This World Is Taboo
by Murray Leinster
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

"How much grain can we hope for?" demanded a man with a blue mark covering all his chin.

Calhoun told him.

"How long before Weald can have a fleet overhead, dropping fusion bombs?" demanded another, grimly.

Calhoun named a time. But then he said, "I think we can keep them from dropping bombs if we can get the grain fleet and some capable astrogators."


He told them. It was not possible to tell the whole story of what he considered sensible behavior. An emotional program can be presented and accepted immediately. A plan of action which is actually intelligent, considering all elements of a situation, has to be accepted piecemeal. Even so, the military men growled.

"We've plenty of heavy elements," said one. "If we'd used our brains, we'd have more bombs than Weald can hope for! We could turn that whole planet into a smoking cinder!"

"Which," said Calhoun acidly, "would give you some satisfaction but not an ounce of food! And food's more important than satisfaction. Now, I'm going to take off for Weald again. I'll want somebody to build an emergency device for my ship, and I'll want the four pilots I've trained and twenty more candidates. And I'd like to have some decent rations! The last trip brought back two million bushels of grain. You can certainly spare adequate food for twenty men for a few days!"

It took some time to get the special device constructed, but the Med Ship lifted in two days more. The device for which it had waited was simply a preventive of the disaster overtaking the ship from the mine on Orede. It was essentially a tank of liquid oxygen, packed in the space from which stores had been taken away. When the ship's air supply was pumped past it, first moisture and then CO_{2} froze out.

Then the air flowed over the liquefied oxygen at a rate to replace the CO_{2} with more useful breathing material. Then the moisture was restored to the air as it warmed again. For so long as the oxygen lasted, fresh air for any number of men could be kept purified and breathable. The Med Ship's normal equipment could take care of no more than ten. But with this it could journey to Weald with almost any complement on board.

Maril stayed on Dara when the Med Ship left. Murgatroyd protested shrilly when he discovered her about to be closed out by the closing airlock.

"Chee!" he said indignantly. "Chee! Chee!"

"No," said Calhoun. "We'll be crowded enough anyhow. We'll see her later."

He nodded to one of the first four student pilots, who crisply made contact with the landing-grid office, and very efficiently supervised as the grid took the ship up. The other three of the four first-trained men explained every move to sub-classes assigned to each. Calhoun moved about, listening and making certain that the instruction was up to standard.

He felt queer, acting as the supervisor of an educational institution in space. He did not like it. There were twenty-four men beside himself crowded into the Med Ship's small interior. They got in each other's way. They trampled on each other. There was always somebody eating, and always somebody sleeping, and there was no need whatever for the background tape to keep the ship from being intolerably quiet. But the air system worked well enough, except once when the reheating unit quit and the air inside the ship went down below freezing before the trouble could be found and corrected.

The journey to Weald, this time, took seven days because of the training program in effect. Calhoun bit his nails over the delay. But it was necessary for each of the students to make his own line-ups on Weald's sun, and compute distances, and for each of them to practise maneuverings that would presently be called for. Calhoun hoped desperately that preparations for active warfare did not move fast on Weald.

He believed, however, that in the absence of direct news from Dara, Wealdian officials would take the normal course of politicos. They had proclaimed the ship from Orede an attack from Dara. Therefore, they would specialize on defensive measures before plumping for offense. They'd get patrol ships out to spot invasion ships long before they worked on a fleet to destroy the blueskins. It would meet the public demand for defense.

Calhoun was right. The Med Ship made its final approach to Weald under Calhoun's own control. He'd made brightness-measurements on his previous journey and he used them again. They would not be strictly accurate, because a sunspot could knock all meaning out of any reading beyond two decimal places. But the first breakout was just far enough from the Wealdian system for Calhoun to be able to pick out its planets with the electron telescope at maximum magnification. He could aim for Weald itself, allowing, of course, for the lag in the apparent motion of its image because of the limited speed of light. He tried the briefest of overdrive hops, and came out within the solar system and well inside any watching patrol.

That was pure fortune. It continued. He'd broken through the screen of guard ships in undetectable overdrive. He was within half an hour's solar system drive of the grain fleet. There was no alarm, at first. Of course radars spotted the Med Ship as an object, but nobody paid attention. It was not headed for Weald. It was probably assumed to be a guard boat itself. Such mistakes do happen.

Again from the storage space from which supplies had been removed, Calhoun produced vacuum suits. The four first students went out, each escorting a less-accustomed neophyte and all fastened firmly together with space ropes. They warmed the interiors of four ships and went on to others. Presently there were eight ships making ready for an interstellar journey, each with a scared but resolute new pilot familiarizing himself with its controls. There were sixteen ships. Twenty. Twenty-three.

A guard ship came humming out from Weald. It would be armed, of course. It came droning, droning up the forty-odd thousand miles from the planet. Calhoun swore. He could not call his students and tell them what was toward. The guard ship would overhear. He could not trust untried young men to act rationally if they were unaware and the guard ship arrived and matter-of-factly attempted to board one of them.

Then he was inspired. He called Murgatroyd, placed him before the communicator, and set it at voice-only transmission. This was familiar enough, to Murgatroyd. He'd often seen Calhoun use a communicator.

"Chee!" shrilled Murgatroyd. "Chee-chee!"

A startled voice came out of the speaker: "What's that?"

"Chee," said Murgatroyd zestfully.

The communicator was talking to him. Murgatroyd adored three things, in order. One was Calhoun. The second was coffee. The third was pretending to converse like a human being. The speaker said explosively, "You there, identify yourself!"

"Chee-chee-chee-chee!" observed Murgatroyd. He wriggled with pleasure and added, reasonably enough, "Chee!"

The communicator bawled, "Calling ground! Calling ground! Listen to this! Something that ain't human's talking at me on a communicator! Listen in an' tell me what to do!"

Murgatroyd interposed with another shrill, "Chee!"

Then Calhoun pulled the Med Ship slowly away from the clump of still-lifeless grain ships. It was highly improbable that the guard boat would carry an electron telescope. Most likely it would have only an echo-radar, and so could determine only that an object of some sort moved of its own accord in space. Calhoun let the Med Ship accelerate. That would be final evidence. The grain ships were between Weald and its sun. Even electron telescopes on the ground—and electron telescopes were ultimately optical telescopes with electronic amplification—could not get a good image of the ship through sunlit atmosphere.

"Chee?" asked Murgatroyd solicitously. "Chee-chee-chee?"

"Is it blueskins?" shakily demanded the voice from the guard boat. "Ground! Ground! Is it blueskins?"

A heavy, authoritative voice came in with much greater volume. "That's no human voice," it said harshly. "Approach its ship and send back an image. Don't fire first unless it heads for ground."

The guard ship swerved and headed for the Med Ship. It was still a very long way off.

"Chee-chee," said Murgatroyd encouragingly.

Calhoun changed the Med Ship's course. The guard ship changed course too. Calhoun let it draw nearer, but only a little. He led it away from the fleet of grain ships.

He swung his electron telescope on them. He saw a spacesuited figure outside one, safely roped, however. It was easy to guess that someone had meant to return to the Med Ship for orders or to make a report, and found the Med Ship gone. He'd go back inside and turn on a communicator.

"Chee!" said Murgatroyd.

The heavy voice boomed. "You there! This is a human-occupied world! If you come in peace, cut your drive and let our guard ship approach!"

Murgatroyd replied in an interested but doubtful tone. The booming voice bellowed. Another voice of higher authority took over. Murgatroyd was entranced that so many people wanted to talk to him. He made what for him was practically an oration. The last voice spoke persuasively and suavely.

"Chee-chee-chee-chee," said Murgatroyd.

One of the grain ships flickered and ceased to be. It had gone into overdrive. Another. And another. Suddenly they began to flick out of sight by twos and threes.

"Chee," said Murgatroyd with a note of finality.

The last grain ship vanished.

"Calling guard ship," said Calhoun dryly. "This is Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty. I called here a couple of weeks ago. You've been talking to my tormal, Murgatroyd."

A pause. A blank pause. Then profanity of deep and savage intemperance.

"I've been on Dara," said Calhoun.

Dead silence fell.

"There's a famine there," said Calhoun deliberately. "So the grain ships you've had in orbit have been taken away by men from Dara—blueskins if you like—to feed themselves and their families. They've been dying of hunger and they don't like it."

There was a single burst of the unprintable. Then the formerly suave voice said waspishly, "Well? The Med Service will hear of your interference!"

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I'll report it myself. I have a message for you. Dara is ready to pay for every ounce of grain and for the ships it was stored in. They'll pay in heavy metals—irridium, uranium, that sort of thing."

The suave voice fairly curdled.

"As if we'd allow anything that was ever on Dara to touch ground here!"

"Ah! But there can be sterilization. To begin with metals, uranium melts at 1150 deg. centigrade, and tungsten at 3370 deg. and irridium at 2350 deg.. You could load such things and melt them down in space and then tow them home. And you can actually sterilize a lot of other useful materials!"

The suave voice was infuriated: "I'll report this! You'll suffer for this!"

Calhoun said pleasantly, "I'm sure that what I say is being recorded, so that I'll add that it's perfectly practical for Wealdians to land on Dara, take whatever property they think wise—to pay for damage done by blueskins, of course—and get back to Wealdian ships with absolutely no danger of carrying contagion. If you'll make sure the recording's clear...."

He described, clearly and specifically, exactly how a man could be outfitted to walk into any area of any conceivable contagion, do whatever seemed necessary in the way of looting—but Calhoun did not use the word—and then return to his fellows with no risk whatever of bringing back infection. He gave exact details.

Then he said, "My radar says you've four ships converging on me to blast me out of space. I sign off."

The Med Ship disappeared from normal space, and entered that improbably stressed area of extension which it formed about itself and in which physical constants were wildly strange. For one thing, the speed of light in overdrive-stressed space had not been measured yet. It was too high. For another, a ship could travel very many times 186,000 miles per second in overdrive.

The Med Ship did just that. There was nobody but Calhoun and Murgatroyd on board. There was companionable silence, with only the small threshold-of-perception sounds which one did not often notice.

Calhoun luxuriated in regained privacy. For seven days he'd had twenty-four other human beings crowded into the two cabins of the ship, with never so much as one yard of space between himself and someone else. One need not be snobbish to wish to be alone sometimes!

Murgatroyd licked his whiskers thoughtfully.

"I hope," said Calhoun, "that things work out right. But they may remember on Dara that I'm responsible for some ten million bushels of grain reaching them. Maybe, just possibly, they'll listen to me and act sensibly. After all, there's only one way to break a famine. Not with ten million bushels for a whole planet! And certainly not with bombs!"

Driving direct, without pausing for practising, the Med Ship could arrive at Dara in a little more than five days. Calhoun looked forward to relaxation. As a beginning he made ready to give himself an adequate meal for the first time since first landing on Dara. Then, presently, he sat down to a double meal of Darian famine-rations, which were far from appetizing. But there wasn't anything else on board.

He had some pleasure later, though, envisioning what went on in the normal, non-overdrive universe. Suns flared, and comets hurtled on their way, and clouds formed and dropped down rain, and all sorts of celestial and meteorological phenomena took place. On Weald, obviously, there would be purest panic.

The vanishing of the grain fleet wouldn't be charged against twenty-four men. A Darian fleet would be suspected, and with the suspicion would come terror, and with terror a governmental crisis. Then there'd be a frantic seizure of any craft that could take to space, and the agitated improvisation of a space fleet.

But besides that, biological-warfare technicians would examine Calhoun's instructions for equipment by which armed men could be landed on a plague-stricken planet and then safely taken off again. Military and governmental officials would come to the eminently sane conclusion that while Calhoun could not well take active measures against blueskins, as a sane and proper citizen of the galaxy he would be on the side of law and order and propriety and justice—in short, of Weald. So they ordered sample anticontagion suits made according to Calhoun's directions, and they had them tested. They worked admirably.

On Dara, while Calhoun journeyed placidly back to it, grain was distributed lavishly, and everybody on the planet had their cereal ration almost doubled. It was still not a comfortable ration, but the relief was great. There was considerable gratitude felt for Calhoun, which as usual included a lively anticipation of further favors to come. Maril was interviewed repeatedly, as the person best able to discuss him, and she did his reputation no harm. That was all that happened on Dara....

No. There was something else. A very curious thing, too. There was a spread of mild symptoms which nobody could exactly call a disease. They lasted only a few hours. A person felt slightly feverish, and ran a temperature which peaked at 30.9 deg. centigrade, and drank more water than usual. Then his temperature went back to normal and he forgot all about it. There have always been such trivial epidemics. They are rarely recorded, because few people think to go to a doctor. That was the case here.

Calhoun looked ahead a little, too. Presently the fleet of grain ships would arrive and unload and lift again for Orede, and this time they would make an infinity of slaughter among wild cattle herds, and bring back incredible quantities of fresh-slaughtered frozen beef. Almost everybody would get to taste meat again, which would be most gratifying.

Then, the industries of Dara would labor at government-required tasks. An astonishing amount of fissionable material would be fashioned into bombs—a concession by Calhoun—and plastic factories would make an astonishing number of plastic sag-suits. And large shipments of heavy metals in ingots would be made to the planet's capital city and there would be some guns and minor items.

Perhaps somebody could have predicted any of these items in advance, but it was unlikely that anyone did. Nobody but Calhoun, however, would ever have put them together and hoped very urgently that things would work out. He could see a promising total result. In fact, in the Med Ship hurtling through space, on the fourth day of his journey, he thought of an improvement that could be made in the sum of all those happenings when they got mixed together.

He got back to Dara. Maril came to the Med Ship. Murgatroyd greeted her with enthusiasm.

"Something strange has happened," said Maril, very much subdued. "I told you that sometimes blueskin markings fade out on children, and then neither they nor their children ever have markings again."

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I remember that you told me."

"And you were reminded of a group of viruses on Tralee. You said they only took hold of people in terribly bad physical condition, but then they could be passed on from mother to child, until sometimes they died out."

Calhoun blinked.


"Korvan," said Maril very carefully. "Has worked out an idea that that's what happens to the blueskin markings on Darians. He thinks that people almost dead of the plague could get the virus, and if they recovered from the plague pass the virus on and be blueskins."

"Interesting," said Calhoun, noncommittally.

"And when we went to Weald," said Maril very carefully indeed, "you were working with some culture material. You wrote quite a lot about it in the ship's log. You gave yourself an injection. Remember? And Murgatroyd? You wrote down your temperature, and Murgatroyd's?" She moistened her lips. "You said that if infection passed between us, something would be very infectious indeed?"

"This is a long discussion," said Calhoun. "Does it arrive at a point?"

"It does," said Maril. "Thousands of people are having their pigment-spots fade away. Not only children but grownups. And Korvan has found out that it always seems to happen after a day when they felt feverish and very thirsty, and then felt all right again. You tried out something that made you feverish and thirsty. I had it too, in the ship. Korvan thinks there's been an epidemic of something that is obliterating the blue spots on everybody that catches it. There are always trivial epidemics that nobody notices. Korvan's found evidence of one that's making blueskin no longer a word with any meaning."

"Remarkable!" said Calhoun.

"Did you do it?" asked Maril. "Did you start a harmless epidemic that wipes out the virus that makes blueskins?"

Calhoun said in feigned astonishment, "How can you think such a thing, Maril?"

"Because I was there," said Maril. She said, somehow desperately, "I know you did it! But the question is, are you going to tell? When people find they're not blueskins any longer, when there's no such thing as a blueskin any longer, will you tell them why?"

"Naturally not," said Calhoun. "Why?" Then he guessed. "Has Korvan—"

"He thinks," said Maril, "that he thought it up all by himself. He's found the proof. He's very proud. I'd have to tell him how the ideas got into his head if you were going to tell. And he'd be ashamed and angry."

Calhoun considered, staring at her.

"How it happened doesn't matter," he said at last. "The idea of anybody doing it deliberately would be disturbing, too. It shouldn't get about. So it seems much the best thing for Korvan to discover what's happened to the blueskin pigment, and how it happened. But not why."

She read his face carefully.

"You aren't doing it as a favor to me," she decided. "You'd rather it was that way."

She looked at him for a long time, until he squirmed. Then she nodded and went away.

An hour later the Wealdian space fleet was reported massed in space and driving for Dara.

* * * * *


There were small scout ships which came on ahead of the main fleet. They'd originally been guard boats, intended for solar system duty only and quite incapable of overdrive. They'd come from Weald in the cargo holds of the liners now transformed into fighting ships. The scouts swept low, transmitting fine-screen images back to the fleet, of all they might see before they were shot down. They found the landing-grid. It contained nothing larger than Calhoun's Med Ship, Aesclipus Twenty.

They searched here and there. They flittered to and fro, scanning wide bands of the surface of Dara. The planet's cities and highways and industrial centers were wholly open to inspection from the sky. It looked as if the scouts hunted most busily for the fleet of former grain ships which Calhoun had said the blueskins had seized and rushed away. If the scouts looked for them, they did not find them.

Dara offered no opposition to the ships. Nothing rose to space to oppose or to resist their search. They went darting over every portion of the hungry planet, land and seas alike, and there was no sign of military preparedness against their coming. The huge ships of the main fleet waited while the scouts reported monotonously that they saw no sign of the stolen fleet. But the stolen fleet was the only means by which the planet could be defended. There could be no point in a pitched battle in emptiness. But a fleet with a planet to back it might be dangerous.

Hours passed. The Wealdian main fleet waited. There was no offensive movement by the fleet. There was no defensive action from the ground. With fusion-bombs certain to be involved in any actual conflict, there was something like an embarrassed pause. The Wealdian ships were ready to bomb. They were less anxious to be vaporized by possible suicide dashes of defending ships which might blow themselves up near contact with their enemies.

But a fleet cannot travel some light-years through space to make a mere threat. And the Wealdian fleet was furnished with the material for total devastation. It could drop bombs from hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of miles away. It could cover the world of Dara with mushroom clouds springing up and spreading to make a continuous pall of atomic-fusion products. And they could settle down and kill every living thing not destroyed by the explosions themselves. Even the creatures of the deepest oceans would die of deadly, purposely-contrived fallout particles.

The Wealdian fleet contemplated its own destructiveness. It found no capacity for defense on Dara. It moved forward.

But then a message went out from the capital city of Dara. It said that a ship in overdrive had carried word to a Darian fleet in space. The Darian fleet now hurtled toward Weald. It was a fleet of thirty-seven giant ships. They carried such-and-such bombs in such-and-such quantities. Unless its orders were countermanded, it would deliver those bombs on Weald, set to explode. If Weald bombed Dara, the orders could not be withdrawn. So Weald could bomb Dara. It could destroy all life on the pariah planet. But Weald would die with it.

The fleet ceased its advance. The situation was a stalemate with pure desperation on one side and pure frustration on the other. This was no way to end the war. Neither planet could trust the other, even for minutes. If they did not destroy each other simultaneously, as now was possible, each would expect the other to launch an unwarned attack at some other moment. Ultimately one or the other must perish, and the survivor would be the one most skilled in treachery.

But then the pariah planet made a new proposal. It would send a messenger ship to stop its own fleet's bombardment if Weald would accept payment of the grain ships and their cargos. It would pay in ingots of irridium and uranium and tungsten, and gold if Weald wished it, for all damages Weald might claim.

It would even pay indemnity for the miners of Orede, who had died by accident but perhaps in some sense through its fault. It would pay. But if it were bombed, Weald must spout atomic fire and the fleet of Weald would have no home planet to return to.

This proposal seemed both craven and foolish. It would allow the fleet of Weald to loot and then betray Dara. But it was Calhoun's idea. It seemed plausible to the admirals of Weald. They felt only contempt for blueskins. Contemptuously, they accepted the semi-surrender.

The broadcast waves of Dara told of agreement, and wild and fierce resentment filled the pariah planet's people. There was almost revolution to insist upon resistance, however hopeless and however fatal. But not all of Dara realized that a vital change had come about in the state of things on Dara. The enemy fleet had not a hint of it.

In menacing array, the invading fleet spread itself about the skies of Dara, well beyond the atmosphere. Harsh voices talked with increasing arrogance to the landing-grid staff. A monster ship of Weald came heavily down, riding the landing-grid's force-fields. It touched gently. Its occupants were apprehensive, but hungry for the loot they had been assured was theirs. The ship's outer hull would be sterilized before it returned to Weald, of course. And there was adequate protection for the landing-party.

Men came out of the ship's ports. They wore the double, transparent sag-suits Calhoun had suggested, which had been painstakingly tested, and which were perfect protection against contagion. They were double garments of plastic, with air tanks inside the inner flexible envelope.

Men wearing such sag-suits could walk about on Dara. They could work on Dara. They could loot with impunity and all contamination must remain outside the suits, and on their return to their ships they would simply stand in the airlocks while corrosive gases swirled around them, killing any possible organism of disease. Then, for extra assurance, when air from Weald filled the airlock again, the men would burn the outer plastic covering and step into the ship without ever having come within two layers of plastic of infection.

What loot they gathered, obviously, could be decontaminated before it was returned to Weald. Metals could be melted, if necessary. Gems could be sterilized. It was a most satisfactory discovery, to realize that blueskins could be not only scorned but robbed. There was only one bit of irrelevant information the space fleet of Weald did not have.

That information was that the people of Dara weren't blueskins any longer. There'd been a trivial epidemic....

The sag-suited men of Weald went zestfully about their business. They took over the landing-grid's operation, driving the Darian operators away. For the first time in history the operators of a landing-grid wore make-up to look like they did have blue pigment in their skins. They didn't. The Wealdian landing-party tested the grid's operation. They brought down another giant ship. Then another. And another.

Parties in the shiny sag-suits spread through the city. There were the huge stockpiles of precious metals, brought in readiness to be surrendered and carried away. Some men set to work to load these into the holds of the ships of Weald. Some went forthrightly after personal loot.

They came upon very few Darians. Those they saw kept sullenly away from them. They entered shops and took what they fancied. They zestfully removed the treasure of banks.

Triumphant and scornful reports went up to the hovering great ships. The blueskins, said the reports, were spiritless and cowardly. They permitted themselves to be robbed. They kept out of the way. It had been observed that the population was streaming out of the city, fleeing because they feared the ships' landing-parties. The blueskins had abjectly produced all they'd promised of precious metals, but there was more to be taken.

More ships came down, and more. Some of the first, heavily loaded, were lifted to emptiness again and the process of decontamination of their hulls began. There was jealousy among the ships in space for those upon the ground. The first-landed ships had had their choice of loot. There were squabblings about priorities, now that the navy of Weald plainly had a license to steal. There was confusion among the members of the landing-parties. Discipline disappeared. Men in plastic sag-suits roved about as individuals, seeking what they might loot.

There were armed and alerted landing-parties around the grid itself, of course, but the capital city of Dara lay open. Men coming back with loot found their ships already lifted off to make room for others. They were pushed into re-embarking-parties of other ships. There were more and more men to be found on ships where they did not belong, and more and more not to be found where they did.

By the time half the fleet had been aground, there was no longer any pretense of holding a ship down until all its crew returned. There were too many other ships' companies clamoring for their turn to loot. The rosters of many ships, indeed, bore no particular relationship to the men actually on board.

There were less than fifteen ships whose to-be-fumigated holds were still emptied, when the watchful government of Dara broadcast a new message to the invaders. It requested that the looting stop. No matter what payment Weald claimed, it had taken payment five times over. Now was time to stop.

It was amusing. The space admiral of Weald ordered his ships alerted for action. The message ship, ordering the Darian fleet away from Weald, had been sent off long since. No other ship could get away now! The Darians could take their choice: accept the consequences of surrender, or the fleet would rise to throw down bombs.

Calhoun was asking politely to be taken to the Wealdian admiral when the trouble began. It wasn't on the ground, at all. Everything was under splendid control where a landing force occupied the grid and all the ground immediately about it. The space admiral had headquarters in the landing-grid office. Reports came in, orders were issued, admirably crisp salutes were exchanged among sag-suited men. Everything was in perfect shape there.

But there was panic among the ships in space. Communicators gave off horrified, panic-stricken yells. There were screamings. Intelligible communications ceased. Ships plunged crazily this way and that. Some vanished in overdrive. At least one plunged at full power into a Darian ocean.

The space admiral found himself in command of fifteen ships only out of all his former force. The rest of the fleet went through a period of hysterical madness. In some ships it lasted for minutes only. In others it went on for half an hour or more. Then they hung overhead, but did not reply to calls.

Calhoun arrived at the spaceport with Murgatroyd riding on his shoulder. A bewildered officer in a sag-suit halted him.

"I've come," said Calhoun, "to speak to the admiral. My name is Calhoun and I'm Med Service, and I think I met the admiral at a banquet a few weeks ago. He'll remember me."

"You'll have to wait," protested the officer. "There's some trouble—"

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I know about it. I helped design it. I want to explain it to the admiral. He needs to know what's happened, if he's to take appropriate measures."

There were jitterings. Many men in sag-suits had still no idea that anything had gone wrong. Some appeared, brightly carrying loot. Some hung eagerly around the airlocks of ships on the grid tarmac, waiting their turns to stand in corrosive gases for the decontamination of their suits, when they would burn the outer layers and step, aseptic and happy, into a Wealdian ship again. There they could think how rich they were going to be back on Weald.

But the situation aloft was bewildering and very, very ominous. There was strident argument. Presently Calhoun stood before the Wealdian admiral.

"I came to explain something," said Calhoun pleasantly. "The situation has changed. You've noticed it, I'm sure."

The admiral glared at him through two layers of plastic, which covered him almost like a gift-wrapped parcel.

"Be quick!" he rasped.

"First," said Calhoun, "there are no more blueskins. An epidemic of something or other has made the blue patches on the skins of Darians fade out. There have always been some who didn't have blue patches. Now nobody has them."

"Nonsense!" rasped the admiral. "And what has that got to do with this situation?"

"Why, everything," said Calhoun mildly. "It seems that Darians can pass for Wealdians whenever they please. That they are passing for Wealdians. That they've been mixing with your men, wearing sag-suits exactly like the one you're wearing now. They've been going aboard your ships in the confusion of returning looters. There's not a ship now aloft, which has been aground today, which hasn't from one to fifteen Darians—no longer blueskins—on board."

The admiral roared. Then his face turned gray.

"You can't take your fleet back to Weald," said Calhoun gently, "if you believe its crews have been exposed to carriers of the Dara plague. You wouldn't be allowed to land, anyhow."

The admiral said through stiff lips, "I'll blast—"

"No," said Calhoun, again gently. "When you ordered all ships alerted for action, the Darians on each ship released panic gas. They only needed tiny, pocket-sized containers of the gas for the job. They had them. They only needed to use air tanks from their sag-suits to protect themselves against the gas. They kept them handy.

"On nearly all your ships aloft your crews are crazy from panic gas. They'll stay that way until the air is changed. Darians have barricaded themselves in the control rooms of most if not all your ships. You haven't got a fleet. The few ships who will obey your orders—if they drop one bomb, our fleet off Weald will drop fifty.

"I don't think you'd better order offensive action. Instead, I think you'd better have your fleet medical officers come and learn some of the facts of life. There's no need for war between Dara and Weald, but if you insist...."

The admiral made a choking noise. He could have ordered Calhoun killed, but there was a certain appalling fact. The men aground from the fleet were breathing Wealdian air from tanks. It would last so long only. If they were taken on board the still obedient ships overhead, Darians would unquestionably be mixed with them. There was no way to take off the parties now aground without exposing them to contact with Darians, on the ground or in the ships. There was no way to sort out the Darians.

"I—I will give the orders," said the admiral thickly. "I do not know what you devils plan, but—I do not know how to stop you."

"All that's necessary," said Calhoun warmly, "is an open mind. There's a misunderstanding to be cleared up, and some principles of planetary health practises to be explained, and a certain amount of prejudice that has to be thrown away. But nobody need die of changing their minds. The Interstellar Medical Service has proved that over and over!"

Murgatroyd, perched on his shoulder, felt that it was time to take part in the conversation. He said, "Chee-chee!"

"Yes," agreed Calhoun. "We do want to get the job done. We're behind schedule now."

* * * * *

It was not, of course, possible for Calhoun to leave immediately. He had to preside at various meetings of the medical officers of the fleet and the health officials of Dara. He had to make explanations, and correct misapprehensions, and delicately suggest such biological experiments as would prove to the doctors of Weald that there was no longer a plague on Dara, whatever had been the case three generations before.

He had to sit by while an extremely self-confident young Darian doctor—one of his names was Korvan—rather condescendingly demonstrated that the former blue pigmentation was a viral product quite unconnected with the plague, and that it had been wiped out by a very trivial epidemic of such and such.

Calhoun regarded that young man with a detached interest. Maril thought him wonderful, even if she had to give him the material for his work. He agreed with her that he was wonderful. Calhoun shrugged and went on with his own work.

The return of loot, mutual, full, and complete agreement that Darians were no longer carriers of plague, if they had ever been—unless Weald convinced other worlds of this, Weald itself would join Dara in isolation from neighboring worlds. A messenger ship had to recall the twenty-seven ships once floating in orbit about Weald. Most of them would be used for some time, to bring beef from Orede. Some would haul more grain from Weald. It would be paid for. There would be a need for commercial missions to be exchanged between Weald and Dara. There would have to be....

It was a full week before he could go to the little Med Ship and prepare for departure. Even then there were matters to be attended to. All the food-supplies that had been removed could not be replaced. There were biological samples to be replaced and some to be destroyed.

Maril came to the Med Ship again when he was almost ready to leave. She did not seem comfortable.

"I wanted you to meet Korvan," she said regretfully.

"I met him," said Calhoun. "I think he will be a most prominent citizen, in time. He has all the talents for it."

Maril smiled very faintly.

"But you don't admire him."

"I wouldn't say that," protested Calhoun. "After all, he is desirable to you, which is something I couldn't manage."

"You didn't try," said Maril. "Just as I didn't try to be fascinating to you. Why?"

Calhoun spread out his hands. But he looked at Maril with respect. Not every woman could have faced the fact that a man did not feel impelled to make passes at her. It is simply a fact that has nothing to do with desirability or charm or anything else.

"You're going to marry him," he said. "I hope you'll be very happy."

"He's the man I want," said Maril frankly. "And I doubt he'll ever look at another woman. He looks forward to splendid discoveries. I wish he didn't."

Calhoun did not ask the obvious question. Instead, he said thoughtfully, "There's something you could do. It needs to be done. The Med Service in this sector has been badly handled. There are a number of discoveries that need to be made. I don't think your Korvan would relish having things handed to him on a visible silver platter. But they should be known...."

Maril said, "I can guess what you mean. I dropped hints about the way the blueskin markings went away, yes. You've got books for me?"

Calhoun nodded. He found them.

"If we had only fallen in love with each other, Maril, we'd be a team! Too bad! These are a wedding present you'll do well to hide."

She put her hands in his.

"I like you almost as much as I like Murgatroyd! Yes! Korvan will never know, and he'll be a great man." Then she added defensively, "But I don't think he'll only discover things from hints I drop him. He'll make wonderful discoveries."

"Of which," said Calhoun, "the most remarkable is you. Good luck, Maril!"

She went away smiling. But she wiped her eyes when she was out of the ship.

Presently the Med Ship lifted. Calhoun aimed it for the next planet on the list of those he was to visit. After this one more he'd return to sector headquarters with a biting report to make on the way things had been handled before him.

"Overdrive coming, Murgatroyd!"

Then the stars went out and there was silence, and privacy, and a faint, faint, almost unbearable series of background sounds which kept the Med Ship from being totally unendurable.

Long, long days later the ship broke out of overdrive and Calhoun guided it to a round and sunlit world. In due time he thumbed the communicator button.

"Calling ground," he said crisply. "Calling ground! Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty reporting arrival and asking coordinates for landing. Purpose of landing is planetary health inspection. Our mass is fifty standard tons."

There was a pause while the beamed message went many, many thousands of miles. Then the speaker said, "Aesclipus Twenty, repeat your identification!"

Calhoun repeated it patiently. Murgatroyd watched with bright eyes. Perhaps he hoped to be allowed to have another long conversation with somebody by communicator.

"You are warned," said the communicator sternly, "that any deceit or deception about your identity or purpose in landing will be severely punished. We take few chances, here! If you wish to land notwithstanding this warning—"

"I'm coming in," said Calhoun. "Give me the coordinates."

He wrote them down. His expression was slightly pained. The Med Ship drove on, in solar system drive. Murgatroyd said, "Chee-chee? Chee?"

Calhoun sighed.

"That's right, Murgatroyd! Here we go again!"

* * * * *


The Interstellar Medical Service was just about the only remaining galactic organization that every one of the hundreds of inhabited planets respected. So when their service broke down in Star Sector Twelve, it created a very dangerous situation.

When Calhoun took his Med ship out of overdrive near that sector's planet Weald, he was vaguely aware of the risks. But the crisis came home to him with a crash the moment he radioed in for landing coordinates.

"Contamination! Full mobilization! Red alert! Death to blueskins!" Such were the nature of his greetings.

And it began to look like a case of the cosmic jitters that only the most drastic of orbital surgery could cure.

Murray Leinster, whose real name is Will F. Jenkins, has been entertaining the public with his exciting fiction for several decades. Called the dean of modern science-fiction, he was writing these amazing super-science adventures back in the early twenties before there ever was such a thing as an all-fantasy magazine. His short stories, novelettes, and serial novels have appeared in most of the major American magazines, both slick and pulp, and many have been reprinted all over the world. He has made a distinguished name for himself (or rather two names) in the fields of adventure, historical, western, sea, and suspense stories.

Ace Books has still available the following Murray Leinster novels: CITY ON THE MOON (D-277), THE PIRATES OF ZAN and THE MUTANT WEAPON (D-403), and THE FORGOTTEN PLANET (D-528).

* * * * *

Here's a quick checklist of recent releases of ACE SCIENCE-FICTION BOOKS


D-498 GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre Norton

D-504 MASTER OF THE WORLD by Jules Verne

D-507 MEETING AT INFINITY by John Brunner and BEYOND THE SILVER SKY by Kenneth Bulmer

D-508 MORE MACABRE Edited by Donald A. Wollheim

D-509 THE BEAST MASTER by Andre Norton and STAR HUNTER by Andre Norton

D-516 THE SWORDSMAN OF MARS by Otis Adelbert Kline

D-517 BRING BACK YESTERDAY by A. Bertram Chandler and THE TROUBLE WITH TYCHO by Clifford Simak


F-104 MAYDAY ORBIT by Poul Anderson and NO MAN'S WORLD by Kenneth Bulmer

F-105 THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION Fifth Series. Edited by Anthony Boucher.

F-108 THE SUN SABOTEURS by Damon Knight and THE LIGHT OF LILITH by G. McDonald Wallis

F-109 STORM OVER WARLOCK by Andre Norton

F-113 REBELS OF THE RED PLANET by Charles Fontenay and 200 YEARS TO CHRISTMAS by J. T. McIntosh

If you are missing any of these, they can be obtained directly from the publisher by sending the indicated sum, plus 5c handling fee, to Ace Books, Inc. (Sales Dept.), 23 West 47th St., New York 36, N. Y.


Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse