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Part III:
Pandora's Envoy

Tark Monnik, Planetary Integrator of Centralis II, looked out through his twin telescopes at an early-morning panorama of tracer bullets, blazing cannon, and geysers of flying dirt. The solid mountain trembled under his feet. The air reeked of gun powder. Monnik and his occupation army, settled down comfortably just a few weeks before, now found themselves bled white, cornered, and fighting for their lives. Monnik looked up angrily and gestured to a nearby officer with the staff's morning summary of the situation.

"Sir," said the officer, "in the north, the enemy—"

"Never mind that," said Monnik. "The other day I sent out a call for reinforcements. Everything depends on whether or not we get them. Has any answer come in yet?"

The staff officer looked unhappy. "Yes, sir. We've had a reply from Drasmon Argit himself."

"Good," said Monnik. "Let's hear it."

The staff officer separated one sheet of paper from the rest, and read: " 'Monnik—Owing to complications elsewhere, we find it impossible to properly reinforce you in less than sixty to eighty days. To tide you over till the reinforcements arrive, we send you "Able Hunter"—this is his code name—who is a member of the Supreme Staff, and a genuine Earthman. Hunter is bringing his Special Effects Team, with full field equipment. You may find Hunter's methods of war somewhat unconventional and even eccentric, but we would advise you not to underrate either him or them. As we mentioned before, he is an Earthman. Good luck, Argit.' "

The staff officer stopped reading, and Monnik said, "Let's see that." He read it over, then looked up blankly.

"What's an 'Earthman'?"

The officer looked perplexed. "Sir, we've had our hands so full here, I guess I haven't kept up with things. It sounds like some kind of alien to me, sir."

Monnik, puzzled, ran his hand through the fur at the base of his neck. "If I remember correctly, we have a few men in the Headquarters Guard who were transferred from a planet called 'Earth.' Get hold of them, and see what they can tell you."

"Yes, sir."

"When is this 'Able Hunter' going to get here?"

"His ship came down at the spacefield a few hours ago, sir. He's on his way out here by ground-car right now."

"All right. Give me that summary, and go find out about Earth."

"Yes, sir."

Monnik braced himself, and looked over the sector-by-sector summary of the situation. Not much had happened overnight, but the new day was starting with a bang. Monnik's defense rested on a network of improvised fortifications in the south, and a river along most of the rest of his front. Behind the river was a chain of formidable mountains, a strip of coastal lowland, and the sea. Monnik was fighting to hold the river line. The enemy was using every stratagem and maneuver to pry him out of it.

Last week, the enemy concentrated his artillery south of the big bend of the river, and under protection of the artillery swung a pontoon bridge across. Monnik rushed reinforcements to the scene, and concentrated his own artillery. The enemy established a bridgehead. Monnik blew up the bridge, and plastered the bridgehead with a heavy bombardment.

Now, though the firing from both sides still went on, the summary in Monnik's hands told him that the enemy had secretly started the bulk of his artillery south during the night, and was at present rushing this rolling concentration of firepower down the river road at all possible speed.

Farther to the south was Monnik's network of improvised fortifications. If the enemy could get there first with his artillery, it would mean serious trouble for Monnik.

Monnik gave the necessary orders to start the bulk of his own artillery moving south. He then went inside to study the map table and was confronted with a bulging excess of symbols on the other side of the river, and a depressing scarcity of them on his own side. Venturesome plans just starting to germinate deep in his consciousness withered at the mere sight of the map.

Monnik was moodily contemplating the superiority of enemy numbers and equipment when he heard a ground-car come slamming up the trail of ruts and potholes that served as the road to his headquarters.

A few moments later, the door opened up to let in a strongly built alien with the insignia of a general—grade III—and member of the Supreme Staff. Monnik was absorbing the sight of this tailless, practically furless, wide-browed creature, when the creature looked directly at him, and said, "I'm Able Hunter."

"Tark Monnik," said Monnik automatically.

Able Hunter handed over his identification and a set of vague orders assigning him to Monnik's command "for purposes of consultation and technical assistance."

Hunter remarked, "I understand you've got a little trouble here."

Monnik grunted. "They've got us with one hand, and they've got an axe in the other hand. All they need is to get our neck on the block for about five seconds."

"Is that the present situation on the map table over there?"

"That's it."

Hunter looked over the map intently. After a while, he walked around and looked at it from the other side. He grunted and said "How did this mess come about?"

Monnik scowled, then glanced at the silver emblem of the Supreme Staff on the Earthman's jacket. Monnik said, "We made a serious error of judgment. Before we landed, the planet was run by a caste system that was pretty unfair to the governed classes. After we finally managed to smash their military resistance, we also smashed their caste system. We thought the majority of the natives would be grateful. What we overlooked was that their philosophy stated that the lowest member of their caste system was still higher than any other species in creation. They call themselves 'kingmen,' and I guess they'll fight to the finish to stay 'kingmen.' They feigned obedience to us, fooled the attitude-testing technicians, and at a given signal there was a simultaneous uprising all over the planet. Now, if we don't get reinforcements soon—"

There was a faint rapid tapping noise to one side. Monnik glanced around. The staff officer he'd sent to get information about Earth was standing a little back from the doorway, out of Hunter's range of vision. He looked urgently at Monnik.

"If you'll excuse me," said Monnik, "one of my officers wants to see me for a moment."

"Go right ahead," said Hunter.

Monnik went outside and moved away so they wouldn't be overheard.

"Sir," said the staff officer excitedly, "the men who were on Earth said the fighting here is like a vacation by comparison. They—"

"Keep your voice down," growled Monnik. "How reliable did these soldiers seem?"

"Sir, several of them have the platinum nova for extreme bravery in action. But then, they said the platinum nova was issued to whole units on Earth."

Monnik blinked. The platinum nova was given out with grudging restraint, and only after investigation by half-a- dozen separate teams of examiners, all of whom had to be satisfied or the award was withheld.

"Listen," said Monnik, "I don't want to leave him in there too long. For now, just give me a quick summary of these Earthmen. What's their strong point?"

The staff officer thought intently. "They're original thinkers, sir, and they're mechanically ingenious. The soldiers said they'd come to the conclusion an Earthman must be born with a tool kit in one hand."

"I don't see how that can help us in the present situation."

"I don't know, sir. The soldiers said it was no fun at all fighting them. They said—"

Monnik nodded. "Tell me that later. I'm going back inside now."

"Yes, sir."

Monnik went back and found the Earthman leaning over the map table, contemplating the big bend of the river near the center of Monnik's line. He said, "I suppose you're hanging onto that riverbend to cramp the enemy's movements from north to south?"

"Well, yes, and also because it would be a lot harder to stop him once he got across that river anywhere."

The Earthman nodded thoughtfully, and Monnik cleared his throat. It had just occurred to him that there might be advantages to the Earthman being "mechanically ingenious." Monnik said, "I imagine you've brought along special equipment. Any . . . ah . . . new weapons?"

Hunter's face took on a blank uninformative expression. "We have some exceptionally powerful weapons, but they're only for use as a last resort. My men and I aren't operating as regular troops. We're irregulars, and work on a special theory of war."

"What's that?"

"An army, like a person," said Hunter, "has certain special points of vulnerability. Strike these at the right times and in the right sequence and the whole thing will collapse of its own weight."

Monnik looked at the map, at the symbols of the tremendous power massing against him across the river. Where, he asked himself, were the weak points in that bristling array of helmets and guns? He looked at the Earthman without enthusiasm. "Maybe," he said.

"Well," said Hunter, "if you'll get me some passes, so my men and I can operate on all sectors of the front—"

Monnik nodded. "I can do that easily enough."

A little while later, the Earthman was on his way back down the mountain, and Monnik was listening to his staff officer describe the war against Earth, as told to him by those who had been there.

" . . . Traveling forts," the staff officer was saying, "ships with guns big enough to hide in, bombs that flew under their own power; why, sir, the place sounds like a nightmare. They had guns that squirted out fire—"


"Yes, sir. And if it hit you, that was the end. They say it took thirty-five million troops before they got the place more or less under control, and all they really ended up with then was a compromise."

Monnik scowled. Automatically, he discounted fifty per cent for exaggeration. But, even so—

"Sir," the staff officer finished, "the Earthmen have a fairy tale about somebody called 'Pandora,' who opened up a nice-looking box, and all sorts of horrors came out. The soldiers say Earth is like that box. They call it 'Pandora's Planet'!"

Monnik thought that over. "All right. Set up a team to report to me everything these Earthmen do. And I'll want to know fast."

"Yes, sir."

As this staff officer departed at a run, another bolted out of the headquarters building.

"Sir, the kingmen are trying another crossing!"

Monnik stared. "Where?"

"Sir, that artillery they were moving south along the river—they've swung it off the road and opened fire on our observation posts along the opposite bank. We thought all the wagons they had with them were part of the ammunition train, but they've got a disassembled pontoon bridge on some of them. They've got a column of troops marching up the road toward them. We've got practically nothing on the opposite bank because we sent everything north to fight at that first bridgehead. We can't pull those troops back yet because they're still fighting, and they're about worn out."

"Where's our artillery?"

"Coming south on the road. But, sir, they're bogged down in a terrible stretch of road."

"How long till they get to the new crossing-place?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

Monnik felt as if he had been hit over the head with a club.

"Sir," cried the staff officer, "the kingmen will cross the river, go straight through us, and split the front in two halves. They'll—"

"Shut up," snarled Monnik. "Bring Karrif up from the south and block the crossing."

"Sir, it was quiet on Karrif's sector, so his transport was pulled out to help move the reserve. He has no transport."

"Then he'll have to do it on foot. Get moving."

The staff officer sprinted away. Monnik considered the Earthman and his theory. He hoped there was something to it because the fight was getting to the point where the moves were forced, and there didn't seem to be too many moves left.


For most of the day, the situation wavered and hung fire. Then a fierce attack opened up before his fortifications in the south. The kingmen in the original bridgehead tried hard to break out. As both these attacks were held, the enemy engineers assembling the new pontoon bridge lagged and bungled in a suspicious way. Meanwhile, on Monnik's side of the river, General Karrif's troops alternately marched and ran, marched and ran, the general himself at the head of the column, as they raced north toward the crossing.

As evening approached, Karrif's troops, bone-tired but triumphant, marched up opposite the crossing-place.

The enemy artillery instantly swung onto the road and headed south again. With smooth efficiency, the engineers loaded the pontoon bridge back onto its wagons and followed the artillery.

"They'll cross farther south, sir," said a worn-looking staff officer. "We can't move anything north because of the attack at the fortifications. Even the general reserve's committed—what's left of it."

"Give Karrif two hours rest. Then start him south again."

"Sir, the men will drop like flies."

"It will be worse than that if the kingmen get across that river. How's the artillery coming?"

"Axle-deep in mud, sir. The men are moving the guns but it's hellish work."

"How did this come about? That road was all right earlier."

"Yes, sir, but some rubbish plugged up a culvert under the road. The water backed up, overflowed the ditch, and soaked the roadbed. The dirt turned into mud, and when the weight of those guns hit it, they ground it into bottomless slop."

Monnik shook his head in weary disgust. "They've got the culvert unplugged by now, I hope."

"Yes, sir, and they're laying down planks, but it's a mess."

"All right. Get that order out to Karrif."

"Yes, sir."

Monnik stood still for a moment, considering how the fate of an army could rest on a few puny branches drifting into the mouth of a culvert and catching a pile of miscellaneous trash that could indirectly halt a whole column of artillery, without as much as a shot fired or a hand raised in anger.

He scowled suddenly, and sent one of his officers to find out what the Earthmen were doing. The officer came back with a blank look.

"Sir, they're flying kites."

"They're what?"

"Flying kites, sir. The reports say they're very pretty kites. And they're also floating little rafts down the river."

Monnik shook his head in disgust. There, he thought, went his last hope. Grimly, he braced himself for the morrow.

It was a bad night for Monnik. And then he woke to confront a gray-faced staff as the reports came in.

"Sir, Karrif is back in position."


"And there's about a third to a fourth of the enemy artillery opposite him."

Monnik started. "Where's the rest of it?"

"They apparently pulled it off the road soon after dark, sir. Now it's back where it was yesterday. They're putting the pontoon bridge together with record speed, and the first enemy troops are waiting to cross. We're back where we were before, only now Karrif is too worn out to be able to intervene either in the north or the south. His troops are exhausted."

Monnik made a hard effort to keep his equilibrium. "How's the fighting elsewhere?"

"The enemy has made a little dent in the south, but it isn't bad. The reserve has stopped them. Further north, they've been driven back into their bridgehead with heavy losses. We've stopped them elsewhere, but there's nothing left to stop them at the crossing." The officer managed a faint imitation of a smile. "Except the Earthmen, sir. They're there."

"What are they doing?"

"Flying kites, sir. And floating rafts."

Monnik grunted. "Where are our guns?"

"They're just dragging the first of them out onto the solid road. But they can't get into position before this afternoon, and with no infantry support, we'll just lose them to the kingmen."

"Keep dragging them out," said Monnik, "and move them south as fast as possible. Pull out Hossig and his best units and send them south."

"Sir, they'll never make it."

"They've got to make it."

"Sir, it just isn't possible. If there were anything, of any size, to slow down the kingmen when they cross, it might work. But there's nothing left there except the remnants of our observation posts. There's just nothing to delay them, sir."

"Then there will be," said Monnik. "We'll delay them ourselves. The Headquarters Guard is an elite unit. Assemble them outside."


For the first part of the trip, over the miserable trails that wound around horseshoe curves and plunged up and down long steep grades, Monnik used what remained of his pool of headquarters transport. When they had delivered Monnik and the first section of the Headquarters Guard to a specified point, they went back for more. Monnik started off cross-country with the men he had.

On the map, it had looked to him like a possible thing. Monnik had thought he knew all about maps, and their little tricks, until he came to the third of the ravines that weren't shown on the map. Sweating and furious, he led the men as they scrambled and slid down to the bottom, stumbled through the tumbled rocks and rushing water, and laboriously hauled themselves up the other side. In time, they emerged on an open hill, to see in the distance below them a pontoon bridge, with a steady stream of enemy soldiers crossing and fanning out on the near side of the river. To Monnik's left, far down the road that wound along the base of the hill, his own guns were approaching.

Monnik looked over the ground carefully. He turned to the captain of the guard.

"You see that ridge above the road? If we spread out along it, and switch our men back and forth as we fire, we can give the impression of a much larger body of troops. Come on."

The captain passed the orders back, and they spread out along the ridge. In the distance, the kingmen approached. From somewhere out of sight, the Earthmen drifted pretty kites over the battlefield. Monnik and his men began to fire.

The kingmen continued to advance.

Monnik braced himself for the unavoidable end. He hoped Hossig would make good use of the delay.

Suddenly, from the direction of the river came a white flash, followed by a terrific concussion.

From the drifting kites dropped little gray packets.

The captain put his hand on Monnik's arm.

"Sir, their bridge is gone! And look there. Great hairy master of sin! Look at that!"

The kingmen were rushing in all directions, thrashing their arms wildly. Abruptly they all bolted for the river. The huge array dwindled into a mob that vanished headlong over the river bank.

Monnik said suddenly, "The Earthmen dropped something from those kites. But what could—"

From the distance came a faint whining sound that grew to a speeding little speck, and was joined by other whining little specks.

Monnik looked at the fleeing kingmen, then at the growing multitude of specks traveling in his direction. His mouth felt dry. He turned to the captain of the guard.

"We've done our duty here, captain. I don't know what that is coming. We'd better withdraw."

"Yes, sir." The captain flung back his head.


Monnik suddenly found himself alone on the battlefield. The kingmen had vanished into the river. His own troops were so many pairs of heels dwindling fast up the hillside. The multiple whine was closing on him like a cyclone. A sudden sense of urgency gripped Monnik and moved him up the hillside in a blur of speed.

A whining noise followed right behind him and suddenly caught up.

A red-hot knitting needle seemed to pass back and forth through Monnik with simultaneous discharges of about twenty thousand volts.

Monnik let out a yell and suddenly began to really move. He passed his men as if they were standing still, miraculously bolted uphill between innumerable tree trunks without hitting any, and plunged down a steep ravine. Ear-splitting yells burst out to the rear, and on the way down the ravine, his men started to pass him. Then Monnik hit the water amidst a whining noise, screams, the roar of guns let off in panic, flying rocks, chunks of dirt and moss, and somebody's left boot with no foot in it. The water suddenly went up his nose, a submerged rock hit him on the chin, and a sensation like fifty poisoned fishhooks passed through his exposed right shoulder.

When Monnik came to, he was done up in bandages, and lying on a cot somewhere in the pitch blackness.

"Great space," he croaked. He sat up, and somewhere in the distance he could hear intermittent dull explosions. He tried to get up, felt dizzy and nauseated, and sat down again. He leaned back, and never even felt himself hit the cot.

The next thing he knew, it was broad daylight.

An orderly with a bulging white patch over his face brought him in some hot broth. Monnik forced down the broth and sent for a member of his staff. A staff officer came in looking as if he had spent the night being rolled around in an oil drum.

"Good afternoon, sir," said the staff officer shakily.

"Afternoon?" growled Monnik.

"Yes, sir."

Monnik squinted around. He had some trouble seeing, as his face and one side of his head was swollen up. "What happened?" he said, propping himself up.

"Well, sir, the second section of the Guard found us in the bottom of the ravine and dragged us out. At that, we lost about half a dozen men drowned."

Monnik lay back dizzily. "What about the kingmen?"

"Some of them made it across the river, sir. The ones on the other side, at the guns, ran away when the kites started drifting over them. After they ran away, a man-sized thing with flippers came up out of the river, set down a cylinder, took off the flippers and a kind of face mask, and turned into an Earthman that walked past the line of guns carrying a sack. As he passed the guns, he reached into the sack and slapped something onto the left wheel of each gun-carriage. He went back into the water, and all of a sudden a section blew out of each left-hand wheel of the kingmen's cannons." The officer paused and added, "The kingmen aren't going anywhere with those guns, sir, till they get the wheels fixed."

"Where are our guns?"

"In position, sir. Dropping whip-shot on the other side of the river every time they try to get at their guns."

A pleasant warm sensation built up in Monnik. "Well," he said, "what was it that blew up the bridge?"

"The Earthmen drifted some explosives under it in a little raft."

Monnik's bruised lips creased into a grin.

"And what was that racket last night?"

"That was the Earthmen, too, sir. They were on the other side putting bombs in culverts and setting off fuel dumps. The kingmen were a little rattled from what had happened earlier in the day, it was a dark night, and they couldn't do much to stop it. The patrols are boiling over there today, though, and I'd hate to set foot on the other side tonight."

"Help me up," said Monnik. "A situation like this should be taken advantage of."

With one arm across the staff officer's shoulders, Monnik got out of the room. He was vaguely conscious that it took three of them and a swearing doctor to load him back on the cot again.

After a nightmarish interval, Monnik awoke to again find it dark. A distant uproar suggested to him that despite the bristling patrols, the Earthmen must once more be busy on the enemy side of the river. Feeling that things were in good hands, Monnik drifted into a deep, restful sleep.

The next morning, Monnik awoke feeling refreshed. He found that if he moved slowly, and was careful not to touch or bump various parts of his body, he was able to get around with only an occasional spell of dizziness. He went to his headquarters, to find worried officers clustered around the map table. A brief glance showed him the reason. The kingmen were gathering in great force around the wide loop of the river near the center of his front.

"What's this about?" he demanded.

"Sir, the Earthmen have been operating from that river bend. Last night, there was a terrific uproar on the kingmen's side of the river. It sounded like they'd split up into two teams and were having a private war. I guess they were, too. The Earthmen told us they let animals called 'rabbits' loose over there, with 'noisemakers' strapped to them. Every ten or twelve bounds there would be a loud bang from the noisemaker. Then the rabbit would run and there would be more bangs. In the dark, the kingmen fired at the rabbits, and there were so many kingmen on patrol they couldn't help firing near each other, and a few of them got hit, and others fired back, and one thing led to another and pretty soon they were calling out the reinforcements. Well, sir, as we see it, their commander has had about all he can take, and he's going to end everything by brute force. The troops were coming in from all over this morning. They're a little short on artillery, but they've got a lot of transport, even if they do have to use alternate roads, and they're massing fast."

Monnik glanced at the map. "You think they'll try to smash through our center and crush each half in turn?"

"Yes, sir. You can see, here, they've brought up some more pontoon bridges. They must be bringing those in from all over the planet. And they've got what artillery they can still move. If they once get a good grip on this side of the river, it's going to be rough."

"Can we bring our artillery back along that road to the base of this loop of the river?"

"Not too well, sir. That road hasn't drained dry yet. We'd get bogged down again. Sir, the Earthmen asked us to pull back, fortify these hills back here, and fight to the death on that line if the kingmen get over. But we aren't to advance in any circumstances. We couldn't do it, sir, on our own authority, but if you think—"

Monnik nodded. "Pull them back. Once that attack opens up, they'll never stop it." He frowned. "What about the old bridgehead—the first one? Is that still holding out?"

"No, sir. The Earthmen flew their kites over it yesterday, and that caused so much panic our men got in and cleaned them out."

"Good. Then we don't have that to worry about. All right, we'll have to thin our men out some to the north, and rush all we can down here where the kingmen are going to get through. Get the artillery ready to move on short notice. Switch Karrif and Hossig to the south and put Karrif in overall command. When the kingmen come over that river to crack our center, I want to smash their left, swing around and hit them from the rear. We've got to give Karrif the bulk of our transport, and check with our observation posts and the Earthmen to see what roads on the other side are usable."

"Sir, we can use our transport to switch troops down from the north, and at the same time our other trucks and ground cars can be rushing back and forth from the south, too. But the men can lie down while the trucks are headed south, and coming north we can set up dummy props like the Earthmen use, and then the kingmen will think we're moving troops north, instead of south."

"Good. All right, get to work." Monnik glanced at the map, and then the phrase "dummy props like the Earthmen use" really penetrated his consciousness. Puzzled, he asked the nearest officer about it.

"Oh, yes, sir," said the officer. "You see, sir, they're trying to bluff the kingmen. They've got a lot of dummies made out of rubber that they blow up to large size, and weight down with dirt. Why, there are dummy guns, dummy soldiers, dummy ground-cars, and imitation marching sounds coming out of loud-speakers. They said, sir, it was one of their favorite effects."

Feeling somewhat dizzy, Monnik went outside to peer at the river bend through his double telescopes. As he bent at the telescopes, he instantly recognized the signs of a mammoth troop movement. Clouds of dust trailed across the jutting salient of the river bend. The roar of engines, rumble of rolling guns, tramp of feet, and murmur of mingled voices rose to meet him. He could just detect the chink of picks and shovels as the troops dug in, the called orders of officers, and distant blast of signal whistles. Through the dust and haze, he seemed to see the moving shapes of columns of ground-cars, and the dull flash of the sun on the shiny scabbards of masses of marching troops.

Monnik straightened in wonder. It hardly seemed possible to him that a troop movement of that size could be counterfeited. But then, almost everything was shrouded in the dust and haze, and besides, he knew it had to be fake. With the meager stock of transport he had available, his men just couldn't have been concentrated that fast.

Monnik took another look at the scene, and could find nothing wrong with it. If he hadn't known that it was impossible, it would have fooled him. He went back inside, and watched as the kingmen piled up more and more power around the loop of the river, while his own men pulled out to fortify the hills further back. The map took on a fantastic appearance. With a crushing superiority on one side, and nothing on the other side, the enemy was afraid to move.

As a staff officer remarked, "They're completely fooled, sir."

"Yes," said Monnik cheerfully, "at this rate, we'll have things in good shape by tomorrow or the next day." He felt a sensation of warm friendliness for the Earthmen.

Just then, the solid mountain seemed to jump under his feet. There was a concussion that stunned him for an instant. Then they were all running outside.

Down below, within the bend of the river, a great column of black smoke boiled toward the sky. Then a second and a third explosion shook the ground.

Monnik whirled and shouted:

"Get inside! There'll be a flood of reports any moment now. And we have to know what's going on."

As the officers ran in, Monnik took a closer look at the river bend. The wind was slowly moving the column of smoke, and through it he could vaguely see burning ground-cars, overturned cannon, and flickering bits of wreckage.

Monnik groaned. He didn't know what had caused the disaster. But he knew what the result would be.

A little later, an officer ran out to him.

"Sir, the kingmen are swinging their pontoon bridges across!"

Monnik watched the map as the enormous enemy force funneled unresisted across the pontoon bridges and began to surge toward him. "How," he demanded of his officers, "is that defense line in the mountains coming along?"

"Slow, sir. There just hasn't been enough time, and there aren't enough men there yet. It will probably stop the first attack. If they don't hit it too hard, or in the wrong place."

Monnik swore, went outside, and got the captain of the guard. "I hate to do this to you," said Monnik to the bandaged figure, "but I've got another job for you."

As the guard roared off to help dig and man the defense line, Monnik once more became conscious of his aches and pains.

Late that afternoon, he received word that the advance scouts of the kingmen had reached the defense line, with the swarming army not far behind them. Able Hunter had by then installed a television command post in Monnik's headquarters, so Monnik could see the advancing scouts on one of the screens. Hunter was talking into a headset. On the screen, the enemy scouts moved toward the defenses.

A few moments later, the hidden troops higher up opened fire. There was a roar of cannon, and the scouts dove for cover. There were shouts and the blasts of whistles from the rear.

One of Monnik's staff officers said, "That line will never hold them."

Able Hunter was saying into his headphones, " . . . The 000 Canadian first. The jumping, crawling, and burrowing later . . . Now, I should think it's about time to try the Spider Special and a couple cases of Sparky Willie on that pack before they get spread out too much—"

One of the other screens showed the first of the main force of kingmen coming up well spread out. Further back, hosts of kingmen advanced in little groups. It was on these groups that miniature planes suddenly dove, trailing long pale strands that stuck and clung as the planes whipped around the groups, shot up, exuded more of the pale substance, and dove again. Behind the planes were left knots of men struggling with clinging filaments like so many flies trapped in webs. During the confusion this caused, a number of pale blue parachutes drifted to earth, burst into flame and disappeared on touching the ground. Small devices with caterpillar treads and long whiplike antennae crept out toward the kingmen, who were now broken up into innumerable knots of individuals stuck together in a complex pattern with strands running in all directions. Just then, the long antennae of the creeping devices approached the struggling soldiers.

Monnik watched as the kingmen's triumphant army began to retreat.

One of Monnik's officers said dazedly, "It's victory, sir."

Monnik grunted. "If it lasts. Signal Karrif to open the attack in the south."

"Look there, sir," cried an officer.

Monnik looked around to see on another screen, a huge host of kingmen spread over the land within the river bend. Beneath the cloudy sky, some were still grimly coming forward. Others were hastily going backwards. These men were not stuck by sticky strands, but appeared to exist in the center of a faint swirling gray haze. The majority of them appeared demented, and shrugged their shoulders, coughed, nervously reached down inside their jackets, batted the air, slapped their wrists, necks, and ankles, gritted their teeth, hopped, rushed in and out of stalled ground-cars, climbed on top, sprang off, and then began to dig as if their only hope was to melt into the earth.

Monnik looked up in awe. "That's nerve-gas, isn't it?"

"No," said Hunter, "that is a brand of tiny black fly, selected from a type found in northern swamps and forests on Earth, and specially bred for biting power, hardiness, and ease of incubation. You'd be surprised how many can be packed into the space occupied by a single bullet, and these things seek their targets. We're also dropping other insect pests to vary the agony."

Monnik squinted at the screen. "But—mere bugs can't stop an army."

Hunter turned away and said into his headphones, "Bombing raid, eh? Good. Get our plane with the enemy markings up, and see if you can sneak into their formation and go back with them—don't complain. You volunteered. A few of our Superstrength hornets and yellow-jackets will keep the enemy pilots away and their planes down long enough for us to make a leaflet raid on the nearby cities and villages."

"Leaflet raid?" asked Monnik.

Hunter wordlessly handed him a neatly-printed oblong of paper. At the same moment as Monnik started to read it, an officer rushed in.

"Sir! The wind's shifted! Bugs—"

"Aah!" said Monnik irritably. He waved the officer to silence, and began to read the paper.

A kind of swirling gray fog came in the door. Monnik ignored it. The staff officers looked to Monnik for guidance, and stood firm. Hunter went straight out a window on the opposite side of the room.

Monnik was reading in astonishment:


For reasons of strategic rearrangement, your victorious army will, within the next day or two, move back through certain towns and villages in rear of the present lines.
You will, of course, firmly assist the military authorities in every way possible. For example:
1) Soldiers who have gone violently insane under pressure of enemy action will be cared for.
2) Troops suffering from vicious insect pests will be treated at houses designated by troop commanders.
3) Infested civilian houses will be burnt to the ground.
4) Citizens will borrow the guns of soldiers temporarily out of action, and turn out to resist roving bands of savage enemy.

Monnik became conscious of a peculiar fuzziness. The air before him seemed to be filled with innumerable tiny gray specks. He swept his hand through the air, and that rearranged the specks. He felt a surge of irritation and decided that the thing to do was to ignore the presence of the creatures. He looked up.

An officer with one hand across his face and the other fanning the air gave a guilty start. The room was filled with officers turning round and round, slapping wrists, necks, and ankles, snorting, coughing, and hopping from one foot to the other.

"Here," snapped Monnik. "Ignore these irritations. There's work—"

Something went down his throat to the entrance of his lungs. Monnik coughed desperately. That only made things worse till he remembered to keep his mouth shut as he inhaled. Meanwhile, from those few spots where he wasn't liberally covered by bandages, came an intense itching, and a sensation of being crawled over by countless tiny feet. Monnik grimly tried to ignore it. Now the things were going up his nostrils, crawling out onto his eyelids, and buzzing around inside his ears.

From outside came Hunter's voice.

"Anyone who wants repellent, come on out here!"

Various officers began to edge for the door.

"None of that!" snarled Monnik. "Back to work!"

The officers milled around, futilely making an occasional grab at a report or fumbling with a movable symbol on the map.

The things were now biting Monnik on the eyes, on the face, in the ears and nostrils, on the lips, the backs of his hands and his wrists, and were working in from all directions to bite him through his thick fur, so that while it was bad now, it was bound to get worse shortly. Monnik estimated that he had killed possibly twenty of them, and the space around him plainly contained thousands eager to land.

Monnik told himself that a good general knows when to retreat. He growled, "Follow me, men!" and headed for the bug repellent.

* * *

It was only a few days later that the kingmen, their troops in flight before Monnik, and their civilians in flight before their troops, sent Monnik an emissary.

The emissary, his face puffed and bandaged, with eyes swollen nearly shut, stood swaying uncertainly as he glanced from Hunter to Monnik. The feathers at the back of his neck were badly rumpled—a sure sign of illness amongst the kingmen—and he looked as if he might collapse at any time. In a croaking voice, he said, "Where's the surrender terms? I want to sign."

Monnik had his staff draw up a suitable document, and meanwhile the kingman sat dozing in a camp chair, his head nodding forward and snapping upright, with one hand gripping the edge of the chair and the other swishing the empty air like a traveling fly-swatter.

The sight was beginning to unnerve Monnik when the document was brought over. He checked it carefully, then had an orderly shake the emissary awake.

"Here," said Monnik, "you can read this, and if—"

"Don't want to read it," the emissary interrupted. "I just want to sign it. Then you'll get rid of the bugs, won't you?"

Monnik glanced at Hunter, who nodded. "Yes," said Monnik.

The emissary scratched the pen rapidly across the bottom of the paper, then said, "We'll need another signature." He stepped to the door.

A dignitary covered with poultices was carried in on a stretcher, and allowed his hand to be guided across the page. The kingmen then shambled back to their ground-car and were loaded in.

"Great space," said Monnik, "isn't that a pathetic sight?"

"They'll recover," said Hunter. "If we'd blown the battlefield off the planet, they might have cause for complaint."

Monnik watched the wavering ground-car for a moment.

"Well," he said, "we beat them, all right, and I'm glad that's settled. But I can't help wondering."

"About what?"

Monnik said uneasily, "Was it war?"

"An interesting question," said Hunter. "And if a 'layman' makes a new discovery or invention, a host of professionals will ask, 'But is it scientific?' "

He pointed down the road, where the kingmen's ground-car weaved around the corner and crept out of sight.

"As I told you when we got here, we aren't regular troops. We're irregulars. And there's only one yardstick you use to judge a job done by irregulars."

"What's that?" said Monnik.

"The simplest yardstick of all," said Hunter. "The performance test:

"Did it work?"


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