentiful, aren't they? Oh, well, maybe there's still a sort
of way. A makeshift. People are bound to think of it. Let it go for
now. I've got lots to worry about, sister of mine."

"Your own skin, for instance?" she challenged him. "Why did you come
here at all, Mitch? The scapegoat-seekers will certainly look for you
here first."

"My own skin," Mitchell Prell agreed. "Maybe yours, since you are a
relative of mine, responsible for my sins. That is an ancient defect of
logic among certain types of people still in existence, I'm afraid--if
the provocation becomes great enough. The skins of the three of us, my
most prized treasures."

He smiled slightly then, and his blue eyes were gentle. "Don't worry
too much, though," he went on. "I'll be gone sooner than most people
will even think of looking for me. I'll keep out of sight, not even
leaving the house, except after dark. I have some things to deliver to
Schaeffer. Then I've got to get away. Because life goes on, in spite of
everything. I'm still curious about nature, the stars and some other
things. I remain eager for some vast freedom, Eileen--for you and
your son, and the rest of the cussed race, whose errant qualities and
usually good intentions I share. I see no good in becoming the offering
of expiation for an accident that came out of a general human urge to
learn that can't and won't be downed."

Something like a truce came then. Eddie Dukas could feel it. Family
loyalty was in it and a little of understanding and contrition.

"All right, Mitch," was all that Eddie's mother said. She kissed his
uncle's cheek. Eddie knew that it was a woman's gesture of armistice.

Fires had died down. Dawn was beginning to show in the patio. The rain
had stopped long ago. For no reason Eddie's eyes sought out a pool of
muddy water in a crack in the flagging. The water was clay colored, as
it might have been after any shower. A robin, which had somehow escaped
death, was scolding angrily.

Breakfast was eaten listlessly. There were radio reports and orders.
"Able persons must report to their municipal centers...."

"That's for you, Eddie," Mitchell Prell said ruefully. "And your
mother. While I play hiding rat."

Eddie didn't know whether to hate his uncle or not. There was an inner
bigness about that slightly built man that matched some obscure drive
that was Eddie's own--in spite of his grief.

"Watch yourself, sir," he growled stiffly.

The day was a day of searching for corpses, of cleanup, of tentative
restoration. At least there would be no smells of death. Pruning
machines were already busy on charred treetops. The world was being
put back into order, like a disturbed anthill. Grass and leaves would
sprout again. The scared faces of younger children--many from the Youth
Center were given small tasks to help in the cleanup, since it was not
the custom now to hide reality from the young--would smile again. On
that day of sweeping the streets with a broom, Eddie Dukas made and
lost many a brief friendship. Hello.... Goodbye....

Fortunately the poison of radioactivity had not been transmitted to any
great extent from across space by radiation alone. Gases and fragments
of the Moon that were still falling as meteors bore a taint to the
atmosphere; but it was now below the danger level.

Overhead, arching the sky like the Rings of Saturn turned ragged, was
what was left of Luna: rock and dust. For an hour its texture veiled
the sun, until, near noon, there was almost twilight, like that of an
eclipse. That arch was a permanent monument to a night that would be
remembered.

There still were hysterical people around. Eddie saw Mrs. Payten, his
friend's mother. She passed in the street, muttering, "Oh, Ronald, you
were a beast of a man, but I loved you. Why were you a fool, too?... No
record.... None...."

It had been a subject of neighborhood gossip that Ronald Payten, a
large, passive lug, had been a very much hen-pecked husband. His
neglect of having a record made of himself might have seemed strange
for so noted a biologist. Maybe it was absent-mindedness, professional
difference of opinion, or even some backhanded defiance of his wife.

There were moments when the wild taint in young blood and the
magnificence of disaster gave Eddie and others almost an outing mood.
But toil, sweat and horror soon turned things grim as he worked with
the men. His hands were blackened and scratched. But maybe tiredness
was balm for delayed shock. Maybe it was thus that he stood at the
brief funeral services--for his father, too--with less hurt. The great
trench was closed over the corpses, and the thing was done.

Later, back in the house, he struggled with himself somewhat, and said,
"I know it wasn't your fault, Uncle Mitch."

Eddie had seen stern faces that day, topping trim gray uniforms:
regional police. In him was the thought: Harboring a fugitive. One who
shouldn't be called that. But who is--now. Because people have taken a
beating like never before. Even laws can be changed. Ideas of justice
won't stay quite the same.

"Have you outgrown my calling you Nipper?" Mitchell Prell asked him
seriously. "Perhaps.... But I still want to show you something."

Young Ed Dukas was no sucker for easy come-ons. But his polite wariness
soon dissolved, when, in the room where Mitchell Prell was holed up, he
saw that the man who turned to face him was not his uncle. The nose and
lips were much heavier. Only the eyes and grin remained much the same,
though their general effect was made different by the difference of
surrounding features. This man looked like a good-natured mechanic.

Eddie's spine chilled. But he gave a sullen snort as the man peeled his
face away. Underneath it was Uncle Mitch.

"A mask, Eddie. A trick for kids, you'd say." His uncle laughed.
"I spent the day making it up, to help me get around more easily.
That's nothing. The important fact is that it is made of vitaplasm.
Remember the bar of it that I once had? Crude stuff then. Better now.
Alive in a way of its own. A synthetic and far tougher cousin to
natural protoplasm. Far less susceptible to damage by heat and cold.
Self-healing, like flesh. Sustained by food and oxygen. But capable of
drawing its energy from sunlight or radioactivity, too. And in some
of its forms less dependent on a fluid base such as water. No, it's
not consistently the same substance, or combination. Like the flesh
we know, vitaplasm is in constant change. Here and now it's just an
amorphous mass, crudely molded. An unshaped building material. But,
like star ships, it belongs to the future. Here it's undeveloped
principle, another phase of our advancing science everywhere. You could
call it the clay of the superman, Eddie. I want you to remember all
this. Because I may be back from where I'm going to try to go. Or I
might get in touch sometime. We might need each other's help."

Young Ed Dukas listened with intense interest. Perhaps his deepest
drive was toward the shadowy splendor of times yet to come. They
seemed a part of his growing self. They must become real! And he must
take part in their fulfillment. Grief or hardship could not stop him.
Therein he and Mitchell Prell traveled the same road.

"You didn't invent vitaplasm, Uncle Mitch," he stated. "No one could
have--alone."

His sullenly serious gaze lingered on the mask. It was warm to his
touch. It even recoiled a little.

Mitchell Prell shook his head and chortled. "No, Nipper. You know that
research is now far too complex for that. I helped a little. Lots of
men did. Maybe I've added something to what is known. I've got to give
my data to specialists here before I leave."

Eddie thought of a man he'd sometimes seen on television. No bigger
than Uncle Mitch. And plain looking. But great. Dr. Schaeffer in his
underground laboratory in the City.

"You aren't going to try to reach a star, are you?" young Ed asked.

Uncle Mitch shook his head. "No. I won't wander so far off." He
laughed. "But in a way I'll be going farther, I suppose. Though don't
imagine that I mean time or hyper-dimensional travel. It's something
simpler. But it's to a place where no one can journey exactly as a
human being. I can't tell you much more. Because I don't want other
people to try to dig too much out of you. But I want to look at things
from a new angle. And from very close up, you might say. Maybe I'm
trying to hide from danger, Eddie. Some. But the bigger reason is that
I want to go on learning and exploring. Maybe my being a small man
means something, too."

Mitchell Prell ended with another light laugh. He put the mask in his
pocket and snapped a large suitcase shut. When he spoke again it was
on a slightly different tack: "You probably won't see me for a while,
Eddie. About your father, words just aren't any good at all. Maybe I'll
ache over his end even harder than you. If anybody asks you questions
about me, tell all you know. Don't try to hide anything for my sake.
They'll pry it out of you anyway. And they'll only know what I want
them to know.

"Your mother may get a letter in a few days asking you both to
report to the City. If that letter comes, see that she conforms to
its request. It will also mean that I've delivered the results of my
experiments with vitaplasm, as far as they've gone, into the proper
hands and have probably succeeded in getting away into space. I hope
that you and I and everybody make it to the Big Future, Eddie. That's
all I have to say. Unless you care to remember a word that may crop up
again--_android_."

Mitchell Prell grinned reassuringly at his nephew and moved to put on
his mask.

"You don't want to say goodbye to Mom," Eddie stated, half angrily.

Prell's look of concern deepened. His thin face was touched by a
fleeting tenderness and worry. Part of it was surely for his sister.
Then, mostly to himself, he muttered, "There's greater magnificence to
come--if we can grow past the infancy of man; if new knowledge and old
wild impulses don't do us all to death first." He chuckled sheepishly.
"You say goodbye for me, Eddie," he urged. "I hate things like that."

Mitchell Prell was gone then, out into the weird new night. Grimly,
already half a man, young Ed Dukas watched him go, bitterness and
grief, hatred and love, mixed up inside him. But the common denominator
between himself and his uncle was the need for that future of stars and
wonder and legendary betterment.

"It _will_ happen," he promised within himself. For a second his body
was taut with dread. He had already experienced the fury that knowledge
made possible, and he could sense the potential of long silence beyond
such things--no one left, anywhere! He wondered if, because life could
go on and on now, it was more precious and death more terrible.

Fifteen minutes after his uncle's departure a spy beam was put into
operation from a mile distance. It covered the rooms of the Dukas house
and the grounds around it. The principle of the device was almost
ancient. The reflection of electro-magnetic waves. On a small screen
in a distant room the plan of a house and its furnishings was outlined
in a pale green glow. Shadowy blobs shifted with the movements of its
occupants, robot and human. Only two people were there now.

Eddie Dukas guessed that the spy beam was there, though its irregularly
changing wave length would have made it almost impossible to identify,
among the waves from many sources used for communication.

Early on the third morning after the lunar blowup the police came to
the house. They were very gentle. There was even a policewoman to ask
the questions.

Eddie's mother was cool and wary.

"Have you information as to the whereabouts of Dr. Mitchell Prell, Mrs.
Dukas?" she was asked. "We know that the last Moon rocket landed with
him aboard."

Before she could lie Eddie blurted, "He was here all that day. He's
gone now. He didn't make his destination very clear."

Eileen Dukas's eyes widened with panic and surprise. She had expected
Eddie to be more discreet.

"You have no right to question my son!" she stated coldly.

"Mrs. Dukas," she was informed, "when there is an investigation of the
deaths of two hundred million people, we have more than the right to
question anybody."

Young Ed was scared. But he felt some of the hero-impulse. Or the
desire to follow faithfully the instructions of his idol, Uncle Mitch.

"If you psych my memory, what little I know will come clearer than if I
just told it," he challenged.

This was done forthwith, out in the police car parked in the street.
When the helmet of the apparatus was removed from Eddie's head, the
police had certain comments of Mitchell Prell's to study. Possibly they
could puzzle out some of their hidden meaning. But this couldn't have
satisfied them very much.

The next day the letter Prell had mentioned arrived. At least it
could be assumed that it was the one. Uncle Mitch had managed to make
one step of his purpose anyway! Under the heading of "Vital Section,
Schaeffer Laboratories," it said:

     MRS. DUKAS:

     _Will you kindly report at your earliest convenience to the
     above section. This is of greatest importance. Please bring
     your son._

     _Sincerely_,

     DR. M. BART

Ed was both cold with tension and hot with eagerness. The following
day he and his mother were in the battered City. Fire had scarred it.
A boiling tidal wave had washed over portions of it. But the great
building over the many subterranean levels of the Schaeffer Labs had
stood firm. Quakes had not broken it down.

An elevator took them below, to that steel- and lead- and
concrete-shielded place which might have resisted for a while even a
noval outburst of the sun. They were requested to lie down on something
like sensipsych couches. A voice--maybe Dr. Bart's--spoke to them
from a swift-gathering dream: "Think about Jack Dukas. Your husband.
Your father. Things he said. His manner of speech. His expressions,
gestures, temperament, likes and dislikes, hobbies, jokes, skills.
The people that he knew. Their faces and mannerisms. As many of them
as possible will be contacted and psyched like this, too. Think of
his memories told to you. Think of everything ... everything ...
everything...."

For Eileen Dukas it must have been much the same as for her son.
Pearly haze seemed to float inside Eddie's mind. Like a million bits
of ancient news clippings always in motion, his recollections of his
father seemed to burst in a thousand ever-shifting fragments within his
brain. He felt an awful compulsion to recall. It sapped his strength
until all consciousness faded away. Yet before this happened he knew
that the probing would go on and on.

The next thing he knew he was sitting groggily in a pneumatic tube
train, with his mother, all but exhausted, too, leaning against
him. Almost as an afterthought, their own minds and bodies had been
"recorded" there at the laboratory. They seldom exchanged questions or
speculations afterward about what had happened to them. It had been a
dream. Let it be a dream.



II


Life had become hard enough for Eileen Dukas and her son. While most
people treated them all right--from some they even received exaggerated
kindness--there was, very often, a certain disturbing expression in
eyes that looked at them.

Les Payten, Eddie's friend said once, "I promise, Ed. No more talk
about your uncle from me. Finished, see? You've had enough."

Eddie suppressed the anger which sprang from loyalty to Mitchell Prell,
for he understood Les Payten's good intentions.

At regular intervals there were police visits at the house, and
questioning. "It's partly for your protection, Mrs. Dukas," was one
honest comment from the detectives. But Eddie sensed that there was
more to it than that. Subtly, the interpretation of law had changed
since the lunar blowup. It went backward, as grief sought people to
blame. Catastrophe had been too big for reason or fairness. And the
scapegoat himself was not around to be mobbed.

A freckle-faced brat from the Youth Center--her name, Barbara
Day, had been drawn out of a hat, for of course she had no known
parents--offered advice: "You ought to go far away, Eddie, where folks
don't know you. It would be better."

Ed knew that this was good advice. Many people were saying and shouting
and whispering that too much knowledge was a dangerous possession. And
Ed's uncle still represented such a thing. More than once Ed had to run
fast, with some big lug chasing him. Black eyes he collected with great
frequency, and delivered some, too. Still, he ached inside. It was as
if Uncle Mitch were part of him.

The world began to look normal and green again. But the undercurrents
of memory were still there. And Ed Dukas began to answer hate with
hate, though he didn't like to.

There was a crowd of young toughs with rocks to throw, in front of the
house one night. "This is the place," Eddie heard one of them say.
"Both my parents are gone. And the bums that live here were in on the
reason."

Ed had seen the boy around before: Ash Parker. Now the rocks flew for a
while, and Ed and his mother crouched behind locked doors. There might
have been a lynching, except that Les Payten found a neighbor with a
tear-gas vial and some other neighbors with sharp tongues and courage.

It was the final straw, however. "Will we have to leave, Eddie?" his
mother asked.

"It's best," he growled. "But I'll be back!"

Next day the house was being boarded up. Packing began even before the
colonial travel permits were prepared.

It was goodbye to Les Payten and Barbara Day, and the newly ringed
planet, Earth, with its billions of inhabitants and its great shops
that still worked to give the whole solar system to mankind and maybe
a segment of the larger universe as well. The pattern of the future
seemed set, and specialists still didn't think that there was any
real reason to make a change. In fact, they denied that any change
was possible. Nobody would give up the threshold of immortality, once
it was gained. Nor would they relinquish other triumphs that could
bring idleness and decay if they were not used to accomplish bigger
and bigger tasks. So, even the fearful ones were caught in the rushing
current of the times.

Ed Dukas was soon on a crowded liner. Because she might need him, he
kept close to his mother. Around them were other colonists--young
graduates from technical schools, newlyweds and people who were
physically young, too, though they were fresh from the rejuvenation
vats. They were the aged, awed by another lifetime before them.

The liner blasted off. A week later it landed on an asteroid of
middling size. The Dukases were assigned to one of a group of trim
cottages that were not even all alike. Under the great glass roof,
which kept in the synthetic air, the new gardens and fruit trees were
already growing. And in coiled tubes of clear plastic filled with
water, circulated green algae from which almost any kind of basic food
could be made.

To Eddie it was a satisfying dip into space that he had so much
anticipated. Amid great heaps of steel and plastic and house parts and
atomic machines to maintain a normal temperature so far from the sun,
life went on. Eddie's mother worked in the office of a shop for robot
machines. He worked too--when and where he could--when he was not at
school.

There was a little more of peace, for a while anyway. There was the
usual psychological treatment to subdue possible devils of the lunar
catastrophe which might remain in his mind. There were sports and an
artificial lake to swim in with his companions. However, Ed Dukas was
wary of making deep friendships.

He was then a sullen, overly matured youth of thirteen, earnest about
everything he did--for he knew that the years ahead were grimly
earnest. Carefully he kept up with the reports in scientific journals:
about the laying of the keel of the first star ship on a minute
asteroid with only a number and no name. Harwell was in charge. The
propellant would be pure radiant energy--the best of them all; energy
so concentrated that it would be truly massive and hurled at the speed
of light, which was not remarkable, since it _would_ be light, far more
intense per unit area than the noval explosion of a star!

This was by no means the only major advance that had been accomplished
and was reported. Technological progress was steady in all fields,
across the board, making a solid front. Others of its facets also
had a special appeal to Ed Dukas. Biological science, in its newest
interpretations, he knew to be the most important of these. Now it was
no longer just simple rejuvenation--restoring rusty organs. It was a
thing that could start from a single cell, in warm, sticky fluids,
giving rebirth to something that had already been. And it had a further
development--bringing the same results but more swiftly and easily,
and with different, far more rugged flesh. It was frightening and
fascinating. Knowing was like feeling the shadow of a demon or an angel.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ed Dukas and his mother spent four years on their asteroid. Then one
day a letter fluttered in her hand. And she seemed not to know whether
to look happy or terrified. She did not show her son the letter.

"We've had enough of being here," she stated. "We're going home."

So they went back across the millions of miles. They cleaned up the
house, on which obscene insults had been scribbled in chalk. On two
successive days Eddie was jumped by gangs. He fought free and escaped.
But on the third evening he was cornered. This time Ash Parker was the
ringleader. Ed battled like a bobcat, but eight opponents were too
many. He was flat on his back, and they were kicking him. His own blood
was in his mouth. What might happen when he blacked out was anybody's
guess. Once, before medical knowledge had advanced to where it was, it
would have been murder for sure.

Somebody intervened--a big guy in a gray business suit who had come
striding along the block with an eager attention.

He didn't say anything at first. He just collared the toughs, two at a
time in swift succession, and thrust them away.

Eddie staggered up and faced his benefactor, intent on giving him
sincere thanks. "Mister ... I ..."

"Hello, Eddie!" the man said, chuckling. "I see you turned out hardy.
Seventeen you'd be now."

Young Ed Dukas heard the voice and looked at the face. He stiffened.
Then he made a statement in a flat tone that sounded very formal and
unemotional, which it was not: "Sir, you're my father."

The man nodded. "Just off the assembly line, pal. The same guy--because
you and your mother, and some other people, remembered what I was like.
There was no record of me or of my mind. So, okay, they made one,
fella. From the memories of me left in other minds. Thanks, Eddie."

"Thanks?" Ed Dukas said in a choked voice.

Bloody and dirty, he stepped forward. Father and son clung to each
other. It was a moment of great triumph.

Ed's mind pictured filaments, as fragile at first as pink spiderweb
but already outlining a human shape, held suspended in a kind of
jelly--growing there, forming according to a record. Now even the
record could be synthesized. It seemed like real freedom from death at
last.

Ash Parker had not fled. Now he spoke, sounding awed, "Jeez, Mr. Dukas.
I didn't believe it. Maybe my folks can come back, too."

"Your parents _will_ come back," Jack Dukas affirmed. "I am the first
'memory man' to be resurrected. Among those killed who had had their
bodies and minds recorded as was recommended, about a hundred thousand
are alive again, as I think you know. Millions more are in process. One
way or another, by record or by the memories of others, in flesh of the
old kind or the new, almost everyone will return."

Ed felt his father's hand. As far as he could tell, it _was_ of flesh.
Yet it could be something else; Ed nearly trembled with excitement as
his eager wonder and primitive dread of the strange battled inside him.
He thought again of Mitchell Prell's first samples of vitaplasm.

"Of which flesh are you, Dad?" Ed asked anxiously.

His father studied him there in the twilight of the day, while the
silvery ring of lunar wreckage brightened in the sky.

"The old kind, Eddie," he answered.

"I'm glad," Ed said, feeling greatly relieved, a reaction which he knew
was odd for one who loved the thought of coming miracles.

Jack Dukas sighed as if he had escaped a terrible fate. "So am I glad,
pal," he said. "I guess I was favored by family connections." Here he
paused, but his wink meant Uncle Mitch. "However," he continued, "the
old flesh takes so much longer. That's why in many cases it won't be
used. There must be thousands of androids already among us, living like
everybody else. Since personal concerns are involved, statistics are
kept rather confidential. These synthetic people have organs the same
as we have. And you can't recognize them just by looking. Only they're
thirty per cent heavier, stronger, and they don't tire. There was a
thought, once, that robots would make human beings obsolete and replace
them. Sorry, Eddie. Why be gruesome at a time like this? Let's patch
you up and then find your mother."

       *       *       *       *       *

Young Ed Dukas was happier than he had ever been before. For quite a
while he found peace. Maybe that was true of most of humanity now--for
the past three or four years at least. There was no sharp delineation
of an interval before the smokes of doubt began to come back.

Les Payten was still around. And Barbara Day continued to live at the
Youth Center on the hill. Often the three would meet. Their childhood
was behind them. Barbara Day's freckles had faded. Her dark hair had a
coppery glint. A promise of beauty had begun to blossom. And her talk
expressed many whimsical thoughts.

"We all know each other, Eddie," she once said. "So don't be offended.
I sometimes think that you wonder whether your father is really the
same person that he was--whether he ever could be more than a careful
duplicate."

Les Payten frowned. "You're speaking to me, too, Babs," he pointed out.
"I also have a 'memory father.' He's good to me, and mostly I like him.
But sometimes I get scared, though I don't always know why."

Ed's skin tingled. "Could I be myself now and still be myself
in another body, years later? Could there ever be two of
me--truly--constructed exactly the same? I don't deny such a thing. I
simply don't know."

But Ed Dukas continued to wonder about his father. There were several
occasions when his dad was supposed to recognize certain people,
casually encountered in the street. For they knew him.

Ed was present on one of these occasions. "Sorry, friend," Jack Dukas
apologized to a burly, jovial man. "I guess they forgot to put a
picture of you inside my head."

Les Payten's father was also subtly different from his original--though
in a somewhat different way. The change was even very dimly apparent
in his face. He had once been a big, easy-going, timid soul, nagged by
his wife. Now his features bore a hint of brutality. He walked with a
slight swagger. He did not roar, but the aura of power was there.

Ed's mother explained the change to his father: "Memory seems not
always to match facts, Jack. Mrs. Payten fooled herself into believing
that Ronald Payten used to be a bully. So she even fooled Schaeffer's
mind-machines. And lo! Ronald Payten _is_ a bully now, as far as she is
concerned. No, don't worry about her too much, Jack. She may even like
being pushed around."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the months that passed, from out on an asteroid came the
step-by-step reports of the building of the first huge star ship. At
home, one by one, old acquaintances--or was it just their reasonable
facsimiles?--reappeared. Gradually most of the dead of the lunar blowup
were restored to life--except for certain scientists who remained
unforgiven.

But a new type of population was creeping into the fabric of human
society. Its humanness, in an old sense, could be debated. Its first
quiet intrusion was marked by an awe that faded into a shrug; it began
to be accepted casually and somewhat dully, as most past novelties had
been accepted before. Foresight could extend into tomorrow, but its
pictures remained not quite real. The skills of cool, clear thinking,
which education tried to impart in an era that needed it so much, fell
short again. No doubt it should have been remembered that the shift
from inattention to unreasonable panic can often be swift.

Even young Ed Dukas, though dedicated in his heart to New and Coming
Things, sometimes lost sight of these deeper concerns because of his
lighter interests. Without much help from art, Barbara Day turned out
to be beautiful. She had a pair of suitors automatically. Ed could
have had his stocky frame lengthened. Les Payten could have had his
big ears trimmed. But young men often frown on the vanity of tampering
with one's appearance. Sometimes there is even a certain pride in minor
ugliness.

They all had their dates, their dancing, their canoe rides--traditional
pleasures, inherited from generations past. And they had the
age-old problems of youth approaching adulthood. But now, for them
and for their increasingly complex civilization, there was a new
problem--vitaplasm, which could be grown like flesh, though faster,
impressed with a shape, personality and memories. It was said that
30 per cent of those who died in the explosion of the Moon lab were
brought back in this firmer, cheaper medium. But its use did not stop
here. For one thing, there were certain adventurous persons, alive and
healthy, who changed the character of their bodies willfully.

One fact some might forget: there were other dead from years before,
but remembered and still loved--parents, grandparents. Besides, there
were historical characters--Washington, Lincoln, Edison, Cleopatra.

Possibly Joe Doakes could awaken from extinction, puzzled, wondering,
frightened, but finding himself at least superficially the same, eating
much the same food, enjoying much the same things. Then something super
in his body would dawn on him, scaring him more or making him exultant.
But it all seemed good at first glance, so a joyful world forgot its
times of suspicion, even against the warnings of specialists, and
released the new processes to almost any operator who could construct
the needed equipment.

The solar system was big; the universe, optimistically promised, seemed
endless. There was plenty of room. And the task of bringing back just
those who had perished with the Moon was enormous and slow. So in
cellars and out-of-the-way places countless biological technicians
tried their skill. They could not have made the grade at all if they
were stupid, and their results, generally, were good.

The various Julius Caesars and Michelangelos really came into being
as novelties, side-show pieces. All were reasonable likenesses,
physically. From existing minds such traits and skills as each was
supposed to possess could be copied more or less accurately. But
none of the pseudo-great amounted to very much. They enjoyed a brief
popularity; then, assuming the costumes and customs of a changed world,
they sank into nonentity among the populace. Like most of those of the
new flesh, they kept this secret as if by intuitive prudence. The many
people restored in normal protoplasm were less reticent.

That there were androids around him, known, suspected and unrecognized
as such, was a thrilling idea to Ed Dukas. It was part of the onward
march to greater wonders--or so it seemed to him most of the time.
Eager to understand how they thought and felt, he sought them out
cautiously, not wishing to offend. Usually his efforts were met with
coolness and evasion--which perhaps gave them away.

But then Ed met a very special memory man. He wasn't the copy of
somebody famous. He was just a humorous legend. Yet now perhaps he
was the right kind of personality striking against the right sort of
circumstances to produce the type of action and fire that could affect
the existing era.

Ed and his two friends, Les Payten and Barbara Day, found him in a
little park feeding pigeons. Or, rather, _he_ found them. For in
conformity with an ancient village belief that no one should be a
stranger to anyone else, he grinned at them and said, "Hello, there!
Nice young fellers. Nice girl! Sit and gab a while? I keep gettin'
lonesome. Mixed up. Got to get straightened out. Or try, anyway. Put
yourselves down? That's fine!"

Abashed and curious after that, Ed and Barbara and Les sat and mostly
just listened.

"Been around these times three months. Scared stiff at first. Thought
I was addled. Know somethin'? I can remember all the way back to
1870. It's a fake, sure. No, they didn't make me look young, or
even give me all my teeth. Afraid of spoiling 'verisimilitude,' my
great-great-great-something-grandson-supposed-to-be said. I'm a family
brag. Look what I keep carrying around with me. One of the first
editions of _Huck Finn_. They found this tintype of a feller inside
it. Illinois farmer. And look at this here writing in the front of the
book. 'Property of Abel Freeman.' So I'm supposed to be him, slouch hat
and all--funny, I can't get used to anything else. So I write just like
that. This tintype and the writing are the only solid clues about what
the original Abel Freeman was really like. Up to there, I'm him. The
rest is mostly storybook stuff, and the idea the family has that their
ancestor was a kind of pixilated hellion--the sort some folks like to
tell about. Some way for a man to be born, huh? Shucks, I can even
remember the night I was supposed to have died. Drunk, and kicked in
the belly by my own mule, because he didn't like my smell. Hell, I bet
in real life that mule would of plum enjoyed whisky!"

Abel Freeman stopped talking. He turned pale gray eyes set in a face
that looked like brown leather toward his audience with expectant
amusement, as if he understood the eerie impression he'd made on them
and was curious about their reactions.

Barbara took the lead. "We're surely glad to know you, Mr. Freeman,"
she said, shaking his big brown paw and unconsciously aping his manner
of speech. "I'm sure you could tell us plum more. What's the world ever
coming to?"

His grip, for an instant, was almost literally like that of a vise. But
when Barbara winced with pain, his hand relaxed, and his look became
honestly gentle and apologetic, though it retained a certain slyness of
tricks being played or unprecedented power being demonstrated.

"Oh, excuse me, lady!" he drawled. "This first Abel Freeman--he was
supposed to be a very strong and vigorous man. Me--naturally I'm even a
lot stronger. Sometimes I just forget. But I try to be right courtly.
There, I'll rub your fingers. Hope I didn't break no bones."

Barbara laughed a bit nervously. "No, Mr. Freeman--I'm fine," she
assured him, nodding her dark head. "Now, if you'll tell us--"

"Oh, yes--about what the world and everything is coming to," Abel
Freeman went on, his tone more languid than his eyes. "Well, matters
could get mighty rough. I've been studying up--thinking. When I first
got to these times, I didn't like them. Everything seemed addled.
Guess I was homesick. I kind of resented being made the cheap way,
too. But even way back in the years I remember, they used to say that
maybe there'd be flying machines or even balloons to the Moon. So I
perked up and got acclimated, and said to myself, 'Abel, my boy, take
what's given to you and don't whine, even though you weren't asked if
you wanted to come here. And with all that can be done now, why not
bring your old woman and her chewing tobacco? And your four ornery
sons? Nat was the worst. And Nancy, your daughter, who was an unholy
terror? Of course this family that you recollect so good probably don't
match historical fact so much, being just romanticized, mostly made-up
memories put into your head. But they're plum real to you. Guess when
they synthesized you, they should have left those recollections out.
Because you love that family of yours, ornery or not, and would be
happy to see its members again.' And I said to myself besides, 'Abel,
bein' made the cheap way has got plenty of advantages. You're strong
as a dozen regular men, and you won't need rejuvenation, because
you'll never get any older. You'll heal even if you're hurt something
terrible. Trouble is, your kind'll be some mighty stiff competition for
the present holders of the land. Of course people want to get along
peaceably--even your sort, Abel. But plenty of folks will wind up
trusting your sort no more than they'd trust a billygoat under a line
of wash. Yep, I'm afraid there's gonna be some mighty interesting days
coming!'"

Abel Freeman ended his conversation almost dreamily. He'd hung his
slouch hat on the corner of the bench back. In his iron-gray hair, the
sun picked out reddish glints. His gaze, which might have been designed
especially for precision squirrel-shooting, wandered down a path that
curved along the park lake.

Ed Dukas found him a fascinating mixture of old romance and comedy,
artfully concealing the most recent of wonders, the dark channels of
which held the potentials of great centuries to come, or mindless
silence after destruction. The treachery was not in Abel Freeman
himself but in the fact of his being.

Ed's mouth was dry. "You're honest, Mr. Freeman," he said.

Abel Freeman answered this with a nod and a shrug. "Funny," he drawled.
"Thought I saw a young feller I was sort of expecting. A congenial
enemy, name of Tom Granger. Look, suppose you three sidekicks of mine
get on your feet nice and easy, and walk the other way on that path. It
would be safer. Not too far. Just a piece."

This might have been an armed robber's command, but Ed sensed that it
was nothing like that. Without a word, he led Les and Barbara away.

There was a blinding, blue-white flash. The bench on which they had
been sitting was gone--vaporized by fearful heat. Incandescent vapors
rose from a big hole in the turf. When condensed and solidified, they
would show little flecks of gold transmuted from soil. These were the
effects of the familiar Midas Touch pistol. It used lighter atoms to
form heavier ones, while it converted a little of the total mass into
energy.

Freeman must have leaped away at just the right instant to avoid
destruction. With astonishing agility, he was pursuing his intended
murderer. As Freeman sprang to the youth's shoulders, they both fell
in a heap on the walk and slid to a stop. Freeman's hand flicked, and
the weapon flew into the bushes.

By then Ed and Barbara and Les were standing over the prone forms.
Freeman was unruffled.

"Friends," he said, laughing, "meet up with a young one with a sharp
viewpoint and lots of guts in his own way. Yep, Tom Granger."

Granger was panting heavily. His mass of black hair streamed down over
his thin face. He looked scarcely older than Ed or Les, but these
days that meant little. In repose, his large, dark eyes might have
been limpid and idealistic; now they flashed fury. His shabbiness was
affected. Certainly, in this era, there were no reasons for poverty.

Now he began to struggle again, in Freeman's grasp. Futilely, of
course. "Yes, I have guts!" he declared. "I wanted to kill you,
Freeman--with whatever means that are left that can still accomplish
that with things like you! I wanted the incident to get into the
newscast--yes, to give me public attention. And not for any stupid
vanity, but for the best purpose there ever was. I wanted a chance to
be listened to, while I tell what everyone must have begun to sense by
now. Damn you, Freeman! Let me up!"

Abel Freeman smirked indulgently and obliged.

Granger rose lamely but gamely. "You seem to be impromptu acquaintances
of this Abel Freeman," he said to Ed and his companions. "He has
feelings, he thinks; he's even a good person. In some ways he's just
an interesting rogue of the nineteenth century. But he's a device. And
unless something is done, we'll be as obsolete as the dinosaur! Our
science serves us no longer. It serves other masters, nearer to its
meaning. Others than I have realized it. In every two houses this side
of the world there is already an average of one of these creatures of
vitaplasm. Is Earth to be kept for us, and for the joy of being human;
or are we to become--basically, and no matter how humanized--mere
synthetic mechanisms, trading our birthright for a few mechanical
advantages?"

The shot from the Midas Touch pistol was drawing a crowd. An
approaching police siren wailed.

Suddenly Granger fixed his eyes on Ed in surprise and recognition.
"Dukas," he said. "Let me see--Edward Dukas. At a time when the world
was more reasonably watchful, your house was under surveillance. As a
possible means of contacting one Mitchell Prell--who had his hand in
what once happened to us, and perhaps in what is happening now. How
does it feel, Dukas, to be so close to such a celebrity? Ah, maybe
you're shy!"

Flattening out Granger again would have been no useful answer to Ed's
memories of bitter wrongs. He smiled briefly at him.

"Come see me some evening when you don't feel so much like making a
monkey of someone, because someone has just made a monkey out of you,"
he said.

Then he hustled his companions away. "There's no good in getting
involved in public confusion," he told them. "Anyhow not till we talk
things out and get them straight."

Ten minutes later they were in a quiet restaurant.

"Abel Freeman," Les Payten said. "He was quite a surprise at that."

"Rather, more of a pointing out of facts we already knew," Barbara
remarked.

"The old robot-peril come true," Less said pensively. "Humanity
threatened to be replaced, not by clanking giants of metal, simple and
melodramatic, but by beings much more refined--though they are perhaps
much the same thing. My own father is one of them."

"There's truth in what Granger said," Ed pointed out. "There's that
dread of being shouldered out of the way by something strange and
tougher. I can feel it too. Granger can certainly make use of it,
preaching. He's clever. But he's the worst kind of fool."

"Yeah, hammering on the detonator cap of the entire Earth," Les said,
breathing softly.

The three friends, sitting around a table under soft lights and in
pleasant surroundings, looked at one another. The food before them was
good, the music was quiet and soothing. But at eye level, in the air
where their glances passed, seemed to hang all the elements of the
complex civilization to which they belonged: its luxury and beauty, its
climbing technology that could conquer death and reach for other solar
systems, but the by the same or related forces could dissolve worlds,
especially if mankind, at the top, lost control of itself.

"I thought things would go along smoothly and reasonably," Barbara
offered. "There's certainly plenty of room for both people and
androids. I took all of that more or less on faith. But I'm afraid I'm
wrong. After all, how can human beings live beside beings that blend
indistinguishably with the mass and yet are stronger, quicker?"

Ed remembered signs of friction that he'd heard about. A minor riot
here or there. He remembered public statements by specialists like
Schaeffer admitting that some confusion was on the way but declaring
that in the end everything should be better for everyone. Those
specialists had the calculators, the great electronic thought-machines,
digesting trends, making profound predictions. But then there was
another thought--had many of those scientists already converted their
own bodies to a stronger medium?

Ed saw that Les Payten had a faint sweat of strain on his forehead,
though he knew that Les was no nervous coward. His sullen poise just
after the lunar explosion long ago had proved that.

"Maybe the worst of all," Les was saying, "is the sense of being
carried along, swiftly and helplessly, by things that are too big
and complicated. You wish you could find a ledge somewhere in the
time-stream and stop for a while to get your bearings. Sometimes you
feel that you are in a one-way tunnel where you have to keep moving.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe it's just a matter of
personal adjustment--a taking of whatever comes."

"I feel as though we're at the threshold of some terrible danger, Ed,"
Barbara said. "What can we do about it?"

He saw how strong and earnest she looked, and it reassured him. He
touched her hand briefly. "I don't know exactly," he said. "But
I'm for holding course toward the bigger future that stirred me up
with big dreams of the planets, of the stars. And I'm in favor of
being _reasonable_. I've seen too much hate and fear and unreason in
people. The way things are, it doesn't have to be a lot of people any
more--just a few gone a little crazy. The Moon blew up by accident.
A world was gone. But what happened by accident can certainly happen
by design or with the aid of fury. So, everywhere we go we can talk
against fury and panic, and _for_ reason. To our friends, and in the
streets. Everywhere that we can, and to everyone. Small as that effort
is, it might help."

Solemnly the three friends shook hands and agreed to work out the
details of a plan.



III


That same night, at his home in the suburbs, Ed Dukas read an article
that had especially attracted his attention. Could vitaplasm be
grown into forms unknown before? Could it be shaped from a plan--a
blueprint--like the metal and plastic forming a machine? Heart here,
lungs there, nervous system arranged so? Scaly armor, long, creeping
body? Or wings that fluttered through the air? The author saw no reason
why this could not happen. Monstrous things. Ed Dukas chuckled at the
melodramatic idea. But he suspected that it was far from impossible.

Young Dukas also had a caller that night.

"You said I should come to see you," Tom Granger told him when they
were alone in Ed's room. Ed was on guard at once.

His visitor's mood seemed to have changed since the afternoon.

"Sorry if I seemed out of line today," Granger said. "My motives are
good. And I didn't want to insult you."

"Thanks," Ed responded shortly. "But you didn't come here just to tell
me that. How does it happen that you're not in jail?"

"Abel Freeman discreetly pressed no charges. I wish he had. But, like
you, he just disappeared. There was only that hole in the ground--made
by the Midas Touch pistol--a feeble thing to admit for a publicity
showdown. So I kept still, and the police couldn't hold me. Fact is,
most of them seem sympathetic to what I stand for--the venerable human
privilege of walking on one's own green planet as a natural animal,
loving one's wife and children in the ancient, simple manner."

Granger was a good orator. Mysteriously, Ed was faintly moved. Perhaps
the gentle argument was too plain and clear. But Ed remained wary of
the traps of language and feeling, and of perhaps impractical dreams.

His anger sharpened. Then, knowing the possibly deadly quality of anger
in these times and wishing to counteract that everywhere, he yearned
desperately to be a master psychologist, always calm and smiling and
supremely persuasive. But he could not be like that. He was too human
and limited. Maybe too primitive.

"You still haven't told me why you came here, Granger," he said coldly.
"Why have you passed up a chance for public shouting to come and talk
to me?"

Granger smiled. "You're clever enough, Dukas, to know that to win
the nephew of Mitchell Prell over to my way of thinking could be to
my advantage before that public. Or that, if I can't make friends
with him, at least knowing him better might help. Even the latter
circumstance could be like having a finger on a whole set of
advantages when the showdown between human beings and androids finally
comes. Oh, I admire Prell! A great man--if he _was_ a man when last
seen! But his kind of greatness is poison, Dukas--though millions with
short memories have foolishly forgiven him. But if he ever turns up
again, you'll know it, and so, perhaps, will I--before he can do any
further damage. You surely must realize that he bears a double guilt:
for the blowup and for the development of vitaplasm!"

Granger's smile was savage and hopeful.

Ed laughed in his face. "You think that secretly I might hate Mitchell
Prell, eh, Granger? But he was the idol of my childhood, a whimsical,
friendly little man. So I'm stuck with loyalty. But even if I hated him
blackly, I wouldn't come over to your side. I don't like the way you
think. Until the blowup happened, it was bravo for science and empire.
Afterward, your hysterical soul was free from blame and white as snow,
and he was guilty. Maybe I judge you wrongly. I hope I do. But the way
I add it up, it's not the androids or any other new and inevitable
development that is the big danger; it's people like you, though maybe
you don't realize it. Loudmouths who stir up confusion, animosity,
hatred. Maybe I ought to kill you. Then there'd be one less spark in
the powder barrel!"

"Why don't you?" Granger mocked. "There'd still be others. And I'd be
brought back."

Ed nodded. "The benefits of our civilization," he said. "How would you
like to be an android? Does the idea scare you? You know, Granger,
some people say that, regardless of how you're returned to the living,
you're not the same person you were but only a superficially exact
duplicate."

"You know I'd always choose to be human, Dukas," Granger muttered,
looking almost terrified.

"Sure, Granger," Ed taunted. "You're not afraid of death--the knowledge
that science can restore you gives you courage. You can take the
benefits of scientific advancement, can't you? But assuming its
responsibilities is another thing."

"I'm not dodging responsibility! I'm grabbing it, Dukas! I'm striking
out for sane control. I've done things already! While I worked in the
vaults, where personal recordings are kept, certain of those little
cylinders disappeared. They won't be found again! Some men don't
deserve that much protection against mishap--among them your uncle! I'm
proud of this, and I boast of it! No, don't accuse me! Even an official
complaint would be challenged by many people and then buried in a heap
of red tape. I can be a dirty fighter, Dukas; and I'll bite and kill
and kick and holler my lungs out to keep this planet from going to the
machines!"

The wild look in Granger's face was the thing that prompted Ed to
action. The admission of the theft only emphasized the ghoulish
determination that was there. The only hope seemed in smashing that ego
out of existence--for a while at least.

Ed chuckled. "So you'd take even the essence of people's selves," he
said.

Granger's gaze didn't waver. "If every last thing I hold dear--and
which I believe most real human beings hold dear in like manner--were
in danger, I'd do anything."

"So would I," Ed said grimly.

Then he struck and struck and struck again. Blood spurted from
Granger's smashed lips and nose, as he crashed to the floor, struggled
to his feet and fell again.

There was movement at the door of the room. From behind, Ed was gripped
by a strength greater than his own. "Stop it, Ed," he was commanded
quietly. It was his father.

Through bloodied lips, Granger was explaining hurriedly, "Your son
and I disagree. He lost his temper. All I ask is that the good parts
of science--medical and so forth--be kept and the rest banned. And
that life become simple. A thing of fields and flowers, and wholesome
physical work. And not a mechanized bedlam, full of constant danger and
tension."

Granger sounded very earnest, Ed thought. Maybe he was earnest. Maybe
he was a good actor.

"Ban this, ban that!" Ed shouted. "No one ever lived happily under
the kind of artificial bans you mean, Granger! And what will you do
with the billions of people who disagree with your pretty vision?
Some of them will hate what you advocate as much as you hate existing
circumstances! And if modern weapons are once used...."

"Quiet, Ed," his father said softly. "You've assaulted your guest--one
who, as far as I can see, has the most reasonable of views. A beautiful
picture. I agree with it myself--entirely."

"Look, Dad," Ed began. "This Granger here is trying to solve today's
and tomorrow's problems with yesterday's poor answers."

Ed stopped. He had an odd thought: his synthetic father had been
created largely from his and his mother's memories, at a terrible
time of grief, when his mother's reactions had turned against the
groping toward the stars. Before that, Dad had been somewhat averse to
mechanization. But now he was distinctly more so, as if that grief and
aversion had marked him.

Jack Dukas was now medicating Granger's face with antiseptics while
Granger preached, as if from some deep font of a new wisdom: "You see,
Mr. Dukas, again, as in the past, danger is creeping up on us without
receiving serious attention. Beings that are really robots are already
controlling part of their own production. Their creation, everywhere,
should be banned or stamped out. Existing androids should be converted
to flesh or destroyed.... I'll go now. Thank you for your help. But I
think I'll get in touch with your son occasionally. He needs guidance."

Ed nodded grimly. "Perhaps I do," he said. "Maybe everyone does. You
watch me and I'll watch you, eh?"

       *       *       *       *       *

During the succeeding months Ed did his best to spread his doctrine
of calm and reason, working against the agitation which he knew was
already well under way. Les Payten and Barbara Day were with him in
this. All over the world there were others, mostly unknown to them,
but with the same ideas: "Use your head.... Don't put fear before
knowledge.... Do you _know_ an android? What is his name? Maybe Miller
or Johnson? You must know a few. And do they think so differently from
yourself? Yes, there are problems and no doubt prejudice. It may even
be justified. But the answers to our difficulties must be cool-minded.
Everyone knows why."

Ed and his companions talked in this manner to their acquaintances,
spoke on street corners, sent letters to newscast agencies. And they
won many people over. The trouble was that they, and others like them,
could not reach everybody.

Their Earth remained beautiful. There were hazy hills covered with
trees; there were soaring spires. The unrest was an undercurrent.

This was a time of choosing of sides, and of buildup, while there was
a sense of helpless slipping onward toward what few could truly want.
Voices with another, harsher message were raised. Tom Granger was
hardly alone there, either. Tracts were passed out as part of their
method: _What Is Our Heritage?_; _The Right to Be Human_; _Technology
Versus Wisdom_. Perhaps directly out of such a mixture of truth and
crude thinking the assassinations began. There were thousands in
scattered places.

One day Ed Dukas pushed into a knot of curious onlookers and saw the
body of one of the first of these. There, in the same park where Ed had
first met Abel Freeman, it had been found in the early morning. A Midas
Touch blast had torn it in half.

"It's Howard Besser, a machinist who lives in the same building with
me," a man in the crowd offered. "He died once in the lunar explosion.
Now it happened again. That's no joke, even though he can be brought
back."

Ed saw the victim's torn flesh. It _looked_ like flesh. But broken
bones had little metallic glints in them. Could you avoid remembering
that, mated to like, these beings of vitaplasm could even reproduce
their kind, to help increase their number? Had persons like Tom Granger
planned even this dramatization of a difference? Bits of this flesh
still squirmed, hours after violence.

Granger had made progress. Growing public attention had won him the
privilege of orating on the newscast. It was he who had first talked
about vampires and androids--together, and to a world-wide audience. He
also accomplished an important part in winning the legal suppression of
labs creating human forms in vitaplasm.

"It was desecration," he declared in his speech. "It is a tragedy
that we could not clamp down the lid sooner. There are an estimated
seventy million of these 'improvements on nature' now in existence.
And there are many hidden establishments still producing more. Can we
ever destroy them all? It is criminal to lock a human soul in such
substance. If, of course, the soul truly remains human, as it was meant
to be...."

Granger's voice was always gentle. Yet to his listeners it suggested
dark, lonesome places where there is danger. Which was true. For now
other killings had started. Familiar human blood was spilled.

On a pavement Ed saw a grim legend smeared in red beside a corpse:
"WHO WILL INHERIT THE UNIVERSE? RETRIBUTION. ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES
ANOTHER."

Scattered throughout the Americas, Europe and the Westernized Orient
were millions more of such murders. The result was a trading of grim
goods, with the far hardier android winning in the tally. And that
winning was a threat. It could seem a promise to man of the end of his
era. So here was another spur to hysteria, always mounting higher.

Ed Dukas and his friends stayed on at the University. They studied
with the efficient help of the sensipsych machine and its vividly real
visions, which could demonstrate as real experiences almost any skill,
from the playing of an antique Viennese zither to the probing of the
inner structure of a star. They also put in scattered hours of work
in the factories, whose products still aimed at empire in the spatial
distance. But above all they kept on with their appeals for reason.
Their success was great. In the main, people were reasonable and
clearheaded. But a total winning-over was far from possible.

Noted men such as Schaeffer were shouting on the newscast. Shouting for
calm--increasing the tinny babble of the choosing of sides.

More and more, Ed Dukas began to lose faith in the Big Future.

"Maybe we should have kept still," he said to Les Payten and Barbara
Day. "We only added our small faggot to the fire."

His friends laughed with him--ruefully--as they walked together across
the campus.

Some minutes later Les Payten nodded to them, and, with a half smile,
said, "So long for now. Don't lose any sleep--not over worries, anyhow."

He sauntered off. In matters of love, Les was a good loser.

Barbara Day had taken a little apartment on a tree-lined street. It
was nice to walk there in the twilight. Not far from the apartment
a half-acre of ground had been allowed to grow wild with trees and
bushes, for contrast to the surrounding sleek neatness.

There, in the thick shadows, Ed Dukas saw sinuous movement. He had
a fleeting glimpse of something long and winding, and perhaps half
as thick as his body. Then he saw it again--saw its weird glow, saw
the interlocking hexagonal plates that covered it everywhere. But it
did not suggest a gigantic snake at all. For one thing, its mode of
locomotion was different--a rippling movement of thousands of little
prongs on its undersides seemed to be involved in its principle.
It hurried quietly now for cover. Rhododendron bushes parted. It
disappeared behind a great oak.

Barbara and Ed rushed forward. The grass bore no marks. Prudently, they
did not venture into the dark undergrowth.

Ed's skin prickled all over and felt too small for him. "This is it,"
he said in a flat tone.

"_What_, Ed?"

"Life plotted on the engineer's drawing board. Vitaplasm. The days when
nature designed all animals are over, I'm afraid."

"What would it be for, Ed?"

"How would I really know? Want to guess?"

"To create more terror maybe?" Barbara said. "What else? To go around
at night--to stir people up with a horror that they've never known
before. They'll realize it's vitaplasm, the stuff of the androids too.
They'll link hatreds. Maybe it's another trick--a propaganda stunt
to force the fight to the finish. A stunt invented by somebody like
Granger."

"It seems to fit the pattern," Ed said hoarsely. "You're probably
right. But this thing could have been made by the other side, too. The
android side. As a means of reprisal. I've admired them. But I don't
especially trust _their_ judgment, either."

Ed Dukas felt sick. He wondered now how much longer anything on Earth
could last.

Barbara touched his arm gently. "Ed, we should notify the police. For
the safety of the neighborhood."

"Of course. And you won't stay out here alone tonight. You'll put up at
a hotel, or I'll bunk on your floor."

Barbara managed to laugh. "The building is stout. My window is high.
There are plenty of tenants. I'm not dangerously stupid and I don't
swoon. But I rather like the idea of having you close by."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ed Dukas had no trouble convincing the police that he had seen
something extraordinary--which was proof enough that there had been
other calls, previously. Ed slept a few hours on a divan, listening,
while, outside, armed men patrolled the streets and watched the backs
of buildings, which were kept brilliantly illuminated. Floodlights
lighted up that shaggy wood lot like day. Low, flat robot vehicles
plowed through it.

Nothing was found.

But miles away, nearer the city, there were a dozen dead--all of them
of the old order of life. They were crushed. Not a bone in their bodies
was intact. They had been dragged from their beds while they slept.

Horror swept through the city. The monster or monsters had been seen.
They were of the same substance as the androids. Therefore, this was an
android attack, clear and simple--to minds blurred by fear and fury.

Scared, angry faces surrounded Ed Dukas in the streets the next
morning. The coldness in him was like a stone behind his heart. He
seemed to be hurled along by time, helpless to change its course. Even
Barbara looked sullen and confused, though, walking beside him, she
tried to sound cheerfully rational.

"You know, we could all be changed over into androids. I wonder if you
or I would ever want that? I think that even you are not especially
sympathetic to them, except as something new and potentially great.
Damn! I wish my wits were clearer. An android is a refined machine, you
might say. But to be a human being is to be a thing of soul--is that
it? A creature of tradition and pride, of sentiment."

Ed Dukas shrugged. He felt bone and brain weary.

That same day there were bloody riots in scattered localities--much
worse trouble than before. It seemed like the start of an avalanche.

That afternoon another incident happened. Les Payten came to meet his
friends again in their favorite restaurant. They sat chatting glumly
and listening to the newscast. The androids--"The Phonies," they were
already being called--were slipping away to the hills, for safety and
also no doubt to gather their own not inconsiderable numbers, and to
entrench themselves.

Les Payten was called to the phone. He came back after a minute, saying
with a puzzled expression, and almost a cynical smile, "My father
committed suicide. He left a note: 'Eternity is a joke. And I'm sick of
being a robot. But what's the good of being a man, either--now?' Burned
himself wide open with a Midas Touch pistol. I guess the ultimate
cruelty would be to bring him back."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night there were three times as many crushed bodies as the night
before. But there were far more deaths caused by other violent means.
Two weeks passed, each day worse than the preceding. Neighbors started
hurling imprecations at neighbors: "Test-tube monkey!... Obsolete
imbecile!..."

Once there was a news report: "Equipment found--a power generator of
a type and output similar to that for a star ship, but obviously for
another purpose: meant, it seems, to power high-energy weapons of the
beam type. Is this an android or a human assembly? The equipment was
ordered dismantled. It was found in a large basement in the City."

And Tom Granger began his broadcasts again: "Androids--your numbers
are relatively few. You could not win against us. And we would take
you back--kindly--to become people again. Most of you once were human
beings. You were meant to be that..." Granger's tone was softer; it was
condescending.

Ed Dukas phoned Granger at the newscast studio. After a long wait, he
managed to contact him. That Granger agreed to speak to him at all was
no doubt due to Ed's relationship to Mitchell Prell.

"Granger," he said, "I'm pleading. Please, forget that you know how to
say anything. No, I don't want to offend you--but it's just no good.
I'm not guessing--I've seen. To some you may be a great leader. To
others--well--you're a lot less. So do us a favor--again, please! Go
away, disappear. Take a long, silent rest in a place unknown."

Ed Dukas was desperate, grasping at straws. For a fleeting moment his
hope almost convinced him that his mixture of begging and ridicule
might work.

"Do I know you? Oh, yes, Dukas!" Granger mocked. "We should converse
again when we both have the time. You still need instruction, I see.
You are an incorrigible lover of fantastic novelty, Edward Dukas! Now
you're frightened."

"Yes, I am frightened!" Ed replied, calmly now. "If you weren't a fool
and a fanatic, you could guess that millions of androids--supermen,
some call them--could not be weak."

"Goodbye for the present, Dukas." Granger broke the connection.

Ed rubbed his face with his hands. He thought of the sinuous thing
he had once seen, and of the killing that it--and other things not
necessarily of the same shape but of the same substance--had done.
Could Granger be one of those who sought to stir up more dread and fury
with lab-created monsters of vitaplasm? Should he try first to find out
who was using and directing them?

It would be slow work. So, that same afternoon, he chose another path
which might lead to quicker results. He went looking for old Abel
Freeman, who he guessed was of the sort to be a leader among his kind.
By asking around, he located the house where Freeman was said to live.
But the picturesque android had long since vacated his lodgings.

Ed gathered Les Payten and Barbara.

"Freeman will be in the hills somewhere," Barbara pointed out. "With
others like him. What if, for a lark, we rent a helicopter, and see if
we can find him? What can we lose?"

"We're near the end of our rope," Les said. "I'm willing to try
anything."

It was a crazy stunt, but they agreed on it. Ed had picked up some
information about where Freeman might be found, plus a few facts of his
recent history. Naturally, Freeman had a bad reputation.

Arriving over the wooded mountain country where Freeman had often been
seen in the past, Ed let his craft settle into various forest glades,
one after another. At first they saw no one, although certainly many
androids had now retreated into this wilderness.

However, after they had made a dozen tries in as many places, Freeman
himself suddenly appeared, dirty, covered with burrs, but dressed now
in coveralls of modern vintage. A Midas Touch pistol was in his belt.

"Hello!" he greeted. "Yes, I know you three young ones! Are you lost?"

"We're here for neighborly conversation," Ed began.

"That's mighty nice," Freeman mocked with a twinkle in his hard blue
eyes. "Could be you're here just to snoop. Could be me and the boys
should do you in."

"Could be we _are_ here to snoop--to learn a little better what's going
on, that is," Ed replied. "And we're also here in the hope of finding
somebody with good sense and wits and influence enough to keep this
planet from becoming another Asteroid Belt."

Abel Freeman's glance held a certain sparkle of admiration when he
glanced at Ed; then it turned grim.

"You couldn't mean me," he said. "Figured on going around, minding
my own business, without being crowded. Got crowded plenty, though,
closer to the City. Gettin' crowded here, too. Had to smash up quite
a few people. Don't figure on taking it for good. Lucky we were made
cheap. Couldn't stand it, otherwise. Hiding in the brush. Eating
sticks. Hardly ever sleeping. Lucky we can't catch pneumonia. We could
stand conditions far worse than this--but it gets awful tiresome. Seen
Granger lately?"

"You can smell him most everywhere," Ed answered bitterly.

There was a loud explosion a hundred yards to the left. A Midas Touch
blast. Ed felt the shock-pressure of it and held his breath until the
radiation-tainted vapors cooled and blew away.

"That's Nat, the hellcat of my boys," Abel Freeman remarked casually.
Then he shouted, "Nat--you damnfool--don't you know there's company?"

Then Ed and his companions saw them--a beetle-browed foursome peering
from the brush. The Freeman boys. They looked like a quartet of
Neanderthals. But in a way they were less human than Neanderthal
men. For they were the crystallization, via science and vitaplasm,
of someone's romanticized and comic conception of the vigor of his
ancestors.

Behind them now appeared a girl with pale golden skin and eyes whose
slant suggested the beauty of a leopard. This would be Freeman's
daughter, the inestimable Nancy. There was also a leathery crone,
mother of the pack, and wife of Abel.

Nat Freeman fired the Midas Touch again. Obviously he wasn't trying for
accuracy. In fact, he must have miscalculated some. For the wind blew
the radioactive vapors against Les Payten, standing a little to one
side. He screamed once, writhing in their hot clutch, and collapsed.

Abel Freeman, the android renegade, rushed unharmed through those
vapors. Only his clothes charred. "Nat, you stop playin'!" he ordered.
"And as for you three young ones--you haven't got the sense you talk
about! Coming here? You're enemies. And you're weak as daisies! No, I
don't figure I'd ever want to be your kind, even without the raw deal I
got! Lots better to be a devil in the woods until we can come out--if
there's anything left to come out of, or to! Now get out of here
fast--before my family gets annoyed."

Abel Freeman lifted Les Payten's hideously burned body into the
helicopter and then held the door open for Ed and Barbara. "You better
take care of this fellow right away," Freeman said. "Now get on your
way!"

Ed guided the craft toward the City, where Les would certainly spend
several weeks in a lab tank before his injured flesh was back to
normal. Les kept muttering in semi-delirium, "Damned robots. Freeman,
too. And damned, ornery people. Got to pick between them, don't we?
So maybe zero will cancel zero. Can't stay on the fence all the time.
Sorry, when the going gets rough, I'm for the people. Peaceful common
sense? There just isn't any."

Les's voice sounded like a dirge for two races.

Barbara said, "Maybe he's right. There isn't any sense left. Only a
picking of sides for battle. Our efforts went to waste."

She sounded remote, almost unfriendly. Ed suddenly felt that he was
losing her, too.



IV


That was a bad evening for Ed Dukas. He left Barbara at her house,
which was now guarded. But he did not get home easily. For that was the
evening trouble became general. John Jones of old-time flesh and blood,
and George Smith of vitaplasm forgot all their politeness and let their
smoldering thoughts come to the surface:

"So now you brew up monsters like yourselves, to attack us. I wouldn't
be like you if it was the last way to be alive."

"Oh, no, brother? Those creatures must be yours. What makes you so
good? Born with your own hide, eh? The elite. With jelly for insides,
and a mean nature."

Talk swiftly led to flying fists. But who could hurt an android
with a human fist? Before their hardened knuckles a human jaw could
become mush. Still, there were heavier primitive weapons. Then, by
progression, weapons that were not so primitive.

Ed didn't try any more to quell the trouble. He watched it, walked
around it and away from it. The wise and careful thinking that he had
been taught to believe in seemed to have deserted his kind. The stars
were only a remote fancy, lost in the chaos of local emotion. Feeling
beaten, Ed finally got home.

This was the evening when he told himself that anything could happen
at any moment--that morning might not even come. On the newscast, he
heard the report that the first star ship--to be aimed perhaps at
Proxima Centauri or Sirius--was within weeks of completion out there
on its asteroid. There were infinite heights to this era of his. And
terrifying depths.

This was the evening when, fearing that the spoken word could no longer
be heard through the din of clashing hatreds, Ed Dukas decided to write
letters.

He meant to begin with a letter to Les and then write to his father,
whose eyes had turned backward toward archaic simplicities. He wanted
to write to Granger, asking again for calm. But he had only completed a
few paragraphs to Les when that kid nickname of his appeared on a blank
sheet of his paper. From nowhere:

"_Nipper._"

Only Mitchell Prell, unheard from for ten years, had ever called him
that. His uncle. A likable little man, tainted by accusations, but
part of the once thrilling thoughts of the future. Mitchell Prell
had belonged to the onward surging and reaching of science--and its
stumbling. The lunar blowup had come as a forerunner of the first leap
to the stars. And the human-and-android animosity had resulted from the
mastery of the forces of life. Wonder becoming horror. White turning
black. Till you hardly knew what to believe in, except that, being
alive, you had to go on trying to make things right.

For an hour Ed Dukas sat in his room. Nothing more appeared on the
paper which he had clamped under his microscope. "_Nipper._" That
was all. Silly name of his childhood. Often he looked around him,
as though expecting someone to appear. Several times he said softly,
"Uncle Mitch, you must be here, someplace...."

There was no answer.

The muttering tumult in the streets--the shouts, the occasional rush of
feet, the curses and yells--masked the arrival of Tom Granger. Ed was
startled from his preoccupation to find Granger almost at his elbow.
With him was a man who looked like a plain-clothes police official. In
the background, grim and frightened, was Ed's mother.

"Eddie," she said. "If you know anything, tell. Mitch just isn't worth
any more trouble to us."

"Tell what?" Ed demanded, rising.

"About where Mitchell Prell is," Granger told him. "You said things
which hinted that he might be around."

Ed's throat tightened. It was still a minor shock to remember that the
probe beam had probably been used on this house sporadically for years.
The refined radar of the probe beam could, if minutely focused, make
fair pictures of distant things inside walls. But Ed didn't think that
it could make the small print on a sheet of letter paper readable.
But there were instruments that could pick up faint sounds from miles
away--a voice, for instance--and amplify them to audibility. Ed was
still sure that, over distance, his mind itself remained inviolable.

Ed felt cornered by the brute forces that always take over whenever
reason is broken down by fear. Once his uncle had been a scapegoat
to blame for disaster. Then, poor memories and triumphant years had
half forgiven him. But now, during trouble, he was guilty again. And
according to savage concepts of justice so were his relatives.

The confusion of half blaming his uncle left Ed and was replaced
by stubborn loyalty. He summoned all his self-control and grinned
carefully. He wondered if the fright in Granger's large eyes reflected
realization at last of the angry hands, gone completely untrustworthy,
that now touched the controls of modern science. Was he getting
intelligent so late? Or was he afraid of something simpler?

Ed forced a laugh. "You picked up my muttering, Granger," he accused.
"I wonder what _you_ mutter about, these days? Grant me the same
privilege of nervousness under strain which you could do a lot to
relieve, everywhere, as I have been begging you to see. No, I don't
know where Mitchell Prell is, though I wish I did."

The plain-clothes man had moved over to the table. Now he peered into
the microscope. Soon he motioned to Granger to do likewise. Ed felt the
roots of his hair puckering.

"What does '_Nipper_' signify to you, Dukas?" Granger asked at last,
levelly.

"Suppose it's my pet name for you, Granger?" Ed answered. "Your friend
can take the paper along. The police laboratories might make something
else of it. Maybe I doodle with a bum pen and absent-mindedly stick
the doodle under a microscope--and right away somebody wants to make a
story of it. You want to psyche me? I've humored that kind of whim from
the police before. This time, for cussedness, I'll stand on my rights
and demand that they get a court order before they meddle with my most
private possession, my memory. Especially since hotheads and hysterics
seem to have taken over. But wait, Granger. I'm sure that sensible
people are still in the majority. They haven't reacted very much, yet.
But they will--with matters as bad as they are now. Maybe they haven't
any answers to our problems, except calm and the hope of working
something out. But that's a lot. We were schooled to cautious thinking,
Granger, and that means something, even though you and plenty of others
can lose their wits. Maybe the sensible people will finally shut you
up!"

"We'll take the paper along all right," the plain-clothes man said.
"And you, too. We already have the court order you mention."

"Dukas," Granger said with a show of great patience, "will you ever
realize? We're facing a soulless horror. We must be harsh if need be.
But you should be glad to give your absolute co-operation. It's your
duty. We have always felt that Prell is alive, somewhere. Twice he has
been part of disaster, even if unintentionally. We must stop him before
he can bring us greater, unknown dangers."

Ed eyed this thin, wily man who had managed to assume a certain
unofficial power in the world. And again Ed had trouble judging him.
Perhaps he was entirely insincere. Yet he had, too, the marks of
the rabid crusader following obsolete themes that needed revision;
following them blindly, with both a kind of courage and the crassest
stupidity.

"Tell me something, Granger," Ed said. "I'm curious. And I know I have
a duty, however different from what you mean. Did you have a hand in
the creation of the monsters of vitaplasm? I mean the real monsters,
not just the androids, the Phonies. The use of terror is old in war and
politics. Stirring up fury, with the blame carefully implied elsewhere."

Granger's features stiffened, as if he had been insulted, or perhaps
he was just acting. "I would not dirty my hands with things from hell,
Dukas!" he snapped. "Unwise as you are, you must know that! Now I think
the police want to take you away."

Ed's mother stood in the doorway of his room without saying a word. She
looked strong, yet bitter and scared. He knew that her loyalty was with
him, though her views differed somewhat from his.

His father must have been out of the house when Granger and the other
man arrived, Ed thought. Did his going out on this chaotic evening mean
anything special? Wanting to be loyal, and at least half sure that the
wish was returned, Ed didn't care to complete the thought.

He was concerned about his mother, yet he said, "Try not to worry, Mom.
Go to bed. They'll have to guard the house. I can still insist on it.
And I don't think I can be held very long, even now."

"Your father will come to you as soon as he knows, Eddie," she said.

So Edward Dukas was carted off to the local bastille. A helmet was
put on his head. But what was learned from him about the whereabouts
of Mitchell Prell must have been both confusing and disappointing.
Certainly, though, it must have intrigued the police, as did that
single name on the paper, which told them nothing under the most
careful scrutiny.

Bronson, the portly local police chief, introduced Ed to a man named
Carter Loman, a bullishly handsome character with a mouth like a trap,
a smile to match, and a gimlet scrutiny. A big wheel of some sort, Ed
assumed. Was there something familiar about him?

"You'll have to spend the night here, Dukas," Loman rumbled.

Ed put out the light in his cell, but as he crept into his cot, he held
a bit of paper from his coat pocket in one hand. He left his fountain
pen open, on top of his clothes. For maybe an hour he lay quietly in
the dark, listening to the scattered noises of the troubled night. Then
he slept.

He awoke as dawn grayed the east and glanced at once at the paper in
his hand, which he had kept outside the blanket. Ed's heart leaped.
A message had been written. Perhaps it had taken all night to toil
it out at a creeping pace: "_Nipper--argue police--you go Port
Smitty--Mars--at once_."

The final _e_ of _once_ was already written, except that a line of it
was still being extended. A little dot of wet ink was still laboring
across the paper.

Ed had no microscope or pocket lens, but he risked turning on the
light. He peered hard. He was not at all sure that he saw anything
special. But imbedded in the dark liquid he thought for an instant that
he beheld a suggestion of form--impossible or entirely fantastic. Then
the tiny minuscule of ink quivered, and the hint was gone.

Ed whispered, so low that he himself could not hear, "Uncle Mitch. I
know that you're around--in some form. I wish I understood what you're
up to."

Ed tore the message from the sheet of paper, chewed it to a pulp, and
spat it on the floor. At least he was destroying concrete evidence that
might provoke greater attention than his psyched memories. Of course
they would psych him again--that was why they had held him, hoping that
he would learn more. But he had learned very little.

       *       *       *       *       *

The psyching was done. Chief Bronson and Carter Loman knew all that
he knew. Now Ed offered his proposition: "Suppose I got to Mars, as
Mitchell Prell suggests? I seem to be the only man to contact him.
You are aware that I myself haven't more than a wild glimmer of where
the trail leads. But you know that I'm badly worried about what a
human-and-android conflict can mean, and that I want to break the
danger somehow. If you want to find Prell, track me by the best means
that you know."

Chief Bronson nodded, musingly.

"Hmm-m--very good!" Carter Loman grunted. "Of course you would prefer
to act alone, Dukas, because you are fond of Prell. You offer to
combine forces with us only because it is the only way that you can do
what you want to do at all. All right, we agree."

"Tickets and passport will be arranged for immediately," Bronson said.
"And now there is someone here to see you."

It was Ed's father, angry with him but more angry with the restraint
under which his son had been put.

"Damn it, Eddie, I tried to get to you last night, and they sent me
away!" he stormed. "And what have you been up to? What's this nonsense
about a message from Prell? Damn, has everything gone completely crazy?
I was for this man Granger and his return to rustic simplicities; but
he's gone wild, too! Isn't there any way to handle what's happening?
Phonies, and things from a witch's caldron, but grown to elephant size.
And more of them all the time! Where does it stop?... Well, it helps a
little that lots of people went out last night breaking up fights. Even
some Phonies did that, they say; but should we believe it? Scientists
were on the run everywhere, as maybe they should be for inventing so
much new trouble. The Schaeffer lab is barricaded. I'm glad for your
sensible people, Ed, but can they hold the peace for more than a little
while? And would it do any final good if they could?"

Jack Dukas, the "memory man" of old-time flesh, was more like a dad
to Ed again, and Ed was almost as glad for that as he was for the
awakening of the forces of calm and order.

"Thanks, Dad," Ed said with a cryptic meaning of his own. "It's a small
lessening of danger, anyway. It's a fact, though, that the situation,
at the moment, is an explosive magazine which one well-placed idiot
could set off. And it's hard to see how there could ever be less than
many. Say that our population is split three ways. Android, human
and that mixed group which is trying to keep them from each other's
throats. It's hard to see how the latter can succeed for very long."

For a moment Ed and Jack Dukas were almost close, in spite of
differences. Ed was a little reassured.

"I'm going out to Mars, Dad," he said. "With police co-operation. Maybe
to find my uncle. And--who knows?--maybe even to find some useful
answers."

Jack Dukas shrugged. "More science, no doubt," he said. "Well, anyway,
good luck."

The brief spell of companionship was broken.

For a moment Ed was tense with the thought of precious time possibly
wasted, chasing off to the Red Planet, when perhaps he should be
trying to hunt down the perpetrators of offenses to a new biology--in
vitaplasm. He knew that time remained still desperately short, with
nuclear hell building up. But a choice had been made, and he sensed
that it was the best one.

Ed and Barbara went to see Les Payten that morning. He lay in a bed,
his body encased in an armor of plastic, under which fluids circulated.
He had mended enough to listen and speak. Ed partly explained his
intentions. About them, Les showed a mixture of a sick man's insight
and weariness: "I hope we'll see each other again, Ed. And that
the world will still be around. And that you won't be changed too
much--strong, weak, big or little. Because I've got things figured out
_for me_ at last, Ed. Granger is right, as far as I am concerned. I was
a romantic kid, but now I've had enough! The stars are still farther
out of reach than we realize. Got to fight the murdering Phonies and
all of the vitaplasm menace, no matter what. Because there never was a
menace like it--not to me." Les grinned wanly. "So long, pals."

In a park, some hours later, Barbara and Ed walked in the beautiful
dusk, while the arch of silvery murk that had been Luna masked a few
of the first stars. Something with long webbed wings was visible in
silhouette against it for an instant--another creature that never
existed before. It added a chill to their low mood. Ed was thinking
that he must say goodbye to Barbara, too, very soon, and to all the
chaotic wonder and charm that was Earth. Earth maybe in its last days.

Barbara said, "I wish I were going along, Eddie."

"So do I. Babs, go out to the asteroids. Like my mother. It's safer
there."

"I _meant_ my wish, Ed," Barbara protested earnestly. "Of course, a
girl is still sometimes rated as a nuisance that a man has to take
extra pains to look after--no companion for one to concentrate on the
dangers ahead. Maybe it's true."

He looked at her sharply and gulped hard. But gay little bells seemed
to tinkle in his head. "Maybe a lot of things," he commented. "But I
think you, as much as anybody, know what we're up against. Possible
death, of course, which could be permanent. Or some fantastic loss or
change of identity. How can we guess just what? If you can take all
that mystery and hardship, too--well, I won't say no. Maybe if you were
Mrs. Ed Dukas we could have Bronson provide your tickets to Mars."

Her smile came out, like the sun. "You're heartlessly matter-of-fact
and unromantic, Ed," she told him.

He drew her into the shadow of a tree. A couple of minutes later, when
he released her, they both looked dazed--as though, crazy as life was,
it still could be heaven. She was beautiful. He'd never seen anyone so
beautiful.

Fifteen hours later they were aboard the _Moon Dust_.



V


As the ship rose on its column of fire some of the old love of distance
and enigma came back to Ed. There was also a sense of adventurous
escape, like that of city workers of centuries ago, when, chucking
business and office routines, they had rushed to the country on
weekends to regain a little of primitive nature while they scorched a
steak over a smoky fire in the woods.

On the _Moon Dust_ there were more women and children than men:
refugees from danger. But would old Mars be much safer? Didn't it now
belong to the same human civilization, with its dark undercurrents?

The Dukases were smoothly hurled across the vast trajectory to Mars.
They landed at a high south-temperate latitude, not far below the
farthest extent limit of the polar cap; though now, in summer, it had
dwindled to a mere cake of deep hoarfrost a few hundred miles across
and on high ground. Around this remnant stretched a yellow plain made
up of crusting mud, swiftly drying lakes scummed with the Martian
equivalent of green algae, and white patches of ancient-sea salt and
alkali.

But Port Smitty itself was in a wide, shallow valley, or "canal," a bit
farther north. Its many airdomes, necessary to maintain an atmosphere
dense enough and sufficiently oxygenated to sustain human life, loomed
among vast greenhouses and thickets of tattered, dry-leaved plants. The
central dome was topped by a statue of old Porter Smith, this region's
first human inhabitant; he was still alive but long gone from the Mars
he had loved. For he had associated himself with the building of star
ships.

Port Smitty already boasted a population of half a million. And there
were other cities of almost equal size. On Mars, many of the first
rejuvenated had settled. And many colonists of every sort had come
there since.

On the rusty bluff overlooking the city were the remains of a far
older metropolis--towers, domes and strange nameless structures for
which anything manlike could have no use. Fifty million years ago the
Martians, like the people of the Asteroid Planet, had been wiped out in
war.

Ed Dukas and his bride rode by tube train from the flame-blasted
spaceport to the city. Their hotel room overlooked a courtyard lush
with earthly palms and flowers. Birds twittered and flitted from branch
to poppy bloom. From somewhere in the hotel came dance music.

Their room was supposed to be energy-shielded, but Ed remained
cautious. He merely left his penpoint bared in his coat pocket, with
the envelope of an old letter. He had already told Barbara all he knew
about Uncle Mitch's message and had added some wild guesses. So now she
gave her husband a smile of understanding as he hung his coat carefully
on a chair. Then she came into his arms.

Later that evening, dancing, they covered their wariness carefully.
They might be under observation in any of a hundred different ways: by
probe beams, hidden cameras, or by individuals, android or human, whom
they did not know. In spite of old loyalty, Ed Dukas was not entirely
at ease with the thought of contacting Mitchell Prell. Yet, he wished
to avoid being trailed so that he could act alone and separate from
the dictatorial and often panic-stricken opinions of others.

On Mars there had been considerable violence, too, though there had
been no gliding, sinuous things that brought nocturnal terror. But
here, too, there was a mingling of android and human being, with no
visible marks to distinguish the one from the other, though to many the
difference was as great as that between man and werewolf.

Barbara seemed to grow sleepy in Ed's arms as they danced. Ed yawned
slightly. So they drifted from the room and back to their own quarters.

Ed pulled the old envelope from the pocket of the coat on the chair.
As he had hoped, a message was traced waveringly on it: "_Go Port
Karnak--then E.S.E. into desert._"

Both Ed and his wife knew that Martian deserts surpassed all earthly
conceptions of desolation. They looked at each other. The challenge was
still in Barbara's eyes. The fact that she could carry a pack was a
matter that had been settled long ago.

Now Ed risked speaking--in the lowest of audible whispers: "So,
instead of going to bed, as people in our position should, we start
traveling--fast."

He felt the safety pouch under his belt. Personal recordings were in
it: tiny cylinders, a pair for each of them. A precaution. In the
vaults on Earth there should still be others. But one could not always
be sure of those. Some had disappeared.

As memory of what he thought he had seen in a tiny ink drop still
clutched rather frighteningly at Ed Dukas's brain. It was a hint of
how Mitchell Prell wrote his messages--in an utterly simple and heroic
way, but with fantastic, dream-shot implications. Could it be part of
android flexibility? Well, probably his fancy had tricked him, because
things couldn't be that odd. Still....

Often Ed had felt bitter over the confusions created by the advance of
science. But now enigmas led him on as thrillingly as ever. There had
to be wonders ahead, for thinking of Mitchell Prell without thinking of
new science was impossible.

"Let's go, Babs," he whispered.

Casually, like ordinary guests checking out, they put two light valises
into the conveyer and dropped to the main floor by elevator. The rest
of their stuff they left behind. They paid their bill and took an auto
cab to the central tube station. In the washrooms they changed from
leisure clothes to the rough gear used in the Martian wilderness:
light-weight vacuum armor and oxygen helmets equipped with air
purifiers and small radios--all fitted over light trousers and shirts.
The remaining contents of their discarded valises they transferred to
rucksacks.

In the station they mingled with farmers, miners and homesteaders.
Couples such as themselves were common on Mars; they were going out to
make their fortunes.

They bought their tickets to Port Karnak. Ed and Barbara looked around
them. A half-dozen men among the waiting passengers wore no oxygen
helmets. True, this underground depot was pressurized, but the outer
thinness and oxygen-poverty of the Martian air had to be prepared for.
The absence of helmets, then, almost had to be the mark of the android.
To keep its vital processes going, the versatile vigor of vitaplasm
merely disintegrated a tiny bit of its atomic substance, to make up for
the shortage of chemical energy.

Ed and Barbara boarded the train with the crowd. Much of this
underground system of transportation had merely been converted to human
beings' use from that which had remained from the ancient culture
of Mars. Behind the projectilelike coaches, close fitting in the
tubes, air-pressure built up. Acceleration was swift. Covering the
thousand-mile distance to Port Karnak took twenty minutes.

Once arrived, Ed bought the additional equipment they needed; then in
a small restaurant they ate a last civilized meal. They took an auto
bus out along a glassed-in, pressurized causeway and descended at the
final stop, beside a few scattered greenhouses, the outermost of which
provided the city with fresh, earthly vegetables.

Here the desert was at hand, utterly frigid at night, under the
splinters of stars. Deimos, the farther moon, hung almost stationary
in the north. Irregular in shape, it looked like a speck of broken
chinaware, just big enough to make its form discernible. Probably it
was a small asteroid which the gravity of Mars had captured.

The Dukases began to plod. The desert came under their boots, and the
solidity of the ground gave way, gradually, to a difficult fluffiness,
like that of dry flour. It was millions of square miles of dust the
color of rusted iron, which, in part, it was. Dust, ground to ultimate
fineness by eons of thin, swift wind. Under the dim light of the sky,
colors dropped in tone to a monotonous grayness that only faintly
revealed the nearest dunes, and showed plumes of soil moving on the
wind like ghosts. The dust made a constant, sleepy soughing against
their helmets, like an invitation to death.

Barbara pressed Ed's gloved hand, as if in reassurance, and he pressed
hers in return. Maybe they had eluded all pursuit or probe-beam
tracking. Certainly the blowing dust itself would be an effective
screen against the most refined radar device. Yet to vanish from the
view of men could mean another kind of danger. It came to Ed that even
when Mars had teemed with millions of its own inhabitants, perhaps no
one had trod within a mile of where he and his wife were now walking.

The Dukases marched on for an hour without saying anything. But during
a momentary rest Barbara gripped Ed's arm, thus establishing a firm
sonic channel, so that they could talk without using their helmet
radios, which might betray them.

"I hope we're not too crazy, Ed," she said. "Going out into a
wilderness like this, on the basis of a couple of strange notes, and
with blind faith that somehow we'll be guided. I hope; I hope!"

Her tone was light and courageous, and he was more than ever glad.

"Think of our muddled home world, and make that a prayer," Ed said. "We
might be doing something to help."

So they kept up their march through the night and into the weirdly
beautiful dawn. The desert was rusty dun. The sky was deep, hard blue.
The dunes were dust-plumed waves, in which a footprint was quickly
lost. The rocks were wind-carven spires. Earth was the bluish morning
star. It looked very peaceful, denying the need for haste. Its ring was
a nebulous blur.

Barbara and Ed sucked water into their mouths through the tubes which
led back from their helmets to the large canteens in their rucksacks.
They swallowed anti-fatigue and food tablets. For a moment they even
removed their oxygen helmets. There was no great harm in that; only
the distention of blood vessels under swiftly lowered air pressure and
an ache and ringing of eardrums, and of course the stinging dryness of
the Martian cold against their cheeks. Forty-eight degrees Fahrenheit,
below zero, it was just then.

"No more clowning," Ed said as they replaced their helmets. "We might
get dazed by oxygen starvation and forget what we're doing."

They kept up their march, through the morning, past the almost warm
Martian noon, and on into the frosty chill that came long before
sunset. They were still plodding on when it was dawn once more. In
spite of anti-fatigue capsules, they were getting pretty groggy.

In his breast pouch Ed had his pen and the envelope on which the latest
message from Mitchell Prell had been inked. Now, surely, there had been
time enough. So he ventured to disturb the writing materials. There
were more words on the envelope: "_True on course--keep moving_."

So they continued to follow the pointer of their small gyrocompass, set
to stab precisely toward east-southeast. Ed no longer questioned an odd
miracle. It was simply there, and he was grateful.

An hour later Barbara glimpsed fluttering movement near by: a fleck
of bright yellow. Then it was gone behind a large chip of stone. Then
it appeared again. Ed saw it, too, for an instant. It fluttered, it
chirped plaintively. It was an impossibility in the wastelands of Mars,
or anywhere else on the Red Planet, outside of an air-conditioned cage.
It was a small, earthly bird. A canary.

Barbara stared at it. Her blue eyes were bloodshot and scared. The
tired droop of her cheeks deepened.

"Darling," she said rather lamely. "I think that fatigue is about to
get the better of us."

"Think again," Ed said.

"I guess you're right," she answered. "Even without vitaplasm, it's
not much of a stunt to give a guided missile or a spy-robot the form
of a little bird, with television eyes. And a Midas Touch weapon, or
something equally unpleasant, built into it. At the hotel in Port
Smitty, it was unrecognizable among the other caged canaries. Here,
though, it's unmistakably identified. Which means that whoever is
guiding it--the police looking for your Uncle Mitch or friends of
Granger's, or whoever else--don't care any more that we know what it
is. We're helpless now--they think."

A dull fury came to Ed Dukas. He might have guessed that all chances
of their eluding surveillance would have been countered carefully.
This birdlike mechanism must have followed them all the way from Port
Smitty, keeping just out of sight.

Then a more hopeful idea hit him. But reason conquered it. "No,"
he said aloud, gripping Barbara's shoulder so that she could hear.
"If the pseudo-canary was Uncle Mitch's guide for us, it would have
revealed itself sooner, and the messages on paper would not have been
necessary."

In a flash Ed drew his own Midas Touch and fired it at the place among
the broken rocks where the canary had just vanished. At a little
distance there was the usual spurt of incandescence, fringed now with
red dust. But from the projecting boulders near its base, a small
yellow form spurted with a faint and musical twitter of mockery. Then
a heavy voice spoke--one which neither Ed nor Barbara recognized just
then:

"Better luck next time, robot lovers. Lead on!"

Thereafter, the false canary was careful not to show itself. And Ed was
left with his frustrated anger, and with other uncertain thoughts. What
if the written messages had not come from Mitchell Prell at all, but
from someone else with an unknown purpose? Or, what if they were from
Uncle Mitch, but had been prepared long ago and left to be presented to
him, Ed Dukas, by means of some mechanical agent? What if--well--many
things.

Using his tiny portable radar unit to locate the bird drew only a
blank. Perhaps the little mechanism with a radio speaker for a voice
was effectively shielded against such detection, even at short range.

To attempt evasive action would be a waste of time and waning energy.
There was nothing to do but go on, see what developed, and trust to
luck. There was the certainty that real pursuit would come, but what
shape it would take remained unknown.

As Ed and Barbara plodded on through the day, their minds became fuzzy
with weariness. Once, in a kind of retreat from present harsh facts,
Ed's thoughts touched a vivid daydream that he'd had before, of a
planet of some star. He looked down at imaginary dry ground under
imaginary feet and saw that each pebble under the strange, brilliant
sunshine had a little hole in it. And something shaped like a cross,
with four rough, brownish-gray arms that could bend in any direction,
scrabbled away, flat against the soil, its equipment glinting. The
thickets all around were stranger than those of Mars.

Yes, it was just a daydream, originating from within himself, like an
old, half-buried hope of some distant exploration. He wondered if it
could ever still have any fulfillment, or if that even mattered any
more? Perhaps, for all he knew, his wife and he were now headed for an
even stranger region.

Ed shook his head to clear it. He did not want to disturb the envelope
in his pouch too often. To expose the ink to the dried-out Martian air,
while the writing was in progress at hour-hand speed, might spoil a
vital message. But at last he chanced it. It seemed that the writer was
not much troubled by the presence of the bird-thing or what it might
mean.

Barbara and Ed read avidly: "_Base of capped granite rock before you.
Lab._"

Barbara nodded toward a formation which loomed a half mile ahead in
the freezing cold of late afternoon. The slab, balanced crosswise on a
slender pinnacle, identified it beyond doubt, though there were other
similar spires around it. It cast its shadow on the sunlit dunes. Or
was all of that dark, irregular patch shadow?

Ed Dukas and his bride had not enjoyed the luxury of natural sleep
for a long time. But summoning their flagging strength, they hurried
forward. Ed felt that at last he was approaching the solution of
ten-year-old enigmas.

The darker area at one side of the capped rock was not all shadow.
But the Dukases had scant attention for the bluish masses of plushy
stuff that grew in this aridity. At another time it might have been
fascinating, for it was vegetation related to the android as moss is
related to a man. It was a growth of vitaplasm--another of Mitchell
Prell's experiments. But Ed and Barbara had no chance to ponder this.

They located an eighteen-inch cleft at the rock's base. Edging into it,
they found an irregular stone pivoted on steel hinges. To their touch,
it closed behind them, and bolts clicked. From the outside now the
outline of the door would seem merely a pattern of natural cracks in
the granite pinnacle.

Atomic battery lamps lighted the passage, and there were more heavy
doors, some of them of steel, for Ed and Barbara to bolt behind them.
The place was like a small, secret fortress. At the bottom of a spiral
stair, beyond a small airlock, was Mitchell Prell's latest and perhaps
last workshop.

He must have blasted it from the crust of Mars without help. It was
a series of a half-dozen rooms and was no larger than a fair-sized
apartment. Smallest of all was the combined sleeping room and
kitchen; and there the evidence of months or perhaps years of absence
was plainest. The bunk was thick with dust, and food remnants were
blackened on unwashed plates. The air, of earthy density, smelled of
decay and a strange pungence. The floors and walls were crusted with
patches of the tough, bluish growths seen outside. It was suggestive
at once of both fungus and moss but was really like neither. It had a
pretty color under the lamps, which had certainly been burning for a
long time.

Ed and Barbara removed their oxygen helmets and began a swift
exploration of the premises. The rooms had all the marks of lone
bachelor occupancy by a man too fearfully busy with his own
deep pursuits to waste time on more than the barest attempts at
housekeeping. Apparatus was everywhere. There were even recognizable
parts of a helicopter--the one, no doubt, which had brought Prell and
his equipment to this refuge.

At first they thought that he might since have fallen victim to some
violence or accident. And then they found his body in a rectangular,
plastic-covered tank, submerged in a cloudy, viscous fluid. It was a
standard sort of vat, much used in laboratories in repairing extensive
injury and restoring a destroyed body from a personal recording--either
in protoplasm or vitaplasm. Near by, there were three similar vats,
which, when opened, proved to contain only fluid.

Barbara and Ed looked for a long moment at Mitchell Prell's forever
young face. It was peaceful in death that was not quite death; for of
the latter you could never be sure any longer, unless it was the death
of the species.

If there were guile behind that gentle face, it did not show. If there
were darkness of purpose, or stubborn unwillingness to recognize errors
that he had committed in a civilization that tottered as it reached
for greatness, it could not be seen. But in this refuge, one fact was
plain: Mitchell Prell had gone on with his work in a super-biology.

Ed wandered over to a beautiful microscope of a standard make. Its
attachments also started out from a familiar design. It was fitted with
dozens of special screws and levers. When Ed, and then Barbara, peered
into its eye-piece, they found that each of these screws and levers
could manipulate a tiny tool, almost too small to see with the naked
eye. There were minute cutters, calipers and burnishing wheels. Set up
under the microscope there was even what seemed to be a tiny lathe. In
fact, there was an entire machine shop on an ultra-miniature scale. And
there were tiny, tonglike grasping members, intended to serve--on such
a reduced scheme of things--as hands, where the human hand, working
directly, would have been hopelessly mountainous.

In addition to this equipment, there were exact duplicates of the vats
across the room and their attendant apparatus, except that each entire
assembly was less than a half-inch long. In one vat there was a human
figure much smaller than a doll, yet perfect.

Barbara laughed nervously. Even in this century of wonders, the human
mind had its limitations for making swift adjustments. The laugh was a
denial of what her eyes beheld.

Ed Dukas's wide face looked at once avid and haggard. Beside the tiny
vats there was also another microscope, complete in every detail, yet
of the same relative dimensions as the little figure in the vat. But
this lesser microscope was of the electron variety. It had to be. For
at this reduced size light waves themselves were too coarse in texture
to be effective for close-range work.

Ed turned slowly toward his young wife, whose eyes were alert and
wonder-filled in spite of her weariness. He noticed the pleasant wave
in her hair. He noted the charming curve of her brow, the tiny and
pleasing irregularity of her nose. And what was all this attention but
a clinging to an object of love when facing a strangeness so great that
it scared him as he had never been scared before. Ed Dukas knew that
his face must have gone gray.

Now his words came slowly and precisely: "Babs, I've told you that I
watched part of Mitchell Prell's first message being written. That in
the moving speck of wet ink, for an instant something looked like a man
the size of a mote! I thought I'd imagined it. But is that what Uncle
Mitch is now? An android so small that the only way for him to write a
note to a person of usual dimensions is to surround his own body with a
droplet of ink and to drag himself across the paper, making the lines
and loops of script?"

Barbara looked at him obliquely, doubting his seriousness.

"Aw, now, Eddie-boy, take it a little bit easy," she said. "Please do."

He didn't answer her. He let his unchanging expression and many seconds
of silence do the answering for him. His pulses drummed in his ears.

At last he said, "No, darling, I mean it. There's no reason why an
android no bigger than the smallest insects can't exist. And the signs
of what Mitchell Prell did in this laboratory are plain enough.

"Working at first with the larger microscope and the miniature tools
and machinery under it, he duplicated a now common kind of biological
apparatus in half-inch size. In its tank he caused to grow the
simulacrum of himself that you can see. Aside from the difference in
dimensions, that much has been both possible and fairly common practice
for years. Its brain having been stamped with all phases of his
memory and personality, it became him when it awoke. His own body he
left inert and preserved in the large vat. But he was not finished.
He had made just one step toward the degree of smallness that he
wanted to reach. So he started over from scratch, constructing first
another microscope and then relatively minute machinery and tools,
fine beyond our sight. Under that tiny electron microscope I'll bet
there's another, smaller machine shop, and a smaller tank from which a
mote-sized Mitchell Prell emerged. It must all have been quite a job.
It's not hard to see where those ten years went."

Barbara was silent for a long time. Finally, she said, "It sounds
reasonable--superficially. But still, is it possible? Consider a brain.
It can come in many sizes, from an ant's to a human being's. But all
are made of molecules of the same dimensions. And it has been pretty
well determined that a brain must be always about as big as a human
being's to be truly intelligent. Trying to cram such intelligence
into a smaller lump of gray matter--composed of the familiar
molecules--would be like trying to weave fine cloth out of rope. How
can you get around that, Ed?"

"Maybe I can guess," he said. "With smaller units. How about the
electron, Babs? Far smaller than the molecule, certainly. And it's been
the soul of the best calculators--thought machines--for a couple of
centuries. There isn't any doubt that a brain of microscopic size could
function by far finer electronic patterning. No, it probably wouldn't
work in natural protoplasm. But we already know the flexibility of
vitaplasm: easy to redesign, capable of drawing its energy even from a
nuclear source. Well, you figure it out. What have we here but other
android advantages? I think my uncle once told me that he meant to go
where no one could go exactly as a human being."

"All right, Eddie," she conceded. "I guess I'm persuaded. Proud girl,
me. I've got a smart boyfriend. And your uncle--he skips blithely
from the bigness of the interstellar regions in his thoughts to
the smallness of dust! And he seems, _actually_, to have done the
latter--in person! Is that what we're supposed to accept as truth? If
so, he must have been with you all the time, or at least for quite a
while. On Earth, even. And he must have come out to Mars with us. He
was right in your pocket, riding with the paper and pen. To write, he
must have gunked himself up good with the ink inside the pen point.
Ugh--what a thought! And maybe he's still in your pocket right now.
He--or a tremendously shrunken equivalent of him. Does all this stack
up right in your eyes, Ed?" A pallor had crept through Barbara's tan.

"Pretty much so," Ed replied heavily.

"So what do we do now, Ed? Try to follow your uncle's path--down?"

Ed's flesh tingled. To follow Mitchell Prell _down_--a course more
weirdly remote than traveling to the stars. He did not answer Barbara.
He unzipped his pocket. He could not tell whether a minute android
emerged or not. There were no further messages on the envelope.

But from a sound cone in a shadowy corner of this workshop, there
suddenly came tones that a decade had not rubbed from his memory:

"Nipper-hello! Or is it always Ed now? So we've come to Mars together.
And you with Barbara! Well, maybe that is an agreeable complication!
Now we can talk. Here I have the right amplifying apparatus. I need
help, and you always seemed the best--and enough like me. I know
your doubts about science, and I don't blame you. But I'm still the
same--wanting to learn everything that I can, feeling that everything
should work out right."

The stillness closed in again. Ed and Barbara looked at each other.
Technology was full of tricks--the possibility of a thousand illusions.
Could he even trust a voice, made so like Mitchell Prell's used to be?
And could he trust the mind behind it? Even if it truly was his uncle's?

"Work out right!" Ed growled mockingly. "That sounds almost pious!
If you are what you say you are, you were on Earth and have seen
everything. You know then how right things have been! I was around when
the Moon blew--remember? And no scared hotheads caused that. But there
are plenty of them now. And from here on Mars, I've expected to see
Earth momentarily puff up into a little nova."

There was a sigh from the sound cone. "So I'm to blame--at least
partly--for helping to give those fools something to be furiously
right or mistaken about," Mitchell Prell's voice replied. "Well, I was
what I was, and I am what I am, Ed. I'm sorry about many things that
happened. But I can't erase them. I've urged you to come here to help
me try to counteract them. I don't think you'll stay angry with me, Ed.
Come where I am--you and Barbara. It can be done quite quickly now. I
have two forms prepared. They will take the lines and personalities
of anyone. Just set the dials above two of the unoccupied vats at one
hundred--full energy. Lower yourselves into the fluid. Clothes, or
lack of them, won't matter. Your own bodies will sink into suspended
animation."

Again the voice from the sound cone faded out. Ed's and Barbara's
eyes met in a tense congress of thought. They were being asked to
leave their natural, physical selves behind and to become beings of
vitaplasm. To many, that was horror in itself, even without a radical
change in size. Then there was the fear of loss of identity. To be an
exact duplicate in mind and memory might not necessarily mean to be
the same person. Here was a metaphysical problem elusive and hard to
answer. What others of experience might have told you could never quite
satisfy you. You had to learn for yourself.

Beyond all that, there was that drop, down and down into tininess, to
where physical laws themselves must seem warped by the relativity of
size levels, and to where nothing remained quite the same. Could one's
mind even endure the difference?

For a moment Ed felt cornered and panicky. But something eager and
questioning came into him. For the first time he wished that Barbara
had not come with him.

Finally he said, "I've got to go down, Babs. There just isn't any other
way."

"What's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, Ed," she said.
"With us, that was settled a while ago."

He didn't protest. She was resourceful. She'd be a help, not a trouble.
And he knew that love of adventure was as strong in her as in himself.
So the decision was made.

Suddenly they heard a distant clink and hammering. Metal against stone.
The canary had followed them to Mitchell Prell's underground fortress.
And of course the little mechanism had been merely a scout for some
larger party farther to the rear.

Again the words came from the sound cone, but in a whisper, "I
was pretty sure you'd be followed, Ed. But we should still have
considerable time. It'll be hard for them to break into here--without
destroying everything. And I think they'll want to see what I've got."

Ed Dukas had never before considered his brilliant tireless uncle in
any way impractical. But now he was sensing a certain inadequacy and
felt that Mitchell Prell truly needed him. If it was Mitchell Prell,
of course--if the voice itself wasn't a trick. But now Ed was at least
more confident that he was not being fooled. What doubt remained had to
be part of many calculated risks.

"All right, Uncle Mitch," he said.

Barbara smiled at him rather wanly, but her eyes held a glint. He
kissed her.

"So here goes, eh, Eddie?" she said.

"Be seein' yuh, sweetheart," he said, taking her in his arms.



VI


Stripped of their boots and vacuum armor, they set the controls and
lowered themselves into the gelatinous contents of the tanks. A warm,
tingling numbness flowed into them at contact with the viscous,
energized fluid. Weariness stabbed into their muscles. Their knees
buckled, and they sank deeper into the gelatin.

"All okay, Babs?" he asked.

"Okay, Ed."

Then their faces went under that surface. Their minds numbed and were
blotted out. They no longer needed to breathe.

The journey downward into a smaller, or, in a sense, a vaster region,
was made without their awareness, in a single step. There was no need
to pause at middle size, represented by the tiny but easily visible
doll-like figure in the minute tank. Mitchell Prell's labors in two
size levels need not be done again, for that work was finished. The
direct path was prepared. There was a flow of impulses, like that of
the old-time transmission of photographs over wires. Gelatins already
roughly of human form responded, swirled and moved tediously, and took
sharper shape, in a still-smaller vat. And it was the same with the
brains meant to harbor mind, memory and personality. They also were
repeated in a finer medium, and by a different principle than their
originals--but nonetheless repeated. So, in slightly more than an hour,
the essences of two human beings were re-created in the dimensions of
motes of dust.

       *       *       *       *       *

Awareness returned gradually to Ed. At first it was like a blur of
dreams, out of which came realization of a successful transformation,
and of where he must be. Panic followed, but briefly. He was struggling
violently in a thick, gluey substance. His entire body, even his face,
was imbedded in it. He was certain that he would smother--yet the
impulse to breathe was subdued.

Fighting the sticky stuff, he knew that he possessed great
strength--relatively. Some of this was the android power in him.
Perhaps more of it was the increased relative toughness of everything,
in lesser size. An ant was relatively stronger than a man--a phenomenon
of smaller dimensions. And here, even a gelatinous fluid seemed like
heavy glue, its molecular chains long and tough. Water itself, not
lying flat, but beading into dewdrops, would have seemed almost as
sticky.

Ed Dukas, or his tiny likeness, got clear of the vat and its contents,
though much of the latter still clung to him. On all fours he dragged
it with him, leaving a trail of it in his wake on a rough, glassy
surface. He kept spiraling around and around until he rid himself of
most of the gelatin.

With avidness and wonder and dread, his mind scrambled through a moment
of time to grasp the truths of his present state and to test them. Even
the act of _existing_ in the body he now inhabited was indescribably
different. His mouth was almost dry inside. He still could draw air
into his nostrils, but breathing became unnecessary before some source
of energy that was probably nuclear. His hands and his nude body still
looked slender and brown to him. And he retained memories--of people
he knew, sights he had seen, and of things he had learned. Here he
seemed to remain himself. Those memories were clear enough; but were
they already losing a little importance, were they too gigantic to be
concerned about in this place?

That thought, again, was panic at work--a sense of separation from
all that he held familiar. For the ato lamp towering over him seemed
as remote as the sun. The form of the less-than-miniature electron
microscope seemed a metal-sheened tower. And in his mind there was
even the certainty that his present form must be of a wholly different
design inside to meet different conditions. He knew that he could
feel the thump of a heavier heart, circulating relatively more viscous
fluids.

And something about his vision had changed. Close by, everything was
slightly blurred, as if he were far-sighted. Farther off, objects
became hazed, as by countless drifting, speeding dots that weren't
opaque but that seemed--each of them--to be surrounded by refractive
rings that distorted the view of what lay beyond them. And because
there were so many tiny centers of distortion constantly in motion,
vision at this middle-distance never quite cleared but remained
ashimmer. Were those translucent specks perhaps the auras of air
molecules themselves?

At a greater distance, clarity came again. For there the haze which
was not haze at all but which consisted merely of seeing too much
detail--in too coarse a grain, as under too much magnification--was
lost. Light and dark, and familiar rich colors. And he saw the whole
room around him almost as he used to see it, except for its limitless
vastness.

For a little while Ed wondered further about his new eyes. They were
responsive to familiar wave lengths of light. Those wave lengths were
not too coarse--at least when reflected from farther objects. For
nearer things, he was not at all sure that he could see even as well as
he could by ordinary light. Was his vision, in this segment, perhaps
electronic, then? Did he see, close at hand, fringed hints of strange,
beautiful hues? Were these electronic colors? Or were there infinitely
finer natural wave lengths, far above the known spectrum, which
too-massive instruments had been unable to detect?

This question was dropped quickly, because there was too much more.
Now he looked again, very briefly, out into the depths of air, full
of drifting debris--jagged stones that glinted, showing a crystalline
structure, twisted masses like the roots of trees, though they had the
sheen of floss. All of it was dust of one kind or another. Ed could
even hear the clink and rattle as bits of it collided. Everywhere
there were murmurings of sound, which made a constant, elfin ringing
never heard in the world he knew.

Gingerly now he crept across the rough glass surface, back toward
the vat from which he had emerged and its companion. Barbara was his
first concern. There she was, in the second vat, imbedded in a bead of
gelatin. Already she was trying to fight free. He reached both arms
into the stuff and tugged at her shoulders to help her. He lifted
her out easily and helped scrape away the adhering gelatin, while he
worried about how she might react to a tremendous change. To counteract
the shock of it, he kept up a running flow of talk, in a voice that
even seemed a little as it used to be:

"... We made it, Babs. Down to rock bottom, you might say. I don't
think that any conscious human shape could be made much smaller. Or
any machine, for that matter. Remember some old stories? Little men
lost in weed jungles, fighting spiders and things? Strange, unheard-of
adventure, in those days! Maybe we can even try it sometime. Except
that a spider, or even an aphid, wouldn't notice us. We're too small."

A little pink nymph with a rather determined jaw, she seemed only half
to listen as she stared around with large eyes.

Later, like two savages, they were clothing themselves crudely in
scraps of lint torn from what looked like a sleeping pallet. A fiber
was knotted across it in a way that reminded Ed of the safety straps by
which passengers of planes and space ships attached themselves to their
seats during take-offs and landings. Here, Prell, the tiny android,
must take his rare moments of rest. Some of the lint was far finer than
spiderweb, but it was still coarse to Ed and his wife in their present
state, as they wound its strands around them.

"You look beautiful, darling," he said. "You're just as you were."

Barbara smiled slightly. "Even here I'm vain enough to respond to
compliments, Eddie," she answered. "Where's Prell?"

Her voice was a thin thread in the keening murmur of sounds. And it
was worried. Ed and Barbara both craved the reassuring presence of
someone of experience here, where everything was changed--where minute
gusts of air seemed bent on hurling you upward, so that you would float
helplessly, like a mote. You stood up gingerly, meaning to try walking
a step. But that mode of locomotion seemed not only unsafe here but
impractical. You could be swept away, and in the vastness all around,
how could one mote find another again? Too much of what you were used
to was lost already. Even the habit of walking no longer functioned
properly. The air was a buoyant, resisting substance, a prickling
presence of individually palpable molecular impacts, and there was
little traction for one's feet. Perhaps, then, here you swam in the air.

Ed spoke at last: "My uncle can't be far away. He'll come to us. It's
been only a moment."

Barbara clung to him, afraid. "Eddie, am I me anymore? Can I even find
old ways of talking, and old subjects to talk about? Here? Everything
seems too different. Damn--I never could accept the idea of there being
two of anyone! Us up in those other tanks--giants asleep. And yet us
here! Maybe we're different already--shaped by other surroundings! And
remember how little we are and how helpless. Moving a couple of inches
would be like walking a mile. And we came here to see if we could find
a way to straighten out the giant affairs at home. We're _androids_
now, aren't we? A special kind. But we still have the capacity for the
old emotions. Damn it again, Eddie, everything around us in this place
is so strange. But it's beautiful, too."

He patted her shoulder and said nothing. But her thoughts paralleled
his own.

Suddenly there was a rumble, like distant thunder. In a more familiar
size level, it would have been a clink and a thud, coming through many
yards of granite. They both recognized it. Ed even chuckled.

"Whoever or whatever was following the canary machine," he said.
"Remember?"

Just then Mitchell Prell's simulacrum appeared, a comic, bearded
figure wrapped in a few strands of lint that suggested woven twigs.
He swam out of the depths of atmosphere--the fall-guy of an era that
had stumbled over its own achievements. And in several of those very
achievements, he had taken refuge.

He alighted near Ed and Barbara and wrung their hands cordially. Then
words spilled out of him excitedly: "Ed. Barbara. We've got to hurry.
But first we should put our minds straight about one another. I know
that back home you were on the side of responsibility and good sense.
Well, so am I. There haven't been many new quirks added to my viewpoint
since you first knew me, Eddie. I want knowledge to blossom into all
that it can give us. I think you do, too. Now tell me how you feel."

Mitchell Prell could still inspire Ed Dukas. Even here, at this
opposite, smaller end of the cosmos, he imagined again his splendid
towers of the future.

"There were moments when I felt pretty bitter," he said, in not too
friendly a fashion. "But in the main I'm with what you just said--all
the way. I put my life on it as a pledge."

Barbara nodded solemnly.

"Thanks," Prell answered, the breath that he'd drawn for speech
sighing out of him. "I'm more grateful than I can tell. You two may
think that we're too tiny--that our size makes us powerless. I don't
believe that's true. I was on Earth as I am, you know. I went there and
back--undetected--on space liners. But while on Earth I missed many
opportunities to act against danger. Maybe I'd been here too long, down
close to the basic components of matter, studying them. And I went to
Earth poorly equipped in both materials and experience. Well, I think
you can see how it was. Let it go for now. Visitors are at our door. I
suppose we've got to try to meet them in the manner that they deserve."

"Call the shots!" Ed said impatiently.

Mitchell Prell smiled rather wistfully. "The main part is done," he
replied. "I set the small remote controls of the large vats for revival
of the bodies in them--our larger selves. That was why I was delayed in
getting to you here. They are colossi. They cannot hide. And they must
be defended. I'm sorry, they are better able to defend themselves than
we are to defend them. At least they will a better chance alive than
inert. Revival takes a little time, but in a moment you will see."

Ed did not quite know what to think about this action on his uncle's
part--whether to agree to it or to suspect that it was somehow
a mistake. Circumstances were too strange here, and he was too
inexperienced. And the whole situation itself was fraught with
confusion for him. Two selves, both named Edward Dukas? It was not a
new circumstance in the ideas of the times. You knew that it could be.
Yet it remained a muddle of identities hard to straighten out. Barbara
clung to him again, her feelings doubtless similar to his own.

"It's happening," she whispered.

And it was. From their perch on the scored, glassy surface under a
miniature electron microscope, they looked out past the minute tanks
and the attendant cables, crystals and apparatus that had given them
special being, and across the shimmering void of air, they saw those
other vats, glassy, too, and tall as mountains.

It seemed then that the mountains opened, unfolded, grew taller,
disgorged Atlases that stepped dripping over a cliff wall. There was
no connection of mind now--these three giants were other people,
for the link had been broken in the past. There was no blending of
consciousness.

Now there were vibrations almost too heavy in this miniature region
to be called sounds. They were more like earthquake shocks. But Ed
realized that they were just the noises of normal human movement--the
giants Ed, Barbara and Mitch putting on their boots, the grind of their
footsteps. Meanwhile they conversed, it seemed; but their voices were
only a quiver, a rattle, with a hint of worried inquiry. The giant
Mitchell Prell seemed to make suggestions.

The lesser Prell must still have understood what was being said. For
now he gripped a roughly made microphone and talked into it. His words
were amplified to a seismic temblor as they emerged from the sound cone
on the far wall; but to Ed and Barbara they were still directly audible
from the speaker's own lips. "You've come down to me successfully.
Now we must see what will happen. Ed, if it is only the police at
our gates, perhaps it would be best simply to present yourselves as
citizens. You and Barbara have rights. And you've fulfilled your pledge
to them. They can't harm you. Beyond this, I must apologize to you
both. You have made a difficult journey to what must seem to you a
frustrating blank wall--without experiencing anything very new. That
is a defect of being duplicated. And there is no time now to blend
into your minds the memories of the descent into smallness. I'm sorry.
Mitchell Sandhurst Prell--yes, you, my overgrown former identity--show
them what to do. But for heaven's sake, move this workshop of mine to a
slightly less exposed place!"

Because he was like his old self, the smaller Ed Dukas still thought
as his original did. So, after all, there was that much contact. He
understood the frustration that had just been mentioned, plus the
confusion of not having seen the reality of another size level. This
failure could even involve suspicion of his uncle's purposes. But there
was loyalty and belief, too. From the basis of parallel minds, the
lesser Ed felt all these emotions personally.

So he moved quickly, closer to the tiny microphone, bent on giving
reassurance. He shouted into it; and of course his words came out
sounding somewhat mad: "Ed, it's me! Ed! Honestly! And that was a real
Mitchell Prell speaking. Take care of yourself--and Babs--because
you're me--or still part of me. And we both love Barbara--in any form.
Hello, Barbara, darling."

There was no time to say any more, for now there began a steady, heavy
vibration, growing gradually stronger. In a moment he guessed what
it was. A huge, high-speed drill had been brought into play against
granite. Very soon now these caverns would be invaded.

And more was happening. There were more seismic temblors. A colossus
moved nearer, bringing its shadow; its wet clothing seemed to be woven
of cables instead of thread. The face, briefly glimpsed, was a huge,
pitted mask, bearded with a forest of dark and tangled trunks. A wind
came with him, caused by his motion. He was that other Prell.

"Hang on!" his tiny android likeness yelled.

Ed of the dust-grain region drew his Barbara down. They flattened
together and clutched part of the intricate but roughly made apparatus
attached to the vats from which they had emerged, just as the glassy
floor under them tilted, and they were almost swept away by gusts of
air. Wires had been disconnected, and now the whole assembly--large
microscope with the miniature machine shop, middle-sized tank and
middle-sized doll figure under it, and the lesser electron microscope
with its similar though reduced equipment--was being carried and
hoisted.

It was set on a high shelf. And what must have been a translucent jar
was placed in front of it to hide it casually. Maybe there was no time
for anything else, for that rough vibration of the drill was becoming
rapidly more pronounced.

"They ought to put on oxygen helmets!" Barbara shouted in the quaking
tumult. "These vaults will be unsealed! And they aren't built to live
in Martian air!"

Maybe the three giants even heard her, through the mike and sound cone.
But they would know, anyway.

From the twilight of the jar's shadow, Ed could still see into the
immensity of the room. The colossi were donning their heavy gear.

The vibration had become a gigantic rattle with creaking, crackling
overtones, audible only to micro-ears. Ed felt almost shaken apart and
dazed by it. Any instant now the drill would break through into the
room. But he didn't anticipate much real trouble. It wasn't reasonable.
He felt fairly sure that it was the police who had followed his larger
self here. They had their duty to give protection, not harm. Their
power might be warped by the fears and prejudices of the times, but not
beyond reason.

He knew that there would be a jolt when the drill came through. So he
scrambled over to the pallet and pulled from it a long bit of floss,
thicker to him than a rope. Quickly he bent one end around his waist
and knotted it, and fastened the middle of it around Barbara. The far
end he passed to his uncle.

"Tie on!" he shouted. "So we don't get separated. And hold tight to
anything solid!"

The break-through came, and it was not too bad. It felt like a monster
ram hitting the world one sharp, stinging blow; then the spinning
mountain of the super-hardened drill bit--all of a yard across, it
must have been--braked quickly to stationary. There was no tumultuous
outrush of air of earthly composition and pressure. The drill hole had
evidently been capped.

Ed saw the colossi there in the room--the originals of himself, his
wife and his uncle--grimly clad for Mars. They had taken up positions
a little behind this obstacle or that, not ready to trust entirely but
more or less sure. He knew how it was--particularly with his other
identity. There had to be this tense moment before someone, known or
unknown, spoke. They were armed. At the hip that was still his own in
a way hung the Midas Touch pistol that he remembered, though it was
expanded seemingly a million fold.

The outcome was different from what he could have hoped or expected.
There was no voice of challenge or greeting from behind the drill. You
could not see beyond the dark space around its jagged rim. There was
only perhaps a small, intuitive warning before the neutrons of another
Midas Touch struck, and a few of the atoms of metal and flesh and
stone exploded in a narrow, sweeping curve, making a flash in which
all visible details became lost and a volume of sound and quaking in a
confined space that, of itself, could have killed.

The little Ed Dukas could be proud of his forerunner, for he was quick
enough to have half drawn his own Midas Touch, just as the blaze of
light came.

It didn't do any good. The lesser Ed's android consciousness was rugged
enough not to be lost, even as he and his companions, tethered like
beads on a string, were sucked upward into the swirling dust of the
atmosphere. So he saw how the Midas Touch, discharged from behind the
drill, cut slantingly, like a sword blade, across the room, its narrow
beam slicing through the three giants almost simultaneously. Then,
for a moment, coherence of impression was lost in swirl and glare and
tumbling motion. But when the tumult quieted slightly and he floated on
choppy air currents, he saw the crumpled, mountainous forms. Mitchell
Prell--colossal version--had been chopped in two at the waist. The
heads and shoulders of the other two giants had ceased to be.

To Ed Dukas's micro-cosmic nostrils, the smell of burned flesh remained
unchanged. Nor was his capacity for horror any different. It came after
that small, numb pause of doubt of what he had just seen. He heard the
lesser Prell and the lesser Barbara shout from beside him. They had not
been torn loose from the joining strand--luckily.

At first he thought that the attack had come from someone other than
those who had trailed him. But then the drill point moved forward.
From behind it stepped several men, wearing the trim vacuum armor of
Interworld Security--usually honorable in the past but now sometimes
made shaky and corrupt by the doubts within its own ranks and among the
people about what, within the realm of human effort, was good or bad.

The group had a leader. Ed and his companions drifted idly in the air,
near the man's shoulders, but his helmeted head still loomed in the sky
of their present world. Old personality hints were hard to translate
from such magnitudes; but the cocky briskness and triumph showed. There
were rumblings and quakings of speech. Ed began to recognize repeated
patterns in the rattle of it. Centuries ago, the deaf had had a way
to "hear"--by sense of touch. And by feeling the heavy vibration, Ed
knew that he was "hearing" syllables too heavy for his present auditory
organs to detect as such: "... Prell's lab ... Dukas led us...."

Ed could still understand only scattered scraps; but the skill was
coming--now, with his body, he felt the stinging discord which must
have been a harsh laugh.

Now a gust of wind from a vast swinging arm lifted the strand of floss
and the three who were tied to it upward. Beyond the view window of the
helmet, Ed saw the tremendous face--rolling plains and hills, pitted
with pores and hair follicles, and scaled with skin, beneath which the
individual living cells were easily visible, the latter mysteriously
haloed around the edges with a faint luminosity. The mouth was a long,
rilled valley, crescented into a hard grin. The nose was a crag. The
eyes were concave lakes set in rough country and islanded with iris and
pupil.

"You know him, don't you, Eddie?" Barbara said.

Size did not hide the bullish quality or the gimlet stare. Rather, it
emphasized an ugliness of character.

"Of course," Ed answered. "Carter Loman, who was with Chief Bronson and
who spoke to us before we left. An unidentified official with whom we
made the deal to come here. Nice guy. Feels that he can be the whole of
the law out here in the remote Martian desert."

Again Loman addressed his henchmen. Ed was getting better at
understanding the vibrating words: "We'll clear everything out for
shipment back home. I've got to study this equipment! But before we
even open a door we'll sterilize everything with a four per cent
neutron stream. That'll kill even that damned vitaplasm! Fascinating,
devilish stuff! Too bad, in a way, to erase it here--because I think I
know what's still around, and I'd like to see. But we can't take the
risk. A snake I might give a chance, but not a robot or robot-lover!"

Loman paused, then spoke again, turning his head this way and that,
directing his words toward the invisible: "Prell, you're dead, but are
you still somehow here? What can't happen in the crazy age you helped
create? On Earth we psyched your nephew. Don't think I didn't guess
what you were doing. Now we've taken your carcass into the other room
to psych your dead brain. In a few minutes we'll know. There'll be ways
to stop your kind of folly!"

As the great head continued to turn here and there questioningly, the
still-living Mitchell Prell shouted in derision: "Here I am, crusader!"

But there were no microphone and sound-cone in action now, and Loman
did not hear him.

Maybe Barbara's present eyes were too minute to shed tears, but her
face looked as though she were weeping. "Loman is the worst kind
of fanatic," she said. "Sure that he's right, and blind about it.
Sadistic, energetic and, I suppose, clever."

"I'll tell you more about him," Mitchell Prell offered softly. "His
face gives a faint glow--a fine radiation that only our eyes can see.
Radioactivity. It wouldn't be visible on Earth, where oxygen gives even
an android bodily energy. But on Mars--or wherever else that oxygen
is in short supply--vitaplasm adapts readily to other energy sources.
It would be silly for him to carry air purifiers in that helmet he's
wearing."

Ed Dukas looked down at his own arms. Yes, they glowed, too, though
he'd hardly noticed it before in the light of the great ato lamps.

"Then Loman is an android who hates androids!" Barbara breathed. "Well,
I guess that hating one's own kind has happened often enough before.
But an android in the Interworld Police? Under physical examination, he
could never hide what he is."

"Legally, they still have equal rights," Ed answered. "That much I'm
glad for. They couldn't be kept out of the Force. But there could be
other twists, not so unprejudiced. A thief sent to catch a thief, would
you say? Something strong, and full of self-hatred, sent out to match
strength? Tom Granger, and thousands of others, might think like that."

Ed Dukas's anger broke through at last, slow and terrible. Maybe he
had been too startled before for exact meanings to register. The other
Barbara, whom he loved, had been murdered, her body mangled. It was the
same with his own other self, and his uncle's. Those bodies had been
the one available route back to all familiar things and out of this
weird place of expanded forms, warped physical laws, keening sounds and
distances multiplied a millionfold. But now those bodies were gone. And
even if beings invisible in smallness could escape death in neutron
streams from Midas Touch pistols turned low, there would be little left
that they, in their tininess, could work with. They would be stranded
here in a microcosmos for as long as they could survive, helpless to
move even a pebble.

These thoughts were fringed with a homesickness that Ed had never
before known. He wondered if a little dust-grain android could go mad.
It was Carter Loman's fault. No, the responsibility extended further
than that! To Tom Granger, the rabble-rouser, and those like him,
and those who listened. And to a renegade android leader of mythical
origin. Yes, it was Mitchell Prell's fault, too, and his own for coming
here and bringing Barbara.

With his two companions, Ed Dukas floated high in the air, supported
by molecular impacts, near the helmeted head of an Atlas called Carter
Loman, and felt his fury and the helpless contrast of dimensions.
This giant, aided by his henchmen, had all of the advantage, while Ed
and his wife and uncle could be blown away merely by the wind of that
monster hand in motion.

Loman was throwing words at Mitchell Prell again, his voice coming
easily through the thin face plate of his helmet. It was not a true
sound to micro-ears. Rather, it was a heavy quiver in the air, felt
with one's entire body. "Prell, I'm sure you haven't stopped existing.
Don't think that I can't understand how. And you did things to me.
There was your Moonblast, but that wasn't the worst. Everything you
stand for must be stamped out. Even if we all go with it."

Maybe it was then that Ed's thoughts became crystalized. His anger was
turned cold and clear, as if by need. Although Ed was of vitaplasm
himself, he felt no loyalty to kind. In fact, he was still far from
reconciled to the condition. But an enemy of reason was an enemy to all
men of whatever sort.

His wits were sharpened. Suddenly a realization of the power in
smallness came to him--combined with the hardiness and flexibility
of flesh that made even such dimensions and powers possible. Android
powers.

"I guess everybody must have a breaking point of fear and
exasperation," he said softly. "We were born to it. To be crowded from
the Earth can seem a terrible idea. But maybe even that is as it should
be, and good. I can't agree that pushing everything into extinction
in an open fight can be any better. We've gained too much. There is
too much wonder ahead. And maybe, small as we are, we can quiet the
leaders. Under the right conditions, I think we could handle these
giants--even kill them if necessary. Quieting Loman and Granger might
help a little."

"I know," Mitchell Prell answered. "I thought of it myself. Perhaps I
didn't have the nerve to carry the idea through. Maybe that was why I
wanted you to come to me on Mars--where I had the apparatus to change
you. Microbes are smaller than we are, yet they used to kill men."

Ed Dukas saw his wife wince. But this couldn't make any difference now.

"Ed and Barbara, I'm sorry for all I've gotten you into," Prell added.

"Don't be," Ed told him. "Who can regret a chance to try to do some
good in what seemed a hopeless conflict? Now, first, let's get out of
here, if we still can or ever could."

Ed felt some of the command switching to himself--strange, because his
uncle knew far more about these regions than he did. But Mitchell Prell
was made more for study than for physical action. And he was somewhat
fuddled by the effects of the miracles he had helped produce.



VII


The colossi were piling Mitchell Prell's movable equipment into a
corner, where Midas Touch pistols, turned low, could play neutron
streams against it. Then they would no doubt scour walls, floors and
ceilings with the same corpuscular beams. The air itself would heat
up considerably. Combustible floating dust, would burn to finer dust.
Drafts would seem blasting hurricanes.

"There's a way out--if we hurry," Mitchell Prell said. "Imitate my
movements."

And so they swam in the atmosphere. But without other aid it would have
been slow going indeed. But the motion of dust particles revealed the
direction of air currents that could be gotten into and used to cover
distance.

Still, progress back to the shelf and the microscopes, and the tiny
workshop from which they had been blown but a few minutes before, was
agonizingly slow. By luck and scanty concealment offered by the jar,
this paraphernalia had not yet been discovered or moved by Loman and
his men.

Ed and his companions came to rest at last on the rough glass surface
where little machines were arranged around the vats and their apparatus.

"Tools that we can use," Ed said. "And materials that we can work.
We've got to try to take some things along. To make weapons. Could we
contrive Midas Touch pistols that we could hold?"

"Maybe," Prell answered. "I hope so. Take this, and that--and that over
there. Hurry."

Creatures of vitaplasm, with its complex combinations of silicon
compounds paralleling the hydrocarbons, and its internal metabolism
that could even involve transmutation and subatomic energy release,
still could die under sufficiently violent conditions.

The three tiny androids scrambled to gather supplies and to equip
themselves. Ed was awkward in the new conditions, where even the
atmosphere tried to tear him away from any firm foothold. But he loaded
himself down.

Before they were finished gathering all that they could use, the rattle
and flare of Midas Touch weapons, turned low so as not to damage
Mitchell Prell's various apparatus, but strong enough to destroy any
clinging speck of synthetic life that Carter Loman might suspect
the presence of, began behind them. Prell's experimental plant life
withered slowly.

"Lead on!" Ed Dukas shouted.

And so, though hurricanes had begun for them, they crept across the
glazed surface beneath the barrel of the little electron microscope
and dropped into the air at its edge. It was like leaping from a
cliff. But it was different, too. For if they had not been so heavily
burdened, they might not even have fallen. Being such small objects,
they had a greater exposed surface than large objects, in proportion to
their bulk. This greater surface, like a sail presented to the wind,
offered a larger area for speeding molecules to hit; hence, without the
equipment, they would have been as buoyant as dust particles.

Still lashed together by their joining strand of floss, the three
fugitives drifted slowly down to the rear of the shelf.

"An inch more to go," Prell shouted, in grim humor. "A rather long one,
I'm afraid."

Again they crept. Rough stone of the cupboardlike compartment rose
around them, seemingly taller than buildings they had known. And it
glowed reddish-violet. Fluorescence, it must be, from the scattered
radiations of the Midas Touch weapons. Tediously the three crawled
toward escape, as if through a night of fire and violence. Finally they
reached a minute steel door in the corner of the cupboard, half hidden
in the roughness of the stone.

They closed the door behind them and refastened its crude bolt. The
space around them now was narrower--more in proportion to their own
size. And there was a glow here--at least to their final eyesight.
Perhaps there was a trace of radioactive ore in the rock causing the
glow. The walls were as rough as a cave's.

"Just a chink in the stone," Barbara commented.

"Yes," Prell replied. "A crevice leading out to the face of the rock
formation. Feel the draft of Martian night air? It would smother
and freeze you if you were as you were born. But our flesh not only
resists cold, it can create plenty of warmth within itself. We will be
perfectly comfortable here, and safe--I think. Do you want to rest?"

"No," Barbara told him. "We don't really need that, either, do we? So
let's begin what must be done. What are our plans, Ed?"

"We'll make a few things, if we can," Ed replied. "Then get to a
spaceport somehow. I suppose that if we pick the right wind at the
right time, it will blow us there--eh, Uncle Mitch? Then we'll do as
you did--drift into a space liner and get a free ride back home to
Earth. There--well, we'll see. If we're very, very lucky, we might
even get our old selves back."

Just then that recovery seemed to be his greatest, most desperate
yearning, with many, many obstacles in its way. Even their personal
recordings were in enemy hands now. Small though those cylinders were,
they were far too huge for them to move or to think of recapturing.

"Where can we start to work?" Ed said to his uncle.

"Farther along the cleft," Prell told him. "I've already cached some
supplies there. And there's a level space in a side cleft protected
from these constant air currents."

Now they leaped upward and let the draft carry them. The muted quivers
of destruction in the chambers from which they had just escaped, they
left behind them. They arrived in the work area and got busy at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

Near dawn they felt the quiverings of unusual sounds. So they followed
air currents, betrayed by drifting particles of fluorescent dust, to a
crack that showed starshot sky and the undulating desert. Thus they saw
Carter Loman's caravan start back toward Port Karnak, with its booty
of all that Mitchell Prell had made here: the fruit of a man's mind.
But to Loman it was also the worst of the world's inventions. Loman was
an android and also, obviously, a central figure, a personage of some
importance, or he would not have been sent on this mission. But his
mind remained that of a bigot.

Just then Ed Dukas found a savage pleasure in shaking one of the
smallest fists ever to exist at the three retreating tractor vehicles.
"Loman, Granger and the rest of you," he said, "there'll come a time.
You've been fools. You were born too late."

The work went on for days--more tediously than Ed could have imagined,
even with only hand tools to use. The same old metals seemed
unbelievably hard at this size level--and coarse in texture--as if the
atoms themselves had expanded. Barbara could scrub and scrub with a
bit of abrasive mineral, achieving only what seemed a poor excuse for
a polish. Hammering did little good in shaping such metals, though Ed
Dukas and Mitchell Prell were relatively so much stronger than they had
been. Only cutting and pressure tools were effective, when aided by
the softening heat of a forge--a tiny speck of nuclear incandescence
maintained by a neutron stream and carefully screened, though
vitaplasm, being actively or latently radioactive itself, was far less
endangered by radiation than protoplasm.

But at last they produced three rough, cylindrical devices and their
fittings.

Ed Dukas began to adjust to littleness. But to see boulders with their
stratified layers of mica floating lazily through the thin air never
lost its wonder. Crazy beauty was all around: strange, rich colors;
keening musical notes--fine overtones of normal sounds. Sometimes, in
the daylight, near cracks open to the outdoors, you saw living things
seldom bigger than yourself: Martian life; little pincushions of
deep, translucent purple veined with red and pronged with cilia of an
indescribably warm hue. These were Martian microorganisms blown in by
the breeze.

And once there was something else that Ed and Barbara both saw:
something like the smallest of Earthly insects, but not that, either.
A thing of steel-blue filaments and great eyes, and vibrating vanes as
glossy as transparent plastic. Ed knew that he could shatter it with
his hands. It rested in the sunshine for a moment; then it was gone.

"I suppose that there are star worlds as odd as this," Barbara
commented.

She was strange herself--an elfin being that floated in the air, her
form dimly aglow whenever there was shadow or darkness. To Ed, she
was part of his vast separation from Earth. In accustoming himself to
an environment where even the simple act of walking was a memory, it
seemed that Earth dimmed away, easily yet frighteningly, like a dream,
until Ed knew that, degree by degree, his mind was becoming different
than it had been, and he not quite the same person. And it seemed more
so with Babs.

"Bacon and eggs for breakfast, Eddie," she teased once, lightly. "Walks
under old trees beside a river. The Youth Center. Teachers I used to
know. Yes, I remember. But the memory tries to get dim. And I want to
hold on. Got to, because there are things to be done. But sometimes I
wonder if I shouldn't regret the duty. I think of swimming in raindrops
or floating high over trees--being as whimsical as children and poets
can imagine. We could do it! It's part of being super, isn't it? And I
used to be scared of becoming an android!"

It was fun, and relief from grimness, to hear her talk like that. And
now, too, he half agreed that being of synthetic substance was not so
bad. Yet part of him still ached savagely for his old dimensions. And
here in smallness he sometimes felt that she was changing so much that
he was losing her--that she would let herself be blown away into the
vastness, never to be seen again.

They ate a food-jelly, which Prell had prepared long ago for his
sojourn here, and radioactive silicates. In it you could see the
thready molecular chains and the beads of moisture between. Viscosity
complicated etiquette. Everything tried to stick to you. You laughed
and shook it off as best you could.

But even in fantastic moments grim facts didn't truly fade. Hard work
helped sustain them. Murder and loss were too new. The danger on Earth
was still too plain--perhaps poised on hours or weeks of time. Speed
was the keynote.

Only once the three micro-beings peeped back into the lab that had
belonged to Mitchell Prell, colossus. It was empty now, glowing with
the taint of radiation left by the Midas Touch pistols. No one had
troubled to neutralize it, as had surely been done with the removed
equipment.

Mitchell Prell had built a radio, like one he had owned before. A flake
of quartz dust, a few rough strands of metal, an insignificant power
supply. Simple, compact. Certain crystals were sensitive to radio
waves. And at these tremendously reduced dimensions, they could convert
tiny induced electric currents almost directly into fine sound waves
that infinitely refined ears could hear.

So Ed Dukas heard the interplanetary newscast again: "... Android
groups are still massing in large numbers to seek safety among
their own kind and perhaps to carry out their own plans. There is a
superficial calm. Fear of consequences so far seems to have kept both
sides in check. We hope that it can hold."

Later there was a broadcast from Port Smitty: "... This information was
withheld but has now been released. The mystery of Mitchell Prell's
disappearance is believed solved after ten years. What is claimed to
be his body--much damaged, since he and his confederates, one of whom
is supposed to be a close relative, resisted capture and had to be
shot down--was brought in to Port Smitty and is now en route to Earth,
along with some mysterious equipment. The man who tracked Prell down
is Carter Loman, a scientist in his own right, who has had a brief
but brilliant career in Interworld Security. Detailed information is
under seal, but Prell, a known advocate of 'improved mankind,' has been
wanted for questioning and possible indictment for a long time. It has
been suggested that his researches had gone further than most would
dare to imagine."

Mitchell Prell, micro-being, chuckled. "The funny part," he remarked,
"is that I never became a full-size android myself. My old carcass
seemed good enough. Or I didn't get around to a change."

But Ed didn't smile at this. And he looked savage when one of Tom
Granger's speeches was rebroadcast: "Prell ended? Can we believe it?
There is an evil that could restore him in known ways. Now are there
unknowns, too? Haven't we had enough? Some things from drunken visions
are destroyed, but others come, to make our nights hideous. A creature
with a fifty-foot wingspread swoops down on a house, and people die.
Are androids any different from what they create? But we are fortified,
armed. If we must, we'll fight to the last."

No doubt there was truth behind the melodramatic oratory--at least as
far as the horror was concerned. Barbara smiled sadly.

"He's earnest, I think," she offered. "So there's that much glory and
courage in him, if there isn't any control. And you keep wondering, Is
he half right?"

"I know," Ed answered with some contrition. "But I'd rather have what
he considers a scientific hell than nothing. Well, we'll soon be en
route back to Earth--unseen. Then maybe we'll find out and accomplish
something. Lack of sense, like Granger's, or the muddled way in which
laws are often interpreted now, will never work. That's one fact I'm
sure of, even in a booby-trapped situation."

Ed was trying to be optimistic. In three weeks they had made equipment
that they thought they could use. The three cylinders were Midas Touch
pistols--neutron blast guns that could explode a few of the atoms of
any solid or liquid that their beams touched. They also had a dozen
grenades of the same principle and tubes to carry scant rations. There
was a radio for each of the three--for reception, but also limitedly
useful as transmitters. And there were knapsacks and clothing made from
linten fiber pounded and divided as Prell had never bothered to do.

"We'll catch the first Earth-bound ship that we can," Prell said.
"Queer, isn't it? If we could truly walk, going a mile would seem
impossible. But the prevailing winds and a little jockeying will get us
to Port Karnak. The tube train will take us to the space ships."

Prell had spoken too soon. Within that same hour, listening to the
newscast, they learned: "For security reasons, interplanetary traffic
has been indefinitely suspended."

Ed Dukas winced as if in pain. He and Barbara and Prell looked at one
another. In Ed's strange, small body, frustration and bitter anger
fairly hummed.

"Security reasons." That could be a blanket excuse--minus
explanations--for almost anything. Loman, knowing of something inimical
and microscopic, and guessing at an intended journey from Mars, could
well have had a hand in the suspension order. He was wary, and not sure
that he had destroyed his hidden enemies.

The three stared down at the equipment that they had toiled so hard
to produce. But Ed, like many another man before him who had been
cornered, couldn't have quit even if he had willed it. Stubborn spunk,
fear, need to regain losses, self-preservation and the awareness of the
danger of millions of well-intentioned individuals, both android and
human, all took part in the reason. And you could add the ancient and
primal lust for revenge.

Ed crouched with the others on the rough floor of their chink in
the rock. "Wait," he said at last. "Haven't small objects crossed
space naturally--at least in hypothesis? Yes! Spores--living dust,
their vital functions suspended. The old Arrhenius Theory of the
propagation of life from world to world and solar system to solar
system--throughout the universe. A spore, drifting high in an
atmosphere, achieves escape velocity through molecular impacts and
perhaps the pressure of solar light. It's driven into space, and
onward. Uncle Mitch, couldn't the same thing happen to us far more
readily, since we're not inert and we have minds to help direct our
movements? Since we have beams of massive neutrons from the Midas Touch
weapons? And aren't we more rugged than the first androids? Wouldn't we
have a middling chance to endure raw space itself?"

Mitchell Prell eyed him quietly. Perhaps even his android cheeks
blanched a trifle. "Something like that occurred to me once--a long
time ago, Ed," he remarked at last, his voice very calm. "I didn't
think it through. I guess it seemed just too out of the ordinary even
for me. And there wasn't any need to try it. Perhaps I was scared."

"There's need now," Ed said.

Barbara's expression was a study of eagerness and half fear. "Eddie,
have you maybe discovered something?" she exclaimed. "Uncle Mitch, if
there is any chance that it would work, I'm game to try it!"

After a moment the scientist nodded. "I believe that there's a good
chance it will work," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the next sunup they were ready. Clothed in garments of linten
fiber, they looked like savages from fifty thousand years before. Yet
their present condition could have belonged to no primitive era. They
were united by a tough line of twisted strands, and their equipment was
lashed to their backs. To human eyes they would have been as invisible
as spirits. Were they to demonstrate, even unintentionally, android
superiority in yet another field? Maybe, maybe not.

From the outlet of the crevice in the rock, they flung themselves into
the atmosphere above the gray desert. Their great advantage at this
stage was that, at the Martian dawn fringe, there were many updrafts,
for the air, chilled fearfully at night, was already warming. At
once they were sucked upward, as if by a vertical wind. Still, the
first phase of their climb took many hours. They kept watching for
upward-moving motes to guide them. Short, rocketlike bursts of heavy
neutrons from their Midas Touch cylinders provided the reaction or kick
to get them into the swiftest vertical currents.

Mars dropped far below, a dun plain marked here and there by the
straight, artificial valleys or "canals." The relative vastness of a
world to beings of pinpoint dimensions was nullified by the distance of
altitude, until it looked no more extensive than it would have to the
eyes that used to be theirs. Mars developed a visible curvature and a
rim of haze, fired to redness by the rising sun. The sky above darkened
from hard, deep blue toward the blackness of space, and the stars
sharpened. The sun blazed whitely, and the frosty wings of its corona
began to show. The thinning atmosphere seemed to develop a definite
surface far beneath the three voyagers.

They had spoken little in their ascent; but now the free movement of
sound was smothered by the increasing vacuum, and there were only
gestures and lip movements to convey meanings.

But there was not much that really needed to be said. The plan remained
simple: get into trains of upward-jetting molecules, marked by small
blurs or warpings of light. Absorb some of that upward surge into
yourselves. How often had this same thing happened, without conscious
design? Molecules move fast in a high vacuum. Molecular velocity was
heat, wasn't it? But here it could not burn. For heat is chained to
matter, and here there was just not enough matter to be hot.

Ed thought that they must be getting close to the Martian velocity of
escape now. Only three-point-two miles per second. They might have
attained it more simply by making greater use of their Midas Touch
cylinders. There was scarcely any reactive thrust more efficient than
that of neutrons hurled at almost the speed of light. But there was a
pride in accomplishing it in a more difficult way. Besides, the energy
supply for the weapons must be conserved.

But now Prell signaled with his hand, and they began to use the
cylinders in earnest, shifting their course little by little from the
vertical and in the direction of the sun. For it was time to curve
inward--earthward. Swiftly now, there was no molecular distortion
around them at all. Sense of motion faded out. Their high velocity was
demonstrated only by the rapid shrinking of Mars behind them; unless,
from sunward there came a minute, resisting thrust. Light pressure? But
it would take a longer time in space than they meant to be to slow them
down at all.

"We've done this much!" Ed said with his lips, but without a voice.

Barbara nodded and tried to smile, and he reached out and pressed her
hand. Prell looked awed and bemused.

Ed tried then to read part of their fortunes in the reactions of his
strange, minute body to the rigors of space. It was an atomic mechanism
more than it was a chemical one. Therefore, it needed no breath. And
the strong, radiant energy of the sun warmed it a little, so he did
not feel cold. Hard ultraviolet light seemed not to harm it. There was
only a sensation as of the shrinking of its hide--perhaps an adaptive
reaction of its demoniac vitality--to protect the trace of moisture
within it against the dryness of space. The fluid within vitaplasm
could be alcohol or liquid air--it was that adaptable. Prell had said
this recently. Such fluids did not freeze easily. But they evaporated.
So water remained the best body fluid in dry space. For in the full
light of the sun, and with a nuclear metabolism, freezing was not a
great danger.

       *       *       *       *       *

Several days out from Mars the three contacted a small meteor
swarm--maybe a fragment of a comet moving sunward and earthward. They
moved with the swarm and landed on a chunk of whitish rock perhaps
eight inches through at its largest diameter. But to them it was an
airless world into which they could burrow, blocking the entrance to
their shelter with chalky dust--a fortunate thing, for in the open the
sun's glare and aridity of space were drying out even their android
tissues and blurring their minds.

The meteor proved not quite lifeless, for on it clear crystalline
needles crumbled and rose again. Call it silicon biology, proving that
one could never know where something might thrive. In a fall into any
atmosphere, such growth would surely be burned away without a trace.

Ed and Barbara and Prell learned to understand silent speech by
watching lip movements. The need for hurry still beat in their minds,
but drowsiness crept over them--perhaps another androidal adaptability
was functioning here, related to the hibernation of animals in winter.
It lessened loss of vitality when conditions were not too favorable.
But you could resist its compulsions if you applied your will.

The meteor moved on swiftly in the general direction of Earth. The
journey would take weeks, and though Ed felt that never had there been
a crossing of distance as eerily strange as this one, still the passage
of time, and the events it held, was always with him and his companions.

There was a way for them still to experience real sounds, even here.
The quartz-flake radio sets, pressed tight to their ears, transmitted
vibrations through their own substance, when there was no air. They
heard fragments of broadcasts coming from Earth. Pictures of what was
happening there came to mind:

A score of monsters destroyed by hunting parties. A side issue, really.
For in guard post and sketchily fortified line, man faced the hardier
likeness that his knowledge had produced. When there were no clearly
defined geographical boundaries to separate the poised forces, you
never knew just where those lines would be.

But the scared, the pleading, the exhorting voices, faint in the
distance, gave the mood, if not the clear view. Tom Granger was there,
and others like him. The latest claim was that vitaplasm gave off
poisonous radioactive radiations--not very true on Earth, where its
vital energy remained mainly chemical.

Those with sense also tried to be heard. And there were other voices
calling for the retreat to simplicity and the doing of work by hand.
Such a pastoral of white clouds, green hills and sunshine could
have its appeal. But how could its philosophy and inefficiency feed
billions? Even if it were not just a bright vision seen before the last
battle?

And in the midst of all this babble, there was another voice that was
faint thunder: "... Got things of our own now, here in the woods! Even
our own newscast station. Damn, we've taken enough! We Phonies won't go
back no further! Time to be stubborn--even if we all die for it and
never come back! They say folks would like to hang me--which shows how
much wits they've got! Even if they got the chance, it wouldn't work!"

With a faint smile, Barbara's lips formed the name for her companions
to read: "Abel Freeman...."

Ed nodded, watching his uncle's quizzical interest over an individual
and a legend that he had only heard them tell about. And Ed had his own
reactions, compounded of admiration, humor and icy mistrust that came
close to hatred. Whatever else he was, Abel Freeman was also a figure
of power.

Barbara's pixyish mouth--she was more than ever a pixy--shaped other
words as they crouched at the entrance of a tiny cave that they had
excavated into their meteor. Outside, the sunshine blazed.

"I've almost said it before, Ed," she remarked. "All these things
happening on Earth are still important to me--never fear. But I'm
a little too different now to quite belong to it. It gets like a
dream--kind of remote."

Ed had been feeling this himself--almost with panic, because he was
enough the person he had been to ache inside with the importance and
tension of what happened at home. Yet somehow part of him was drifting
away on its own special course.

"Hold on, Babs, a little longer," he urged.

They fell into torpid sleep after they had devised a mechanism to
arouse them with an electric shock at an appointed time. It conserved
their strength and allowed them to pass the long interval quickly.

Ed Dukas's slumber was not altogether dreamless. Like shadows,
people moved in his mind. His parents. His old friend Les Payten,
who perhaps had shown the white feather and had been lost to a small
viewpoint. Schaeffer, one of the greatest scientists, barricaded in
his underground lab in the City. And Harwell, the efficient but daring
adventurer--another legend of his boyhood, who sometime was supposed
to command the first star ship. And perhaps most of all, there was that
fantastic android bigot, Carter Loman, who aroused his black fury.

Perhaps Ed slept lighter than the others and awoke more quickly to the
tingling prickle of electricity, because he had to run the show. The
major burden of responsibility was his.

He shook his wife and his uncle awake and pointed to the blue-green
bead that was the Earth, still several million miles away. Lashing
their equipment to their shoulders and tying onto one another's waists
like Alpine climbers, they leapt back into space one more, pushed by
the neutron thrust of their Midas Touch cylinders. They had to make the
rest of their trip apart from their meteor, which would not pass any
nearer to Earth.

When the home planet was expanded by nearness to a great, mottled,
fuzzy bubble, Ed tugged at the line for attention and spoke without
sound in the stinging silence: "We've talked everything over before,"
he said. "So we know generally what to do--though only generally. We'd
like to stick together. But there is just no way to do that and work
fast--which may be a vital point. So we'll soon have to scatter. But
we'll listen on our receivers. At least one of us should be able to
find a way to communicate back. Failing that, we still know where to
meet. Remember--the oak by my old house. The valley made by the trunk
and the lowest branch."

Prell's brows knitted, his mind probably steeped in the swift, strange
action to come. Barbara gave a soundless laugh.

"The crotch of an oak!" her lips commented. "What a trysting place! But
it seems natural enough. Are we mad, or were we once just dull?"

Was her gaiety just bravado, or was she as cool as she seemed? Ed hoped
that she was cool. Tugging at the linten line that joined them, Ed drew
himself close to her.

"You don't have to speak, Eddie," she told him. "I know what you're
thinking. But why shouldn't I--and all of us--be all right?"

Her face had sobered. She looked strong. And so he was somewhat
relieved. He kissed her. Perhaps it was odd that dust-mote beings still
could do that.



VIII


Ed and Barbara and Prell came to the parting of the ways sooner than
they had intended. Without instruments, it was hard to judge velocity.
They did not use their Midas Touch cylinders quite long enough to check
speed sufficiently as they approached the great blue-green planet with
its blurred ring. They hit the atmosphere, not really fast, but fast
enough. Briefly, sound was reborn around them in a shrieking whistle,
like a vast, thin wind. They tumbled over and over, and the strand
that kept them together was broken. Tumultuous currents of the high
ionosphere separated and scattered them as they plummeted lower.

Ed was unhurt. And did he hear--more in his imagination than his ears,
here in the muffling semi-vacuum--a distant laugh and shout: "It's
all right, Eddie ..."? The impression faded away, like the voice of
some gay sprite vanishing. He'd thought before of losing Barbara. Now
they were two specks, separated from each other in the infinity of the
terrestrial atmosphere. Even with the logic of plan and method, there
was still some unbelief about how they would ever find each other again.

Using his radio, he tried to call. But there was no answer. The
microscopic instrument could pick up messages from powerful stations
millions of miles away. But for transmission, its range and that of
those like it had to be ridiculously short: perhaps a score of yards--a
fair distance in proportionate units.

Ed was drifting now, alone and high, as his wife and uncle must be,
too. Well, they'd meant this to happen soon anyway. So there was no
real difference, was there? Get down to work quickly, down to the
surface, where the high clouds seemed to lie flat on the gray Atlantic
and on the nearby greenery of the continent. Ed's cylinder flamed,
forcing him lower toward the City. His first chosen task was to find
Carter Loman, a key enemy. Prell's objective was Tom Granger; then he
would try to contact the androids, perhaps through Abel Freeman. And
Barbara was to try to spike the trigger of violence by whatever means
she could. That, in fact, was the greatest purpose of them all.

Downdrafts aided Ed's descent, while he listened to his quartz-chip
radio. Was one who figured as prominently as Loman in the strained
news of the day ever difficult to find? Ed did not anticipate too
much trouble in locating him. Many people would know where Loman was
and mention of the place would be frequent. Crowds would follow him
everywhere.

As Ed watched a wolfish patrol of armed spacecraft, flying low on their
atmospheric foils, the information came easily enough: "... Carter
Loman's quarters at the Three Worlds Hotel are constantly under guard."

Ed was far more proficient now in getting around swiftly in the region
of smallness. Erratically but effectively, using currents of air and
the thrust of his Midas Touch blast, he descended toward a sky-piercing
tower. He drifted into the doorway of the hotel's sumptuous lobby,
marred now by the grim additions of radiation shields. For a few
minutes Ed perched on the reception desk; he was less noticeable there
than a fleck of cigarette ash.

There were constant inquiries for Loman, by telephone and in person,
made mostly by newscast men. The clerks fended them off briskly. But
soon there came whispered thunder, so low that it was almost audible to
Ed as sound and not merely sensible as a heavy vibration: "More mail
for Mr. Loman...."

The spark of Ed's propelling cylinder was almost too small to see as he
jetted to the heavy bundle of letters and rode up with the attendant,
past the guards, and slid with a skittering envelope through a mail
slot, and into Carter Loman's presence.

He was sprawled on a bed and was clad in full vacuum armor of a type
heavier than would have been necessary even on a dead world. It was
pronged with special details as well: filaments, like parts of the
insides of a Midas Touch weapon. Hovering over the vast shape, Ed felt
the hard, stinging punch of a few scattered neutrons hitting his body
before he ventured too close. Even though his own life was subatomic in
principle, enough of those infinitesimal pellets could kill him. Loman
had evidently grown wary and nervous, guessing with shrewd imagination
what dangers he might now face. In addition to his massive costume,
this android who hated his kind was wearing an aura of low-speed
neutrons, constantly being projected from the filaments on his armor.
Just then, the savagery inside Ed felt its bitter frustration. Loman
even mistrusted the ban on space travel.

The enormous face beneath him, framed beyond the glaze of a helmet
window, did not look at ease. Loman was muttering. He must have been at
it, off and on, for a long time: "I wouldn't be surprised if you were
around, Prell. Or even you, Dukas. I was right! I know all about your
little self, Prell. It was all in your dead brain. You think you'll
play a reverse David against Goliath, eh? If blasting out your lab
didn't kill you...."

No, Ed Dukas was not so easily defeated. The aura of neutrons thrown
out only by scattered filaments was probably not of continuous
intensity. At certain points there might well be chinks in it, at which
time he could slip to close quarters without having his own nuclear
metabolism speeded up to the point of his destruction. But before he
did anything final, he had to find out where Prell's stolen equipment
was.

Ed felt the whir of the air-filtering apparatus in the room and smiled.
And there was a television globe nearby. Ed could have found ways, now,
to make his own tiny voice audible to his enemy and to challenge him.
But Ed decided against this for the present. He mustn't waste precious
time, yet he suspected that he could depend on the restlessness of a
nervous foe not to wait here quietly very long.

Again he was right. Perched on a ledge made by an irregularity of the
wall, Ed waited less than five minutes before Carter Loman jumped
up from the bed, cursed, and dashed from the room. Ed's Midas Touch
cylinder reddened in his hand as he jetted after him. Of firmer flesh
than other men, Loman hurried untiring, even in his massive armor and
plastic helmet, down a back stairs, passing a hundred levels.

Then he was in a small, powerful car racing along a civic speedway that
Ed remembered well. Clinging to plush that was like a dense forest
under him, Ed remained undislodged by the tornadoes of air that came
from speed.

Around him passed beauty that he used to know, expanded so enormously
that much of the familiar mood of it was lost; and he himself seemed
cut off from it, like a ghost coming back. But there was other, perhaps
greater beauty, too--closer to the heart of what he was now. There'd
been a controlled shower induced by the weather towers. Now the sun
shone again, and the air sparkled, not with dust, but with countless
tiny droplets of moisture--crystal globes, clear as lenses, but
breaking the sunshine into brilliant prismatic hues.

Ed's brief rambling of mind ended when Loman did an odd thing. He
stopped in Ed's old neighborhood, after having passed a half-dozen road
blocks where uniformed men had entrenched themselves, covering their
ugly vehicles with cut branches. Loman had only flashed his Interworld
Security badge at each post, to receive respectful permission to go on.

Loman stopped his car abruptly before a house adjacent to Ed's own--one
Ed knew well. But Ed had an odd feeling that this was not as strange as
it seemed. This suburb, close to the City, harbored many of the noted
and notorious. Besides, many recent turbulent events had been centered
within these few hundred square miles. And Loman had been in the
neighborhood before, in the company of Police Chief Bronson. Also, had
there always been something disturbingly familiar about Loman's manner?

Ed tingled at the unraveling of an enigma, as Loman hurried up the walk
to the house. Loman found the door locked, but if this annoyed him, it
stopped him not at all. An armored shoulder, backed up by the muscles
of his kind--their power rarely demonstrated publicly--battered the
door to splinters and Loman stepped through.

Ed followed him--as unobtrusive as part of the atmosphere--up a
stairway and into a pleasant student room seen in colossal scale.

It was Les Payten's room which had thus been invaded without ceremony.
Nor was the intruding colossus the least abashed that the giant Les,
somewhat thinned down and pallid after his long convalescence from a
visit to Abel Freeman, was present.

Ed saw his old friend's startled expression, then felt the vibration of
his words: "Chummy, aren't you, bursting in like this? The police, eh?
What have _I_ done? My God, I've seen your picture! You're Loman!"

The other giant's smirk was half gentle, half bullishly humorous.
"That's my name--if you prefer," he said. "I've had you watched, Lester
Payten, for various reasons. You've been ill. Then why do you stay so
close to what may become the battle lines? You're an odd guy, Lester.
Too much fear, courage and conscience. Wanting to be a hero, but half
a martyr. Recently one of the 'reasonable' kind. Soon there won't
be any of those left. Not when a few more see those they love torn
open, crisped or perhaps crushed by created things more hideous than
Tyrannosaurus Rex. Such facts destroy the folly of thoughtfulness. And,
good! For in that way the showdown comes against another kind of slime
that desecrates the form of man! You're a mixed-up kid, Lester--maybe
even thinking of some old companions. But in your heart you know that
you're all human. Me, I'm still sentimental, so I had to come to you at
last. You ought to be safe among the asteroids, like your timid mother."

Being an audience to these comments, Ed's first puzzlement changed
slowly toward comprehension of a weird truth. Drifting with the air
molecules near the center of the room, he watched Les Payten sitting
quietly at his desk, his look also showing that he was at the fringe
of understanding. But maybe his mind half refused to plunge into the
starkness of fact beyond. Too much had become possible. Sometimes it
might be a land too strange for human wits.

Maybe primitive terror prompted Les to sudden violence. Or it was the
sickening cynicism in Loman's words. In a flash of movement Les tried
to get a weapon from his desk. Confronted by a human being, he might
have succeeded. But Loman even dared, first, to shut off the neutronic
aura around his armor, so as not to burn or kill the one he had come to
see. Then quick fingers latched onto Les's wrists. Les fought with all
his might but was pushed down on the floor. Dazed, he looked up at his
conqueror.

"Yes, your memory-man father killed himself," Loman said. "But he
could always return by recording, couldn't he? Before that, it was
all arranged--with many who sympathized with the human cause. The
mind probe showed that my expressed views were truthful. Interworld
Security could use someone who was clever, unknown, and supremely
active. Umhm-m--maybe I'm even harder than they hoped! Yes, I'm still
an android, Les, because I have to be strong for battle. I hardly care
who learns of it now, because the fight is sure to come. But I'll be a
man again, when and if I can. And, like a man, I love my son. Things
will become very difficult soon, Lester. So I want you with me."

Loman's heavy growl might have sounded paternal to common ears. But he
capped it with a light tap to Les's jaw. Les crumpled. For a moment
this fantastic echo of his original sire, changed in face and form,
stood over him, an armored demon by any standard.

The sun had set. From the twilight beyond the window came blue flashes,
light heat lightning, off toward the wooded hills. They glinted on
Loman's plastic face window, which had muffled his words scarcely at
all. Loman seemed to match those flickers: science misused; wisdom,
once reached for so carefully, fading; the collected armaments,
improvised quickly by a master technology hidden in tunnel and on
mountain-top, by both sides. And the guts of a star ship engine
perverted. Once, on a lost Moon, a thing like that had exploded, just
by error or chance. There had been no wild speeches to bring it about.
Nor any panic. And there had been no Lomans to help in a more savage
way.

Unless driving impulses were checked, the end could come this very
night. Ed even wondered if he might waste valuable time sticking close
to Loman any longer. Would it lead to more answers, as he had felt it
must? Well, he still was sure of that, and Loman also seemed driven by
haste. So Ed alighted on Les's shoulder and burrowed into the cloth.
It was the safest thing to do. For whatever weapon might be used, it
probably would not be directed at Les.

Loman picked up the unconscious form and dashed out to his car. There
followed a wild ride along winding roads through the woods. Distantly,
on a hilltop, Ed saw a metal framework slanting skyward. It held a
cylinder whose neutron beam could level anything. But its power supply
could mean complete destruction in a last resort to madness, for
revenge--if someone lost control of himself, smashed the safety stops
on controls, pushed levers a little beyond them.

There were wrecks on the road. Horror had been exchanged already, as
refugees fled the City. Beside one broken car, half fused to a puddle
of fire lay the body of a child, briefly glimpsed. And Ed detected
a man's cries and protests, flung wildly at the sky from among the
shadowy trees. Or could it have come just as well from an android
throat?

If it was Jones of common human clay or Smith, an android, could it
make any difference? Yet it was an old thing--a reasonable man's
anguish against wrong.

Still, was it hard to see a sequel, when something snapped in the
brain? A kind of explosion. Then, before horror and rage, immortality
or death could become equally meaningless. Good sense and kindness,
once clung to desperately, could then become zero, and Earth, sky
and humanity empty phantoms. Then could you picture the wronged one
awaiting someone of the other kind? Could you picture him aiming his
own weapon at another car and holding its trigger down until his own
curses were lost in the roar of incandescence?

Ed Dukas rode on through the dusk in Loman's car, still clinging to
the fabric at the shoulder of his inert friend, Les Payten. The sky
still flickered--warning barrages, not yet aimed to kill. An aircraft
swooped, its weapons shredding a high-flying horror that was not
of metal. Some had been destroyed, but others always came--though
they never had been truly numerous. A few other cars sped along the
road--persons fleeing the dangerous congestion of the City.

Ed wondered if the steady _ping ping ping_ in his quartz-chip radio
was the ultra-sonic evidence of a spy beam in action, perhaps meant to
trace Loman's course? At last the forces of law might do that to their
own, if some of them disagreed with Loman's zeal or suspected that it
had become too extreme. Chief Bronson, for one, had seemed a likable
man. Besides, even after a mind probe, many would mistrust an android.

Ed reasoned that this must be a flight to a hide-out, which he had to
see.

The car careened for a mile along a narrow side road, where, behind
high banks, the pinging stopped. Had Loman counted on their shielding
effect? Deeper in the woods, a block of undergrowth folded upward on
a hinge, and the car rolled inside. Then the great trap door closed
behind it. Ed was not surprised even by so elaborate a retreat as
this. Now, with his neutronic aura cut off, Loman bore Les through a
low doorway, into a great, low chamber fused out of bedrock. Could
Loman and Mitchell Prell be as alike as this in their choice of secret
places? Queer--and yet not so queer. Both were scientists. Prell had
invaded the field of biology and Loman, in his original incarnation as
Ronald Payten, had been a biologist from the start.

Ed might have attacked, now that Loman's aura was inactive. But it
could be restored in an instant. Better to wait. A clearer chance might
well come. His enemy might even be trying to lure any small, unseen
intruder close to the coils of the aura.

Besides, in the soft artificial light, answers lay--answers that Ed
had only dimly suspected, in spite of Loman's background. Since he
had learned who Loman was, there hadn't been time enough for him to
understand. But now the solution to a dreadful mystery came easily,
because Ed could intrude here unseen.

There were vats here, too, vaster than any Ed had ever seen from any
viewpoint and webbed with their attendant apparatus. Beneath the glossy
surface of the fluid, like smooth oceans in the floor, various shapes
were visible--all devilish but half transparent in their undeveloped
state, their smooth plates of vitaplasm muscle and scale showing, but
already alive and in slight, undulating motion. And no doubt these
things were only in the embryonic state. They could grow much huger
after being set free to hide and kill. Here, then, was the devil's
brewpot of creation. Here the first slithering synthetic monsters must
have been blueprinted and created. It was Ronald Payten's work--the
product of his skill and his secret quirks. Madness in vitaplasm, to
help build hate between android and man and bring the conflict to a
climax.

And there was more. Against one wall was the plunder of Mitchell
Prell's laboratory on Mars--or most of it. The tanks were empty.
But on a table stood the larger microscope, as if what could be seen
through its eye-piece had been under examination. Perhaps the doll-like
shape, the other vats, the machine shop and that tiny electron
microscope were still there. And what lay at a still lower size level.
Across such a void of distance, Ed Dukas could not see such detail. But
he felt the mingling of hope and frustration. No path back to normal
circumstances was here, yet. And the time was certainly not ripe--if it
would ever come. Besides, did all of him really want to return, even if
part of him fairly ached for it?

Carter Loman, or Ronald Payten, bent close to Les, his pronged helmet
and wide face, beyond the curve of plastic and radiation shielding,
like an ugly world in the sky. But if you had the mind to notice,
perhaps Loman's expression was almost gentle just then. His voice came
to Ed's senses as a subdued and modulated quake: "Lester! Wake up! I
didn't hit you that hard."

Les seemed to have been lowered onto a couch of some kind. Perhaps
he had already regained consciousness moments ago and had since been
bent on quiet scrutiny of his surroundings, seeking out comprehension
and the core of his own feelings. Ed could guess at some of this: an
enigma revealed; Ronald Payten--creator of monsters; Les Payten's
pseudo-father. Then, for Les, horror, shame, fury.

For Ed, the world seemed to rock as Les leaped. Les was not strong now
and was still in his convalescence. And maybe he had been wavering and
unsure, or even wrong in his past choices. But at this moment he was
not at all in doubt, though the attack he made could have been pure,
wild fright.

"Father, indeed! I'll kill you--_Phony!_" he screamed. Then he was
grappling with Loman with all the strength that muscle and emotion
could muster.

For that moment at least, he was Ed Dukas's ally, willing or otherwise.
For he held Loman's attention diverted. And because of Les's attack
Loman's neutronic aura remained turned off.

Ed leaped and jetted, his tiny Midas Touch a scarcely visible spark as
it flamed. He landed on the fabric near the back of Loman's neck and at
the base of his helmet. Holding tight, Ed let his weapon flare again,
this time using it to blast a tiny hole. He braved the violent spurt
of energy from the dissolving rubberized fabric and then the moment of
exposure to radiation and heat as he crept through. Now he floated in
Loman's private atmosphere, within the great oxygen helmet, as Loman's
struggle with Les went on.

Now was the time to test a plan: the speck-sized man against a being
of human dimensions--comparatively as huge as a mountain. And it was
android against android, advantage against advantage.

Loman's lungs, active now to give breath to a chuckle of triumph,
breathed Ed in deeply. With his full equipment still lashed to his
shoulders, he tumbled down through moist and faintly ruddy gloom. When
the air currents quieted, he clung, a sharp splinter of obsidian rising
and falling in his hand, as he cut through soft tissue.

Thus he reached a small artery and was borne along by the flow
within it. It was a world of warm, buried rivers. Dim, rosy light
sometimes found its way through the walls of flesh. Or was it, still
the radioactive glow that Loman's body, adapting to the shortage of
oxygen, had shown on Mars? But its physical structure, apart from its
substance, remained human: the disklike red blood corpuscles pumped
along in the gloom.

Only wait now to be circulated to the right position. Ed knew when he
passed the great thumping valves and chambers of Loman's heart. But,
no, this was not the place for action. He could feel himself rising
now. Good! Was the darkness within the skull denser than elsewhere?
Ed forced his way into constantly narrowing channels. Around him he
still saw very dimly the living cells themselves. Here they had long,
interlocking filaments. They were the brain cells, beyond question.

He dared not use his Midas Touch here. The fluid at its very muzzle
would have exploded. But he had grenades of much the same function. Set
the fuse of one and leave it lodged here.

Before Ed was pumped back to the huge lungs, he felt the heavy
concussion. Then came the wild gyrations of the colossus. A spark of
atomic incandescence had exploded within its head, opening arteries to
hemorrhage and destroying surrounding tissue with heat and radiation.
A demoniac vitality of body might linger on, but a mind was dead. Had
total death come quickly, all movement ceasing, Ed might have had to
tunnel his way tediously from the gigantic corpse.

But his luck held out. He reached the lungs, and a great burst of air
flung him forth into the oxygen helmet again.

Loman's form still twitched on the floor. One enemy was erased from the
immediate future at least. Loman--or the pseudo Ronald Payten--had been
removed as an active force of history, but the fury he had helped stir
up was by now self-sustaining. Ed gave him a brief, almost rancorless
thought. A woman had lost her husband in the Moonblast. And he was
her memory re-created. She had had reason to hate science. And he had
been warped and marked by her view. He was a bitter product of his
times--impossible in the centuries that came before. Ed knew that he
himself--as he was now, certainly--was also the child of his era. His
uncle must always have been that. Babs--wherever she was now--was also
of these years. And his dad, and countless others. Maybe, therein you
had to find a tiny spark of tolerance for Loman, though not much. And
would anyone ever want to bring him back to life, even if the world
went on existing?



IX


Ed's score stood at two points gained--Loman out of the way and the
source of the monsters revealed. But these were small victories
compared with what must be gained if there was to be any hope. Masses
of human beings and androids faced each other, their emotions inflamed
to the point of final folly. And the end of one troublemaker and the
revelation of his tools were small items beside all that.

Ed got out of Loman's oxygen helmet the way he had entered. Les Payten,
a dazed Atlas, was stumbling around. Ed felt cut off from his old
friend by a strange, great distance. But he could talk to him at least.

Ed floated to the radio in a corner of the workshop, found his way
through a vent in its back, and touched a wire with the minute contact
points of a crude microphone as large as his hand. The infinitesimal
electric currents it bore were amplified and converted into sound. Ed's
voice came forth loud and clear: "Les! It's me--Ed Dukas. I'm here,
just as Prell came to me once. I'm an android just a few thousandths of
an inch tall. I'm inside the radio, Les. First, I want to know how you
feel about all this. Yes, I killed Loman."

There were world tremors of footsteps approaching with slow caution.
A panel of the set was opened. The giant stared inside. Ed was now
sufficiently accustomed to the vibrations of human speech to interpret
the mood behind them.

There was a brief, hard chuckle, controlled and distant and unfriendly.

"Yes, Dukas, I'm quite sure it's as you say. It's odd, maybe, but I'm
not surprised at all. In our time, you have to accept too much. Thanks
for finishing Loman--not my father. Dad died on the lunar blowup, as
you know, a victim of technology or history, as we all will probably
soon be. I've told you before how I feel about everything. And what
has happened to me tonight can scarcely have made my view of the
androids any kinder. Once upon a time, in my callow youth, I thought
I belonged to this crazy period. How wrong can you get? You take your
strength and durability. I wonder what finer flavors of life you've
lost. So there's my standard, and I'll live and die by it, Dukas. It's
sad to lose a pal, but as you are, I guess you'll have to be an enemy.
It's like an instinct, Dukas."

Les had spoken calmly and firmly. But Ed sensed the bitterness and
uncertainty that lurked beneath the words.

"I won't argue, Les," he answered. "But when I'm thinking straight, the
truth to me is still as it was. In championing man above android, or
vice versa, you can only come to zero. Only in fair play between them
is there a chance. So, if the urge ever comes over you, you might still
do me a favor. Across this room is a microscope and attached equipment
that are vital to me and to Barbara, who is like me, somewhere. Guard
it, Les. No place that you could reach is perhaps truly safe for it.
But I was thinking that if you could gamble again--as we all must--you
might take it to Abel Freeman. I know that you were almost killed in
his camp, Les. But I believe that the old reprobate is fundamentally
sound and not as bitterly against such a device as some human beings
might be. Thanks if you consider it, Les."

Still unseen by his one-time friend, Ed jetted to the vaulted ceiling
and escaped through a ventilator pipe that emerged among concealing
bushes. He rose above the trees, and a night wind pushed him on, while
he listened to the quartz chip he carried. His first impulse now was to
locate Tom Granger as his next candidate for silence.

It was not necessary. The news was on the air: "Granger was stricken in
his quarters just before eight o'clock. The cause is not yet clear. He
had just begun to write his new speech: 'I am frightened. We are all
frightened. But this can change nothing of our purpose. In vitaplasm
we are confronted by a vampirish fact: an identity of face masking a
difference of spirit. A treachery. A slow, dreadful encroachment....'"

Prell had gotten to Granger, then. If this was murder, maybe it was
justified--if Earth was one per cent less in danger with one exhorter
quieted, for a while if not forever. But what had been accomplished so
far was small beside the threat that had been stirred up in many minds
and machines across the countryside.

The sky was heavy with thickening clouds. Weather Control, working
through its ionic towers had already been smashed. The night was
alternately a Stygian hole or a glare-lit holocaust full of battering
vibrations which might mean that real battle had already begun. So
far, only neutron streams were being used. Where a mountain peak was
hit there would be a blaze of light that even an android had better
not look at. Then another mountain, looming over a different fortified
line, would flare up and glow with moving lava. And the power that
energized the weapons was the same as that which could reach the stars.

Rising high and jetting forward with his Midas Touch, Ed went to work.
He thought of Abel Freeman's camp, which lay somewhere beyond the
carpet of flaming woods which flanked one slope. But that was not his
immediate destination now. He had dived for a power station house in a
great trailer--and did it matter whether it belonged to the older race
or the newer? He took great risks getting into its busy vitals. The
constricting pressure of space warps, creating a gravity pressure of
billions of tons to the square inch, eased gradually. A marble-sized
bit of super-dense matter, crushed and compressed by the force and
hidden by its opaqueness, began to expand to meter-wide size and to
lose its blinding heat and fury as the processes within it stopped.
Soon the power plant, turning out a flood of electricity out of all
proportion to its small size, ceased to function. Scattered atoms of
hydrogen and lithium became inert.

There was no easily visible cause for the breakdown, until puzzled
eyes found minute holes burned in vacuum tubes, allowing air to enter,
oxidizing grids and filaments and stopping their action.

Two great weapons died, their energy cut off. But the power stations
themselves were the far greater threat, for they harbored that
sun-stuff within them. Now the controls of one, which some enraged
person might contrive to push too far in spite of the watchfulness of
others, were temporarily useless.

Working both sides of the line, Ed sabotaged another energy source, and
another. Then he lost count, not because of a high score, but because
heat and radiation had fogged his mind somewhat. Yet he kept at his
labors because there was no other way. Within every square mile there
was enough potential power to end his planet.

Around him, curses came vibrating from giants: "Men, eh? Jelly for
insides!..." "Stinking Phonies--Hell-born or Prell-born!... Jim, I
was wondering, this fizz-out looks fishy. Do you suppose the bastards
_have_ something?"

The front had quieted. It could be that, as far as he had gone, Ed
had actually held the Earth together by spiking a few danger points.
But he could take no pride for himself out of this. The job could go
on and on, like a few buckets of water poured on a forest fire. It
helped briefly, yet if there had been a thousand like him, but truly
indestructible, the situation might still be without promise. The mass
of the populace was too enormous and scattered; the natural suspicion
and the forces which had stirred it up were too deep. The ghosts of
Loman and Granger still walked in memory and maybe now in martyrdom.
And the technology was still there. So Ed knew that, unless there was
another way, he could only go on attempting to lessen a threat, until
heat and radiation or its fulfillment zeroed him out.

It took him over an hour to stop one power station because his demoniac
vitality was ebbing and because it had begun to rain heavily. The great
drops could not kill him, but like falling lakes, they could hammer
him into the mud, from which it might take days for him to extricate
himself. He waited in the shelter of a loose bit of bark on the trunk
of a tree. There he felt the helpless side of his smallness.

As he waited, his mind rambled. Had several groups of weapons quit
without his noticing, or was this only something that he wished were
so? Where was Barbara now? Would he ever see her again?... Now he lost
himself in a fantasy. He saw them leaving Earth's atmosphere the way
they had come--she and he together; maybe finding beauty and peace
out there. Perhaps there were even tiny worlds--meteors--inhabited by
crystalline things such as they had once seen but advanced to a state
where they could think and build, and be friendly.

And, almost wistfully, he thought of another idyl--his father's, and
even Granger's, among millions of others. He could almost see the crude
charm of the houses, the gardens and the flocks. But how did one erect
a wall against science--with science? It seemed harder to do than
diking the water out of the deepest ocean and trying to live in the
hole thus made.

The rain ended. Ed was air-borne again. He caused one more power
station to break down. But there were others. And some that he had
spiked might already be repaired. And from his quartz chip he heard
other exhorting voices--not Granger's, but like Granger's. The old and
human traits that Granger had represented could go on without him,
fighting maturer thoughts as if in a drive toward suicide. Who could be
everywhere, to quiet such clamoring?

In the darkness before dawn, Ed felt desperate and hopeless. His mind
was on Abel Freeman again--the memory man, somebody's cockeyed family
legend. It was an instinctive thing to seek out the strong for advice,
for discussion and perhaps for a joining of forces.

Ed had only part of an energy cartridge left for his Midas Touch. But
this was more than enough to jet him across the mountains to the camp
of the quaint android chieftain with whom he must now admit a kinship
of flesh. Freeman was certainly a local leader now among those of
the same mark who had fled from the City, where the population was
predominantly of the old kind. Technicians, craftsmen, specialists of
every sort, would be among Freeman's following.

Just as first daylight began, Ed drifted over the vast, hodge-podge
encampment hidden in the woods and the marshes. Part of the ground it
covered had been fused to hot, glassy consistency, perhaps by a small
aerial bomb. Maybe a hundred Phonies had died there--which fact added
nothing to the cause of peace.

Abel Freeman himself was not too hard to find, for he occupied a
central, commanding position among various equipment housed in great
trailers carefully concealed from any observer in an aircraft. But
Abel Freeman, true to his legend, was sitting inside a rude shelter of
boughs, which effectively concealed the light of his ato lamp. Before
him was a sensipsych training device and a vast pile of books on many
subjects, ranging from military tactics to atomics, on which he was
obviously endeavoring to get caught up. He was savagely intent upon
book learning, for which he had little aptitude. But Ed, seeing him
in mountainous proportions, was perhaps better able than others to
understand why androids in need of leadership flocked to his stamping
grounds. Abel Freeman looked like the essence of rough and ready
ability. Among android leaders, he was certainly the greatest.

Freeman had a small radio receiver beside him. Ed Dukas did not try to
read the meaning of its blaring vibrations, for he was aware of their
general tone. To him the instrument was chiefly a possible bridge of
communication between himself and Freeman.

But Ed was not now given the chance to make such contact. For something
else happened. From the pages of an opened book in Abel Freeman's hands
coiled a thread of smoke, as charred words were written rapidly across
the paper. Ed was close enough in the air to read them, too: "_I am
Mitchell Prell, who helped make your kind possible. I am one of you
now--though undersize. Help keep the peace. Make no moves to start
trouble._"

Ed himself was startled. His uncle was here, then! They had arrived at
almost the same time. And Prell had chosen a more dramatic means of
communication--not ink, not an amplified voice, but the spiderweb-thin
beam of his Midas Touch used as a long stylus, while he clung, perhaps,
to a hair on the back of Freeman's hand!

For an instant, Abel Freeman was gripped by surprise. But then, with
rattlesnake-swift movement, his own Midas Touch was in his hand. His
whole self seemed to take on the smooth flow of perfect alertness which
nothing but an utterly refined machine could have equaled.

"Prell or a liar?" he challenged. "Or Prell with a conscience--for his
own first people and against his brain children? Yes, I've heard how
little you might be now."

Ed had only glimpsed his uncle far off among the scattered motes of the
air--another mote among them--a foot away he must be, at least. But Ed
hadn't waited for contact. Instead he darted quickly inside Freeman's
radio, touched the contacts of his microphone to the proper surface,
and spoke: "Maybe you'll remember me, too, Freeman. I'm Dukas, Prell's
nephew. You and I have talked before, man to man. Prell is no liar. And
the conscience is there--for everybody, android or otherwise. Yes, I'm
with him, the same size. And there's a problem, everybody's problem,
the toughest one that I've ever heard of. So where do we get any answer
that makes sense? Some of it has got to come quickly, I'm afraid,
Freeman."

Amplified, Ed's voice had boomed out till it was like an earthquake
to him. Once again a plastic box was opened above him and a gigantic
face was overhead. In the tinkling overtones of smallness, there was
almost a silence for a moment. Then came the rattle of Freeman's hard,
amused laugh, as he said, "I'll be damned! Smaller than snuff and made
the cheap way. People. Something better. Yep, it must be so, even if
I can't even see you. That puts us way ahead, I guess. And it ain't a
whisky vision. Well, I guess it still don't make any difference. The
old-time kind of folks hate us, and they'll never stop while both of us
and them are alive. And us Phonies have been crowded all we can take.
They've fired on us here, just barely trying to miss. Could be we've
done the same to them. It's a mighty ticklish proposition. In winktime
they could finish us all here, nice and clean and no grease left. So
could we burn them quicker than gunpowder. So who gets trigger crazy
and does it first? We've fixed them: an answer, under the ground. Maybe
they can spoil our other weapons, like it seems they can, but not this
one. It's buried deep enough. Let 'em try to hit us hard, and it'll
set everything off. Your old Moonblast will be beat a thousand times.
Us Phonies are bullheaded. We were made on Earth, same as them. It's
ours as much as theirs. We came alive, and we can fade out again, young
fella!"

The vibrations of Freeman's tones rose and fell, with humor, fatalism
and stubbornness. Two races, one born of the knowledge originated by
the other, seemed to have driven each other into corners of no return.
At some indefinite instant, the Big Zero would come.

Ed saw this garish picture more clearly than ever before. His strange
little body fairly quivered with it. He looked at Mitchell Prell, who
had come beside him now, where the pieces of apparatus that made up the
interior of a small receiving set loomed, and he saw in his face the
puzzled, tired fear of a scientist whose researches had always aimed at
doing good. Just then Ed Dukas, micro-android, was far from separated
from the Big Earth as he used to know it. So now, in desperation, he
clutched at a vision which had once seemed almost a fact.

"Freeman," he said, "maybe men can't back down or co-operate with
supermen. Doing that can seem like embracing extinction. But hasn't
there always been an obvious thing for _us_ to do?"

"Umhm-m--you mean _we_ should back down," Freeman replied softly.
"Set out for the wide-open spaces that we were meant for. Leave the
poor clodhoppers behind. Young fella, could be that you and me see
things bigger. For others like us, it ought to be like that, only it
ain't--yet. Most of the new people are butcher, baker and candlestick
maker, Earth-born, and Earth-tied in their minds, like anybody. There's
a ship, sure. But the stars are still awful far off, and never touched,
and you can go addled just thinkin' about them. Lots of our sort would
leave in their own sweet time, same as regular folks, sure. It's in
their blood. You might say they got wings. But who really knows how to
use 'em yet? And crowd our kinfolks off their home world? When they're
spunky and sore like any human being? Nope. Sorry!"

Ed's faint hope faded before the old android's realism. For years the
movement of migration had been farther and farther outward into space.
It was at once a fact, a dream and a philosophy, like getting nearer
to the Eternal Unknown. But most of the worth-while solar system was
already owned by the original dominant species. Beyond was only the
distance, not a beaten path at all, an untried and fearsome novelty.
One star ship was about completed, yes. Fast it would be, but its speed
would still fall far short of the velocity of light. So the nearer
stars were decades, centuries, millenniums away.

An idea so familiar that it seems almost an accomplished fact can
lose some of its charm in the hard glare of real obstacles. Ed felt
something like a chill inside him. Though he knew the strangeness of a
micro-cosmic viewpoint, others did not have this training and boldness
for the unknown. He saw the majority of them balking fatally. But he
still had to try _something_, to change as much of this as he could--if
he could change any of it at all.

"I don't know whether or not to blame you and the others for the
revenge you say is rigged here and elsewhere, Freeman," he said. "I can
see why both sides felt driven to do it. But I'm going to borrow your
newscast facilities, Freeman. Or someone else's. Because rumor can be a
powerful force. And I think I can give it a little push."

Mitchell Prell was still beside him. His grin was encouraging and sly.
"Best of luck in what you intend, Eddie," he remarked. "Need a charge
for your Midas Touch?... Meanwhile, I might try drawing the teeth
of some dragons, as you seem to have been doing. Got to be careful,
though, that both sides don't blame each other and get nervous.
Granger, poor knothead, was easy. I hope that somehow circumstances
will be right so that he can come back and learn. About Loman and the
things he made, I can feel differently."

"You heard?" Ed asked.

"It was on the air," Prell replied. "Somebody phoned the news in from
near that lab. At least the overwise ones will know that they guessed
wrong about which faction contrived a biological horror: a rabid
old-race sympathizer, but an android, too! Can that make either side
proud?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A minute later Ed landed on the roof of the trailer which housed
Freeman's wireless equipment. He crept past an immense drop of rain
water that loomed like a rounded mesa beside him and entered a vent.
Soon he touched the terminals of his microphone to the proper contacts.
The transmitter was active. During the first pause between the temblors
of other words and signals and coded information, Ed spoke quickly,
half like a mischievous sprite. "This is no ghost voice. We hear that
many androids want to take all of their kind beyond the solar system."

The station did not stop sending at once. Blame that on the startled
monitor, who must have been listening. Ed took advantage of his
opportunity. He was granted another moment to speak: "It is only
natural that they should want to do that. Their kind of vigor matches
the stars. They don't need, or really want, the Earth. Their departure
in peace could be a perfect answer to everything."

That much Ed got out before the transmitter clicked to silence. He knew
he hadn't said anything original and that he had pushed an argument
intensely, like a high-pressure salesman without full belief. What he
had said was the way things should be, perhaps, but were not. Yet,
again, like a romantic kid, had he felt the glamorous impact of his own
words?

He was aware that androids would hear and millions of the old
race--intent on communications from an enemy station--as well. A
mysterious, informal voice was always a thing to draw attention, and
his remarks had been rather startling. That they would be repeated and
discussed a thousand times from other stations was probable. For they
were like a chink of hope in one of two granite walls of obstinate
righteousness and strength.

But Ed decided that he'd build no bright pictures of what his speech
would accomplish but would wait for hard facts. He wished desperately
that he'd had a moment more to speak on the transmitter, to call out
Barbara's name.

Now he drifted again in a morning sunshine. Luck had held out this
far at least. But over woods and crude shelters and hidden equipment
and grimy grim-faced hordes that looked as human as refugees could,
there were interruptions that denied optimism. A patrolling rocket
ship sailed high; an intensified neutron beam turned a finger of air
white hot behind it--very close. And mountaintops, already truncated
and smoking, still would flare up dazzlingly. Android muscles and backs
strained and bent to build fortifications as nothing merely human
could. The toilers were both men and women. Could android children cry?
Yes, some did.

Another thing happened. Ed, floating unseen low in the air, felt the
buzz of shouts and cries. A man who seemed to be near collapse was
being helped forward by a youth whose sidearms dangled near the knees
of his torn dungarees. At a little distance, where size seemed more
as it used to be, Ed saw that the exhausted man was Les Payten. He was
mud from head to foot; his face and arms were bloodied by brambles, his
suit was a rag.

He was brought straight to Abel Freeman's shelter. There, supported by
the armed youth, he spoke his piece: "I'm here again, Freeman, because
a friend of mine asked me to bring you something for him. Does that
make me a fool? I know it does. Because he's only my remembrance of a
friend now. Damn you all!"

Les Payten fainted. A package wrapped in a plastic sheath fell from
his hands, but Abel Freeman caught it. A couple of Abel's ornery sons
looked on, exchanging puzzled scowls. Freeman warned them away with a
clenched fist, knotty as an oaken club, and then shouted, "Nancy! Oh,
Nancy-y-y!" But there was no time for Ed to observe Freeman's hellion
daughter functioning as a nurse. He went inside Freeman's radio again,
and spoke, "Freeman, this is Dukas. I came to you to give and receive
help. That means that I've tried to guess right about you. I believe I
have. When your neo-biologists examine what Payten has brought, they
will be able to guess its value to me and mine. And I think that they
will be able to combine its uses with those of their own equipment for
something I'd like to see done. But there are other matters. Some of
your power plants broke down, but so did others across the line. I did
most of that. Prell must be doing more of it right now. What I said
over your wireless was meant to gain a little time."

Ed paused. Freeman did not open the radio case again. Ed couldn't see
him. He could only feel small thuds and clinkings--the android leader
opening the package that Les Payten had brought. Ed wondered if he
could ever imagine what was going on in Freeman's head, the thousand
problems and feelings that must be seething there.

Freeman might be no good at book learning. And his roots were in a
century when even a flying machine was a wild thought. But he had to
be shrewd to match the legend behind him. And he had to take tough
situations with a light shrug for the same reason.

Finally Ed felt the rumble of his chuckle. "You mean I'm one of your
'reasonable' variety," he said. "Meantime you smash my stuff, eh,
little bug in the air! I ought to get damn unreasonable! You might even
finish me off! I'm kind of curious about that! But I don't think you
have to bother. I know that the old-time folks are moving lots more
hell machines up. And they're awful mad, because we got quite a few of
them in one place last night--sort of by miscalculation. What's this
talk about us androids matching the stars? Well, young fella, go 'head
and talk some more. Yep, on our wireless rig. What's left to lose? And
I'm still curious."

On the way to the radio trailer, Ed looked back to the ugly, humping
shapes of weapons creeping up a high, blackened slope a few miles away.
This was fresh action by men of the old kind who had lost friends
or family and who saw no future in a demoniac succession. They were
exposed, an easy target. But if they were destroyed, others would
come. So they dared and defied, and the vicious spiral toward Big Zero
continued to mount.

Ed tried to forget this for a moment. His first words by wireless were
a call for his wife: "Babs, this is Ed, at Freeman's camp! Barbara,
come to us if you can. At least, try to communicate with us. You know
how. Barbara!..."

She had her own quartz chip, active all the time, so she must hear! And
if she did, she could send a message just as he did, from some other
station. But though Ed now had help, at Freeman's orders, no reply
from his wife was sifted from the countless communications that were
received.

But his previous attempt to spread a rumor had brought some expected
results. The morning air was full of conflicting comments: "... A cruel
joke ... Psychological warfare ... Perhaps, but what if the Phonies
mean to leave? Some already deny it.... Who spoke? Let him speak
again."

Ed was glad to oblige, even revealing his name, his present dimensions
and how a being of such size, equipped with a Midas Touch, might wreck
a power station. He explained this last item because he did not want a
misplaced blame to stir up more tension on both sides. Otherwise, he
addressed himself mostly to the androids, aware that the old race would
listen, too.

"... We were made on Earth, but not _for_ Earth. We were meant to go
much farther. Since we have so much, to be other than generous would be
stupid. We have peace and the future, and most of what man ever hoped
for, in our hands. That, or oblivion for everyone."

Though the ominous movement on the burned-out slope continued, the
actual flash of weapons seemed suspended. The quiet was either
promising or it was ominous.

He was lulled into enough confidence so that at noon he took a break.
He went back to Freeman's shelter and into the tiniest workshop that
Mitchell Prell had made and that Les Payten had rescued. He dropped
from the air beside minute machines and the vats that had given Barbara
and him their micro-android forms on Mars.

The whole piece--the greater microscope together with all the much
lesser equipment--Abel Freeman had unwrapped hastily, so that entry
into the twilight within the plastic cover had been easy. Freeman
himself was not around.

For a moment Ed felt alone and wistful, clinging to the rough glass
floor of the shop. But then he saw a faintly luminous elfin figure.

"Barbara!" he exclaimed.

Her laughter tinkled. "Think I wasn't come back, Eddie?" she teased.
"That I couldn't share any interest in what happens to a big world?"
Her blitheness almost angered him. Her expression sobered at once, and
he saw that she looked worn. "I know," she said. "It's not funny. We
might have burned up with the Earth--far apart. But I kept busy. I
tried to call you yesterday from a station in the City. But I wasn't
sure I touched the proper contacts. And last night I had to be a good
saboteur. I got three weapon-feeding power houses--though I guess that
the fine equipment could be shielded against us easily enough. Later,
I was lost--high up in the wind. With you along, it could have been
wonderful. Of course, I heard news broadcasts. About Loman's lab. And
from Freeman's station, a report of how Les arrived with a strange
device. This morning I heard your call, but there was no way to answer.
Eddie, Freeman's experts could copy us in normal size quite easily and
quickly, couldn't they? And in better vitaplasm. The methods have been
improved. Our personal recordings, perhaps lost, wouldn't be needed.
Should we try to have it done? Then there'd be two of each of us, in
different sizes. Two...."

Ed chuckled. "Not a word about returning to the old flesh, eh?" he
said. "So have we learned? Android freedom to go anywhere, to be almost
anything. Yep, magic almost. I think you'd rather perch on thistledown
or a sunset cloud, or be pushed by light pressure, like sleeping
spores, to a thousand light-years away! Well, it _could_ still happen.
Part of us has been changed enough by things like that to belong there.
But the older part seems much like it was and belongs to the size plane
that we first knew about."

They hugged each other and laughed. And they were reassured by the
comparative calm around them. But the forces were still there, only
awaiting someone's ultimate madness. And what can a world's end be
like, coming in a split instant, to one's dissolving senses? Certainly
it must be a quick, almost trivial experience.

Ed became aware of a bluish flicker. Then there was something like an
awful thud; he could scarcely tell whether a crash of sound took part
in it or not. Around him everything was dazzling whiteness, without
shadow or form. Then there was nothing.



X


Consciousness came back to him, bringing a cloudy surprise. Rough rocky
walls were around him. This was an artificial cavern crowded with
neo-biological equipment, most of which he could recognize. He lay
firmly on a hard couch contrived of planks and a folded blanket, part
of the latter covering him. A pair of dungarees and a mended shirt had
been tossed casually across his bare torso.

Someone who looked like a young medico laughed near him.

"One week's time, Dukas--that's all we need now for a major
transformation," he said. "You must have thought that we were all
goners; it would have seemed like that to you. But it was just a freak
attempt at sniping from the hills, with a Midas Touch focused to a thin
beam. Whoever tried it must have been aiming at our chief's shelter.
Only he wasn't there! Still down in miniature, you were caught in the
backlash of the blast. But it only knocked you out and singed you a
little. You kept holding onto some solid object. Your wife and the
equipment were scarcely hurt at all. Then Prell showed up again. They
talked with our chief the way you did before. They engineered the
transformation. I thought you'd want to know all this quickly."

The youthful android looked good-humoredly awed. "They just stepped
out," he added. "They'll be back in a minute."

Ed began to slide into his dungarees. He was grateful for his return
to something like what he had been. His memories of an interlude when
people were mountain tall were clear, yet they didn't seem quite to
belong to himself.

He thought briefly of how he must have been brought back to normal
size--his micro-form in one of the vats of similar proportions acting
as a pattern, electronic brain and all. In another vat, which Freeman's
specialists had connected, the gelatins must have filmed and solidified
slowly, taking shape, while in brain cells and filaments--different
from electronic swirls but capable of assuming the same connecting
arrangements--a personality was reproduced without destroying the
pattern. With Barbara and Prell it had been the same.

"The world goes on, I see," Ed remarked.

The android biologist smiled wryly. "Some of that is your fault,
Dukas," he said. "A matter of advertising. You made enough old-timers
half believe that the Earth will go on being theirs. That cooled them
off some. As for our kind, what you said started lots of them thinking
again along what ought to be a natural track. Certainly the prompt
departure of almost all of us is the only answer that can _really_
solve anything. Yes, if that isn't far too large an order! Though I
rather wish it _were_ possible.... Here come Prell and your lady. I'll
disappear."

They looked almost as they used to look--before anything about them
was changed. Blame the loss of some trifling birthmark or scar here
and there on the simplification of details that had occurred during a
step down to smallness. Yet Mitchell Prell's china-blue eyes were as
good-humored as ever and Barbara's smile as bright and warm.

"So here we are, Eddie," she said gaily. "And what we recently were
are still around somewhere--alive and aware, and the same as we were,
though not quite us any more. Separate, but still helping, I'm sure.
And if we all get through all right, well, their universe is as
wonderful and even vaster than ours."

Prell scowled for a moment, as if he envied his lesser likeness the
continued chance to study the structure of matter, down where molecules
themselves seemed bigger and nearer. But then his shoulders jerked
almost angrily, as if to shake off the scientist's woolgathering. "Come
on, Ed," he snapped. "Abel Freeman has been pushing the idea you
expressed, talking it around the world to all the androids. He says
that, crazy though it is, he'll encourage it."

They emerged from the cavern into the afternoon sunshine of the camp.
A sudden quiet had come over it. Eyes were staring up toward the east,
while bodies tensed for a dive for whatever shelter was at hand.
Something moved there with seeming slowness, though its gray hue, like
a distant mountain peak, told that it was seen through all the murky
heights of the atmosphere and was in free space beyond. Its motors
were inactive. High sunshine brought metallic glints from its prow.
It was certainly miles in length. Its presence could mean doomsday.
But it _was_ magnificent! If it could set human blood to coursing more
swiftly, how must it affect an android?

"The star ship!" someone shouted. Others took up the cry: "The star
ship.... The star ship...."

Now Abel Freeman's voice boomed from a sound system: "Yep, you're
right. I sent a call for it to come in from the asteroids. Figured it
would be good for all our tough-gutted breed to look at! Uh-huh, tough
gutted, I said, but might be I'll have to take that back. Anyhow, a man
made for a mule loves a mule on sight. So how about men and a ship made
for the stars? But might be you ain't that kind of folks--you only seem
that way. Might be you can only see the mud on the ground and not the
sky. I dunno. Moving all of us fast would take an awful lot of insides.
But ain't she a beauty? I figure that the folks that brought her here
didn't like to disobey orders, but they figured that letting us see
was necessary. Maybe they're Phonies, too. I figure that Harwell, who
bossed her construction, would be that now. Her kind of purpose demands
it. But maybe you ain't up to what she's for. And you folks of the old
kind, what do you say? What if we did leave you alone on Earth? What if
you gave us this first star ship and let us build more, out on a moon
of Saturn where you don't go much? Let's hear some answers!"

Obviously, Abel Freeman's words were also being broadcast. Meanwhile
the star ship glided into the sunset. Someone spoke briefly from her by
radio. Harwell?

"I hope you convince everybody, Freeman. I believe it does make sense.
Not a cinch, though, even for us."

That, too, came out of the address system, as the ship headed back
toward its base.

In his newer self, here on Earth, Ed breathed again, and his breathing
was rapid. Once more the unseen future was a thrill. Yet he must not
let glamour gild harsh uncertainties too much.

He looked at the faces around him. Some were stern, some grinned in
bravado under Abel Freeman's challenging sarcasm, but in most of
them there was a special, eager light, almost avid. It looked as if
Freeman's talk and the great craft that had come with it were turning
the trick. But these were trivial dramatics, too. The real source of
success--if it was that--was in a basic kinship of android vigor with
the stars. Awakened, it could relinquish the Earth without regret.
These people could feel a little like lesser gods now. Their strength
and endurance matched the next step of progress. Now the fantastic gulf
of distance didn't seem as wide as Freeman had once thought.

From scattered android camps, messages came in, pointing generally
toward deeper space. Yes, doubts were expressed.

"Shall we leave our homes without even an argument? Are we complete
fools?"

"Yes, fools if we don't leave. We _can_ make a mass departure. And
remember that this is the _only_ solution. Are they still too primitive
for us to live with? The same fault might be ours. I wonder what they
will say to our proposition?"

Communications also flashed back and forth among the old race:

"... They look like us but aren't. Their disguise and their powers
hold a warning. No wonder so many of us think of them as something
like medieval demons. Can we trust what they say? Or is it a trick to
disarm us? How can we know? Yet they intrigue us. Man has always sought
to borrow strength and permanence from the rocks and hills. Are they
that achievement? And we ourselves have wanted the stars."

Crouched over the small receiver in Freeman's restored shelter during
that still-ominous afternoon, Ed and Barbara listened and waited.
Around them they found both humor and pathos. In another shelter, dug
into the rocks and soil, they located Les Payten, whose misfortunes
with the Phonies had been many. His bitter frankness had won him
dislike here. He had been put under restraint. There was the bearish
tenderness and nursing of the gorgeous and powerful Nancy, Freeman's
daughter, who stood beside him now, her big blue eyes expressing a
mixture of soulful devotion and hunger about as rapacious as that of
a starved hound-dog six inches from a fat rabbit. Les didn't seem
to appreciate it at all. But he still tried to be a friend to his
companions of a lost youth. "Babs! Ed!" he exclaimed at sight of them.
"So you got back--to size, anyhow! But you could go back to where you
began, as natural creatures! Damn, once we were young idiots, dazzled
by a sense of wonder into too much tolerance. I don't want to be
something synthetic! Can't you two realize the fundamental truth of
that--for yourselves? Good Glory! Wake up!"

Ed's grin was one-sided. "For one thing, I suspect that going back all
the way wouldn't quite work, Les," he said mildly. "We are what we are
now, that's all. There's a cloudy sort of limit on switching bodies.
There can never truly be two of anyone. Besides, we like being what we
are. And should I remind you that, in common with all animals, man is
a natural machine? As for being synthetic, I assure you that both love
and poetry are there as well. So what do you imagine that we lack that
the old timers always had? A taste for turkey or cake? Just lead us to
it! We're human, Les--our forms and ideals and feelings are as they
always were. We're not devils. We're not truly separated from the old
race in any part of sympathy. We're just people gone on--I hope!--a
little further."

Ed spoke gently, as he must to a tired, confused friend. Or was it to
a whole, vast section of humanity, dumfounded by hurtling technology,
proud and stubborn about what had seemed its eternal self, and dreading
any change which could seem so darkly drastic?

Barbara tried, too. "Why don't _you_ join _us_, Les?" she urged. "If
you became like us, you would know! Besides, even if all the androids
leave the Earth, the knowledge of how to mold vitaplasm won't be taken
away with us. People here will continue to be destroyed in accidents,
as has always happened. So that knowledge will be needed and used.
Besides, some persons will change willingly. Some people may want to
shut themselves away from such realities. But I don't think that they
can. They'll have to learn to accept facts."

Les Payten looked at his old companions oddly, as if tempted by an old
soaring of the fancy. Then the light died in his eyes. "Nice logic,"
he said coldly. "I could almost trust it if I didn't remind myself. A
mechanical treachery. My Ed Dukas and Barbara Day are dead."

His tone was calm, yet there was a quiver in it--perhaps of revulsion
for these imponderable likenesses before him, whose hearts he thought
he could not--or did not--want to see.

Ed was exasperated before a stubbornness of thought habit which was
partly fear, though Les Payten was no coward. Some human minds were
quick to adjust, taking even the radical newness of the last half
century in their stride. But there had always been many others who were
slow. Perhaps it was a childish taint, a resisting of maturity. And how
could they keep pace now? But right there, Ed had to remind himself not
to be too sure of himself. The next day or minute might trip him up.

There seemed no further way to argue with Les. Ed could only express
his sincere thanks for a favor, offer good wishes, and shrug lightly
and in some mockery, for one who refused what seemed a simple truth. If
that shrug was superficially unkind, perhaps it was also a goad in the
right direction. A favor to a pal.

An hour later, when Ed told Freeman of Les Payten's reactions, the
colorful android leader had a similar comment: "There's maybe billions
like that--one reason why we got to leave. They'll change. But right
now, who cares to take the ornery kid brothers fishing? Give 'em time
to grow up a little more, first. It won't be so long. Just now we got
our own problems and jobs. They ain't small, and nothing's certain.
There's no hole to jump into that's as deep as deep space! I thought
once that it couldn't happen. But now it looks as if we're gonna get
the chance to try!"

Abel Freeman was right. That evening a message came from the World
Capital: "Let us meet and confer with android representatives and
earnestly apply ourselves to a binding solution."

That was the beginning. It seemed that reason had won out after all.
Freeman and Prell were flown to the Capital. Ed did not go, for he
foresaw a bleak conference with the single purpose of getting an
arrangement made as soon as possible. This proved to be true. To the
androids went the first star ship, its asteroid base, provisions to be
delivered regularly over a ten-year period, supplies and equipment of
all kinds, and the use of Titan, largest of distant Saturn's moons.

To the vast majority of the androids this was enough. To the few
grumblers there would be scant choice. Let them view themselves as
exiles, borne along by the eager mass of their kind.

When Freeman and Prell returned to camp after the signing of the
treaty, Les Payten had already left for the City. For a while Nancy
Freeman would look wistful. She was strong and beautiful, and perhaps
not as wild as her personal legend. Briefly, Mitchell Prell's eyes
rested on her. Then he chuckled.

"Sirius," he said. "Nine light-years away. Not the nearest star, and
not perfect. But the best bet of the nearest. Alpha Centauri is a
binary, too. Bad for stable planetary orbits. But in the Sirian System,
at least we know now that there _are_ many planets. Come on, Freeman.
There are more plans to straighten out."

Preparations began, and the weeks passed. Once Ed even went shopping
with his wife--for the pretty things, symbols of the luxury and
sophistication of Earth, that she wanted to take with her into the
unknown. Was that the crassest kind of optimism before the harshness
that could be imagined?

Ed, Barbara and Prell would be among the many thousands to be packed
into the first star ship for the first long jump. They had earned the
privilege of choice. Abel Freeman had elected to stay behind, to help
direct operations on Titan.

Interplanetary craft were moving out in a steady stream, transporting
migrants and the prefabricated parts needed to set up a vast glassed-in
camp that few of the old blood could ever have tried to build. The
androids might even have endured the cold poison of Titan's methane
atmosphere without protection. But they had inherited, and could not
easily throw off, earthly conceptions of comfort. And they had their
rights. The countless things needed to build other star ships would
soon begin to follow them.

The first group of interstellar migrants didn't have to go anywhere
near Titan. The star ship came to Earth again, to orbit around it.
Small rocket tenders were there to bring the passengers up to the
boarding locks.

At the take-off platforms, Ed Dukas saw his parents for the last time.
Jack Dukas, who had chosen to remain on Earth with his wife, shook Ed's
hand warmly. Let them try their simple life of thatched stone houses
on hillsides, Ed thought, let them defy what seemed a too involved
civilization. Perhaps after the android exodus, some few would even
make it work--on Venus, if not at home.

Ed hugged his mother. They had memories. Now Ed stretched optimism
considerably. "At last there can be a lot of time, Mom," he said.
"Enough so that we might even see each other again, someplace...."

Soon he and Barbara were up there in the great ship. To his touch, her
arm was as smooth and soft as ever. Her hair was dark and thick, her
eyes were bright with adventure, her skin a golden tan. And was it a
loss that she could have bent crowbar with her bare hands, or have
braved a vacuum at near absolute-zero temperature without harm?

"You're insulting me in your mind, Ed," she joshed gaily. "Not that I'm
much bothered. So the robot stoops to conquer, eh? Of course we have no
souls, Eddie."

"Certainly not!" he responded in the same manner. "All our hopes spring
from human sources. Even our firmer flesh was a human dream. Yet you
can practically hear our mechanical joints creak. The old race was
created perfect. Who could ever dare to make it any better?"

Ed's sarcasm was honest. Yet he knew that before the unprobed distance,
even the ruggedest of his kind were disposed to do a little whistling
in the dark.

Around them in the ship's huge assembly room, there were shouts,
greetings, jokes and laughter. A young couple chatted brightly. A child
studied a toy with serious petulance. A man consulted a notebook.
Perhaps few here yet realized their range, power and freedom or just
what they faced. Their environment had been narrow, like all earthly
history. No doubt many were afraid of the strangeness and time and
distance ahead. They had reason to be. Out there in the black pit of
the galaxy, even giant stars could perish.

Mitchell Prell had not yet come aboard. Abel Freeman had already left
for Titan--without his willful daughter. Schaeffer, the scientist, had
gone with him.

Under Harwell's commands, the colossal craft kept taking on migrants
at top speed for thirty hours. They boarded in numbers out of all
proportion to the available living space. Meanwhile there were needles
to submit to. Vitaplasm could be more rugged and adaptable now than
when it was first used. The fluids from hollow needles were the means
of imparting the improvements.

At last the ship quivered slightly. In contact with the heat of fusion
of hydrogen and lithium to form the gaseous stellar ash called helium,
any material rocket chamber would have been scattered instantly
as incandescent vapor. But space warps stood firm in their place,
squeezing with an atom-crushing pressure of their own, natural only
at the centers of stars. And now there was no secondary arrangement
for the conversion of such power as was released into electricity.
Even the helium became pure radiation that emerged in a stream. It
was a continuous, directed explosion of light, far stronger within
its narrow limits than the outburst of a supernova. It had been known
for centuries that light had both mass and pressure, and here it
was concentrated matter--the ultimate in propulsive thrust--changed
completely to energy. On the sullen Earth, neither man nor android
dared watch that thin thread of fury, while slowly the ship began to
accelerate toward a five-figure number of miles per second.

It was the start of the departure of fear from an ancient race. Or so
it was meant to be. From Earth, curses no doubt followed the ship--and
sighs of relief, and regrets, and good wishes. This setting forth
should have been a human triumph. Many would insist that it was not
that. Others knew that it was.

Braced in a cubicle two meters long, one wide and half a meter high, Ed
Dukas held his wife's hand. Tiered rows of other cubicles were around
them. Mitchell Prell had been with them minutes ago, and he had simply
said, "Good night," half jokingly. Or was it more whistling in the dark?

"Just good night. That's how it'll be, sweet," Ed whispered now. "The
years won't mean anything. In the old mythology, the demigods could
sleep for a millennium."

So the small spark of dread flickered out in them, as they invoked a
power which they had used before, in smaller android bodies, and for a
much shorter interval. No drug was needed. Their sleep became suspended
animation.

Fine dust began to settle on them. But after forty years, measured by
the ship's chronometers--on the basis of a retarded time imparted to
objects moving at high velocity, a somewhat longer interval must have
passed on Earth--Ed was awakened to help patrol the vessel.

With a few other silent men, he moved through its ghostly, dimly
lighted corridors and compartments inhabited by the living dead. The
stillness was all around, and outside only the stars burned in the
void. The decades had been like the passing of a night of sleep;
yet now awake, Ed was aware that the time had gone, building up an
unimaginable distance. Here was the abyss. It was a cold awareness
which made him neither confident nor happy. Sometimes he looked down at
Barbara's quiet face, but he did not wish her to awaken now.

Ahead was Sirius, brighter than before. Beside it, visible at least
to the unaided eye, was the dim speck of its companion star, a white
dwarf, shrunken and old, little larger than the Earth, but incredibly
massive, the very atoms at its core compressed by its fearsome gravity
and the weight of material above them. This dwarf's internal substance,
largely pure nuclear matter, would have weighed tons per cubic inch.

Instruments, brought nearer to a destination, now showed more clearly,
by the irregularities in the movements of this binary system, the
existence of planets pursuing changing paths in the complicated cross
drags of two stellar bodies revolving around a common center. Those
worlds, known of on Earth for a quarter century, were still out of
telescopic view. Their seasons must be crazy--hot, cold, uncertain.
Yet other, nearer star systems had the same, and worse, drawbacks. And
Sirius was relatively near, too. Besides, need an android worry about
the fluctuations of mad climates so much?

After a month, Ed Dukas relinquished his duties to others who were
aroused briefly. He slept again, for more decades, and on through the
first contact with a Sirian world. His mind still slightly blurred, he
came down in a tender from the orbiting star ship, after others had
landed. Barbara was with him. Somewhere far ahead, among hills rapidly
shedding their glacial coat under hot sunshine, was Mitchell Prell.

The sunshine came from Sirius itself, farther away than the distance
from Earth to Uranus; hence its size and brilliance were counteracted.
Yet this world did not attend Sirius directly. It belonged to
the white-hot speck at zenith--the dwarf with an almost equal
attraction--tiny, but much closer. The planet hurried like a moon
around this miniature sun.

Ed looked up at thin fish-scale clouds that were rose-tinted. Before
him was a prairie covered with waving stalks bearing white plumes.
Might you call them flowers blown by the wind?

High up among the melting ice he saw a tower and maybe a roadway.
Later he beheld two shapes, brown and rough, with four tapered,
flexible limbs radiating from a central lump. Man, with his arms and
legs, also has vaguely the form of a cross. But these were different,
though sometimes they almost walked, and metal devices glinted in the
equipment they wore. Had he dreamed all this somewhere years ago?...
Sometimes they rolled quickly like wheels, or they crept along, their
limbs coiling. Once they flew, with bright flashes and without wings.
But that was artificial. They moved off at last beside a shallow,
salt-rimmed sea.

"We can't stay here, Eddie," Barbara stated. "It could be fascinating,
but it would be worse than on Earth."

"As everyone will realize," Ed Dukas answered.

So the explorers came back to the tender. Nearer to the dwarf sun they
found a world with a more stable orbit and less extremes of cold and
heat. If it was nearer the dwarf with its almost negligible radiance,
it also did not approach as close to Sirius, nor swing so far away. It
was a chilly little planet that had once been inhabited, too; but now
there were only shattered stone and glass and rusted steel. Much of it
was desert. But there were forests here and there, and high glaciers.

High on a clifftop in the thin, cold atmosphere, the refugees built
their first city. It began with houses of rough logs and stone. But as
time passed and the population increased, its metal-sheathed towers
began to soar. In its glassed-in gardens, terrestrial flowers and trees
thrived, while out of doors beautiful plants of a neo-biology easily
surpassed in vigor the hardy local growths. There were theaters, stores
and libraries. There was feminine fashion. Thus, nostalgically, an old
earthly way was copied, though Earth was lost. There was no method to
speak across the light-years. Earth might even belong to a somewhat
different branch of time. But all this did not include the major point
of separation. That was expressed in the way these people climbed the
highest mountains without tiring and let the hoarfrost of fearsome cold
gather on their bare faces without discomfort.

Sometimes, on blizzard nights, while they took the sleep that they did
not need for more than the pleasure of it, Barbara and Ed would leave
the windows open to the storm.

"Roofs, buildings--why do we even bother with them?" Ed would say
jokingly.

His wife would look at him somewhat worriedly, as if he meant it. As
if here there were a bitter strangeness that lowered all earthly art
and charm and comfort and sense of home to a futility. But then she'd
manage to laugh lightly, though often she didn't quite feel that way.
"You know why we bother, Ed," she'd answer. "Because we want to stay
somewhat as we once were. Didn't you always agree to that? Because it's
hard to change old habits and limitations, and grasp the freedom you're
thinking about, Eddie. Sometimes I even suspect that we try to hide
from that freedom."

Ed would scowl, feeling all of these thoughts, too. They had all the
freedom that men had envisioned long ago: practical freedom from death,
except from extreme violence; freedom from aging, freedom of mind,
of action, of shape and size; the freedom of peace and plenty, and
boundless energy. But beyond all this, like a goad, there often was,
already, much more than a ghost of that ancient human restlessness that
always had thrived on strength.

"Are you happy here, Babs?" Ed asked once when there had been time to
doubt.

By then they already had two young sons, born of new flesh in an old
way.

"Of course--reasonably," she chuckled. "Though I have my moods. Then I
don't quite know.... But, Eddie, this is the great, marvelous future,
isn't it--the one we looked forward to with longing and wonder? We
ought to appreciate it completely."

"It is that future. But now, sweetheart, it's also just the present."

There were incidents to match such restless talk and thinking. There
was Mitchell Prell, always groping for new things, shouting down from a
cragtop, or from his laboratory, "Hey, Ed! Barbara! Come here!"

Maybe he'd discovered a vein of ore that might be mined, or a strange
specimen of hitherto unnoticed local fauna or flora. He remained a
scientist, while Ed had become a mere builder of buildings.

More than likely, the woman Prell had married would be with him--she
had been Nancy Freeman of a fantastic origin. That he had separated
himself enough from his studies to take a wife was a minor miracle.
That these so-different two should be together was certainly another.
That she had learned to be both tasteful and poised, though no less
vigorous than ever, had perhaps been hoped for by the first romancing
thought that had given her real being on Earth.

To live in peace, comfort and beauty, Ed now realized, was not a final
goal. The wild nomad, like Prell, shouting down from mountaintops,
always seeking the unknown and straining to be bigger than his
powers--however great they might have become--still had to be served.
Otherwise pride was insulted, the urge to learn and progress was
defeated; boredom set in, and centuries of life were not worth living.

Besides, belatedly, after years, there were voices, speaking out of
wireless equipment in a way that Ed and Barbara Dukas and Mitchell
Prell had reason to remember. That this world was now haunted by beings
that floated with the dust in the air was a fact which in itself had an
eerie, nomadic charm. Three tiny beings. No, now there were four.

"Hello! Did you guess that we came with you on the star ship?... But
we stayed on that first planet. Then we visited others. Once we slept
under a glacier--we don't know how long. Now we have built another
biological workshop. So we will not be lonely. There will be many of
us. I see you have done well. What comes next?"

Ed had the odd and startling impression of having been spoken to
by himself. But he and a tiny speck of the clay of the half-gods
were entirely distinct, even if their names were the same. The vast
difference in size, enforcing separate thought patterns to meet the
problems of different environment, had widened the gap further.

"It's us!" Barbara said.

Mitchell Prell and Nancy were also present just then, in the Dukas
house. Perhaps the visitors had waited for them to be there.

"I know who you mean," Nancy remarked. "Your little folk, Mitch. Tell
them something. Or do they embarrass you by being so strange? Have you
forgotten?"

Prell laughed somewhat unsteadily. Other interests had long ago taken
his attention away from the small regions that were within the reach of
android powers.

"They're special friends," he said. "We won't have any trouble talking
to them. Hello yourselves!"

So it was, for an hour. There was a mood of elfin charm, of expanded
dimensions, of soft, rich colors; of physical laws wonderfully
different in effect. The memory was haunting. But the larger Ed and
Barbara had no present wish to return to that fantastic land. It was
not their destiny.

"So long for now...." The voices faded away playfully. But as Sirian
time built Terran years, they were occasionally heard again, bearing a
note of challenge.

The new city had grown huge. The surrounding country was becoming
populous. And the inevitable happened, like part of a plan implanted
in the nature of man from the beginning--to grow, to reach out, to
be bigger in all things than he was before, though perhaps even to
imagine the final goal itself was still beyond his intelligence and his
experience. Now a more rugged body only made the drives stronger and
the outcome more sure.

Still orbiting around this first colonial world, outside the old solar
system and linked to the history of Earth, was the star ship, kept
always in careful order. But on a small, jagged moon, a larger, better
craft was under construction. It would have thrilled ancient blood; it
could stir an android more.

Something sultry began to ache in Ed Dukas's mind at the thought of
restraint.

"Some of us will have to go on, Babs," he said one dwarf-lit
half-night. "Blame it on fundamental biological law--in me, and the
boys, too. Call it building an empire too big for any government. Maybe
it's an intended step--toward some other condition still out of sight.
No doubt we're far from the end of what we can become. I don't know.
I don't really care. I'm just a man and glad of it. I only know how I
feel, and I suspect that, deep down, you feel the same!"

For a moment Barbara was angry and sad. She still had a woman's wish
for permanence. She knew that Ed was thinking of other stars and their
systems--red giants, flickering variables, bursting novae--a whole
universe of mystery beckoning to a new kind of human. Even the ugly
coal-sack clouds of cosmic dust could have their appeal. She herself
was not beyond being intrigued by such things.

She walked across her pleasant room, which had begun to bore her a
little, as Ed knew. "I'm game," she said mildly.

Inconceivably far off were other galaxies. Maybe Ed read her mind
a little, as she thought of the vast, tilted swirl of the one in
Andromeda, almost as big as their native Milky Way. It was the nearest,
but so distant that all the light-years they had crossed could seem
a mile by comparison. As a child she used to look at a picture of it
and think that everything she could imagine, and much more, was there:
books, musical instruments, summer nights, dark horror.

Ed and she were like the pagan divinities dreamed up wistfully long
ago. Yet now she felt very humble.

"Ed--"

"Yes?"

"I was just wondering where God lives," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

                           ABOUT THE AUTHOR


_Ray Gallun's stories have appeared in virtually every science-fiction
magazine known to English-speaking man_--Galaxy, Astounding Science
Fiction, Amazing Stories, Marvel Tales, Startling Stories, _etc._,
_etc._, _plus_ Collier's, Family Circle, Utopia (_Germany_), _and
various anthologies_.

_He was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1910, attended the University
of Wisconsin, and has since spent most of his time, when not writing,
traveling through the U. S., Mexico, Hawaii, Europe, and the Middle
East. He is currently a resident of New York City._

       *       *       *       *       *

"AMONG THE BETTER SCIENCE-FICTION NOVELS." --_Wilmington News_

"Scientific experiments on the moon and an accidental lunar explosion
that seared the earth triggers another tale from the imaginative pen of
Raymond Z. Gallun, a familiar name to science-fiction readers.

"The secret of life and the restoring to the living of victims of
the holocaust initiate a conflict for Ed Dukas, Gallun's scientific
pioneer of the future. Restoring persons through scientific methods,
personality records and the memories of near kin, leaves one fatal
flaw. They lack one indefinable quality--a divine spark, perhaps a soul.

"Gallun depicts a struggle between the restored people and the natural
living. Life on the asteroids, thought machines, a journey to Mars and
a star ship expedition to Sirius are woven into the plot.

"PEOPLE MINUS X is packed with action, science-fiction style."--_Detroit
Times_

       *       *       *       *       *

          _Of special interest to science-fiction readers_--

                               ACE BOOKS

               _recommends these exciting new volumes_:


    D-223    THE 13TH IMMORTAL by Robert Silverberg
             Was he a fugitive from Utopia?
             _and_ THIS FORTRESS WORLD by James E. Gunn
             He brought the skies down upon him.

    D-255    CITY UNDER THE SEA by Kenneth Bulmer
             Despots of the ocean bottom.
             _and_ STAR WAYS by Poul Anderson
             "Enjoyable, fast-moving, convincing."--_Astounding S.F._

    D-261    THE VARIABLE MAN AND OTHER STORIES
             by Philip K. Dick
             Five exciting adventures in the future.

    D-277    CITY ON THE MOON by Murray Leinster
             A novel of the first lunar colonists
             _and_ MEN ON THE MOON
             Edited by Donald A. Wollheim
             A new anthology of lunar exploration.

    D-286    ACROSS TIME by David Grinnell
             Kidnapped into the future!
             _and_ INVADERS FROM EARTH
             by Robert Silverberg
             His lies decided the fate of two worlds.

                                  35¢

If not available at your newsdealer, any of these books may be bought
by sending 35¢ (plus 5¢ handling fee) for each number to Ace Books,
Inc. (Sales Dept.), 23 W. 47th St., New York 36, N. Y.

                         Order by book number

       *       *       *       *       *

    _If you've enjoyed this book, you will not want to miss these_

                      ACE SCIENCE-FICTION NOVELS


    D-266    TWICE UPON A TIME by Charles L. Fontenay
             Eternal guardians of the star circuit
             _and_ THE MECHANICAL MONARCH by E. C. Tubb
             One extra man could unbalance the world.

    D-205    THE EARTH IN PERIL
             Edited by Donald A. Wollheim
             Exciting stories of invaders from space.
             _and_ WHO SPEAKS OF CONQUEST?
             by Lan Wright
             The galaxy said: "Earthmen, go home!"

    D-215    THREE TO CONQUER by Eric Frank Russell
             Only one man knew the Earth was invaded!
             _and_ DOOMSDAY EVE by Robert Moore Williams
             Were the strangers impervious to H-Bombs?

    D-199>   STAR GUARD by Andre Norton
             "Fast-paced and good reading."--_Saturday Review_
             _and_ THE PLANET OF NO RETURN
             by Poul Anderson
             The first--or the last--on that new world?

    D-193    THE MAN WHO JAPED by Philip K. Dick
             In the days of the robot peeping toms!
             _and_ THE SPACE-BORN by E. C. Tubb
             Their world was entirely man-made!


                      Two Complete Novels for 35¢

If your newsdealer is sold out, send 35¢ per book number (plus 5¢
handling charges) directly to Ace Books (Sales Dept.), 23 W. 47th St.,
New York 36, N. Y.

                        _Order by Book Number_





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "People Minus X" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home