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´╗┐Title: Alien Minds
Author: Evans, E. Everett (Edward Everett)
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 "Alien Minds" ***

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                              ALIEN MINDS

                          by E. Everett Evans

                          FANTASY PRESS, INC.
                         READING, PENNSYLVANIA

                            Copyright 1955
                          by E. Everett Evans

                      No part of this book may be
                    reproduced in any form without
                      permission in writing from
                            the publisher.

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

                             FIRST EDITION

                          Printed in U. S. A.

                          by E. Everett Evans
                           Man of Many Minds
                          The Planet Mappers
                              Alien Minds

                                  For
                                Mother
                         to whom I owe so much



ALIEN  MINDS



CHAPTER 1


"Were you looking for a roch, nyer?" An oily voice spoke up just by the
elbow of George Hanlon. "I have some excellent ones here, sir."

"Yes, nyer, I want several, if I can find ones to suit me," the young
man replied. Nor could anyone, glancing at him, know he was not a
native of this planet, Szstruyyah, which the Inter-Stellar Corpsmen,
in self-defense, called "Estrella." For the cosmetic-specialist who
handled the secret servicemen's disguises had done a marvelous job in
transforming the blond young Corpsman into an Estrellan native.

Hanlon continued looking into the outside cages containing these
tailless roches, the Estrellan equivalent of wild dogs. "I want eight,
all as near the same size, coloring and age as possible."

"Eight, did you say?" the merchant looked at him in astonishment.
Hanlon, carefully reading the surface of the man's mind, sensed the
conflict there between the ethics his religion and philosophy had
taught him, his natural love of haggling, and a desire to make as much
profit as possible. But he could not sense the slightest suspicion that
the man confronting him was not another Estrellan.

This was a great relief to Hanlon, for he was still afraid he might be
recognized as a stranger and an alien. In his disguise he was still
humanoid in shape, and still his five feet eleven inches in height.
But in addition to the ragged beard and longish hair, he had undergone
outward structural differences that made him seem almost totally
unhuman.

"That's right. Eight. I want them to be about two years old, in good
health. Can you supply them?"

"I can if you can pay for them," the native looked somewhat
questioningly at Hanlon's cheap clothing.

The young secret serviceman smiled, and jingled coins in his pocket. "I
can pay."

"Then come with me, nyer, and we will find the ones you want."

Hanlon followed him inside the peculiar little open-faced stall that
was one of the hundreds surrounding the great market square of this
city of Stearra, largest on the West Continent of Estrella. His nose
wrinkled against the stench of the uncleaned kennels.

The roches, seeing a stranger and, perhaps, being somewhat upset by his
strange, alien effluvia, set up the peculiar, frenzied yelping that was
their customary sound. To Hanlon, it was reminiscent of the wail of
earthly coyotes.

The young Corpsman was on a very hair-trigger of caution and tenseness.
Despite his splendid disguise, he had plodded through the crowd of the
market place with a great deal of trepidation.

He had seemingly come through all right so far, and he began to relax
a bit, yet was still somewhat fearful that he might give himself away
by some difference of action, or speech, or by breaking one of their
customs or taboos about which he knew all too little, despite his
briefing and study before coming here.

"Have you decided which ones you want, nyer?" the proprietor asked,
waving his hand toward the various cages, hardly able to believe he was
to make such a large sale.

Hanlon said nothing, continuing to scan closely the roches, for his
thoughts were still very much on this, his first prolonged venture
into the streets and among the crowds of this strange new world to
which he had been assigned on his second problem.

His mind was constantly contacting others, for George Spencer Newton
Hanlon was the only member of the secret service who was at all able
to read minds. But he could read only their surface thoughts--and
these Estrellans had such peculiar mental processes, so different from
those of the humans with whom he was familiar, that they were almost
non-understandable.

So he was still a bit hesitant to start the bickering he knew he must
engage in to stay in character. To delay a bit further he continued
examining the animals in the cages, not only with his eyes but mentally
scanning the brain of each, that he might be sure of finding those in
perfect health, with minds he could most easily control.

"Though how I can expect to find healthy ones in a filthy dump like
this, I don't know," he thought. But he finally did.

While he was doing this, however, he was reminded of the time he had
discovered this ability to "read" animal minds, and how his subsequent
studies had enabled him to control their minds and bodily actions with
amazing skill. It was this ability that had led him to this market
place on his unusual quest.

"I'll take that one, and that, and that," he said at last, pointing
out, one after another, the eight animals he wanted.

"Yes, nyer, yes," the puzzled but delighted proprietor said, as he
transferred the indicated animals to a single, large cage. "That will
cost you ..." he eyed Hanlon carefully to see if he could get away with
an exorbitant price. Something seemed to tell him the stranger did not
know just how much roches customarily sold for, and he decided to raise
his asking price considerably. "... they will be seven silver pentas
each, nyer, and believe me, you are getting a fine price. I usually get
ten each,"--he was lucky to get two, Hanlon read in his mind--"but
since this is such a large sale I can afford to make you a bargain."

Hanlon grinned to himself as he computed quickly. Five iron pentas,
he knew, made one copper penta, five coppers one tin penta, five of
these one silver penta, and five silvers a gold one. This made the
silver piece worth about one-half a Federation credit. The price seemed
ridiculously low, even with this big mark-up. Hanlon would willingly
have paid it, but he had learned from the briefing tapes, and again
now from his reading of this merchant's mind, that they loved to
haggle over their sales--made a sort of game of it--so he turned away,
registering disgust.

"A fool you think me, perhaps," he said witheringly. "Seven silver
pentas, indeed. One would be a great price for such ill-fed, scrawny,
pitiable animals as those."

The merchant raised his hands and voice in simulated rage--which did
not prevent him from running around to face Hanlon's retreating figure,
and bar his way. "'Robber', he calls me, then tries to rob me in turn.
Six?" he suggested hopefully.

Hanlon was now enjoying the game, and threw himself into it with vigor.
"I call on Zappa to witness that you are, indeed, the worst thief
unhung," he also spoke loudly, angrily, largely for the benefit of the
crowd of natives that was swiftly gathering to watch and listen to this
sport. "Look, that one is crooked of leg, this one's hair is ready to
fall out, that one is fifteen years old if a day. I'll give you two."

Yet he knew all the animals were in perfect health, and all about two
years old. He had carefully selected only such.

"I ask anyone here," the seller wailed as he waved toward the crowd
that was watching and listening with huge enjoyment, "I ask anyone
here who knows roches to examine these you have chosen. They are all
exceptional, all perfect. The best in my shop. Five and a half."

Hanlon turned away again. "I'll go find an _honest_ dealer," he started
to push through the crowd, but the merchant hurried after him and
grasped his smock. "Wait, nyer, wait. It breaks my heart to do this.
I'll lose a month's profit, but I'll sell them to you for five pentas
each. To my best friend I wouldn't give a better price."

"That shows why you have no friends. Three even, take it or leave it,"
Hanlon was still pretending indifference.

"I'm ruined; I'll be forced out of business," the dealer screamed.
"They cost me more than that. Oh, why did I rise this morning. Give me
four?"

Hanlon grinned and dug out a handful of the pentagonal-shaped gold and
silver pieces. He counted into the merchant's quivering but dirty hands
the agreed-upon thirty-two pentas.

The native looked at them, wordlessly, but his face was a battleground
of mixed emotions. Finally he reluctantly counted out half of them
into his other hand, and held them out to Hanlon. "No, nyer, I cannot
over-charge you. Two is the price."

"You're an honest man after all, and I apologize," Hanlon said,
smiling, as he pushed back the outstretched hand. "Those I chose are
fine animals, perfect, and the best in your shop. So keep the money.
Send them to my room this midday," he commanded. "It's on the street of
the Seven Moons, at the corner of the street of the Limping Caval--the
house painted pink in front. Second floor to the rear. My name--Gor
Anlo--is on the door."

He had taken that name on this planet since it most nearly corresponded
to his own from among the common Estrellan names.

The roch-dealer, well pleased with the outcome, bobbed obsequiously.
"It shall be done as you say, nyer, and I shall include feeding and
drinking dishes. What about food for them?"

"That's right, they'll need dishes, and thank you. Let's see your
meat." But after examining the poor quality food the merchant
displayed, he would not buy.

"I'll get something elsewhere, if this is the best you have," Hanlon
told the man with a disarming smile. "Such fine roches deserve the
best."

"Yes, my food is poor," the dealer moved his hand deprecatingly. "I'm
glad the roches are to have such a considerate master."

And Hanlon could read in his mind that the merchant actually was
pleased. The S S man felt that he had passed this first public test
with high grades.

In one of the better-class food stalls Hanlon found some good, clean
meat, and the other foods such animals ate. After the customary game of
haggling, he ordered a two days' supply to be delivered at once, and
the order duplicated every other day until further notice.

Then he hunted up a suit-maker. Here it took a lot of persuasion, and
the showing of his money, before the tailor would even believe that
Hanlon really meant what he said when he tried to order nine uniforms,
eight of them of such outlandish shape and size. For one of them was
for himself, the others for his newly-bought roches.

It was only when Hanlon finally lost patience and said sharply, "You
stupid lout, I want them for a theatrical act," that the uniform-maker
realized the reason for such an unusual order. Then things ran
smoothly. The design was sketched, and material of a red to harmonize
with the grayish-tan of the roches was chosen. The tailor consented
also, for an added fee, to rush the job.

Hanlon's way home led through part of the district where the larger,
better-class shops were located. He stopped in front of one of these.

He knew from his studies and from what he had seen here, that Estrella
was just at the beginning of a mechanical culture. What sciences
and machines they had were unbelievably crude and primitive to him,
accustomed as he was to the high technologies of Terra and the
colonized planets.

This display he was scanning featured their means of personal
transportation. There were, of course, no moving slideways, nor even
automobiles nor ground cabs nor copters. Instead, the Estrellans used
motorized tricycles. Even the smallest of these was heavy, cumbersome,
crude and inefficient, but they were speedier and easier than
walking--when they worked.

The tricycles had large wheels, about three feet in diameter, with
semi-hard, rubber-like tires. There were two wheels in back and one in
front, steered by a tiller lever. Because of the weight of the engine
and tank for the gas, even the smallest trike weighed several hundred
pounds.

The fuel was acetylene gas, Hanlon found to his dismay. Electricity
had been discovered here, but as yet they knew only direct current.
No AC--no vacuum tubes--no telephones--no radios--no television--"ner
nothing," Hanlon snorted in disgust.

But the native scientists and technicians had found how to use their D
C to manufacture calcium carbide. Thus, they had plenty of acetylene
gas, and many ways of using this for power.

"I'd lots rather have a good two-wheeled bike," Hanlon thought to
himself, but decided, "guess I'd better buy one of these. Probably have
to do a lot of chasing around, and since there's no 'for hire' ground
cabs, I don't want to have to walk all the time. Besides, I might have
to get somewhere in a hurry."

The salesman had first tried to sell him one of the larger three- or
four-place family-sized tricycles that steered with a wheel. But Hanlon
finally made the man understand that he wanted only a one-man machine,
and the purchase was haggled into completion--at a price so low it
surprised the young secret serviceman.

"Sure is one screwy world," he shook his head as he rode back toward
his apartment, after learning how to operate his new machine and its
tricky engine.

Back in his room, Hanlon reviewed the situation to date on this, his
second assignment for the secret service of the Inter-Stellar Corps. He
had been at the head of the commission sent to Algon where he (Hanlon)
had been largely instrumental in freeing from slavery the strange,
vegetable-like people, the Guddus.[1] The commission had helped them
make a treaty with the Federated Planets by which the natives allowed
the humans to mine certain valuable metals from their planet, and to
maintain the spaceship-yards that had been built by the men who had
formerly enslaved them, in return for protection from exploiters, and
for certain cultural assistance. Just as his work there was about
finished, a message had come for Captain Hanlon to report back to the
planet Simonides.

[Footnote 1: See "MAN OF MANY MINDS," Fantasy Press, 1953.]

There he met his father, Regional Admiral Newton, second in command
of the secret service. (This discrepancy of names was due to the
fact that after young Spencer Newton's mother died, and his father
"disappeared"--at the time he joined the secret service--the boy was
adopted by George Hanlon, an ex-Corpsman, and his wife, and had taken
his foster-father's name.)

"We're not getting anywhere on Estrella," his father had begun abruptly
once they had warmly greeted each other. "I've come to the conclusion,
and the Council agrees, that we need your special mental abilities
there. But take it easy, Spence ... er, I never can seem to get used
to calling you 'George'. Don't try to go it alone ... and you can wipe
that cocky smirk off your face, mister," he commanded sternly. "This
time it's an official order from the top brass. Those Estrellans are
distinctly alien--not humans gone wrong."

Hanlon sobered down a bit, but secretly could not entirely shake off
his attitude, feeling sure he was more than a match for any trouble
he might run into. Hadn't he proved it, on Algon and right here on
Simonides? Sure he had. Great Snyder, he wasn't a kid any more. He was
a secret serviceman of the Inter-Stellar Corps, whom they called in
when the rest of them, even his adored dad, failed.

"Just what's the problem there?" he asked, trying not to let these
thoughts show in his face.

"The people of Estrella are not colonists from Terra or any of the
colonized planets," the admiral explained slowly. "They are native to
that world--the first such, by the way, that we have discovered who are
advanced enough to be asked to join the Federation with equal status.
They are quite man-like in shape, and of a high order of civilization.
Their culture is much like Earth's was two hundred and fifty or three
hundred years ago."

"Just beginning their real introduction to scientific and mechanical
technologies on a planetary scale, eh?"

"That's it. Their system was discovered and mapped a few years ago.
The Colonial Board immediately sent psychologists and linguists there
to learn their language and study the natives and their form of
government, their economics and general advancement. What they found,
although far different from our own, was so surprisingly high that we
sent them a formal offer to join the Federation. But ..." he stopped,
frowning.

"Yes?" Hanlon was interested now, and paying close attention. "But
what?"

"That's what we don't know. At first they seemed very pleased with the
offer. They studied it carefully and, at our suggestion, sent a picked
group of statesmen, scientists and merchants on a trip to our various
worlds in one of our ships. These men and women seemed delighted with
what they found, and enthusiastic about their world joining us. But,
shortly after their return home and before the final treaties were
signed, opposition began to develop."

"What kind of...?"

"All kinds. Enough to make the plans slow down and halt. The embassy
sent there couldn't discover the reason--we have trouble enough
understanding their way of thinking at all--and they yelled for help.
We sent a couple of S S men there, and when they failed, I went there
myself, to help them, and the embassy came home."

He shook his head. "I can't find a thing, either, that seems
significant. Oh, the surface opposition is easily discernable. Papers,
handbills, inflammatory speeches by spellbinders, whispering campaigns,
all calling for keeping Estrella for the Estrellans and running out all
foreigners bent on plundering the planet for their own enrichment--that
sort of thing."

"Maybe some natives who want to take over, themselves," Hanlon ventured.

"Could be. We've thought of that, but have found no proof. We have no
proof of anything except the opposition. Only one thing, that may or
may not have something to do with this. We've discovered that almost
simultaneously with this opposition an unprecedented crime wave started
there--every type of criminal activity imaginable, and that is almost
unheard of on that world. But we can't even get the first leads as to
_who_ is behind it all. That's why I suggested you be called in, and
the staff agreed."

The admiral paused and his piercing gray eyes bored earnestly into
the blue ones of his son. "Keep this in mind at all times, Spence,
for it is most important. We _must_ succeed there. This is the first
non-Terran world we've found equal in cultural advancement to ours. But
surely it won't be the last. And we must win them over. All civilized
worlds must band together for mutual growth and well-being. So this is
our most important project just now."

"Yes," seriously, "I can see that. Also, that if we do get them to join
us, we can point out that fact to any other planets we may discover and
try to bring into the Federation in the future."

_And lying at ease on a heavily-padded bench before the control board
of a space cruiser, a stranger looked deeply into a multiphased scanner
that worked on scientific principles not yet discovered by humans._

_For long, long months its mind had been studying this new world and
its inhabitants. The language had been learned, after a fashion, as
had much of the planetary economics and governmental intricacies. Now
the minds of the people were being studied; it was searching, always
searching, for certain types._

_But part of that mind remained continually in that of one certain
Estrellan it had long ago selected._



CHAPTER 2


So now SSM George Hanlon was here on this planet they called Estrella,
trying to see what he could find out. It was hard, devilishly and
maddeningly hard, to discern what these people were really thinking. It
wasn't their language--that had been fairly easy to sleep-learn from
the reels. No, it was their mental processes--the way they thought. He
was not too sure of himself yet, even with his ability to read their
surface thoughts, for so often those thoughts held connotations he was
not sure he understood.

For the Estrellan mind was so different from those of humans--its
texture was coarser, for one thing, and the thought-concept symbols
largely non-understandable to him so far. He had studied--he winced to
think how hard he had studied--and he had practiced assiduously since
arriving here. But he still could get only an occasional thought-idea
of whose meaning he felt at all sure ... it was far worse than with
humans. True, he was making some progress, but it was so--he grinned
mirthlessly--"fast like a turtle." Yet he did not allow discouragement
to keep him from continuing with his work.

For during the week he had been here he had managed to pick up some
facts of which he felt sure. He decided his best method of approach lay
with this new criminal element, for he was convinced from his study of
the problem that they were, somehow, tied in with whoever was behind
all the opposition to Estrella's joining the Federation of Planets. The
tremendous increase in crime, so foreign to the general nature of these
high-principled beings, and coming simultaneously with the development
of that opposition, was not, he felt sure, coincidental. Working from
the inside against a criminal gang had worked on Simonides--it might be
equally successful here.

He had found what he felt was proof that a certain Ino Yandor, this
world's greatest purveyor of entertainment, was actually a ring-leader
in the criminal web, in this city, at least. And he had figured
that the best way to get acquainted with this man was to pose as an
entertainer.

Because of his ability to control the minds and muscles of animals, he
decided to be an animal trainer. Hence his apparently strange action in
buying eight Estrellan roches, or dogs. He had figured out an act that
he thought was a dilly.

"At least," he grinned to himself, "it would knock 'em in the aisles on
Terra or the human planets. But with these folks ..." he shrugged away
the doubts.

Suddenly, as Hanlon was sitting there thinking all these things, he
heard a tremendous commotion outside the house. There were the excited
yells of many children, a terrific uproar of yelps and whines that he
recognized as made by his roches, and the shrill complainings of the
elders living in this and the adjacent houses.

"Oh, oh, my pups are being delivered," Hanlon grinned, and ran out to
meet the messenger. As soon as he was in sight of the crowd, he began
touching one rochian mind after another, sending them calming thoughts,
and quieting their frenzied yelpings. By the time the eight dogs were
in his rooms, they were well under control, and lay down as soon as
they were inside.

Hanlon good-naturedly answered many of the questions hurled at him by
the inquisitive youngsters; assured the apprehensive neighbors that
he would see to it that the roches did not bother them; dismissed the
man who had delivered the animals, with thanks and a gold penta, then
hurriedly closed the door against the crowd still in the hallway.

He then settled down into a comfortable seat, and proceeded to get
acquainted with his new pets. He first had to learn the texture of
their individual minds, which were like yet different from those of
earthly animals. Then each roch's individual characteristics had to be
studied and learned, and the animal's wild nature more or less tamed
and subdued, which last he found quite easy to do--from within.

The animals, in turn, had to become used to Hanlon's taking control of
their minds and bodily functions, and of allowing him to handle them
mentally without fighting back or trying not to obey.

This was eminently tricky work, but Hanlon's previous practice with
many animals, birds and insects, both here and on Simonides and Algon,
had given him facility so he was able to do it fairly easily.

"Why, they're really just nice little pooches at heart, in spite of
that snout that looks like a pig's, set in that flat face. But I
like 'em, and I think this'll work out OK." He fed and watered his
pseudo-dogs, then let them go to sleep, as he was preparing to do.

Right after he and the roches had breakfasted the next morning, he set
to work in earnest on their training for the special routines he had
planned. As the day sped swiftly by he found his ideas working out even
more satisfactorily than he had hoped. It would not be too long before
he was ready to make contact with that Ino Yandor, the theatrical agent.

The following day Hanlon stayed in his room again, working with the
animals, training them in group maneuvers, having learned how to handle
them individually. It was a weird feeling, dissociating part of his
mind and placing it in that of a roch, and with that portion of his
mind consciously controlling the animal's brain to direct its nerves
and muscles to do what he wanted done. And when he did this to eight
roches simultaneously--well, even though he had done similar things
before, it was still hard to get used to the idea that it was possible.

So hard had he been working that he was surprised when he happened to
notice how dark it was getting. He went over and looked out of the
window in his room, and saw it was night outside. A glance at the
Estrellan time-teller on the wall, and he saw it was the dinner hour.

He rose and stretched, yawning vigorously. "Better get out and get some
fresh air," he thought. He took the dogs for a half hour's run outside,
then brought them back, fed and watered them. He impressed on their
minds that when they were finished they were to go to sleep. Then again
he left the building.

He couldn't help grinning a bit as he was walking down the street,
thinking of the screwy way these people handled the problem of where
to live. For the common, ordinary, not-too-rich people, there were
apartment buildings, such as the one in which he lived, owned and
operated by the government. When anyone wanted a room or an apartment,
he merely hunted around in the district in which he wished to live
until he found an empty place that suited him, then moved in. There was
no landlord, no rent. Taxes paid for it.

You were supposed to take care of your own cleaning and minor repairs,
or any special decorating you wanted done. Major repairs were handled
upon request, by men paid by the government. If your furniture wore
out, or no longer suited you, you simply moved to a place you liked
better--and some other poorer person had to take what you had left, if
all other rooms were occupied. Yet so considerate of others were the
average Estrellans, that they seldom did this, preferring to replace
the worn-out things themselves, if financially able to do so.

"Imagine the average Terran doing that," Hanlon had thought,
wonderingly, when he first heard of it.

He had been lucky enough to find a three-room apartment fairly close
to the downtown section of the city, yet far enough away so the
crowd-noise did not bother him. The building in which he lived was of
four stories, and he was on the second floor, near the back.

It was the third place he had looked at when he first came to Estrella.
He could not at first make himself believe that all the rooms had such
bad smells in them. But he soon found it to be true, largely because
these natives had nothing that could be called efficient plumbing.
When he had finally picked these rooms, he spent a full day airing
them out, cleaning them thoroughly, and using what disinfectants and
smell-eradicators he was able to find and buy in the stalls here.

The peculiar-looking, five-sided rooms were comfortably furnished, by
Estrellan standards, and not too bad even from Earthly ones. The walls
and ceilings and floors were painted in fairly harmonious colors, and
there was a sort of half-matting, half-carpet rug on the floors. What
corresponded to the living room contained two of their low, backless
stools, and one quite comfortable lounging chair. There was a large
and a small table, and an empty case where one could store any reading
scrolls he might possess.

The bedroom had a low, foot-high, five-sided bed, but it was hard and
uncomfortable until Hanlon figured how to make it softer, and more to
his liking. There were several pegs on the wall from which to hang his
clothing, two more of the backless stools, and the open place--a sort
of well running from roof to basement--that was the toilet. Hanlon
found a large piece of heavy cloth something like canvas, in one of the
stalls, and made a hanging to cover this in lieu of a door, which shut
out some of the smell-source.

The kitchen had shelves, a stove, and table and backless stools. In one
corner, suspended through the ceiling, was an open water pipe with a
sort of concrete drain beneath. This was both the source of water for
cooking or drinking, and the bathing place--a primitive shower.

The reels furnished by Survey had told Hanlon that few of the Estrellan
buildings were more than five stories high. "Some, in the business
districts, may run to six or seven stories. We have concluded that the
main reason for this is that the natives do not have elevators, except
a few crude rope-and-pulley freight elevators in some of the stores and
office buildings."

Now Hanlon sauntered slowly along the street, enjoying the fresh night
air, warmed to about sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit, while he worked the
kinks out of his tension-wearied body. This business of controlling the
roches demanded such intense concentration that his mind and body were
highly keyed up when he finished, and he had trouble relaxing.

He saw, almost without noticing this time, the primitive street
lighting system that made flickering lights and shadows on the
tree-shaded walks and roads. These people used natural gas for their
nighttime outdoor illuminating--just semi-ornate standards with the
flames rising a foot or so above them. Men went around at dusk to light
them, and again at dawn to turn them off.

Hanlon had walked slowly for several blocks when he saw a native
approaching him. When they came abreast the man stopped him.

"I do not remember seeing you about here before," he said, looking
closely at Hanlon in the flickering light. "I am the peace keeper for
this district," he added as he saw Hanlon's questioning look.

"No, I just moved in a few days ago," Hanlon answered.

"What do you do here? Do you have a job?"

"He thinks I'm a vag," Hanlon grinned to himself, and said aloud, in
a courteous voice, "I just came from the Eastern Continent, nyer, and
hope to become a public entertainer. I have enough money to support
myself until I can earn more."

"That is good. If I can ever be of service in helping you to get
acquainted, please look me up. I like to see all the people in my
district happy and busy."

"I shall do that, nyer, and thank you for your courtesy." And as the
man moved to one side, Hanlon gave him a cheery half-salute, and went
on his way. "Darned nice people, really," he said to himself. "They'll
make good Federation citizens."

When Hanlon had started out on this stroll he had had no special
destination--was merely out for a breather. But as he ambled along
a thought came to him, and he quickened his pace and walked more
purposefully toward the downtown section and a certain building he had
previously spotted.

It was a small "place where men drank," and his investigations had
convinced him that many of this city's criminal element went there for
relaxation. The cafe occupied the street floor of a small two-storied
building that was, as were almost all the Estrellan buildings, a
five-sided one.

For _five_ was the sacred number of the native religion and philosophy.
Hanlon had learned that the number five was consistently used wherever
possible, even in their architecture, their ornaments, and their coined
money.

Their religion was based on five basic Truths taught by He Who Died For
Them. These were: Love, Faith, Brotherliness, Honor, and Loyalty. Their
philosophy (they called it their "Code of Living") was also composed of
five parts: to be religious; to attain the highest possible mentality;
to live physically clean lives; to be considerate of others always, and
to be honest in all dealings.

The Terrans had found that while, of course, there were individuals who
did not subscribe either to their religion or their Code of Living,
that on the whole the race held a very high standard of ethics.

Now, as he walked inside the drinking place, the young S S man saw
that the pentagonal room was brilliantly lighted, rather than kept dim
as were most Terran and Simonidean cafes.

"Probably because they can't turn 'em low," he thought. For the lights
were lamps burning a carbide compound, that gave out a harsh but very
bright light.

As Hanlon took a seat at a small table, he looked about him
interestedly. There was a bar across the back or third side, where the
drinks were mixed. On the other four sides, except where the windows
or doors interferred, were several small booths, with drawn curtains
across their entrances for privacy. The balance of the floor was filled
with two-, three- and five-place pentagonal tables, and their chairs,
or rather, backless stools.

"What is your wish?" an attendant came to Hanlon's table.

"Glass of mykkyl, please."

While the waiter was bringing the barely-intoxicating but very popular
drink, and later as Hanlon was slowly sipping it, the S S man let his
mind roam throughout the small room, touching mind after mind, seeking
and hoping to find those he had come here trying to locate.

He had to grit his teeth to keep from showing the frustration he
felt on this world when trying to understand what these people were
thinking. For he had long since found that, whatever a human might be
speaking in words, his thoughts showed his true feelings simultaneously
with and despite what he was saying. And Hanlon could usually read
those surface thoughts and understand them fully.

But with the Estrellans, he had found this was not always true. There
was sometimes an ... an _obliqueness_ ... that could not be directly
translated by one no more used to their thought-patterns than he was so
far.

George Hanlon was the only member of the Inter-Stellar Corps' secret
service who could read minds at all--one of the very few humans ever
to possess this ability to any demonstrable extent. And he was still
young enough to feel occasionally that he was being badly treated by
his inability to read these native minds at will.

While he was on that Simonidean assignment, and on the planet of Algon,
he had even learned to telepath with the natives, the Guddu "Greenies,"
or plant-men. But here he could not do that at all. He could read and
control animal minds, "and these lousy Estrellans are almost animals,"
he had growled beneath his breath at first, "so why can't I handle
their minds?"

But even through this rude shock to his vanity he did not entirely lose
his ability to think and reason logically. He had studied the problem
intensively for these past days, and had come to certain preliminary
conclusions.

"It's not, after all, that they're lower in the evolutionary scale than
we Terrans are," he finally concluded. "It's just that they haven't
advanced as far in scientific and technological knowledge. They may
look like apes, but they sure aren't. Probably, when we get to really
know them--if we ever do--we'll find they are 'way ahead of us in many
things. They certainly, as a whole, practice their 'Code of Living' far
better than most of our people do their professed religion."

This conclusion was another shock to his confident young mind. For he
had more than half expected, when he first came here, to have an easy
time of it in solving the problem on which he and the other secret
servicemen were working.

Yet how quickly he had been disabused.

And now, in this little place where men drank, he was finding it
out anew. None of the minds he was scanning with all the ability he
possessed, was quite of the calibre he sought, although most of them
displayed leanings toward larceny and other criminal tendencies. For
this drinking place was not one which the more generally law-abiding
and decent people of Stearra cared to patronize.

Maddeningly meager were the thoughts he could interpret, but when he
finally came to scan the minds of four natives who were seated at a
five-place table near the back, close to the bar, he made an almost
unconscious exclamation of surprise and delight.

He "listened in" more closely to the four, who were leaning toward each
other, talking together in low, earnest tones. Hanlon could read the
surface thoughts in each mind, but only occasionally at first could
he understand what they were discussing. However, as he became more
accustomed to their individual peculiarities of thought, he began to
get enough to convince him that these were the ones he was seeking. At
least, they were planning some deviltries, and one spoke as though he
had received orders as to what they were to do.

Hanlon even finally got their names, although of the latter he soon
became interested mainly in that of the slender, blondishly-hairy
native with the steely blue eyes. That one, Ran Auldin, was their
leader, Hanlon decided.

More intently now, Hanlon studied their minds, paying no further
attention to the others in the room. He lingered over his drinks for
nearly an hour, "listening in" on the conversation of these mobsters,
and learning quite a bit about their criminal activities, and better
how to interpret their thoughts.

Suddenly he stiffened in even closer attention.

"The leader," Auldin was saying to his henchmen, but Hanlon knew from
his side thoughts that the fellow meant Ino Yandor, "wants us to start
a series of fires and wreckings about the city. We'll get a list of
places tomorrow or next day, and that night we'll do the job."

"In the name of Zappa, why?" one of the men asked. "Why would he want
us to do that?"

"Who cares why?" Auldin shrugged. "The leader, he tells us 'do this',
and we do it, that's all."

"Sure," another chimed in. "We get paid for our work, and good pay,
too. So let the big fellows worry about why they want certain things
done."

"That's the way to look at it," Auldin said. "We'll meet here tomorrow
evening, and I'll probably have the list. If not tomorrow, then next
day. But meet here tomorrow, anyway."

So, Hanlon thought swiftly. Just like small-time crooks everywhere.
Somebody with brains does the bossing, and they stupidly follow orders,
interested only in the pay they receive, caring nothing about who or
what gets hurt.

These fellows were certainly worth watching, he decided. Even if it did
not lead him to the larger goal he was seeking--and he felt sure it
would--he would spike their plans somehow.

He felt he had heard enough for the time being, so he rose and left the
drinking place before they should notice him. He walked slowly back to
his apartment, thinking about this new plan, wondering, as the mobster
had done, why such orders were given. It made no sense to him, unless
it was that the chief criminals were merely intent on spreading a reign
of terror and destruction.

"Or are they," he thought suddenly, "planning later to make it seem as
though we Terrans are doing it? Perhaps planning to start a whispering
campaign of such rumors?"

More than ever now he was determined that such activities must be
stopped. "We've got to clean up this planet, and get it into the
Federation. If they keep on this way, they can be a real menace. But
with this criminal activity wiped out, and Estrella a member of the
Federation, we can help them so much--and they have a lot to teach us,
too."



CHAPTER 3


The following day Hanlon continued working with his roches. He now
"drilled" them as soldiers are drilled. He taught himself how to
control their minds in unison, making them march in all the various
complicated maneuvers of squads and columns, all in perfect alignment
and cadence.

It was tricky, delicate work, requiring as it did placing a portion of
his mind in each roch's brain, giving that mind and body individual
commands, yet keeping enough central control in his own mind so they
all performed exactly together.

So much of his mind was transferred to theirs, that he had to learn how
to make his own body "stand at attention" during these maneuvers, with
but minimum control over his own functions.

Hour after hour he worked with them, giving them fifteen minutes of
rest out of each half-hour--and thus giving his own brain rest at the
same time. For this was tiring work for him, as well as for them.

When dusk fell he stopped the training, saw to it that the roches were
well-fed and watered, then put them all to sleep. He dressed for the
street, went out and found an eating place, where he did full justice
to a good meal.

"One thing you've got to hand these folks," he thought thankfully,
"they certainly can cook, even though some of their dishes have a most
unusual taste."

It had taken him several days to discover which native dishes he liked
and could digest, for some of them almost made him ill, others had a
taste he could not stomach, but most of them were delicious--and Hanlon
was ordinarily a good trencherman.

His meal finished, Hanlon paid and went back to the drinking place
where he sat, toying with a glass of mykkyl while waiting for Auldin
and the others to appear.

They came in shortly, one by one, and Hanlon "listened in" on Auldin's
mind as the chief mobster gave his fellows directions as to the places
they were to burn or wreck. Hanlon had already prepared a note,
addressed to the head of the local peace-keepers. To this he now added
the addresses Auldin was giving. When he was sure he had them all, he
slipped out of the little cafe.

He went swiftly along the streets toward the Stearra police
headquarters, which he had previously located, keeping watch until he
saw a dog-like roch running along. Quickly reaching out and taking
control of its mind, Hanlon made the animal follow him until he could
duck into a deserted doorway.

Hanlon made his messenger take the prepared note carefully in its
mouth, then trot down the street and into the "police station." There
it ran up to the man in charge, and raised itself up with its front
paws on the man's knees.

"What in the name of...?" the official looked down, eyes bugging and
mouth slack at the beast's unexpected action. For several moments he
seemed not even to notice the paper in the roch's mouth. When he did,
he took it gingerly, opened and read it.

"An attempt will be made just before half-night," Hanlon had written,
"to set fire to or wreck the following places of business. If you watch
carefully, you can catch the criminals in the act, and save these
pieces of property from damage or destruction." Then followed the five
addresses.

The man read the note twice, a puzzled, anxious frown on his face.
He did not quite know what to make of it--or so his attitude seemed
to indicate. There had been no "crime" on this planet that he had
ever had occasion to try to stop. For he was not a police officer in
the ordinary sense. The Estrellan "peace keepers" merely watched to
see that crowds or individuals did not get too boisterous, aided in
handling crowds at large gatherings, or assisted home those who may
have imbibed too freely.

The fellow scratched the back of his head while he considered the
matter at length. "Some phidi trying to make a fool of me," he finally
said aloud, as Hanlon heard through his roch's ears, as he had been
watching through its eyes. "But how in the name of Zappa did whoever it
was train this roch to bring me the note like this?"

This latter problem seemed to have greater interest for him than the
warning. For his eyes were still watching the roch with puzzled
inquiry ... but he did nothing about acting upon Hanlon's suggestion.

As the S S man watched the roch leave the peace keeper's headquarters,
he fumed because it was apparent that the official was going to take
no action on his warning. Were they in on this criminal activity, he
wondered? Was it that wide-spread, that even the supposed law-keepers
were party to it?

No, he finally decided, probably this fellow was just a dumb,
unimaginative sort of dope.

He watched miserably as the fires were set and the business buildings
wrecked. There was nothing else he could do to stop it, for he knew it
would only put himself in useless danger to try--would jeopardize what
he and the other secret servicemen were trying to accomplish here. But
as soon as the damage had been done he found another roch, and sent it
back to headquarters with another scathing note.

"You paid no attention to my previous warning, and as a result two of
the buildings I told you about have been set on fire, the windows
smashed on another, and two others have been wrecked by explosions.
Why don't you use what small brains you possess, and stop this wave of
crime? Or are you being paid to ignore it?"

Through the eyes of the roch Hanlon watched the official read the note,
and saw him fly into a rage and pace the floor ... but what the man was
thinking Hanlon was too far away to read.

"One thing sure, I'll have to get busy and make contact with these
gangsters," Hanlon thought bitterly as he went back to his room and
to bed. "Guess I'm near enough ready to tackle Yandor now. Let's see,
shall I do it directly, or...?"

He undressed and climbed into the low, foot-high, five-sided bed these
Estrellans used. There was no mattress or springs, but fortunately his
rooms had several extra blankets, and these he had folded beneath him
to make his sleeping more comfortable.

He was still wrestling with his problem when he finally dropped off to
sleep.

But the next day he figured it out to his satisfaction. He worked with
his roches until evening, then went out and got himself a meal. Later
he went, purposefully late, into the drinking place. Seeing Auldin and
his men already at their table, he went directly up to them.

"Greetings, Ran Auldin," he said boldly. "I've been looking for you,
for I want to join your group. I'm fast and clever with knife or
flamegun, and I've got plenty of ideas. I can do us both a lot of good."

The other three half-rose, staring at him with hostile eyes. But their
chief made a gesture that said "Wait", and himself looked Hanlon up and
down coolly. "You are mistaken, my friend," he said at last. "We are
not engaged in such activities as might require the use of ... of knife
or gun. We are lawful businessmen."

Hanlon fitted his face to a crooked smile and his voice was almost
sarcastic as he replied, "Sure, sure, I know. But listen, friend. A
fellow out to make a big pile of pentas doesn't do it by being asleep.
I've done a lot of scouting 'round and asking questions in a discreet
way. I know who I'm talking to."

His mind, always in touch with that of the others, read in their
surface thoughts the surprised, "Oh, so that's why we've had the
feeling the past few days we were being watched." He could tell that
this conclusion made them jittery, and more cautious and ready for
instant action.

But Hanlon had to keep on the path he had taken.

Aloud, Auldin merely said again, in a voice he kept mild and low, "I'm
sorry, my friend, but you are still mistaken. We work for another man,
helping him hunt out talented people and make entertainers out of them."

"During the day, yes," Hanlon gave him a wise smile, "and I can help
him a lot in that, too."

He knew the three other men had been growing more and more angry at his
interruption. He could interpret their thoughts well enough so he was
tensed for quick-action, determined not to be caught off guard.

"But what I'm really interested in," Hanlon continued, "is your evening
activities. By the way, I hope none of you got hurt or burned last...."
He wheeled swiftly, for one of the natives had suddenly leaped up and
toward him, a dagger in his hand, slashing at him.

Hanlon met him with a light, contemptuous laugh. He ducked beneath the
other's knife-slash, then stepped in close. His left fist traveled only
a few inches, but all the strength of his powerful shoulder and arm
muscles was in the blow. His fist sank to the wrist in the man's solar
plexus.

Wind _whooshing_ out, the gangster doubled up in pain. Hanlon chopped
down with the edge of his hand on the other's wrist, and the knife
clattered to the floor. The Corpsman swung viciously with a right
uppercut that lifted his attacker and drove him backward. He crashed
into a chair with such force that as man and stool fell to the floor,
the wooden seat was splintered.

The other two leaped to their feet and started forward. As though he
had eyes in the back of his head and had seen them coming, Hanlon
swivelled toward them, his lips thinned in a fighting grin, while
several of the cafe attendants were running up.

"Leave him alone," Ran Auldin commanded sharply, and his men looked
back at him in astonishment. "The stranger was only defending himself
against an unprovoked attack by Ugen," Auldin explained to the cafe's
men. He turned to his fellows. "You two take Ugen home and put him to
bed. I want to talk to this stranger."

As the surly guards picked up the limp body of their fallen companion
and bore him out, the drink-servers returned to their posts. Evidently
Ran Auldin was known and respected here. He now faced Hanlon and
motioned toward one of the stools.

"Sit down, my friend," he said courteously. "Perhaps we can do a bit of
talking."

"No use for knives, eh?" Hanlon grinned as he sat down. But immediately
he sobered. "I figured maybe you'd be willing to talk, although I
didn't expect to have to slap down one of your boys to make you. I'm
sorry if I hurt him."

And Hanlon was sincere in this. He had momentarily forgotten that he
was on a lighter planet, with a gravity only about 90% that of Terra,
and that consequently he would naturally be stronger than the average
Estrellan native. While this would not have kept him from defending
himself from that sudden, vicious attack, he would have pulled his
punches a bit had he thought. He did not like killing or injuring
people.

But Auldin was answering, and Hanlon knew he had better be on his toes
and pay strict attention. There were undertones and concepts behind the
spoken words that were hard for his Terran mind to interpret.

"You needn't be sorry," Auldin assured him. "Ugen was useful, in a way,
but he's stupid. I don't especially like stupid people." He studied
Hanlon closely. "I don't think you're stupid."

"I don't know it all, by any means," the S S man said with disarming
candor, "but I never considered myself simple."

"Now, what makes you think we are engaged in anything ... illegal ...
during our evenings?"

"Look, nyer, let's not you and me chase ourselves around a flowertree.
If I'm out of line, say so and I'll take a run. But since we're talking
here together, all peaceful-like, and there's nobody within hearing
distance if we talk low, let's put it on the penta, shall we, huh?"

Ran Auldin looked at Hanlon another moment, his face and thoughts
showing puzzlement at the stranger's choice of words. Then he laughed
quietly. "By Zappa, I like you, my friend. What's your name?"

"Gor Anlo."

"You're a cool one, all right. Where are you from? I've not seen you
around Stearra before."

"No, I'm from Lura, over on the Eastern Continent. The goody-goodies
are mostly in charge there, and there's no way for a hustler to make a
fast pile. So I came here, hoping there'd be more chances for me. I've
been here six-seven days, looking over the ground, and making a little
investigation. The best leads pointed to your boss, Ino Yandor."

Auldin started at that name, and while he was staring anew at Hanlon,
the latter's mind flashed back over that investigation. His first
day had been spent getting the "feel" of the city through wide-open
mental searchings. Not so much from individuals at first, but from the
mass-thoughts of the many. He had later touched hundreds of minds and
studied them, trying to learn how to interpret those alien thoughts.
He had no trouble getting the thoughts themselves--it was what they
meant that puzzled and troubled him.

Now, having noted the start Auldin made at mention of Ino Yandor's
name, and the close, searching look the mobster bent toward him,
Hanlon continued quickly with an appearance of great intensity and
seriousness. "I figured that I could get to him easier through one of
his seconds in command, and picked on you."

"One of his...?" Auldin started to ask, then quickly changed his mind.
"Because you thought I was more weak-minded?" There was now a hint of
anger in the cold eyes.

"Not on your life, Ran Auldin. Because I figured, after studying the
set-up, that you were about ready to take over in his place one of
these days, probably soon, and that would put me closer to the real
power ... and the big money."

"Hmmm, I see." Auldin was silent for some time, digesting all this
in his mind. He was pleased at the compliment, but somewhat startled
at two pieces of information Hanlon had so carelessly tossed out.
One, that apparently Auldin was not Yandor's chief or only "second in
command" and, two, that this stranger had so quickly and easily divined
his secret ambition.

Hanlon, reading his mind, could discern and understand all this.
Also, he knew when Auldin began trying to figure out whether this
newcomer was legitimately on the make, or whether he was a spy sent by
someone--perhaps even Yandor--to check up on him. That last statement
of Hanlon's really upset him more than the first, which he had
sometimes suspected. He worried about the latter now. It was the truth,
all right, but he had not thought anyone else knew it or even suspected
it. Did Yandor suspect it? If so, Auldin knew he was in for trouble ...
bad trouble.

Hanlon decided it was time for him to do a little steering. "Look,
Auldin," he interrupted the other's somewhat frightened thinking. "Why
not take me to Yandor and introduce me? Let him decide whether he
wants to let me in or not?"

For a long moment Auldin stared again at Hanlon, but when he finally
answered there was a note of relief in his voice he tried to conceal.
Yet he was not entirely convinced that this might not be all part of
an espionage trick formed in the fertile but hellishly devious mind of
his superior, Ino Yandor. But Auldin was one who preferred to meet his
dangers face to face ... when they could not be avoided.

"That might not be a bad idea," he said as calmly as he could. "But
look, my friend. Don't try to play me for an easy fool. I'd do things
about it if you did."

"Sure, I know that," Hanlon's voice was bland and ingenuous. "I'm not
figuring on your job--being a yunner I know I've got to begin low and
work up. A chance to get started is all I want ... for now."

Auldin rose, took some of the five-sided silver pentas from his pocket
and dropped them on the table. "Fair enough. Come on."

The two were mostly silent as they walked along the narrow, unpaved,
crooked streets, past the not-too-tall, five-sided buildings of the
mercantile establishments of this district. After a few blocks of the
winding, twisted streets--"didn't these folks ever learn anything about
surveying?" Hanlon often wondered--they turned down a tree-shaded
residential street. They walked past increasingly pretentious houses,
which Hanlon knew were of the ubiquitous pentagonal construction so
general on this planet. It was this unusual type of buildings that
Hanlon found it hard to adjust to. The first day or two on this planet
and in this city the odd shapes and crooked streets had so distracted
him he had trouble concentrating on his job.

Now he looked interestedly at the almost-universal green-tiled roofs,
and also at the gardens of beautiful but strangely-unearthly flowers.
He saw, too, the thick-trunked, low but wide-spreading flowertrees
that lined the streets and were heavily planted in most of the yards
surrounding the houses.

He tried, naturally, to see if these latter had any minds he could
touch--ever since knowing those plant-like Guddus this had become
almost automatic with him at sight of any new kind of tree, bush or
plant. But he drew a blank here, as he had elsewhere. Those alien
growths on Algon might be unique in the universe, he thought.

Hanlon was glad of Auldin's silence as they walked along. It enabled
him to get his own thoughts in order, and to try to plan as best he
could for this coming interview with Yandor, not knowing what to
expect ... except that it would undoubtedly try his abilities to the
utmost.

There were some slight traces of fear in his mind, for he was, after
all, still a very young and inexperienced man playing a dangerous game.
But his success in his first assignment--the dangers he had faced and
the victories he had wrested because of his unusual and growing wild
talent--thought of them brought back his self-confidence and with it an
almost contemptuous view of the dangers here. There was really nothing
to fear after all, he told himself. But still....

Hanlon and Auldin came to a place in the street where it climbed a
fairly steep hill--there were many such throughout this city--and
were nearly winded when they finally reached the top. Still wordless,
they were both glad of the chance to stop and rest a moment. Then
they started on again, along a much nicer part of the street, rapidly
approaching the home of Ino Yandor.

This entertainment entrepreneur (that was, in effect, the nearest
approach to a familiar profession of which Hanlon could think) was the
one the young secret serviceman's investigations had led him to believe
was the first rung on the ladder he must climb to find the knowledge
that lay at the top.

"Ah, here's the place," Auldin said at last, as they turned up a
sort of cobbled walk leading to the fairly imposing residence. It
was an ornately-decorated, two-story house, pentagonal in shape, and
with a green-tiled roof, of course. The three sides Hanlon could see
were painted in different, though mutually complementary colors. The
surrounding lawns were made of the peculiar grass so general here, with
its minutely-petalled flower-tips. There were also numerous beds of the
strange, native flowers, highly-perfumed, but not heavily blossomed
except in the mass.

Hanlon thought he caught large numbers of thought-emanations from
animal minds of various kinds, but before he could investigate, Auldin
spoke.

"One word of warning. Don't be too eager. Yandor may seem slow
thinking and calculating, but don't make the mistake of thinking him
stupid. And don't irritate him--he seldom shows his temper, but he is
deadly vindictive to those he takes a dislike to. But he is a good
employer--and generous to those who serve him well and efficiently."

"Thanks for the tip. I'll be on my good behavior." But Hanlon grinned
to himself as he read the reason for that warning in Auldin's mind.
If this stranger was spying for Yandor, he would have to make a good
report on Auldin.

Then, as the mobster used the ornate knocker, Hanlon tensed himself
for--literally--anything.



CHAPTER 4


After a considerable wait the door was opened. By the light from inside
George Hanlon saw a fairly tall native, his hair and beard sleek and
burnished from much brushing, and trimmed with unusual care. He was
wearing a sort of slip-on gown of heavy cloth, probably a lounging
robe. Perhaps the man had already gone to bed--in which case he
would undoubtedly be quite provoked at their untimely call, Hanlon
thought. Indeed, the man's face showed surprise and petulance at this
interruption.

But Hanlon could see shrewdness and a crafty trickiness inherent in the
black eyes, that caused an inward tremor. "I'd sure better be on my
toes with this fellow," he thought.

Yandor scanned the two for a long moment, without a word, then beckoned
them inside. But as soon as the door was shut--and locked--he turned
angrily on Auldin.

"Well now, what's the big idea, you stupid idiot, of coming here, and
at night, and bringing someone with you. Are you trying to cross me,
Ran? You know that isn't healthy."

Ran Auldin cringed somewhat and made his voice apologetic. "It's
because it was night, nyer, and we wouldn't be noticed, that I came
now. Besides, I think this is important. I want you to meet Gor Anlo,
who's just come from Lura, looking for a chance, he says, to get into
our businesses."

Auldin slightly emphasized that last word, and Yandor's eyes snapped
wide. He swung about and faced Hanlon, studying him carefully. The
young man bore the scrutiny without flinching, a smile of greeting on
his face, but without a sign of boldness or brashness.

After a moment Yandor motioned them into an adjoining room, and himself
went to sit behind a large, ornate, wooden table-desk. "Sit," he waved
a delicate hand at the two chairs facing him in such a manner that the
desk-lamp's light was strong in the faces of the two, while leaving his
own more or less in the shadows. Hanlon could barely repress a grin at
this--it smacked so intimately of the old Terran police-questioning
technique.

During the short moments they had been in the hallway, however, Hanlon
had noticed a small roch standing there, apparently one that Yandor
must have partially tamed and kept as a pet. Quickly the S S man had
transferred a part of his mind into that of the beast. Now, while his
own body and nine-tenths of his mind were in that office room for the
interview with Ino Yandor, the other tenth, inside the brain of the
roch, was making the animal roam the house, seeking whatever secrets it
might find there.

The impresario looked at Hanlon searchingly. "Well now, so you think
you'd like to get into the entertainment business, eh?" he said with an
attempt at joviality.

"Yes, nyer, that ... and other things," Hanlon answered calmly. "Back
in Lura where I come from, sir, the people seem to be against the idea
of a young fellow getting ahead in the world. So," shrugging, "I came
here where I thought there was a better chance of doing myself some
good. Me, I'm out after a basketful of gold pentas ... and not too
particular how I get 'em," he added levelly, but in his eyes was an
unmistakable message the Estrellan could not help reading correctly.

"But there are entertainment procurers on the Eastern Continent,"
Yandor was sparring for time to evaluate this situation better. "If
you have a good way of pleasing the people, they would be glad to take
you in hand."

"Anlo isn't stupid, Yandor," Auldin interrupted ... and Hanlon was
glad he did at just that moment. For the roch had just peered through
the half-open doorway of a room upstairs, and found a man, probably a
servant, lying there on the bed, apparently reading from a scroll.

Hanlon did not especially like this spying on anyone, but he _had_
to learn all he could about what was going on here, no matter how he
gained the information.

So he reached out and studied the man's mind. The fellow was not
reading at the moment, he found, but was thinking of the "payback" he
owed someone named Ovil Esbor, who had obtained this position for him.
This Esbor was much like a Terran "ward boss"--a minor politician, but
connected with many shady dealings. Hanlon had not previously heard
that name, but made a mental note to investigate the man further. He
might be another lead.

The S S man withdrew his mind after a bit, and sent the roch searching
the other rooms. He noticed quite a few animal pets about the house,
but thought nothing special of it at the moment. Meanwhile he, in his
own person, began paying more attention to what Auldin and Yandor were
saying.

"... been in town several days, he says, looking over the situation.
How he found out I don't know, but he knows _all_ our businesses."

Yandor barely repressed a start of surprise, and his crafty black
eyes narrowed. "Why are you spying on ... no, _who_ are you spying on
us _for_?" he demanded in cold tones that again sent a shiver down
Hanlon's spine. For there was no mercy or lack of ruthlessness in that
tone. Nor in the man's attitude. Yet, at the same time, the young man
realized stunningly that Yandor, too, was as much afraid of _his_
superior as Auldin was of Yandor ... and Hanlon knew after a fleet
scanning of the gangster's mind that he now felt relief that Yandor
had not been investigating him through Hanlon.

But the young S S man had been reading the impresario's thoughts as
best he could, as well as hearing what he was saying. He felt that he
knew now how to handle this agent.

"As Auldin said, I'm not stupid, and I am on the make for my fortune.
I knew the only way was to check first and talk later. So I asked
seemingly innocuous questions here and there--and I'm wise enough never
to ask more than one from any one person. That way I found out a lot. I
do know something about the entertainment business and can hold up my
end of the performance. But I also know the really big money is in the
other things you control."

Yandor did gasp at that. His face grew black and he half-rose and
opened his mouth to say something--but Hanlon beat him to it.

"Incidentally," he lowered his voice but still kept it penetrant as
he leaned forward confidentially, "there's someone in the next room,
listening through that door there, to what we're saying."

At Hanlon's quiet words, Ino Yandor's eyes opened wide, while Ran
Auldin barely repressed an exclamation. Neither guessed, of course,
that the stranger was looking through the eyes of Yandor's pet roch
which, in the course of its investigation of the house for Hanlon's
benefit, had come to the open doorway of that adjoining room, and had
seen the man kneeling there, his ear pressed against the door-panels,
listening intently.

Now Yandor reached into a sort of pigeon-hole in his table-desk and
quietly took out a flamegun. Tensing himself, he suddenly swung his
chair about and leaped to the door. Flinging it open he found, indeed,
another man there, before that other could rise and run.

Grabbing the spy's collar with one surprisingly strong hand, Yandor
yanked him to his feet and into the light.

"_Ondo!_" he exclaimed. "Well now, what in the name of Zappa were you
doing?"

The small man cringed. "Pardon, nyer, I was ... was only trying to make
sure that no one was attempting to harm you ... and ... and standing by
to help you if they were."

"I think he's lying," Hanlon said, knowing from his quick probe into
the other's mind that he was. "I'll bet he's a spy for someone."

This last, he knew however, was not correct. Ondo was regularly
employed by Yandor as a houseman. But he was one of those intensely
curious and inquisitive people who always try to find out everything
that goes on in any house they happen to be working in.

"By Zappa, you'll never spy again," Yandor's face grew livid. "You know
better'n to cross me. You know it isn't healthy."

And before anyone could guess what he was about to do, the raging
impresario chopped down with the butt of his flamer, and Ondo fell
unconscious to the floor, blood welling from a gash in his forehead.
The furious entrepreneur was swinging the weapon into firing position
to kill the fallen man when Hanlon leaped forward and grasped his arm,
holding him back.

"Wait, nyer. Don't cinder him," he said almost in a tone of command.
"It wouldn't look well for a man of your public position, if word of it
ever leaked out."

"I say kill the snake," Ran Auldin spat. "There's no sense taking
chances with a man we know is a spy."

"No!" Hanlon was still quietly determined to save Ondo's life. He
spoke as impressively as he could. "Such a killing, with a body to
dispose of, would most certainly be traced back to you in time, nyer,
and you would lose much of the respect the public holds for you. Your
success in your ... other ... endeavors is largely due to the fact that
everyone knows you for such a high-principled, public-spirited citizen,
that no one suspects you of being anything else. Don't take chances on
spoiling that reputation."

Yandor was swayed by this impassioned appeal, it was plain to be seen.
His respect for Hanlon's quick good sense and sound judgment mounted,
and he looked at the young man with new interest.

"Anlo's right, Ran," he told his lieutenant. "We mustn't have a killing
on our hands that can be so easily traced to us."

He turned back to Hanlon, who was grinning inwardly at Yandor's
almost-panic that made him forget for the moment that there were no
real police detectives on this world who could so easily trace back a
killing, especially if only ordinary precautions were used to dispose
of the body.

"Well now, I thank you for saving me from the risk my temper might have
caused. What would you suggest we do with this ... this ...", he pushed
at the body with his foot.

"It's easy to see that Ondo is only a scared rat, and when he wakes up
he'll know he'd better keep away from you or he'll really be killed,"
Hanlon spoke carelessly. "Just have Auldin take him out and dump him on
the next street. Ondo will never bother you again, I'm positive."

Auldin seemed about to protest, but Yandor forestalled him. "That's
good advice. Take care of it, Auldin."

And after the gangster had left the house with his burden, Yandor
resumed his seat and motioned Hanlon to take the one he had formerly
occupied. But while they were doing this, the young S S man had sent
his mind outdoors, found a sleeping bird and taken over its mind. He
made it follow Auldin, so he would know where Ondo's body was taken. He
would try to save the fellow's life if he could--he had got him into
this predicament, it was up to him to get the chap safely out of it.

"Well now," Yandor was saying, "I'm beginning to believe you will
be a valuable man in our group. I'll think about it some more, and
see you sometime tomorrow and we'll talk further about it. But I'm
only promising to talk," he added hurriedly, "I'm not saying what my
decision will be."

"That's all I could ask for now, for I know I can prove my worth." He
rose and bowed courteously. "So I'll see you at your place of business
in the morning."

"You know where it is?" surprisedly.

"But of course."

As soon as he was out of the house, Hanlon went carefully to the
weed-infested vacant lot where Auldin had dumped Ondo's body. When
he saw the gangster returning, Hanlon quickly hid behind a great
flowertree.

Hanlon had brought the bird back to Yandor's house, and now made it
perch where it could look through a window. Through the bird's eyes
he saw the two inside, talking together for some minutes, Yandor
apparently very angry, Auldin on the defensive. Then the slender
mobster slunk from the house, and started back toward the downtown
section. Hanlon made the bird follow him, to make sure Auldin was
really going home, and was not circling about to try to find out what
Hanlon was doing or where he was going.

Then the SS man went to the vacant lot to find Ondo sitting up, holding
his aching head. Almost roughly he jerked him to his feet.

"Look, you phidi," Hanlon made his voice deadly menacing, "I don't
like people who go around trying to find out about me and my business.
Yandor merely insisted that I see to it that you left town immediately,
but I'm not that soft-hearted. I'm going to kill you, then I'll know
you've done your last snooping."

He reached toward his pocket, as though for a knife or flamegun.

The man was a small, terror-stricken rat. But he was not entirely
lacking in the universal will to live. Suddenly he half-stooped, then
jumped forward, his shoulder crashing into Hanlon's body. The young
Corpsman could have maintained his balance, but he let himself fall, as
though he had been knocked down by the blow.

Ondo took off like a scared dara, and in brief seconds was out of
sight. Hanlon waited several minutes, then went down the street toward
his rooming house, grinning to himself. He was happy that it could be
worked out this way.

He was sure this Ondo would leave Stearra without delay. Hanlon's hint
about that was enough, he was sure--especially since he knew Ondo
was convinced that he would be killed out of hand if he ever allowed
himself to be seen hereabouts again.

As he walked swiftly along, Hanlon released the bird from its mental
spell, for it was now apparent Auldin was really going downtown,
or home. But before releasing the bird, Hanlon guided it back to a
comfortable perch in a tree, and put it to sleep.

He could not help feeling gratitude--yet still with an awed sense
of wonder--about his ability to control animal minds. He remembered
so vividly that day on the great spaceliner _Hellene_, when he had
discovered this tremendous ability with the little puppy ... what
was its name...? oh, yes, Gypsy. And the still greater thrill when
he was experimenting later with the dogs on the kennel deck, and had
found that he could not only read their complete minds and control
their nerves and muscles to make them follow his bidding, but that
he could also _dissociate_ a portion of his mind, put it in their
brains and leave it there, connected with the balance of his own mind
merely by a slender thread of consciousness, yet able to think and act
independently.

But it certainly came in mighty handy in his work as a secret
serviceman, and he was thankful to whatever powers may be that had
given him this ability to do these amazing things. Now if he could
only learn how to read and control the whole mind and body of a human,
instead of being able to read only their surface thoughts!

But he was trying to learn to be content with what he had, and to use
it thankfully.

Yet he never ceased trying to learn more--to be able to do more along
these lines.

Finally back in his room Hanlon grinned again to himself as he began
undressing. He felt good. He had put it over again. He was sure he was
"in".

He sat down on a chair and removed the special shoes he was wearing.
These native Estrellans were very man-like in shape as well as
mentality, but there were enough structural differences so it had taken
the expert cosmetician many hours to fix him up to look like one of
them. These shoes, for instance, because Estrellans had unusually large
feet, were really shoes-within-shoes, to fit his feet correctly inside
and yet appear large enough on the outside not to attract attention.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In the spaceship high above, intent thoughts had been coursing through
the mind of the being. Finally, certain commands were impressed upon
the mind of the Estrellan native the being controlled, that would set
in motion a new train of events._

_The native cringed as those thoughts came into his mind. They were not
the kind of things he would ever consider, of himself. They outraged
his every sense of right and justice. It made him actually, physically
sick even to contemplate them, and he wondered briefly how he had ever
come to get such ideas._

_Yet something, he could not guess what, forced him to do them, despite
his every struggling, heartsick effort not to obey the commands he did
not even know were commands._



CHAPTER 5


As SSM George Hanlon continued undressing, he recalled his parting with
his father on Simonides.

"How soon do I start?" he had asked, boyishly eager, at the close of
their interview. "Right away?"

"Whoa, son, not so fast," the admiral laughed. "You'll have to have a
series of inoculation-shots against the Estrellan diseases. Then you'll
have to learn a lot, and especially, you'll have to be disguised to
look like a native, which isn't easy. Here are reels of the language,
customs and geography. Get a room in the hotel here and sleep-learn
them. I think you'll find the language not too hard--it's a simple,
uncomplicated one, outside of their habit of putting the verbs ahead
of the nouns, and then the adjectives or adverbs. As to their way of
thought--well, that's far different. Even with your ability to read
their minds, I'll bet you have trouble in really understanding them for
some time. I'm not always sure I do, even yet."

"Tough, eh?"

"That they are. You can't work them like you do humans--their concepts
seem not at all like ours in so many things. We can get in serious
trouble through misunderstanding their apparently straight-forward
words. So go slow and easy."

"I'll watch for that, dad, and bone up on the rest as fast as I can.
Meanwhile, how's about going out and wrapping ourselves around a couple
of thick steaks--or some of that good _poyka_ at the Golden Web? I'd
like to see Hooper again."

"The grub I'll buy. But Curt isn't here--he's one of the boys working
Estrella with me."

The lessons learned in time, Hanlon visiphoned Admiral Hawarden at
Base, who sent the cosmetician to him at the hotel. The shoes had
been only part of the job. There was the smock-coat, which Hanlon was
now removing in his room in Stearra. Estrellans had narrow, sloping
shoulders, so a tailor had made special clothes--the coat almost like
a knee-length, slipover sweater only of a heavy cloth like homespun,
with shoulders whose cut and padding gave them the proper sloping look.
There was also the divided-skirt sort of pantaloons, that gathered at
the ankle.

As he undressed Hanlon looked at himself in the mirror, and grinned.
Trevor had dyed his skin all over--not the dark red of Terran Indians,
not yet the black of negroes nor the brown of Malayans, but a sort of
deep pink. Hanlon had been warned not to take either tub or shower
baths, but had been supplied with a bottle of a special chemical.

Naked at last, he scratched luxuriously and stretched hugely. He poured
a bowlful of water, added seven drops of the chemical, then gave
himself a sponge bath.

As he was washing his face he noticed with amusement the way his ears
had been built up with plastic to almost twice their natural size, and
the way his nose had been made so much broader--like a giant ape's it
spread over half the width of his face.

He was careful not to pull off any of the hair that had been so
painstakingly glued to his body to simulate the general hairiness of
the Estrellans. And, of course, he had neither shaved nor had a haircut
since being assigned this job, and his beard was growing nicely.
But it, and the body hair, was the most uncomfortable part of his
imposture--the darned stuff itched, but bad. He scratched.

Anyway, he thought thankfully, Trevor had really done a job on him. No
one yet met here had seemed to notice anything out of the way with him,
as far as his looks went. He had easily passed everywhere as a real
native.

A two-man speedster had brought him to this planet, and had landed
him just outside this city they called Stearra, in the dead of night.
His father, he knew, had preceded him by nearly two weeks, was here
somewhere, as were Manning and Hooper, the two other S S men assigned
here. A sneak boat came every two weeks, and stayed at a designated
spot near the principal city on each continent from midnight until
three in the morning, in case any of the men wanted to send messages or
needed assistance of any kind.

Undressed--and scratched--and washed--and scratched--Hanlon lay down
on his bed and gave himself up to thoughts of the coming interview at
Ino Yandor's office. He tried to analyze what he had learned and its
possible connection with whatever it was that was keeping Estrella
from joining the Federation of Planets; from becoming the fifty-eighth
member of that far-flung union of self-governing worlds.

It seemed to him he had made a good start--although he was slightly
dissatisfied with the speed at which he was _not_ getting ahead. Yet he
had felt all along--and still so thought--that with his way of working
his best course lay through the criminal gangs of Stearra--that by
working up through them he would eventually come to the ones who were
behind all this. And he was sure this Ino Yandor was his best lead to
date, even though it seemed strange that an entertainment agent would
be the top man in the criminal world.

His father had not been too certain that this was a logical channel
of investigation, but was quite willing to let Hanlon try it--the
Corps _had_ to have that information, and each man of the secret
service should work the way that seemed best to him. Nor could the
admiral argue against Hanlon's insistence that this sudden rise of
hitherto-unknown criminal activity just at this time was not purely
coincidental.

But the whole thing was such a seemingly insoluble puzzle. From his own
investigation since he had arrived--from the "feel" of the city and
its inhabitants to his sensitive perceptions--Hanlon knew the people
on the whole were such swell folks; the kind that would make wonderful
Federation citizens, even if they did look so peculiar and animal-like
to Terrans. Any race with a religion and a code of living based on such
common decencies and high-principled honesties as theirs, was bound to
be a good one.

From all he had been able to learn, Hanlon thought the Ruler, Elus
Amir, a decent fellow and extremely capable. Amir certainly had shown
by his actions all during his tenure of office that while their system
of government was a sort of limited autocracy, that he, at least,
was trying to make it a benevolent one. Unless all the information
Hanlon and the S S had gathered was haywire, this Amir was certainly
not behind all this sudden opposition. He had seemed--especially at
first--to be very much in favor of joining.

Then who in the name of Snyder was?

Suddenly a new idea brought Hanlon upright on the bed.

Was Amir merely a tool--like the emperor of Sime had been under Bohr?
Was there someone here who was comparable to that devilish Highness?
Somebody with Bohr's brains and driving lust for power and ever more
power?

Hanlon sucked in his breath in sudden wonder--and worry. Was this
unknown another alien from the same, or some other advanced and
far-away planet as yet unknown to the Corps, working to take over
Estrella and possibly--or finally--the rest of the Federated Planets
and the whole galaxy?

It took Hanlon a long time to go to sleep... nor had he found the
answers to his puzzle when he finally did drop off.

       *       *       *       *       *

When George Hanlon appeared in Ino Yandor's office just before midday,
the dapper impresario ushered his visitor into an inner room and closed
the door.

"I think Ondo has left town--or died. For I have heard nothing more
of him, nor have any of my men. You were right about a killing that
could be traced to me being bad for my carefully-built reputation. Well
now, about your working for me. You said you knew something about the
entertainment business. What can you do?"

"Well, I can't sing or posture, and I'm not much good at acrobatics. I
can whistle a little, and...."

"'Blow'? What is that?" Yandor used his definition of the word Hanlon
had translated as meaning "whistle."

Oh, oh. Hanlon knew he had blundered. In an effort to cover up he said,
"This," and puckered up his lips and whistled a few discordant notes,
concealing the fact that he was an excellent whistler, and could do
perfectly dozens of bird-call imitations.

"No, I'm afraid that is nothing our people would care for."

"Then how about an animal act?"

This was the crucial point. Hanlon had given a lot of thought to this,
and had worked out the idea he thought might apply here. It certainly
would go big back on Terra, he knew, but he was not yet conversant
enough with Estrellan theatrical acts--even though he had gone to the
theatre several times to study them--to know if these strange people
would like it or not. But he had to get in the good graces of Yandor.

"What sort of an animal act do you have in mind?" the impresario asked
doubtfully. "Our audiences are very particular. It has to be good, very
good, and unusual."

"I think they'll like mine," confidently. "I have eight pet roches, and
as...."

"Roches!" Yandor looked incredulous. "You mean you've actually trained
some roches?"

"That's right. I've trained them as a hobby. I drill 'em just like our
Ruler's residence guards do--and other things as well. I'm sure the
people will like the act. I'll bring 'em down and show you what they
can do."

"Well now," still hesitantly, "that may be all right. It sounds most
unusual, to say the least. I'll look at them, say, the day after
tomorrow--yes, I think I'll have time then."

"Thank you, nyer. Then, after I've shown you what I can do about that,
we can talk about ... other things."

There was a flash of anger in the snapping, black eyes. "Don't press
me, Anlo. I go slow about things like this, and I'll want to know all
about you first."

"Sure, I know that. I didn't mean to hurry you--I just wanted to remind
you I was still thinking about the main thing, not merely about a
little matter like being an animal trainer."

He left the offices then, and started toward home. But on the way he
began thinking about that man, Ovil Esbor, he had heard mentioned. He
took a couple of hours out, then, to investigate many minds to see what
he could learn about the fellow.

He found that his initial information was correct--Esbor was a
small-time, local politician, but was also connected with many other
businesses about the city. He ran a sort of employment agency as his
business "front", but there were rumors that he was also a "fence" for
stolen goods, a panderer and narcotics agent, and many other illegal
things.

These latter, however, Hanlon registered in his mind as merely rumors,
not facts, for he could get no direct evidence of them, even though he
"read" about such things in many minds. But he was convinced that the
man was one about whom he should learn a lot more, as he had time for
such investigation. He felt sure that Esbor fitted in somewhere in the
chain of criminals Hanlon was so sure was tied in with the group who
were trying to keep Estrella out of the Federation.

He went back to his apartment then, and to the training of his roches.
He was well satisfied with them--he liked them as pets, and they had
learned to like him. When he first came in they swarmed all over him,
and all of them had a good romp before he got them down to serious
business.

He was also quite happy about the way things were going. He was putting
it over again, for he felt certain that through Yandor he could get
the dope he needed on the higher-ups. Yandor had never even so much
as denied that he had other irons in the fire than his theatrical
business. And from vague ideas Hanlon had seen in the man's mind from
time to time, he felt surer than ever that he was on the right track.

That evening he again went out for some fresh air. As he was strolling
aimlessly down the street he saw an elderly Estrellan native
approaching. The fellow seemed very friendly, wanting to stop and
chat--and Hanlon found himself grinning inwardly at the old man's
garrulous good nature, so like that of Terran elders, something he had
not before found here.

The young S S man touched the other's mind almost as a matter of course
at the outset, and discovered that the man had lived in Stearra all his
life, but was now a lonesome old widower, all his family and friends
gone on before him or moved away. Here was a good chance, Hanlon
thought, both to be nice to an oldster and to get some more general and
perhaps specific information.

"Will you do me the honor to have a drink with me, nyer?" he asked
courteously the first time the old chap gave him an opening. "There is
a very nice place where men drink close by."

"That's mighty kind of you, yunner, mighty kind. Don't many people act
that way to me any more. But there was a time ..." his voice trailed
off, but Hanlon read in his thoughts of the days when the fellow was an
important and popular man in this city.

As they walked along the street to the drinking place, Hanlon listened
with half an ear to the old fellow's chatter, while he was thinking
swiftly. It had not taken him long to learn that in this secret service
business he had to take information wherever, and from whomever, it was
to be gained. And this old geezer ought to be quite a mine of gossip.
Hanlon hoped he could steer it into channels of real information.

Once seated at a small table, and their glasses of mykkyl before them,
Hanlon broke into the monologue to say engagingly, "I've been in
Stearra such a short time, nyer, that I don't know much about it. And
since I intend to make it my home from now on, I want to know all I can
about things and people here."

"Heh, heh, you came to the right place for that, yunner. Where you
from?"

"I was born in Lura, over on the Eastern Continent. But I found there
was not much chance for a young fellow to make his fortune over
there--everything is owned by a few rich people who keep all the
businesses in their own families. So I came here."

"Yes, you did right. There are plenty of chances for bright young
fellows to make fortunes here in Stearra. Hey ah, I remember well ..."
and the old fellow started in on what Hanlon knew would be a long,
uninteresting resume of his past life. So he interrupted with a
question, or rather, a request.

"Please tell me who are the most important people here, and what you
know about them."

For nearly an hour he kept the old fellow on this topic, in spite
of the innumerable lapses when the man started wandering in his
reminiscences.

Once, when Hanlon had ventured to ask directly about Yandor, he learned
a very interesting fact that he gave considerable thought to when he
was back in his own room. This was the fact that the impresario was
crazy about animal pets.

"He has what almost amounts to a menagerie at his home," the old fellow
cackled. "Always on the lookout for new and unusual types and kinds.
Why, they say he even has cages outdoors, containing lots of wild
animals--even has them brought to him from the East Continent and the
polar regions."

Hanlon remembered now, that when he first went to Yandor's house he
had seemed to sense many animal minds near him, but had not taken the
time to investigate. Also, that the roch had shown him quite an unusual
number of pets about the house.

So, after Hanlon had bid the old man good night, the young S S man
settled himself in his most comfortable seat to consider this angle, as
well as the other things he had learned that night.

Actually, while great in quantity they had been meager in quality,
telling him little that he desired to know. The oldster had not known
anything about any organized opposition to Estrella's joining the
Federation nor, more particularly, who was behind it. Oh, he could
repeat glibly much of the propaganda that was making the rounds, and
which Hanlon already knew. How, if Estrella joined the Terran planets
it would lose its own planetary sovereignty, and become merely a minor
cog in the great schemes of the people led by Terra, who were out to
grab the whole galaxy for their own ends of power and greed. That
Estrella's people would have to conform to human standards rather than
their own, and that their splendid Estrellan culture would soon be
entirely lost. That they would end up by being little more than slaves.

"Why," he cried with genuine dismay and anger at one point, "it is
those Terrans who are doing all the criminal things that have been
making life here so dangerous recently--all those robberies, fires,
murders, and so on, that our people would never even dream of doing."

"Where'd you hear that?" Hanlon queried sharply, aghast that his
surmise should thus quickly prove correct.

"Why, everyone knows that; everyone's talking about it," there was
surprise at his question. "You mean you didn't know it?

"But it's true. That's the sort Terrans are. They don't even consider
us real people," he added indignantly, almost crying in his drink.
"They actually think we are inferior to them--that we are just
semi-intelligent animals. Hey ah, how stupid can they get? They should
know we Estrellans are the highest form of life in the whole universe!"

Hanlon knew this vicious propaganda was false, of course. He wanted to
tell the oldster about how they actually worked with the primitive but
intelligent races of other planets--what he, himself, had helped plan
for the Guddus. But, of course, he could not.

He could have told this old man that while the Corps and the Federation
statesmen recognized that the Estrellans were not as far advanced in
some sciences and technologies as were the Terrans and their colonists
on other worlds, they did respect these people as possessors of
excellent minds and abilities. That they readily acknowledged that
the Estrellans were far ahead of them in ethics and in ways of living
together peacefully.

He could have added that these statesmen knew, and stated, that
if the Estrellans wanted to learn the sciences and techniques the
Federationists possessed, they could assimilate that knowledge in a
very short time. But, also, that the Federation would never try to
_force_ their knowledge or culture on the Estrellans or any other
peoples. That they never tried to make any of the less-educated or
less-advanced beings of other worlds conform to any mold those people,
themselves, did not desire and specifically request be taught them.

But at the moment this other thought interested Hanlon more than a
political review. So Yandor liked pets, did he? Well, how better get in
his good graces than give him one never seen on Estrella before? Hanlon
would get him a brand new animal, one far different from those on this
planet, where all the native animals were tailless.

Yes, and it would be one with a brain that could give Hanlon a real
chance to see and hear what was going on in the man's private life when
Hanlon could not be near him.

"Let's see now, when's that sneakboat due ... hey, it's tomorrow night.
That's great. I'll be there to meet it."



CHAPTER 6


_It was nearing dawn on the eastern Continent of Estrella, and high
above in the stratosphere, in its spaceship, the strange being that had
been studying this planet so carefully, suddenly stiffened to closer
attention. Its mind had just contacted a group of beings below whose
minds were of a far different texture--finer, somehow--than those of
the natives of this world. The language was different, too, which
did not make so much difference. But the thought-processes of these
newcomers, in many cases, were almost incomprehensible to the alien._

_What were they? Was there more than one race here on this planet,
after all? The being activated its multiphased scanners, and studied
and pondered._

       *       *       *       *       *

SSM George Hanlon was waiting in the shadows of the great forest
enclosing the hidden clearing when the spacer came in. When it had
landed, the lock-door opened. Hanlon ran over and, after giving the
correct password, was helped inside the ship.

"Hi, fellows," he greeted the two secret servicemen who were assigned
as crew of this ship, and went with them into the control room. "How's
everything in the great big universe outside of this dump?"

"Not bad," they grinned. "Nothing special going on. Mars just won the
interplanet baseball championship...."

"... and there's a new singer on stereo that's a doll, boy, a doll...."

"... We saw Hoop and Manny at our stop on the other side, and they said
the admiral was coming here. We got some letters for him, but you'd
better take 'em in case he doesn't show before we have to leave."

"Oke, will do. Hey, you fellows got any candy bars? Can't get sweets
here, and I'm sugar starved."

"Sure, plenty." And while one of the men went to the storeroom, the
other asked Hanlon if he would like a cup of coffee.

"Gee, I sure would. That's another thing these folks don't have. That
herb tea of theirs ... ugh!"

The first returned with a dozen candy bars that Hanlon stuffed in his
pocket, and continued drinking his coffee.

"Oh, yes, better give me some Estrellan money. I've had to spend quite
a bit recently. About five hundred credit's worth should be enough."
They gave him that from a supply in a drawer.

"Now for the most important thing," Hanlon said. "Next trip I want you
to bring me a cat--a nice black...."

"A cat?" It was a duet of surprise.

"Yeh, a nice, tame, house-broken Earth cat. All black, or maybe with a
white star in its forehead. About a year old, and quite large. Be sure
it has nice, sleek fur."

"Can do, all right," doubtfully, "but for John's sake, why?"

"One of the men I'm working on here loves pets and collects all the
different kinds he can get. So I want to give him something he doesn't
have. All the animals here are tailless, so get me one with a really
nice, long, well-furred tail. A thorough-bred, not an alley-cat. I
figure it will help me get in good with him."

"Right." One of them made a note. "Anything else?"

"Not a thing, thanks. 'Specially for the coffee and candy. Wonder when
da ... the admiral will get here?" He hoped they had not noticed that
near-slip, for it had been decided the relationship should not be
generally told, and so far only a few S S men and high officials knew
of it.

"Haven't the faintest."

"Then I guess I'll stick around awhile and see, if you don't mind."

"Glad to have you aboard, mister. We have to stay here several hours
anyway, and we like company. Getting sick of old Tom's ugly face
anyway," one of them quipped.

"Yeh, I 'spose you think you're a beauty queen."

"You play poker?"

"Lead me to it."

Though Hanlon carefully avoided using his special mental abilities,
when Admiral Newton came aboard an hour or so later, the young Corpsman
was a few credits ahead. The cards had just fallen right for him.

After the two secret servicemen had left the cruiser and it had blasted
off, they started back toward town. Hanlon had very much wanted to see
his father, for he had been vaguely disturbed and dissatisfied with his
rate of progress. True, he was making a good start at getting where he
wanted to go, but it seemed to him he was taking far too much time for
what little he had accomplished. He said as much to his father.

"Well, I don't know," the admiral said thoughtfully, as they rode along
the flowertree-shaded but dusty road. "These things take time, and
it seems to me you haven't done so badly, considering the short time
you've been here."

"Thanks for being generous, but I seem to be taking so long for next to
nothing."

"What do you plan to do now?" Newton asked, and Hanlon explained more
in detail what he was after.

"What makes you so sure this fellow Yandor leads to the higher ups?"
the admiral asked slowly at last.

"All the clues I've managed to pick up so far point to him as a key
figure," Hanlon said earnestly. "I've read in a number of minds
facts--or snatches--that point to him as one of the leaders, despite
his reputable position as the leading theatrical entrepreneur...."

"Or because of it," his father interjected.

"Yes, perhaps because of it. When Auldin introduced us and I hinted at
my knowledge of his 'other activities'--and when I've mentioned them
since--Yandor didn't react as I'm sure he would if he wasn't engaged in
something off-color."

"Hmmm, it all sounds reasonable. And as far as the time it is taking
you is concerned, you needn't worry yet. It always takes time to open
up a line of investigation. You took three months or more off to go to
Algon, remember, but you got the answers finally."

They had arrived at the house where Hanlon lived so they parked their
trikes in the back yard, and went up to his room.

"Yes, what you say is true," Hanlon seemed more relieved now. "What
have you and the others found out?"

His father's short laugh was not a pleased one. "Hardly a thing worth
mentioning. We don't even have any leads that may be successful, as you
have. Manning has been working as a clerk in a government office, but
can't find a thing. Hooper is in Lumina, the secondary capital where
the study and suggestion body holds forth...."

Hanlon's mind remembered from the reels that this body was not exactly
a legislature or congress, since it had no power to make laws. It
studied all questions and problems that came up, and reported or made
suggestions to the Ruler, who had the final say. It was something
fairly recent, introduced by Elus Amir.

"... and managed to get a job on an Estrellan equivalent of a newspaper
there. But he hasn't found a thing, either, except that he's been in
a position to learn where the propaganda is strongest, and is keeping
charts and graphs, with dates and percentages, of its spread. But so
far they haven't shown anything conclusive, except that the rumors are
spreading rapidly, and that lately they have included the whispers that
Terrans are back of the crime wave."

"Yeh, I've heard that. Obviously a 'whisper campaign' started by the
real conspirators. But what're you doing, dad?"

"Mostly I'm just traveling here and there, keeping as quiet and
undercover as possible, trying to find out what people all over the
planet are really thinking. The percentage who believe the propaganda
seems very small, but is growing. About the only thing I've found out
at all curious or extraordinary is that Adwal Irad, the Second-In-Line
seems to have a much greater than ordinary place in the counsel and
affections of Amir, the Ruler."

Hanlon laughed. "That 'Second-In-Line' business is screwy, isn't it?"

The admiral sat back in his chair, lighted a cigarro, and grew
thoughtful. "Yes, from our standpoint it is most peculiar, and one of
the things that make it so hard for us to understand the Estrellans at
all well. How it is done I haven't been able to find out, but the men
of the ruling class are specially bred--reminds me of the way queen
bees are developed. They are larger physically, less hairy, and far
more brainy than the average males here. However, it seems to sap their
strength to handle the job, for while the new ruler takes over at the
age of thirty, at the end of his fifteen-year term of office he is an
old man--yet the average Estrellan life-expectancy is ninety." He shook
his head.

"Sure is alien all right," the younger S S man furrowed his brow in
concentration. "Never heard of anything like it before." He was silent
a moment, then looked up. "But what about Irad that's different--I
should think the rulers would want their successors to learn as much as
possible about the job before they took over."

"I gather they do, but usually in a perfunctory sort of way. However,
ever since he came back to Estrella--Irad was one of the natives who
went on that personally-conducted tour of the Federation--he has been
with the ruler almost every day. It is said the old man treats him more
like a son than a successor; they seem, from reports, to be closer even
than Amir and his own son."

"Aren't the two related?"

"Not that closely. I believe Irad is a sort of second-cousin's son.
There's an examination among each generation of ruler-possibilities,
and the high man is designated 'Second-In-Line', and so on down."

"What d'you 'spose it all means?"

"Have no data yet. It could be something--or nothing."

"I'll keep Irad in mind, then, and watch for a place to fit him in. Oh,
by the way, how long before he takes over?"

"About two years, I think. Why?"

"Just thought that might be important. I'll hunt around and find out."
Hanlon paused a moment, then continued slowly, "but the more you tell
me of what you and the boys have _not_ found out, the more certain I
am that my way is best--for me, at least--and that I can get some dope
through the gangs here."

"I'm willing to buy that now. I'll grant that whoever is back of all
this opposition may be, and probably is, using the criminals, and you
may get the first leads, at that. In fact, you already have more than
we have. But I think we'll find--if we ever learn--that someone far
above their level is the prime operator."

"You think there's a possibility it might be some alien--like Bohr was
on Simonides?"

His father sat upright and looked at him penetratingly. "I hadn't
thought of that." Then he slumped down again. "But I wouldn't say so.
It would really be stretching coincidence 'way out of shape for it to
be the same sort of set-up you found there. You haven't found anything
to make you think that, have you?"

"No, I don't really suspect anything of the sort--just can't forget
how surprised we were back there when we found out about Bohr."

"Well, we'll just have to keep on plugging. The campaign is so
obvious--so open with all its use of pamphlets, spreaders of rumor, and
the same arguments everywhere ... it seems we certainly ought to find
some leads somewhere. But ..." he shrugged helplessly.

"There's certainly a clever propagandist in the background somewhere.
And he sure keeps well hidden."

The elder made a pained grimace. "You can say that again."

"Say, I've got an idea. How about having Hooper or Manning, or bring in
still another SS man, to come here and let me brief him on what I've
found out about two or three other natives who seem to be up in the
gang world? I've got leads on some others who are apparently lesser
gang bosses, but I haven't time to follow them up and keep on with my
other lines of investigation, even though I think they're important
enough to study. Having someone else here to work on them would get rid
of a lot of the criminal activity, I'm sure, and would leave me more
free to work on Yandor and his superiors. This Yandor is fond of pets,
and the sneakboat's bringing me a cat next trip, and through its mind
and eyes and ears I can watch him when he's at home, and so on."

His father stared at him in surprise. "A cat...?" Then he shook his
head with a helpless movement, but grinned feebly. "You continually
amaze me, Spence. I hope it works out."

"Oh, I'm sure it will. Yandor makes a hobby of animals, and anything as
strange and wonderful--to Estrellans--as a tailed cat he'll undoubtedly
keep with him most of the time. Especially after I impress on tabby's
mind that it is to love Yandor wholeheartedly, and be very distressed
when away from him." He grinned wolfishly.

"Sounds good if you can work it, and I am sure _you_ can. As to the
other...." He thought in silence for several minutes, then, "I'll have
Manning come here and go to work with you. Being a government clerk, he
could pretend he wants to get into local politics, and it'll all seem
natural to the natives."

"Fine. One of the locals I suspect is a sort of political boss. I'll
brief Morrie on all I know, and suggest some things he can look into to
start with."

"And Hooper and I will check more closely into the gangs over on the
Eastern Continent," the admiral said. Then he leaned forward earnestly.
"We've got to solve this. At first it was merely asking a new world
with a high civilization to join us for mutual benefits. But now that
this opposition has grown so strong, if we fail here we'll have that
much more trouble with other non-Terran worlds we discover. You know
Colonial has dozens of survey ships out all the time, and since they
cracked that new-type drive of Bohr's, and increased our speed nearly
300%, those exploring trips go both farther and faster."

"We'll get 'em, dad," and Hanlon got up as his father rose.

Admiral Newton was still not too optimistic. "I certainly hope so.
Well, keep trying, son, and don't get into any more trouble than's
necessary."

"I won't, dad. Safe flights," and the admiral left.

After his father had gone, Hanlon sat thinking seriously, and trying
to make plans. The roches, which he had kept asleep while he and his
father were talking, he awakened and fed, then romped with them for a
time.

But Hanlon was not really in the mood for play, even though he had come
to feel a great affection for these fine animals, and they for him. He
had too much on his mind for such recreation just now.

One thing, he suddenly realized--the roches had brought it to his
mind--he had been forgetting. That was the series of burnings and
wreckings that Auldin and his men were continuing nightly. Despite his
notes to the local peace-keepers, Hanlon knew they had done nothing to
stop these depredations, and it made him angry.

"What sort of dopes are those peacers, anyway?" he growled to himself.
"Are they in on all this, too? They must be. And yet, I must remember
they've never run up against anything like this before and probably
haven't sense enough to figure out what to do. So, it's time I did
something about it. But how? Should I try the same thing, or something
else?"

He slept most of the day, making up for his wakefulness of the previous
night. When he awoke he considered his problem. Due to the fact that
he would probably be working his roches in public in a few days, and
in a way he believed Estrellans had never seen them drilled or trained
before, he was afraid that if he sent another note by means of a roch,
as he had done before, someone in authority might be clever enough to
put two and two together and not get five. So he decided to use an
ordinary messenger.

After dinner Hanlon went again to the little cafe that Auldin and
his men patronized, but this time he did not go in. Having been in
touch with Auldin's mind so many times, he now knew its texture and
individual characteristics well. So when the mobster and his men went
into the cafe, Hanlon not only knew it but had no trouble "hearing"
Auldin give his crew their assignments for that night's dirty work.

He had again prepared a note for the peace officers, and now he added
the new addresses to it. Then he went down the street until he found an
Estrellan boy, to whom he gave the note, directions and a coin. The boy
ran to the peace station and gave the paper to the official there.

"We are giving you one last chance to serve the taxpayers and citizens
who support you," the note said. "You paid no attention to the
previous warnings, but we are giving you the benefit of the doubt. We
believe you simply did not know how to handle such a situation. It is
simple--send a number of men to each of the places listed below, and
have them hide and watch. Then, when they see the criminals come to
start their nefarious work, have them run out and arrest the men, and
bring them back to your station. There they can be held for trial, by
the Ruler or someone he appoints. Now get busy, or else...."

"Where did you get this?" the official asked the boy after reading the
note.

"Some man gave it to me on the street, and gave me a silver penta to
bring it to you," the youth answered, then ran out before he could be
questioned further.

Three of the gangsters were arrested that night, but somehow--either
through his own shrewdness or through someone's blundering--Auldin
escaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In the spaceship the strange being knew a feeling of profound
disquiet. It had followed the two of those strange minds that flew the
space-cruiser to its second landing place on this world. It had known
when these beings met one and then another additional one of these
unknowns who were not like the natives of this world. From the fact
that the first two came in a spaceship--which these natives did not
possess--the deduction was simple that they were all from some other
and unknown--to it--planetary system._

_But one of these newest minds could not be touched at all! The
scanning intellect knew only that such a mentality was there because
the first two (and later, a third) were so evidently holding a long
conversation with someone ... and in its multiphased scanner the being
could see that that someone was apparently an Estrellan native._

_Why, then, could not its mind be touched?_

_In its scanner the two were followed as they returned to the city and
to a dwelling place, and one side of their conversation was "listened
to." They were clearly, the mind was forced to conclude, a menace to
its carefully-laid plans._

_But why could that one mind not be read?_



CHAPTER 7


In the morning, although still fuming about Auldin's escape, Hanlon had
to put it out of his mind as he prepared for the try-out of his act
before Yandor.

The new and gaudy uniforms had been delivered and the roches had grown
used to wearing them. Now Hanlon dressed himself and the animals and
left the house. They marched down the street toward the downtown
section where Yandor's office was located.

Naturally, the procession attracted considerable attention, for Hanlon
made the roches follow him sometimes in single file, then close up to
double file. They always kept evenly spaced, all in perfectly cadenced
step. He, himself, strutted in a sort of drum-major's fashion, for he
considered all this excellent advertising.

"Wish I had a brass band," he grinned to himself. "Then these folks
would really wake up."

By the time he reached the more densely-peopled business section, a
large crowd was watching him and his unusually-trained and dressed
dogs, and comments were lively and pleasantly surprised. As on
Terra--or any other planet, for that matter--this parade attracted an
ever-growing crowd of excited children, who tagged along with laughter
and shouts of joy.

Into Yandor's office Hanlon and his roches marched, and at his brisk
command they lined up before the startled entrepreneur's table-desk
in a double rank of four. "Salute," Hanlon said, and the dogs stood
on their hind legs simultaneously, and raised their right forepaws in
salute.

"Well now," Yandor gasped, "what have we here?"

But Hanlon, without answering, turned to his roches. "Attention." The
roches dropped to all fours, and aligned themselves. In rapid order
Hanlon made them do columns right and left, right and left turns, left
and right by twos and fours, right and left obliques, and finally right
into company front. Then, "Company, halt. Parade, rest."

The roches, who had obeyed every order with precision and unanimity,
sank to their haunches and crossed their front feet.

The impresario had stood watching with open mouth and bugging eyes
during this miracle of training. Now he rushed up and seized both
Hanlon's hands.

"Well now, that's wonderful. Perfect. I've never seen anything like it.
Marvelous. Can they do anything else, too?"

"Certainly," and Hanlon explained rapidly the various other things he
had trained his roches, individually and as a group, to do.

"Well now, we certainly can use this. The people have never seen
anything like it. They'll be enraptured. Let's talk terms."

Hanlon faced the roches, who had not moved. "At rest." They relaxed and
lay down, although still keeping their places. Most of them hung out
their tongues and panted in the manner of dog-like animals everywhere.
Nor did they move from their places during the half hour or so Hanlon
and Yandor were talking business.

All during that discussion Hanlon carefully watched the mind of the man
before him, paying more attention to any stray and extraneous thoughts
than he did to their talk about bookings--which actually did not
especially interest him. For he had begun to find that in those side
thoughts of the natives during a conversation usually lay his greatest
mine of information.

Hanlon was becoming more and more certain that this man Yandor had much
on his mind besides the entertainment business that was his front. He
was not able--yet--to get any direct clues as to who Yandor's superior
or superiors might be, but he did glean enough to make him certain
there were such higher-ups.

Just as they were closing their interview Hanlon said, "I understand,
nyer, that you have quite a collection of rare animals."

"Well now, that's right. I do have quite a number, and am always
looking for new and unusual ones."

"Do you happen to have a Terran _cat_ among them?"

"A cat? What is that? I never heard of such an animal."

"Oh, but you must have one of those. They are not only the finest pets
anyone could possibly have, but they have long, furry tails."

A gleam of interested desire came into Yandor's eyes. "I've heard of
animals with tails, on other planets, but I've never even seen one.
Well now, such a thing would be most wonderful--a magnificent addition
to my collection. But how can I get one?"

"If you'll permit me the pleasure, nyer, I can get one for you. I know
a certain man on the Eastern Continent who obtained a pair when he was
on that trip to the Terran planets. Lately they have had a litter of
kittens, as the young are called. I am sure I can buy one or ... or ...
well, I'll get you one," he grinned.

"Oh, I would so like to have one--though I hesitate to let you take
such risks. But from you, my friend, I'll accept it. Well, yes, I'll
gladly accept it from you. When can I have it?"

"It may take some days, but have it you shall. I'll bring it as soon as
I can. Meanwhile, where and when do you want me to perform first?"

"Well now, let me think. The National Theatre would be best, I think.
Yes, it is the finest and largest here in the capital, and I'll make
a special presentation of your opening. I'll invite all the finest
people, including our glorious Ruler and his staff. Yes, three days
should be sufficient to arrange it all, if the Ruler is free that
evening. Where do you live? I'll send you word."

The next three days were extremely busy ones for Hanlon--and he had
little time for spying on the mind of Yandor, save when he saw him
briefly. Feeling in a way that he was being derelict in his duty,
Hanlon nevertheless decided that to gain the best results later he
would have to concentrate for the time being on getting ready for his
debut. So much depended on that being a success.

He had attended the so-called theatrical performances--more like
variety acts or what he had read that the old-time vaudeville shows
were like--since he had decided to make his bid for contact with Yandor
by this means. Now he went to the "place of performances" to study the
layout more carefully and minutely.

It was nothing like the various types of theatres he had known so well
on Terra. For one thing, it was not in a building at all, but merely
a specially-prepared plot of ground, surrounded by a high stone wall.
Naturally, being Estrellan, it was five-sided.

Inside the wall the hard-packed and smoothed ground sloped gently
downward from all sides toward a level, tile-floored, foot-high place
in the center that was the stage. The customers stood during the
performance, although Hanlon had never been able to understand why.

"Sure seems as though it would be easy, and not too expensive, to at
least give them benches of some sort to sit on," he thought.

Near one corner of the stage was the entrance to a flight of stone
steps that led downward into the dressing rooms and property-storage
for the theatre. When it was their turn, the actors had to come
up these steps and so onto the stage to begin their turn, without
benefit of curtain. Also, because of the peculiar construction it was
impossible to use "backdrops" or "sets" as Hanlon knew them.

The morning Hanlon went to investigate the place there was no one
around, so he was not stopped nor disturbed while he made a complete
tour of the underground rooms, and stepped off the measurements of the
stage. One great lack amused him.

"What?" he chuckled, "no popcorn or soft drink dispenser robots?"

He had noticed when attending previous performances, that they used no
type of footlights or other illumination whatever, and that it was hard
for those in the back of the enclosure to see what was going on down
in the center. By judicious inquiry he found that on the nights when
it stormed or was cloudy, or when Estrella's two moons were not in the
sky, there was no performance.

Following his inspection of the theatre, Hanlon went to the market
place again. He hunted out a stall where lamps were sold, and after the
usual considerable haggling and dickering, bought twenty of the most
powerful of the peculiar carbide lamps at a fairly reasonable price.
Then he hunted up a metal-worker, and had reflectors made to his order
and specifications, and fitted to one side of the lamps.

"I'll introduce 'em to something new," he grinned, then was suddenly
worried. "Or are such new customs and innovations taboo on this screwy
world?"

Another thought occurred to him the second day, and he hunted around
for some time until he found a place where masks were made. The
customer, who specialized in things for actors, did not have what
Hanlon wanted, but after it had been described, the merchant said it
would not be hard to make, and that it could be delivered the next
afternoon. So Hanlon ordered a face-mask for himself, that would look
like the head of a roch.

Meantime, he continued working with the animals whenever he had time.
He was now well satisfied with his ability to control them under all
circumstances. He felt sure he would have no trouble in "putting on a
good act", and his only worry was whether or not he could please these
strange people. For so much depended upon his making good--if he did,
he would be more solidly in the good graces of the impresario, Yandor.
And that was the main thing he was after right now.

The night of Hanlon's first performance finally arrived--and so did
a nice large attack of stage-fright. There were "butterflies in his
stomach", and he was by turns wet with sweat and almost petrified.
Peeking out from the top of the stairs leading to the dressing rooms,
the sight gave Hanlon a prime case of the jitters. For it seemed all
the high officials, business and professional men, and the "social
group" of Stearra, with their wives and families, were there. Even the
Ruler was seated at stage-side in a large, ornate throne-chair, having
been persuaded by Yandor that he would see something most exceptional.

Hanlon went slowly down into the cubicle assigned him and the roches,
and there fought for calmness. And it was a measure of his innate
strength of character that he succeeded. The jitters passed, the
butterflies went into hibernation, and his nerves calmed down.

The first acts were the usual type seen on Estrellan stages--singers,
posturers (they did not seem to have any dancers in the sense that
Terran theatres do), and acrobats. Hanlon had always been interested
in these, for almost none of the things they did were like what he was
used to seeing or hearing.

The music, however, he could not get used to. Estrellan music was
based on a five-toned scale, of course, and was--to his ears--more of
a cacophony than Chinese music. Yet the Estrellan singers had clear,
beautiful, flutelike voices.

The footlights that Hanlon had finally persuaded Yandor to have set
in place around the edge of the stage, and lighted, occasioned great
comment at first. But once the performance started, and the people
found how much better they could see, were acclaimed as a great
achievement.

"How did you ever happen to think of them?" Yandor had asked when
Hanlon first spoke of them and showed the impresario what he had made.

Hanlon shrugged. "I always feel cheated because I can't see better when
I go to a performance," he said. "When I got to thinking of my act, I
knew it wouldn't show up well if people couldn't see clearly exactly
what my roches were doing. So I figured out these lights. Don't you
like the idea?"

"Well now, yes, I like them. But I don't know. People are peculiar
about change. They may do something about it if they don't approve of
them."

"Well," Hanlon made a nonchalant gesture, "we can always turn 'em off
if they yell."

But after the first few moments, when the customers had seen how much
better they could watch the posturer who came on first, the value of
the footlights was clearly seen, and they gave their whole-hearted
approval. A new custom was born on Estrella.

Hanlon had been below in the cubicle assigned him and his roches, so
had not seen nor heard the crowd's reactions to the acts that preceded
him. When it came his turn to go on, he was glad to find that his
nervousness was gone, and that he was perfectly calm.

Yandor stopped him near the head of the stairway leading up from
underground, while the native who was manager and a sort of master or
announcer of acts, made a brief speech.

"Nyers and nyas and you, most gracious k'nyer," he addressed the
throng and the Ruler, "tonight you are to see something most unusual
in trained animals. I have been connected with performances for many,
many years, but never have I seen anything to equal this. I will not
attempt to tell you what is coming--you must see and marvel and judge
for yourselves. Next on our program is Gor Anlo and his Friends."

Hanlon came up the stairway and onto the stage, followed in single line
by his eight roches. There was a titter of laughter at first sight of
Hanlon in the roch-mask and the dogs in their gaudy uniforms, but this
soon quieted in amazed surprise at the exhibition they were witnessing.

Across the entire stage-place the roches marched, while Hanlon took his
place in the center. He did not utter aloud a single word of command
as the eight roches marched about the platform and stopped in a circle
facing the audience on all sides, all the dogs equidistant from the
others. As one they rose on their hind legs, and their forepaws bent to
their heads in a salute.

A moment they held this, then still without a spoken word of command,
dropped to all fours and in rapid succession formed and marched in
company front and lines of two and four, made left and right turns,
marched across the stage in oblique lines, did about face and to the
rear, and all the complicated maneuvers the Ruler's residence guards
did on the parade ground.

Then they added some things Hanlon had never seen Estrellan guards do,
but which were more or less common to Terran drill teams. They did full
wheels in lines of eight and four, formed wheeling stars and circles.

Never once did Hanlon utter a word of command that anyone could hear;
never once did the roches falter or break that perfectly-cadenced step;
never once was one of them out of line. There was never any hesitation,
never any breaking of ranks even when, about half-way through their
drill they changed to quick time--almost double the cadence in which
they had first drilled.

How could any of that great, stunned audience guess that the
trainer was actually controlling each animal mind, that his own mind
was divided and parts of it superimposed on each animal brain, so
that it was impossible for them to act counter to his central--yet
individual--command?

All the audience could see was the most perfect, the most incredibly
flawless precision of training they had ever witnessed. Led by the
Ruler they began a rhythmic chant of "Yi, yi, yi, yi," in cadence with
the roch's marching tempo. The chant grew louder by the moment until it
was a deafening roar.

At their first sounds Hanlon almost lost his poise--for he did not know
that this was their method of giving highest applause--and that very
few acts ever received it at all. He had never heard it when he had
attended their performances before. To him, now, it sounded more like
they were giving him earthly "boos", and he was afraid he had somehow
offended them.

He withdrew part of his mind from each of the roches, even as they
were marching across the stage, and sent it out to contact the mind of
the Ruler and several others. He was pleasantly surprised at what he
read there, for it was not dissatisfaction, but a combined wonder and
delight at what they were seeing.

Quickly he again sent full measure of his mind into each of his roches
to continue the drill--nor had anyone noticed any break in their
routine during the second or so of this mind-searching.

Finally, after a full five minutes of this, Hanlon silently commanded
each one, in unison, "Company, halt. Right, dress. Parade, rest.
Salute."

He himself came to a stiff salute, his directed at the Ruler. Higher
and still louder grew the chanted roar. Even the Ruler sprang to his
feet, his sounds of approval nearly as loud and unrestrained as the
rest.

When the noise subsided a bit, Hanlon gave the roches "At rest," and
they relaxed, lay down, and panted ... but each still in his place.

Hanlon stepped forward and facing first one way and then the other
said, "Thank you for your kind reception of our poor efforts. Now,
with your permission, I would like to show you some of the individual
abilities of my little friends."

But while he was speaking four of the animals had gone off to the side
near the entrance to the stairway. Hanlon had fixed up a specially
prepared chair. To the bottoms of each of the legs he had affixed light
wooden rods that extended out several inches. Now the four roches each
picked up a rod in its teeth and thus lifted the stool, which they
brought out and set before Hanlon. He looked down at them in pretended
surprise, then out at his audience, and smiled. "My friends are so
thoughtful. They must think I am tired and need a rest. Well, far be
it from me to disappoint them." And he sat down, while the roches went
back to their places and lay down.

Instantly there was a loud, angry hissing from the audience. There was
no mistaking this--it was censure, not praise. Hanlon was dumb-founded.
What had he done wrong?

Quickly he scanned a number of minds, and found he had broken one
of their most sacred taboos. Nobody--but _nobody_--ever sat in the
presence of their beloved Ruler without his express invitation.

"Oops, tilted!" Hanlon groaned, quickly rising and shoving the
offending stool off the edge of the stage. But the audience was not
mollified. If anything, their clamor rose louder.

It was the Ruler, himself, who quieted them. He rose and held up his
hand in a gesture of silence, smiling forgivingly.

"Boy, what a swell egg he is," Hanlon mentally wiped the sweat from his
mind's brow. "I still don't understand these folks. I'll have to watch
myself more carefully, all the time."

He bowed his thanks to the Ruler, spreading his hands in a gesture of
apology. Then he quickly made the roches begin their other tricks.
He had one do some acrobatics, in imitation of the type their native
acrobats did. Two of the others "danced" together. Another balanced
himself and rolled about the stage on a large plastic ball Hanlon
had secured. Three of them did intricate circlings about each other,
without ever getting in each other's way or breaking step at any time.
Another stood on its hind legs and "sang" in imitation of the singers.
Another "walked" on its front legs. These, being more to the liking of
his audience, yet something they had never seen animals do, or so well,
soon recaptured their interest. After a bit they began again that "Yi,
yi" of applause. By the time Hanlon's turn was over the people seemed
to have forgotten his one blooper, and were solidly "with him." As he
left the stage and went below with his roches, their yells were the
loudest yet.

Ino Yandor was wildly enthusiastic, and those who had seen the first
night's performance spread the word. In days the fame of Hanlon and
his roches had spanned the continent, and other cities were clamoring
to see his act, while the National Theatre there in Stearra was packed
nightly with capacity crowds.

During those days Hanlon spent as much of his time as he could
wandering about the city, the marketplace, the recreation parks, and
sitting in various places where people ate or drank. With his mind he
was hunting not only for whatever points of specific information he
might glean, but also to get a more general and better "feel" of the
people and conditions here.

He was confirmed in his early beliefs that as a whole these were
wonderful people; that they would make excellent citizens of the
Federation. They had such a high sense of social justice; such deep
feelings of right and wrong; such splendid habits of co-operative
living. More even than the Terrans and the colonists, who had come
far along the road of brotherliness in the past centuries, these
Estrellans had an innate belief in the brotherhood of man.

What a great gap there was between the great mass of Estrellans and
those few criminals with whom he was working? He remembered one time
when he had been talking with his father about the way he worked.

"You want to be mighty careful," Admiral Newton warned. "Being around
gangsters and criminals so much, you'll have to watch not to begin
thinking like they do."

"You never need worry about that, dad," Hanlon had been very earnest.
"The more I see of 'em, the less I like 'em, and the more I'm sure the
common decencies of life are best. We must have law, government and
order, and all decent citizens must always 'live and let live'. I could
never be contented otherwise."



CHAPTER 8


The night the sneak boat was due to return, Hanlon early sent word
to Yandor that he was ill, and could not perform that night. The
entrepreneur came, boiling over with anger, to Hanlon's rooms.

"Well now," he began, "what's all this about...?"

"Ooh, quiet, please," Hanlon moaned. He had been ready for just some
such thing, and was lying in bed, face contorted with pain, and now
pressed his hands to his ears as though Yandor's loud voice was more
than he could stand. "Can't you see I'm sick? Why must you make so much
noise?"

The agent was taken aback by this counterthrust. He calmed a bit then,
but asked many questions. Hanlon's partial answers and evident pain
finally convinced the impresario that his star performer was, indeed,
too ill to appear.

"These attacks come only once or twice a year, and usually last only a
day or two," Hanlon assured him in a weak voice. "I'll try my best to
be on hand tomorrow."

"Very well, I'll expect you then. Well now, there is something I've
been meaning to talk to you about, and now is a good time. I want you
to work into your act various things to say against the Terrans; about
how such wonderful performances as yours would be impossible if we were
to submit to them and accept their so-called invitation to join their
Federation. Suggest to the audience that we would all become slaves,
and that neither would performers have time to prepare their acts, nor
would the others be allowed to come and watch them."

Hanlon was slightly prepared for this because he had seen it forming in
Yandor's mind, but he did not like it any the better. He was just about
to make an angry retort when he took himself in hand, and continued
keeping in the character he had assumed. He groaned a bit louder, and
twisted more violently on the bed.

"Please, nyer, leave me now. I hate for anyone to see me while I'm like
this. As for what you've just said, we'll talk about it later and see
what can be worked out."

And, reluctantly, it seemed, Yandor finally left.

When night at last brought its cloak of darkness, Hanlon put the roches
to sleep and slipped quietly from his room. Down in the back, though,
he could not seem to get his tricky acetylene-powered engine to start.
He fussed and tinkered for nearly two hours before he could finally get
it going.

"So help me, I'm never going to cuss out a real ground-car after this
because it acts up occasionally," he said as he rode out of the yard
and down the dusty street. He drove as fast as he could out to the
clearing where the sneakboat had already landed.

"Sorry to be late, fellows," he said as soon as he had given the
password and been allowed aboard. He accepted gratefully the cup of
coffee they gave him, and griped for five solid minutes about those
gosh-awful excuses for transportation these so-and-so natives used.

"Here, have a box of candy bars, and quit belly-aching," one of
them said at last. The other held out another gift, a pound can of
pulverized instant coffee.

"Hey, these are wonderful," Hanlon's spirits rose as if by magic. "You
guys are my friends for life."

"Why, Georgie," one of them simpered. "I didn't know you cared."

"You'll have to choose between us, though," the other said owlishly.
"I'm not going to be a partner to bigamy."

Then they both laughed. "Look, he's blushing."

"Aw, I am not," Hanlon spluttered. "It's just this pink skin-dye," he
added weakly.

"Anyway, here's your cat," the S S men got down to business, and
fetched the crate containing the beautiful animal. "We happened to
remember hearing that these people don't have milk, so we got you one
that's accustomed to a meat and vegetable diet."

"Gee, thanks for that. I'd completely forgotten that point."

Hanlon examined the big, black cat, and his mind reached out and
quieted its fright at the strange surroundings and this hairy being who
was now handling it.

He talked with the men for some further time, told them he had not yet
got any sure clues, but was beginning to get an "in" with some people
he felt sure would lead him to some. They told him the other three men
had reported about the same, although Hooper said the curve was rising
steadily on the belief that Terrans were behind the crime wave here.

"Yeh, I've heard that bilge, too. It's just another of the things we'll
have to stamp out before we can win out here. But we will."

"Sure you will," the two agreed. "Anything else you need?"

"No, can't think of a thing. The cat was the most important for now. It
will really get me in more solid with Yandor, the guy I'm working on."

"Hope so, Han. Well, cheerio."

"Safe flights, you guys, and thanks again."

On the ride back he was glad he had a tricycle instead of a two-wheeled
bike, for the crate was heavy and rather awkward with the cat in it,
shifting its weight about from time to time.

Back in his room once more, Hanlon released the animal, which
immediately dived under the bed, where it cowered in fright, having
seen and smelled the roches who were sleeping in various places about
the rooms.

But again Hanlon reached out and touched its mind, calmed its fear, and
soon had it out of hiding and creeping into his arms. It lay there,
purring, while he stroked it and impressed on its mind--whose texture
he learned while doing this--that it was safe and with friends.

After he had done that, he woke the roches. At first sight of the
feline a couple of them started toward it in curiosity. Swiftly
Hanlon took over their minds and halted them where they were. He then
brought each of them to the realization that this was a new friend and
playmate. That was not too hard, for the roches had never seen a cat,
and only its strangeness had made them curious.

He had more trouble with the cat, for the ages-old dislike and fear of
dogs was strong within it. But he finally calmed it by implanting the
knowledge firmly in its mind that these strange beings were not dogs,
actually, and that they meant it no harm, and all were to be friends.

Soon he was grinning at his ability, as he saw the nine animals eating,
drinking and playing together, as though they had been the best of
comrades all their lives.

"I'm really quite an animal trainer," he chuckled to himself as he
watched them.

       *       *       *       *       *

_High above the strange being lay on its padded bench and frustrated
thoughts ran through its mind. It had noticed the two DIFFERENT minds
who again had come briefly to this planet in their ship of space,
talked with the three other different ones, and then had come to this
western continent in its night time. The mind "heard" them conversing
with that other but unreadable mind again, but still no sort of contact
could be made. Why? it wondered again. What sort of mind was it, that
it could not be touched?_

_Through its multiphased scanner the being carefully watched that
entity below which appeared so like an Estrellan native--but after
it had left on that peculiar conveyance, bearing a container with a
strange animal, sight of the entity had been lost among the crowds of
the city streets._

_So now the mind above seethed with questions, to which it could find
no logical answers, even though it was beginning to understand the
thought-concepts of those others it could "read."_

       *       *       *       *       *

Late the next day--for Hanlon had quickly adopted the actors' habit of
beginning his day at noon--he fed and watered his animals, then got his
own meal and ate it.

Then he impressed on the minds of his roches that they were to behave
themselves, and not destroy things about the room in their play, and
not to make too much noise.

"Sure is handy to be able to do this," he smiled. "Boy, what a baby
sitter I'd make if I could control humans this way."

He called the cat to him, snapped on the harness and leash the S S men
had brought with it, and took it down to Yandor's office.

He had worked carefully on the cat's mind, and knew the characteristics
and texture thoroughly. He had practiced seeing through its eyes
and hearing through its ears under all conditions--from ordinary
daylight to bright carbides, from dusk to the blackness of a closet.
He felt certain he could use the animal as planned, under any and all
conditions.

"This is 'Ebony'," he explained to Yandor as he presented the cat. At
the same time he was impressing on the feline's mind that this was
to be its new master, that it must always obey him, and must allow
itself to be the man's constant pet and companion without hesitation or
animosity.

"'Ebony'," Hanlon went on saying to Yandor, "is the Terran word for
'black', and that is probably why its former owner gave it that name."

The impresario took the big, beautiful animal in his arms and
exclaimed over and over at its wonderful appearance, its sleek lines,
soft fur and intelligent face. But it was the cat's long, furry tail
that was his greatest delight. He stroked and petted it as though he
could not really believe such a thing was true. Hanlon was careful to
explain to Yandor how he must stroke _with_ the lay of the fur, and
never _against_ it.

"Well now, I can never thank you enough, my friend, for this marvelous
gift," Yandor said. "I hope it didn't cost you too much."

Hanlon made himself cough in an embarrassed manner. "Well ... er ...
it really didn't cost me ..." he grinned and left it at that, nor did
Yandor, after a knowing look, refer to the matter again.

Instead, he said, "It shall be the prize of my collection. I shall
treasure this above all others."

Yandor really was in the transports of delight, known only to
collectors who have made an unusual find. Hanlon read from the surface
of his mind the thought that this man was a wonderful friend, "and
probably no menace to our plans at all. I am sure we can trust him--and
use him."

The latter phrase delighted Hanlon, although he was careful not to let
his feelings show in his face. This was what he was after. He had only
to learn who "we" was. But he was making progress; he could really
begin to learn things.

"You do not need to keep the harness on Ebony all the time," he
explained aloud. "Just when you want to go out with him. In your home
or office, leave it off, as it is probably not too comfortable. I'm
sure," he decided to do a bit of direct suggesting, "that you'll soon
grow to love the cat enough so you'll want to keep it with you all the
time. It will lie on your desk, or in your lap, and be the finest sort
of companion."

"Yes, and be the envy of all my friends," Yandor swelled with
importance.

Hanlon explained rapidly about its feeding and drinking habits, and
that while it was house-broken it should be taken outdoors several
times a day. When he was sure Yandor knew how to care for the animal,
Hanlon left the office and went back to his rooms.

After the performance that night, Hanlon went quickly home and lay
down on the bed. He sent out a portion of his mind to contact that of
Ebony, which Yandor had taken to his own room and installed in a padded
basket, as Hanlon had suggested.

Through the cat's eyes he could see the interior of Yandor's bedroom,
and watched while the latter prepared for bed and finally dropped off
to sleep. Then Hanlon withdrew his mind, and did the same.

He had set the wake-up on his time-teller for fairly early the next
morning. Immediately upon awakening he sent part of his mind back into
that of the cat. All during the day--which he spent mainly lying down
or sprawled in his easy chair, when he was not preparing or eating his
meals, or attending to the wants of his roches--he watched Yandor at
his daily activities.

For the impresario, delighted with his new pet, kept the cat with him
all the time, even to taking it into the office-like study of his home
with him. There, as soon as they were inside, Hanlon made Ebony leap
up onto the table-desk, and curl up on the one corner. He wanted this
habit to become a permanent one--and it, too, delighted the Estrellan.

Now the cat was in the best possible place for Hanlon's spying while
Yandor was at home.

Later in the day, when it was time for the entrepreneur to go to his
downtown office, he put into effect another suggestion Hanlon had made.
He put the small, ornate harness Hanlon had given him for that purpose
onto the cat, snapped the leash to it, and took Ebony with him.

Dozens of Yandor's friends stopped him and complimented him--though
somewhat jealously--upon his acquisition, which made him prouder than
ever. For Ebony created such a sensation that it took Yandor nearly an
hour longer than usual to get to his office.

He had not yet reached there, in fact, when Hanlon was surprised and
a little nettled by a knock on his apartment door. Somewhat angrily
he got up off the bed, and went and opened it. A native was standing
there, grinning.

"What d'you want?" Hanlon growled querulously.

"Boy, are you in a temper this morning?" a voice said in Terran, while
the grin grew lop-sided.

"Morrie!" Hanlon yelled, throwing his arms about the other. Then, over
his shoulder, he noticed a number of his neighbors peering out of
their doors, or standing about in the hall, listening, and knew with
a sinking feeling that they must have heard the Terran words, and be
wondering about them. His mind raced, then he spoke even more loudly in
Estrellan.

"My brother, it is such a surprise to see you here. How did you happen
to come from Lura to visit me?" Then he dragged the surprised S S man
into his room, and shut the door.

"What gives? Why that 'my brother' routine?"

"Noticed the neighbors gawking, and knew they had heard us talking
Terran. But I sure am glad to see you, even if I was so curt at first.
Was concentrating on a job, and didn't like being interrupted just
then."

"Oh, sorry. Want me to come back later?"

"No, no, it wasn't really that important." Hanlon was silent a short
moment while he disengaged the part of his mind that was in Ebony, and
brought it back into his own. "Come on, take that chair. Go ahead and
gab while I get dressed."

Manning did as requested, and they talked seriously for some time, each
bringing the other up to date on all they knew about their part of this
business, and what they were planning.

In particular, Hanlon told Manning about the local aspects of the work
of the criminal elements, and what he suspected as well as what he
actually knew and had done.

"I'm almost certain now," he said, "that the criminals and the folks
who're trying to keep Estrella out of the Federation are tied in
together, but I haven't any real proof ... yet. But I think I soon will
have, with the line of investigation I'm on."

"We've about come to the same conclusion," Manning said thoughtfully,
"but we haven't any more proof than you have, if as much."

Hanlon told him about stopping Auldin's "wrecking crew", and a few
other possible leads he had uncovered to local men who seemed to be in
on the activities here, especially one Ovil Esbor, a local politician.

"He's a sort of gang-boss or district captain," Hanlon added, "but I
think he has quite a lot of fingers in different illegal pies."

"I'll get right at it," Manning said. "The admiral--he sent his
regards, by the way--said we were to work together as closely as
possible, and that you would feed me leads whenever you got 'em--as I
will you."

"Sure, I will. Maybe I'm sticking my neck out, trying for the big
fellows and asking you to take care of the smaller fry, but it
seems...."

"Think nothing of it, little chum," Manning waved his hand airily. "As
long as we clean out his hoo-raw's nest, I don't care how we do it,
and I'm ready to work at anything. The admiral said--and what you've
told me clinches it--that I'd better be an aspirant for a spot in the
political set-up here, so I'll pretend I heard about Esbor, and go
right to him."

For another hour they discussed ways and means, and then Manning rose
to go, after telling Hanlon where he was living here in Stearra.

"We'll see each other every few days," he said.

As soon as Manning was gone, Hanlon threw himself on the bed and again
sent part of his mind back into that of the cat, now with Yandor in the
latter's office. And Hanlon kept it in Ebony's brain all the rest of
that day and early evening. But nothing in which he was particularly
interested happened--and he was beginning to wonder if his ideas about
Yandor were right after all. Nothing but legitimate theatrical business
had been transacted all day--at least while Hanlon was watching. There
had been those two hours or more while Manning was at his rooms....

During the time Hanlon was on the stage that night, he had to
concentrate all his mental faculties on his roches, and had to withdraw
from the cat's brain. But once back in his dressing room and while
going home and after he got there, Hanlon watched carefully the party
the impresario gave to a group of friends in his palatial home.

Through the cat's eyes Hanlon carefully studied each one of the guests
and listened avidly to their talk--and at times had to tighten his
control of Ebony's mind and muscles to keep it acting friendly toward
some of those people. They seemed to "rub its fur the wrong way" ...
and did, literally, on occasions. Also, they had an effluvia Ebony
distinctly did not like.

But under Hanlon's compulsion, it continued to act in as friendly a
manner as cats usually do ... most of the time with customary feline
indifference.



CHAPTER 9


The next day Hanlon also spent in the cat's mind, when he was not
playing with or attending to his roches, or eating. It happened that he
had transferred part of his mind to each of the eight, and was giving
them a short workout, when there was a sudden noise at his door, and it
was roughly flung open--he had not locked it while at home.

Nine parts of his mind saw through nine pairs of eyes the man who
stormed in. Nine pairs of ears heard him snarl, "What's the big idea of
having my men arrested?"

As quickly as he could Hanlon started bringing the portions of his mind
from the roches into his own brain. He sat up on the bed, and made his
face look blank--but inside he was thunderstruck. How had Ran Auldin
found out he was behind those arrests?

"Why ... why," he pretended to stammer. "I don't know what you're
talking about, Ran. What arrests? What's happened?"

The usually fastidious gang-boss was now dirty and his clothing soiled
and rumpled. His eyes were red, apparently from sleeplessness, or
worry, or both. His voice was still accusing as he answered, "My men
were surprised at their work the other night, and I only escaped by
luck. Been hiding ever since."

"But what's it all about? Why were they arrested? I don't know
anything about what you were doing--Yandor didn't tell...."

"It must have been you. Nobody else knew."

"And I tell you I was not told, either, so how could I know? I've been
too busy getting my act ready and putting it on, and Yandor hasn't even
mentioned you to me."

Auldin stepped close to the side of the bed as Hanlon struggled to get
up, and pushed him down again. Now Hanlon could see that the mobster
was carrying in each hand a piece of large rope, approximately half an
inch in diameter and about two feet long. The far end of each was tied
into a knot, in which pieces of wires had been woven to add weight.

"Maybe you didn't have anything to do with the arrests," Auldin
admitted, "but I still think you did. Anyway, you used me to get in
good with Yandor, then turned him against me. I don't like that."

Oh, so that was what had really touched him off. Hanlon saw that the
slim man was spoiling for a fight--and that he was using almost any
excuse to try to take it out of a fellow who was making good where he
had failed.

Hanlon thought, "I don't want to hurt the guy, now that he's down, but
I sure don't want to get hurt, either." He had never seen exactly such
weapons as Auldin was carrying, but he had a good idea the native was
adept in their handling. They looked old and well-used.

Hanlon rolled suddenly across the bed and jumped to his feet on the
other side. But Auldin ran swiftly around the foot of the bed, and
Hanlon was more or less cornered in a narrow space. First one of those
strange weapons flicked out, then the other, and Hanlon quickly found
out how effective they were. The way Auldin snapped and whipped them,
made them almost impossible to dodge, and Hanlon felt their burnings
across his shoulders--although he was able to protect his face from
those first quick flicks.

Hanlon had to get out of that corner, so the next time both ropes
flashed out toward him he ducked beneath, down and forward, under
Auldin's arms--and was in the center of the room.

The S S man reached out and took over the minds of two of his roches,
and made them run between Auldin's legs. Then, as the ropes with
those terrible knots at the ends flashed out, Hanlon grabbed them and
yanked. The combination of that pull and the roches entangled between
his legs was enough to upset the gangster, and he stumbled forward.
Hanlon quickly swarmed onto him and got a judo hold on Auldin the man
could not break. Holding him thus, Hanlon took the two ropes from his
powerless hands, and threw them into a far corner.

"Now get this, and get it straight," Hanlon panted, but as impressively
as he could. "I still don't know what this is all about, but I don't
like your barging into my room and attacking me like this. Now get out
and stay away from me. You try anything like this again, and so help
me I'll kill you. And just so you'll remember...." Hanlon put all his
pent-up wrath into his fist and threw it at the now-deflated Auldin's
jaw. This, he knew, was the only way really to impress a man of that
type.

He then forced the half-groggy gangster out of the room and loosed him
in the hallway, then shut and locked his door. He listened intently,
and finally heard the fellow's mumblings and footsteps going down the
stairs. From the window Hanlon watched the thoroughly-frightened native
scuttle off down the street, looking furtively all about to see that he
was not being followed or observed. Hanlon felt satisfied that he would
have no further trouble from him.

As he went back to bed, Hanlon tried to figure this one out. Evidently
Auldin did not really know Hanlon had caused those arrests, but was
merely using that as an excuse to provoke a fight with one whom he
hated for making a success at the same time he, Auldin, was a failure
in hiding.

Had Auldin reported this to Yandor? Hanlon had not seen the two
together--either through his own or Ebony's eyes--nor had he found
anything of the sort in Yandor's mind. But he would have to try to find
out that answer, also, among the many others.

He sent his mind back into that of the cat, and took up his spying of
the theatrical agent.

About an hour later Yandor had a caller, and Hanlon "listened in" with
interest and growing delight. For it was Ovil Esbor, the politician.
From the talk between the two, in Yandor's inner, closed office--into
which Ebony had also gone--Hanlon got further confirmation of his
suspicions. He was more sure than ever now that Yandor was the "top
boss" here in Stearra, at least, while Esbor was boss of many other
local gangs, including thieves, dope peddlers and panderers.

Hanlon, in his room, made copious notes. "There," he exclaimed after
the two men had parted. "That ought to give Morrie enough info to hang
'em. I'll take these notes to him right away."

But Manning was not in his room when Hanlon got there, and since his
door was padlocked, Hanlon could not get in. He took a chance and slid
his notes under the door.

All this time, however, Hanlon had been watching Yandor through Ebony's
mind. He had just barely got back to his apartment when the impresario
had another visitor ... a masked man. (Hanlon doubted the man had gone
through the streets masked--probably had put it on just before entering
Yandor's office.)

"Ha! This should be good," and the young S S man paid even closer
attention, even as he was putting his motor-trike away, and running up
to his room. He heard the two distant men discussing many matters of
policy, closeted in that inner room of Yandor's. Hanlon found that the
criminal activities were, as he and the other secret servicemen had
deduced, planet-wide and under one general control. He knew positively,
when this conversation ended, that Yandor was in charge of the
activities of this half of the world--the largest continent--and that
the masked man was above him in authority.

Was this other king-pin of the whole thing? Or was he, perhaps, what
might be termed the "executive director" of the planetary criminal
ring? Whatever he was, he was the man Hanlon must get next to and
unmask. The Corpsman thrilled. He was gradually but surely climbing
that ladder, tediously and maddeningly slow though it seemed sometimes.

"One thing looks sure," Hanlon thought to himself. "Whether or not this
bunch is the one that is opposing Estrella's joining the Federation, if
we can eliminate them it will mean curbing, if not entirely stopping,
this planet-wide crime wave. That'll be worthwhile, even if it's not
really our job."

He tried to figure some way to get rid of these two men. If he could
lop off the head, the body would die--unless it was a Hydra, with
self-regenerating heads.

But after an hour or so of further study and thought, it was borne in
upon his consciousness that this was not his job at all. He must quit
trying to be the big cheese. If he got any leads, the information must
be turned over to his father and the secret service general staff, and
let them--not him--worry about how to get rid of these men, or punish
them in whatever way Estrellan law provided.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Hanlon went to the theatre that night, he found Yandor there, with
Ebony on its leash--as he had known he would from watching the man
through the cat's senses. There was another man with the agent, whom
Hanlon had been studying, puzzled by the curious ... blocking? ... in
the man's mind. Yandor now introduced him as "my good friend, Egon,"
and the three chatted together until it was time for Hanlon to go and
prepare. Egon complimented him highly on his act, which he said he had
seen twice already, and upon the perfect training of his animals.

"How in the name of Zappa do you do it?" he asked. "It's hard enough
even to tame roches, to say nothing of training them as you've done."

Hanlon grinned. "Professional secret, nyer." Then he sobered and added,
"Actually, it's mainly a matter of hours and days and months of hard
work with them, until they know me and like me well enough to do what I
tell them, and I know what they are able to do."

He broke away, then, before they could question him further. In his
dressing room, while he was putting the uniforms on his dogs and
himself, and donning his roch-mask, he pondered seriously a thing
that had struck him a stunning blow. For Ebony's mind and delicate
senses seemed to detect a distinct similarity between the tones of
Egon's voice and those of the masked man--as well as a sameness of
effluvia--even though the two spoke in different keys and timbre of
voice.

Profoundly stirred, Hanlon studied this seeming fact with intense
concentration. How could he make certain?

But his call came just then, and he had to let this new matter rest
while he devoted his entire mind to the work of controlling his roches
for their act.

Later, in his room, as he again watched Yandor through the cat's eyes,
he saw him in his home with Egon and two other men, playing cards, but
merely as a group of friends. Nothing whatever was said, during the
hours, about any special activities of a criminal nature. No sedition
nor revolution was talked; neither Terra nor the matter of Estrella's
joining the Federation was so much as mentioned.

Still Hanlon was not sure--and he must become so. Perhaps, he reasoned,
the other two men were not in on any of these activities, and for
that reason Yandor and Egon could not discuss these matters in their
presence. Or perhaps Egon, himself, was not part of Yandor's criminal
group after all.

There must be some way of getting proof, Hanlon thought anxiously. How
could he positively connect the two, and make sure whether or not the
cat's feelings were correct--that Egon was the masked man?

The opportunity came just before the party broke up for the night, many
hours later. Egon had picked up the cat and was petting it, as the men
were preparing to leave Yandor's house. Not being used to cats, and not
knowing the manner in which they like to be petted--rubbing the fur the
way it naturally lies down--Egon was ruffling it and rubbing his hands
forth and back across Ebony's body.

The cat did not like it. It was only Hanlon's firm control that kept it
from ... "Hey, that's it!"

He released control of the cat's actions, while still watching through
its eyes and ears. Egon's hand again rubbed heavily upward across the
cat's fur. Almost light-swift was the slash of a clawed paw ... and
Egon yelped as he dropped Ebony to clap his hand to his chin, on which
blood began seeping from several deep and painful scratches.

Egon aimed a hard kick in its direction, but Ebony dodged safely away
and ran under a large piece of furniture.

"What happened?" Yandor sprang forward, a cloth in his hand to wipe
away the blood from Egon's chin. "Wait a minute. I'll get medicine to
put on that."

"Get rid of that cursed animal or I'll kill it," Egon blazed.

"Well now, you must have hurt it some way," Yandor said placatingly
as he daubed medicine on his friend's chin, stopping the bleeding and
relieving the pain. "Ebony is so friendly and quiet, I can't understand
it. He never acted that way before."

"Well, keep the vicious thing caged after this, then," and Egon stomped
out of the house, the other two men silently following.

Nor could Hanlon detect anything in Yandor's mind, which he invaded as
quickly as possible, that this was anything more than the grumbling of
a friend who had been accidentally injured. Yet there was a bit of fear
of that other man there, and a resolution to keep the cat out of sight
when Egon was around.

Did Yandor, himself, know that Egon and the masked man were the
same--or were Hanlon and Ebony wrong? If not, why was Yandor afraid?
There were many questions, but no answers--and Hanlon fumed.

He must get facts. He was getting a lot of suspicions and possible
clues, and certainly more information all the time. But none of them
tied in together as yet; none of them were provable facts.

Slowly, as he thought this out, it became more and more apparent to
Hanlon that he must no longer be tied down to his work at the theatre.
It--and taking care of the roches daytimes--was demanding entirely too
much of his time. Besides, it had only been undertaken to give him a
chance to get acquainted with Ino Yandor and, later, to give Hanlon a
reason for presenting the cat to this pet-collector.

So, when he went to the theatre that night, Hanlon was, to all intents
and purposes, roaring drunk. He was surly and insolent to everyone
he met, and his performance was terrible. The roches did not stay in
straight lines, they were out of step often, and fumbled and stumbled
in one way or another much of the time. The master of ceremonies
finally came out, forced Hanlon off the stage, then apologized to the
stunned audience.

"What made you think you could get away with anything like this?" the
manager demanded hotly, down in Hanlon's dressing room. "You're through
here--the act is cancelled. And I'll make sure no other theatre hires
you."

"Well now, that's right," another angry voice broke in, and Hanlon
turned to see Yandor, his face black. "Your entire contract is broken
as of now. I'll not tolerate such a disgraceful performance from anyone
under me."

Hanlon blustered and cursed, and yanked off his costume to get
into his street clothes. He apparently was not concerned with the
roches--did not even take off their costumes--but actually he was
seeing to it that none of this anger touched their minds or affected
them in any way.

Back in his room he considered the matter for some time, and decided he
had put it across all right--that these touchy men would not connect
him with any reverses they might suffer later in their outside criminal
work.

He considered the problem of his roches. He had always loved dogs, and
having become so intimate with these Estrellan pooches, he hated to
part with them. They were such lovable pets, so gentle and affectionate
and loyal. Knowing their minds so intimately, Hanlon knew they had
often wondered at the way they were being handled and made to do things
beyond their ordinary ability--yet not one of them had ever had the
least rebellious thought of ill-feeling toward this master who made
them do such unusual things.

But Hanlon knew he could no longer take care of them as they deserved,
that they would only be in his way from now on. His first act the next
morning after they had been fed, was to see to it that they were taken
out and good homes found for them. There were many children living in
his own and neighboring houses, who were glad to receive gifts of such
fine pets.

That worry solved, Hanlon went back to his room and spent most of the
day there, a great deal of it lying down on his bed or sprawled out in
his easy chair, his mind in that of Ebony, the cat, or roaming the city
watching the minds of the people he knew and suspected.

During the afternoon the masked man called on Yandor again. Through
Ebony's sharp eyes Hanlon carefully scrutinized and studied the lower
part of the visitor's face, which luckily the mask did not cover.

"Hah!" he exclaimed gleefully. For those scratches were quite
plainly visible to one who knew exactly where they were, and who was
specifically looking for them, even though it was apparent there had
been a careful attempt to conceal them with cosmetics.

Egon and the masked man, then, were one and the same!

But who was he, really? That was Hanlon's next important problem.

The following night, through the cat's eyes, Hanlon again saw Egon and
the other two men coming into Yandor's house for one of their usual
card games. Now, perhaps, was his chance to find out who the man was,
and where he lived.

Ebony had been banished to the next room, but through its ears Hanlon
was listening carefully, to know that the four were still in the house.
Meanwhile, he dressed and rode his motor-tricycle to the vicinity
of Yandor's home. There he hid himself in a dense shadow, always in
possession of Ebony's mind, waiting for signs that the men were getting
ready to leave.

Unexpectedly, however, as they were going out, a large, ornate,
motorized-tricycle with double seats drove up to the house. Egon
entered it and was driven rapidly away, far faster than Hanlon's
smaller machine could possibly go.

The young S S man was caught flat-footed. Or wait, was he? There was a
way, after all ... for him.

Swiftly his mind sought about and quickly found a sleeping bird in a
nearby tree. Taking control of its mind, he sent it winging after the
speeding car, and by this method was able to follow it as it drove
swiftly out into the country.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In the spaceship above, a decision was made. By means of the
multiphased scanner, certain entities on the planet below, whose
general position was already known, were hunted out. For the alien now
definitely concluded that they were highly inimical to its plans._

_By certain means those beings were captured and taken forcibly to a
place that had been prepared._



CHAPTER 10


Immediately after SSM George Hanlon had sent part of his mind into that
of a bird and had made it follow Egon's car, the young man followed on
his own trike, driven at its top speed out along the road the faster
machine had taken.

He cussed the slowness of this clumsy vehicle, wishing he had a fast
Terran jet-cycle or car. But he had to make do with what he had, and
finally calmed himself with the knowledge that he could see where the
other went, through the bird's eyes, even if he himself could not close
up the distance separating them.

"You oughtta be ashamed of yourself," he scolded himself. "Who else
could turn this into success? Be thankful for your great luck in having
such a wonderful talent--and quit this eternal griping the minute
something goes the tiniest bit haywire."

Thus he saw when the other car turned in through the gates leading to
the drive before a rather small, but excellent cottage. The tricycle
stopped at the doorway, and Egon got out and entered the house. The
chauffeur drove into a shed behind the house, left the machine and
then, himself, went into the main house through a back door.

Making the bird peer in through the windows, Hanlon was able to see
that this house, while small, was richly and comfortably furnished
according to Estrellan standards. By the time he arrived in the
vicinity in person, ready to take over the inspection himself, Hanlon
had a fairly good idea of the ground-floor layout. The upper story was
still in darkness, none of the rooms yet lighted.

Hanlon's first act was to direct the bird to a comfortable perch in a
nearby tree, close to a semi-rotted spot where there were dozens of
grubs for its breakfast, and let it go back to sleep. He was always so
thankful to his various animal and bird assistants that he was careful
to be thoughtful of their ease and well-being.

Now, after parking his machine in the shadows of a large flowertree,
Hanlon dodged from shadow to shadow, scouting the house and
neighborhood carefully.

As best he could judge the estate must be about three acres in extent.
There were quite an unusual number of flower beds, and a few quite
large flowertrees that should give him considerable cover if he wanted
to get closer--which he did not care to risk at this time.

"Mmmm, must be about seven rooms," he mused as he examined the little
house. As was usual with Estrellan buildings, it was pentagonal in
shape, and with a green-tile roof. Behind it, in addition to the shed
where the tricycle was kept, there was another small stone building.
But it was dark, and Hanlon could not tell what it was used for.

After seeing all he could from a distance of the outside of Egon's
place, Hanlon looked about the neighborhood. It was not too closely
built up, but some distance down the street he saw what appeared to be
a shopping district. One building was lighted up even at this hour,
and he shrewdly guessed it might be a place where men drank. So it
proved, and Hanlon entered. While sipping a glass of mykkyl, he did
some discreet investigating, both by talking to the serving girl, and
by searching the minds of the customers in the cafe.

He was almost rocked back on his heels when he found that the house he
had scouted was the home of Adwal Irad--the Second In Line.

"Ow!" he yelped mentally. "So Egon and Irad are the same? Where does
that put me?"

He again investigated the minds of the few men and women there in
the drinking place, looking for thoughts about Irad. Then he left,
and slowly rode home, thinking seriously. This was really startling
news--and yet, it was half-expected at that. So many clues had pointed
that way. So this really meant that Irad was in back of all the
pernicious activities that were going on.

But in the name of Snyder, _why_?

That question had him stopped ... for the present. Oh, he could think
of a dozen reasons, yes. But there was no way--at the moment--of
knowing which if any of them was correct. Also, it didn't square with
Irad's position, nor with what he had so far learned about the man--not
even what his neighbors thought of him, as Hanlon had learned there in
the cafe. It was distinctly not in character, and was certainly not
what one would expect of the heir to the planetary Rulership.

The next day Hanlon devoted to wandering about the city, hunting for
information and thoughts about Adwal Irad. Many times he got into
conversation with people of high and low degree, asking questions that
forced them to think about the Second In Line, so he could read the
real thoughts about the man in the minds of these selected people.

Twice he rode his trike to the house where Manning lived, to tell what
he had learned and to discuss it with him, but neither time was his
fellow-operative at home.

Now, the more Hanlon investigated--the more people he talked to and the
more minds he studied--the more puzzled he became. Irad just wasn't
that kind of a man--at least, he had never been associated in the minds
of his future subjects with that sort of thing. He was really well
liked. In fact, the general attitude was almost that of hero-worship.
And Hanlon knew that where there is hero-worship there first has to be
someone worthy of being thought a hero.

Something was screwy somewhere. With what Hanlon was beginning to learn
about Irad....

Brash and self-confident as he was, Hanlon knew this was something that
must be brought to the attention of his father and the other S S men
here. How could he most quickly contact the admiral?

"Manning probably knows exactly how to get in touch with dad," he
thought. "He talked with him only a few days ago."

But again Manning was not at home, and Hanlon could not banish the
thoughts of worry and frustration from his mind as he rode slowly back
to his own rooms. He again set the wake-up on his time-teller for an
early hour, and went to sleep. When the call came he hurriedly rose,
dressed and breakfasted. Then he went out of his room and the house.

Just as he reached the street and turned toward the part of the city
where Manning lived, he swivelled about sharply as he heard the _splat,
splat_ of running feet coming up behind him. Running--staggering,
rather--down the narrow, rutty road was a native, his great feet
raising clouds of dust.

Something in the fellow's wild manner held Hanlon's attention. As the
runner drew nearer, his wildly waving arms, his blood-shot, almost
unseeing eyes, told all too plainly that he was badly frightened. Yet,
so far as Hanlon could see, nothing or no one was pursuing him.

As the native drew closer, Hanlon gave a start. Why, he knew ... but
it couldn't be--he was on the Eastern Continent, thousands of miles
away. Hanlon's mind must be playing tricks on him. But he scanned the
fellow more closely, touching his mind, and at last was sure. It was!
Disguised as a native humanoid though he was, Hanlon knew this was Curt
Hooper, another of the secret servicemen who was working on this planet.

Hanlon stepped into the road to intercept the runner. He spoke as the
man came abreast him, but Hooper paid no attention--seemed not even to
see him.

More puzzled than ever, the young S S man ran alongside and reached out
to grasp the runner's arm, forcing him to a halt. "Hey, Curt, it's me,
Hanlon," he said. "What's the matter?" He was now deeply concerned.

"Don't stop me; gotta run; gotta get away," came gasping Terran words,
even as the other tried to loosen himself from Hanlon's grasp.

Hanlon probed quickly into the man's mind but, as usual, he could
read only the surface thoughts. These told of some terrible danger
threatening--that only running, always running away, could possibly
save him.

What the danger was; who or what was threatening him, was not in those
surface thoughts.

"Snyder help me," Hanlon begged bitterly beneath his breath. Why
couldn't he learn how to penetrate deeper into human minds, as he could
with animals, and read everything that was there, instead of merely
whatever thoughts were passing across the surface?

But Hooper was fighting as only a madman can fight, and Hanlon was
barely able to hold him. Yet he must. He _had_ to learn what this
was all about--why Hooper was here in the Town of the Ruler, instead
of back where he had been stationed. What the danger was, and if it
threatened the work of the secret servicemen, and possibly the other
Terrans. It was clear that Hooper was either drugged or that his mind
had become _un_sane in some manner--whether permanently or temporarily,
Hanlon could not as yet figure out.

Acting on sudden impulse, Hanlon switched his grasp to a neo-judo hold
he had been taught, that made Hooper powerless in his hands. He dragged
his companion back inside.

Once in his room Hanlon forced Hooper's unwilling body down on the bed,
and pressed certain nerve-ends that temporarily paralyzed his body. In
this way Hanlon could be more free to study that sick mind, which was
not paralyzed, without having to watch every minute lest the deranged
man escape him.

While Hanlon was able only to read the surface thoughts, he had learned
from experience that by asking leading questions he could often make
the other think of things he wanted to know, and this method he now put
into practice.

What he learned now, in spite of all the leading questions he could
think of to ask, was pitifully meager. Hooper had been made a prisoner
and brought to this continent and confined, but had escaped. But he did
not know--or could not be made to reveal--why he was on this Western
Continent at all, nor how he had been captured or by whom. Hanlon
guessed that the man had been held in a small house somewhere fairly
near, since he had been running away from there a fairly short time,
even though it had seemed an eternity to the frightened man.

Suddenly a stray wisp of thought brought Hanlon upright in his chair.

"Give me that again, Curt!" he demanded, and under his questioning
brought out the fact that his father, Admiral Newton, was also a
prisoner of these unknowns, as was the fourth member of the S S who had
been assigned to Estrella--Morris Manning.

"Mannie couldn't stand the pain, he died," Hooper's thought was
strangely calm and apparently heartless--which Hanlon knew could not be
the man's true feelings, for Hooper and Manning had been close friends
of long standing.

"What kind of pain? Who was hurting him?" Hanlon demanded, sick with
dread. "Were all of you being tortured? Was dad?" Oh, God, _why_
couldn't he get in there and read the true answers?

As best he could figure it out, they had never seen their captor, but
had felt his mind probing theirs, asking questions, _interrogating_
them--in the Estrellan language. Whoever was doing it apparently
did not intend it to be torture, for when Manning died the other two
received a curiously surprised yet apologetic thought, "Your nerve
sensitivity is greater than ours. It was not intended to force this
entity's life-force out of physical embodiment. Greater care shall be
used in the future."

"Tell me more about dad," Hanlon commanded, agonizedly. "Where is he
held? Who has him? What's it all about?"

But the dazed Hooper relapsed back to the only words he seemed able to
say aloud, "Gotta run; gotta get away."

"But you're safe here, Curt. No one's following you, and I won't let
anyone or anything hurt you. Relax."

"Gotta run; gotta get away." And so powerful was the urge that the
supine body twitched restlessly, as it began breaking out of that
paralysis Hanlon had imposed on it.

Frantically, Hanlon continued his mind-scanning, asking innumerable
questions that he hoped would penetrate the other's consciousness and
force his mind to think along the lines Hanlon wanted to know.

And slowly, sketchily, he began to piece together a picture of
sorts--like a jigsaw puzzle of which many of the pieces were missing.

The three S S men had been brought together in some little stone
building. There the unknown, whom they never saw nor heard, had
interrogated them mentally, a process that was extremely painful in
a way that Hooper could not, or did not, specify, save that his mind
seemed to wince and recoil from any thought of the method, despite
Hanlon's utmost attempts to learn it.

There seemed to have been days and nights of this painful questioning,
although Hooper could not tell exactly how long--and Hanlon knew it
could not have been very many days, since he had seen Manning so
recently.

Then, early this morning, shortly after Manning's death, and while
Hooper was being questioned, it seemed to him the mental voice had
gone away abruptly, leaving him in full command of his senses. He had
immediately begun to examine the room, and soon found that the low door
was unfastened. Cautiously he opened it, and discovered that it opened
to the outside of the building. The admiral had not been in the room
with him at the time, nor could Hooper find a way into the other parts
of the building--if there were any other parts to it.

Therefore, he had lost no time in leaving by that providentially open
door. He started running across a lawn toward the nearest road. Down
this he ran, knowing only a terrified compulsion to run, to hide, to
get away from that horrible inquisition.

"How long have you been running?" Hanlon asked sympathetically, yet in
hopes it might give him a clue.

"Gotta run; gotta get away," Hooper's words said, but the thought
flashed across his mind, "since after dawn."

"Then dad's not too far away," Hanlon thought, and began trying to
guess where or in what direction the prison might be, and how he could
locate it most quickly.

He was awakened to reality to see Hooper rise from the bed, the
paralysis broken by that inner compulsion to flee. Before Hanlon could
jump up to stop him, Hooper was out of the room.

Hanlon let him go. He hated to do it, but there was no apparent way he
could save Hooper now ... and he _had_ to get to his father just as
fast as he could. Not only because the admiral was his adored dad, but
because he was second in command of the whole I-S C's secret service,
and in charge of this mission, and thus the more important at the
moment.

"But where is he?" Hanlon's thoughts were an agonized wail. For the
first time in months he felt very young, and inexperienced, and unsure.

He jumped to his feet to leave the house and start searching, but
restrained himself before he got to the door. "Whoa, boy, not so
fast. I haven't got the faintest idea where dad is. Must think this
out first, and not waste a lot of time during which he might die or be
killed."

He sank back into his chair again, and his mind swiftly reviewed the
pitifully small bits of information he had been able to glean from the
deranged mind of his friend Hooper.

Someone, or something, or some group, who were the main support of this
opposition, had a mental ability Hanlon thought he knew the Estrellans
did not have. At least, he had not found any traces of it anywhere
here. Or, wait now. Did the Rulers have it? Was this one of the traits
and abilities especially bred into them in the course of making them
capable of handling their tremendous task of being Planetary Ruler?
Could be. He had not yet had the chance to scan mentally Elus Amir,
the present Ruler, except for that one night at the theatre, and then
he had not really tried to see what the man had in the way of mental
equipment. Hanlon had been so relieved to find he and the audience were
applauding, instead of booing, that he had not tried to do so.

If Elus Amir as Ruler had it, did Adwal Irad as Second-In-Line also
have those mental powers?

Whoever or whatever it was--and that would have to be studied more
thoroughly later--some mind or minds had forced the other three secret
servicemen to go to a certain place ... at present unknown to
Hanlon ... and had there imprisoned them and tried to extract
information from their minds.

Information about what ... and why? What could these unknowns want
to know that couldn't be learned by asking direct questions? For the
Federation statesmen and Survey men had been glad and anxious to answer
fully and truthfully every question that had been asked of them.

And that puzzling thought Hooper had said they received when Manning
died. "Your nerve sensitivity is greater than ours--we had not realized
it would kill you to be thus interrogated." Or words to that effect.
As far as Hanlon knew, the native Estrellans did not have unusual
resistance to pain. He had had several encounters with them so far, and
had known cases where they were hurt or wounded, and had not noticed
any great immunity to pain. Was this, then, another special attribute
of the Rulers? But Egon, or Irad, had certainly felt pain when Ebony
scratched his chin, and had made quite a fuss about it. Was it real--or
was he "putting on an act" to conceal his immunity? Somehow, Hanlon was
not willing to accept that last.

Dimly, in the back of his mind, there seemed to be another puzzling
thought. What was it? Hanlon worried at it like one of the roches might
worry a bone ... and finally it struck him--hard.

If the other three had been captured, why hadn't he?

       *       *       *       *       *

_At its multiphased scanner in the spaceship high above, the being
stiffened suddenly. For long minutes the mind concentrated on this new
problem. The plan put into operation that morning had been partially
successful. The "location" of that unreadable mind before noticed,
found once and then lost--was now known again._

_But still, despite every effort, contact with that mind could not be
made._

_After a time, therefore, with the utmost precision a thought was
insinuated into the Estrellan mind constantly being held captive.
The thought was seen to take hold, then its strength and urgency was
increased._

_Soon, although the native was at a loss to account for the reason
why such a thought should come to him at that particular time, he
nevertheless sent a note to a certain person, giving forceful orders
that were to be obeyed immediately._



CHAPTER 11


At that thought, fear struck at George Hanlon's vitals, almost like a
physical blow. What was planned for _him_?

For certainly if these unknowns were onto what the Terrans--or the
Corps and the secret service--were trying to do here, and had already
captured and tortured three of the four, they would not leave him free
to continue working against them.

Cold sweat starting from all his pores, Hanlon sank into a chair, nails
digging into palms. His bravado, his cockiness, his belief in his own
superiority--all ebbed away like a swift-falling tide.

He had been used to working alone in the service. He had been mostly
by himself on Simonides, and altogether alone on Algon. Yet he had not
felt such an _aloneness_, such an absolute withdrawal of all support,
as he knew in this awful moment.

For at the other places he could contact the S S through the safety
deposit boxes, or by the "Andromeda Seven" password, and get almost
instant response, and the entire resources of the Corps to back him
up. And here on Estrella, while he had been working alone, he met
the others occasionally, and the men with the Corps' sneakboat every
fortnight. He had known they were _there_.

But now they were gone. And Hanlon was to be the next victim ... and
he had no idea who, when, what, where, or why.

For long minutes he sat, shaking with dread, his mind a chaos of
nothingness but a swirling, roiling, panic fear.

This was far, far different from that terrible fear he had known back
on the _Hellene_ when he had first realized he was tangling with
trained, unprincipled and viciously-conscienceless killers. Or the time
he had been chained in the Prime Minister's dungeon on Simonides. For
then he had been facing known problems. This one was totally
unknown ... and man has always felt far more fear of the terrors he
cannot see, than of those he can face.

"Blast back," he thought determinedly, ashamed of his fear and resolved
to conquer it, "I got through those other troubles all right in the
end. How do I know I won't with this? At least, I can be a man, not a
cry-baby, especially before I'm actually in danger."

It was sorry advice, and he knew it, but it was just enough at the
moment to help him pull himself together.

"So maybe they can kill me ... after torturing me. So what? I don't
expect to live forever, and I knew when I got into this service that it
was dangerous. After all, I could get killed any minute just performing
routine Corps duties--or if I'd remained a civilian, at my daily job,
or walking the streets of Terra."

By main force of will and character, Hanlon forced the fear back and
away from the surface of his mind. He concentrated on the problem at
hand:

How to find where his father was held captive.

Hooper had apparently been running for about two hours when Hanlon
first discovered him, his mind had told. All right, where's that map of
Stearra and vicinity he had bought. Ah, there on the table. Let's see
now, a man in Hooper's condition could run maybe ten or twelve miles
in that time, since his mental terror would have overcome physical
fatigue until his muscles could absolutely obey no longer.

All right, circle this point with a ring with a twelve-mile radius ...
so.

But Curt was coming from the south. Concentrate on that direction for
the moment. What lies ten to twelve miles from here to the south?

He examined the map carefully, trying to visualize in his mind what lay
out in that direction. The Ruler's palace was more or less south, but
nearer to fifteen miles. Could Hooper have run that far since dawn?
Hanlon didn't think so, though the man had so evidently been running
until almost exhausted.

The section Hanlon was visualizing was, he remembered now, mostly
filled with the larger homes and estates of the more influential and
wealthy.

Yandor's house? No, that was more to the west, and only about two miles
from here. Of course, Hooper could have been circling and zigzagging
during those hours--oh, but not that much, surely.

Carefully Hanlon pored over the map, trying to figure where his father
could possibly be held.

Suddenly, a bit to the east, and about eleven miles from the street
where Hanlon lived, he noticed a pencilled dot he had previously made
on the map.

_Irad's house!_

Of course, Hanlon gasped. And that enigmatic stone building--Hooper
had thought "stone"--behind the house. Also, all indications up to
the present pointed toward the Second-In-Line as the head man of the
criminal element ... and that probably meant of the opposition, as well.

But Hooper's thoughts had been that the S S men's torture and
inquisition had been mental. Did Irad have that power? Hanlon had asked
himself that before, but now it became increasingly evident that he
did, he must have. Besides, now that Hanlon was concentrating on the
subject, there had been that curious sensation of a mental block or
barrier Hanlon thought he had felt in Egon-Irad's mind. What was behind
that curtain?

"Well," Hanlon shivered, "there's only one way to find out. I'll have
to scout this place more closely, and see if he's _it_."

He rose determinedly to start out. But halted as he realized it was
broad daylight, and that he could not go there and investigate the
house and grounds--and that stone building in the back--without being
seen. He would have to take this slow and easy. Too much depended on
him, and there was very little chance of his making it undiscovered
even under the best of circumstances. He must not take chances that he
knew beforehand were doomed to failure. For he was now the sole and
only possibility of his father being freed. That sneakboat was not due
for another week and a half, and with Manning and Hooper out of the
picture....

Chafing at the delay, his mind a turmoil of tortured thoughts, conflict
between his desire to rush and the logical knowledge that he must wait
until dark, Hanlon passed the most miserable time of his young life.
He had thought he had plumbed the depths of mental agony during those
dreadful seven minutes when he had stood at rigid attention in the
office of Admiral Rogers, commandant of cadets. But that had been a
mere child's game compared to all this fretful waiting.

But those deep, inner and innate characteristics which made George
Hanlon what he was, came to the fore during those hours, as he forced
himself to endure the wait he knew he must accomplish.

And in that period George Hanlon reached closer to full maturity.
He touched, examined and accepted the tremendous concept that man's
highest pinnacle of success, his greatest heights of achievement in
personal integration, lay in working _with_ others for the common
good of all, not in feeling that any one man is indispensable; one
man--himself, of course--better than others, and more capable than
they of achieving all goals.

Sure, he had an ability none of the others had. But that did not
make him any better than, nor above them. They, in turn, had many
capabilities he did not possess, that were actually as valuable as his
mental abilities--if not more so. As an individual, any of them could
fail. As a _team_, each giving of his best, they could win out.

And now someone or some group had broken up the team. Well, it was up
to him to get it back together again.

George Hanlon suddenly awoke. He sprang from his chair, astonished to
see through the window of his room that it was dark outside. He grinned
mirthlessly. He had actually fallen asleep there in his chair, in the
midst of all his worry.

Then suddenly he realized why. He had thought the matter through,
reached definite conclusions and had known, inwardly, that everything
was now as it must be until a certain time. Thus calmed and facing that
fact, however unconsciously, he had fallen asleep to gain strength for
that coming ordeal. Now it was time to go, therefore he had awakened.

He took another half hour to prepare and eat a good meal--he would
need all the strength he could get--then left his room and the house.
Mounting his trike, he sped away at its swiftest pace toward the
neighborhood where Adwal Irad's house lay.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The alien, watching from above in its scanners, saw that entity with
the unreadable mind leave its home and start away on its mechanical
carrier. Tracing its course, the being was soon able to make a shrewd
guess as to its destination._

_Instantly the alien's mind went into action, and under its compulsion
four armed men hastened to Irad's house, and hid themselves within its
partially-darkened interior, yet kept careful watch of the outside
premises._

Hanlon had long since decided just how to approach the place. Leaving
his machine concealed in the deep shadows of a spreading flowertree, he
slipped quietly through the edge of the grounds next door, dodging from
tree to tree to bush, carefully watching all about to make sure he was
not seen nor followed.

He came to a large tree close to the Irad property, hurdled a low hedge
and dashed across the dividing line, to come to a stop beneath another
tree well into the grounds of the Second-In-Line. From that one he made
his cautious, soundless way, until he was only about ten yards from the
house itself.

There were only a couple of lights showing through the windows, but his
heart sank at the realization that someone was at home.

"I should have had a bird watching to see if Irad left," he scolded
himself. But he continued on, making a final dash across the remaining
yardage until he was right beside the house itself, in a deep shadow.

Carefully he inched his way along toward the nearest window from which
a light showed. Reaching it he very slowly rose and peered through the
lower corner of the pane.

This was apparently a sort of living room or library, as he could see a
number of easy chairs, carbide lamps on standards for reading, a couple
of small tables with art objects or flowers on them. Along one wall
were recesses holding reading scrolls. But there was no one in the room
he could see.

He crept on to another window, and repeated his inspection. This one
was a bedroom, but again no one was there.

"Maybe Irad just leaves a couple of lights on when he's away," Hanlon
considered. He crept on to another window, but there was no light and
he could not see what was within. He rounded a corner of the five-sided
house, going toward the back, but there were no lighted windows in
that side. He ran along it to the back, noting as he did so that he
passed a closed door.

He now was close to that little stone building at the rear which he had
previously noted, and in which he was sure his father was imprisoned.
There was no light showing, and apparently no windows at all. He
ran toward it swiftly, and ducked into its shadow. He circled it
completely, but there was only one door--locked.

George Hanlon probed with his mind toward the interior, and faintly,
just barely on the threshold of his consciousness, he caught a familiar
thought-pattern.

"It is dad," he exulted, but silently. Almost forgetting caution, he
doubled back and was attacking that locked door, when a sound behind
made him whirl about.

A number of men were boiling swiftly out of that door in the main house
he had passed a few moments before. And the light now shining out
reflected on the unmistakable flameguns in their hands. In that first
quick glance he had recognized Yandor as one of the men.

"Yipe!" Hanlon knew a deep disappointment--which did not stop him from
starting away from there on a dead run. He increased his speed as he
heard the pounding of heavy feet behind him.

He dashed toward the nearest yard, trying always to keep in the
shadows. Fortunately, he was fleeter than his pursuers, and gained
considerable yardage on them.

Around that next house he ran, and across the next yard. A couple of
flamegun flashes sprang out at him, but not close. The gangsters were
also flashing the lights from reflector-lanterns, trying to locate and
spotlight him for more accurate shooting.

In the drive of that neighboring house Hanlon saw one of the Estrellan
motor-trikes. It took him but a moment to activate the engine that, for
a wonder, caught almost immediately. He jumped onto the seat and was
picking up speed as he reached the street and swung down it.

Behind he heard an outcry as the owners saw the theft of their machine.
Also, the angry yells of the men chasing him.

These little tricycles were made for local trips only, and were not
powered for speed or distance. The best he was able to coax out of the
acetylene-powered engine was about twenty miles an hour.

He had not gone a mile before he heard behind him the sound of one of
the larger trikes, whose greater-sized motor, he knew, had a top speed
of nearly thirty miles an hour.

Pushing his little machine as fast as it would go, Hanlon looked wildly
all about him for some place of safety. He knew he had only a few
minutes before the bigger trike would catch up with him--or at least be
within shooting distance.

But how had they known he was coming? They must have been lying in
wait, to have taken him so completely off guard. Else why or how could
they have been hiding in semi-darkness, to come rushing out of that
door, their flamers ready to cinder him?

A momentary blackness of fear struck at him, but he threw it off by
an effort of will. They hadn't caught him yet; and by the great John
Snyder, they wouldn't!

Hah! Off there to the left was a little patch of woods. And just ahead
was a corner. He made as though to keep straight on, then swerved at
the last moment toward the left. His tires shrieked at the sudden
braking and swift turn, and the little machine almost overturned--but
he made it.

Glancing back he saw the larger, swifter tricycle hurtle past the
corner he had so unexpectedly turned. That would give him a little
extra leeway, before they could stop, turn around, and come back down
the road he was on.

Soon he reached the beginning of the wood, and was in the shadows its
trees cast across the road. Luckily, he thought, his little machine
had no lights, and it would be that much harder for them to spot him in
the darkness.

He went a little farther, then slowed a bit, swung his right leg over
onto the left side of the trike, and threw himself off, allowing it
to continue on without him. How far it would go, unguided, he did not
know, but hoped it would be some distance.

Glancing backward over his shoulder as he ran, he saw the lights of the
gangster's car pass. For some minutes he continued running, zigzagging
a bit around the trees, hoping to get far enough away so they could not
find him. As he ran he continued thinking what had happened.

"Were those goons actually waiting for me?" It didn't seem possible
anyone could have suspected him, personally, or have had any idea he
was going to be around Irad's house tonight. How could they, possibly.
He hadn't told anyone. That unknown mind-power again?

Memory of that _someone_ with the extraordinary mental powers who had
captured and imprisoned and questioned the other S S men, came to him
and again, involuntarily, he shuddered.

It probably was not that one or ones, he tried to deny the belief.
Undoubtedly those gun-carrying men were merely guarding the house on
general principles, either because Irad was Second-In-Line, or else
because....

"Gosh, I almost forgot. I'm sure dad's there, for those were his
thoughts I was just beginning to catch, I know. His mind-texture is
unmistakable. I'll bet those guys were there as guards for that reason.
I'll have to...."

He stopped short and dodged behind a tree, for his quick ear had
caught a crackling in the underbrush behind him. He tried to peer out
through the dimness, but could not see anyone, although he could see
two or three lances of lights that he knew were the reflectors of the
gangsters.

"I didn't realize they'd get this close this quick," he almost wailed.
"I gotta get out of here, but fast."

He started off as quietly as he could. But there were so many fallen
leaves and dead twigs and branches underfoot that he could not help
making some noise.

Suddenly a lance of flame almost caught him. He dodged quickly again.
There was another shot in his general direction that did not hit
him--but it did touch a dried, dead branch.

Instantly there was a flare of light as the wood caught fire, and in
moments a considerable blaze was started that made further concealment
impossible. Only flight was left.

Hanlon turned and ran toward the farther edge of the wood. Behind him
he could hear footsteps rapidly following, and a voice bellowing, "Here
he is!"



CHAPTER 12


George Hanlon ran as he had never run before, but somehow,
surprisingly, that Estrellan native not only kept up with him, but the
young S S man could tell from the sound that he was catching up. This
guy must be half greyhound, Hanlon thought--although he, himself, was
slowed down by those huge shoes to which he was not yet too accustomed,
so that when running he had trouble not stumbling over his own feet. It
was hard remembering to keep his legs spread further apart than normal.

He finally saw just ahead of him the far edge of the wood, and beyond
that a great, open meadow. He would be in clear sight out there, unless
he could outdistance his pursuers. And this closest one was much too
near for that. He would have to stop this gunnie somehow, and now.

Hanlon ducked behind a great tree, and peered out carefully. In his
hands he held a knob of wood he had picked up. Soon he saw the native
come running between the trees, straight in his direction.

Hanlon took a firmer grip on his club, and raised it above his head.
The mobster came alongside the tree, the club came down--hard. One down.

Hanlon started on across the meadow then, for the woods was afire and
he felt there was no chance of escape that way. He hoped he could find
some sort of a hiding place out there--quite sure in his mind he could
not outdistance the men following. He zigzagged a bit as he ran, and
kept looking back over his shoulder from time to time.

Hanlon had covered nearly two hundred yards, and was again looking
back over his shoulder, when suddenly his foot struck something, and
he pitched headlong. The breath _whooshed_ out of him as he landed. He
felt as though he was a mass of cuts and bruises. He fought to regain
his breath, drawing in great gulps of air. His back hurt, and his legs.
One arm seemed almost useless.

"Oh, no, not broken!" he wailed inwardly. Tentatively he tried to move
it, and found to his joy that it was only badly jammed. He remembered
now, he had landed on that hand.

He glanced around and saw that he had fallen over a great, exposed
rock-edge, perhaps a foot high, half as wide, but eight or nine feet
long. Despite the inconvenience of dozens of pieces of broken rock on
the ground there, he swung his body around so he was lying along the
length of the rock, hoping thus to hide a bit while he regained his
breath and a measure of strength.

"If I'm lucky, I can hide here until they leave," he panted, striving
to calm his nerves and slow his breathing. He peered cautiously over
the top of the rock, back toward the burning wood.

Soon he saw another of the men emerge carefully from the edge of the
wood, but a considerable distance away. He watched this fellow as he
crept out into the meadow, looking from side to side in his search for
their quarry.

So intent was Hanlon on watching this man that he did not see nor
hear the approach of a third man, until the other jumped the stone,
almost landing on Hanlon. The S S man could not entirely stifle an
exclamation, and instantly the man swiveled and shone his light
directly on Hanlon.

Swiftly the Corpsman snaked out his hand, caught the goon's foot and
yanked. The man fell backward, and Hanlon, injuries forgotten, leaped
up. But with a lithe, swift movement his attacker was on his feet,
swinging at Hanlon with the hand holding his lantern. It was, the S S
man saw now, the fellow he thought he had knocked out with his club.

The Terran's hands darted out and grabbed the man's other wrist,
pushing it up and away. For in the gyrations of the lamp he had seen
that the fellow carried a flamer.

Forth and back they wrestled. By dint of extra effort Hanlon kept the
gun's muzzle pointed away from him. But he realized sickeningly that
his antagonist was stronger and heavier than he. For an Estrellan, this
goon was really a giant.

Hanlon decided on a desperate chance. Instead of pushing _against_ the
man's strength, he suddenly lunged backward. The goon cursed as he
strove to keep his own footing, and pulled back as best he could.

Hanlon's reflexes were faster than the mobster's, and he took full
advantage of the change of leverage. He twisted half-sideways, and let
go with his right hand. He swung with all his strength at the soft
belly before him.

The man grunted and tottered, for he had not quite regained full
equilibrium. Again and again Hanlon struck. The man staggered, reeled
backward. A quick snatch, and Hanlon had the flamer ... and used it.

Swiftly he looked to see if the man he had been watching had noticed
the fight--and the flash.

Apparently he had, for he was coming on a run. Hanlon snapped a shot
at him--and missed. An answering lance of flame almost got him. Hanlon
tried another ... and got only a weak sizzle. The first gunman's
flamegun was dead.

Only flight was left. Hanlon dropped the useless weapon and started off
across the field as fast as he could run. He had not fully recovered
his breath, and every muscle in his body shrieked from that fall and
his unusual exertions.

He stumbled and staggered, but kept on running as fast as he could.
Behind he could hear the yells of the gunman who was on his trail,
apparently calling to someone else. The beam of the lantern held Hanlon
almost steadily.

Still the Corpsman ran. He had no idea what lay ahead, or whether he
was running toward safety or into more danger. There was no other cover
he could see in the almost-dark--no trees nor bushes. Merely this
meadow, almost flat, covered with a sort of blossomy grass not more
than two or three inches high. Nor, even if he did find something,
would he be long concealed from the lantern and the man who carried it.

Hanlon swerved, and ran toward but behind the lantern-carrier, hoping
thus to elude him. In fact, he had passed behind the fellow before the
light-rays picked him out again.

The beam held him steadily again, and Hanlon could hear those pounding
feet coming nearer. A gun flamed out again, and Hanlon felt the
excruciating pain of a burn on the side of his arm.

"Yipe, that was close," he gritted as he clamped his other hand over
the wound, and tried to increase his speed. Weariness seemed forgotten
for the moment, and he was able to spurt ahead.

Suddenly he saw twin beams of stronger light coming across the field to
intercept him. "Oh, no," he gasped, "the trike!"

He swerved sharply to the right again, and ran on. Ahead he heard a
strange sort of roar, and only after a moment or so could identify it.
It sounded like the boom of breakers.

"Am I that near the sea?"

Again a sword of flame almost caught him. The car was roaring toward
him, closer each second. He knew starkly that death or capture was a
matter of moments only.

His mind had been reaching out, searching for any sort of animal life
that might come to his assistance. But in this hour of need even that
avenue of help seemed to have detoured.

That roar sounded closer--yet curiously distant. Yet he was almost sure
it was the sound of breaking water. "If it's close enough, maybe I can
find safety there. It's my only hope now," he prayed.

He pounded on and suddenly, almost straight ahead, the nearer of
Estrella's two moons swung above the horizon. Both moons were far
closer to Estrella than Luna was to Terra. Neither was nearly as large,
but they gave considerable light, and this nearer moon was almost at
the full tonight. Hanlon could see better now--but he knew his pursuers
could, too, and that he was now plain in their sight.

"Sorry, dad, but it looks like I've failed," he groaned.

The sound of the water was closer now, and it had more the texture
of breakers than of surf. He devoutly hoped so. Breakers would mean
rocks, and rocks would be hard to avoid if he had to dive. But, more
important, they would mean greater chances for safety if this meadow
ran directly into them, so he could find a hiding place.

Now both gunmen behind were closer. They were firing steadily--and
even in his anxiety to escape Hanlon found time to sneer at their
marksmanship. "Wish I had a gun or a blaster--I'd show them some real
shooting."

Almost blinded now with fatigue, and his run barely more than a
stagger, he struggled on ... and suddenly skidded to a halt just on
the lip of a sharp drop-off. He peered downward, and his heart did
flip-flops. This cliff was well over a hundred and fifty feet high--and
straight down to the water's edge. It was the slapping of the water
against it he had heard.

Even in the moon's rays he could see that it was too vertical, too
smooth, for a swift downward climb. He looked wildly to right and to
left, but could see no possible safety.

The car with its gunmen was closer now, and one of the flames from
their guns almost hit him. There was only one possible escape.

He ran back from the cliff's edge for several yards, straight toward
the onrushing car. Then he turned and sprinted for that edge. He took
off like a broad jumper, as far outward as he could, curving his body
downward into a dive.

"Oh, God, please," he prayed earnestly, "deep water and no rocks."

It seemed an interminable age that George Hanlon fell through the air
on that incredible dive toward the water so far away. Not knowing what
was below made the moments seem dreadful eternities. His mind persisted
in painting ghastly pictures....

At long last Hanlon struck--and was instantly numbed from the force
of the blow and chilled by the icy water. His bruises, burns and cuts
smarted painfully from the salt. He plummeted into the depths, deeper,
deeper, until he thought his lungs would burst, despite the great gulp
of air he had breathed in just before he hit. Slowly he let out a
little bit--and as he sank ever deeper, a bit more. He just couldn't
take it any longer. He would have to let go soon, and try to breathe.

But from some hidden source he drew on new reserves of will and of
strength, and fought on. He felt his descent slowing, and clawed his
way upward.

His head finally burst through the surface, and he trod water while he
gratefully gulped in the reviving air.

All at once he heard a sharp _ping_, and water splashed in his face.
One of those goons above had a pellet gun.

Hanlon struck out away from the shore, swimming under water as fast
and as far as his breath and strength would allow, coming up only to
gulp another lungful of air, then submerging again. Finally he surfaced
and looked back toward the cliff-top. He could dimly see three forms
standing there.

Another pellet struck close by ... and another. Why, he wondered,
hadn't they used that gun on him before?

Never too strong a swimmer, the exhaustion and weakness of his
wounds and that long run made swimming almost impossible for the
young secret serviceman. But he knew his life--and the success of his
mission here--depended on his keeping going. He kicked off the heavy,
water-logged special shoes that made his feet look Estrellan. Ridding
himself of their weight helped a little.

He had felt hundreds of tiny waves of strange thought beating at
the fringes of his mind, and now he opened it wide to receive these
impressions.

"Fish," he said disgustedly after a moment, as he kept swimming further
out. "What good...?" He stopped and thought carefully. "If it was a big
enough fish, maybe...." He sent his mind purposefully out and around.

He was still trying to swim, but his body was worn out. He knew
desperation, for even if he outdistanced their pellets, there was just
not enough strength left in him to swim back to shore. He turned over
on his back and floated, resting as much as possible, but still kept
his mind searching, searching through the waters. It was his only
chance, he felt sure, and sent it ever farther out.

Finally he contacted a larger, stronger thought. Avidly he seized it,
insinuated his mind into it, and realized at once that it was the brain
of a fish. He forced it to swim at its top speed toward him. From the
size and texture of the mind it felt like a large fish. He hoped it was
big enough.

Soon it came up to him, and he saw that it was shark-like, almost eight
feet long, but rounder, and with a head and face much like that of a
Terran sea-elephant. Eagerly and thankfully he grasped one of the small
fins protruding from its underside, and his mind started it swimming
along parallel to the coast.

The musket-type gun had been _splatting_ at him from time to
time--evidently as fast as the shooter could reload. He looked up
toward the cliff-top, and could see men running along it.

"Must be they can see me," although he doubted if they could see
the fish, that swam just below the surface. "Probably," he grinned
mirthlessly, "they're wondering how I can swim so fast."

Another pellet plowed into the water close ahead of his face. The
portion of his mind inside the fish felt the intolerable, burning shock
of pain. The fish seemed almost to stumble. It twisted and coiled about
until Hanlon was able to tighten his control and calm it.

In the dim moonlight he could see the water becoming discolored--and
knew the fish was bleeding profusely.

His mind in the fish knew where the wound was, and Hanlon reached up
for that place and found a gaping hole. He put the tip of a finger
into it to stop the bleeding as much as possible. But he realized at
once that this would not save his carrier, which by now he knew was
not a true fish, but an amphibious mammal, just as Terran's whales are
mammals, not fish.

What could he do? As weak as he was, and as poor a swimmer as he was
at best, there was absolutely no chance of his making it back to shore
under his own power. And even if he did get back, there was no beach,
only that unscalable rocky escarpment ... and the gunmen on top of that.

The fish was his only hope, for he had not been able to locate another
fish-mind of the same calibre. And now his savior was dying.

More carefully now, with his mind inside the amphibian, he examined the
structure of its brain and nervous and muscular systems. Would it be
possible to close that terrible wound?

He traced the nerves to the muscles of that portion of the body and
skin. He tested and tried everything he could figure out.

Finally, Hanlon found the nerve-muscle combination that controlled
exactly that portion of the body. He made it contract--and felt the
muscle tighten about his fingertip. Gently he withdrew the latter from
the wound, and made the muscles close it tightly and completely. It was
necessary to keep doing it consciously, for the moment he relaxed his
concentration it opened again.

He noted subconsciously that there had been no more shots for some
time. "Maybe the guy's outta bullets," he thought. "Or perhaps they
think I'm dead--can see the blood-stains and think they're mine. Or
maybe," as an after-thought, "they've lost track of me in the dimness
and the choppy waters."

Whatever the reason, Hanlon knew a deep thankfulness. He relaxed as
best he could, shivering in the icy waters, still holding loosely onto
the fin of the fish-thing.

He did not try to make it swim. In fact, he kept it from doing so. He
would take time out to try to regain some of his own strength, while
letting the fish overcome, if possible, some of its own weakness and
shock from the pellet-wound.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Adwal Irad had been growing strangely worried. Acting on a compulsion
he did not realize existed, he moved Admiral Newton to a different and,
a certain being in a spaceship high above hoped, a more concealed place
of imprisonment._



CHAPTER 13


"If I wait here awhile, perhaps the fish's strength will build up
again," George Hanlon had thought wearily. "Then it can carry me back
to shore."

So he continued concentrating on the job of keeping those muscles
closed around the wound in the amphibian's side, finding it required
full use of his mind to think of holding that constriction, and of
nothing else.

Only partially was that possible, of course. Humans are just not
constituted so they can think of only one thing for long periods of
time. "At least," he grimaced, "not this human."

For nearly an hour he and the fish lay there quietly, riding out the
waves, while he waited for the great mammal-thing to regain some of its
energy. He kept close watch of that mind, and knew it was gradually
feeling less pain, less anguish. He had sent it "calming" thoughts as
best he could, and they had taken effect. The panic was gone. It was
almost asleep, floating there.

Hanlon looked toward the cliff-top, but there were no longer figures
there he could see. Had the pursuers, thinking him dead, left? He
strained his ears for the sound of the trike motor.

"Maybe, though, they'd already gone before I thought to start
listening," he thought.

Finally he decided the fish was strong enough to take him to shore. His
own body felt so much more comfortable. Then he realized with a twinge
of panic that the reason was that while he had thrown his mind into
the healing of the fish his body had become numb with the cold. Now
he again became conscious of his various cuts and bruises, aching and
flaming from the action of the salt water.

Under his compulsion the fish swam slowly and with some difficulty back
toward the shore. When it finally got close to the wall of rock Hanlon
let his feet downward, hoping to be able to touch bottom. But the water
was far too deep there.

"I hate to do this to you, fellow, but you're my only hope for the
time being," Hanlon said feelingly to the great fish-thing, and made
it start swimming along the rocky wall. He kept his eyes constantly
looking ahead for a break in the escarpment, or for a bit of beach
where he could rest.

After a mile or so it seemed the cliff was getting lower, and Hanlon's
hopes rose a bit. Another couple of thousand yards, and he was sure of
it. It was sloping downward quite sharply toward sea-level. Also it
seemed, in the moonlight, that the rocky surface was getting rougher,
more climbable.

Finally they came to a place where the cliff was only about twenty
yards high--nor did it seem to get lower on ahead. Too, it looked
scalable. Hanlon stopped the fish and examined that facing carefully.

Yes, he decided at last, there were enough protuberances and cracks so
that it could be climbed.

_If_ he had strength enough.

"Well, gotta try sometime. And my poor fish is about all done." He made
it swim right up until he could reach out and get a firm grip in a
large crack.

"Goodbye, fellow. Thanks for saving my life. Hope you make out all
right," he told the great mammalian shark-thing. He released his hold
on its fin and his control from its mind. It turned and swam away,
still feebly.

Hanlon focused his attention on the task before him. Slowly and
painfully he climbed, hunting for handhold and foot rest.

He had known he was tired, but had not realized how weak he was. It
seemed he could never make even that short climb. His fingers, hands
and arms were numb with cold, his feet and legs unresponsive leaden
weights. But from the deeps of his subconscious and will, and his urge
to survival, he brought renewed strength and scrambled upward.

At last, utterly spent, he pulled himself over the edge, and lay
gasping and shivering on the top of the cliff.

He was almost ready to blank out, when a thought struck him, and he
struggled to retain consciousness. He could not just lie here and
sleep. Probably those goons would still be looking for him. He must get
away, somehow, somewhere.

Again he sent his mind outward, and felt whispers of thought quite
a little distance away across the meadow. He followed the strongest
of these, and found a mind quite powerful, and intelligent in an
animalistic way.

He followed that mind into the brain that housed it, and took control.
He made the animal, whatever it was, start swiftly toward him. While it
was coming he examined the mind more closely, and suddenly realized he
was inside the brain of an Estrellan _caval_.

These animals, which the Terrans thought of as horses, because they
could be ridden or trained to draw carriages, were about the size of a
Terran cow-pony. They were striped almost like a zebra, but the colors
were brown and yellow, rather than black and white. The animals were
quite vicious in the wild state, and none too tractable even when
trained. As usual with Estrellan animals, they were tailless, and had
heavy, sharp hooves, nearly twice the size of those of Earthly horses,
and snouts much like a roch's.

When the caval came up to him, Hanlon saw it was a stallion, slightly
larger than average. From its mind he already knew it was a wild one,
not domesticated or broken to saddle or harness.

Nevertheless, he could control it, and made it stand quietly while he
climbed slowly and laboriously to his feet, and from there managed to
wriggle onto its back.

He knew he was due to faint in a few seconds, but kept his
consciousness long enough to impress on the animal's mind that it was
to take him back toward Stearra. He thought he knew the direction,
and he thought he could keep awake the one part of his mind that was
dissociated and in the caval. However, because he might blank out
completely, he instructed it to keep straight on the road to town.

He leaned down and threw his arms tightly about the caval's neck, then
with a sigh of thankfulness, let himself go. He had endured so much ...
he was so tired ... so ... tir....

       *       *       *       *       *

Yandor and his men had finally come to the conclusion that Gor Anlo was
dead, out there in the ocean. They had been unable to see him for some
time. Yet they waited around for nearly half an hour, searching both
the waters and along the cliff. Finally, he said they might as well go
home. So all piled in their large trike and started back to the city.

But they had not quite reached his home when Yandor found a disturbing
thought persisting in his mind. He worried and puzzled over it for some
time, then issued sharp commands. Thus, when they arrived at his house,
two of the men hurried into the back yard, and soon came back with two
of the beasts Yandor kept caged there.

"What's up, chief?" one of the men asked as the tricycle sped back the
way they had just come.

"I ... I don't really know," the impresario said slowly. "I ... I have
a ... a sort of feeling ... that maybe we can find Anlo after all. We'd
better go back and look some more."

       *       *       *       *       *

_For the watcher above knew Hanlon was not dead._

       *       *       *       *       *

All of George Hanlon's mind must have become unconscious, for the next
thing he knew was when the caval suddenly reared to escape those who
were trying to stop it, and Hanlon's body was dumped unceremoniously to
the ground. The caval, released from its compulsion, took off across
the meadow at top speed.

Hanlon began to recover consciousness as rough hands slapped him awake.
He first noticed that the sun was rising, for its rays were shining
directly in his eyes. He blinked and turned his head away--and became
aware of his captors.

He saw Ino Yandor standing there, beside a large trike. Beside him was
one of his henchmen, holding the leashes of two straining _tamous_.
These cat-like beasts, somewhat like Terran black panthers save they
were a deep red in color, and had fangs much longer and sharper--and
no tails--Hanlon knew to be trackers _par excellence_--as good as
bloodhounds. Nor were they usually as fierce and blood-thirsty as they
seemed.

The third man was the one who was holding him.

"Well now," Yandor eyed him angrily, "you think you're pretty clever,
don't you?"

Hanlon shrugged. "Doesn't look like it, does it?"

"Who are you spying for?"

"Who says I was spying?"

"Don't try to quibble with me, Gor Anlo. I want answers, and correct
answers, or I'll let my pretty pets here take over, and see if you can
elude them."

"And after I get through answering you'll cinder me anyway," Hanlon
sneered. "Whatever gave you the idea I'd talk--if I had anything to
say, that is?"

The mobster holding him cuffed him. "Don't talk to Ino Yandor that way,
you phidi."

Hanlon turned his head and sneered into the man's face. "Watch who
you're calling a snake." He twisted suddenly, drove his heel backwards
into the man's shin, and pulled free. The fellow, even while yelping
with pain, started to draw a flamer when Yandor commanded sharply, "Let
him be. He can't outrun the tamous."

Hanlon spoke as though nothing had happened. "What gave you the idea
I've been doing anything like you said?" he asked in a conversational
tone. "What's this all about?"

"What were you doing, trying to look into--or get into--Adwal Irad's
house?"

"That the name of the guy that owns it? Just looking for anything
worthwhile I could pick up. Since you got me fired just because I drank
a little too much one night, I got to make a living someway."

"Well now, I hope you don't expect me to believe that. I know who you
are, and my patience is at an end. Do you tell me who you are working
for, and what you're after, or do I let the tamous loose?"

"I've got nothing to ..." Hanlon began, but the man who had been
holding him suddenly interrupted.

"Look, Yandor, at the man's ear!"

"Yes, and his feet," the other pointed downward.

They all stared closely, and Hanlon wondered as he saw their eyes
widen. Then, with a start, he remembered kicking off his oversized
shoes, and now he noticed that the dye had come off his hands. He
guessed with sickening certainty that the long immersion in the
salt-water had also loosened the plastic ears and nose, and that at
least one of them had fallen off.

"By Zappa," Yandor stepped closer. "One of his ears is very small ..."
he reached out quickly and tugged at the other. Loosened at it was, it
came off easily in his hand.

"An alien," Yandor exclaimed, and then "your skin--it's not like ours."

"His nose seems false, too," the third man said.

Knowing his imposture was over, Hanlon himself pulled off the plastic
overlay and disclosed his nose in its original size and shape.

"Yes, I'm a Terran. What're you going to do about it?"

"Loose the tamous!" Yandor snapped, and the man dropped the leashes he
held.

But Hanlon had read that command in the impresario's mind even before
he uttered it, and had already taken over the minds of the two beasts.

They were well equipped by nature to be deadly, even if that was not
their true nature.

The female whirled, and jumped on the man who had been holding them.
The male made two quick leaps, and was on the other gunman. Both men
were borne backwards, and in seconds the great cat-things had torn out
their throats.

"You should have remembered I'm the world's greatest animal trainer,"
Hanlon said evenly.

Yandor shrank back, sure he was next. "You fiend!" he cried, then his
inherent cowardice showed and he threw himself on his knees. "Don't let
them kill me," he pleaded in agonized tones. "I'll do anything--I'll
give you everything I have. Only please, please keep those awful beasts
away from me."

Hanlon hated a cowardly bully. Also, much as he detested killing or
maiming, he had learned not to let it get him down too much in this
work when it was necessary. But with such an unprincipled killer and
abject wretch as the one before him, he felt no such compunction. He
looked contemptuously down at the thing grovelling at his feet in a
very paroxysm of fear.

Disgusted, Hanlon turned away, climbed into the motor-trike in which
Yandor and his men had come here, and started its engine. As he drove
away he impressed a command on those now-slavering beasts, who began
bellying toward the helpless Yandor. But Hanlon could not repress a
shudder of revulsion at what he felt forced to do.

After a half mile or so of driving, however, the weariness, the pain
and chill struck him, and he nearly fainted again. He struggled to
keep himself conscious so he could get back home--a matter of vital
necessity now that he was not disguised.

When he finally came to the more populated part of the city, in
which people were beginning to be seen outside the houses and on the
streets, he had himself fairly well under control. He kept his head
down and made himself as inconspicuous as possible while driving at
the highest allowable speed toward his rooming house. There he jumped
from the car almost before it stopped, and ran in. He passed several of
his neighbors in the hallways, but held his hank before his face and
ignored their stares of surprise at his condition as he raced to his
room.

Once inside, he locked the door, then breathed a sigh of deep relief.
He began stripping off his wet and bedraggled clothes, thankful, as he
remembered the loss of his shoes, that he had an extra pair of those
specially-made ones.

When he saw that much of the hair so meticulously glued onto his body
was also coming loose, he thankfully ripped the rest of it from him,
then went in and turned on the shower--really only a stream of water
from the end of a pipe. For nearly a quarter of an hour he stood under
it, revelling in the first feeling of real cleanliness he had known
since leaving Simonides, relieved as the warm water washed the salt
from his wounds and pores.

Finally, having treated his burns and bruises, he put on a dressing
gown to partially cover his nakedness, and sank into his comfortable
chair. Then he let his mind review the happenings of the past night.

Hanlon was once more in a cockily jaunty mood. He had taken some
terrific risks, had been in almost-fatal jeopardy several times,
had had adventures and escapes no one would believe if he tried to
tell them--except some of the few S S men who knew about his special
talents, and dad, of course....

_Dad!_ He had almost forgotten his father's predicament in the
excitement of the night. Now, as he considered and concentrated on this
problem, Hanlon began to realize--dimly, sketchily, and much against
his will--that things were not at all right as he had felt for the
moment.

He tried to dodge that flickering thought, but it persisted, grew
stronger, would not be denied. He finally was forced to consider
it more thoroughly. And slowly it dawned upon him that he had not
_won_--he had lost. He had smeared up the works, but good. His campaign
was done, finished, kaput. He had put his foot in it, clear up to the
sacro-iliac.

Worse than that--far worse--he had undoubtedly gummed up this whole
Estrellan business. Not only was his own work undone, but now the
natives would know that the Terrans were here, just as that propaganda
machine had said. Now it would be practically impossible to make
them believe that the Terrans were _not_ responsible for their crime
wave--and all the other things said about them.

"Me and my big swelled head," he castigated himself furiously. "I
oughtta be horse-whipped."

Almost he cried. His body was by turns ice-cold and feverish. He
cringed mentally and physically.

Was there any way--any possible way--he could redeem himself? Could
he publicly admit that he and he alone was to blame, that he was here
entirely on his own initiative, because he wanted to see Estrella join
the family of nations?

No, that was absurd. He wouldn't be believed. No one in their right
mind would ever conceive that a young man like him would do such a
thing without some backing--undoubtedly full Federation backing.

He would have to resign from the secret service. Or--he gasped--were
its members allowed to resign? Admiral Rogers had said it was for life,
once he got in.

"But he didn't guarantee how long my life would last," Hanlon grimaced.

Well, he drew himself up proudly, there was a way. He was not afraid to
die.

"Whoa, now, wait a minute. Let's think this out. Death's no answer."
For a new idea had just struck him. He forced the worry, the fear,
the ... the self-pity ... from his mind, and settled down to consider
this new concept. Maybe it wasn't as bad as he had thought, after all.

"Yandor and his goons were the only ones who knew I was a Terran, and
they're dead," he thought. "So they can't tell on me. And no one else
knows it. Maybe I can go ahead, just as I was."

He rose to get dressed. There was still his father's imprisonment to
be taken care of--if possible. Hanlon was sure now that it was in that
little stone house back of Irad's mansion that the admiral was being
held prisoner.

A casual glance in the glass, and he was suddenly conscious of his
appearance. Hey, he couldn't go out like this, in broad daylight. Not
looking like a Terran.

Swiftly he considered the possibilities. He would have to disguise
himself again enough to escape notice on the street. But he was no
cosmetician ... even if he had the dyes, the plastics....

He sank into his chair again, and thought seriously. But even while he
was trying to think and plan, his worn, tired body--exhausted as it had
never been before, and depleted of all strength--could bear no more.
Without even realizing it, he sank parsecs deep into profound slumber.

Sometime during the day, without his knowing it, he must have gotten
up and lain down on the bed, for it was there he finally awoke. The
room was dark; only a small ray of light came in obliquely through the
window, from a distant street-light.

He got up, wincing at his lameness and stiffness. He went through some
calesthenics to take the soreness from his body, then washed, dressed,
and prepared and ate something. He hunted through his duffel bag and
found a pair of gloves to cover his hands. Before putting them on,
however, he wound a scarf about his head and face, covering most of it
except his eyes. He pulled his hat well down, then put on the gloves.

Leaving his room, he went inconspicuously along the darkest parts of
the streets until he came to the market place, and a certain stall that
specialized in theatrical costumes and make-up. It was the same place
where he had bought that roch-mask.

Walking purposefully, as though he had legitimate business there, he
went to the rear of the shop. It was not too hard to break in and crawl
inside. There, using his utmost care not to be discovered, he hunted
about among the shelves until he found some facial putty, skin dyes,
and other articles he needed. He left a couple of gold pentas on the
counter in payment.

Then, just as cautiously, he retraced his way to his rooms.



CHAPTER 14


The next morning when SSM George Hanlon awoke, his first thought was
one of concern for his father. An impatient, driving urge for action
seized him and made him jump out of bed. Then logic and clear thinking
came to the fore, although it required conscious effort for him to
prepare and eat his breakfast first of all.

Hurriedly finished, though, he set to work on his new make-up, doing
his level best to keep his thoughts on the difficult task at hand.

He had let his whiskers and hair grow from the time he first received
this assignment, of course, so was not too much concerned about the
hairiness he must present to the world when dressed. Luckily, although
it had often been a source of annoyance--he was one of those men
whose beard grows clear down his face and neck to join, with hardly a
break, the hair on his chest. As for the body hair that had been so
painstakingly glued onto his body before, he decided not to attempt
that. He had not yet had to disrobe in front of anyone here; he was
certain he would be able to avoid doing so in the future.

He rubbed liquid rouge, of a dark shade, well into the skin of his
face, neck, hands and high up on his wrists, which took care of his
coloring.

His main worry was the nose and ears, especially the nose. That
would be most quickly noticed if it looked artificial. His first few
attempts were not only badly done, but almost ludicrous. His usually
fine muscular coordination seemed to be lacking. But he persevered and
finally, after several hours, managed to mold a fairly reasonable snout
and to so blend its edges into the skin of his face adjoining that it
would, he felt sure, pass muster on casual inspection.

He built up his ears in like manner, but to help with this deception,
in case of any close scrutiny, he covered them with a head bandage. He
put his hat on, pulled it well down in front and on the sides, then
examined himself critically in the mirror.

"Boy, that's a sloppy job, and how," he exclaimed, disgusted with his
handiwork. "Trevor would disown me if he could see it." But he finally
decided it would do ... he hoped.

Now that he had finished he discovered he was sweating like a nervous
caval. He held out his shaking hands, and looked at them critically.
What, in John's name, was wrong with him, anyway?

And a thought he had, perhaps subconsciously, pushed far down into the
furthest recesses of his mind, swept over him with full force.

He did not want to think that thought. More, he did not want to have to
make that decision. But....

Manning was dead.

Hooper was fleeing insanely, perhaps also dead by now.

His father was captive, imprisoned, tortured ... if still alive.

Only he, Hanlon, of the four, was left.

And he was ... alone.

Again to his mind came his father's earnest and incisive statement,
that getting Estrella to accept membership in the Federation was
the most important thing that had come up in ages. It _had_ to be
accomplished, and quickly.

Deep down Hanlon knew what that meant. Individuals were
expendable--the plan was not.

He was beginning to learn that while plans may blow up in one's
face--as now--such happenings must be accepted philosophically,
without too much backward longing, without too great remorse, and
certainly--which was the hardest to accept--without letting personal
feelings or sympathy for those lost or in danger keep the one or ones
remaining from going ahead with new attempts to bring the mission to a
successful conclusion.

For a long time Hanlon sat there. Resolutely now, he put his father out
of his mind, and concentrated only on how he was to accomplish the task
that confronted him--alone.

Finally he began to look at the larger aspects of the problem; to
realize that he must quit hunting for individual criminals and possible
members of the opposition, and work from the other end--the top.

"After all," he thought, "it is the Ruler who makes the decisions.
Perhaps ... no, I _must_ go to work on him. I've got enough dope now as
to who is behind this intrigue. Now I must reach Elus Amir himself, and
swing him our way. But, in Snyder's name, how am I going to get to him?"

Plan after possible plan he discarded. He could not go to Amir as a
Terran. In the first place, his word would have no weight. In the
second place, he would undoubtedly have considerable trouble making the
approach to the Ruler, if it was possible at all.

No, he would have to get close to him as a native. And to do that,
he first had to know more--a lot more--about the Ruler as a man, his
habits and usual daily routine.

Hanlon left the house and went to a number of places where men ate
or drank, both for information, and to try out his new disguise. The
latter must have been better than he thought, for no one seemed to
notice. And in each place he visited, while eating or sipping his mild
drink, Hanlon asked one or two discreet questions. None of these, by
themselves, seemed to mean anything. But the answers, put together as
Hanlon did when he returned to his rooms, gave him a fairly detailed
picture.

He knew now that the Ruler stuck quite closely to his
residence--"palace", Hanlon thought of it--although occasionally his
duties took him to other cities on either continent, and sometimes he
went out for an evening at the theatre, as he had done on Hanlon's
opening night.

Otherwise, he was a hard worker, an excellent and well-loved Ruler,
always studying carefully all suggested legislation that was presented
for his consideration, always thinking of ways to better the condition
of his people.

But to one thing he had learned Hanlon gave the most consideration at
the moment. Elus Amir, he found, went out almost every day for a ride
on his caval, and usually along the same route. Hanlon knew what road
that was.

Accustomed as he now was to thinking more in terms of animals than of
men, the natural thought for Hanlon was to wonder how he could meet or
study the Ruler through his caval.

The next day, therefore, the S S man rode out into the country, and
posted himself at a convenient spot where he could watch without
attracting too much attention, yet could see for several miles. He took
one of the wheels off his motor-tricycle and demounted the tire. This
was to be his excuse for being so handy at the time of his planned
meeting with the Ruler.

But something apparently changed Elus Amir's habits, for he did not
ride that road that day. Ruefully doing a bit of under-breath griping,
Hanlon replaced tire and wheel, then rode back toward town.

But after he had gone part way through the city streets, he thought of
something else that must be done, and headed towards the place Morris
Manning had found rooms.

Luckily, no one else had moved in, and no one appeared in the hall
when Hanlon came back, after a quick trip to a tool stall in the
market place, where he was able to buy a hacksaw. For Manning, as did
the other S S men, had attached a hasp and pick-proof padlock to his
door. The Estrellans locks were ingenious, but could quite easily be
unfastened even without the key.

These locks consisted of a metal rod, like a sliding bolt, that ran
inside the wood of the door. There was a slip in the wood on either
side of the door through which a key, inserted in the rod, could move
it forth or back. When the bolt was moved into position with one end
seated in the holder in the doorjamb, a turn of the key opened flanges
on the rod that fitted vertically into prepared slots.

But a little patience easily enabled one who wished to get in, to trip
those flanges with almost any small, flat-pointed instrument, even a
penknife blade.

Now Hanlon cut through the hasp, evidently without attracting anyone's
attention, for none of the neighbors came out to investigate the
strange sounds. Inside Manning's room, he went about the sad business
of collecting the dead secret serviceman's gear and belongings, to be
sent back home on the sneakboat.

As he was cleaning out one of the chests, however, Hanlon discovered a
small notebook he knew was of Estrellan make. He opened it idly, and
found it was filled with native writing.

Excited now, for he was sure Manning would have written in Terran or
I-S C code if it had been his work, Hanlon slowly began deciphering the
words.

"Yow, this is hot stuff," he exclaimed after less than a page. "Wonder
where Morrie got this? From Esbor's office or home, I'll bet."

He stuffed the book into his pocket for later study. He packed the
balance of Manning's things, then left, mounted his trike and rode back
to his own rooms.

All the balance of the afternoon and evening he worked at the
translation of the entries in that book. It was, he found with great
glee, a list of the names of various criminals who had been working
under Esbor, and brief details of their various activities, as well as
many other notes of similar nature.

One recent item caused a brief exclamation. "Ran Auldin came seeking a
safe hiding place today," he read. "It having already been decided by
Adwal Irad that the man's usefulness was over, he was cindered."

"Dirty killers," Hanlon growled, his brief moment of joy at the direct
mention of Irad dimmed by the import of that entry. "No conscience
whatever."

All in all, however, he was vastly pleased, and grew more so as he
continued translating. For there were several mentions of Adwal Irad,
and always pointing to him as the top man. Now he had real evidence
of what he had believed--that this crime wave was directed by the
Second-In-Line. Hanlon was vastly relieved.

In the morning, as he was preparing to go out again to see if he
could contact Amir, a thought sent him to the mirror, attempting some
changes in his make-up. He worked subtly and soon made himself look
considerably older--about middle-aged. This, he felt, would make the
Ruler listen more carefully to his evidence than he might to a younger
man. Then he rode out to that country road.

Sometime later he saw Elus Amir riding that way. From Hanlon's vantage
point he saw the Ruler and a single groom on their mounts while they
were still some distance away.

Hanlon's mind reached out and touched that of the Ruler's steed. There
were a few moments of anxious trying, and then he was in full control
of the animal's mind. Through its eyes Hanlon looked out carefully
along the road. It seemed fairly smooth, and he felt sure that if Amir
was at all a good cavalman--as he must be after riding nearly every
day--he would be able to stay in the saddle safely during the wild ride
planned.

Hanlon made the beast suddenly snort and shy to one side, then break
into a wild gallop straight down the road, despite the Ruler's frantic
efforts at control.

Swiftly the caval pounded down the road, Amir working desperately to
control it, yet seeming not to be too frightened by the runaway. The
groom kicked up his own mount, but was hopelessly outdistanced.

Meanwhile the caval, controlled by Hanlon's mind within its own, paid
no attention to the sawings and pullings on rein and bit, and continued
its apparently frightened bolt.

As they neared the place where Hanlon was working on his machine, the
young man straightened, looked, then jumped into the road. He started
trotting toward them, waving his arms in an effort to make the caval
stop its mad rush. But, although he let the animal slow somewhat, it
kept running wildly.

As it drew closer, Hanlon moved a bit to one side, but still in the
road. When the horse and rider were almost upon him he turned his back
to them and started running in the same direction, looking back across
his shoulder. Just as the caval came abreast, Hanlon suddenly leaped
toward it, and grasped the bridle. At the same time his mind calmed
that of the beast, and commanded it to slow and stop.

To the Ruler, Hanlon seemed to be dragged for several yards, still
holding grimly to the reins he had grasped. When he finally brought the
caval to a stop, it stood with heaving flanks and blowing nostrils.

"Whew," Elus Amir wiped his face, "that was fine work, my man. Many
thanks. I don't know what got into the stupid beast. It has never done
that before."

"Something must have frightened it," Hanlon said. He pretended he did
not know who the rider was, having considered this point carefully.
"Sure you can handle it now?"

"Yes, I think there'll be no more trouble. By the way, is there
anything I can do to show my gratitude?"

Hanlon looked surprised. "Why, I didn't do anything special. Couldn't
let you get hurt."

The Ruler gazed at him peculiarly. "Don't you know who I am?"

"No, should I?"

"I am Elus Amir."

"Oh!" Hanlon made himself look properly surprised, then bent his knee
in the Estrellan salute to the Ruler. "I beg your pardon, k'nyer, if
I've spoken wrongly, for I did not know."

Amir smiled. "Well, now that you do, I ask again, is there anything I
can do for you? You must want something."

Hanlon shook his head. "Thank you, sire, but I wouldn't dream of
imposing on your generosity. I'm sure I can find a job somewhere."

"Oh, you're looking for work?"

"Yes, k'nyer. I only recently came here from Lura."

"What can you do?"

Another shrug. "Farm work, tending animals, that sort of thing. I love
animals, especially cavals. I'd hoped to get a job as stableman on one
of the estates here."

The Ruler looked at his groom who had come galloping up, relieved to
see that his master was unharmed, glancing curiously at this stranger
who had saved the Ruler, and with whom he could see Amir had been
talking.

"Are there any vacancies in our stable-force, Endar?" the Ruler asked.

"Why ... why, no, k'nyer, not at present."

"Make one then," snapped Amir. "I want to give this man a good
position. He is to take care of my personal string of cavals."

"As you order, sire."

"I don't like to make trouble for anyone, k'nyer." Hanlon protested. "I
don't want a job if it means putting someone else out of work."

The Ruler's eyes lighted up with a friendly smile. "I assure you it
won't. I like your attitude, my man. It is good to find someone who
thinks of others before himself."

Once more Hanlon shrugged deprecatingly. "I've found in my lifetime,
k'nyer, that it doesn't hurt me any to think of the other fellow.
And the best part of it is, I've also found, that when I do so think
unselfishly, I always receive far more happiness than otherwise."

"Ah, a philosopher. I must have many talks with you. Can you get to the
Residence all right?"

"Yes, sire, as soon as I finish fixing my tire."

"Report to Endar here, then, when you get there. I'll instruct him as
we ride back."

"My thanks, k'nyer. I promise to serve you well and faithfully."

The Ruler nodded briefly and rode away, the groom following at a
respectful distance. Hanlon hurriedly replaced tire and wheel, then
rode off toward the palace. Watching through the caval's eyes, he timed
it so he rode into the courtyard just behind the Ruler and groom.

Elus Amir was cordial as he dismounted. "I see you got here all
right ... by the way, you never told me your name."

"I am called Ergo Lona, k'nyer."

"All right, Lona. Endar, see that this man has good quarters and
whatever clothing he needs. Introduce him to the work."

"As you order, sire." The two men bent their knees, then led the cavals
to the stables as the Ruler went up the steps into the residence.

Hanlon noticed the groom was inclined to be a bit surly, and deduced
the man was afraid of his job. He determined to make friends, if
possible. It would hamper his work of spying if he had to watch for
enemies close to him, like this man could be.

"Please tell me how I may help, Endar," he made his voice cordial, yet
with a touch of servility. "I'm proud that our Ruler has given me work,
I assure you I want to do everything to make good here. I know you must
be important here, to be allowed to ride with K'nyer Amir, and I hope
you will teach me the regulations. I realize I can never be anything
but a stable helper, but I do want to be a good one. I hope we can
become good friends."

The man unbent a little. "All right, I'll show you around."

They stabled the cavals and then the groom led Hanlon to a nearby
building. It was of stone construction, five-sided, surrounded by
flower beds and trees. It was not only harmonious with the palace and
other buildings and grounds, but a pretty little house by itself.

"These are the living quarters for the grooms," Endar said as they
mounted the steps. Inside he pointed out the dining room, then led the
way upstairs and down a short hall. "This will be your room," he opened
a door, disclosing a small but well-furnished, comfortable room.

"I have a few things in Stearra," Hanlon said. "When will it be
convenient for me to go get them?"

"We have lunch in a few minutes, then you might as well go," Endar
said. "I'll give you a note to the official tailor, and have him fit
you with the proper clothes."

Hanlon looked at him as though with new respect. "Oh, you must be the
head groom then, nyer. I hadn't thought about that. Please pardon my
presumption in suggesting that we be friends."

Endar merely looked at him a moment, then turned and left without a
word.

Hanlon grinned to himself as the door closed. "It won't be too hard to
keep ahead of that guy. Only I'll have to watch him all the time, or he
could get nasty."



CHAPTER 15


Hanlon was awakened shortly after dawn the next morning. "Darn this
having to pretend to such jobs," he growled to himself as he rose,
washed and dressed. He had always preferred to sleep as late as
possible, and getting up at such ungodly hours did not tend to make him
too happy the first few hours of the day. Yet, young as he was, he had
developed the philosophy of accepting what must be as gracefully as
possible, and now consoled himself with the hope that he would probably
not have to keep up this imposture very many days.

His first care was to examine minutely, in the mirror, the make-up he
had applied. The ears and nose still seemed to be all right and holding
tightly. But he was careful, when no one was around during the days
that followed, to look at them as often as he could in a pocket mirror
he carried.

After a good breakfast in the dining room he was put to work cleaning,
feeding and watering the cavals. Endar brought two of the horses from
their stalls, snapped their halters into rings in a post, and was busy
currying them. When he finished he saddled the two and led them out,
after first telling Hanlon to make sure the stables were clean, in case
the Ruler came to inspect them.

There were three other stablemen, working at the same general tasks.
Hanlon, without neglecting his own work, made it a point to try to
engage them in conversation.

"I love this kind of work, don't you?" he asked confidingly. "I'm so
proud the Ruler gave me this job."

All the time he was studying their surface minds, trying to get a line
on what manner of men they were--whether they would be inclined to
be too friendly and intruding. But to his relief, he found they were
rather stupid, loutish fellows, not caring too greatly what they did
nor who was working with them, as long as they had a good place to
live, plenty to eat, and fair pay. They seemed mildly surprised at his
evident enthusiasm. One of them answered, in a churlish voice, "It's
only a job--why get so excited about it?"

His mind-probings told him, however, that none of them was the type to
be involved in any plot that might be going on, even as the most humble
participants or workers. He had nothing to fear from them in any way.

When the work was finished for the morning, the other three men went
into the tackroom and began playing cards. They ignored Hanlon, not
asking him to play with them, seemingly not caring what he did.

He went outside, sought the shade of a large flowertree, and sat
down with his back leaning against the bole. He closed his eyes, the
better to concentrate, and strengthened his mental control of the
cavals ridden by Elus Amir and Endar, in which he had put a smallish
portion of his mind when they started out. He knew that so far no
untoward incident had occurred--the Ruler was riding along that country
road, wrapped in thought, not talking, not meeting anyone, paying no
attention to the groom following him.

Hanlon had not expected anything would occur, but wanted to know if it
did, and especially wanting to be sure he could perfectly control the
Ruler's caval at all times, no matter what the distance.

Early the next morning a houseman approached the stables. "K'nyer Amir
says to get his son's caval ready, for he rides with him today."

Endar indicated a certain animal to Hanlon. "Bring that one out and
get it saddled. The young man's gear is the second set on the right of
the door in the tack room."

Hanlon hurriedly led the caval out, snapped its halter ring in a nearby
post, then ran to get the blanket, saddle and bridle.

"Those back legs aren't smooth," the head groom snapped. "Curry and
brush them again. Inver is particular."

"Yes, nyer, thank you," Hanlon made haste to obey, and was careful in
his work. When the beasts were ready, the groom took the reins in his
hands, and led them to the mounting block.

Hanlon implanted parts of his mind in each of the two cavals. Thus he
was ready for his spying when the two men came out of the residence.

Through the eyes, wide set in the only-slightly elongated, broad heads
of the steeds, Hanlon studied this important new character, of whom
he had heard much. He saw a tallish, very intelligent-looking native,
guessed him to be in his middle or late twenties. The fellow had a
slight though wiry build, and reddish-blond hair and trimmed beard.
Hanlon liked this Inver on sight, and decided instantly that what he
had heard was somehow wrong. The Ruler's son certainly did not look
half-crazy.

He pondered the matter. Was that impression being sowed about the
planet deliberately? Was someone trying to tear down any reputation or
influence the young man might have?

"This," his eyes gleamed, "is going to be good. I'm sure going to watch
and listen carefully today."

Hanlon crowded into the brains of the two cavals all of his mind they
could hold, finding that the animals had enough capacity to take a full
half of his own mind. He had barely enough left in his body to keep on
with his work which, luckily, did not require much mental effort. He
still had more left than the other stablemen possessed.

The riders had barely left the palace grounds when Hanlon, through the
caval's ears, heard the young man speak.

"I hope, father, that you have thought about the subject I broached
to you the other day, and the reasons I suggested for your further
study. I pray you have decided that our world will do well to join the
Federation of Planets, as we have been invited to do."

Hanlon could tell, by the tone, that the Ruler's mind and voice were
troubled. "Son, I don't know what to decide. There are so many things
to think about. There are many good reasons why we should, it is true.
There are also many equally good reasons why we should not. I am, as
you know, very jealous of Estrella's independence. I should hate to see
it made subservient to any other power."

"But, father," Inver said earnestly, "we would not be. I have studied
very carefully the proposition made us by the Federation Council, and
the copy of their constitution they sent with it. They guarantee each
planet complete autonomy, and state very plainly that the Council is
only a judicial body set up to negotiate intra-planetary treaties and
to see that the various worlds remain in harmony with each other. The
advantages...."

"But it's all a trick of those Terrans to get control of the entire
galaxy," his father broke in.

"That's not only nonsense, father, but a deliberate lie. I'm sure you
know who is fostering it, and I think you can guess the reason."

"I presume you're still talking about the Second-In-Line. But Irad
isn't like that, at all. He has a good mind, and he has presented
some excellent reasons and arguments as to why we should not join the
Federation."

"Sure, he would. He wants to keep Estrella free, so that when he takes
over he can pluck it like a...."

"That's a strong indictment, son. I hope it is not jealousy because he
won out over you in the tests."

"It is not jealousy, and while I haven't the proof yet, k'nyer, I do
know it's true," the young man said hotly. "You can be sure that when
I do get the truth I shall call for Irad's impeachment. No, father, I
and many friends are concerned over this matter, and are satisfied we
are correct."

Hanlon could guess at the troubled eyes of the older man, and that
he was shaking his head sadly. "I hate to think that of Adwal Irad,"
he said. "He has always seemed so interested in helping me to build
up Estrella's economy and is constantly bringing new ideas for her
betterment. He seems to be making every effort to become worthy of his
post when he succeeds me."

"I know," sadly. "He wasn't like this until recently. But he has
changed someway, father. Now he is power mad. Also, he is trying to
make me out as a fool and a brainless dara," Inver snapped.

"Why ... why ... I never heard him say anything like that," there was
astonishment in the elder's voice. "He always speaks well of you."

"Naturally, k'nyer, he wouldn't be crass enough to say anything of that
sort to you. But he and his henchmen are spreading that story all over
our world."

"Oh, I'm sure you must be mistaken."

"I'm not," grimly. "The evidence on that is unmistakable."

There was decisiveness now in the Ruler's voice. "If that's true, I'll
certainly put a stop to it."

"Don't, father, not at once," his son pleaded quickly. "Do not even
mention it to Adwal yet, please. Nor make a public pronouncement about
it. That would put him on his guard, and I and my friends need time to
prove the other things I'm talking about."

"I'll not have word spread that my son is a ... a weakling, or stupid,"
the elder's voice was angry, and Hanlon felt the jerk on the reins of
his caval that told of the sudden gesture.

"Just so you don't believe it, father, is all I care at the moment."

Hanlon felt the two animals swerve and touch sides, and knew that Amir
had drawn closer to his son, and shrewdly guessed he was touching the
boy lovingly.

"You need never fear that, Inver. I've always been proud of the way
you've taken hold of things, ever since you were a boy."

"I've tried, k'nyer, to make myself a worthy son of a great father,"
there was emotion in the young man's voice. "I've studied everything
I thought would help me--economics, psychology, statecraft, history,
and all. And especially, since the Federation first made contact with
us, I've tried to learn all I could about them, their various forms of
government, their history, and everything. That's why I'm so sure they
mean us well, not harm."

"But we're not Terrans. We're just semi-civilized beasts in their eyes."

"Another of Adwal's dirty lies," Inver snapped. "If they felt that,
would they have asked us to join them as a full-fledged world? No, they
would have come here with a fleet of warships of space, and conquered
us. They could have, easily, you know. They made no effort to hide the
fact that they had such power from the ones who were taken on that
inspection trip."

"No, we have no spaceships, and nothing that could stop one," his
father admitted. "That's one of the things that has made me hesitate to
decide against them--the fact that they have them but did not use them.
On the other hand, if we decide not to join, how do we know they won't
send their fleet here and...."

"Because they aren't that kind of people. Why, sire, in their history
I learned that when the Terrans first started exploring space, one of
their great men, named John Snyder, who seems to have had quite a lot
of power at the time, promulgated a ruling that says, 'Man must never
colonize any planet having inhabitants intelligent enough to show
cultural activity and growth'. And that concept has never been broken,
and is still in force."

"Why, I never heard that."

"I told you, k'nyer, I have been studying them diligently, and so know
much about them."

For the balance of their ride that morning, the two continued
their discussion, and Hanlon--working through the ears of the two
cavals--listened closely, and learned much.

The two were almost back to the residence when Inver's caval stepped
into a hole, and stumbled badly. It wrenched its leg so it could barely
stand on it. Inver immediately dismounted and examined the leg as best
he could.

"It looks bad, father," he said after a minute or so. "I'll walk the
rest of the way, and lead it slowly. It's not too far from here, so you
go ahead if you wish."

"Well," slowly, "all right. I'll have the doctor meet you at the
stables, and see if the beast can be healed. If not, it should be
destroyed to save it pain."

"Yes, I know that would be best, although I dislike to think of it, for
this is my favorite."

The Ruler cantered on, and the young man followed slowly, letting the
caval hobble along at its own gait. When Inver finally reached the
stables, he talked with the head groom, Endar, and with the animal
physician, who arrived shortly afterwards.

"I'm not sure," was the doctor's statement after much studying. "I'll
try to save it, but I don't know if such an injury will heal or not.
The ligament seems to have been torn loose, and being inside the leg
it is hard to get at it with medicine. See how badly it has swollen
already."

The caval was put into its stall, and after treating it as best he
could with the limited knowledge and techniques known, the doctor left.

Hanlon knew about the accident, of course, and had been keeping the
caval from feeling too much of the pain. He made it a point to be
standing near while the animal was being examined and treated, and
was surprised at how little the doctor could do. The Estrellan
veterinarian did not even apply hot or cold compresses, nor bandage
the swollen leg in any way. Also, apparently, he did not know about
hypodermics for injecting medicine into the injured parts.

Later in the afternoon, after their work was done and he had some free
time, Hanlon thought more concisely about the matter. If he could help
any, he would make a friend of Inver, he felt sure. More than ever he
liked the young fellow, whom he decided was a real man in every respect.

But he must be careful not to give himself away--not to display
knowledge Estrellans did not know.

Suddenly he recalled the shooting of the fish, and what he had been
able to do there. "I wonder if I can help this healing in any way, with
my mind?" he pondered.

The other grooms, including Endar, had left the stables for the
bunkhouse, so Hanlon was there alone. He sat down near the injured
caval's stall, insinuated his mind into that of the animal, and began
studying its brain, nerves and muscles. After considerable intensive
study he found the way to make its muscles relax--he had already long
since established a nerve block so that the caval felt no pain. Now he
learned to make those muscles and nerves contract or relax, even to the
point of almost causing a temporary paralysis.

Deeper and ever deeper he probed into its physical structure.
Especially now, he tried to trace the nervous system connecting with
its various glands, looking for confirmation or refutation of a
startling concept he had glimpsed.

After much study and experimentation by the trial and error method, he
was beginning to find it possible to partially control the increase
or decrease of flow of the secretions of its glands--but far from
perfectly. For it was an intricate and involved method, necessitating
as it did the locating of the nerves that led to and controlled those
glands, and then learning how to activate or inhibit them--nor could he
be sure it was not chance only the few times he made them operate as
he wished.

Yet he watched carefully to see the results of the activations of each
gland, and finally believed he had found the one that was the master
gland in charge of the body's healing functions. He now worked on this,
trying to direct the added secretions through the blood stream and into
the caval's injured parts.

Soon, even though his forcings were spasmodic and infrequent, he could
begin to perceive that this was actually the way it should be done--the
wounded ligaments and flesh and muscles showed signs of starting to
heal a bit faster than nature was doing it.

His deep concentration was rudely broken by a heavy hand on his
shoulder, and an angry voice saying, "What d'you think you're doing
here?"

Looking up, he saw that it was Endar. Hanlon recalled the portion of
his mind from that of the caval.

"Oh," he scrambled to his feet and fixed his face in a look of deep
concern. "I was just studying Inver's poor caval, and trying to figure
out a way to help cure its leg."

The head groom sneered. "I suppose you think you know more about it
than I do, or the doctor."

Hanlon was certain he knew far more than the groom, and probably things
the doctor had never even guessed. But he kept his voice humble and
almost servile. "I didn't say or mean that, nyer. But I have had some
experience with animals, as I told you and the Ruler, and I've helped
cure many injured ones. Since it was my off time, I didn't think I was
overstepping my place to see what I could do."

"You been handling it?" Endar asked sharply.

"Oh, no, nyer, I was just sitting here thinking about it, and trying to
remember all I had learned or heard about how such injuries have been
healed. Then I was going to come and suggest them to you."

"Well, it's none of your business, so get out and leave it alone," was
the surly command ... and Hanlon left.

But that night, after he was sure the others were all sound asleep, he
sent his mind back to the stables and into the brain of Inver's injured
mount.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In its spaceship the strange being was feeling a depth of frustration
almost unknown to one of its cold, logical race. Its "interrogation" of
the prisoners had yielded surprising but already-deduced information.
In its rational yet impersonal way the being was somewhat regretful
for the death of the one entity. Not because of the death itself, but
because there was no logical reason why the entity should be dead, and
therefore unable to yield further data._

_The one still remaining imprisoned had given up much additional
knowledge of a kind that had shocked the being, for it told of
conditions never before considered as obtaining in the galaxy. Yet
the being did not see how that information could help in this present
project--it was, in fact, decidedly inimical to that project's success._

_As for the one that had been allowed to "escape," that one had led
to the unreadable mind as hoped. Although still kept controlled and
UNsane, the being was allowing that one to remain in what it considered
a safe hiding place, rather than continually on the run._

_But even though the being had now been following that enigmatic
entity's body, through its powerful, multiphased scanners, it still
could not make any sort of contact with that mind. Thus it did not yet
know whether or not that mind was like the other three, or the two
that came occasionally and briefly in their ship of space. Under its
easily-penetrated disguise, the entity appeared to be like the others,
but that could or could not mean anything worth knowing._

_It was all very puzzling, and the alien being came as near feeling
anger as was possible to one of its phlegmatic nature. But it coldly
resolved that that one must, also, die ... and soon._



CHAPTER 16


Darkness Made No Difference To George Hanlon in dealing with animal
minds, for it was not with his eyes that he "saw" what was inside them.
In this particular instance he was grateful for the dark--it made
concentration far easier.

He made himself comfortable on his bed, then fitted his mind to that
of the wounded animal in the stable. Deeper and ever deeper he probed,
tracing line and connectors and synapses carefully. A stray thought
brought a grin to his face. "I bet I'm learning things no veterinarian
ever learned about animals."

Then he sobered quickly. "Perhaps I should write this up for them--the
physiology and endocrinology of it, I mean." He filed the thought away
in his mind for future reference. It would be a great contribution to
those branches of science, he felt--IF he was successful.

Now he traced nerves, blood vessels, cells, glands. He bored in
with every newly-awakened sense alert to catch each particle of
new knowledge. He began to learn even more of how the healing and
regeneration of cells and tissues worked ... and after awhile he
achieved real beginnings of success.

The things he had been able to do that afternoon, with his first
studies, had started the healing of the caval's leg somewhat faster
than nature ordinarily did it, but not much more. Now, however, he was
able more surely and quickly to continue that work, and by the time he
noticed the false dawn lightening the night a bit, and he knew he must
get some sleep, the injury was almost entirely healed.

"What a surprise Endar's going to get when he looks at that leg in the
morning," he chuckled. For the swelling was reduced, the inflammation
all gone, and the caval was able to stand and walk on the foot without
limping or apparent pain. In fact, from his ability to read the
beast's mind, Hanlon knew the pain was all gone. If nothing happened
to irritate it, the leg would be as good as new in a day or so without
further attention.

Hanlon was sleeping so soundly the next morning that Endar had trouble
waking him, and that did not help in dispelling the anger and distrust
in him the head groom knew. Hanlon tried to work hard enough, and was
careful to appear willing and ready even for the mean, dirty jobs Endar
assigned him, so as not to make the groom any more irritated than he
already was.

Shortly after daylight Inver came to the stables to see how his
favorite caval was getting along. He and Endar were very much surprised
to see that the animal was apparently entirely well, and that the leg
showed no signs of the injury of the day before.

"I can't understand it," the young man shook his head. "It must not
have been as badly hurt as we thought."

Endar may have had his doubts--and Hanlon saw him throw a quick,
wondering glance in his direction--but the groom wisely said nothing,
since he had no proof ... and such a thought was ridiculous, anyway.

When it came time for the Ruler's morning ride, Hanlon was still
working inside. But Elus Amir asked to see the new man, and Endar had
to call him out.

"Ah, my savior," Amir said as Hanlon appeared. "Are they treating you
well, Lona?"

Hanlon bent the knee. "Oh, yes, k'nyer. I have everything to make me
happy here, and I love the work. And Endar has been most kind about
showing me around, and helping me learn all my duties here so I may
serve you better."

"Good. I'd like to have you ride with me this morning," the Ruler said
as he mounted.

Hanlon glanced at Endar. He could see that the head groom was not
pleased by this, though he said nothing, merely handing the reins of
the second mount to Hanlon, then turning away. Hanlon was quickly
astride, and the two riders started off at a brisk canter.

As soon as they were well away from the residence, Amir slowed down
and motioned Hanlon to come to his side. "Now, tell me all about the
Eastern Continent--what conditions are like there, and what the people
are saying about things in general."

Hanlon dredged his mind for any and all information he could remember
from his studies of the reels of Estrella furnished him by the secret
service, as well as what he had learned from others since he came to
this planet.

For nearly a penta-period he told what he knew, then said, "One thing
is quite noticeable there, k'nyer. The ordinary people I talked to over
there--of course, I don't know any of the important ones--all seem very
anxious for our world to join the Terran Federation of Planets."

"They are?" the Ruler seemed surprised, but interested. "I thought
there was quite a bit of sentiment against it."

Hanlon shrugged as though it was of no importance. "Oh, you hear a
lot of talk going around that we would lose our freedom, and that the
people of the Federation just want to enslave us, but no one I talked
to seemed really to believe it. They think someone there is putting
out a lot of propaganda because of some personal reasons. The ordinary
people think they would benefit greatly by such a union with more
advanced people. One of our newssheets printed a copy of the Federation
Agreement, and it states very clearly that all worlds are to have full
right to choose their own form of government, and that they keep their
full ... their full...."

"Sovereignty," the Ruler supplied the missing word.

"Thank you, k'nyer ... their full sovereignty at all times. It also
went on to say that all the other worlds do just as they please, and
that the only purpose of the Federation is to encourage trade and the
spread of knowledge among the various planets in an equitable way, and
yet see to it that they never get into war with each other, by settling
all possible disputes before they get to the explosive point."

Elus Amir was silent for long minutes, thinking seriously, and Hanlon
followed those thoughts as they chased themselves across the screen
of the Ruler's mind. Finally Amir raised his head. "Er ... yes, yes,
that's all true enough, Lona. But if it is so, why is there such a
seemingly-determined effort to persuade me and the people here that it
is not true?"

"May I speak my thoughts, k'nyer?"

"Eh? Why, of course," Amir looked up in surprise. "That's why I wanted
you to come along today."

"Well, sire, it looks to me--and please remember that I'm just a simple
countryman, and not used to politics or statesmanship--but it looks to
me as though someone wanted to keep us by ourselves so they could run
this world the way they want to, and be able to make themselves rich or
powerful at the expense of our common people."

"But that's impossible as long as our government is on its guard."

"Exactly, k'nyer. It could not be done as long as you are Ruler, but
suppose you...."

Elus Amir's head snapped up irritably at this unfinished warning. "The
Second-In-Line is just as jealous of Estrella's welfare as I am," he
snapped. "It would not happen under him either."

But Hanlon, reading the Ruler's surface thoughts, knew he must keep
quiet for the moment. For Amir was disturbed by hearing this idea from
a simple groom. He did not want to give it credence, but doubt had been
forced into his mind, first by his son, and now by this man.

But before he could formulate any decisive answer, Hanlon decided
boldly to jolt him again.

"I have a friend, k'nyer," he reached into his inner pocket and brought
out some papers, "who has been actively studying this matter for some
time. He has found out a number of things I am sure will interest you,
and about which I doubt very much you know."

The Ruler looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"

"You know that there has been an unprecedented crime wave all over
our planet recently," Hanlon said, and Amir nodded sorrowfully. "My
friend has found proof that, while a lot of people have been engaged in
those criminal activities, there is a complete program that is being
carefully carried on by a staff of head men, each with his own group of
lower criminals, but all headed by one...."

"By the Terrans--it is well known here."

"No, k'nyer, not by the Terrans. The real leader of this campaign of
destruction is the same man who is the leader of the opposition to
Estrella's joining the Federation."

"And that man?" the Ruler snapped, but his face was drawn, as though he
already knew ... but would not let himself believe.

"That leader, k'nyer, is Adwal Irad."

"Prove it, or by Zappa I'll have you executed," Amir's voice crackled.
"Have a care, Lona, and don't try my patience. I don't allow myself to
be talked to in that manner."

"I crave pardon, sire, if I have spoken out of line. But you asked me
for my reactions and knowledge, and I must be truthful."

"Whatever gave you such foolish notions? And who are you, anyway? A
countryman such as you claim to be would not know about such
things ... or use such precise language."

"You might be surprised, k'nyer, if you knew how many of your humbler
subjects are vastly interested in the welfare of our world, and who
read and think much about these things, even though they know they
cannot fully understand them. As to how I got such ideas, the answer
is, many things. And facts collected by my friend. Including this
little book," handing him Esbor's notebook, "which was found in ...
well, in a certain place. It contains a lot of information we were sure
you would want to study, which is the reason he asked me to give it to
you if I got the chance."

The Ruler took the book, opened and glanced through it. Hanlon could
see the start of surprise he made, and read the thoughts that flashed
through the Ruler's mind as he saw some of the notations. During the
remainder of the ride, now at a slow walk, there was complete silence,
until they were nearing the residence's courtyard. Then Amir looked at
Hanlon, a shrewd look on his face.

"You're a curious fellow, Lona. Who are you, really?"

"One of the many who have the interests of yourself and this world very
much at heart," Hanlon said honestly. "Please do not ask me more, but
believe that we are honest and sincere. Your son has many friends ..."
he stopped, letting it go at that, knowing the Ruler's memory would
flash back to the talk with Inver the day before, and hoping Amir would
not pursue his questioning.

Elus Amir began studying Hanlon closely, an examination the young man
knew might quickly disclose his imposture. He made his caval suddenly
shy away, and took several moments controlling it enough so he could
ride back to the Ruler's side--but stayed a bit further behind than he
had been before.

As he had hoped, this maneuver had given Amir time to think. "Very
well," the Ruler said, "I'll not inquire too closely at the moment,
although you may be sure," more sternly now, "that I shall be on my
guard to know if you are really working for me or not."

He was silent a moment, then added slowly, "But as to what you have
said, and this book ... well, I promise to study them thoroughly."

Hanlon thanked Elus Amir for his courtesy to a humble groom. "And thank
you for the great privilege of riding with you, and talking to you. I
have always felt, k'nyer," he made bold to add, "that we have a truly
great Ruler. Now," he smiled sincerely, "I am more sure of it than
ever."

"Why, thank you, Lona. I do try to watch out for the best interests of
our people."

"A groom should not presume to advise his Ruler, but I feel emboldened
to say that your people would be glad if you decide to join the Terran
Federation," Hanlon said humbly, then added more earnestly, "and I beg
you, sire, watch out for yourself. There are human tamous abroad."

The Ruler looked startled, but said nothing to this, although he
became very thoughtful as he left. Hanlon, except for one point, was
well content with his morning's work, as he led the cavals back to the
stable.

For Hanlon had so much wanted to tell Amir how he could know for a
certainty who among his attendants and guards was really trustworthy,
but did not dare mention it at this time. It would have been fairly
easy for Hanlon to be inconspicuously present--perhaps hidden by a
screen--while the Ruler called his guards and servants in one by one
and questioned them. For Hanlon could then have read their minds or
surface thoughts, and undoubtedly have been able to tell which ones,
if any, were lying. But to have even mentioned such a thing would have
been to reveal too much that he was not yet ready to have known.

"I'll have to hang around the guards as much as possible, and study
their minds for any traitorous thoughts," he decided. "Especially, I
want to know if any of them are Irad's tools."

Endar was surly when Hanlon brought the mounts into the stable,
although he did nothing overt as the young man carefully rubbed down
the cavals, and returned them to their stalls.

But Endar did come up then and ask, "What did Amir have to talk to you
about?"

"We did very little talking," Hanlon answered with apparent
truthfulness. "He asked me a few questions about Lura and the Eastern
Continent, but I told him I was just a farm worker and didn't know much
about general conditions. That seemed to disappoint him, and he said
nothing more."

"But I saw him talking to you as he dismounted, and you were answering
him."

"Yes, he was kind enough to say he enjoyed the ride, and that the
cavals were in fine condition. I told him that was largely due to you,
that you were careful to see that they were well cared for, and that we
kept the stables clean."

"That reminds me, how did it happen that Inver's caval was all healed
this morning?" the man's eyes bored suspiciously into Hanlon's.

"Why, I don't know," he answered evasively, his face bland. "I suppose
it was the medicine and treatment the doctor gave it. He must really
be good--but then, he wouldn't be the Ruler's animal physician if he
wasn't, would he?"

"_Hmmpff_," Endar swung away, but his attitude and surface thoughts
told Hanlon that he was only partially satisfied. He had no real idea,
of course, of what had happened. Such a thing was just beyond his
simple comprehension.

       *       *       *       *       *

George Hanlon could not know it, of course, but as soon as the Ruler
had returned to his rooms, he settled himself comfortably in his
favorite chair, and gave orders that he was not to be disturbed. Then
he set his mind to considering every aspect of this curious business,
and to studying more thoroughly the papers and that notebook of
Esbor's, with its disquieting notations.

Finally he called in the man who was not only a sort of confidential
secretary, but a life-long friend and confidant whom he trusted
implicitly. He gave this man definite orders as to certain
investigations to be made at once.

During the balance of the day, while this man was gone, Amir's mind was
a turmoil of doubt. And worry--for Hanlon's final suggestion that the
Ruler's life was in great danger, made him pause to think. Of course,
Rulers were always fair targets for assassins, even on this world where
such things were very rare, indeed. But ... Lona had hinted that this
was no ordinary assassination he was to watch out for, but a part of
the so-called "plot" of a group who were out to keep Estrella from
joining the Terran-led Federation.

And if the groom was right, then how safe was Amir? Even in his own
residence ... was his personal guard loyal? Or had the conspirators ...
supposing there was such a group...?

The Ruler was still reluctant to believe Irad was at the head of any
such organization, or even connected with it in any way, despite
the mounting evidence ... including more than one entry in Esbor's
revealing notebook. Had these conspirators, whoever they might be, been
able to infiltrate members into his hitherto highly-trusted household?
Wait, come to think of it, there were several new servants and guards,
come to work there within the past half year or so!

Elus Amir had never heard of truth serums, or lie-detectors, for such
things had not yet been discovered or invented on Estrella. Nor did he
even suspect that it was possible to read a man's mind.

Now the Ruler's thoughts strayed back to that enigmatic groom. Just
who and what was he, anyway? He certainly was not a common, simple
countryman, as he pretended to be. And the way he had met the Ruler,
saved his life and obtained work here. Looking back now Amir could see
that it was all too pat.

Was he one of those "friends" Inver had spoken about, who were working
with his son to find out the truth about whatever it was that was
going on here? It was apparent he was part of a group of some kind, or
else his talk of a "friend" who had obtained that damning notebook was
false, and Lona himself had managed to get possession of it.

Acting on a sudden impulse, Amir sent a servant to ask Inver to come to
see him. When the young man arrived, the Ruler looked at him a moment.

"Just one question, my son. Are some of those 'friends' you spoke to me
about yesterday numbered among the residence servants or guards?"

Inver looked startled, but his reply was patently honest. "Yes, father.
We have been checking the others carefully, and when we find those we
distrust in the least, we manage to get them discharged, and others we
can trust brought in to replace them. Why?"

But the Ruler did not answer that last. He merely said, "Thank you,
Inver. That is all for the present."

Now the young man really was astonished at this abrupt dismissal, but
left without further words.

Elus Amir felt better now. He had always considered himself a fairly
good judge of character--although he was beginning to wonder now if all
that was being told him about Irad was true, for if so, then he had
made a bad mistake in judging the Second-In-Line, for he had always had
full confidence in his integrity.

But about this Lona? He sent a servant to bring Endar, the head groom,
to see him. When the man arrived, Amir asked him many questions as to
what Endar thought of the new man. He realized almost from the first
that Endar was jealous of Lona's popularity with the Ruler, but Endar
produced no actual facts against the new stableman, and grudgingly had
to admit that he was a good and willing worker.

Yes, Amir now decided, whatever else this Lona might be, he was a true
patriot, trying to serve the best interests of his country and his
Ruler in every way he could. There was a straight-forwardness about him
that Amir liked, and evidently Inver also had confidence in him.

Yet there was a tantalizing _something_ about Lona's looks that had
the Ruler a bit puzzled, although it was more subconsciously than
consciously.

For the time being, he decided, he would allow Lona to remain here. It
would be easier to keep watch on him here than if he let him go and the
groom should disappear entirely. Also, Amir determined to have further
talks with this strange man ... and with Inver, about the latter's
"group of friends."

       *       *       *       *       *

Finally, some time after dinner that evening, the Ruler's secretary
came back to report. "I have examined the news records, k'nyer, and
the first mention I can find of anything like propaganda against our
world's accepting the invitation of the Federation Council was printed
in the Stearran papers about a week after the group returned from that
trip made to visit the Terran planets."

"Hmmm, not until then, eh ... but that seems to tally with some other
things I've heard. Still, it is curious. Another point is still
bothering me, and I'd like your thoughts on it. The Terrans evidently
discovered us long before we knew it, and studied us even to the extent
of learning our language, while still keeping us in ignorance of their
existence. It was this apparent stealth that has led many of us to
wonder if they are sincere, or if there is some underlying motive of
conquest behind them. What do you think?"

"As you know, k'nyer," the secretary reached up to tug at his beard
while thinking and replying, "I was permitted to be present at the
meetings you had with the Federation representatives, and I was very
much impressed with them. I have also talked much with those who went
on the trip to the Terran planets. I cannot conceive the possibility
that these Federationists are practicing duplicity. Besides, let us
consider our own actions in such a case. Suppose we had space travel,
and found a new world inhabited with intelligent beings. Would we not,
if possible, study them thoroughly before trying to make contact with
them?"

Elus Amir shrugged, and his answer was to the first part of his
friend's speech. "That might depend upon how well they were able to
conceal their true feelings--upon how good actors they were."

"Perhaps, but...."

"Never mind that for now. What about the rumors concerning my son,
Inver?"

"Those were much harder to check, but in my own mind there is no
recollection of ever having heard of any such thing until the past
year. However, I have heard reports of it since, and it seems to be
spreading rapidly all over."

"And you never reported this to me?"

The secretary hung his head. "I did not believe it, sire, and I didn't
like to worry...."

"It's all right. So it was just about a year ago that the opposition to
our joining the Federation appeared, and also these rumors."

"Why ... why, yes, sire. Do you connect the two?"

Amir did not answer that last question. He sat very quietly as to body,
but with mind active and ill at ease. After a bit he raised his eyes
and asked suddenly, "Just what is your personal opinion of Adwal Irad.
Speak freely--I want the truth."

The secretary's eyes clouded, but he did not hesitate. "I have noticed
a great change in the Second-In-Line, growing more pronounced recently.
As though something were preying on his mind. His actions have
become ... well, 'shifty' is the nearest word I can think of to
describe it. I no longer trust him unreservedly, I am sorry to say."

"Hmmm," Amir thought about that for some time. "I have had the same
thing told me by others these past few days," he said at last. "I wish
I knew...."

"May I suggest, k'nyer, that you invite him to ride with you tomorrow,
and study him; ask him leading questions, and so on?"

"That might not be a bad idea. I'll do it. Send him an invitation in my
name, please."

       *       *       *       *       *

_After the note had been received, and while Irad was changing his
plans so as to accept this command, he suddenly seemed to get a feeling
that he must do a certain thing. The Second-In-Line recoiled in horror.
He did not want to comply--did not even want to think such a thought.
This was far worse than the other things he had been forced to do in
the past months. But something ... he could not imagine what, nor
why ... was forcing him to do this, as it had the others._

_Reluctantly, fighting with all his will not to do what he somehow had
to do, he sent word to several of his men and, when they arrived at
his home, gave them explicit instructions. They seemed surprised, and
reluctant, but he insisted and, somewhat to their surprise, the plan
soon seemed like a good one._



CHAPTER 17


The next morning Hanlon was told to take two cavals out to the mounting
block, for Adwal Irad was to ride with the Ruler that day. As the two
men came out of the residence and Hanlon got his first good look at
the Second-In-Line for some time, he was thunderstruck at the man's
appearance--it was so changed from when he had seen him the other times.

Irad's face was drawn and the red of his skin was an unhealthy hue.
Deep lines were beginning to show in his face, the eyes were so dim and
lack-lustre, the mouth so drawn, that Hanlon wondered if Irad was ill,
or had been these past few days.

For the one who had passed highest in all his tests from among those
eligible in his generation as to knowledge and fitness for the position
of Second-In-Line, and successor to the Rulership, such a breakdown
seemed incredible.

Hanlon invaded Irad's mind to see if he could learn why all this was.
But at first touch there seemed something wrong with it ... as though
there was a block or barrier there in that mind unlike any he had ever
before found. It seemed even worse than it had been before when he had
tested that mind--and he wondered anew what it could possibly be. He
could still read Irad's surface thoughts, but the "feel" of the man's
mind was different and disturbing.

Hanlon's mind-scanning, however, was just in time to catch the partial
thought, "... this the fellow? He'll bear watching."

It was not much to go on, but Hanlon instantly became more alert. "What
in Snyder's name does that mean?" he asked himself. "Wish I had some
way of watching this bozo when he isn't around me."

But he did not know of any way it could be done, for he could not very
well leave the palace grounds while he was working here as a groom, to
spy in person upon Irad's coming and goings, and he knew of no animal
or bird kept in the home of the Second-In-Line.

"Wonder what became of Ebony?" Hanlon thought parenthetically. "Hope he
found a way to get out of Yandor's house, and that he has a new, good
home."

And this brought up the sternly-repressed memory of his father. Oh,
how he wanted to drop everything and go hunt for his dad. But he had
already thought the matter through, and knew his duty kept him at his
work--work that was far more important than one man's liberty. Yes, his
mind knew that, but his heart did not.

But Hanlon could and did keep in touch with the two men through the
minds of their cavals as they rode that morning, even as he returned to
his work in the stables.

And it was well he did so. For hardly were they outside the gates when
Irad began again to argue against Estrella's joining the Federation.
But today his so-called evidence met stiffer opposition than formerly.
For the Ruler had been thinking more seriously than before, and was
studying what Irad said with that in mind.

The things Hanlon--as Lona, the groom--had said had been disturbing. At
first Amir had been tempted to dismiss them as ridiculous, even though
they more or less echoed what his own son, Inver, had told him. But
that damning notebook and its entries was something the Ruler could
not dismiss, nor the reports and comments of his life-long friend and
respected secretary. He was still undecided--but he was no longer to
be duped by sincere-seeming words.

Now, as the two men rode along, Amir was remembering those things and
judging each statement Irad made with what he had heard.

And SSM George Hanlon, "listening in" via the minds and senses of the
two cavals he was controlling, shivered a bit in the distant stables.
He felt a premonition ... but could not deduce what, nor how, nor even
if. But he determined to keep closer watch than ever, and so tightened
his control of the two steeds cantering along that dusty road several
miles away.

As he had found he was able to do, the portions of his mind in each of
the animals was, in a large sense, complete and able to act of and by
itself. Yet both portions were connected with each other, and with the
balance of his mind in his own brain, by a thin thread of consciousness.

He had never quite gotten used to the sensation of apparently being
in several places at the same time--of being several distinct
individualities. He still remembered the thrill he had known when it
was first demonstrated, and the times it had saved him. Yet it was a
weird feeling, even though he had found how wonderfully it could and
did help him in the important work assigned him by the secret service
high command.

Only a few minutes later, however, he was glad he had the power. The
Ruler and Irad were passing a small wood, when suddenly several other
cavalmen came racing from it, and surrounded them. Two of the new
men--all of whom were masked--caught the bridles of the two animals
from the residence, and halted them abruptly.

"What is the meaning of this?" Elus Amir cried imperiously, apparently
more angry than frightened.

But Hanlon, so far distant he could not possibly get to the place
personally, in time to be of any help, was worried and scared. This
attack had all the earmarks of assassination and, knowing what he knew,
he was sure it was intended as such.

He must do something, but quick.

Dropping his pitchfork, he raced into the tackroom where he knew
there was a cot. Throwing his body down on this, he sent all the
remainder of his mind out to contact and control the cavals of the
newcomers--working outward from the two he was already controlling that
were at the scene.

He did not have mind enough to fully take over all of them at once, for
cavals had potentially much mind-power, and four or five could absorb
all his.

However, by temporarily dropping control of Amir's animal, he was able
to take over enough regulation to overcome the commands of the riders.
He made the horses of four of the assassins, those holding flameguns,
rear back and begin fighting their riders. They pitched and bucked and
shortly started dashing off on a wild runaway gallop across the meadow,
in different directions. He impressed on each caval's mind as well as
he could that it must keep on running, no matter what was done to stop
it.

Then he wrenched control from their minds and sent it into the other
four animals. He found he was just in time. One of the men, who had
been holding Amir's caval--Hanlon could see through its eyes--was
drawing his flamegun.

Hanlon made this caval rear suddenly, pitching the man off onto the
road. The animal swivelled about while in the air and landed its heavy
feet on the prone body. It kicked and pawed the helpless gangster until
there was nothing left but a battered and bloody mass.

The remaining attacker's caval was, meanwhile, racing off across the
meadow in much the same runaway fashion as the ones that had preceded
it. When it was well away, Hanlon withdrew control.

Meanwhile, he had been watching carefully through the eyes and ears of
the two steeds that bore the Ruler and the Second-In-Line, what they
were doing and saying.

Through Irad's mount he could see the look of surprise and fright that
had come upon the Ruler's face. Fright, Hanlon rightly guessed, at
Amir's near approach to death, surprise that the attack had been made
at all, and especially at the unbelievable manner of his deliverance.

"What could possibly have made all those cavals start running away just
at the crucial moment?" he asked Irad, whom he did not yet suspect.
"And even more amazing, the way that one threw and then so savagely
killed its rider, yet is now standing quietly there, munching grass at
the roadside?"

But both Amir, and Hanlon--who saw it through the Ruler's caval's
eyes--saw the look of hatred and rage that came onto the face of
the Second-In-Line, giving it almost the appearance of a completely
different person. Amir was so shocked by it that for a moment he could
not speak--could only stare in open-mouthed amazement. Hanlon too was
startled, momentarily failing to watch the actions of Irad.

And in that instant the conspirator tried to act. From a hidden pocket
in his clothing he drew a flamer, and aimed it at the Ruler.

"Maybe this will spoil my plans," he snarled, "but by Zappa, you die
anyway."

But even as he was speaking, and while he was pressing the stud in the
gun's handle, Hanlon snapped himself into awareness, and made Irad's
mount rear back and wheel on its hind legs, while at the same time he
forced the Ruler's caval to dodge to one side.

But he was not quick enough. There was a flash of flame, a stench of
burning cloth and flesh, and a hastily-suppressed groan, all clearly
apparent through the cavals' senses, that told the distant Hanlon that
Amir had been hit. He felt the Ruler reel in his saddle, and hoped the
blast was not fatal.

But he had no time then save for an incidental inspection, despite the
abilities of his divided mind. For he was intent on trying to make
Irad's caval unseat its rider, so that he might have the beast trample
the conspirator. Even so he could feel Amir--through the senses of the
steed the Ruler was riding--clutch the pommel with both hands to hold
himself on his mount's back.

But Adwal Irad was an excellent cavalman. He managed to keep his seat,
but was too busy with this either to look to see if his shot had killed
his Ruler, or to fire another. In a moment he had to drop the gun,
anyway, in order to use both hands in trying to quiet the raging animal
beneath him.

For the caval was rearing, bucking, sun-fishing--every unusual maneuver
Hanlon's agile mind was able to make it perform. It did things no
caval, and no Estrellan, had ever heard of before. Through its mind
Hanlon could feel the cruel whipping Irad was giving it, and this made
both Hanlon and the beast--never more than half-tame at best--viciously
angry and more determined than ever to get rid of the burden.

Realizing at last that he could not unseat so skillful a rider, Hanlon
changed his tactics. He made the caval start off on a dead run--but
into the woods, not across the meadow as the others had done. "Maybe it
will run under a low branch and knock Irad off his back," he hoped.

But he was worried about Amir, and turned most of his mind back to
seeing how the Ruler was faring. He knew the man was still astride, and
with part of his mind he could read pain, but knew Amir was not fatally
injured. Hanlon made his mount turn back toward the residence, and at
its gentlest speed hasten back until he saw the servants come running
out to take care of their master.

Knowing the Ruler was now in safe hands, Hanlon was free to think of
his own situation.

He opened his eyes ... and stared with growing astonishment at totally
unfamiliar surroundings.

Jerkily he sat up on the bunk on which his body was now lying. His eyes
roved about the small, stone-walled room, trying to figure out where he
was ... and why.

He had gone into the familiar tackroom of the stables, he knew, to lie
down on the cot there while he sent all of his mind out of his body to
contact and control the cavals of the would-be assassins. He guessed
he had been "gone" for about half an hour. What had happened in the
meantime?

He got up and went across the small room to a heavy wooden door, which
he found to be locked. He had to stand on tiptoes to look through the
small, barred window in it. But his only view was of a narrow corridor,
on the other side of which was another' stone wall containing, in the
limited portions he could see to either side, three doors similar to
the one behind which he was confined.

"Looks like I'm in the _juzgado_," he grimaced. "Wonder why, and how?"

He called out, in hopes someone would come and explain. But repeated
calls brought no one, nor any response from the other cells. "Must be
no one else here," he thought, and went back to lie down on the bunk.

There he used his special talents, sending his mind outside and hunting
for some bird or animal through whose eyes he could try to discover
where he was.

He finally contacted a bird, and soon discovered he was in a small
stone building at one of the farther corners of the residential
grounds. There did not seem to be any guards hanging about the outside.
Hanlon made the bird fly up and hover near one of the windows, and peer
inside. No one there, either, nor any to be seen through either of the
other windows that opened to the outer wall.

He sent the bird higher until he could see the entire palace grounds
and thus orient himself. Then he flew it to the stables.

Endar was talking to two other grooms, and seemed in high spirits. As
the bird found a perch close to the little group he heard Endar saying,
"... drunk, so I had the guards arrest him."

"Never knew he drank," one of the stablemen said.

"I was surprised, myself, but he was dead to the world, and I couldn't
rouse him."

But Hanlon could detect, in the man's voice and attitude, that Endar
felt he had achieved his revenge for all the fancied wrongs Hanlon (as
Lona) had done or contemplated doing to him.

Satisfied for the time being, although not too happy at the situation
in which he found himself, Hanlon withdrew his mind from the bird, and
twisted his body into a more comfortable position on the bunk. There
was so much he had to think about, and now that he was undisturbed was
a splendid time.

He felt confident that the Ruler, Elus Amir, knew the truth about Adwal
Irad and the conspiracy, and would no longer hesitate about joining the
Federation.

"He might, though, at that," Hanlon thought seriously. "Especially
if he happens to get it into his noggin that we Terrans were back of
all that has happened. It's a dirty shame he doesn't understand us
better--or that we don't know their ways of thinking better. But then,
that's the cause of half the troubles between individuals, nations,
races and worlds--they simply don't understand the basic motivations
of the other fellow. But about Amir--I wonder if now isn't the time
to prod him a bit? If--or as soon as--I get out of here, I'll try
someway to get in touch with the Federation, and suggest we have the
ambassadors come back and talk to him again. He ought to be ripe now."

It was only after some time that he remembered to wonder if Irad had
been hurt or killed by his runaway caval. "I should have stayed in its
mind until I knew if he got home or what."

Hanlon again sought out a bird, and when he was in control of its
mind, sent it winging across the roofs and the country-side to the home
of the Second-In-Line. When it got there, nothing could be seen to
indicate that anyone was at home, nor was anyone visible when the bird
peered through each of the windows.

Hanlon perched the bird on a tree-limb while he thought seriously for
some moments. Then he sent the bird on the Ovil Esbor's house. "Maybe I
can pick up a clue there."

But, as soon as the bird started looking through windows, Hanlon knew
he had uncovered more than a clue. For Irad was there, talking to three
or four men.

Hanlon wanted very much to hear their conversation. But how? The bird
hunted in vain, but could find no open door or window by which it could
enter. Nor were there open chimneys as are so common on Terran worlds,
for the Estrellans covered their smoke-and-fume vents with fine screens.

Hanlon made the bird perch on a tree-limb and go to sleep. Then he
sent that portion of his mind from its brain, seeking some small
animal, rodent or insect inside the house. He finally found one of
their rat-things in its hole beneath the foundation. He took over its
mind, wincing as he did so at the vicious, stark ferocity there. But he
made it scamper through the walls until it came to the room where the
conspirators were talking. The rat had already gnawed an entrance hole
through the bottom of the wall there, and Hanlon had it crouch just
inside, listening.

It took him only a few seconds to realize that the angry Irad must have
told the others about their strange fiasco that morning, and that they
were planning how they could finish the thing they had started.

"I don't dare go back to the palace, myself, for some time, at least,"
Irad scowled blackly. "I lost my head and gave the whole thing away
back there, I know. Came right out and told Amir I was going to kill
him. Who'd have guessed those fool cavals would act the way they did?"

"There's something mighty funny about that, Adwal," one of the men
said in a puzzled tone that almost contained a hint of accusation.
"One caval could quite easily have become frightened at something, or
taken it into its silly head to bolt. You never can tame or train 'em
completely. But you said all of your group did the same thing. That
just doesn't sound right to me. What made them do it, just at the wrong
time, and spoil your plans?"

Hanlon could hear the Second-In-Line laugh sneeringly. "You suggesting
magic of some sort, Ovil?"

"I'm not suggesting anything--I'm just asking," and now the man's voice
carried even more of suspicion and accusation. "It all sounds mighty
strange and unbelievable to me. We'd like to know more about it."

There was a dangerous sharpness in Adwal Irad's voice. "Are you
questioning the truth of my report, Esbor?"

"I'm not doubting you ... yet. But there's something going on here
that looks peculiar, to say the least, and we want to know all about
it. That assassination was planned so carefully. And all the men with
you were good riders. It just doesn't seem possible that all of them
should have lost control of their cavals at exactly the same time. And
that business about the animal Yllo was riding--throwing him and then
killing him, as you reported."

Hanlon, through the rat's ears, could hear the other men muttering
agreement to this.

Irad sprang to his feet, his voice shrill. "You calling me a liar,
Esbor?"

"Not exactly, but I do think we deserve a better explanation of your
failure than that silly story. We're all in this, too, and our lives
are more at stake than yours, since you're Second...."

"You won't have to worry about your life any more," Irad screamed, and
almost too swiftly to follow he yanked out his flamegun and cindered
the politician's body before any of the others could object or stop
him. As the man's body--what was left of it--fell to the floor, Irad
swung his gun about menacingly, covering the others, who had risen in
fright.

"Any of the rest of you phidis want to call me a liar?" he rasped.

"No, of course not, Adwal," one of them spoke in a placating manner.
"We've never doubted you."

"Anybody with any sense could figure out that you really tried to kill
Amir," another said. "Why, look. You're the one who started all this,
and you sure wouldn't have worked so hard, or spent so much on this
campaign, if you hadn't intended going through with it."

"That's right. What happened was just some tough luck. And Esbor was
getting ideas that were bigger than he was. So let's forget what's
passed, and settle down to planning something else, and making sure
it's fool-proof this time."

But Hanlon, disgusted as he was at the way they truckled to Irad,
afraid of their skins, touched their minds and read the wonder they
felt as to what had so changed Irad this past year. He had always been
ambitious and, since being designated Second-In-Line, somewhat inclined
to be dictatorial and overbearing.

But, their puzzled thoughts said, he had never been vicious, or
displayed the killing instinct he was now showing. Too, his looks, his
aging, worried them. They shook their heads with anxiety, as they began
making new plans.



CHAPTER 18


It was some two hours later when Hanlon, in his own body, heard steps
outside, and the sound of a key in his prison door. It opened, and one
of the palace guard officers stood in the doorway.

"Well, you're awake," he said. "You sober now?"

"I never was drunk," Hanlon snapped, sitting erect to give his
thought-out alibi. "I was working there in the stables, and felt myself
getting faint. I managed to stagger into the tackroom, where I knew
there was a cot--and that's all I remember until I found myself here."

"The head groom said you were drunk, and had us arrest you and bring
you here. But you don't look like a man who had been dead drunk a few
hours ago."

"Come smell my breath. You'll see I wasn't. In fact, I very seldom
take even a drink of mild toxo and I haven't had any of that for many
periods. Mykkyl's my drink."

The guard came close, sniffing, and Hanlon continued his prepared but
necessary lie. "Ever since I was a boy I've been subject to these
fainting spells. I'm getting so I can usually feel one coming on, and
go lie down somewhere. In half an hour or so I wake up and am all right
again until the next seizure. They usually come only two or three times
a year."

The officer scratched his head. "Can't smell no liquor. Guess you must
be telling the truth. In that case, there's no sense keeping you here.
You can leave if you want to."

"Thanks, friend. I suppose it was a natural reaction, after seeing me
unconscious."

Hanlon walked out of the little residence jail, and went back to his
room in the groom's quarters. There he sat down to plan what his next
moves would be.

"I've got to warn the Ruler some way, and make sure he is really
protected," he thought. "But how can I do that? Maybe he likes me well
enough to promote me to a place in his guards. Oh, if I could only talk
to dad about all this. I need his help and advice. Dare I take the time
to start hunting for him again? Or must I keep on working here?"

His heart clamored for him to do so, but he made himself consider every
angle and connotation of his situation as coldly and logically as
possible, as though the admiral was just that, and not also his beloved
father.

He should, Hanlon supposed, warn the Ruler. On the other hand, he knew
Amir was no fool, and that as a result of his near-death the past few
hours, he would certainly be taking greater care of himself than ever?
Incidentally, Hanlon wondered, how badly was Amir hurt?

Was there anything further he (Hanlon) could do about it?

He thought and thought, but could not see just how, without giving
everything away. Perhaps he could get word to young Inver, to keep a
more careful watch over his father. But trying that, too, would be a
give-away. Was it time for that? Time for him to come out into the open
and appear as a Terran and a member of its Inter-Stellar Corps?

SSM George Hanlon had matured tremendously under all the experiences he
had undergone since joining the secret service, but he was still only
a very young man. Such problems as these were really far above him, he
felt--were things he simply did not have sense enough to figure out
correctly. Not enough experience; not enough brains, he told himself
with what he thought was an honest evaluation.

Nevertheless, he knew he was alone, that it was up to him, and that he
had to make a decision one way or another.

But part of that decision was not left up to him. He was interrupted in
the midst of his cogitations by the sudden opening of his room's door.
He looked up in annoyance--and it was Endar.

"Pack your things and get out," the head groom said harshly. "I've seen
the Ruler, told him about your disgraceful act of being drunk on duty,
and have his permission to discharge you. He was very disappointed in
you, he said."

Beneath his harshness Hanlon could easily detect the man's fierce
satisfaction at having thus rid himself of a potential (as he thought)
competitor. From his reading of the other's mind, Hanlon knew that
Endar had _not_ talked this over with the Ruler, and was doing it on
his own. But the young S S man did not dare reveal his knowledge of
that fact at this moment.

So he made himself say plaintively, "But I wasn't drunk. I felt one of
my fainting spells coming on, and ran into the tackroom to lie down
while it was on me."

"A trumped-up excuse, which doesn't help," Endar sneered. "Even if it
was true, which I know it isn't, we don't want such people working
here. So get out--and fast." He threw some money on the bed, as wages,
and left.

In a way Hanlon was rather glad. It did help solve some of his
problems, in that it left him freer to go and come where and when he
wished. So he made no further protests, but silently packed his things,
pocketed the money Endar had left, and went out and got his trike and
rode back to Stearra. He wondered if his old rooms had yet been taken
by someone else.

When he reached the building where he had been living, he parked his
tricycle in the shed in the back yard, and went up to his old apartment.

The padlock and hasp had been forced, and the door was closed but
unlocked. He opened it and went in just the same, for there were
still some of his things there. He was determined to get them, even if
someone else was living here now.

But the moment he got inside he sensed something changed. He stood
quietly, letting his mind _sniff_ at the feeling, trying to figure out
what it was. He thought he heard a slight noise in the next room, and
tiptoed softly across to the door. It was, he now saw, slightly ajar,
and he peered through the crack. Someone was lying on his bed--an older
Estrellan male, he judged by the longer, heavier beard.

Something about that face seemed familiar.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The being in the spaceship high above the surface of this planet had
been growing more and more puzzled and unsure of itself during the past
several days. Its plans seemed to be going all awry--and it was not
quite sure why._

_That native it had been controlling had not acted as he was supposed
to act. Or rather, things had happened that had made it impossible for
him to act always as directed. Even to the being the strange behavior
of those four-legged beasts for riding, that had ruined its carefully
prepared plan, was completely unexplainable._

_And there was still the problem of that one unreadable mind on this
world. Various things the being had done or caused to be done had
enabled it, through its high-powered, multiphased scanner, to SEE the
entity and keep track of its various goings and comings, but all its
most intense efforts had not yet been able to touch that mind._

_That this entity was working with those others who had such a
different mind-texture from the usual run of Estrellans, it had long
since proved to its satisfaction. The being now knew what these others
were, and what they were trying to do on this planet. But who or what
that unreadable entity was, what it was doing, and why--all this had so
far defied the being's utmost powers._

_So it was puzzled and as nearly worried as it was possible for one
of its race to be. Also, for the first time during its very long life,
the being was beginning to lose a little of its supreme faith in its
own abilities. It was almost beginning to wonder if it was possible for
itself to fail in its mission? But that was unthinkable._

_And yet, it almost wailed mentally, that entity MUST be working toward
the same ends as those others. Was it their master?_

_For nearly two Estrellan days and nights it had been considering
carefully and minutely all the data so far acquired, and what its
next actions should be. One thing it had early decided--there was no
further use for confining or controlling those other two strange-minded
creatures from that other system. It therefore released the "flee"
compulsion from the one, and caused the "jailer" to open the doors and
allow the other to leave its prison._

       *       *       *       *       *

As George Hanlon stared at that figure on the bed, he reached out
mentally and touched its mind. Instantly he let out a yell of delight,
flung wider the door, and ran to the bedside.

"Dad, you're free!"

Admiral Newton woke, saw his son, and pushed himself erect. But as
he did so a grimace of pain crossed his face, and Hanlon was all
solicitude.

"What's the matter, dad?"

"Guess I'm not in very good shape," his father managed to grin. "Been
half-starved and tortured a bit. But never mind that now. I'm glad to
see you. When I was freed, I figured the quickest way to find you was
to come here and wait. Guessed you'd be back sometime."

"Just lucky I did. Things worked out a bit differently than I expected,
or I might never have come back here."

He explained in short, terse sentences what he had been doing and what
he thought he had accomplished so far.

"So you see, dad," he concluded, "why I'm doubly glad to see you, both
because it means you're free, and so you can advise me what we're to do
next."

"Hmmm," the admiral thought swiftly. "We've got to do something
immediately, that's for sure. Of course, I have the authority to
approach Amir as a Terran, in case of need. But do you know for sure,"
he bent a penetrating gaze on the young man, "whether or not the Ruler
has decided in our favor?"

"No," Hanlon said honestly. "I don't know that. But it seems as though
he should have, now that he knows what Irad was trying to do, and why.
If we go to him at once, and urge him properly, as well as explain why
we are here and how we were trying to protect him, he should swing over
our way. At least, that's what I'd about decided I ought to do."

The admiral was again silent, his brow creased in a deep frown of
thought. Suddenly he snapped his fingers in decision, and looked up.
"We'll do it. I have uniforms hidden in one of my hide-outs here, and
we'll get rid of our disguises and go see him."

He climbed from the bed, and Hanlon gasped as he saw how emaciated his
father was, and the marks of his torture. But the admiral dressed, then
both went down and climbed aboard Hanlon's motor-trike.

But when they got to Newton's room, another surprise awaited them. For
Hooper was there, waiting for Newton as the admiral had waited for
Hanlon.

After mutual exchanges of experience, the three thankfully began
removing their Estrellan disguises, worn so long and so uncomfortably.
Their clothing off, they jumped beneath the pipe-shower, and as the
water softened the hair and plastic, they took off their false ears and
noses, and ripped the hair from their bodies. Then they shaved their
beards, and more or less trimmed each other's hair to the best of their
ability.

"Boy, does this feel good?" Hanlon cavorted, naked, about the little
room, while his father and Hooper laughed their own relief.

Admiral Newton pulled a large travelling-case from beneath his low bed,
unlocked the three complicated and pick-proof locks, and took out some
uniforms. The others looked their astonishment, and he grinned. "Didn't
know I had yours, too, did you?"

Clean, shaved and dressed in their uniforms, with the symbols of their
ranks on the collars and shoulder tabs, the three sat comfortably in
easy chairs, discussing plans and telling more fully what each had
discovered.

Hanlon learned that the plot had been far more wide-spread than he
realized. Almost every city on the planet had a cell working at the
spreading of the propaganda against Estrella's joining the Terran
Federation, and the lesser rumors about the insanity of Inver, the
Ruler's son. He now learned the real reason for that whispering
campaign, and wondered how he had missed it before. Inver stood
Third-In-Line, and would become the Ruler after Amir if anything
happened to Irad.

Both Hooper and Newton, who had worked more exclusively in other cities
than Stearra, knew the names of most of the native Estrellans who
headed these cells, and they could be picked up and arrested when the
time came. The crime wave had been quite wide-spread, also, as had the
whispers that the Terrans were to blame for it.

The other two were loud in their praise of Hanlon's work in uncovering
the real head of the plot, and his splendid work in saving the Ruler's
life when his assassination had been so carefully planned.

It was noticeable that the junior S S man no longer took their praise
with the cockiness he had formerly exhibited. In fact, he was actually
apologetic and uncomfortable. He squirmed and blushed, and tried to
minimize what he had done.

George Spencer Newton Hanlon, secret serviceman of the Inter-Stellar
Corps, had finally grown up.

It was so late when they completed their plans that Admiral Newton
decided they had best wait until morning before seeking an audience
with the planetary ruler. Besides, he and Hooper both needed all the
rest they could get, before embarking on any new campaign.

Hanlon prepared the best meal he could from the meager supplies in the
admiral's room, and they all ate, then went to bed.

But deep down in his inner consciousness, a warning bell seemed to be
ringing as George Hanlon lay in bed. It took him many long, anxious
minutes of intense concentration before he was able to isolate the
feeling from the many new items that had been talked about that
evening. But he finally brought it into focus in his mind. He sat
upright, disturbing his father, who was almost asleep.

"What's the matter, Spence?" sleepily.

"Amir," Hanlon said with agitation. "He ought not to be left unguarded
like this. Those gangsters, led by Irad, are sure to make another
attempt to kill him--and quickly, now that Irad has tipped his hand."

"But what can we do?" Hooper was also sitting up on the blanket-pallet
that had been spread for him on the floor of this small, one-bed room.

"I ... don't ... know," Hanlon said slowly. "I ... I can probably
watch, through a bird or something, what's going on. But if they try
anything...."

Newton started to climb out of bed. "I'll go notify the residence
officials. Maybe we can alert his guards to be more watchful."

Hanlon was still worried. "I don't know about that, either. Maybe some
of them have been planted by Irad ... and if we say anything to the
wrong ones it might merely hasten their plans."

"That sounds reasonable," Hooper said. "Irad would certainly never
overlook a chance like that."

"If he could make it," Newton admitted, lying down again. "Maybe you'd
better keep watch, Spence, since you know how. If you see anything
starting, we'll do our darnedest to break it up."

       *       *       *       *       *

_And in its spaceship the alien being awoke the Estrellan native it had
been controlling for so long, and impressed certain commands on his
mind--nor was the native able any longer to make any attempt, however
feeble, to resist. Continued compulsion had at last weakened his will
to the point where all suggestions and commands were instantly obeyed
without question._

_He therefore rose, dressed, equipped himself with a flamegun and
certain other instruments, and left the house where he had been hiding
out._



CHAPTER 19


Although George Hanlon had become adept at the use of the minds of
birds, animals, fish, rodents and insects even at a considerable
distance, he could not project his mind to any great length to find and
gain control of such a mind, unless he had already used that mind and
knew its texture and characteristics, or unless another part of his
mind was already at that distant point in another brain.

Thus, in the present instance, he could not project his mind the many
miles between his present location and the residence of the Ruler, Elus
Amir, and find an animal or bird mind he could take over. He could
have done it, that is, with one of the cavals he had at various times
handled, but one of them could not get into the palace and the Ruler's
suite. Nor could he locate any of the birds he had used out there.

He did, however, project his mind into Inver's caval--the one he had
helped heal--and from that vantage point tried to find a bird he could
control. But none seemed to be anywhere near the stables.

So, he had to start closer to where he was, and work outward. With time
of the essence at the moment, a bird must be used. Just how he was to
get a bird into the residence, and more or less keep it inconspicuous
and unseen during his survey, was a problem that would have to be
tackled when the time came.

Lying on the bed in the little room, therefore, he quested about the
nearby neighborhood trees until he found a swift-flying bird he could
use. It took but a moment to do so, and to take full and complete
control of its mind and body. Then the bird, whose brain now contained
as large a portion of Hanlon's mind as he could force into it, was
winging at its top speed toward the official residence of Amir, the
Ruler.

"The palace is in sight," Hanlon's voice was low but penetrant, after a
time. "I'm looking for an open window or door."

The other men watched with amazement and intense curiosity as the young
man lay there on the bed, his eyes closed and his face drawn with
concentration, as they could see in the dim light of the shaded lamp
Hooper had risen and lighted. Both of the other S S men knew much of
what Hanlon could thus do, yet watching him do it was a new experience
to both, and one that filled them with deepest wonder and a sort of awe.

The silence, even though of only two or three minutes duration, seemed
like hours to the waiting watchers, then a jubilant "Ah!" let them know
Hanlon had succeeded in the first part of his quest. "Got in through an
open window in an upper story ... heck, the door's shut."

Another pause, and then the voice continued, "Here's another. Hah, this
one opens into a hallway. Now, which way is Amir's suite?"

They waited with impatience while they knew the bird Hanlon was
controlling was seeking the proper portion of the interior of that
great building. It seemed long and long before the soft voice spoke
again.

"He must have gone to bed--the door is shut. I'll have to get outside
and try again, but now that I know where it is I'll see if I can get
directly into his room."

Hooper whispered in a tone he thought only Newton could hear. "By the
shade of Snyder, but this is spooky. If I didn't know he could really
do it, I'd swear it was impossible."

But only a portion of Hanlon's mind was in that distant avian brain.
The rest was here in his own body, and heard the comment.

"Yeh," he drawled, "I know it's weird, and even I'm not used to
thinking about it yet. Never thought how it would affect others. You
don't need to whisper, though. The two parts of my mind are separate
and distinct, so that I know what is going on in both ... ah, one of
the windows in the bedroom is opened, but only a crack. Maybe I can
squeeze ... did it, but I lost a few feathers. But I'm inside now.
Let's see. There's a molding quite high up on the wall. It's wide
enough so I can roost on that, sideways. Now we'll just have to wait
and watch."

"Is Amir all right?" his father asked anxiously.

Hanlon grinned. "The way he's snoring he must be."

But the question reminded Hanlon that the Ruler had been wounded. He
made the bird fly down to the bed, and through its eyes saw only a
small bandage on one of Amir's arms--luckily for him the Ruler slept
with his arms outside the covers. "Must be he got only a slight burn,
after all," he said.

"Is there anyone close to his room--or can't you tell?" the admiral
asked after a few moments of silence.

"I'll see if I can find out." Hanlon sent his mind questing out from
the bird, and soon reported, "There're two men in an adjoining
room ... they're guards ... from what I can read of their minds they're
not thinking any seditious or murderous thoughts. Just playing a game
of some sort while keeping on watch."

"Better keep checking them from time to time, though, hadn't you?"
Hooper asked.

"Yeh, it'd be a good idea."

The other men were tired and not well, and despite their efforts to
keep awake, dropped off to sleep. Surprisingly, even Hanlon's body and
the main portion of his mind also lapsed into the unconsciousness of
sleep. But the part in the bird kept awake--and so did the tiny thread
of consciousness that connected it with Hanlon.

Some time later, about midnight, Hanlon, through the bird, heard a
stirring sound in the anteroom, and investigated. The guard was being
changed, and these two newcomers, he found from their minds, were tools
of Irad.

Along that thread of thought sped the warning, and Hanlon's body and
the balance of his mind came fully awake. He lay there for some time,
studying the situation, but nothing seemed to be happening. He was
almost back to sleep again--his body, that is--when the bird heard a
fumbling at the door of Amir's room, although the sound was softly
muted as though the one out there was using the utmost stealth in hopes
of not being discovered. Hanlon's mind quickly investigated, and found
only one mind there. Evidently the guards had left, for this was a new
personality.

Hanlon reached out a hand and shook his father into wakefulness.
"Someone's outside, trying to get Amir's door unlocked, or opened," he
reported.

Newton called Hooper, who sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes while the
admiral explained in swift words.

"The door's locked from the inside, and the key is still in the lock,"
Hanlon told them. "I made the bird fly down and look ... whoever is at
it must be using something like pliers to try to turn the key."

Admiral Newton jumped out of bed, lit the lamp, and commanded Hooper,
"Get up and dress. We'll have to rush out there." He turned to Hanlon.
"Can you come with us, and still keep _en rapport_ with your bird?"

"Sure," Hanlon was already throwing off the covers, and getting up.
"The fellow, whoever he is, although I would imagine it might be Irad,
is having trouble with the key, but he'll probably make it sooner or
later."

"D'you suppose we can get out there in time?" Hooper asked.

"We'll certainly try," the admiral grunted, leaning down to fasten his
shoes.

"Can you wake the Ruler?" he asked anxiously, a few moments later. "He
might have a better chance, if awake."

"Sure," Hanlon said, and a moment later, "the bird flew down and
brushed its wingtips across his face. He's awake now ... he's sitting
up ... lighting the lamp ... I sent the bird close to him then over to
the door ... he's watching it ... now he sees the key turning ... he's
jumped out of bed ... running to another door leading out of the room."

The three finished dressing, and now ran from the room and down the
stairs. Outside the admiral commanded "Follow me," and ran toward
the back of the house. They saw the dim outlines of a shed, and a
high-powered, family-sized touring tricycle. They piled into the seats
even as the admiral was getting it started.

Swiftly he backed the car out and into the street, and then took off
with a full-throated roar from the powerful, souped-up engine.

"Special job the Corps' experts fixed up for me," he explained as the
others gasped at the unexpected speed.

Hanlon, through the bird's eyes, was still watching that distant effort
to unlock the door, and relaying to the others from time to time what
he was seeing.

"Ah, it's unlocked ... it's opening ... but the Ruler is in the other
room and has locked that door."

"The old boy's not so dumb," Hooper applauded.

"I'll say he isn't," Hanlon agreed joyfully. "He's plugging the
keyhole."

He was silent a moment, then exclaimed, "The intruder's Irad, just as
I thought it might be ... he's surprised the Ruler isn't in bed
asleep ... he's gone over to try the other door ... he's found
it's locked and the keyhole plugged ... he seems to have lost his
head--he's pounding on that door, and yelling."

He half-straightened, then slumped down into his seat, and his face
strained with concentration. Hooper, in the back seat, leaned forward
and started to speak, but Newton restrained him. "Let him alone,
Curt--he must be working on something difficult."

Hanlon was beating at the barriers in Adwal Irad's mind, trying to get
in, even though he knew he had never been able to do so before. But
it was all he could think of to do at the moment, and he had to do
something. Besides, it was plain to him now that the man was completely
insane--the way Irad was acting and the things he was saying and
thinking showed it so clearly. So Hanlon had withdrawn entirely from
the bird's mind, and was now working on Irad's with all his power.

The Second-In-Line had drawn his flamegun and was firing at the door,
trying to burn out the lock or through the door panels.

Hanlon was almost in a frenzy of desperation. They had to stop
this madman someway. He knew his father was pushing his car at its
unexpected top speed, and that they would be there in a matter of
minutes. But he was afraid that even those minutes might be too late.
He did not see how they could possibly get there in time. For the door
was beginning to burn from the fierce heat of the flamer.

Hanlon still beat at that barrier in Irad's mind. He seemed to sense
somehow that it was weakening, was ... was disintegrating ... was
changing horribly under the influence of hatred and the madness the man
seemed to feel.

All this time the admiral had been trying to coax even more speed out
of his souped-up tricycle, and now in the swiftly-nearing distance they
could see the few lights that denoted the residence. Soon they were
close enough to see that the gates were closed.

"Those gates strong ones?" Newton asked without turning his head.

"No, mostly ornamental."

"Hang on, then, we're going through. Curt, grab the kid."

Hooper leaned forward, took hold of Hanlon's shoulders with his strong
hands, and braced himself against the back of the front seat in which
the younger man was sitting.

A couple of guards had run up to the gate at sight and sound of that
speeding machine. But they ducked hastily back as they saw it was
neither going to stop nor swerve.

There was a rocking jolt, a crash, and the car was past the crumpled
gates, careening wildly. The admiral fought the wheel with all his
strength. By the time they came close to the steps leading up to the
main entrance, he had it under control.

There was a screech of brakes that brought several attendants on the
run through the door. The trike slid to a halt, and two of the three
men in it jumped out and dashed up the stairs.

"The Ruler's being attacked," the admiral cried imperiously. "One of
you show us his rooms."

A servant, half-dazed by sight of those strangers in their peculiar
uniforms, and subconsciously controlled by the command in Newton's
voice, obeyed.

They raced across the entrance foyer to the great stairs that led to
the upper story. Other servants were coming into the hallway, sleepily
rubbing their eyes, and most of them only partially dressed. Their
wondering eyes followed the racing men in a stupefied way, but none
tried to stop the intruders.

"Down here," the servant dashed into a side hallway, and the two secret
servicemen pounded after him.

They turned another corner, and the servant slid to a stop. Two guards
were standing there, flamers in their hands, menacing a small group of
servants.

Newton took it all in with a single glance. From what Hanlon had
said he knew the men were Irad's. "Burn those guards!" he snapped
the command at Hooper, and the latter's blaster spoke twice--fierce
blasts of death that made the flashes of the flameguns seem like
candle-flames. The two guards died instantly.

Newton and the servant were already dashing into Amir's bedroom.

Meanwhile, back in the machine where he had stayed, Hanlon was still
working on Irad's mind. Now he thought he perceived a minute opening
toward one edge of that decomposing barrier. He attacked it with all
his mental strength, and it began to crumble a bit faster. Further
and further Hanlon dug away at that tottering mentality until there
was an orifice completely through the shield. Instantly he pushed his
mind through ... down and down, in and into the deeper parts of Irad's
thoughts and memories.

And his body stiffened suddenly at what he found.

Newton and the servant pushed on ahead into the bedroom, just in time
to see the man, Irad, sink to the floor, writhing in apparent pain.

But even so there was still enough control in the maddened conspirator
so that he swung his flamegun and sent a streak of fire flashing toward
the intruders.

The servant, not expecting such a thing, and slow of reflexes, caught
most of the blast, and died almost instantly. Newton, trained to quick
action and always expecting the unexpected, ducked down and away.
Even so, an edge of the flame caught him in the shoulder. The sudden,
intolerable pain threw him off balance, and he sank to the floor, his
uninjured hand grasping the wound, trying to stanch the flow of blood.

George Hanlon was still in the tricycle, his mind a welter of
conflicting emotions. He must be nuts--such a thing as he had just
discovered was simply not possible.

"But it is," a cold, precise, soundless voice spoke in his mind. "It is
not the mind of this Adwal Irad you are now contacting, but that of
another, who has been controlling this entity for some time now."

"Who ... who are you, then?" Hanlon gasped.

"I am from another, distant section of this galaxy, here on much the
same errand as yourself and your assistants. I am banding together the
various inhabited planets in my sector the same as your Federation is
doing in yours. This planet is about midway between the two groups. I
discovered it some time ago, and after thorough study of it decided to
annex it to my oligarchy. But I have failed, and you have won."

"You mean you were responsible for all the opposition we've
encountered?" Hanlon asked in surprise.

"That is correct. Working through the mind of this now-dying entity
called Adwal Irad, I caused certain things to be done, including the
increase in what you call crimes, in hopes they would alienate these
people from your Federation's invitation, which was made shortly before
I came here to work. It was my plan to make them join with me after
denying you, and for certain things promised this Irad in the way of
personal power, he more or less agreed--although I had to force him on
several occasions."

"So that's why he changed so," Hanlon now knew the answers to many
puzzles.

"Yes, there was continual conflict in Irad's mind. It was conditioned
to a love and loyalty for his world, and certain ethics of what he
considered the fundamentals of right and wrong, that are totally
unknown to me. In fact, these people are almost non-understandably
different from the races in my oligarchy, but they have many resources
I need. Thus the disturbance between what this Irad innately felt and
what I forced him to do, drove him insane. Even now his body is dead,
and I am keeping his mind alive merely while I converse with you--a
thing I have wished to do for long and long. I shall leave now, for my
project has failed. I congratulate you on your victory."

There was a moment's hesitation, then the thought came again to Hanlon.
"But there is one thing I would like to know before I go."

There was almost a trace of pleading, of indecision in that hitherto
coldly logical, precise thought--and Hanlon wondered anew what sort
of being this could possibly be with whom he was telepathing. For he
could perceive nothing whatever as to the bodily shape or size of this
enigmatic stranger.

"Why was I unable to make contact with your mind?" the alien asked,
and its thoughts were almost a wail. "I perceive now that you are very
young, very immature and inexperienced. I should have been able to read
you easily. My abilities must be very small indeed, even though I have
always considered myself so competent. Are you of a different race from
those others with whom you worked? I know you are not a native of this
planet, for your mind texture is far different from theirs, as is your
fellows'. Even as yours, in some ways, differs from theirs."

"I honestly do not know the answer," Hanlon thought frankly. "I am
of the same race as my companions, but I have some slight additional
mental powers not usually found in my people. It may be I have a
natural block or barrier in my mind they do not possess."

"It must be so. I could make no contact with you at all, whereas I
could penetrate and control easily with the others. It is only now,
while we are jointly tenanting this weaker mind, that I can converse
with you through its brain--I still cannot do so directly. It is very
puzzling ..." and Hanlon felt the withdrawal of that mind.

Irad's body, now that the mind which had been keeping it not-dead, or
semi-alive, had slumped to the floor in full death.



CHAPTER 20


Captain George Hanlon jumped from the big tricycle and ran into the
residence. None of the guards or servants tried to stop him, so
dumb-founded were they by all that had been happening. Knowing the way
from his controlling of the bird that had found Amir's rooms, Hanlon
was soon there. He did not stop to see what was happening to the
others, but ran across the bedroom to that far door, and rapped on it
to attract the attention of the Ruler, hiding behind it.

"Everything is safe now, k'nyer," he called through the badly charred
panels. "The assassin is dead. You can come out now."

"Is this some new trick?" a voice came thinly.

"No, sire, it is no trick, but the truth. You are safe now."

"Who are you?"

"I'm ..." Hanlon started to give his name, then remembered that the
Ruler did not know anything about him. He quickly changed it to,
"I'm Ergo Lona, the groom with whom you talked on the ride the other
morning."

"Lona? Where did you disappear to--and why?" suspiciously.

"Endar discharged me, but I have been watching over you, just the same.
On my honor, k'nyer, you may believe me."

After some further hesitation there was the sound of the padding being
removed from the keyhole, the insertion and turning of the key. As the
door opened a mere crack, Elus Amir peered cautiously out. But instead
of the clothing of a groom or a countryman, he saw the brilliant
space-blue and silver of an Inter-Stellar Corps uniform.

He started to pull shut the door, but Hanlon had stuck the toe of his
boot in it.

"It's all right, k'nyer. I am Lona, the groom. I am also George Hanlon,
a captain in the Terran Inter-Stellar Corps. We discovered that another
attempt was being made on your life, and were lucky enough to get here
in time to block it."

He took hold of the edge of the door and pulled it open, for the Ruler
was so surprised by this revelation that he made no real effort to hold
it shut. Amir came slowly, surprisedly into the bedroom, staring keenly
at Hanlon.

"You don't look like Lona ... but the voice does seem to be the same.
How does it happen the Federation has men here? Were you spying on me?"

"Not on you, sire, but on your enemies," Hanlon said earnestly. "Let me
introduce you to Admiral New...."

He had half-turned back as he spoke, and now for the first time saw his
father on the floor, a hand clutching his shoulder, from which a great
stain of blood was drenching the uniform sleeve.

"Ring for your physician," Hanlon turned and commanded the Ruler. Then,
realizing this was no way for him to be addressing a planetary head, he
quickly but entreatingly added, "please, k'nyer."

Elus Amir called in one of the servants clustered outside, and
commanded curtly, "Get the doctor here, immediately." Then he went over
to the two on the floor. "Let me look," he half-pushed Hanlon aside,
and stooped to peer closely at that wounded shoulder.

"Help me get him onto the bed," he said after a quick inspection. "I
don't think any of the bone is gone--it's just a bad flesh burn."

Tenderly the two men raised the admiral, who protested weakly that he
could get up by himself, and lifted him onto the bed. Amir himself
began pulling off the admiral's tunic, while Hanlon helped.

By the time the doctor came running in, and took over the dressing of
the wound, they had the arm and shoulder bared. But the elder Newton,
in spite of his protestations, had fainted from the loss of blood and
shock.

Amir sent the assembled servants away, retaining only his dresser, who
helped him on with his day clothes.

The doctor worked swiftly, as Hanlon watched anxiously, applying
ointments to the burn, and finally bandaging it.

"He's weak from all the blood he lost, and doesn't seem to have been in
too good condition anyway," the doctor said at last. "I hope the man is
strong enough to pull through."

"Then give him some plasma," Hanlon said frantically. "He needs it."

"I don't know what you mean," the doctor was bewildered by the word,
for Hanlon had had to use the Terran word "plasma", not knowing any
translation for it.

"A blood transfusion, then, or at least some glucose."

"I don't know anything about those, either ... say, you're not an
Estrellan, are you?"

"No, we're Terrans. You mean you folks don't know anything about giving
one person's blood to another?"

"Sorry, but I've never heard of such a thing. How is it done?" The
doctor was apparently more interested in this new idea than in the
admiral's desperate condition.

Hanlon felt faint. He staggered away from the bedside without
answering, and went into the anteroom, where Hooper stood talking to
Inver and some other officials, who had heard the commotion and had
come to see what it was all about.

Hooper saw Hanlon's haggard face, and knew something was wrong. "Were
we too late?" he gasped.

"Oh, no, we got Irad and saved Amir, but dad was blasted--shoulder. The
doctor has fixed him up as best he can, but dad's in shock, and these
backward fools never heard of plasma or blood transfusions."

Hooper jumped forward. "I can give a transfusion. What's your dad's
blood type?" he asked as they hurried to the bedside.

"Same as mine," Hanlon was peeling off his coat as he spoke, his eyes
lighting with relief.

Hooper rapped quick questions at the doctor, but the latter shook his
head. More questions, and more negative answers, then Hooper turned
disconsolately to Hanlon. "They don't even have anything I could use to
give a transfusion; no hollow needles; not even hypodermics."

The doctor pulled on Hooper's arm. "Please, tell me what you mean by
blood transfusions, and plasma. How do you give them? What for? And
what did the other man mean when he said he had the same blood type as
the wounded man?"

Hanlon went to sit beside his father's bedside, and sank into an
apparent mood of despair.

Meanwhile, the Ruler had finished dressing, and with his son, Inver,
went over to listen to what Major Hooper was telling the doctor.

"Will you please tell me what all is going on here?" Amir asked so
plaintively that the S S man had trouble concealing a grin. But Hooper
sobered instantly.

"The Federation's Inter-Stellar Corps, sire," he began his explanation,
"found out about the fact that opposition to your desire to accept
their invitation was becoming stronger--and dangerous to you and to the
peace of your planet. They sent four of us here to study the situation
and to protect you if possible. To do that it was necessary for us to
disguise ourselves as natives of your world, so we could move about
freely and unnoticed. That is why Captain Hanlon worked it so you
would notice him, hire him as a servant of some sort here, and he would
thus be able to watch over you and conditions in general from close
at hand. We had found out that Adwal Irad was at the head of this
opposition and crime wave, and that his plans included your death."

"But now you're all in uniform--and your disguises removed."

"Yes, k'nyer. We were planning to come as ourselves tomorrow--or
rather, this morning--and seek an audience with you. We knew about the
attempt to assassinate you that was made on your daily ride, and so
were watching you more carefully than ever. When we saw Irad trying to
get into your room, and his men he had planted in your guards keeping
back the servants who wished to come to your assistance, we hurried
here to help protect you. It was so apparent Irad was determined to
complete the killing he failed at the other time."

Elus Amir, Ruler of Estrella, took that startling news with barely a
tremor. He motioned them to a seat along the side of the bedroom, to
continue his questioning.

The doctor was dismissed, although it was plain he wanted to stay and
ask this Terran more about those strange and new methods of treating
wounds.

So until dawn the Ruler and his son--now Second-In-Line following the
death of Irad--sat talking to Major Hooper about the Federation of
Planets, and the benefits Estrella would obtain from joining the other
worlds.

"Such things as the advances in medicines in which your doctor is so
interested, are but minor matters among the many we can and gladly will
tell you if you wish," Hooper said.

The Corpsman was able to convince Amir of the falsity of the rumors
and arguments Irad had spread, about how Estrella would lose her
sovereignty if she joined, and that Terra would make slaves of her
people.

"That is such a damnable thing to say, k'nyer," Hooper was almost
angry, but very much in earnest. "You have only to send some trusted
advisors to the various planets of the Federation--we will gladly
furnish them transportation as we did before--and have them talk to the
common people of any or all of our worlds. They will find that while we
of Terra were the ones who developed space travel and sent people to
colonize the first discovered and habitable planets, that the citizens
of each world choose their own form of government, and that many of
them are now even stronger than is Terra, the mother world. And there
are peoples of several worlds who are natives and not Terrans or their
descendants, whom we have not only not enslaved, but are helping to
grow culturally so they may some day be advanced enough to join us as
full-fledged equal members of the Federation, just as you, with your
advanced civilization, were invited to do."

While all this conversation was going on in low tones across the room,
George Hanlon sat by the side of his father's bed, almost in a trance,
so deep was his concentration.

From what he had learned while breaking past the disintegrating
barriers in Adwal Irad's mind, and from the techniques he had learned
to apply in his previous excursions into other minds, he now found
that, because his father was unconscious rather than merely asleep, he
could, in a way, by-pass those barriers and get down into the depths of
cell and gland in his father's mind and body, even though he could not
fully penetrate the block into the memories, nor control the elder's
actions.

Carefully Hanlon studied those depths, aided also by what he had
learned in his healing of the caval, and from his intensive studies of
human physiology and neurones and allied sciences. Using the totality
of his admittedly meager knowledge, yet guided by things no human
physician had so far learned, he at last began to trace the pattern of
how human cells, tissues and nerves regenerated themselves, and how new
blood leucocytes are made in the glands of the lymph and the spleen. He
was able to trace the connectors between the minute organisms and the
brain that directed their activities.

Then he set himself to the delicate task of activating those functions
to begin and hasten the healing process.

Hour after hour he sat there, oblivious to all else taking place around
him, his own body lolling almost lifelessly in the big chair while
all his mental powers were engaged in the monumental and hitherto
unheard-of task to which he had set himself.

The other three men concluded their conference at last, and got up,
stretching hugely to pull themselves more awake after their half-night
vigil.

Amir called in his servants, and ordered them to prepare and serve
breakfast here for himself and his guests. Inver ran back to his own
apartment to dress more completely for the day.

Hooper walked over to where Hanlon was sitting. "Asleep?" he
half-whispered, doubtful because of the way the young man's body was
sprawled in the deep chair.

George Hanlon stirred and sat up, flashing a smile. "You didn't need to
whisper, Curt," he said. "I wasn't asleep. Just been helping dad get
well."

The major stared at him in amazement. "What d'you mean?"

"You're half a doctor, Curt. Take a look at dad's wound."

Doubtfully, not fully understanding even yet what his companion meant,
Hooper removed the bandage. He stared unbelievingly at the wounded
shoulder. The deeper portions of that terrible burn were completely
regenerated with healthy tissue. There was no sign of inflammation,
no scarred tissue or fused flesh as usually shows in a fresh flamegun
burn. The upper parts of the injury, too, were already beginning to
heal toward the center.

"Why ... why," he was astounded. "That should've taken weeks. I never
knew a wound to heal that fast."

"I found out how to speed up the cells and things," Hanlon said simply.

Admiral Newton roused as they talked, perhaps at the touch of Hooper's
gentle hands removing the bandage. Now he opened his eyes, and after
a moment to realize his surroundings and recall the events of his
injuries, smiled at his co-workers.

"Hi, fellows. Everything under control?"

"Yes, sir, all O K," Hooper answered. "I think the Ruler is about ready
to sign up."

"Good. Good work. Say, I feel fine. No pain--yet I seem to have a
memory of being blasted ... of fainting." He frowned, then shrugged.
"Couldn't have been much after all."

"It was very bad, sir," Hooper assured him gravely. "The burn was
almost to the bone in your shoulder, and you lost a lot of blood. But
now the wound is over half-healed."

"Great John. How long was I out?"

"Only a few hours, dad," Hanlon said.

"Oh, you found the kit, then?"

"What kit?"

"There's a complete emergency medi-surgical kit under the seat in my
tricycle."

"Now he tells us," Hooper spread his hands and spoke in mock despair.

"Probably just as well," Hanlon said. "If we'd known about that I might
never have felt the necessity of discovering how to heal wounds as I
did."

"What're you talking about?" the admiral looked from one to the other
in perplexity.

"The kid's too modest to tell you, sir," Hooper broke in, ignoring
Hanlon's signal to keep quiet. "I don't pretend to know how he did it,
but somehow or other he managed, with his mind, to stimulate and speed
up the healing, so that at the rate it's been going, your wound should
be all well in another twenty-four hours. I'll bandage it up again, and
then, unless you're too weak, you can get up and help us eat breakfast
the Ruler is having sent up for us all."

Young Inver, who had returned to the bedroom, was standing there,
listening to all this. Now his expressive eyes lighted up, and he
touched Hanlon's arm. When the young S S man turned to face him, Inver
breathlessly asked, "Was that the way my caval got well so fast?"

Hanlon grinned at him. "I knew it was your favorite mount, and I didn't
want to see it destroyed."

He turned quickly back to help his father get up. The admiral found
that, while he was still a little shaky, he could stand up without
dizziness. The Ruler had sent his uniform jacket out to be cleaned
and mended, and this Newton donned. Soon the men were seated about
the table the servants had set up, eating the splendid breakfast they
brought and served.

Meantime, the five talked about the problem that so much interested
them all, and that meant so much to all the peoples of their worlds.

"Our Colonial and Survey Bureaus are constantly seeking throughout
space for other planets having intelligent races, and we feel sure
yours will not be the last we'll find," Admiral Newton told the Ruler
and his son. "It is egotistical and silly to think we Terrans are the
only civilized peoples in the universe."

"Chances are we'll find others who are as far ahead of us in
intelligence, science and technologies as you Estrellans are ahead of
us in ethics," Hanlon added honestly.

Amir and Inver looked up in astonishment at that simple statement.
"You ... you actually mean ... honestly ... that you Terrans do not
believe you are the highest form of life in the universe?" Inver put
their questioning into words.

"Great John, no!" Admiral Newton exploded. "Oh, I suppose," he added
more slowly, "that there are some earth people who may still feel that
way, but the majority of us do not, especially those who have travelled
at all extensively. We used to think that; used to believe, hundreds
of years ago, that we were the _only_ intelligent life in the cosmos.
But we know better now that we're spreading out. I, personally, have
been on at least six planets that contain intelligent life that did not
stem from Terra, although yours is the highest of the six, and none of
the rest are yet at the point where they can be asked to affiliate with
the Federation as equal members. But those others are being taught and
coached as best we can--and as much as they want to be. In a few more
generations they'll probably have reached the point where they will be
ready to be seriously considered for equality status with us, as far as
Federation membership is concerned."

"Just how do you determine the fitness of a race for membership in your
Federation?" Inver leaned forward, his expressive eyes questioning.
His father started to rebuke him for his forwardness, but the admiral
interrupted.

"No, that's a good question, and we're glad to answer it--just as
we're glad to answer _any_ questions to which we know the answers. As
to this one, we look first for signs of intelligence great enough to
enable the people to govern themselves without continual warfare," he
said earnestly. "Their knowledge of science and technology is not so
important, we feel, although their ability to learn is. Some races will
probably never have real need for machines of any sort--races like the
plant-men of Algon, where Captain Hanlon was recently instrumental in
freeing them from slavery."

He paused a moment to marshal his thoughts. "Then we look to see
if they are making a conscious effort to advance in education and
learning--no matter along what lines that may be," he continued.
"We study their knowledge of and interest in ethical matters--their
religion, and their belief in the general concept of right and wrong,
of decency and observance of the rights of others. If they have these
things, and have, above all, the desire and determination to continue
their cultural growth, then we consider them worthy of equal Federation
membership."

"And your wonderful people certainly measure up to all of those
concepts," Hanlon added sincerely.



CHAPTER 21


The five had finished eating by now, and the Ruler rose. "I will call
my advisors together, and discuss this matter with them," he said. "But
I can tell you now that I am more than ever disposed to accept your
invitation. I could do so this moment," he said with a deprecating
smile, "but I like to make sure that the leaders of my people agree
with my decisions, as much as possible. I will have a servant show you
to my study, where you can discuss your own plans while my ministers,
my son and myself talk in the Council Chambers. I will let you know as
soon as we reach a definite decision."

"Thank you, k'nyer. We will gladly await your answer," Admiral Newton
rose, too, and bowed, as did Hanlon and Hooper.

"And thanks for the fine meal," Hanlon grinned. "I was really hungry."

Inver came up to him and laid his hand on Hanlon's shoulder. "I like
you," he said simply but from the heart. "I hope we shall always be
friends, and shall meet often through the coming years."

In the little study the three found easy chairs, and Admiral Newton
turned first to Major Hooper. "As far as I know now, we'll all be going
back when the sneakboat comes in a day or so. I suggest you go back
to Simonides and get in touch with the High Command to get your next
assignment."

"Right, sir, will do."

"About you, Spence, I want you to come with me and...."

"Excuse me, dad, but if I can have some free time, there is some very
important research I want to do, that I think will benefit humanity
much more than another detective assignment."

"What's on your mind, son?"

"This new ability I'm beginning to get," Hanlon said seriously. "I've
found I can get down to the level of the body cells and glands, with
my mind, and I think with more study and research I can learn things
no one else has ever known before. But I'll need a lot of help from
research doctors and endocrinologists, to tell me things I don't
know. I may be all wet, but I have an idea I can, in time, make some
very important contributions to medical science--with their help in
telling me what to look for, and if it can be arranged so I can have
the time to devote to that. I don't mean," he added, flushing with
embarrassment, "that I think I'm...."

"You are, whether you think so or not," his father interrupted, eyes
gleaming with pride and some amusement. "With those special gifts of
yours, you can do things no one else ever hoped to do. Such research
would certainly be worthwhile, especially if you can help others learn
how to heal wounds as fast as you did mine."

"Speaking of which," Hooper broke in, "I suggest, admiral that you
lie down while we're talking. It will be less strain on your body and
heart, and you're still weak, even if you won't admit it," he added as
he saw a protest forming on Newton's lips.

When Hanlon added his entreaties to Hooper's, the admiral grinned and
lay down on a couch there in the study. "Anybody'd think you guys were
the head men, not me," he growled, but good-naturedly.

Then he sobered quickly and went back to their discussion. "I'll have
to take it up with the Board, of course, but I think they'll agree. I
know of nothing definite needing you right at the moment, so they'll
probably give you a leave of absence for that research."

"I'd like to go to some other planet than Terra or Simonides," Hanlon
said. "One where I'm not known, so I won't have to be watching out for
anyone who might recognize me. And if I'm to do the study, I'll want
authorization to work at some of their insane asylums, too."

"Why those, in John's name?"

"When I tackled Irad's mind towards the end, I was able to get down
inside of it, further than I've ever been in any other person's mind,
because he was insane at the last, and his mind was breaking down.
There seems to be a block or barrier in every sane person's mind that I
can't get through."

"But you got into your father's ..." Hooper looked puzzled.

"In dad's case, Curt, it was only because he was unconscious, rather
than asleep or awake, that I could penetrate. Even then, I had to sort
of ... well, by-pass the barrier ... to get down deep enough to touch
the cells and glands and such things. Of course, with more study and
practice, now that I know more about it, I may be able to reach those
depths in spite of the block ... oh, heck, I sound like I considered
myself a sort of superman," he flushed again, and his eyes implored
them not to think him conceited.

"We know you neither are a superman nor think you are," his father
assured him quickly. "You have a special gift, and you are trying to
use it to benefit others, that's all. Don't be modest--it's really
false modesty, in a way. Go ahead with your ideas."

"Well, I'd also like to try working with engineers and technies, to see
if it would be possible to rig up some sort of a mechanical method of
doing the same thing."

Newton shook his head in puzzled wonder. "You're completely beyond
understanding, Spence. I sometimes wonder if you're human ... if you're
really the son of Martha and myself."

"Why, no," Hanlon grinned then. "Didn't you know? I'm a changeling the
little elves left on your doorstep."

His father and Hooper laughed away the tension. "Could be, at that,"
the admiral said. "Well, I'll certainly recommend to the Board that
they grant you all the time and opportunity you need. If you can get to
the bottom of this, and especially if you can teach other doctors how
to get at those glands and use them...."

"That'll be the hard part, dad. What I do hope to be able to do is to
perhaps find out more exactly how the nerves and cells and glands work,
and then doctors would be better able to diagnose and treat various
diseases and injuries."

They were interrupted by Inver, who came in to ask certain questions
the Ruler and advisors wished to know.

"Would it be possible, or rather, is it something you would permit," he
asked, "for us to set up some sort of an advanced school or university
here, and have you send us instructors? A place where our best young
men and women could go to study the many things we know nothing about?"

"It certainly will be possible, and it is a wonderful idea," Admiral
Newton assured him. "And one thing we want to make clear, that you
do not yet seem sure of. That is that there is no question of our
'permitting' you to do what you want to do. None whatever, in any
way, shape or form. Your government is and will always be completely
autonomous--always handled as you people see fit to work it. We never,
under any circumstances, try to make other races 'conform' to any
standards or regulations they do not wish to make their own. We will
give freely of our knowledge, our science and technologies, our beliefs
and concepts--but you Estrellans will be the sole and only judge of
what you want to accept.

"And we will want to have you send some of your people to our
universities, to teach us the advanced things you know that we don't.
Your system of ethics, for instance, and the way you have learned to
live together so closely and honestly."

After Inver had gone back to the conference, the three men sat about
waiting. Newton had almost fallen asleep--Hooper was completely
so--when Hanlon stirred.

"I don't know, though," he ruminated aloud. "Maybe there's something
else more important than that research at the moment."

"What?" his father roused himself sufficiently to ask.

"That alien being I contacted in Irad's mind."

"What in Snyder's name are you talking about?" Newton raised up in
excitement. "What alien?"

"Oh, that's right, I didn't tell you. You're being hurt and my trying
to heal you made me forget it." Hanlon explained swiftly about that
strange mind and its startling communication.

Admiral Newton swung his feet to the floor, all thoughts of sleep
banished.

"And you waited all this time to tell me a thing as important as that?"
he demanded incredulously and almost angrily.

"Sorry, dad, I just happened to feel your life was more important at
the moment, because the other could wait for a...."

"OK, OK, I'll buy that for now. But we'll have to make other
arrangements immediately. We'll have to find out where it came from
and whether this other oligarchy or federation or whatever it is, is a
menace to us."

"I don't think it is," Hanlon said slowly. "The being's mind was
very peculiar, but it appeared to be extremely logical in its
thoughts. It said that since it had lost and we have won here, it was
withdrawing--and I don't believe it meant temporarily, either. I think
it meant it was all through here and...."

"Don't be silly or childish, son," the admiral was intense and
forceful. "That one being may have felt that way, but his bosses
won't. With two groups of planets so near in space--both with means of
space travel--there's bound to be war of some sort, whether actual,
ideological or economic remains to be seen. We'll have to hunt them up,
and find out what it's all about--and immediately."

Hanlon shook his head. "I'll acknowledge your greater experience, dad,
but I still have a feeling you're wrong about this. I believe that
other race is entirely different in their way of thinking to ours--that
they are coldly logical and not the type to keep on fighting for
something they've already lost. But, of course," he shrugged, "it's up
to the High Command to decide. I'd still like to get on with that other
research."

"I'll put both problems up to the Board," Newton said. "But I bet I
know how they'll decide. There's the fact that those beings can read
and control all our minds--except yours. It looks like your job,
son--yours and no one else's ... although we'll all be behind you in
every way we can, of course. Meanwhile," stretching out on the couch
again, "until Amir and his advisors want us, I think we'd both better
take a nap."

"I am kinda pooped, at that," Hanlon said, and sprawled out in his
chair.

The admiral was soon asleep, but only Hanlon's body and part of his
mind relaxed. The balance of his mind was inside his father's body
again, speeding the healing of that shoulder burn.

Finally Inver came to call the three Terrans into the Council Chamber.
His broadly smiling face, and the thoughts Hanlon read from the surface
of his mind, told him the decision had been favorable--a fact he
signalled to the others at once.

"We are completely convinced now," Elus Amir told them when the Terrans
were seated about the conference table, "that our world will be best
served by joining your Federation as we were asked to do. If you have
the treaty papers at hand, I will gladly sign them. And my son,"
looking proudly at young Inver, "will sign with me as the next Ruler of
Szstruyyah."

"We do not have the proper documents," Admiral Newton said. "But our
ship will be here tomorrow night, and it has long-range communicators
with which I will immediately get in touch with the Federation Council,
who will send accredited ambassadors here at once. They should be here
within five days."

"Now that we have made up our minds, we are anxious to affiliate with
the other worlds. We feel it is a tremendous honor, being the first
non-Terran race asked to join them."

"As it is an honor for us to have such a high-principled peoples joined
to us," Admiral Newton said with a courtly bow. "May I suggest, k'nyer
and nyers, that when our ambassadors arrive, you ask them for whatever
help you desire in the way of teachers, goods or materials. They will
gladly explain what we have to offer, and I know they will study you
and your people to find the things they will ask for in exchange.
Remember always, please, that it is our steadfast policy to teach only
what you really want to know, and which you specifically ask for, not
what we might 'think you ought to know'."

"That one thing alone," Elus Amir said, deeply moved as were the
members of his Council, "would be enough to confirm us in our belief
that we will be doing the right thing for our people in joining you."

Amir, his son and the councillors, rose and bowed. The three Terrans
had also risen, and saluted punctiliously. Then Newton stepped forward
impulsively and held out his hand, which Amir grasped as though he had
always used the gesture.

"Welcome to the Federation of Planets, sire," Newton's voice was filled
with emotion.

The Ruler silently wrung his hand.

When it was time for the Corpsmen to leave, after some general
conversation between them all, the Ruler and his son were again profuse
in their gratitude for what the men had done, personally, to save
Amir's life, and the peace of their world.

They escorted the three downstairs and out to Newton's tricycle, and
stood at Estrellan salute as the Terrans got into their machine.

"Oh, one thing, Lona," the Ruler came forward just as Hanlon was
getting in. Amir's eyes were filled with puzzled wonderment. "How did
you know Adwal Irad was coming to attack me while I was asleep, locked
in my room?"

Hanlon's eyes danced, but he kept his face straight. "We have a saying
on Terra, k'nyer, that explains it--'a little bird told me'."

And he bowed again as he entered the machine, and Admiral Newton drove
away, leaving behind a more than ever puzzled Ruler of the soon-to-be
newest member of the Federation of Planets.


THE END





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