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Stellar Scout James Connely and Sector Chief of Scouts Gregory MacIntyre sat by the communicator, with the star charts spread out around them, and considered their predicament.

From the nearby communicator came a recorded voice:

"Don't land. Keep off this planet. For everybody's sake as well as your own. Stay away."

MacIntyre growled, "Nice and informative, isn't it? What's wrong with the planet? Earthquakes? Plague? Carnivores? Vermin? You'd think anyone that gets in trouble and throws up a warning satellite would have the wit to say what the trouble is. But no, all we're told is, 'Don't land. For everybody's sake. Stay away.' A lot of help that is."

A rapid sequence of beeps came in, and Connely said, "Well, at least we know it's Barnes." Barnes was a Stellar Scout who'd been missing well over a year, and MacIntyre recognized his voice.

"Yeah," said MacIntyre sourly. "It's his voice, all right, and it's his recognition signal, but he doesn't seem to have been using his brain. The thing is just a little miniature warning satellite. If he'd only followed standard procedure, he'd have put a full-size signal satellite in orbit before he went down there. Then he could have got a full-length message started back through channels the same day he got in trouble. But this thing leaves us tied in knots."

Connely nodded moodily.

MacIntyre went on, "A message like this should be relayed, without delay, straight to our HQ in this sector. That's routine. The booby trap in the setup is that the Stellar Scout Department is a part of Planetary Development Administration. This message will get distributed like lightning, so many copies to Planet Certification, so many to the Colonization Council, so many to Central Records, and one copy to Space Force HQ in this sector."

"Yeah," said Connely. "I see what you mean."

"Good," said MacIntyre. "Then maybe you can help me figure it out. There are only two possibilities. Either what is on that planet is as dangerous as it sounds, or it isn't. In either case, you have to bear in mind that the Space Force and Planetary Development do not have the sweetest possible relationship with each other. If the planet is dangerous, it's going to look suspicious that I am out here. A sector chief hardly ever goes out on a scouting trip. I'm only here because I got tangled up with a new piece of equipment, and couldn't get loose before the ship took off. That's the truth. But it's an unlikely kind of an accident, and nobody is going to believe it. Word is going to get around that I knew there was trouble here, and came out to check before sending in the alarm. That's a serious offense. There will be an investigation. Regardless how the investigation turns out, the Space Force will get considerable mileage out of it."

Connely nodded. "There's no doubt about that."

"Or," said MacIntyre, "alternatively, the place may turn out not to be dangerous. Nevertheless, the Space Force is going to rush here all set up for a fight. Big cruisers will be roaring all over the place. Monitors will be orbiting the planet ready to knock off anything that tries to get away. They'll have the solar beam reflectors all set up ready, in case of trouble. Now, if they get all that stuff up out here, and it turns out there's nothing more dangerous on the planet than a chipmunk, Planetary Development Administration is going to be in a mess."

Connely nodded exasperatedly. In his mind, he could hear the wise commentators, and see the glaring headlines:




Connely could also see the news-sheets that would pop out of innumerable printers in countless homes as hurried husbands bolted breakfast and read:


" . . . Why was a PDA sector chief present at the scene of this latest bungling? Why does a mess like this follow right on the heels of the expensive uproar off Cygnes VI, and the disaster on Bemus III? Why must the public pay through the nose for the endless bickering and backbiting between these two monster organizations Planetary Development and the Space Force? Who is responsible? Careful analysis of the power struggle that took place at Cygnes showed without question that the local PDA official tried to mousetrap his opposite number in the Space Force. In this present instance, we actually find a high official of Planetary Development right on the spot, officiating as the misleading report was sent in. Was this intended to be another Cygnes? Or to be, like Bemus III, a planet officially approved for settlement by the Planetary Development Administration and all its octopoid bureaucratic subdivisions, from the Stellar Scouts through the confusingly named Planetary Development Authority to the oh-so-high-and-mighty Planet Certification Authority, but deadly to the helpless colonists who must trust PDA? Or was it another back-stab to the Space Force and the brave soldiers sent yet again to get PDA's roasting chestnuts out of the fire? If Planetary Development is innocent, why was their Sector Chief already on the spot when this latest mess burst into the news? . . ."


The communicator beeped again, and said:

"Don't land. Keep off this planet. For everybody's sake as well as your own. Stay away."

MacIntyre swore. "All right, Con. You see the problem. What's your solution?"

Connely shrugged. "I'm no politician, Mac. But as far as I can see, once we relay that warning, the muck hits the fan. After that business on Cygnes, everybody's a little—tense."

"Yeah," growled MacIntyre.

"On the other hand," said Connely tentatively, "regulations say we've got to relay that message." He looked at MacIntyre meaningfully. "As soon as we hear it, that is.

"Hm-m-m," said MacIntyre thoughtfully.

The two men looked at each other.

"Of course," said MacIntyre, "if we'd had the communicator, say . . . disassembled when we approached the planet, we wouldn't have heard the message."

"No," said Connely. "That's right. The message wasn't sent out till our approach triggered off the satellite."

"And then," said MacIntyre, "with our communicator out of order, there'd be no need to relay the message."

"Of course not," Connely agreed. "We couldn't relay it if we didn't hear it. That's common sense."

The communicator said loudly, "Don't land. Keep off this planet. For everybody's sake as well as your own. Stay away."

MacIntyre said tentatively, "Con, does the reception seem a little rough to you, as if something's going out of whack?"

"Hm-m-m," said Connely, "now that you mention it, it probably wouldn't do any harm if we took a glance at the inside of the thing, would it?"

"An ounce of prevention," said MacIntyre piously, "is worth a pound of cure. Now, let me help you get that inspection cover off."

Several minutes later, parts of the communicator were spread out generously over Connely's non-regulation gray rug.

"Probably," said MacIntyre, "when we land on this planet, just for safety's sake we ought to orbit an extra-powerful signal satellite. Then, at the mere touch of a button in the ship here, we could relay any warning—if, that is, any small warning satellite should happen to be up here. And meanwhile, if we didn't cancel it periodically, the satellite would send out its emergency call."

"Good idea," said Connely. He glanced at the clouded blue and green planet in the viewscreen. "Of course, it doesn't look dangerous."

"No," said MacIntyre. "And it probably isn't, either."

"Still, it's a good idea," said Connely. He went off to take care of it, relieved at the thought that the two monster bureaucracies were not about to come together in a head-on clash with him in the middle. Now it might be possible to get down to business.

A little later, they started down to the planet.

* * *

On their way down, they noted a number of small isolated villages on the screen, and a few fair-sized, medieval-looking cities widely scattered along the seacoast. Then Connely brought the ship down on a stretch of level grassland several dozen miles from a village built near the edge of a forest. His idea was to get a quiet look at the planet, and the natives, by sending out a few probes. Meanwhile, if there was any danger, it could hardly sneak up on the ship across that expanse of level land, and the detectors would spot anything airborne.

The ship had hardly settled down, however, when there was a noise in the corridor, and a yellow warning light began to flash. This yellow warning light told of activity by the IntruGrab, a device designed to seize intruders, and installed in the corridor near the inner air-lock door. So far, Connely had had nothing but trouble with the IntruGrab. Now, he looked out in the corridor to see its big globe halfway between ceiling and floor, and its metallic arms ranging far up and down the corridor.

Connely walked to the cross-corridor, saw nothing there, and decided that the IntruGrab had suffered a malfunction. He was happy to see that so far, at least, it made no effort to stuff him into the globe; but the metal arms snaking through the air around him were beginning to make him uneasy.

He was about to go back to the control room when he noticed a piece of roughly woven orange cloth on the floor of the corridor. He glanced around, wondering where that had come from, and bent to look at it.

This changed his angle of vision so that a glimpse of reflected light further up the corridor caught his attention. He stepped aside, to see, lying on the deck, a short, well-balanced dagger with no guard, and a thin double-edged blade that had been sharpened almost to a needle point. The lower third of the blade was snapped off, and lay close by. Frowning, Connely straightened. He'd had no such knife on board before, and the cloth, too, was strange. It followed that they must have come from outside. But the air lock was still shut.

Uneasily, Connely glanced around.

There was no one in sight in the corridor, but now from the direction of the control room came heavy breathing and a furious thumping sound. Connely dodged past the angled reinforcing members, and looked into the control room.

MacIntyre, a savage expression on his face, came down with both heels on a thing like a length of dull-green two-inch rope. Connely realized with a start that this was a snake, about four feet long. Just as he realized this, he felt a sensation much as if a feather pillow had been tossed lightly against his back. Something clattered to the floor. There was a scuffling behind him, and, across the control room, the familiar yellow warning light began to flash. Connely turned, to see the IntruGrab's metal arms snatch up a gray-cloaked and hooded figure, which vanished in midair before it reached the globe. Just then, there was a grunt from MacIntyre, and the green snake went flying past Connely down the corridor. Three of the IntruGrab's metal arms grabbed the snake before it hit the floor, and stuffed it into the globe.

A flicker of reflected light caught Connely's attention, and he saw lying in the corridor another dagger just like the one that he had found earlier. This one, however, was not broken. Connely looked around for the thing that had caused the sensation of a pillow hitting his back, and then remembered that he was wearing a new item of equipment called "reflex clothing." This, like the IntruGrab, had been forced on him by MacIntyre, who firmly believed in new and modern equipment—the newer and more modern, the better.

Connely put his fist out, and punched himself in the stomach. His clothing stiffened as he hit it, distributing the force of the blow so that he felt only a light push over the front of his body. The fabric of his sleeve, however, also stiffened, to drag back against his arm, so that he found it impossible to strike as quickly as he intended. It occurred to Connely that it would be a good thing if he never had to move fast while wearing "reflex clothing."

MacIntyre was by now looking down the corridor, massaging his throat. "That snake," he said, "was a constrictor. Did you have any snakes or snakes' eggs in the storeroom?"

"No," said Connely. "And I didn't have any daggers or hooded men in the storeroom, either." He described what had happened, and MacIntyre scowled.

"Maybe there was something to what Barnes said, after all."

"Yes, and it explains why he didn't try to say just what the trouble was. How would he describe this?"

* * *

Connely went into the control room, and, just in case there should be large-scale trouble outside, he pushed down the lever that put the battle-computer in control of the ship. He was thinking as he did this that a planet as backward as this one appeared to be probably couldn't endanger the ship itself, and probably he and MacIntyre would know in time if it happened. But it was best to be on the safe side.

As soon as the lever was pushed all the way down, however, the gravitors gave a howling whine, the accelerometer needle whipped around its dial, and the scene on the outside viewscreen jumped backwards and melted into a blur.

The communications screen cut into the battle-control circuit, and lit up to show the green image of the ship hurtling toward a blocky turreted structure like a medieval castle. From this structure, the battle screen showed peculiar wavy lines and ghostly whitish blurs moving out toward the ship. From the ship, in turn, a set of yellow missile tracks, and dazzling bolts from fusion guns slammed out at the massive structure. As the ship flashed past, Connely quickly reset the viewscreen. He saw walls and towers erupt in boiling clouds of dirt and masonry. The ship now flipped end-for-end, with a tortured whine from the gravitors, raced back, and hit the remains of the structure a second time on the way past. The ship then landed, in almost the same spot where they had set down originally.

Connely, dumbfounded, looked at MacIntyre. MacIntyre pulled his jaw shut, and glanced at Connely with a blank expression. Connely shook his head, studied the viewscreen, and was rewarded by the sight of an empty expanse of grassland. Thinking it might be possible to get a better view from one of the ship's upper turrets, Connely went up a ladder, and slid back the armor plating from the transparent dome.

A thing about eighty feet long, with teeth as big as elephant's tusks, sprang at the ship. A snake shaped like a boa constrictor, and about the size of a sea serpent, thrust its snout at Connely like a battering ram. Connely almost fell down the ladder in his haste to get out of the turret. He only barely had the presence of mind to hit the switch that would throw the armor back over the turret. He sprang to the controls, and then it dawned on him that the battle-computer would long since have finished off any such things as he had seen. And if it hadn't, the sheer weight of the blows would be knocking the ship around by this time.

He glanced at the viewscreen and saw merely the empty expanse of grassland. He stared at this a moment, then went back up the ladder and pulled the armor away from the turret again. The ground outside was now acrawl with waves of spiders the size of a man's hand, that climbed up on the ship and began to spin a web of white strands from ship to ground, fastening the ship down with a thick white membrane that grew thicker and tougher as he watched.

Connely automatically reached for the hand controls of the fusion gun in the turret, and then paused. He climbed down, and readjusted the viewscreen, which showed him the same view of empty grassland. He climbed up and looked out the turret. He saw big whitish sheets and cables now covering the ship, and being drawn taut by other cables that ran off to the side. As he watched, the hull of the ship began to warp and buckle.

Connely dropped down the ladder and sprang to the viewscreen. There was nothing but empty grassland. He realized suddenly that there had been no feeling of motion, and no sound from the plates of the ship. If the ship were being squeezed like that, there would be movement, and loud creaks and groanings from the bending metal.

MacIntyre, who'd been watching with growing amazement as Connely hurtled up and down the ladder, said abruptly, "No offense, Con, but would you mind telling me what the devil you're doing?"

"Go up to the turret and take a look," said Connely.

MacIntyre grunted and went up the ladder. An instant later, his voice carried down from above, and he shot down the ladder to make a flying jump for the control board.

Connely leaned casually against a bulkhead in the control room, and watched as MacIntyre grabbed at the controls, then froze halfway, and stared at the viewscreen. He shifted views several times, then glanced at Connely, turned and went back to the ladder. While he was up there, Connely walked back into the corridor to see if the second knife that had been thrown at him was still there. He found it lying where he had seen it before, and noted again that it was a very narrow-bladed knife, apparently balanced especially for throwing, and designed to penetrate flesh with the slightest effort.

There was a faint hum as the armor slid back over the turret. Then MacIntyre was standing beside Connely, who straightened up from the knife, and said, "The more I see of this planet, Mac, the more I have to agree with Barnes."

"Yes," said MacIntyre. "Me, too. And speaking of Barnes, I wonder where he landed?"

"I don't know," said Connely, "but we ought to be able to find his ship. And we might just as well start looking now."

MacIntyre nodded. His face had an unusually thoughtful expression as they walked back into the control room, and Connely lifted ship.

* * *

Once they had a reasonable altitude, Connely released several probes that flashed away on predetermined courses. As the ship streaked north, more probes dropped out. A little over an hour had gone by when a red light lit up on a small panel, to show that Probe 6 had spotted something that matched the taped description of Barnes' ship. Connely sent out the signal to recall the others, and then studied on a small auxiliary screen the image sent back by Probe 6.

The country where Barnes' ship had set down was rolling grassland, much like the place where Connely had landed. Here, too, there was a village a few dozen miles away, which suggested that Barnes, like Connely, had hoped to take a quiet look at the people of the planet but didn't want to frighten them away, or make a sudden dramatic appearance that would upset their lives. Connely smiled sourly at this last thought. The native inhabitants of this planet were apparently well able to take care of themselves.

As Connely was thinking this, the gravitors whined, and another massive structure of high slit-windowed towers and walls appeared on the screen. This one was made entirely of black stone, and as it enlarged on the screen, it rapidly took on the brooding, foreboding aspect of a vulture perched on a tree limb. A sense of dread gripped Connely. The outlines of the control room seemed to waver and run around him, like a sketch drawn in washable ink and placed under water. Then abruptly the illusion was gone, and the outside viewscreen showed a towering column of dust and debris rolling skyward where the structure had stood. The sense of dread was gone as if it had never been.

MacIntyre said suddenly, "Look at this screen!"

Connely glanced at the auxiliary screen, to see a ragged scarecrow figure dancing and waving its arms by Barnes' ship.

"That," said MacIntyre, "looks like Barnes to me."

* * *

When Connely brought his ship down, the figure was still there, and now they could see that Barnes' eyes were tightly shut. The wild waving of his arms that they had taken for happiness at the thought of being rescued turned out instead to be a violent shooing motion, as if Barnes were trying to warn them away.

Connely said, "Before we open the hatch, it might be worthwhile to see what this place looks like from the turret."

"Yes," growled MacIntyre, studying Barnes' thin worn face. "Meanwhile, I'll run out the loudspeaker and pickup and see if he can tell us anything."

Connely climbed into the turret, ran back the protecting armor, and looked at a scene out of a madman's nightmare. The rolling grassland, which showed up as an empty stretch of ground on the viewscreen, appeared to be filled with a maze of tall moss-covered stone walls cut with large rectangular holes like window-openings and doorways. In the oversize doorways lay huge snakes, big crabs with oversize claws, and semifluid horrors like giant jellyfish. The window openings were closed by big spider webs, or partially blocked by gray cone-shaped nests of hornets and wasps. A brief glance was enough for Connely, who looked away before the scene etched itself any more sharply in his memory.

From below came MacIntyre's voice, as he spoke into the loudspeaker.

"Can you hear me all right, Barnes?"

"Go away," came a rough voice. "Get out of here before they get you, too."

"Can you get around to our air lock?"

"Are you insane? I can't go anywhere through this stuff."

"What's wrong? Why can't you get here?"

Connely said, "He can't, Mac. There's an illusion of big walls, boa constrictors, giant crabs . . . Open your eyes on that sight, and you'd be afraid to take three steps."

"It's more," came Barnes' voice. "It's not just a visual illusion. It's tactile as well. You can touch it, feel it, smell it. It can grab you, block you, flatten you. Whatever you do, don't leave your ship or open up the air lock."

"What's wrong with your ship?" said MacIntyre. "Can't you go back inside, and lock up?"

Barnes gave a short laugh. "My ship? Where is my ship? Do you see it?"

MacIntyre hesitated an instant. "It's right behind you," he said.

"You see it?"

"Yes, in the viewscreen."

"Ah, the viewscreen," said Barnes. Then he added matter-of-factly, "Yes, I suppose the viewscreen picks up the basic physical reality, and doesn't show the rest. But to me there's a low hut back here, and that's all. You say that's the ship?"

MacIntyre said, his voice somewhat desperate, "The ship's right behind you."

"You say so, said Barnes musingly, "but what's reality, anyway? Only an illusion that fits all the senses. How do I know what's true for you will be true for me?"

"Truth's truth," said MacIntyre sharply.

"It may be so on Earth," said Barnes. "It isn't so here. Truth is the image imposed by the stronger mind on unformed matter. Truth changes. It's changed several times since I've been here. Once, while it was in flux, I got up a satellite. At least, I think I did."

"You did," said MacIntyre. "Now stop this nonsense about truth and get ready to climb into the ship. I'm going to move over closer to you."

The ship lifted and moved gradually closer to Barnes. Connely looked warily out the turret, his eyes only partly open, to see the apparently solid stone walls seem to compress and slide around the ship as it moved forward. Barnes came into view, and behind him, a low thatched hut. The ship stopped within several yards of Barnes, and MacIntyre said, "Con, are we close enough?"

"It looks so to me," said Connely.

"O.K., Barnes," said MacIntyre. "Climb in."

Barnes stepped forward with his hands outstretched and his eyes tight shut. He came in under the curve of the ship, out of Connely's range of vision. Connely heard him say wonderingly, "I feel it."

A few minutes later, there was the sound of the outer air lock door coming open. Then the sound of it going shut. MacIntyre said, "Can you hear me, Barnes?"

"Yes," said Barnes. "I hear you."

"I'm going to douse you with disinfectant. It's new stuff, and it's death on germs, but try not to swallow any of it."

"All right."

Connely slid the armor back over the turret, and dropped down to the control room. He snapped off the microphone connection to the wall speaker in the air lock.

"Are we sure this is Barnes?" he said. "From what I've seen of this planet, I'd hate to take a disguised native on board."

"You've got a point there," said MacIntyre. "He looks like Barnes. But, how—"

Connely nodded sympathetically as MacIntyre looked perplexed.

"Well," said MacIntyre, "we don't have records of fingerprints or retinal patterns handy, but I may be able to find out if that isn't Barnes." He snapped on the microphone, and said in an excessively cheerful voice, "You getting a good wash-down in there?"

A gargling sound came back at him. A few moments later, Barnes' voice said, "Ye gods, what awful stuff!"

"It's the new disinfectant I was telling you about," said MacIntyre. He added positively, "It's much better than what we used before."

There was a little pause. Then Barnes' voice said shortly, "Yeah."

"When we get you back," said MacIntyre, "I'm going to completely refit your ship. The fact that you couldn't handle the situation here shows how out-of-date your equipment is."

There was a considerable silence, then Barnes' voice said, "Listen, Mac, I appreciate your getting me out of that mess. But before we go through that business about refitting the ship again, would you mind letting me out of this air lock? Your improved disinfectant is eating patches of skin off my feet."

"I'll give you another rinse," said MacIntyre. Then he snapped off the air-lock speaker and glanced at Connely. "I can't swear that's no native. But he sounds like a Stellar Scout to me."

Connely nodded agreement, and went to get a fresh uniform for Barnes.

* * *

About fifteen minutes later, the lanky Barnes was slumped in Connely's control seat, his arms and legs jutting out of the too-small uniform. Barnes looked worn, thin, and somewhat out of sorts after being snatched up by the IntruGrab and put into the globe with the dead snake.

"Listen," said MacIntyre pugnaciously, "I spent the first part of the trip in there. If you can't take a few minutes of it, that's tough."

"Go on outside for a few months first," said Barnes irritatedly. "See how you like it then."

"If you'd used your equipment properly," said MacIntyre, "you probably wouldn't have got into that mess in the first place."

Barnes glanced at Connely. Connely had never met Barnes before, but in that moment they seemed to be brothers. Connely said sympathetically. "What happened?"

Barnes drew a deep breath. After a moment, he said, "Well, to begin with, I took a rough survey of the planet, and decided it was harmless. I tested the air, ran through all the usual checks, and then I was convinced it was harmless. I should have put a signal satellite in orbit, but I only had the new model, and for some fool reason, it wouldn't transmit. Still, I wanted a look at the place. So, like a jackass, after I came down I got out of the ship to take a walk around."

MacIntyre growled, "Unarmed?"

"No, not unarmed. Among other things, I had on your good-for-nothing reflex helmet and clothing. I also had on your worthless M1-X Gazelle Boots, and in addition I had your new Self-Draw Matter-Displacement gun strapped to my waist."

"Then," said MacIntyre, looking puzzled, "you were ready for anything."

"Except the weapons," said Barnes.

MacIntyre frowned. "What weapons?"

"My own weapons," said Barnes angrily.

There was a lengthy silence as the two men glared at each other. Connely leaned back, ready to enjoy the spectacle of somebody else fighting with MacIntyre for a change. After a brief glaring contest, Barnes said furiously, "Why don't you try all these things out first, prove them, and go slow about putting every maniacal contraption that comes along into the ships?"

"Join the Space Force," snapped MacIntyre.

Barnes turned red, sucked in a deep breath, and rose half out of the chair. MacIntyre balled his fists and leaned forward. Connely glanced around nervously at all the instruments that might get smashed up.

Apparently, the same thought occurred to Barnes and MacIntyre, who glanced pugnaciously around, and then by mutually graduated stages, that were a little hard for a bystander to follow, slowly subsided into their seats.

Connely tried to get the conversation back on its tracks. "What happened after you went out of the ship?"

Barnes blinked, and looked around as if he'd forgotten where he was.

"Oh," he said. "Well, till I got about thirty feet from the ship, nothing happened. Then there was a growl, I turned around, and a thing like the Hound of the Baskervilles was coming straight for me, from the direction of the ship."

"What did you do?"

"The first thing I did," said Barnes, "was to make the mistake of starting to reach for my gun. Bang! It slammed out of the holster into my hand and fired itself. The animal was almost on me by this time, and I hadn't wanted to shoot for fear I'd put a hole through the ship, which was right behind it. Rather than risk another shot, I made my second mistake, and pressed down on the toes of the Gazelle Boots, like you're supposed to if you want to go somewhere in a hurry."

Connely had never heard of Gazelle Boots before, and cast a questioning glance at MacIntyre. MacIntyre refused to meet his gaze, and looked off noncommittally at a corner of the control room. This told Connely that Gazelle Boots were one of those items on which production had been "temporarily suspended pending further study." If the boots had still been in production, MacIntyre would have looked back with stern righteousness.

Barnes said, "The left-hand boot took off in a hurry, but so did the right-hand boot. I landed flat on my back, and this animal bounded over my head. Well, I couldn't wait to get on my feet, but in my hurry, I couldn't keep from pressing down on the toes of the boots before I got up. Every time I did this, the boots went somewhere fast, and I bounced and dragged along after them. The animal's jaws were snapping shut half an inch from my face, and I was in a terrible state by the time I managed to get to my feet. I barely had the wit to press down alternately heel-and-toe, according to the directions for walking in Gazelle Boots, and then the boots really streaked out fast. But the reflex clothing froze up like cast iron every time there was any sudden stress on it, so I couldn't move my legs fast, and at the same time I had to, because of the boots."

Connely shook his head sympathetically. "Then what?"

"The boots almost snapped my legs off at the ankles. I ended up on the ground again, and the monster dog was all over me. I was firing at it, and couldn't seem to hit it. Then suddenly the dog was gone, and a voice somewhere was talking some kind of foreign language. The meaning seemed to form in my head at the same time as the foreign words that I couldn't understand."

* * *

Barnes shook his head in reminiscence, and after a little silence, MacIntyre said, "What did the voice say?"

"It said, 'Why, this fellow is a mere beginner. He's got his spells crossed.'"

MacIntyre looked blank. "Did it say 'Spells'?"

"That's what it said."

There was another silence, and then MacIntyre said, "Then what happened?"

"That was it," said Barnes. "The dog was gone. I went back to the ship and discovered that the first shot from the matter-displacement gun had taken a chunk the size of a beachball out of the outer hull and frame of the ship. Before I could repair it, everything changed to look the way it looks out there now."

Connely said, "But what happened after that? I mean, what did you do?"

"What could I do? Once I was stuck there, with those monstrosities staring at me from that wall, I didn't do much traveling, I can tell you that. And I couldn't work on the ship, because I couldn't see it, or feel it. Then a stream of visitors began to come, and I discovered that I was a curiosity. Some of them tried to teach me the language, which they said I had forgotten completely because of mental shock. I think they all looked over the ship while they were around, although I couldn't see the ship myself, so I couldn't be sure. Pretty soon, an argument started between a couple of factions of these visitors.

"As nearly as I could figure it out, one side claimed that I had made the ship and other devices myself, subconsciously, but didn't have the conscious skill to operate them. The other faction claimed that the whole thing was a hoax, engineered by Aloom, or someone with a similar name. They quizzed me on the subject, and when I learned enough of the language to tell them the plain truth, they had a big laugh over it.

"Then each side claimed that what I'd said proved their theory. One side claimed that it showed that I was a basically irrational sort of person who relied on intuition rather than reason, and as everyone knew this meant that I would tap the subconscious more easily. The other side said that the illusion was too detailed to be the work of an irrational untrained mind. The whole illusion must have been impressed on me from outside. This argument got hotter and hotter, and the insults flew back and forth, and all I can say is, I'm glad they didn't forget to feed me now and then."

MacIntyre said, "They had a fight?"

Barnes nodded, "There was thunder and lightning—or seemed to be—earthquakes, tornadoes, and all kinds of natural disasters. The sky was black for a solid week one time. I don't know how to describe it. At any rate, now and then things would go into a state of flux, the walls would seem to run like glue, and then they would form again with a different arrangement. Not much different, but enough so you could notice it. I think what it meant was that one side had wrested mental control away from the other side. While this was happening, I could get a wavering view of the ship and grassland around it."

"In other words," said MacIntyre, frowning, "their illusions canceled each other out?"

"Maybe," said Barnes. "Or maybe, when they nullified each other, I was able to impress my own picture of reality on the scene."

MacIntyre shook his head violently. "It wasn't all illusion. Truth is things as God sees them."

"Sure," said Barnes, "but can we see things that way?"

The discussion was making Connely uneasy. To try to get it back into some familiar channel, he said, "We had a few strange experiences ourselves, right after we landed, and before we put the battle-computer in control." He told Barnes about the snake and the daggers, and added, "It seems like a fair conclusion that the people on this planet have highly developed psychic powers."

"I suppose that's it," said Barnes. "Whatever they've got, it's no fun to tangle with it."

Connely looked at MacIntyre. "What do we do about a planet like this?"

"The first thing is to get off it. See if we can drag Barnes' ship up with a gravitor beam, and then put some space between the planet and us." He frowned as he said this, and it occurred to Connely that MacIntyre's problems would not be over once they got off the planet.

* * *

MacIntyre put this into words himself after they'd got Barnes' ship up, and were in orbit well out from the planet. "This," he said sourly, "is a real, first-class mess."

Connely nodded, but Barnes said, "Why? It looks like a simple 'No Landing-No Colonizing' job to me. We put the warning satellites in orbit, notify Planet Certification, and let it go at that."

"Fine," said MacIntyre. "And just what reason do we give?"

Barnes opened his mouth, then shut it again. "Hm-m-m," he said. "Well, that is a problem."

"The authorities," said MacIntyre, "don't believe in psychic phenomena. Here we've got a whole planet full of psychic phenomena. Now, what do we do?"

Barnes said hesitantly, "You're a sector chief, Mac. They'd believe you, wouldn't they?"

"They'd believe I was in need of a rest cure. I wouldn't believe this myself, if I hadn't seen it."

The three men were silent a moment, then Connely said, "Suppose we brought back proof?"

"What proof? The viewscreen didn't show what we saw outside. Therefore the records won't either."

"All right. But what about the snakes, the knives, and the man that appeared in the corridor out there. They were real. And we've got the dead snake and the knives."

"Sure, but how do we prove where they came from? Just suppose we had visual records of the whole thing. It still wouldn't prove anything to anyone else, because it could have been faked. And if we got a record that couldn't possibly be faked by present techniques, it would merely show that we'd developed a clever new technique in advance of the times. The only way that we could convince the authorities would be to bring them here. How do we do that?"

The minutes crept past as the three men groped for an answer to this problem. In due time they ate, and then retired to Connely's small cabin, just off the control room. MacIntyre settled in the armchair, Connely sat down at the desk and tilted back the chair, and Barnes stretched out on the bunk. Time crept past. Connely, unable to bridge the gap between unyielding authority and unblinkable fact, found himself drawing a sketch of maniacs gibbering from behind iron bars. Suddenly, as he looked at this sketch, it seemed to mean something. He pulled over another piece of paper and began to write:



To: Sector GHQ
Planetary Development Authority
Subject: Acute Infectious Insanity


We enclose herewith the official logs of Stellar Scout Ships 82 and 87. On the dates mentioned in the logs, the following events took place:

a) Scout Ship 82, after a routine planetary inspection, was landed by Stellar Scout J. R. Barnes, on the planet identified in the coded data sheet enclosed. Taking normal precautions in the absence of any visible danger, Barnes left his ship to observe the planet at first hand. Though thoroughly experienced in his work, and well armed, he experienced the following subjective phenomena:

1) attack by a large dog-like animal, which was unaffected by Barnes' weapons, and which later vanished;
2) a voice, though no visible person was present;
3) alteration of his surroundings, the ship becoming invisible;
4) visitation by mysterious local inhabitants, who became engaged in a violent controversy caused by his (Barnes') presence;
5) imprisonment by the said local inhabitants.

b) Stellar Scout Ship 87 was landed on the same planet by Stellar Scout James Connely, accompanied by Sector Chief of Scouts Gregory MacIntyre, who was on board to inspect the functioning and operation of new equipment. Although neither man left the ship at any time while on the planet, they experienced the following subjective phenomena:
1) Sector Chief MacIntyre believed himself attacked by a snake of moderate size, which attempted to choke him by constriction;
2) Stellar Scout Connely believed himself attacked twice with thrown knives;
3) both men observed, through the forward fusion turret, realistic illusions of objects, external to the ship, which did not appear on the outside viewscreen.

Full details of these occurrences are enclosed in the accompanying report.
In explanation, it is suggested that the three men were, during their landing on the planet, rendered temporarily insane by the action of some unknown highly infectious agent or agents.

Although this condition subsided promptly upon leaving the vicinity of the planet, it is clear that the planet should not at the present time be opened to colonization and development. Warning satellites have, therefore, been put in orbit about the planet, according to the regulations concerning medically dangerous planets.

* * *

MacIntyre read the paper carefully. "I think you've got it, Con! They can accept this. And, of course, once they do, they'll be bound to investigate it. Meanwhile, in the more complete report, we can put enough information so anyone who can understand will see what actually happened."

Barnes read the paper and nodded approval. "Better that we suggest we were temporarily nuts than that they think of it."

Connely said, "It's too bad we can't just say what actually happened."

MacIntyre nodded. "Still, it's always this way. We've got a science-based civilization, and if psychic phenomena occur, they're either rationalized away, or denied outright. It's as if science were somehow allergic to psychic phenomena, like a hay-fever sufferer who can't stand ragweed. Although why that should be, I don't know."

Barnes said, "I can answer that one, Mac. When I was stuck on that planet, as I said, some of the natives tried to 'reteach' me their language, which they thought I must have forgotten. I got good enough at it so that they could understand me, and I tried to explain what had actually happened. One day, they told me how they knew my explanation couldn't be the true one."


"Well, they said, at the base of my argument was this thing I called 'science.' And 'science,' they said, was a transparent impossibility, because it was built on an assumption that was provably false."

MacIntyre frowned. "What assumption is that?"

"That experiments can be repeated, and give the same results at different times and for different investigators."

"They don't believe that?"

"No, and what's more, to prove it wasn't true, they followed my instructions and got some copper wire and magnets, had a small compass made, and then passed the magnetic field through the wire, using the compass to detect the induced electric current. They carried out a series of experiments, in which the current flowed in either direction or not at all, as they wished."

MacIntyre whistled. Then he said, "Oh, you mean, they made that illusion."

"I don't think it was an illusion, Mac. I think their psychic control was strong enough to reverse a weak current flow caused by a weak electromotive force. But regardless whether it was an illusion or not, the result was the same: to make a perfectly good experiment worthless. Can you imagine trying to develop science on a planet where, so far as you can tell with your senses, the same experiment gives you one result on Tuesday, and another on Wednesday, depending on your own or somebody else's attitude? On this basis, science could never even get started."

"Yes," said Connely, "but wait a minute. The whole point of science is that the experimenter is disinterested. He comes to Nature, and puts the question. Whatever answer Nature gives, he accepts, and then goes on from there. These natives of yours didn't have the right scientific attitude."

"I'll say they didn't," said Barnes. "They willed the current to go one way or the other."

"All right. Get them to suspend use of their psychic powers, hold the right mental attitude, and experiments will work for them, too."

"Sure," said Barnes. He glanced around at some inexpensive novels Connely had brought along, pulled one out, opened it, and handed it to Connely. He put his finger beside one of the lines and said, "Look at that."

Connely glanced at it:

" . . . at him furiously. She cried out, 'if you do, I'll . . .' "

Connely nodded. "I see it. What of it?"

"Look at it. But don't read any of it.

Connely tried it, and said, "The only way I can do that is to unfocus my eyes. Otherwise, if I see it, I've read it."

Barnes nodded and closed the book. "There's the trouble the natives have. Once you do something automatically, how do you not do it? They've probably been exerting psychic influence all their lives. They can no more suspend it and take up a proper scientific attitude than we can glance at a line of print without reading it."

MacIntyre said, "Speaking of a 'proper scientific attitude.' I have doubts that many of our own scientists are 'disinterested observers,' anyway. It strikes me there wouldn't be much experimenting done if they were."

"Maybe so," said Barnes. "But that doesn't matter so long as they don't have, or for whatever reason don't exert, enough psychic influence to affect the result. And the schools, with their standard experiments, would tend to screen out at the beginning those who didn't get the usual results, for psychic reasons or otherwise."

"So," said MacIntyre frowning, "what we end up with is that a scientific civilization just naturally inhibits the development of psychic phenomena, and a 'psychic' civilization just naturally inhibits the development of science. So whichever one gets a big enough lead tends to get a stranglehold on the other one."

"Right," said Barnes.

MacIntyre sat silent for a long moment, thinking it over. Finally he said, "Well, all we can do is send in that report. But first, we'd better get your ship fixed, and get started back."

Barnes got up. "The sooner we get out of here, the better, as far as I'm concerned."

They went into the control room, where Connely took a long look at the viewscreen. "Boy, whoever gets put in charge of investigating 'acute infectious insanity' has some jolts in front of him."

Barnes nodded. "But bear in mind, down there they're just as bigoted and pig-headed about science being impossible, as people are elsewhere about psychic phenomena being impossible."

Connely said, "And that will just make it all the worse when the two sets of know-alls come together."

"It will be a real mess, all right," said Barnes.

MacIntyre was beginning to smile. "Oh, I don't know about that. It strikes me as plain justice. You could even make a saying out of it."

"Such as what?" said Connely, looking doubtful.

MacIntyre smiled.

"One good bigot," he said, "deserves another."


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