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´╗┐Title: Avoidance Situation
Author: McConnell, James R. (James Rogers)
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 "Avoidance Situation" ***

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                          AVOIDANCE SITUATION

                          BY JAMES MC CONNELL

                   _What can a man do when he alone
                 must decide the fate of Earth and all
                   its people--and when the choices
                offered him are slavery and death...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, February 1956.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Captain Allen Hawkins stood quietly in the observation room of the
_Sunward_ looking out at subspace. He was a medium-sized man with a
trim squareness to him that suggested he had been in the military most
of his life. He had a good deal of gold on his sleeve and a good deal
of silver in his hair, and he had discovered in his many years in the
Space Navy that the two usually went hand in hand. In the background he
could hear the noise and ordered confusion of the ship's bridge. But
at the moment he paid it little attention, concentrating instead on the
observation window.

It was not the first time that he had stood thus, gazing at whatever
lay beyond the shell of the ship. Almost every time he had put the
_Sunward_ through the dark shadow of subspace, he had deserted the
bridge for at least a few moments to come and stare out the window.

"God," he said out loud, repressing a shiver that wanted to crawl down
his spine.

"Perhaps 'God forsaken' would be a better description," came a voice
from behind him.

The voice belonged to Dr. J. L. Broussard, the _Sunward's_ senior
psychologist. And although the two men were on more than casually
friendly terms, Hawkins didn't turn to greet him. The fascination of
the observation port seemed to obviate the normal requirements of
courtesy. "At times like this I think you're right. 'God forsaken.'
That's just what it is," Hawkins said. "Completely black, completely
empty. You know, it frightens me every time we make the jump through
it."

A voice from the bridge called out, "Twelve minutes until zero. No
noticeable deviations, Captain."

"Very well," Hawkins said loudly enough to be heard on the bridge.

"Perhaps it frightens all of us just a little," said Broussard. He
leaned his oversized body against the observation room wall. His big,
mild face had a relaxed look to it. "I wonder why it affects us that
way," he added almost as if it were a casual afterthought, but his eyes
had a too-shrewd look to them.

"You're the psychologist. You tell me why," Hawkins said. He paused for
just a moment, expecting Broussard to reply. But after a few seconds
when the man gave him no conversational support, Hawkins continued.
"For my part, I guess it frightens me because--well, because a man
seems to get lost out there. In normal space there are always stars
around, no matter how distant they may be, and you feel that you've got
direction and location. In subspace, all you've got is nothing--and
one hell of a lot of that." He pushed his cap back until it perched
comfortably on the rear of his head. "It's incredible when you stop
to think about it. An area--an opening as big as the whole of our
universe, big enough to pack every galaxy we've ever seen in it and
still have lots of room left over. All that space--and not a single
atom of matter in it anywhere." Captain Hawkins shook his grayed head
in wonder. "At least," he went on. "Not a single atom in it until we
came barging in to use it as a short cut across our own universe."

The man on the bridge called out, "Ten minutes until zero. No
noticeable deviations, Captain."

"Very well," Hawkins answered.

Broussard shifted his considerable weight into a more comfortable
position. "You feel rather strongly about this, don't you?"

"That I do," said Hawkins. As much as he enjoyed an occasional
conversation with the psychologist, Broussard's questions often got on
his nerves.

"Don't you think it's better we discovered subspace than if we were
still back trying to beat the speed of light in our own universe?"
Broussard asked him.

"Oh, stop looking for a dangling neurosis somewhere, Broussard,"
Hawkins said, managing a smile. "You know quite well that I've got
absolutely nothing at all against the use of subspace for 'rapid
transportation,' so to speak. It's just that I'm the sort of man who
likes to know where he's going _all_ the time. And out here, in this
stuff, you lose your sense of direction. There's no up, no down, no in
between. It took spacemen a long time to get accustomed to the wild
freedom they found out in the middle of normal space. But at least
there you could always head for a star if you got lost. Out here ..."
He gestured futilely towards the blackness staring in at them from the
window. They stood silently contemplating it for several moments.

"Eight minutes until zero. No noticeable deviations, Captain," came the
voice from the bridge again.

"Very well," Captain Hawkins replied, breaking the brief silence
between the two men. Then he went on, "Broussard, have you ever been
out there in that stuff? Oh, I don't mean like now, in a ship or a
rescue craft. I mean in a spacesuit, all by yourself."

The psychologist shook his head. "No, I never have." He paused for just
a second, then added, "What's it really like?"

There were times, Hawkins thought, when even the phrasing of a simple
question on Broussard's part carried a slight sting. But like the
brief pain that accompanies the probing point of a hypodermic needle,
the tiny barbs contained in the man's questions were soon forgotten.
Hawkins smiled. "It's my own private guess of what hell will turn out
to be. 'God forsaken,' did we say? That's just about it. We stopped to
repair a ship once, and some of us had to go outside to work on it. I
guess I was out there for less than three hours--no more than that. And
yet I was almost a madman by the time they hauled me back inside. I
can't explain why." His voice trailed off into nothingness. "I guess it
was just the blackness that did it."

"Six minutes until zero. No noticeable deviations, Captain."

"Very well." For the first time Hawkins turned to face the
psychologist. "During my training at the Academy they locked me up in a
closet once, just as a joke. I was without light for hours, but it was
nothing like that out there. You should know, Broussard. Why does it
look so much blacker in that window now than any other black I've ever
seen?"

Broussard looked the man over carefully before answering, wondering
just exactly what sort of reply might be called for. "I think the
reason is that you've got close to optimum conditions for it here in
the observatory," he said momentarily. "You always get the blackest
shade of black inside a ring of white light. Look at the window."
Hawkins turned to do as directed. "There you've got a white frame
surrounding the complete absence of light. That's just about as good as
you can get. No wonder it looks so black to you."

Hawkins shook his head, not so much in disbelief as in wonder.

"As a matter of fact," the psychologist continued almost in a hurry.
"If you stayed out in subspace all by yourself, with no ship near you
and no light of your own, after a while it wouldn't seem black to you
at all. You'd get cortical adaptation, and things would just look gray.
And not too long after that, you'd stop 'seeing' entirely, as we think
of seeing. Or, as a friend of mine once said, under those conditions
you'd 'see' as much with your elbows as you would with your eyes.
Funny, isn't it? We usually think of black as being the absence of
light. And yet, in order to 'see' black, we've got to have at least a
little light around every once in a while."

The watchman on the bridge droned out the time again. "Four minutes
until zero. No noticeable deviations, Captain."

Allen Hawkins gave a large sigh, then readjusted the cap on his head.
He had the feeling that Broussard's little lecture on science, while
factually accurate, was delivered more to obscure the facts than to
illuminate. "I'd better get to the bridge now, Broussard. Not that they
really need me, but ..." He left the sentence dangling, then turned and
walked briskly out of the observation room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once in the control room, he gave the dials and the illuminated screens
a rapid, practiced glance and then sat down in his chair to one side
of the operations panel. There was actually no known danger to this
shifting back and forth from one space to another. No ship had ever
encountered any difficulties whatsoever in doing so; there had never
been an accident of any kind during transition. The whole thing was
as completely automatic as man could make it, and apparently entirely
safe. But still Hawkins had never made the shift one way or another
without feeling a telltale tightening of muscles deep inside him, and
without wondering just what would happen if they got _stuck_ in all
that darkness.

"One minute, Captain," the watch officer reminded him. Hawkins nodded
in reply, his face illuminated by the flashing lights on the control
panel in front of him. He watched their changing signals calmly with
knowing eyes.

"Thirty seconds ... all drives off," sang out a voice. The hands on the
clock crept slowly around the dial.

"Zero...."

There was no sound, no feeling, no jerk nor jar, no noise to mark the
transition--nothing at all different from the moment before except a
slight increase in the total light flux in the room.

_Stars._

Captain Allen Hawkins smiled softly to himself. Stars ... something to
cling to, he whispered under his breath.

"Bridge from Navigation," came a voice close to his ear.

"Go ahead, Navigation," he said after pressing the communications
button.

"Looks like we hit it right on the nose, Captain," the Navigator told
him. "Can't tell just yet, of course, until I feed the positions of the
nearest stars into Betsy and she decides where we are. But it looks
good from here, and if I'm right, the one we're hunting for is about
eight o'clock high from the nose of the ship as she sits now. I'll
plot a course there right now. Do you want to wait until Betsy decides
that's the one, or shall we take a chance and head for it first?"

The Navigator always asked the question, but he knew what the answer
would be. "We'll start just as soon as you can give us the course,"
Hawkins replied.

"Aye, aye, Captain," the Navigator replied.

Hawkins turned to the officer on duty. "Mr. Smith, you will remain as
you are until you receive the course from the Navigator. Once you have
it, you will get underway immediately."

"Aye, aye, Captain," Smith replied.

"I'll be in my cabin if you want me," Hawkins said as he left the
bridge. He was rather tired and he meant to go straight to bed, but
somehow he found himself stopping by the observation room en route.
Broussard was still there, looking out of the window at the stars.

"Lovely, aren't they, Broussard?" Hawkins said.

"So you feel the stars are lovely?" the psychologist answered slowly.

"Yes, I do. They give us light, and hope for the future, and more than
that, a frame of reference when we fly through the dark reaches of our
universe. They're more than beautiful--they're necessary." As he turned
to leave, Hawkins chuckled to himself. Just let the head-shrinker try
to read a neurosis into that!

       *       *       *       *       *

It took them three weeks from the day they arrived back in normal space
to make sure that they had found a sun with planets, and another three
weeks from then to make landfall on the second of the four satellites
this particular solar system had to offer. Almost from the very
beginning they were elated with their luck, for the planet seemed to be
a first class find. The _Sunward_ and her crew had been exploring this
section of space for more than six years, and out of the thirty-eight
systems they had investigated, this was the first that offered any
promise of eventual human habitation.

Man had been in space less then one hundred years. At first he had
thrown himself towards the stars with crude rocket-driven craft. A
few years later he had invented a type of atomic drive which allowed
him to approach the speed of light. But it was the discovery of the
subspace technique of travel which had theoretically given him the
whole universe to live in. There were drawbacks, however, and they
were important ones. To tear himself from the matrix of normal space
he still needed huge machines, and probably always would. This meant
the building of exceedingly large space vessels, like the _Sunward_,
which could contain not only the equipment necessary to propel him into
the blackness of subspace, but which also could be equipped with the
mammoth control mechanisms necessary to regulate the change-over. The
switch to subspace could never be made near the surface of a planet,
for the field forces generated during the change had far-flung effects
and were quite capable, even under tightest control, of tearing loose a
huge chunk of a planet and dropping it into subspace with the ship. Big
ships meant big money, and even now there were fewer than a thousand
of the large exploration craft in operation. Each ship could average
fewer than ten new worlds a year. So while man had taken a lease on the
universe, it seemed that at his present rate of exploration a great
many centuries would pass before he finished the charting of even the
stars in his own back yard.

But if at times he became discouraged at the immensity of the task,
there were always moments of great joy which helped to spur a man on.

The men of the _Sunward_ named the new star Clarion, and the habitable
planet they called Trellis. It was the second of three large and one
very small planets which circled Clarion. The _Sunward_ spent more
than two weeks circling over Trellis, making maps and checking the
atmosphere. Then the council of scientists on board picked a landing
site and Captain Hawkins brought the ship down on the spot they had
chosen. Exactly twenty-seven days from the hour they landed, the
council voted unanimously that Trellis was safe for human habitation,
and Allen Hawkins gave the orders to have the hatches opened to the
Trellian air.

The Captain, as was customary, was the first man to set foot on the
soil. He led the brief ceremonies that claimed the world as Earth's own
and then planted the Terran flag. He also took the customary measure of
declaring it a ship's holiday, and even threw out the first baseball
when the inevitable game started up later in the afternoon. But he
didn't stay to watch, preferring to stroll around the landscape by
himself for a little while.

He had been walking for a little more than an hour, traveling in a
wide circle around the ship, when he came upon Dr. Broussard, sitting
quietly under a shady tree, a book in one hand and a container of beer
in the other. The beer looked good and cold, and the shade looked
comfortable. "Mind if I join you?" Hawkins asked, and since he was
Captain of the ship, scarcely waited for an invitation before he sat
down and opened himself a beer. It tasted as good as it had looked, and
Hawkins soon found himself in an expansive mood. "Tell me, Broussard,"
he said good-naturedly. "How come you aren't out snooping around,
making sure that the crew's libidos aren't acting up or something."

Cocking an ear towards the distant ball field, rife with the excited
noise that always accompanies such a game, Broussard replied, "It
sounds to me as if the crew is getting about as much libidinal
discharge as I could hope for under the circumstances. That being the
case, I saw no reason why the ship's alienist shouldn't have a little
time off."

Hawkins leaned back comfortably against the tree. "Alienist. That's a
pretty strange word these days, Broussard. Used to be what they called
psychiatrists in England back in the old days, right?" Hawkins was of
vaguely English descent and felt it behooved him to know such things.

"That's right. They revived the term briefly a hundred years ago when
we first got out into space, because they thought that psychologists
might be needed for the first contacts with alien cultures." A slight
frown came over the man's face. "The word's fallen into disuse again of
late, however," he continued.

Captain Hawkins grunted in assent. "No aliens, eh?"

"That's right. No aliens. Thousands of new worlds, thousands upon
thousands of new species, but not one of them intelligent enough
to hold a candle to our earthside chimpanzee. But still they go on
outfitting each of the exploration vessels with psychologists, and
outfitting all of the psychologists for the double task of soothing the
crew's _psyches_ and making contact with mythical intelligent races
that so far we've only dreamed about." Broussard emptied his container
of beer and with a single vicious movement threw it as far away from
him as he could. "I must say, however, that of late they've been
spending more time training us to be mind doctors than to be official
greeters to unknown cultures."

Suddenly Broussard straightened up. "But why should you twit me about
deserting my work today. I saw you throw out the first baseball. How
come you didn't stay for the game? Surely that falls under the province
of a Captain's job."

Allen Hawkins smiled. "I learned long ago, Broussard, that there are
times when the presence of the Commanding Officer has an undesired
influence on the spirits of the crew. After all, as Captain of the
_Sunward_, I can't very well take part in the game itself. Who'd dare
to strike me out when I came to bat?" He stopped to think about that
for a moment. "Or, maybe I should have said, I don't _think_ anybody
would dare to strike me out."

"Ah, yes, the Father Figure," Broussard said laughing.

"That's right. So I can't play. Nor can I umpire, for half the fun of
baseball is arguing with the umpire and I couldn't allow any of that.
And if I just watched without playing the game itself, a lot of the
crew might think that I felt myself too high and mighty to take part in
their proletarian type of recreation. So I'm damned if I do and damned
if I don't. So what did I do...?"

"You left the field," Broussard answered, lighting up a cigarette after
offering the other man one.

"That's right, I left the baseball field and went walking."

"That's not quite what I meant when I said 'you left the field,'"
Broussard went on. "It's a psychological term, first used by Lewin many
centuries ago. Any time a man is in a conflict situation, faced with
two or more alternatives that he finds it difficult to choose among, he
may solve his problem by choosing none of them."

Hawkins stretched his legs out restfully on the grass in front of him.
As he thought about it, there had been few times in the past when he
had given the psychologist his head and let the man talk. Probably,
Hawkins thought to himself, Broussard spends most of his time listening
to the petty confessions of all of us and never gets the opportunity
to unload a bit himself. He caught himself wondering just who on Earth
confesses the Pope....

And so he uttered the magical words, "I don't think I quite
understand...."

Broussard scarcely needed the encouragement to continue. "Lewin
liked to think of psychological situations as approximating physical
situations. He spoke in terms of valences and attractions, of vectors
and forces operating through psychological distances. For example,
let's consider the case of a child put into a long hallway. At one end
of the hall is a large, fierce dog. At the other end is an ugly man
with a big switch. We tell the child that he has to go to one end of
the hall or the other. This becomes an 'avoidance-avoidance' situation
in the Lewinian terminology. Both the man with the switch and the
fierce dog carry negative valences--that means that the child actually
doesn't want to approach either of them--and the closer the child
comes to one of them, the more powerfully it repels him. Just as with
magnets--the closer you bring one negative charge to another negative
charge, the more powerful is the force of repulsion."

Captain Hawkins smiled. It wasn't going to be as bad as he had feared.
"What does all this have to do with baseball?"

"We'll get back to home plate in just a moment. But first, let's
continue with the child. We put him in the hallway, tell him to go to
one end or the other, and then we just sit back and watch. At first he
stands about as close to the center of the hall as he can, assuming
that the two negative valences are about of equal strength. He's
undecided--can't make up his mind which is worse, the man or the dog.
So we prompt him to action--shock him or tell him that he has to keep
moving. Then he begins to move back and forth, vacillating between the
two undesirable objects. So we apply more and more pressure to try
to force him to a decision. But the closer he moves to the dog, for
example, the more distasteful _it_ becomes, and the less dangerous does
the _man_ seem to be. So the child turns around and starts towards the
man. But here the situation is repeated. It's a beautiful example of a
conflict situation."

Giving vent to a well-disciplined snort, Captain Hawkins said, "And
eventually the child either gets well switched or badly bitten, eh?"

"No, that's where you're wrong. Eventually the child tries to escape
from the hallway altogether. Sometimes he'll try to climb the walls, or
break down a door, or anything like that which will release him from
what has become an impossible psychological environment."

"So," said Hawkins. "I think you left me stranded on first base."

Broussard laughed. "Pardon the sermon, Captain. What I was trying to
point out was that the baseball game represented just about the same
sort of thing to you as the hallway did to the child. Any time a human
being is faced with two impossible decisions like that, he usually
ends up by 'leaving the field' of conflict altogether. Nowadays we can
even predict the exact field forces necessary to bring on this type of
behavior."

"And what do you predict I'm going to do right now?" Hawkins asked with
a bit of a laugh in his voice.

"That's an easy one. I predict you're going to ask for another
beer--and that I'll give it to you. No conflict there." He opened a
container that chilled itself automatically as he handed it to his
superior officer.

Hawkins blew the foam from it and then took a long, satisfying swallow.
"There are times when I'm glad I'm just an uncomplicated space
officer," he said presently.

Broussard grinned. "Sorry if I seemed to be giving you a lecture,
Captain. I'm afraid you would have enjoyed a good, healthy discussion
of Freud much more. My own particular problem is that I'm much
more interested in thinking about the remote possibilities of
man's encountering new types of intelligences than I am in playing
father confessor to a bunch of space rats. Back on Earth the social
psychologists felt that Lewin's work offered a fruitful means of
analyzing the motivational components in any alien society we might
encounter. I guess my trotting out the vector charts was just a neat
example of wishful thinking."

Captain Allen Hawkins didn't bother to answer the remark for some time.
He was too busy watching something move slowly towards them across the
grassy plain. Finally he half-whispered to his companion, "Don't put
those charts away too soon, Broussard. You finally may have a chance to
use them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bells clanged loudly. Red and yellow lights flashed insistently in
front of the man, demanding his attention. The clattering noise of a
computer working at high speed added to the unholy din of the small
spaceship's control room.

Surveyor Lan Sur ran his deft fingers rapidly over the studs on the
control panel in front of him. He scarcely looked at the controls
as he manipulated them, concentrating instead on the screens before
him--screens which showed the attack patterns of the seven large
warships that surrounded him.

One of the attacking enemy ships loomed incredibly large directly ahead
of him. Lan Sur's fingers hesitated, and then, at precisely the proper
second, pressed the firing studs. The scout ship seemed to dance
lightly upward as it passed high above the larger, slower enemy craft.
Lan Sur whirled his ship around just in time to witness the total
disintegration of the enemy.

"One down," he thought, but took no particular pride in his
accomplishment. There were still six left.

The enemy regrouped, spreading out into a cone-like formation. He knew
the trick well, and aimed his ship to make its next pass high above
the open mouth of this formation. But the enemy opened up the top of
the cone as fast as Lan Sur tried to avoid it. He fired a warning
salvo and tucked his defensive screens in tight around him. But the
uppermost enemy ship incredibly picked up more speed, sliding off into
an extremely intricate maneuver. Lan Sur knew that if it could hold to
this path, it would pass several miles above him, neatly sandwiching
him between the enemy vessels below. He could have turned aside at
once, but that would have been an admission of possible defeat, and
he could never admit defeat. If he could beat the other ship to the
topping maneuver, he would destroy not only it, but the ships at the
small end of the cone as well when he came crashing down on them from
above. For just a moment he felt certain that he could succeed.

The scout ship vibrated tensely as it hurled itself forward. The red
lights on the control panel doubled in number, then tripled. The
computer roared instructions so rapidly that he could hardly keep up
with them. The warning bells went mad with ringing.

"I think I can make it," he told himself. But he refused to become
excited. He had come this close to victory before, and had still
failed. Now he saw he was gaining on the enemy ship, but it was a thin
margin of safety indeed. The computer screamed with danger signals as
the huge craft came closer and closer.

Lan Sur leaned forward slightly in his seat, a little strain showing
on his usually relaxed face. To his surprise, he found himself saying
aloud, "Yes, I think I can."

But he did not. Suddenly the enemy craft shot by above him and belched
forth a thick burst of light. The huge black warships immediately
beneath him echoed the call, catching his smaller, fleeter ship in a
double barrage.

And it was all over.

The red lights on the control panel blinked out quickly, one by one.
The warning bells ceased their claxons, the computer settled down to a
quiet hum. The screens went blank. A thin piece of tape spewed forth
from the computer. It read, "This scout ship utterly annihilated. End
of problem."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lan Sur looked the tape over sourly. "Damn," he said, leaning back
in his seat. He tore the tape into little pieces and deposited them
angrily in the reclaim box. Reluctantly he pressed the "Analysis"
button on the computer. The machine would issue him a complete
dissection of the whole mock war game, pointing out with deadly
accuracy the mistakes he had made.

"Damn," he said again, thinking over the past battle. He got up from
the control panel and walked over to his relaxation chair. Sitting
down, he took a small bit of food from a container and began chewing on
it viciously.

It wasn't really so bad that he lost the engagement, he told himself.
The pre-battle odds were greatly against him. And as often as he had
tried it, he had never been able to take on seven enemy ships and still
survive. Sometimes it seemed an almost impossible task to him. However,
he had a deep desire to solve the problem, because the computer told
him it might be solvable if he took the proper course of action.
Evidently, it would take a lot more work, a great deal more study on
his part before he found the solution.

"But time is something I have plenty of," he said aloud, stretching out
comfortably in the chair. For several hours he puzzled over the thing,
taking time out to digest the taped analysis of his mistakes, and then
attacked the problem afresh. Eventually, out of sheer exhaustion, he
slipped off into a deep, restful sleep, quite confident that the next
time he tried the seven-ship problem, or at most the time following
that....

       *       *       *       *       *

Lan Sur awoke to quietness. He stretched his lean, lithe legs, slowly,
returning to normal awareness as he did so. Once he was completely
awake, he sat down in front of the control panel again. A single amber
light beamed from the board. While he had been asleep, the scout
ship had come out of its C^{2} drive and had slowed to a stop. They
had reached their immediate destination, and since he was asleep, the
computer had simply turned on the protective screens around the ship
and had begun a survey of the sun system they had arrived at.

He pressed a button on the computer and then leaned back to digest the
information that the machine began feeding him at once. The sun was of
the A/34.79Lu type, just as had been forecast before his voyage. It had
three large inner planets and a tiny fourth much too far away from the
solar furnace and much too small to be of any practical value. Lan Sur
read the report carefully, noting with pleasure certain of the facts
presented him. He was in the midst of an interesting section concerning
the chemical composition of the atmosphere on the second of the planets
when a small bell on the computer rang and the machine became silent
for just a second or two, then began pouring out material at a furious
rate.

Lan Sur, who had been yards of tape behind in his reading, dropped
the atmosphere discussion and began to read the new information being
spewed forth. A frown crossed his face as he read the first few words,
"Alien contact established...." He hoped this new development would not
take him away from his games for too long a time.

The computer had detected the emanation of modulated energy waves
coming from the second planet. Immediately it had withdrawn its
wide-flung detector beams and had concentrated fully upon the source of
the waves. Lan Sur reset the computer so that only a very small part of
the huge machine would carry on the routine work of new investigation,
while the greater part would be put to work in an attempt to decode
what was obviously a language being broadcast in some obsolete manner.
He noted with pride that the aliens, whoever they might be, had not at
the moment reached the point of development where C^{2} communication
was available to them, but were still limited to the raw speed of
light for the transmission of messages, and hence, he felt sure, for
the transmission of space ships too. This meant, he knew, that he had
probably stumbled onto a race of beings still new to the reaches of
space who would be helpless in the face of even his own lightly armed
scout ship. However, according to patrol instructions, he activated
a switch that relayed all pertinent information by means of a sealed
C^{2} beam back to the nearest Dakn Patrol base, and put in a formal
call for the presence of Patrol battleships. One way or another, they
would be needed....

       *       *       *       *       *

It took the computer less than a day and a half, as Lan Sur figured
time, to break the language of the aliens discovered on the second
planet. The Surveyor spent this time working feverishly on a new idea
he had for the solution of the seven-ship problem, and was quite
upset when the computer finished its problem of decoding the new
tongue before Lan Sur had worked out all the details of his latest
attack on the mock war games. Reluctantly he put himself into a light
trance, during which the machine taught him the new language. He did
not actually learn to think in the new tongue, for that would have
imposed limiting strictures on his mental processes. Rather, his mind
was turned into a kind of translating factory. He had the freedom to
think in the terms and in the concepts that he was accustomed to,
and his mind simply expressed these thoughts as best it could in
the newly-learned way of speaking. The computer had also arrived at
an incredibly clear knowledge of the socio-politico-psychological
structure of the new civilization, but aside from a brief glance at
some of the more intriguing points, Lan Sur ignored this information
and simply relayed it along to the Galactic base where social
scientists could pore over it in their own bemused leisure. For his
tasks Lan Sur hardly felt that he needed it.

Once Lan Sur had memorized the language, he put his scout ship under
a screen of complete invisibility and landed it some few miles away
from the space ship the aliens were using as their permanent base.
He let the computer drink up what additional information it required
to make sure both that the planetary conditions were suitable to his
own particular chemical make-up, and that the aliens were indeed
as impotent as his previous estimates had seemed to indicate. Once
the computer gave him its blessing, he walked out into the bright
planetary sunlight.

       *       *       *       *       *

Psychologist J. L. Broussard sat up puzzled. "What do you mean, don't
put away my Lewinian vector charts too soon? I may have a chance to use
them on _whom_?"

Captain Allen Hawkins simply stared straight ahead of him, his lips
forming unanswerable questions. Broussard took his cue from the man's
head and stared too. And then he understood.

The alien, for from its dress alone it obviously _was_ an alien, was
still quite a distance away from them. It came walking towards them
with a kind of protective sparkle about it--and even from that distance
they could sense a feeling of power about the man.

"Man?" Broussard caught himself thinking. Yes, it did seem very much
like a man--not only like a human, but like a masculine human. But
immediately Broussard told himself that this might not be the case.
True, humanoid it was, but because it displayed a certain lack of the
more obvious female sexual characteristics it did not follow that it
was _male_. "Why, they could even have _ten_ different sexes for all we
know," Broussard thought to himself.

"I think it's coming towards _us_," Hawkins said quietly.

Broussard watched the alien move a few more yards and then agreed.

Hawkins activated a small radio that he carried in one of his shirt
pockets. "Hello, Communications," he spoke rapidly into the microphone.
"This is Hawkins. Put me through to the Bridge at once. And make sure
you record every word that I say."

The words "Aye, aye, Captain," were forthcoming immediately from the
tiny loudspeaker. The Captain rated a special communications channel
that was guarded by the radio shack at all times, and it came as no
surprise to Hawkins that the reply was prompt. He had expected it to be.

"Bridge here, go ahead."

"This is Captain Hawkins, Bridge. Who's the Duty Officer?" Hawkins knew
who the man was, but asked to give the man a chance to realize fully
that the Captain was aware with whom he was speaking.

"Lieutenant Medboe, Captain, ready for instructions."

Hawkins thought for just a moment and then answered. "Mr. Medboe, the
information that I am about to pass along to you is not to leave the
Bridge under any circumstances. As soon as I finish, you will contact
the radio shack and make certain that what I have said, if it has been
monitored, is not passed along from that particular point either. Do
you understand me."

Medboe's voice sounded a little puzzled, "Of course, Captain. Your
instructions will be followed to the letter."

"Now then," Hawkins continued. "You might as well know at once that I
think we've made contact with an alien race. I don't know what this
means to you personally, but to the human race it means a great deal
and we can under no circumstances risk the occurrence of any incident.
You will therefore send someone to find Commander Petri and inform him
that as Executive Officer, he will be in charge of the ship until I
return to it. And while you are doing that, you will summon all the
men to return to the ship at once. You may not give them the real
reason--tell them that there is a bad storm coming and that I have
ordered them all inside. It is imperative that none of them realizes
the true reason. Do you understand?"

Medboe's voice sounded almost hurt. "Aye, aye, Captain," he said.

"Good. Once everyone is back inside the ship, have Petri summon all
officers not on watch and all scientists to the large meeting hall.
They will be given a chance to observe and listen to the contact as it
is made. Which reminds me--have the communications department set up
a long range television camera on me at once, and pipe the image down
into the hall. You will have them record both sight and sound for later
use. You will also inform Petri that a state of emergency exists as of
this moment by my personal order, and that if necessary he is to blast
off from the planet without making any attempt either to protect or
rescue me. And once it has been established that we are in fact dealing
with an alien culture, Navy Headquarters must be informed immediately
via subspace radio." Hawkins wanted to make sure that in the event the
entire ship was captured, Earth would know that an alien contact had
been made and could take steps to protect itself. He only wished, now
that he thought of it, that he could have taken more adequate steps to
protect the men and the ship. But for the moment the _Sunward_ and her
crew would have to remain where they were and as they were. And if the
alien had not attacked them up to that point, perhaps no attack would
be made at all.

Hawkins wanted to tell Medboe a thousand other things--simple, obvious
things that surely both Medboe and Petri would be cognizant of. But, as
always, the man who had to delegate responsibility simply had to depend
on the perspicacity of the men to whom he gave the power.

"Any questions?" Hawkins asked after a brief pause.

"I don't believe so, Captain," Medboe answered. Hawkins could tell from
the sound of the man's voice that he had hundreds of things he would
have liked to ask, but none of them were of the type that he could have
expected his superior officer to answer.

"Good," Hawkins replied formally. "One more thing. You will under no
circumstances attempt to contact me on this radio set--there's no need
in letting the alien know any more about us or our abilities than we
absolutely have to."

"Right, Captain," came the obedient answer.

Hawkins turned the switch to the "Sustained Talk" position and informed
the Officer of the Deck of his actions. Then he turned to Broussard.
"Anything you have to add to all that?" he asked.

The psychologist indicated a negative by a shake of his head.

"Very well, Mr. Medboe. You may carry out your orders," Hawkins said
with a sigh. Then he turned to Broussard again. "Well, Louie. I guess
it's up to you from here on out. You're the alienist." And with that,
Hawkins reluctantly relinquished completely his normal command of the
situation.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the time that Captain Hawkins had been giving his orders,
Broussard had been deep in thought, paying only scant attention to the
instructions that the other man had passed along. The psychologist's
mind had been racing over the possibilities of this first contact, and
more than once during the brief period of time, it had dwelt on his own
particular fears that he would not be up to the encounter.

"I think you had better give the radio to me," Broussard said. "I'll
probably be closer to the alien during the first stages of contact at
least, and certainly I should be doing most of the talking."

The statement made sense to Hawkins, and he passed the device over
without comment. Broussard tucked it away in one of his pockets.

"I don't think we should bother walking towards him," Broussard said a
moment later, answering an unspoken question. "He's obviously coming
toward us and it would seem better if we weren't too eager." Broussard
felt no need to describe the alien over the radio since by this time
the communications division back on board the _Sunward_ would have set
up their long range television cameras. Captain Hawkins shifted about
on his feet a bit like a boxer doing warm-up footwork prior to a battle.

"I wonder where he's put his space ship," Broussard said.

Hawkins looked puzzled. "How do you know he's got one?" he asked.

"Well, it's just a hunch. But unless I miss my guess, that shining air
the--the--" Broussard groped for the right noun, then fell back again
on a sheer perceptual analysis. "The shining air the _man_ coming
towards us has is a defensive screen of some sort. And we've certainly
found no evidence on Trellis of any civilization at all, much less one
so advanced that it could dream up gadgets like that. I figure he must
be from somewhere else. Maybe he's just a visitor here too, like us."
Hawkins inwardly admitted the logic of the reasoning.

As the alien came closer, they could both see why they had
instinctively felt from the first that it was of the male gender. The
creature's hair was cut a little longer than men wore theirs back on
Earth, but this was almost the only difference. The alien was a bit
taller than either of them, but not beyond the limits produceable by
the human race. His shoulders were the widest part of his body, and
formed the broad top of the inverted triangular shape that most human
men admired. His clothes were of some peculiar, clinging material, but
the bottom half of his body was fitted out in a close approximation of
Earthside trousers. The man was handsome even by their own standards of
masculine beauty.

"Well," said Hawkins. "This is it. Man is no longer 'alone.'"

Broussard realized suddenly that the other man was just as nervous as
he himself was. "No, man is no longer alone," Broussard replied. And
then he added, "But neither is _he_."

The alien was less than one hundred yards away when Broussard said
quietly, "I don't think we'd better talk any more. Let's just stand
here and wait for him to make the first move."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lan Sur walked towards the two aliens at a comfortable rate of speed.
When he was still some distance off the computer back on his scout
ship informed him of the first of the messages going back and forth
from one of the men to the ship, and then of the gradual withdrawal of
the rest of the ship's crew to the sanctuary of the _Sunward_. It was
with no surprise at all that he listened to the computer, as it did a
remote physical and chemical analysis of the aliens. Eons ago the Dakn
people had come to the conclusion, first in theory and then in fact,
that intelligent life capable of reaching the stars had to fall within
the humanoid pattern. The aliens confronting him were well within the
theoretical tolerance limits on every count. But still it amused him to
see the slight obesity of one of the men and the thick body hair of
the other. These were two minor points of difference between the races.

At exactly the right psychological distance from the two aliens, Lan
Sur stopped. He was quite close enough to be heard and understood, but
not so close that his physical presence suggested too much of a threat.
He waited just long enough before speaking.

"It is customary in your culture to begin with introductions," he said
in a strong voice. "I am Lan Sur, possessed of the rank of Senior
Surveyor in the Galactic Patrol of the Dakn Empire. I welcome you
officially to the communion of the stars."

Lan Sur could almost feel the sinking sensation inside the larger of
the two aliens when he began to speak to them in their own tongue. It
amused him to think that these two had probably expected to begin by
drawing pictures in the dirt. Well, they would learn.

"You should know at once that the Dakn Empire comprises some 700
quadrillion people of the same general humanoid characteristics as
obtain in your race. We populate planets on some hundred thousand suns,
most of which lie much further toward the opposite end of the galaxy
than does the system in which we find ourselves at the moment. We have
explored great reaches of the universe, but this is the first time we
have penetrated as far into this particular district as this star you
call Clarion. That explains why our races have never before come into
contact."

The two aliens leaned forward a little on their feet, as caught up in
his words as children might be when told a new and fascinating story.

"The Dakn Empire is the only other political system that exists in
this entire galaxy, as far as we know." Lan Sur paused for a moment,
to let the significance of his words sink in. "There have been others,
of course, but they soon passed under our control. Just as your
civilization will now pass under our control."

He read the sudden, stark fear that appeared in their eyes correctly
without needing the affirming echo from the computer.

"The Dakn Empire has learned that whenever it discovers a new
civilization, it must absorb this new culture immediately. There is no
other choice. And your race must follow the pattern of the thousands we
have encountered in the past. There is no choice. As of this moment,
you and your people are, from our point of view, just as much a part
of our Empire as our own home planets. This does not appeal to you, I
know. But there is no other way."

The computer informed him that the _Sunward_ had brought all of its
gun turrets to bear on him, but Lan Sur ignored the fact as being
irrelevant.

He continued. "No, you do not have a choice about becoming a part of
our system. But you do have a choice about the method by which this
action will be taken." The involuntary sigh that one of the aliens
gave briefly amused him. The alien would find that the sigh of relief
was a short one. "The choice is this--either you will join with us
peacefully, in which case the whole period of transition will take less
than one of your years. Or...." He let the word dangle momentarily
before his booming voice continued. "Or, if you choose to oppose us,
the transition time will take even less than that. We will simply
destroy you and all of your worlds.

"You have no alternatives."

The alien's voice grew louder. "You will want to know what absorption
into our system will mean to you. By now you will surely have realized
how far superior we are to you in every way, and I include specifically
the factor of intelligence in this statement. My analysis of your
potential intellectual and rational powers shows me that you are not
capable of contesting on an equal basis with any of the other races
that comprise our Empire. You are the lowest of the low, and as such,
your race will be put into a slave category. We always have room for
more slaves."

The two aliens in front of him seemed in a state of shock. Lan Sur felt
he might as well finish the thing off and get it over with.

"If you choose to come with us peacefully, what will happen is this:
We will take over all of your worlds at once, evacuating your people
from them in less than a month. Your race will be spread out over our
Empire, sent to the places where they are needed the most.

"Of course you will not be allowed to retain either your own
personalities or your memories. As slaves you would scarcely need them.
So they will be stripped from you en route to your new homes, and
suitable new slave personalities will be implanted in your minds. You
find this thought distasteful I know, but it is the only logical action
we can take. You will be born again, so to speak, knowing our language,
feeling at home in our way of life and not retaining even a shred of
your old patterns of culture. This is the simplest, most efficient
way in which your race can become a part of our much larger scheme of
things.

"If you do _not_ choose to come peacefully ..." again Lan Sur stopped
for dramatic effect, "the warships I have already summoned, coming at
the square of the speed of light, will search out every planet, every
world in this whole sector, and will utterly annihilate every solar
system you have contaminated. We have, in the past, met obstinate races
who tried to resist our rule. The results were rather spectacular from
an astronomical point of view. Perhaps your scientists have wondered
what caused the nova of stars, or even the explosions of whole regions
of space. Now you have the answer. We would hate to destroy your race,
but if you resist us, we have no choice."

A strange, intense smile came over Lan Sur's face. "Our history relates
of one race that tried to avoid its destiny. These peoples scattered to
the four winds in millions of ships in their attempt to hide from us."
Fire lighted the alien's eyes. "It took more than a thousand of your
years to track them all down, and we covered more than half the galaxy
in doing so. It was a glorious thing. Now they are dead. All of them."

Slowly the smile died away. Lan Sur looked back at the two Earthlings
before him. "You will see the necessity for all of this when you have
exhausted your emotional reactions to this information and are capable
of thinking logically again. In the long run it matters little to any
of us which action we are forced to take. But because I realize that
a race as untutored as yours is, cannot be expected to control its
emotions in such a situation, I will not demand an immediate answer
from you. I will give you more than ample time in which to think the
problem through.

"You have exactly twenty-four hours in which to make up your minds."

       *       *       *       *       *

In his younger days at the Academy, Captain Allen Hawkins had been
a boxer, and a good one. Most of his fights he had won easily and
decisively. The few that he lost had been close matches and split
decisions. Then had come the day when he had persuaded himself to
fight outside his own weight and experience classifications, and he
had matched himself against a classmate much larger than himself.
Hawkins still remembered that fight at times. After the first round he
had been completely dazed, scarcely conscious of his surroundings.
Again and again he found himself lying stretched out on the canvas and
had to force himself back to his feet to re-enter the fray. The fight
terminated rather suddenly in the third round when Hawkins went down to
the canvas for a full count.

All of this had happened years before, but the emotions that gripped
the man now, as he stood facing the incredible alien from the center
of the galaxy--these emotions reminded him of that fight. He felt now
as he had felt when he regained consciousness in the dressing room--a
little out of his senses, the wind still knocked out of him, and
emotionally completely stunned.

The fact that Lan Sur had spoken perfect English had been the first
blow. Every sentence that the alien had spoken was like a sharp jab, a
sudden punch to a vital area. As in his boxing days, after a few brief
moments of listening, Hawkins had stopped thinking with his brain--and
had begun thinking with his stomach. But he was completely open and
unguarded for the Sunday punch.

"You have exactly twenty-four hours in which to make up your minds."

       *       *       *       *       *

The three men stood facing each other for at least a full minute, none
of them speaking. Broussard recovered his voice before Hawkins could
and said feebly, "You can't mean it."

Lan Sur's face gave no expression of emotion. "I realized that you
would be incapable of comprehending what I have said so soon after I
had said it. This is why I am giving you a length of time in which
to make your decision. But you might as well realize that this high
emotional index rating of your race is one of the main reasons you rate
so low. It is a trait that we will have to breed out of your race."

Hawkins came to life suddenly, reacting violently, his emotional
control shattered. He almost shouted at the alien, "If we're in such
bad shape, why can't you just go off and leave us alone? You've got
all the rest of the universe. Why can't you just leave us alone in our
little corner of it?"

"If you were not so emotionally aroused at the moment, you would
understand why we cannot 'leave you alone,' as you put it," the alien
told him calmly. "It is completely impossible for two differing
cultures to exist in this galaxy, as large as it is. Eventually the
two cultures would have to come into contact, and this would cause
friction. We do not care for friction, and we always seek to avoid it.
By forcing you to join us now--or by destroying you if you refuse--we
make absolutely sure that your race will never be the cause of any
friction to us in the future."

"Friction?" asked Broussard slowly.

"If we allowed you to go your own way, your population would expand
and you would be forced to take over more and more of this area of the
universe. We have our own plans for this part of the galaxy which do
not include fighting constant wars with you for the possession of each
new planetary system that one of us sees fit to colonize." The alien
spoke to them as he might have spoken to children.

Hawkins refused to abandon the train of thought. "But we could promise
to give up all our worlds except our own home planet. You could have
all the rest."

Lan Sur shook his head. "At the present moment, you will promise
anything to rid yourself of the painful necessity of making the
decision that I have demanded of you. You might even be quite willing
to live up to your promise of retiring to your home planet, never to
voyage forth again. But your children and their children would grow
discontent and restless. Eventually, either a hundred or a thousand or
a hundred thousand years from now, you would come forth to challenge
us again." Lan Sur's face grew a trifle grim. "And next time you would
be better equipped and stronger. You would be able to put up a better
fight than you can at the moment." Then he smiled. "Oh, of course, the
Dakn Empire would win eventually. We always do. But we would be back
at exactly the same point that we are at right now. We would be forced
to absorb you into our Empire, or to destroy you utterly. And, in the
meantime, we would, of necessity, be forced to keep a careful watch on
everything you did."

He shook his head. "No, you must realize that we cannot tolerate
anything but absolute surrender. You have my terms. You must make your
decision. There is nothing more to say."

Hawkins felt the numbing hand of deep fear within him. Like a losing
boxer, he fought for any advantage that he might be able to take. "But,
good Lord, man," he said quickly. "You don't understand the situation
at all. Twenty-four hours isn't nearly enough time to make a decision
that will affect our entire population. We can't even inform our home
base of what's going on in that length of time, much less get a message
_back_ from them. And this is the sort of thing that would have to be
submitted to our population as a whole, for them to decide. We're just
a very, very small part of our race. Why, we ... we don't have the
authority to make a decision that would affect the people back home.
You _must_ give us more time."

"Your complete lack of insight amazes me, even though I expected it,"
the alien said. "Surely you must understand that the more time I
give you, the more time you have to prepare your physical defenses.
I am just as aware as you are that, lacking the C^{2} communications
methods, it is impossible for you to contact your home planet in the
time that I have allowed you. But the war ships that I have already
summoned will be here shortly, and even before they arrive, there is
much that I must do to ready you and your people for the change if
you decide to come with us. If you do not decide to come with us,
then I must begin the search for your home planet, so that it may be
destroyed. In either event, the sooner your choice is made, the better
it is for me. Already I have allowed you more time than is actually
necessary for you to overcome your emotion and to think the problem
through logically."

"But I simply haven't got the _authority_ to make such a choice!"
Hawkins found himself shouting. "Can't you understand that?"

Lan Sur paused a moment to let the other man regain some of his
composure. Then he said simply but firmly, "I am in control here now.
I have the authority, and I delegate it to you. _You_ must decide for
everyone."

Broussard's reactions were perhaps a little less emotionally tinged
than might have been thought from his facial reactions. He had held
back what he felt to be a highly pertinent question until he felt that
the alien was preparing to conclude the interview. He asked it now.
"You seem to know a great many things about us, Lan Sur. And we seem to
know very little about you. In a sense, this is strong evidence of your
race's superiority. And yet you cannot really expect us to capitulate
our entire culture to yours without giving us very conclusive proof
that you are able to carry out your threats. After all, we are a large
ship full of fighting men, and you seem to be one man all by yourself.
What is to keep us from...." Deliberately the psychologist let the
question hang uncompleted.

Lan Sur smiled. "At least you respond in a semi-logical fashion. The
point is well taken, and if you had not brought it up now, I would
have had to do so myself at a later time. I am therefore prepared to
demonstrate to you the strength of our technology. You two will return
to your ship, and I will remain here. You will then, for the next two
hours, have the opportunity to attack me by any means you see fit. I
will simply defend myself, without endangering you or your ship in any
fashion. When you have discovered that even as undefended as I appear
to be at the moment, all of your weapons are powerless to harm me,
perhaps you will understand that I can carry out my threats if I so
choose to."

The alien gestured with his hand. "And now, you must return to your
ship. During the two hours at which I place myself at your mercy, you
may naturally maneuver your vessel as you desire. But at the end of the
two hours, you must have returned to your landing place here--or to
whatever other spot on this planet that I may choose to indicate to you
by radio. Any attempt on your part to escape either now, or during the
period following, or any attack you attempt on me except during these
first two hours, or any effort to summon additional help, will mean the
instant destruction of your ship--and of your race. I hope that you
will both understand what I have said and will believe that I have the
power to achieve my ends."

Surveyor Lan Sur crossed his arms. "This interview is at an end."

After a few seconds of stunned silence, the two men turned and walked
the long and lonesome way back to the _Sunward_.

       *       *       *       *       *

All of the scientists aboard the _Sunward_ and most of the ship's
officers were assembled in the central meeting hall when Broussard and
Hawkins arrived. Hawkins walked directly to the central podium and
turned to face the group.

"Gentlemen," he began slowly, his features a mask of repressed emotion.
"I know that I do not have to give you any fuller explanations than you
have already received. We have been given a challenge that seems to be
insoluble. But we must face the situation, as the alien Lan Sur has
suggested, with a minimum of emotionality and with a maximum of good,
hard logic. I would welcome any comments, suggestions you might have
to offer."

There was a general shuffling of feet and clearing of throats among the
crowd. It seemed to Hawkins as if each member present was waiting for
someone else to speak first. Finally the Communications Officer broke
the silence.

"Captain, it has occurred to me that if the alien's powers are as great
as he claims, he may well be able to monitor every word any of us
speaks, even here. I think we must take that into consideration."

The crowd murmured an assent, feeling, Hawkins was sure, that it gave
them an excellent excuse for not being able to propose any solution to
the problem. "I think you are quite right," Hawkins answered. "However,
I feel that for the moment we must operate as if he couldn't monitor
us. In the meantime, the communications department must take what
precautions it can to assure us that our future conversations are held
in complete privacy." A touch of bitter defeat crept into his voice.
"And I would imagine that even if he _is_ listening right now, he'll
gain precious little in the way of useful information."

The group shuffled its feet again, embarrassed at its own impotence.
"Are there any further comments?" Hawkins asked. There seemed to be
none, until the Gunnery Officer spoke up.

"Captain," he said, a slight smile on his broad face. "I'd sort of like
to see just how much punishment the bastard can take."

Hawkins laughed, breaking the tension. "I think we all agree with you.
Suppose we put off any further discussion until after we've put the
alien through his paces. It will give us an opportunity to test his
strength--and to test our own.

"Many of you--" Hawkins indicated with a wave of his hand the officers
in the room "--are familiar with the offensive strength of this vessel.
She is one of the most powerfully armed ships that Earth has. What I
intend to do, then, is this: We'll give our friend out there just as
much hell as the _Sunward_ can dish out. But while we're doing it, I
want photographs of every attack we make, fast photos that will give
us, perhaps, an inkling of how he overcomes all of our weapons, if he
does. I think this is extremely important." He looked the crowd over.
"We'll begin the attack just as soon as all of you have indicated to me
that your departments are ready. That is all, gentlemen."

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later the _Sunward_ rose from her landing site and floated
gently into the atmosphere. She came to a halt about ten thousand feet
up and drifted into an optimum firing position. Every gun and camera
the ship possessed was trained on the now scarcely visible figure of
the alien almost two miles beneath her. Hawkins was on the battle
bridge, his experienced hand controlling the ship firmly, belying the
nervousness he felt.

"Gunnery all ready, Sir!" came the report.

"Fire!" shouted Hawkins a little louder than he meant to. He strained
forward in his seat to watch the scene on the screen in front of him.

The heat guns opened up first. In less than a second the area of
maximum temperature was less than two feet away from the alien's body.
A space of ground 300 yards in diameter suddenly went up in smoke at
the intensity of the rays. Slim shreds of fire licked at the edge of
the ring, and in the center all was fierce flame and smoke as the heat
actually melted the earth. For a full five minutes the guns remained
firing at maximum intensity. No organic substance known to man could
withstand such violence.

"Cease firing," Hawkins called. He leaned back slowly in his chair. It
would take a few minutes for the smoke to clear, but he knew in his
heart what they would see once it had. And even before the wind had
blown enough of the smoke away to make things visible, they saw the
figure of the alien come walking briskly out of the hellish ring of
destruction and wave his arm to them.

"God," said Hawkins quietly. After a moment he threw open a
communications switch that connected him to the Gunnery Officer. "Well,
what's next?" he asked quietly.

Next came a huge ball of electricity that spat sparks as it hurtled
through space and shattered itself into a million bolts of lightning at
the very feet of the alien. The resulting burst of light was painful
to the eyes, but when vision cleared, they saw the alien again, still
standing erect and still waving.

They tried launching a dozen space torpedoes at once, filled with the
highest chemical explosives known to man. They crashed in criss-cross
fashion about the alien, ripping the very air asunder with their
fantastic devastation. They left a crater almost a mile wide, and
standing in the middle of it, still untouched, the enemy. Then the ship
bombarded the small figure below with every wavelength known to man,
still without effect.

Finally the Gunnery Officer called Hawkins on the intercom. "I'm sorry,
Captain, but we did our best. I guess there's only one thing left to
do."

"I guess you're right," Hawkins admitted reluctantly. And turning to
his helmsman he said, "Take her up."

The _Sunward_ was almost fifty miles from the alien when she unleashed
her final weapon. She had dropped tattle-tale robots behind to feed her
information both before and after the blast. And then she aimed the
mightiest atomic weapon man had created straight at Lan Sur.

The very planet shook at its detonation, so powerful was the bomb. The
fire and clouds rose miles into the sky, and the _Sunward's_ delicate
instruments indicated the presence of a radiation so intense that it
was certain an area hundreds of miles in size was completely destroyed.
It took several minutes before enough of the aftermath of the explosion
had cleared away for them to find him, but they located the alien
sitting calmly in a crater at the very center of the affected area,
obviously still unharmed.

Hawkins contemplated the situation for several minutes, and then
wearily stretched out his hand and turned on the radio. After a moment
he said simply, "All right, Lan Sur, you win. Where do you want us to
land?"

Lan Sur answered immediately. "You will place your vessel in an area
almost directly beneath your present position which I have caused to
be marked in red. Any attempt to move the vessel without my permission
will result in your immediate destruction. If, during the waiting time,
you have any further questions to ask of me, I will be available.
However, if you have not come to any conclusion by the end of that
time, I shall be forced to destroy you without further hesitation. You
have exactly twenty-two hours and nine minutes left."

       *       *       *       *       *

When the ship had landed, Hawkins returned to the conference room. Most
of the executive personnel were there, although some of the scientists
were absent, ostensibly still analyzing the results of the futile
attack on the alien. Hawkins strode briskly to the podium and faced the
group.

"Gentlemen," he said, "you saw what happened. Perhaps some of you
refused to believe that the alien could enforce his demands on us--and
I'm sure that all of us hoped that this would be the case. But now we
must accept the fact that the choice we were told to make will _have_
to be made, unless we can come up with some means of destroying this
creature or of escaping his wrath.

"I want you to know that although it might well be within my province
as Captain of the _Sunward_ to decide which of the alternatives we will
take, I will not do so. What is decided here will affect all of Earth's
peoples everywhere. Neither one man nor one small group can make this
choice. Therefore, exactly one hour before the deadline, we will hold
a plebiscite. Every person aboard the _Sunward_ will have exactly one
vote, and the majority decision will hold. I will refrain from voting
and will decide the issue in the event of a tie.

"In the meantime, I want you to think. To think not only of a means of
escape from our dilemma, if this be possible, but also how you will
vote. If any of you have any ideas, or if you simply wish to talk about
something, you will find me available at any hour.

"I do not know how each of you will react to this situation. Perhaps
the alien is right. Perhaps man is far too emotional an animal to merit
more than slave status in the councils of the stars. But I hope that
our actions will prove otherwise--and that this, man's darkest hour,
will also become his finest."

Hawkins turned from the group and walked quietly from the room. He knew
that his speech had been anything but an example of clear logic devoid
of emotional context, and he had no idea why he had let himself be so
carried away. But with the inborn and well-trained sense he had of men
and situations, he knew that he could not have spoken otherwise.

The men on board the _Sunward_ faced the crisis in various fashions.
A few of the scientists worked with erratic bursts of speed to finish
up their analyses of the data they had gathered during the bombardment
of the alien. Some of the crew wrote letters home. The communications
department was swamped with personal messages to be relayed back to
Earth. The Chaplain gave up his attempt at private counseling and held
hourly open services. The routine jobs were still performed, albeit in
a perfunctory manner. But mostly the men just gathered around in small
groups and talked, usually in low voices. A few of the luckier ones got
drunk.

Captain Hawkins remained in his room, completely isolated from the rest
of the ship, for almost four hours. During that time he simply sat in
his easy chair and thought. At the beginning of the fifth hour he broke
a precedent and opened a bottle of whiskey. At the beginning of the
sixth hour he broke still another precedent and sent for Broussard.
Hawkins was neither too drunk nor too sober when the psychologist
arrived. He told the scientist to sit down and offered him a drink.

"I know it's unethical for me to take you away from the men when they
need your help more than ever before," Hawkins began slowly, choosing
to stare moodily at the table instead of directly at the man he was
talking to. "But for once I am exercising a Captain's perogatives.

"You must have realized some of the problems that face anyone in
a position of command. Usually we have to operate on pretty rigid
rules, but things always go better if it seems as though we aren't
quite as rigid as we really must be. The men under you always feel
better if they think they have some free choice about things. In any
military set-up you can't allow much of this free will at all. The best
commander is the one who decides what it is his men must do in a given
situation, and then finds some way of making the men want to do it."
Again he paused, then looked up, facing Broussard squarely.

"I have decided what the result of the balloting must be--and I want
you, as a psychologist, to help me make sure that I get that result
without anyone else being aware that we've rigged things." He got up
from the table and began nervously pacing the floor.

After a few moments he stopped and turned to face the psychologist,
both his fists clenched tightly on the back of his easy chair. He said
nothing.

After several moments of silence, Broussard cleared his throat and
asked, "And which choice have you decided it must be?"

Hawkins collapsed into the chair. Finally his mouth opened, his lips
trembled, and he said, "Slavery, of course. It's the only choice.

"You're the psychologist, perhaps you can understand the fierce pride
I'd take in knowing that the men would have the ... the _guts_ to
want to end it all instead of bowing down to that bastard out there
who holds us in the very palm of his hands." Hawkins paused in this
outburst, blinked his eyes briefly, and then continued.

"But that's just the emotion showing through. From the logical point
of view, our race must continue. If we choose slavery we'll live and
breathe and die just as we always have. We'll do all of these things on
alien planets, having forgotten the Earth we sprang from and all our
past history, as sorry as some of that has been. We'll have forgotten
who _we_ are. We will have lost ourselves."

He banged a fist down on the table. "But we _will_ exist! The
protection of the race comes first, and we've got to make sure that it
is protected, that the _Sunward_ makes the logical decision. I'll steer
things as best I can, but I'll need help."

He turned to Broussard. "I'm not a psychologist. I won't tell you how
to go about it. I don't care what you do. All I want are the results."

For a space of several seconds the two men sat without speaking. Then
Hawkins said, "And I guess that unless you have something to add,
that's all for now. Let me know what you're doing, if you have time to
tell me. But more important than that, let me know if you think you're
going to fail. We may have to rig the ballots if you do."

Broussard gave a deep sigh and rose to leave. He could understand the
torment the Captain was going through, but there was little that he
could do for the man at the moment. He was almost at the door when
Hawkins stopped him.

"Broussard!" Hawkins shouted. "What in God's name makes a man's
personality so dear to him? Why has it always been just about the last
thing that a man will give up? You're the psychologist. You must know
the answer. Even a man with a diseased mind who knows that he's sick
and wants help badly will fight back tooth and nail when you try to
change even one small part of his personality make-up. Didn't you once
tell me that? Didn't you?"

The Captain's voice grew louder and louder. "That's why therapy is so
hard, isn't it? That's why constructive education is so difficult,
isn't it? That's why politicians who appeal to existing fears and hates
and loves get elected instead of those men who try to shift public
opinion for the better.

"Oh, why in God's name are we so proud of this tiny, puny, weak,
insignificant, miserable thing inside each of us we call the real
_me_!" He picked up the whiskey bottle and hurled it with full force
against the wall. It shattered in a thousand pieces. The dark liquor
inside ran down the wall leaving long thin fingers of stain behind it.

Captain Hawkins' personal steward came rushing into the room at the
sound of the crash, and looked, horrified, at the mess on the wall.

"Oh, get out! Get out, both of you, and leave me alone!" Hawkins
shouted.

       *       *       *       *       *

After they were gone, Hawkins threw himself on his bunk and buried
his face in his pillow. The mood of fierce hot anger passed rapidly,
leaving only the warm sting of shame. Although he had made the
decision to capitulate to the alien, at least at an intellectual level,
he could not really bring himself to believe that there was no means
of escape. His head ached from his emotional outburst and every effort
toward constructive thinking seemed to end in a blind alley. He had
been tossing restlessly for perhaps two hours when the Communications
Officer brought him a message from Earth that had just been received.
Hawkins reached for the message blank eagerly at first, his befuddled
mind thinking for just an instant that here were instructions from home
telling him how to meet the crisis, telling him of a means of escape,
or just taking the awful responsibility of the decision from him. But
then he remembered that communications, even when they passed through
subspace, took several days to get from Earth to here. Earth was still
unaware of the crisis on Trellis, and this message that had just been
received had begun its journey long before they were made so painfully
aware of the existence of the alien.

The radiogram was of a semi-routine nature, but one that, in normal
circumstances, would have demanded an immediate answer. "Shall we
bother replying to it?" the Communications Officer asked.

"Of course not," Hawkins said angrily. "It wouldn't be necessary, even
if we dared break radio silence to reply."

The Communications Officer's eyes opened wide in a startled fashion.
"Radio silence?" he said feebly. "But, Captain, we've ... we've...."

Hawkins sat bolt upright in his bunk. "Good Lord, man, do you mean to
say that you've been sending messages to Earth right along?"

The Communications Officer nodded. "We started relaying from the moment
you contacted the alien. We've sent out all the talks, speeches,
reports, everything. Just as you ordered." The man was cringing in
fright.

"But didn't you hear the alien tell us to make no attempt to contact
our home base or he'd destroy us at once?" Hawkins demanded.

The other officer felt like crawling out of the room without bothering
to open the door. "I'm sorry, Captain," he managed to stutter. "But I
must have missed that ... that part of what he said. I ... I was called
out of the office during part of the contact when something went wrong
with one of our main transmitters." The man had turned a very pale
shade of white. "But I'll stop transmission at once," he said, turning
nervously towards the door.

Hawkins looked at his watch. "If he hasn't blasted us for it by now, I
don't guess he ever will. But all the same, you'd better stop sending
immediately." As the Communications Officer left the room, Hawkins
cursed mildly under his breath. After all of his plans and sweat and
pains, it would take something like this to bring the whole house of
cards crashing about him, some little insignificant something that
he had overlooked. "For want of a nail...." he said aloud, reminding
himself of the age-old parable.

"But if he meant what he said about not notifying Earth, why hasn't he
already destroyed us?" Hawkins asked himself. Perhaps Lan Sur wasn't as
cruelly logical and unfeeling as they had thought. Hawkins pushed the
thought from his mind, knowing that it would lead him to too much false
hope if he pursued it further. It would be too easy to hope that simply
because Lan Sur had not acted upon one of his threats, he might not act
on the rest of them.

As he thought, Hawkins found himself pacing the floor of his room
anxiously--first to one wall, then a stop, an about face, and back to
the opposite side of the room. He stopped his walking and slumped down
into his chair.

"Back and forth," he said out loud. "From one side to another. I'm
just like the child in Broussard's story. Only instead of a man with a
stick at one end of the hall and a dog at the other, I've got Lan Sur
at both ends. Death, or a kind of slavery which is just about as bad. A
real 'avoidance situation' if ever one existed." He laughed bitterly.
"The closer I come to one choice, the worse it seems and the better the
other choice appears."

He shrugged his shoulders sadly. "But eventually I'll have to realize
that there's no escape. Unfortunately, unlike the child in Broussard's
example, I can't...."

Hawkins stopped suddenly as something occurred to him. "Good God," he
said after a moment. He sat upright in the chair. "It couldn't be. It
just _couldn't_," he told himself. "And yet, I bet, I bet it is!"

He got up from the chair and walked quickly to the wall communicator.
"Hello, Bridge?" he demanded. "Inform all officers not on watch and all
the scientific personnel that I want to see them in the council chamber
in thirty minutes. Exactly thirty minutes, do you understand?"

There was a broad smile on his face as he marched out of his stateroom
to talk with some of the officers and scientists before the meeting.

       *       *       *       *       *

After all of the men had crowded into the meeting hall, they closed and
locked the doors. The group kept up a low but excited chatter while
they waited for Captain Hawkins to begin.

"Gentlemen," he said finally, calling the meeting to order. "I am
informed by the electronics specialists aboard that they have made this
meeting room as 'spy-proof' as is humanly possible, but I think we've
learned not to trust the power of human technology too much these past
few hours. Therefore, I'm going to tell you just as little of my plans
as I possibly can, on the theory that the best-kept secret is the one
that the fewest people know about."

The crowd seemed anxious, and a little apprehensive, but still hopeful.

"Within the past hour, I have made what I think are several remarkable
discoveries. I shall not tell you what they are, but I think I have
discovered a way out of the dilemma that we are facing."

The crowd breathed a unanimous sigh of relief. Smiles broke out on
several faces.

"I cannot tell you just at the moment what this mode of escape is. But
I have discussed it with a few of you--the fewest number possible--and
all of them agree that there is an excellent chance that it will work.
If it does, we of Earth will still face a great many problems. But
we shall, at least, be free, and that is the important thing. If we
fail...." Hawkins let his voice trail off for a moment. "If we fail, we
can expect instant destruction not only for us, but for all of mankind."

He waited for the meaning to sink in, his face set in a firm frown. And
then, purposefully, he let his facial muscles relax into a broad smile.
"But I do not think that we will fail. I think we will win. And I have
come to ask your permission to risk all our lives on the venture.
I cannot give you any more information. I can only ask for your
confidence--and for your votes of approval." He looked around the room
deliberately, pausing for just the right length of time. And then he
said, "Will all of you who have sufficient faith in me and my judgment
please rise in assent?"

Broussard had given him the trick of mass decision--had told him that
if you make people commit themselves openly, the decision has a better
chance of unanimity. Hawkins smiled to see how well the device worked.
Every man in the room was on his feet, most of them cheering.

He waited for the shouting to die down and then said simply, "Thank
you. And now to battle stations."

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Allen Hawkins sat in his control seat on the _Sunward's_
bridge, staring at the button that turned on his radio set. "The
purpose of a position of responsibility is to make decisions," he told
himself.

A green light burst into life on the control panel, indicating that all
of the preparations he had asked for were in readiness. Such signals
would be his only means of communications during the entire maneuver,
for he had given orders that no one was to utter one word aloud during
the entire operation. He was taking no chances.

Hawkins grinned. "And the devil take the hindmost," he told himself.

Pressing down on the radio button, he said aloud, "This is Captain
Allen Hawkins of the _Sunward_ calling Surveyor Lan Sur of the Dakn
Empire."

Almost at once he heard a voice answering, "You may go ahead."

"I think we have finally reached our decision," Hawkins said soberly.
"But before we announce it, we have one request to make, and I do not
think you will find it an unreasonable one. As you yourself pointed
out, ours is an incredibly emotional race. Had we not been so, we could
have given you our answer much sooner."

The alien's voice came booming into the control room. "I will listen to
your request, but you surely realize that none of the terms that I have
given you can be changed."

"Yes, we realize that, and our request is along slightly different
lines," said Hawkins. "As I said, we are an emotion-ridden race. But
you must have realized that we aboard the _Sunward_ are probably much
more stable than are the majority of our peoples back on our home
planets. It is always so with explorers and scientists. Therefore, we
were able to reach a logical decision, and we will be able to hold to
it.

"Unfortunately, we anticipate a little more trouble than this with 'the
folks back home,' if you understand that term. And to make things much
easier, not only for us, but also for you, we have a request to make."

"I understand the semantic import of the term and will give you my
decision on the request if you will but come to the point," came the
alien's voice. "We are wasting valuable time, and I have other things
to do."

Hawkins was beginning to sweat a little. He was purposefully needling
the alien, and he had no idea of how far he dared to go.

"Well, we of the _Sunward_ are convinced that you can carry out your
threats if we attempt any rebellion. We have seen you stand untouched
by all the power this ship could muster. But defense against our meager
weapons is one thing. The ability to destroy a star is another....

"The folks back home would accept our decision without hesitation, and
would never dream of giving you or your people any trouble, if we could
show them authentic pictures of how powerful you are offensively. We
request, therefore, that you unleash your weapons and turn this entire
solar system into a nova while we photograph the procedure."

Lan Sur's answering voice sounded frighteningly loud to Hawkins.
"What you request is impossible for several reasons. First, the Dakn
Empire has no desire to destroy potentially valuable property simply
to demonstrate its powers. Second, the procedure would occupy too much
time, for while my small ship could outrace the enveloping flames of
the nova, your larger ship, unequipped as it is with the C^{2} drive,
would be caught in the destruction and you would perish. I recognize
that from the emotionality index of your race, such a demonstration
would probably aid in the peaceful absorption of your culture into
ours, but it is impossible."

Hawkins allowed himself the luxury of a quick smile. His analysis of
the situation had been absolutely correct. "Well, look," he said in
reply. "According to our survey, the outer planet in this system is
pretty small and of little use to anybody. Could you possibly destroy
it instead?" He paused for just the smallest fraction of a second, but
then hurried on before the alien could reply. "Of course, if you can't
do it without destroying all the rest of the planets too, why, we'll
understand. But it would help...."

The alien's voice boomed back, interrupting the man. "You obviously
still underestimate the technological level of the Dakn Empire." The
alien paused, as if checking something. "According to my analysis of
this system, the fourth and outer planet is of no value whatsoever to
my people. Therefore, I accede to your request. The planet will be
destroyed at once."

"Hey, wait a minute," Hawkins cried in a startled tone of voice.

"You need not worry," came the alien's flat response. "I fully realize
that your visual recording equipment cannot function at such a
distance. Therefore, you will raise ship at once and locate yourself to
take advantage of the best recording angles."

Hawkins had to hold himself in his chair to keep from dancing a jig. He
had set a trap for the alien, and somehow, some incredible how, it had
worked. At least he dared hope that it had....

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Sunward_ came to a full stop just inside the orbit of the third
planet. The alien ship danced on ahead of them towards the tiny outer
world. "You can come closer than that," Lan Sur informed Hawkins,
noting that the _Sunward_ had stopped sooner than expected.

"No, thank you," Hawkins replied. "We can get excellent pictures from
this distance, and you must remember that we haven't the protective
devices that you have."

Hawkins noted that Lan Sur's voice carried with it an almost petulant,
disdainful note. "There is a great deal of difference between the
destruction of one small planet and the creation of a nova. However,
if you feel safer there, you may remain where you are." A few moments
later, the alien added, "Are your recording devices in readiness?"

Hawkins indicated to the alien that they were.

"Then watch," Lan Sur said.

It took perhaps three minutes for the first burst of light to reach
their position. The tiny planet, scarcely 500 miles in diameter,
began to glow slightly, then suddenly came alive with fire. Bursts of
flame danced up hundreds of miles above its surface, then fell back,
exhausted, into the boiling cauldron the planet had become. For almost
ten minutes the small world seethed in agonized torment, and then, all
at once, it seemed to shake apart at the seams. There was no sound, but
those watching on board the _Sunward_ mentally supplied the missing
component to the greatest explosion they had ever witnessed. The
cameras recorded the scene noiselessly.

A few minutes later, after most of the fragments of the once-world had
disintegrated in flaming splendor, Lan Sur's voice broke the silence.
"I used only one of many possible means of destruction. However, it
promised to be, under the circumstances, the most spectacular. And so
you have seen the offensive might of the Dakn Empire. Are you ready to
give me your decision?"

The control board in front of Hawkins displayed all green signals.
"Yes," he said. "I think we're finally ready. Here is our answer to the
choice you gave us." His finger pressed firmly on a single red key.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Sunward_ had been hurling itself back towards Earth for almost an
hour when Broussard discovered Captain Hawkins, standing by himself in
the observation room, staring out into the black of subspace.

"Well," the psychologist said. "I don't suppose it looks quite so bleak
to you now as it did on the trip out."

Hawkins turned and smiled at the man. "No, I don't guess it does. Funny
what the presence of one small pinpoint of light does to the blackness
of a field, eh?"

Broussard nodded in assent. "I wonder what our alien friend thought
when suddenly Clarion, Trellis, the two other planets, and us too, just
up and disappeared and left him behind?"

Hawkins laughed. "You're the alienist. You tell me."

"I'd rather ask you something. How did you know it would work?"

"You might say I became an expert in psychology over night," Hawkins
replied. "Oh, not the scientific kind that you practice--but the every
day kind that most people mean when they use the word. I discovered,
for example, that because of a misunderstanding on the part of the
communications people, we continued to send messages home after the
alien had specifically warned us not to do so. At first I thought he
might be ignoring this infraction of his rules, but then I began to
wonder if it didn't mean that he just wasn't aware of what we were
doing. I remembered that he talked a great deal about a C^{2} drive
system which he claimed was so much better than the type we used. But
when I asked the Navigator to do a little figuring, I discovered that
by using subspace, we can actually get places much faster than his race
does.

"It all added up to the fact that his race had never stumbled onto the
use of subspace. I know that sounds incredible, but when I checked with
one of the top physicists, I found out that we happened onto it by
sheer accident--and an impossibly stupid one at that--and not through
any high-level theorizing. The theory came later, after the process had
been demonstrated in a laboratory.

"For a while I still couldn't believe it. But when we discovered that
his space ship was a very small one--too small to utilize the subspace
drive--I knew my guess had been correct. So I tricked him into letting
us get into position where we could activate the drive--and had the
engineers increase the effective radius so that we could pull Clarion
and her three planets into subspace with us." Hawkins paused for a few
seconds as he turned back to the observation window. "We'll need every
sun and every planet we can lay our hands on."

Broussard leaned comfortably back against the door. "I think you were
wise to take the pictures of the destruction of that fourth planet. We
may need them to convince 'the folks back home' that this was the only
solution to the problem."

Hawkins agreed with him. "They won't like giving up all the universe
they've come to be used to, just to run away and hide in subspace. And
you know, I think the poets and the sailors and the young people in
love will hate us most of all."

"How do you mean?" asked Broussard.

"No more heaven full of stars to write poems about, to sail true
courses by, and to sing love songs under. I guess a lot of us will be
lonely for all the stars."

"Do you think they'll ever find us?" Broussard asked, changing the
subject. "From the look on Lan Sur's face when he told about that other
world, I suspect they'll move heaven and earth to find out where we've
run to."

"Find us? The Dakn Empire? I just don't know. We've got a thousand
ships equipped with the subspace drive. That's a thousand or so solar
systems we can pull through into subspace before they can catch up
with us--I hope. But we'll have to be careful. If one of our ships is
ever caught, and they discover the drive, we're all done for. I doubt
that they'll show us much mercy.

"A thousand suns--and only a handful of usable worlds in the whole lot
of them. Not much for a race that's grown as fast as ours has. And to
some of us, I guess, subspace will never be quite the same as the one
we grew up in--and came to know and love." Hawkins shook his head sadly.

"But _if_ they find us?" Broussard insisted.

"Well, at least we'll have had time to prepare. Perhaps a year, perhaps
ten, perhaps a thousand. But we beat them this time, and maybe we can
do it again."

For a long time he continued to stare quietly into the blackness. "I
just don't know...."





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software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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