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´╗┐Title: Laboratory
Author: Bixby, Jerome
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 "Laboratory" ***

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



                              LABORATORY

                            BY JEROME BIXBY

              _Trying to keep a supercolossal laboratory
             invisible when two curious aliens are poking
              around can be a trying affair for even the
                     most brilliant of minds._...

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, December 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Gop's thoughts had the bluish-purple tint of abject apology: "They're
landing, Master."

Pud looked up from the tiny _thig_-field he had been shaping in his
tentacles. "Of course they are," he thought-snapped. "You practically
invited them down, didn't you? If you'd only kept a few eyes on the
Detector, instead of day-dreaming--"

"I'm sorry," Gop said unhappily. "I wasn't day-dreaming, I was
observing the magnificent skill and finesse with which you shaped the
_thig_. After all, this system is so isolated. No one ever came along
before.... I just supposed no one ever _would_--"

"A Scientist isn't supposed to suppose! Until he's proven wrong, he's
supposed to _know_!" Thirty of Pud's eyes glowered upward at the tiny
alien spaceship, only ninety or so miles above the surface of the
laboratory-planet and lowering rapidly. The rest of Pud's eyes--more
than a hundred of them, set haphazardously in his various-sized heads
like _gurf_-seeds on rolls--scoured every inch of the planet's visible
surface, to make certain that no sign of the Vegans' presence on the
planet, from the tiniest experiment to the gigantic servo-mechanical
eating pits, was left operating or visible.

Irritatedly he squelched out of existence a _yim_-field that
had taken three weeks of laborious psycho-induction to develop.
His psycho-kineticut stripped it of cohesion, and its faint
whine-and-crackle vanished.

"I told you to deactivate _all_ our experiments," he snapped at Gop.
"Don't you understand Vegan?"

Abashed, the Junior Scientist lowered his many eyes.

"I--I'm sorry," Gop said humbly. "I thought the _yim_ might wait until
the creatures landed, Master ... perhaps their auditory apparatus would
not have been sufficient to reveal its presence to them, in which case
the field would not have had to be--"

"All right, all right," Pud grunted. "I appreciate your point ... but,
dripping mouthfuls, you know that _any_ risk of detection is too great.
You know the regulations on Contact!"

"Yes, Master."

"Speaking of which, part of your seventh head is showing."

The Junior Scientist included the head in the personal invisibility
field which he himself was broadcasting.

"Of all the suns in this sector," Pud thought, eying the little
spaceship, "and of all the planets around this particular sun, they
have to choose this one to land on. Chew!"

Gop flushed. A member of the Transverse Colon Revivalists, he found
Pud's constant atheistic swearing very disturbing. He sighed inwardly.
Usually at least one of Pud's heads could manage to keep its sense of
humor, but right now all of them were like proton-storms. The Senior
Scientist was on the verge of one of his totalitantrums.

"They must have sighted flashes from our experiments," Pud went on,
"before you decided you could spare just _one_ set of eyes for the
Detector!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Though both Vegans were invisible to other eyes, they remained visible
to each other because their eyes were adjusted to the wavelength of
their invisibility fields. By the same token, they could see all their
invisible experiments--a vast litter of gadgets, gismos, gargantuan
gimmicks, shining tools, huge and infinitesimal instruments, stacks of
supplies, and various types of energy fields, the latter all frozen in
mid-activity like smudges on a pane of glass. The sandy ground was the
floor of the Vegans' laboratory; small hills and outcroppings of rock
were their chairs and work-benches. Like a spaceship junkyard, or an
enormous open-air machinery warehouse, the laboratory stretched away
from the two Scientists in every direction to the planetoid's near
horizon.

Pud intensified the general invisibility field to the last notch, and
the invisible experiments became even more invisible.

The _thig_-field was a nameless-colored whorl of energy in the Senior
Scientist's tentacles. In his concern for the other experiments, he had
forgotten to deactivate it. It grew eagerly to the size of a back yard,
then of a baseball diamond, then of a traffic oval, and one shimmering
edge of it touched his body, which he had not insulated. Energy
crackled. Pud jumped forty feet into the air, swearing, and slapped the
field into non-existence between two tentacles.

His body, big as an apartment house, floated slowly downward in the
laboratory-planet's light gravity.

The tiny alien spaceship touched the ground just as he did. The rocket
flare flickered and died.

The ship sat on its fins, about thirty feet--Vegan feet--away. In its
shining side, a few Vegan inches above the still smoking rocket tubes,
was a small black hole.

"Master, look!" Gop thought. "Their ship is damaged ... perhaps that's
why they landed!" And he started to extend a tentative extra-sensory
probe through the hole.

Pud lashed out with a probe of his own, knocking Gop's aside before it
could enter the hole. "Nincompoop! ... don't go esprobing until we know
if they're sensitive to it or not! Can't you remember the regulations
on Contact for just one _minute_?"

The tiny spaceship sat silently, while its occupants evidently studied
the lay of the land. Small turrets halfway up its sides twitched this
way and that, pointing popgun armament.

Pud inspected the weapons extra-sensorily, and thought an amused snort:
the things tossed a simple hydrogen-helium pellet for a short distance.

Gop, nursing a walloping headache as a result of Pud's rough
counterprobe, thought sourly to himself: "I try to save the _yim_ ...
that's wrong. He forgets to deactivate the _thig_ ... that's all right.
I esprobe ... that's wrong. He esprobes ... that's all right."

At last: "They're getting out," Gop observed.

A tiny airlock had opened in the side of the ship. A metal ladder poked
out, swung down, settled against the ground.

The aliens--two of them--appeared; looked down, looked up, looked to
the right and to the left. Then they came warily down the ladder.

For a few minutes the giant Vegans watched the creatures wander about.
One of them approached one of Pud's tails. Irritatedly Pud lifted it
out of the way. The little creature snooped on, unaware that twenty
tons of invisible silicoid flesh hung over its head. Pud curled the
tail close to him, and did likewise with all his other tails.

"You'd better do the same," he advised Gop, his thought-tone peevish.

Silently, Gop drew in his tails. One unwise move, he knew, and the
Senior Scientist would start thinking in roars.

One of Gop's tails scraped slightly against a huge boulder. The scales
made a tractor-on-gravel sound.

Pud thought in roars.

The tiny creature had stopped and was turning its helmeted head this
way and that, as if trying to see where the sound had come from. It
had drawn a weapon of some sort from a holster at its belt--another
thermonuclear popgun.

The creature turned and came back toward the Vegans, heading for his
ship. Pud lifted his tail again. The creature passed under it, reached
the ship, joined its partner.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I heard it too, Johnny," Helen Gorman said nervously. "A loud scraping
noise--"

"It seemed to come from right behind me," Johnny Gorman said. "Damn
near scared me off the planet ... I thought it was a rockslide. Or
the biggest critter in creation, sneaking up on me. I couldn't see
anything, though ... could you?"

"No."

Johnny stood there, blaster in hand, looking around, eyes sharp
behind his faceplate. He saw nothing but flat, grayish-red ground,
a scattering of stone outcroppings large and small; nothing but the
star-clouded black of space above the near horizon, and the small sun
of the system riding a low hillock like a beacon.

"Blue light," he said thoughtfully. "Green light. Red and purple
lights. And a mess of crazy colors we never saw before. Whatever those
flashes were, honey, they looked artificial to me...."

Helen frowned. "We were pretty far off-world when we saw them, Johnny.
Maybe they were aurorae--or reflections from mineral pockets. Or
magnetic phenomena of some kind ... that could be why the ship didn't
handle right during landing--"

Johnny studied the upside-down dials on the protruding chest-board of
his spacesuit.

"No neon in the atmosphere," he said. "Darned little argon, or any
other inert gas. The only large mineral deposits within fifty miles are
straight down. And this clod's about as magnetic as an onion." He gave
the surrounding bleak terrain another narrow-eyed scrutiny. "I suppose
it _could_ have been some kind of aurora, though ... it's gone now, and
there isn't a sign of anything that could have produced such a rumpus."
He looked around again, then sighed and finally holstered his blaster.
"Guess I'm the worrying type, hon. Nothing alive around here."

"I wonder what that sound was."

"Probably a rock falling. This area's been undisturbed for God knows
how many million years ... the jolt of our landing just shook things up
a little." He grinned, a little sheepishly. "As for the landing ... I
was so scared after that meteor hit us, it's a wonder I didn't nail the
ship halfway into the planet, instead of just jolting us up."

Helen looked up at the three-foot hole in the side of the ship.

Johnny followed her gaze, and grunted. "We'd better get to work."
He turned to the ladder that led up to the airlock. "I'll rig the
compressor to charge the spare oxy-tanks ... we'll have to delouse this
air of ammonia, but otherwise it's fine. Look, honey, I won't need any
help; why don't you get busy on a PC?"

Helen nodded, still staring up at the meteor-hole. "You know," she said
slowly, "it wouldn't happen again this way in a million years, Johnny.
Thank God, this clod was here ... we ought to name it Lifesaver."

"Yeah, sure," Johnny said ironically. "It'll save our lives. Only thing
is, it got us into this mess in the first place!"

He started up the ladder, using only his arms, legs trailing.

Helen got down on hands and knees and began poking around for the two
dozen or so samples needed for Standard Planetary Classification. Bits
of rock, air, vegetable growth, dust--the dust was very important. All
went into vac-containers at her belt.

Then suddenly she said, "O-o-o-_oof_!" and reared back on her knees and
clapped both hands to her helmet. Her eyes squeezed shut behind her
faceplate, then opened wide and frightened.

By the time her hands reached her helmet, Johnny had his blaster out
and was floating toward the ground, looking around for something to
shoot at. His boots touched, and two long light-gravity steps brought
him to her side.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pud had been leaning over the tiny spaceship, one of his faces only
feet above the little creatures.

Gop's thought came: "What are they?"

"Fanged if I know. Bipeds ... never saw such little ones." Pud adjusted
several eyes to a certain wavelength and studied the creatures through
their spacesuits. He gave Gop a thought-nod: "Mammals. Bi-sexual.
They're probably mates."

"It's a miracle they didn't land right in the middle of one of our
experiments."

That brought back Pud's ill-temper. "Miracle! Didn't you see me give
this cosmic kiddycar of theirs a couple of psychokineticlouts so they'd
land where they did?" The Senior Scientist glared around at their
thousand-and-one experiments, and then down at the little spaceship,
smaller than the smallest of them, squatting on toy fins. He curled a
tentacle, as if wishing he could swat it.

Gop knew, however, that despite Pud's irritation at having his
work interrupted, he was just a little intrigued by the aliens. No
matter how insignificant they were they were animate life of some
intelligence, and Pud must be wondering about them.

Gop thought it might be a good idea to dwell on that, in order to keep
Pud from getting his heads in an uproar again.

"Can you get into their thoughts?" he inquired.

"I haven't tried. I don't think I could keep my potential down to their
level."

"Wonder where they're from."

"Who cares?" Pud snorted. "I just wish they'd go away."

Gop noted, though, that Pud's heads were lowering closer over the
creatures.

"They're nowhere near acceptable Contact level, are they?" Gop said,
after a moment.

"From their appearance, I'd say they're even beneath classification.
Reaction motor in their ship. Primitive weapons. Protective
garments ... they can't even adjust physically to hostile
environments!"

A minute passed.

Pud said, "Mm. Well. I think I _will_ see what I can read ... just to
have something to talk about at the Scientists' Club."

He sent out a tentative probe ... a little one ... just enough to
register in one of his brains the total conscious content of one of
the little creature's minds. He was afraid to go deeper, after the
subconscious, though actually that was far more important. But deep
probing would probably be felt for what it was, while conscious probing
was just a little painful.

The creature popped erect in its squatting position, and clapped its
upper extremities to its head.

The other one, which had been scrambling up the ladder to the ship's
airlock, drew its popgun and joined the first.

"They're from someplace called Earth," Pud said. "In the V-LM-12Xva
Sector of this Galaxy, as nearly as I can make out. They're an
Exploration Team, sent out by their planet to gather data on the nature
of the physical universe." He paused to consult the third memory
bank of his fifth brain, where he had impressed the content of the
creature's mind. "They've had space travel for about two hundred of
their years. I translate that as about eleven of ours." He consulted
again. "Highly materialistic. Externally focused. Very limited
sensorium. An infant race, chasing everything that moves, round and
round through their little three-dimensional universe. They've a long
way to go."

"What are they doing here?"

"Hm." Pud consulted again. "A routine exploration flight brought them
to this system ... and an almost unbelievable coincidence has served
to delay them here. They dropped their meteor-screens for just a
moment--at just the wrong moment. A large meteor came along, entered
the ship, and destroyed both their atmosphere-manufacturing equipment
and the large pressure tank of atmosphere which they kept as reserve
in case the equipment should fail." He paused. "Mixture of hydrogen
and oxygen ... they can't live without it. At any rate, the ship was
evacuated, and they barely had time to get into the ... mm, spacesuits,
they call them ... which they now wear. The accident left them with
no atmosphere whatever, except the small amount in the tanks of those
suits. That will be exhausted in a short time ... I gather that if this
planet hadn't been here, they'd have been goners. As it stands, they
plan to charge their spare suit-tanks, which weren't harmed, with the
air of this planet, and then return to their Earth, subsisting on the
tanked air, by hyperspatial drive...." Again Pud paused. "Hm. Well,
now! I'd overlooked that. So they have hyperspatial drive, at
least ... and after only two hundred years of space travel! Hm. Perhaps
they _are_ worth a closer look...."

Pud lowered his heads over the two little aliens, who were moving
warily, popguns drawn, away from the ship.

"Pud," Gop said nervously.

"What?"

"One of them is crawling toward the time-warp."

"Well, don't tell _me_ about it ... lift the warp out of the way!"

Gop extended a tentacle, first reconstituting it on the seventh atomic
sublevel so he wouldn't get it blown off, and gently picked up the
time-warp. It looked like a blue-violet frozen haze in his grasp. He
set it down on the other side of the spaceship, anchoring it again to
_now_ so it wouldn't go flapping off along the time-continuum.

"So they _didn't_ land because they saw flashes from our experiments,"
he said a little triumphantly.

One of Pud's heads turned and gave the Junior Scientist an acid look,
while the others continued to observe the aliens.

"They lowered their meteor-screens," he said nastily, "thus bringing
about this entire bother, because they wanted to get a better look at
the flashes."

Gop was silent, but he thought acidly: "That's what you say--you won't
let _me_ esprobe, and when you do, you manage to prove it's all my
fault."

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnny Gorman had just said to Helen, "I want to chip a few samples off
that outcropping over there ... come on, hon."

He started toward the ridge of gray-black rock. Helen followed on his
heels.

"As-pir-in," she said, deliberately falsetto, and her helmet-valet fed
her another pill with a sip of water.

"Then we'll go back and stick inside the ship until the tanks are
charged," Johnny went on, a little grimly. "I think we're just edgy.
Planets don't give people headaches ... and there's nothing alive
within in a million miles of this dustball." He hefted his blaster,
which he had adjusted to Wide-Field. "But just in case...."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Pud," Gop said, still more nervously.

"Yes, I see, you idiot! Lift the _tharn_-field out of their way ...
I'll take care of the space-warp generator!"

The giant Vegans, for all their bulk, moved soundlessly and at great
speed until they were between the aliens and the stone outcropping
toward which they appeared to be heading. Gop extended a tentacle,
curled it at an odd angle, and picked up the shimmering _tharn_-field,
which was the Vegans' reservoir of Basic Universal Energy. Set in
any energy matrix, _tharn_ became that energy; added to any existing
energy, _tharn_ augmented it to any desired potential. Thus it was
extremely valuable to their experiments ... and very risky stuff to
handle, as well.

Gingerly, Gop set the _tharn_ down beyond the outcropping. At the
same time he picked up several instruments that lay nearby--an
electron-wrench, a _snurling_-iron, a _plotz_-meter, several
pencil-rays. He placed them on the ground beside the _tharn_.

Pud had curled twelve tentacles around the space-warp generator--it was
as big as a city block, and heavy, even in light gravity. He puffed a
thought at Gop: "Give me a tentacle."

Gop helped his Master place the generator safely on the other side of
the ridge.

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnny Gorman banged off a handful of rock, and shoved it into the
vac-container at his belt.

"Okay, hon," he said. "Let's go."

They stood once more moment atop the ridge, looking out over the
barren, rusty-gray plain that the ridge had until now concealed from
their gaze.

"Looks just as dead as the rest," Johnny observed. "I guess we were
just jumpy over nothing." He turned to start down the slope. "Come on."

In three long light-gravity steps he had reached the bottom, and turned
to steady Helen.

She wasn't there.

She had tripped and tumbled off the other side of the ridge. He could
hear her screaming.

       *       *       *       *       *

"_Putrefied proteins!_" Pud roared. "Help me get it out of the _tharn_!"

The two Vegans leaned over the ridge. While Gop forced the writhing
folds of the _tharn_-field apart with two reconstituted tentacles, Pud
reached in, plucked the little alien out and set it upright.

It immediately scrabbled up the side of the ridge as fast as it could
and joined its mate, which had bounded up the other side.

"Now look at what you've done!" Pud raged. "What about the rules on
Contact! The Examiners will get this out of us when we report on our
Projects ... mountains of bites, we've _revealed_ ourselves!"

"Not really, Master," Gop said, rushing his thoughts. "All the creature
will know is that it tumbled into the field, and then was somehow
ejected by it ... a trick of gravity, perhaps ... a magnetic vortex ...
it won't know what really happened--"

"That--field--was--supposed--to--be--turned--_off_," Pud said, every
one of his faces green with rage.

"I--"

"You are a stupid, clumsy, few-headed piece of provender!"

Gop flushed clear down to his tails. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't
think of everything at once! I must have accidentally activated the
_tharn_ when I moved it. I'm _sorry_!"

Pud clapped a tentacle to his prime forehead. "What next!" he moaned.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, Johnny, Johnny," Helen sobbed. "I tripped when I started to turn
around, and fell down the other side, and all of a sudden ... it was
horrible ... I thought I was going _crazy_--"

Johnny Gorman had his arms tight around her. Behind her back, his
blaster was pointed straight down the far slope of the ridge, ready to
atomize anything that moved.

"What, honey?" he said. "What happened? I didn't see anything near
you ... what happened?"

"It was like I was in a hurricane ... I couldn't see anything, but
something seemed to be whirling around me, something as big as the
universe ... and it seemed to be whirling _inside_ me too! I felt--it
felt like ... Johnny, I was _crossed_!"

"Crossed?" He shook her gently. "What do you mean, you were crossed?"

"It felt like my right side was my left side, and, my heart was beating
backwards, and my eyes were looking at each other, and I was just
twisted all downside up outside and inside out upside, and ... Johnny,"
she wailed, "I _am_ going crazy!"

"Oh, no, you're not," he said grimly. "You're going back to the ship!
I don't know what gives with this creepy clod, but I know we're not
moving an inch outside the ship until we blast off! _Come on!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

"They're crawling back toward their ship, Pud ... _look_ out, they're
heading for the dimensional-warp!"

Pud extended a tentacle ninety feet and slapped the dimensional-warp
out of the path of the scurrying creatures.

The warp bounced silently on the rocky ground, caromed like a
fire-ball from boulder to boulder, encountered stray radiation from
the _tharn_-field that still glowed invisibly on the other side of
the ridge, and became activated; it emitted concentric spheres of
nameless-colored energy, and a vast snapping and crackling.

"_There_," Gop thought triumphantly at Pud. "That's just what _I_ did
with the _tharn_-field.... I guess nobody is above accidents, eh?"

Pud thought pure vitamins at his Junior Scientist. "You idiot, I didn't
accidentally turn on the warp! You left the _tharn_ on, and _it_
triggered the warp! _Why didn't you deactivate the_ tharn?"

"Why didn't _you_?" Gop shot back. "You were there too!"

Pud lashed a tentacle over the outcropping, and the _tharn_-field
became inactive. Then he looked around, and every eye in his prime head
popped. "Look out, the dimensional-warp is spreading ... it's lost its
cohesion ... oh, digestion, they're in _that_ now!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnny and Helen Gorman were in a universe of blazing stars and nebulae
that whirled like cosmic carousels; of gas clouds that seethed in giant
turbulence ... it was the universe of creation, or a universe in its
death-throes....

"_Johnny_...."

"_Helen_...."

The boiling universe exploded away from them in soundless radiation, in
all directions ... in _five_ directions, their subconscious minds told
them ... it vanished into nothingness, a nothingness that surrounded
them like white blindness, and then suddenly it was restored again,
roiling, churning, flashing with the bright eyes of novae, shot
with the sinuous streamers of rushing gas clouds, pulsing with the
heartbeats of winking variables ...

And suddenly they were tumbling head over heels along the rocky ground
of the little planetoid again.

"_Johnny_...."

"_Helen_...."

"At least we got them out of _that_," Pud puffed. "The sub-temporal
field, Gop ... help me lift it ... hurry!"

"Master, _all_ our experiments are activated! The _tharn_ radiated
enough to activate _everything_!"

"_Help me lift the sub-temporal field!_"

"Master, it's too late ... they're _in_ it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A million miles above their heads was the vast sweep of All Time, like
a rushing, glassy, upside-down river ... they tumbled through a chaos
where Time, twice in each beat of their hearts, bounced back and forth
between creation and entropy, and took them with it.... Time was a
torrent beneath whose surface they were yanked back and forth from
Beyond the End to Before the Beginning like guppies on a deepsea line;
a torrent whose banks were dark eternity, and whose waters were the
slippery substance of years....

"_Johnny_...."

"_Helen_...."

Pud deactivated the sub-temporal field with a lash of a tentacle, and
the two little aliens rolled from it like dice from a cup, gasping and
wailing. Immediately they started running again toward their ship,
dodging between the faint flickers of red, blue, green, scarlet and
nameless-colored light that marked the location of those experiments
which, now activated and releasing their fantastic energies, defied
even the invisibility fields that still surrounded them.

The aliens brushed against another experimental field, and it
twisted itself in one millionth of a second into a fifth-dimensional
topological monstrosity that would take weeks to untangle--if it didn't
explode first, for it bulged dangerously at the seams.

Pud hastily back-tentacled the field into an interdimensional-vortex,
where, if it did explode, it would disrupt an uninhabited universe so
far down on the scale of subspaces that nobody would get hurt.

Then the Senior Scientist gathered ten tons of machinery in a
tentacle and hoisted it while the creatures ran beneath. Gop was
psychokineticarrying five energy-fields toward the sidelines, with
another dozen or so wrapped in his tentacles. Pud silently dumped his
load of machinery and reached for something else in the creatures' path.

But the creatures scurried erratically, stopping, dashing off in this
direction, skidding to a halt as they saw something else to terrify
them, and then dashing off in _that_ direction just as the Vegans had
dealt with an obstacle to their progress in _this_ direction.

"Pud! ... one of them fell through the intraspatial-doorway to the
other side of the planet!"

"Well, for the love of swallowing, reach through and _get_ it! If those
beasts see it, they'll tear it to pieces!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Helen Gorman faced something that was a cross between a tomcat and an
eggplant on stilts. It looked hungry. It bounded toward her in forty
foot lopes.

"Johnny ... _Johnny, where are you_...."

Helen fainted.

Several other garage-sized beasts converged on her, all looking as
hungry as the first. In reality, they weren't hungry--their food
consisted of stone, primarily, while they also drew sustenance from
cosmic radiation. But they liked to tear things to pieces. They were
native to the planetoid; the Vegan Scientists had gathered them up
and shoved them through the intraspatial-doorway to this side of the
planet, where they wouldn't be underfoot all the time. It was a one-way
doorway, through which Pud or Gop would occasionally reach to pluck one
of the beasts back for use in experimentation.

Now, just as the beasts reached Helen Gorman, one of Gop's tentacles
came through the doorway, followed by one of his smaller heads. The
Junior Scientist picked up Helen, and hastily extruded another tentacle
from the first to bat aside one of the beasts that leaped after her.

The part of the tentacle bearing Helen Gorman swished back through the
doorway. The head and the rest of the tentacle followed.

The beasts commenced fighting among themselves, which was what they did
most of the time anyway.

Gop, however, in his haste, had forgotten to repolarize the molecules
of his body while retreating through the doorway ... and the moment
he cleared the doorway on the other side of the planet, the doorway
reversed--still one-way, but now the _other_ way.

And eventually one of the beasts, attracted by all the flickering and
flashing and frantic scrabbling visible through the doorway, abandoned
the fun of the fight and leaped, like a ten-ton gopher, through the
opening.

The others followed, naturally. They always chased and tore apart the
first one to cut and run.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gop had just set Helen Gorman on the ground, and Johnny Gorman,
seeing her apparently materialize from thin air and float downward,
had just started to stagger toward her, when the ten-ton gopher began
to vivisect one of Pud's tails. The animal hadn't seen the tail,
of course--it was invisible. But it had stumbled over it, and been
intrigued.

Pud leaped ninety feet into the air, roaring. Roaring out loud, not
thought-roaring. And roaring with a dozen gigantic throats. The sound
thundered and rolled and crashed and echoed from the low hills around.

The beast fell off Pud's tail, bounced, looked around, and made for
Johnny Gorman as the only visible moving object.

Johnny's eyes were still bugging from the gargantuan roar he had just
heard. He saw the beast and dodged frantically, just as Gop's invisible
tentacle shot out to bowl the beast over.

In dodging, Johnny tumbled into another energy-field.

... He stood on his own face, saw before his eyes the hairy mole on
the back of his neck, and threw a gray-and-red insideout hand before
his eyes in complete terror. Then Pud nudged him gently out of the
field, and before Johnny's eyes, in an instantaneous and unfathomable
convolution, the hand became normal again.

About that time the rest of the beasts emerged from the
intraspatial-doorway. While some of them continued the fight that had
begun on the other side of the planet, others started for Johnny Gorman
and for Helen, who was now sitting up weakly and shaking her head.

A beast resembling a steam-shovel on spider's legs rammed full-tilt
into a force-field. The field bounced fifty feet and merged with
another field in silent but cataclysmic embrace, producing a sub-field
which converted one tenth of one percent of all water within a hundred
foot radius to alcohol.

The effect on Johnny and Helen was instantaneous ... they became
drunk as hoot-owls. Their eyes bleared and refused to focus. Their
jaws sagged. Johnny stumbled, and sat down hard. He and Helen stared
dolefully at each other through their faceplates.

Pud gave up every last hope of avoiding Contact.

       *       *       *       *       *

He picked up Johnny with one tentacle and Helen with another and set
them down on top of their spaceship, where there was just enough
reasonably flat surface on the snip's snub nose to hold them.

The beasts were chasing one another around and around through the
wreckage of the laboratory. They romped and trampled over delicate
machines, sent heavier equipment spinning to smash against boulders;
they ran head-on into sizzling energy-fields and, head-off, kept
running.

Pud grabbed up an armful of beasts, raced to the doorway, reversed it
and poured them through. He grabbed up more beasts, threw them after.
Gop was busily engaged in the same task. Some of the beasts began
fighting among themselves even as the Vegans held them--Gop jumped
as one tore six cubic yards of flesh from a tentacle. He healed the
tentacle immediately, then hardened it and all his other tentacles to
the consistency of pig iron. He held back that particular beast from
the lot. When the others had been tossed through, he hauled back his
tentacle, wound up, and pegged the offending beast with all his might.
It streaked through the doorway like a projectile, legs and eyestalks
rigid.

Pud plucked a machine from the two-foot claws of the very last beast,
and tossed the beast through. Then he examined the machine--it was
beyond repair. He slammed that through the doorway too.

In ten seconds, the two Vegan Scientists had slapped and mauled all
their rioting experiments into inaction.

Silence descended over the battle-ground. Silence, more
nerve-shattering than the noise had been.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pud looked around at the remains of the laboratory, every face
forest-green with rage.

Machines lay broken, tilted, flickering, whining, wheezing, like the
bodies of the wounded. Delicate instruments were smashed to bits. The
involuted field that Pud had flung through the vortex had evidently
burst, as he had feared--for the vortex had vanished. So, probably,
had the universe the field had burst in. The two fields that had
interlocked were ruined, each having contaminated the other beyond
use. Other energy-fields, having absorbed an excess of energy from the
_tharn_, were bloated monstrosities or burned-out husks.

It would take weeks to get the place straightened up ... even longer to
replace the smashed equipment and restore the ruined fields.

Many experiments in which time had been a factor would take months--and
in some cases years--to duplicate.

All that was bad enough.

But worst of all ... the little aliens had been Contacted.

Like it or not, the aliens knew that something was very much up on this
planetoid.

Like it or not, they'd report that, and more of their kind would come
scurrying back to investigate.

Pud groaned, and studied the little creatures, who sat huddled together
on the nose of the ship.

"Well," he thought sourly to Gop, "here we are."

"I--yes, Master."

"Do you think that from now on you'll watch the Detector?"

"Oh, yes, Master--I will."

"And do you think it matters a Chew now if you do or not? Now that
we've _revealed_ ourselves?"

"I--I--"

"We have a choice," Pud said acidly. "We can destroy these little
aliens, so they can't report what they've seen. That's out, of course.
Or we can move our laboratory to another system ... a formidable job,
and Food knows whether we'd ever find another planet so suited to our
needs. And even if we _did_ do that, and they found nothing when they
returned here, they'd still know we were around somewhere."

"They wouldn't know that _we're_ around, Master."

"They'd know _something_ is around ... don't mince words with me,
you idiot. You know that they've seen enough to draw the very
conclusions we don't want them to draw. You know how vital it is that
no race under Contact-level status know of the existence of other
intelligent races ... particularly races far in advance of it. Such
knowledge can alter the entire course of their development."

"Yes, Master."

"So what are we to do, eh? Here we are. And there--" Pud motioned with
a tentacle at the little aliens--"they are. As you can see, we must
reveal ourselves to still a greater extent ... they can't even get into
their ship to leave the planet without our help!"

Gop was silent.

"Also--" Pud sent a brief extra-sensory probe at the aliens, and both
of them clutched at their helmeted heads--"their problem of air supply
is critical. There is very little left in their suit-tanks, and the
time required for their machines to refine air from this planet's
atmosphere has been wasted in--in--the _entertainment_ so recently
concluded. At this moment they are resigned to death. Naturally, we
must help them." He paused. "Well, my brilliant, capable, young Junior
Nincompoop? Any ideas on how we can help them, and still keep our
Scientists' status when the Examiners get the story of this mess out of
us?"

"Yes, Master."

"I thought not." Pud continued his frowning scrutiny of the aliens for
a moment. Then he looked up, his faces blank. "Eh? You do?"

"Yes, Master."

"Well, great gobs of gulosity, _what_?"

"Master, do you recall the time experiment that you wanted to try a few
years ago? Do you recall that the idea appealed to you very much, but
that you wanted an intelligent subject for it, so we could determine
results by observing rational reactions?"

"I recall it, all right. My brave young Junior Scientist declined to be
the subject ... though Food knows you're hardly intelligent enough to
qualify anyway. Yes, I remember ... but what's that got to do with--"

Pud paused. The jaws of his secondary heads, which were more given to
emotion, dropped. Then slowly his faces brightened, and his many eyes
began to glow.

"Ah," he thought softly.

"You see, Master?"

"I do indeed."

"If it works, we'll have no more problem. The Examiners will be pleased
at our ingenuity. The aliens will no longer--"

"I see, I _see_ ... all right, let's try it!"

Pud reached down and picked one of the aliens off the nose of the ship.
It slumped in his grasp immediately. The other alien began firing its
popgun frantically at the seemingly empty air through which its mate
mysteriously rose.

The thermonuclear bolts tickled Pud's hide. He sighed and relaxed his
personal invisibility field and became visible. That didn't matter now.

The alien stared upward. Its face whitened. It dropped its popgun and
fell over backward, slid gently off the ship's nose and started a slow
light-gravity fall toward the ground.

Pud caught it, and said, "I thought that might happen. Evidently they
lose consciousness rather easily at unaccustomed sights. A provincial
trait."

He slid the aliens gently into the airlock of their ship.

The Vegans waited for the aliens to regain consciousness.

Eventually one did. Immediately, it dragged the other back from the
lock, into the body of the ship. A moment later the lock closed.

"Now hold the ship," Pud told Gop, "while I form the field."

Flame flickered from the ship's lower end. It rose a few inches off the
ground. Gop placed a tentacle on its nose and forced it down again. He
waited, while the ship throbbed and wobbled beneath the tentacle.

Now, for the first time, Gop himself esprobed the aliens. He sent a
gentle probe into one of their minds--and blinked at the turmoil of
terror and helplessness he found there.

Faced with death at the hands of "giant monsters," the aliens preferred
to take off and "die cleanly" in space from asphyxiation, or even by a
mutual self-destruction pact that would provide less discomfort.

Gop withdrew his probe, wondering that any intelligent creature could
become sufficiently panicky to overlook the fact that if the "monsters"
had wanted to kill them, they would be a dozen times dead already.

Pud had shaped a time-field of the type necessary to do the job. It was
a pale-green haze in his tentacles.

He released the field and, under his direction, it leaped to surround
the spaceship, clinging to it like a soft cloak. As the Vegans watched,
it seemed to melt into the metal and become a part of it--the whole
ship glowed a soft, luminescent green.

"Let it go," Pud said.

Gop removed his tentacle.

The ship rose on its flicker of flame--rose past the Vegans' enormous
legs and tails, past their gigantic be-tentacled bodies, past their
many necks and faces, rose over their heads.

Gop sneezed as the flame brushed a face.

And Pud began shaping a psychokinetic bolt in his prime brain. For this
purpose he marshaled the resources of all his other brains as well,
and every head except his prime one assumed an idiot stare.

He said, "Now!" and loosed the bolt as a tight-beam, aimed at the
ship and invested with ninety-two separate and carefully calculated
phase-motions.

The ship froze, fifty miles over their heads. The flicker from its
rocket tubes became a steady, motionless glow.

Pud said, "Now," again, and altered a number of the phase-motions once,
twice, three times, in an intricate pattern.

The ship vanished.

As one, the many heads of the Vegan Scientists turned to stare at the
point in the sky where they had first sighted the ship.

There it was, coasting past the laboratory-planet, tubes lifeless;
coasting on the velocity that had brought it from the last star it had
visited.

There it was, just as it had been before the tiny aliens had sighted
the flickerings that had caused them to relax their meteor-screens.

There it was, sent back in time to before all the day's frantic
happenings had happened.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pud and Gop esprobed the distant aliens ... and then looked at each
other in complete satisfaction.

"Fine!" Pud said. "They don't remember a thing ... not a single
alimentary thing!" He looked around them, at the shambles of the
laboratory. "It's a pity the experiment couldn't repair all this as
well ... is everything turned off?"

"Everything, Master."

"No experiments operating, you nincompoop? No flashes?"

"None, Master."

"Then they should have no reason to land, you idiot.

"You know," Pud said, "in a way it was rather a fortunate thing that
they landed. It enabled me to perform a very interesting experiment. We
have demonstrated that a creature returned through time along the third
_flud_-subcontinuum will not retain memory of the process, or of what
transpired between a particular point in time and one's circular return
to it. I'm glad you stimulated me to think of it. Best idea I ever had."

Pud turned his attention to the ruins of the laboratory. He moved
off, half his heads agonizing over the destruction caused by today's
encounter, the other half glowing at its satisfactory conclusion.

Gop sighed, and esprobed the little aliens for the last time ... a
final check, to make certain that they remembered nothing.

"_Johnny, how about that little planet down there ... to the left?_"

"_Let's drop the meteor-screens for a better look._"

Hastily, Gop reached out and tapped the meteor aside.

"_Heck, that planet looks like a dud, all right ... but it's two days
to the next one ... and I've got a terrific headache!_"

"_Funny ... I've got one too._"

"_Well, what say we land and stretch our_--"

By that time Gop had hastily withdrawn his headache-causing probe. He
stared anxiously upward.

After a moment, he said, "They're landing, Master."





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