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

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

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

´╗┐Title: A Toothache on Zenob
Author: Ellanby, Boyd
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Toothache on Zenob" ***

                         A TOOTHACHE ON ZENOB

                           BY BOYD ELLANBEE

                _Strange to think that from twenty-odd
             light-years away, other eyes see our own Sun
        blazing in the middle of a familiar constellation...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Worlds of If Science Fiction, October 1958.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Pehn Karn sat in the signal dome, idly waiting while his friend,
adjusted the dials of the receiver. The recording tape spilled over the
table in loops of aluminum.

"Doesn't this job get dull?" he inquired.

Nautunal turned the fifth dial a few degrees, and glanced up. "Depends
on your interest. It's true this is just routine space-sweep, but
noise from space is amazingly variegated. Just one more sector to scan
tonight, and I'll be through. What's matter with you, Pehn? Your face
looks little lopsided."

Pehn tried to grin, and fingered the slight swelling on his cheek. "My
face will never be my fortune, I guess. I don't know what's matter.
Just ache."

Even at his best, as Pehn's family loved to remind him, he was an
ugly young man; he had none of the rounded placidity of feature which
was the ideal of his race. His olive skin stretched too tightly over
his cheekbones, and his black eyes peered too intensely from their
deep sockets. It helped very little that he happened to be extremely

Pehn covered the aching place with his hand, and tried to concentrate
on the emerging spills of tape. As a matter of fact, he had been having
severe periodic toothaches for six months now, but had never spoken of

Suddenly he bent forward. "Hold it! Just minute. Let me see that."

Nautunal raised one eyebrow. "Don't let it get you, lad. Listening to
space is apt to make you jumpy. Your friends over at Atomics wouldn't
like that. More than once I've thought I was finding some sort of sense
in all this chatter, but it never pans out. It's just noise. There may
be other inhabited planets besides Zenob, just as Bidagha claims, but
if so, they aren't talking."

"Stop, watch tape," said Pehn. Nautunal shrugged his shoulders, but he
picked up the tape and watched as it trickled through his fingers.

The machine was recording short bursts of energy, separated by distinct
pauses: ".. .. .... ... ... ...... .... .... ........"

"Two and two," remarked Pehn, "are four. Three and three are six.

"I know. I've been to kindergarten too. Four and four are eight. Has
your aching face affected your mind? You ought to submit yourself for

He reached to shift the scanner, but Pehn grabbed his hand.

"Can't you see? Somebody is trying to show us they know how to add.
Someone out in space. Keep watching. I wonder if they use duodecimal
system, or what? Where is it coming from?"

Nautunal dropped his skeptical pose, and watched the emerging tape in
silence. The growing table of symbols built all the simple additions
up to 10 plus 10, by the laborious accumulation of dots. Then it began
again, systematically, "One and one are two, two and two--"

Pehn turned his wondering eyes on his friend. "Is this trick? Joke you
rigged up for my benefit?"

[Illustration: A. D. 2120: "_Is this a trick?_"]

Nautunal shook his head, and his voice was hardly a whisper. "No. That
stuff is really coming through space--through phase space."

Twice more, the table of additions appeared. Then, after a brief
pause, came simple multiplications. Hour after hour the signals
continued, endlessly repeated, and shortly after midnight the two could
recognize the periodic table of chemical elements, with atomic weights
and numbers of isotopes.

"If those numbers which follow atomic weights are abundances," said
Pehn, "composition of their planet is not quite same as ours. Look how
rare 235 is. Where do you suppose this is coming from?"

"You guess," said Nautunal. He waved his arm towards the transparent
dome through which the stars shone, and grinned. "From little data I
have so far, signals might be coming from somewhere in Weaver, perhaps
from neighborhood of Topaz, but it's too early to be sure of anything."

Suddenly a marked change occurred in the pattern of the signals. The
clear symmetry of mathematics ended and was replaced by a formless
jumble, but a jumble whose repetition suggested that it, too, contained
a pattern if it could once be glimpsed. Meters and meters of tape piled
up, and the young men stared at it in frustration.

Nautunal stood up in sudden decision. "Bidagha is right. There must
be intelligent life in another part of galaxy. We need help, Pehn. We
can't decipher this stuff, and yet it may be key to basic vocabulary.
We need mathematicians, linguists, semanticists. I'll put out call to
director." He lifted a finger to activate the visiphone in his wrist
band, but before touching it he glanced at his friend in some concern.

"But you don't look well. Perhaps you ought to go home and get some

Pehn shook his head. "No, pain will probably be gone by morning, and at
time like this sleep would be only gift from Evil Ones. I'm going to
get Bidagha. He'll be more use to us than dozen semanticists."

"Call him on visiphone."

"You know he can't wear one. He's at Cave tonight, holding Ceremony.
I'll go after him."

"All right, Pehn. But remember, government will probably disapprove of
this business. Whatever you do--don't tell your father!"

Pehn grounded his copter at the outskirts of the city, then turned his
back to the glowing lights and walked north across the darkened fields
towards Cave. The early morning sky blazed with stars, and ahead of
him, low on the northern horizon, gleamed the sprawling constellation
of Weaver. He had never been able to force his imagination to see many
of the constellations in their completeness, and in the patterns of
stars which his pastoral ancestors had conceived as Weaver, Sower,
Horned Toth, he could see only random clusters of suns. He watched it
now, as he walked over the rutted earth, and suddenly the pattern took
shape, so that he could discern the old lady's Shuttle, and at its
tip that brilliant yellow star, Topaz, which might that very moment
be sending its signals through the galaxy. How many planets revolved
around Topaz?

He stopped, for the field ended in a sharp bluff which descended to a
narrow valley. Across the valley's floor was the entrance to Cave. He
could see the bobbing lights of candles, down there, and hear a muffled
chant of many voices. He hoped Ceremony would end, soon, so that he
could consult his friend. Once again he felt impatient that Bidagha
should have to be met in person just because, as a Healer, he could
not wear a visiphone into Cave. Bidagha was really more progressive
than many scientists. But the culture of Zenob still had a strongly
anti-materialistic, one might almost say anti-scientific tinge, and no
machine of any kind could ever be brought into any of Sacred Places.
Cave had been the chief place for the ceremonies of those living in
Lahzen area for so many thousands of years, that even the historians
did not know of a time when it was not in use. It was so old, some
heretics said, that it had outlived its usefulness, and was not even a
safe place to be in.

The stars were fading, and the northern sky was paling when
the chanting stopped in Cave below. People filed out silently,
extinguishing their candles as they reached the opening, and last of
all came the Healer.

"Bidagha!" Pehn called softly. "Up here!"

The tall figure paused, then ran lightly up the steps out in the
sloping hill.

"Has something happened?"

"Hurry. My copter is waiting back there, and I'll take you to signal
dome. Then I'll have to go home. If I'm not there for breakfast, my
father will begin another lecture on depravity of youth."

Bidagha's eyes twinkled. "Premier Karn _is_ pretty conscious of his
responsibilities to nation, Pehn, but perhaps eighteen years ought to
be more respectful of fifty. I am nearly latter myself, you know. But
what has happened?"

Pehn raised his arm and pointed towards Weaver. "We're getting signals.
We think maybe they come from some planet of Topaz."

Bidagha clasped his strong hands on his breast. His black hair, curling
over a high, olive forehead, was held in place by the narrow green
band of his calling. Under his little mustache his mouth was firm and
serene, and his gray eyes were exalted as he stared at the fading
yellow star.

"At last!" he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The bluish sun of Zenob had risen by the time Pehn got home. He sat
through the family breakfast with his parents and his sister, thankful
that his night's absence had apparently not been noticed.

Pehn's father, old Premier Karn, represented, the old man liked to
think, the ideal of Zenobian maturity. The placidity of his mind was
reflected in the soft roundness of his unlined face, and his full
lips curved at the corners in perpetual contentment. Like most of his
countrymen, he had never felt any conflict between his own impulses and
the customs of his society, and never in his life had he needed the
ministrations of a Healer.

In his usual benevolent mood this morning, Premier Karn entertained
his family with his meditations on his favorite theme, the glories of
Zenob's history and the perfection of her knowledge. They listened
to his remarks in patient silence. As he sipped at his last cup of
fragrant _akhlai_, he tried to make a kindly remark to his son.

"And what progress is your institute making towards practical atomic
power, Pehn? Foundations of this work were laid down more than two
hundred years ago, and government would be glad to have demonstration
at any time."

"We're little uncertain, sir, when that will be. We want to be sure,
before our first trial, that we have checked against even vaguest
possibility of starting widespread chain reaction."

The Premier frowned, set down his cup, and touched his napkin to his
lips. "But how could this occur?"

"It is not at all likely. But if, for example, as has been suggested,
crust of our planet should contain large quantities of some heavy
element with properties we don't know about, something related to 235
or 238 for instance, and easily fissionable, our very first trial might
prove disastrous."

"Nonsense, nonsense!" said the Premier. "Complete chemistry of our
planet was worked out and tabulated more than three hundred years ago.
There were great chemists in those days, and since then no further
research has ever been necessary. There could not possibly be any
elements which we don't know about. It is not seemly for you young men
to be questioning work of great geniuses of past."

Pehn's sister, Soma, had been silent, as befitted a woman. Now she
said, "Father, I have been told that long time ago, Sarkar Talat, after
life spent in philosophical research, gave Warning to government--"

"Trouble with you, my dear," and the Premier patted his pretty
daughter's arm, "is that you don't realize women usually lack spiritual
insight necessary to interpret veiled words of Ancients. Of course I
admit our Healers can foresee future, but they don't always describe it
in unambiguous language. Actually, Sarkar issued _two_ Warnings, but
they obviously did not mean what they seem to at first glance. First
was, that we are in danger because we only think we have mastered all
basic knowledge. Second was, that there are undoubtedly other worlds in
universe, and one of them will one day affect destiny of Zenob. Taken
at face value, these are obviously both false. As to first, no new
knowledge has been added to our sciences for generations, in spite of
fact that Ainta ages ago showed us how to use faculty of precognition.
As to second, it is clearly foolish to think Sarkar meant other worlds
in physical sense. He must have meant spiritual worlds." He turned
again to Pehn, who had risen from the table and was waiting politely.

"When can we have that demonstration? Within month?"

"I'll speak to director today, sir." The throbbing in his cheek was
becoming evident again, and he touched his face gently.

"What's matter, Pehn?" said his mother.

"Nothing. My face hurts, little."

"Ignore it!" his father ordered. "I won't have any maladjustment in
Lord Karn's family!" He picked up the gold-headed cane which was his
badge of office, and strode out of the room.

Pehn managed to spend a second night with the sleepless group of
experts at the signal dome, but fatigue, and the growing pain in his
cheek sent him home again just before dawn. Softly he ran up the ramp
to the second floor and into his bathroom, to the medicine closet.

In Pehn's family, a transient illness was an embarrassment, a
persistent illness a disgrace. It had always been his mother's pride,
and his father's boast, that in the Karn household the contents of the
medicine shelves were never needed, and that the doors of the cupboard
remained closed from one year to the next.

It was with a sense of guilt, then, that Pehn pressed a spot on the
green-tiled wall to slide back the cupboard doors, and picked up an
ivory box, from which he took a bolus of pain-killing plant extract.

He swallowed the huge pill, then took another. A double dose, this
time, for he knew the pain would never yield to anything less. He stood
shivering for a few moments, waiting for the drug to take effect. He
looked up, and realized that his sister was standing at the open door,
watching him sympathetically.

"Pehn," she said, "you're ill. Won't you talk it over with me?"

"I would talk it over with one of Evil Ones if I thought it would help
this pain. It grows worse and worse."

"Have you told Father yet? He could arrange for Healer--"

"No!" he shouted. "I don't want him to know. He'd only begin lecture
on his shame, his gray hairs, how all pain comes from unruly mind, why
don't I put myself in tune with group--old familiar story. But I know
this is something different."

"But Pehn! You know yourself, surely, that since you've got into
Atomics Institute, you have changed. You aren't perfectly adjusted, any
more. You worry about things."

He touched his swollen face and smiled at her placatingly.

"Don't worry, Soma, or you'll get lines in your forehead, and Father
could never bear shame of having _two_ maladjusted children in family.
I'm stronger than you think. Last year when I passed Fire Test, I stood
flames longer than any of boys in my class, longer even than Nautunal.
But this is different. Trouble with Zenob is that we don't have any
biology or any real medicine."

"Pehn! How can you say such things? Your best friend is Healer."

"You know I haven't anything against Healers. But only ailments they
can cure are those that originate in mind, and they can't really do
anything for purely physical ailments. Bidagha has admitted as much to
me. He wants to change all that--he thinks time is ripe."

"But Pehn, our Healers can foresee future. You know that Ainta Penab
proved that, five centuries ago."

"Ainta was worst disaster that ever befell Zenob," shouted Pehn. He put
out his hand to restrain his sister, who was attempting to struggle to
her feet in horror.

"Oh, Soma, I guess I'm just heretic. But listen to me. Sure Ainta Penab
proved conclusively that such phenomena as telepathy and precognition
are real. And what was result? Members of Cult used it as argument and
launched campaign to stop scientific research completely. They nearly
succeeded, too. Medical research has never been resumed on any large
scale, and chemistry and physics only in last century."

Soma sighed. "You shouldn't get all excited, Pehn. Come down into
living room, and stretch out on couch. I'll rub your forehead. You may
be ugly old atavism but you're only brother I have, and I want to keep

In the big living room, Soma drew the curtains from the lucite walls
that looked over the white city. The early sunlight came in, warm and
faintly blue, soothing. She put foam pillows under his aching head, and
drew up a footstool beside him. She stroked his forehead and he was
beginning to doze, lightly, when a muted chime roused him.

He activated his wrist dial, to find Nautunal's grave face looking at
him. Pehn sat up.

"What have you found?"

"Something. Can you come here, now?"

Pehn struggled to his feet. "Just give me minute to clear my head."

"Don't go, Pehn!" cried Soma. "You're not well! It's nearly breakfast
time, too. Don't go. What will I tell father?"

But the door had closed, and from the window Soma watched Pehn's copter
rise above the rooftops and glide out of sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the signal dome Pehn found the specialists still at work, pale
and tense from lack of sleep. Some still conferred over pages of
mathematical equations, some watched the tape which monotonously
continued to record the symbols.

Bidagha strode forward to meet him.

"We've finally found key to vocabulary, Pehn, and others are at work
now on main body of message. Signals are undoubtedly coming from one of
planets of sun we call Topaz. It has system of nine planets, and waves
are being sent from third. All my life I've believed that there were
other planet systems like ours, and other intelligences in galaxy, but
now that one of them is signalling us, I can hardly make myself believe

From the top gallery, high in the dome, Nautunal ran down the spiral

"We're getting it now, Bidagha! Planet of Topaz, is signalling this
entire sector of galaxy, hoping to find planets with intelligent life
on them. They wish to communicate, to exchange information, and they
offer to visit any planet which would welcome them."

"Then they can travel through space?"

"Yes. They say they are only twenty-seven light-years away."

Bidagha's shoulders drooped in disappointment. "But if these signals
have been twenty-seven years on way, it would take us another
twenty-seven years to answer them. I shall never live to see their

"But you don't understand, Bidagha. I forgot this isn't your field.
These waves are coming through phase space, and they go much faster
than speed of light. They reach us almost instantaneously."

Pehn began to laugh. He felt light-headed, and for some reason amused.
"I suppose you all remember my father's Jarlu lecture, in which he
demonstrated mathematically that life or intelligence on any planet
except Zenob was impossible. He pointed out that unique properties of
carbon compounds of which we are composed could never be duplicated on
another planet. And how remarkable circumstance of our having Ice I,
only form of solid water that can float, had allowed life to evolve on
Zenob, alone. Poor father! This will be hard on him. Of course, you are
not going to send answer?"

Bidagha had seemed to be in meditation, but now he spoke in a
commanding tone. "Of course we must reply!"

Nautunal gasped, and stepped away. "But we haven't right! That would
be heresy!"

"I claim right. Centuries ago, Healers dreamed of this day, and as
Healer I dare to claim right. We will reply to these signals and tell
people of Topaz planet that intelligent men do exist on our own world."

Nautunal's eyes had become dreamy and speculative. "I am not certain
that we _could_ reply, even if we dared," he said. He looked
uncertainly at the other microwave technicians, to see fear looking
from their faces, too.

At last one spoke. "_I_ think we could change over to transmission
through phase space in about half hour--if we had orders." He hastily
turned away, afraid of his own thoughts.

"Responsibility is mine," said Bidagha. "I speak with authority of my
calling. We will send same set of mathematical tables we have received,
and then periodic table of elements as they exist here."

Pehn felt confused, battered with warring emotions, and too tired to
think or speak. But Nautunal moved with abrupt decision.

"If you order it, Bidagha, we will try." He turned to his technicians.
"We'll start work immediately."

Nearly an hour had passed before the wave modulator was reported ready.
In the highest level of the dome, they watched nervously as Nautunal
turned up the power and worried the dials.

"All set?" he said.

There was no reply. In a dead silence he touched the button, and
started an impulse driving towards the star Topaz.

The door behind them opened with a crash and Premier Karn strode in,
his face contorted with an anger he had never shown before in his life.

"Despicable traitors!" he shouted. "Turn off that instrument!"

White-faced, one of the technicians obeyed, and the power indicators

"Can it be true, what has come to my ears--what I see now with my own
eyes--that you would dare to reply to message that comes from foreign

Bidagha's commanding figure grew even taller.

"Premier, I speak now, not as Bidagha man, but as Bidagha Healer, and
I must give you my Warning: Zenob cannot escape contacts with other

"In my opinion, Zenob has reached fateful turning point in its history.
We must face fact that our knowledge of physical science is not
adequate. Our fossil fuels are nearly gone, and we must have atomic
power. But frankly, our physicists don't know enough to design safe
atomic reactors. And at rate science progresses on Zenob, they won't
know enough for centuries. All of this could be remedied by exchange of
information with this other world."

As he faced Bidagha, the Premier trembled with rage, and his usually
placid face was contorted. "Bidagha, you could be unfrocked for that!
Zenob would be better off if Healers would confine their opinions and
activities to healing, and leave politics to those whose business it
is. Government will not base its decisions upon visions of dreamers who
have dwelt too long in Cave."

Pehn closed his eyes as a wave of agony broke over him. The voices
receded; dimly he was aware that he was falling. Pain and shouting
together faded away into darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

On Earth, at the listening post on Long Island, Joe Weber sat before
his recorder, intent on the noise from space.

The chief anthropologist studied the star map on the wall as he asked
his question. "Have you got anything at all, Joe?"

The technician shook his head. "Nothing but noise. I've only been
beaming them for four days, and our schedule calls for a week on each
sector. I'll keep on as planned, but I'm positive that the star systems
in the Lyra sector are not inhabited in any sense we would recognize,
or, if there is life there, it hasn't developed enough of a science for
them to know they're being signalled."

The anthropologist sighed. "It may be a hopeless task. It may be
several lifetimes before we locate systems similar to ours. I had hoped
to find some in my day."

"Don't be discouraged, professor. I'll start hitting Cygnus for you,
and maybe we can find something there. Yesterday, for a minute,
I thought I had something in Lyra. In the middle of the random
noise, suddenly I came across what looked like 'dot dot, dot dot,
dot-dot-dot-dot, dot dot dot, dot dot dot--' It was clear as crystal,
and much louder than the noise, but then it lapsed into the usual
nonsense. Pure chance at work, of course, but for a minute there, my
hair stood on end. Well, it's all in the day's work. I'll just keep
sending our stuff--"

"Of course," said the anthropologist, "there might be intelligent
people in the sector you're working right now, but they might be like
the Zuni."

"The Zuni?" asked Weber.

"The Zuni are a large village of American Indians who live in New
Mexico. Right next to what used to be a big Indian reservation for the
Navahos. A typical inward-looking culture. Now the Navahos, although
they still keep their own language and religion, are an outward-looking
culture, interested in the rest of the world. The Zuni are not. For
them the boundaries of the world are the walls of Zuni village. They
wouldn't bother to listen to a message from outer space, much less

"Can't be very bright," said Joe.

"On the contrary. Some of them have made the highest scores on the
Tromovich intelligence test that have ever been recorded. It's not a
matter of intelligence, but the attitude of the culture."

"Well," said Joe, "let's hope most of the worlds of space have
outward-looking cultures." He turned back to his transmitter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pehn found himself lying on a couch. He tried to get up, and felt his
father's hands at his shoulders restraining him.

"Don't move, Pehn," said his mother. "You fainted, and they brought you
home." She lifted his head, and let him sip a cup of the hot _akhlai_.

After a time his father addressed him with unusual kindness.

"We cannot delay any longer, Pehn. Your mother and sister and I are all
agreed. You must undergo Ceremony. What is proper thing to do for you,
I don't know, but Bidagha believes he can help you. This crisis in our
world is making us all ill, and it is no wonder that you, being young,
should suffer more acutely than rest of us."

Pehn tried to laugh. "Would you trust me to Bidagha?"

"Yes, I would. Although his views on world affairs are perverse and
dangerous he is good Healer, and he has your best interests at heart."

"Your son is very ill, Lord Karn. If I am able to help him, would you
be willing to consider possibility, at least, that wisdom of Healer is
not confined to human body alone?"

Premier Karn brushed his hand across his eyes. In the last few days he
had suddenly become an old man, and his mouth was drawn and tense. "I
cannot tell, Bidagha. I am tired, and confused. I no longer seem to be
sure what is true, and what is right."

Pehn opened his eyes to speak to Bidagha. "Do you think you can cure
me, by Ceremony alone?"

"I have cured people who were much more ill than you are, but your case
is serious because you have delayed so long. It may be that we should
not rely on ritual alone, and that it would be wiser to use knife."

Lord Karn gasped with horror. "Never! Have you lost faith in your own

"Of course none of us like to use knife, since very few minds are
skilled enough to control infection likely to follow. No, first we
shall hold Ceremony just as our traditions counsel us. Tonight."

The muted chime of the visiphone interrupted them. The Premier touched
his wrist and the gaunt face of Nautunal appeared in the dial.

"Signals have entered new stage, sir. Message coming at present states
that Topaz planet wishes to visit any planet inhabited by intelligent
race. They say they have phase space drive for spaceships, but in all
their searching have not found even one inhabited world. They say they
want to know that they are not alone in universe."

The Premier's face worked. "I cannot say what is right. Later. I will
decide after Ceremony. Are you ready, Pehn?"

Pehn covered his face with his folded arms.

"All right," he whispered. "Sooner, better."

       *       *       *       *       *

Deep in the valley north of the city, Cave yawned. For thousands
of years its narrow mouth had been open to the Healers and the
participants in the ceremonial ritual. The age of Cave was unknown,
some said as old as the planet itself. Great rocks formed the inner
walls, which ascended to a low domed ceiling, and occasionally a
handful of gravel trickled down the walls to the bottom where a small
stream still worked at hollowing out the stone.

At the back of Cave was the hearth, and across the floor were ancient
stone benches waiting for the friends and family of the patient, for by
tradition, only patient and Healer approached the hearth itself. The
others, whose wills and hearts were to unite, for one brief night, to
heal the sickness, sat apart in a broad circle, where they could see
the ceremony, and the chant of their voices could float back to the
ears of the sufferer.

As the sun set, Pehn was carried into Cave on a litter.

His father and mother, his sister, his father's collaborators in the
government, and representatives of the whole community filed down the
valley to the entrance where Bidagha stood, and each person, clad
for this occasion only in a robe of animal fur, as he approached the
opening extended his hands to show that he had removed his wrist
band, and lifted his arms to show that no material product of modern
technology was being taken inside to profane Cave. They all respected
the ancient proverb, "What Immortals want new, they make new." Each one
lit his candle at Bidagha's flame, and silently took his place in the

Pehn had not been inside Cave since his early childhood, but it seemed
a familiar place, since its description formed a part of many of
Zenob's myths, and was part of all her history.

The age-old figures scratched on the walk and filled in with colored
earths, had been made by his remote ancestors at a time when their only
weapons were the bows and arrows pictured there, and the stone-tipped
spears with which they hunted their game. In the flickering light of
the fire he could recognize the lithe _toda_, and the great-tusked
_khalmat_, animals which had been extinct for many ages. How vividly
Old Ones had portrayed these animals, and the ritual of their hunts!
The wood fire, which Bidagha had kindled with a primitive wooden drill,
burned on the hearth, and above his head through a rift in the ceiling,
Pehn could see a narrow band of sky and a sprinkling of stars.

"Keep your head pointed towards fire," said Bidagha, "and lie quiet.
Ritual has no value unless we observe it strictly." He gave Pehn a warm
potion from an earthenware cup, which made him feel sleepy.

Bidagha began to chant, his bass voice reverberating from wall to wall,
each syllable a sonorous musical note which was answered at intervals
by the watching group of well-wishers.

A wooden bowl filled with coarsely ground grain was passed from one
person to another, and each one placed a few grains on his tongue, some
on his forehead, and threw a token pinch of the flour over his left

An hour passed, two; the stars above shifted their position, and still
Bidagha chanted, never hesitating, never stumbling over the archaic
words. Midnight passed and the stars grew pale.

Through the roaring in his ears, Pehn heard the Healer kneel on the
rock floor beside him; then he felt Bidagha's strong fingers on his

"How is it with you, my son?"

Pehn groaned, unable to speak. The pain was not alleviated--it was
greater then ever.

The soles of Bidagha's sandals scraped as he stood up again.

"Bring knife!" he called.

In his roaring darkness, Pehn stirred. Vaguely he sensed the murmuring
of the watchers. Then someone else came near, and Bidagha's voice rose
again. "Immortals, bless knife!"

Fingers pried open his jaw, probed at the misshapen gum, sending fiery
flashes of agony into his brain. Then a hard edge of pain struck,
cutting, releasing a flood of warm wetness in his mouth. Yet it all
seemed to be happening far away.

He sensed Bidagha bending near once more. "Boy is going fast. Infection
is deep."

Another voice: "Move him to experimental hospital?"

"He would not live to get there." A pause. "Go, bring forceps and bone
knives. Hurry."

A long roaring darkness. Then new movement around where he lay: and a
sudden voice that he dimly recognized as his father's.

"Stop! What is that tool in your hand?"

"A new device for extracting teeth," came Bidagha's calm, resonant
voice: "with which we may save your son's life."

Shocked murmurs all over the hall, topped by his father's shout of
outrage, "In Cave--in hands of Healer?"

Bidagha relied, "What Immortals want new, they make new! Here and now,
in my hands, they end our years of darkness! Let Immortals confound me
if I lie!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The multitude in Cave roared their approval, and Premier Karn
hesitated. He appeared to be struggling within himself. As the echoes
died away, a pebble rolled from a ledge, dislodged by the sound, and
fell at Bidagha's feet. A second pebble fell, and a boulder which had
rested above the hearth for untold centuries shifted its position.

With a shout, Bidagha flung himself over Pehn's body as the boulder
trembled and fell, crushing the life from the bodies of both men.

Dust rose, and a rumble began near the ceiling.

"Run!" cried Premier Karn. "Run for your lives!"

As the others ran from Cave, Lord Karn rushed to the huge rock lying
upon his son, but he had no hope. Neither Pehn nor Bidagha would ever
move again.

A trickle of sand pattered to the floor, and with a last backward
glance Lord Karn ran from Cave. Boulders rained from the ceiling. The
Premier had just reached the outside when a huge slab of rock crashed
to the floor against the entrance. On the slope nearby, Pehn's mother
and sister wept silently.

Lord Karn stood motionless a long while. At last he spoke.

"Cave is sealed," he said. "Let it never be opened again. Immortals
have willed that my son should rest here forever, with impious
Bidagha." Turning his face to the sky, he shook his fist at the bright
spark of Topaz in the paling north. "So much for new things and foreign
stars!" he said between his teeth. "This day's evil is enough."

They extinguished their candles and went slowly up the valley path
towards the city.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty-eight years later, on Earth, an astronomer comparing recent
plates taken of the constellation Lyra noticed that Vega, its brightest
star, had increased in brightness by a slight amount. The event was
not especially remarkable--there are on the average, twenty-five novas
reported every year in our galaxy--but Vega was one of the stars to
be visited during the next decade by one of the Survey ships now in

"There's one place they won't have to stop, now," he said to a
colleague, showing him the plates.

"I don't suppose it matters. What's one star, more or less, when they
all turn out to be the same--no planets, or barren ones--no stopping
place for man."

"I suppose you're right," said the astronomer, staring glumly at the
waste immensity of the photograph in front of him.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Toothache on Zenob" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.