The Project Gutenberg eBook of The silent invaders

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Title: The silent invaders

Author: Robert Silverberg

Illustrator: Ed Emshwiller

Release date: November 21, 2023 [eBook #72190]

Language: English

Original publication: New York, NY: Royal Publications, Inc, 1958

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at




Illustrated by ED EMSH

Even a perfect disguise creates problems
for its wearer. How, for one thing, can he
be sure anyone else is what he seems?

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


The starship Lucky Lady thundered out of overdrive half a million miles from Earth, and began the long steady ion-drive glide at Earthnorm grav toward the orbiting depot. In his second-class cabin aboard the starship, the man whose papers said he was Major Abner Harris of the Interstellar Development Corps stared at his face in the mirror. He wanted to make sure for the hundredth time that there was no sign of where his tendrils once had been.

He smiled; and the even-featured, undistinguished face they had put on him drew back, lips rising in the corners, cheeks tightening, neat white teeth momentarily on display. Major Harris scowled, and the face darkened.

It behaved well. The synthetic white skin acted as if it were his own. The surgeons back on Darruu had done a superb job on him.

They had removed the fleshy four-inch-long tendrils that sprouted at a Darruui's temples; they had covered his deep golden skin with an overlay of convincingly Terran white, and grafted it so skilfully that by now it had become his real skin. Contact lenses turned his eyes from red to blue-gray. Hormone treatments had caused hair to sprout on head and body, where none had been before. They had not meddled with his internal plumbing, and there he remained alien, with the Darruui digestive organ where a Terran had so many incredible feet of intestine, with the double heart and the sturdy liver just back of his three lungs.

Inside he was alien. Behind the walls of his skull, he was Aar Khiilom of the city of Helasz—a Darruui of the highest caste, a Servant of the Spirit. Externally, though, he was Major Abner Harris. He knew Major Harris' biography in great detail.

Born 2520, in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, Earth. Age now, 42—with a good hundred years of his lifespan left. Attended Western Reserve University, studying galactography; graduated '43. Entered the Interstellar Redevelopment Corps '46, commissioned '50, now a Major. Missions to Altair VII, Sirius IX, Procyon II, Alpheratz IV. Unmarried. Parents killed in highway jet-crash in '44; no known relatives. Height five feet ten, weight 220, color fair, retinal index point-oh-three.

Major Harris was visiting Earth on vacation. He was to spend eight months on Earth before reassignment to his next planetary post.

Eight months, thought the one who called himself Major Harris, would be ample time for Major Harris to lose himself in the billions of Earth and carry out the purposes for which he had been sent here.

The Lucky Lady was on the last lap of her journey. Harris had boarded her on Alpheratz IV, after having been shipped there from Darruu by private warpship. For the past three weeks, while the giant vessel had slipped through the sleek gray tunnel in the continuum that was its overdrive channel, Harris had been learning to walk at Earthnorm gravity.

Darruu was a large world—radius 11,000 miles—and though its density was not as great as Earth's, still the gravitational attraction was half again as intense. Darruu's gravity was 1.5 Earthnorm. Or, as Harris had thought of it in the days when his mind centered not on Earth but on Darruu, Earth's gravity was .67 Darruunorm. Either way, it meant that his muscles would be functioning in a field two-thirds as strong as the one they had developed in. He could use the excuse that he had spent most of his time on heavy planets, and that would explain away some of his awkwardness.

But not all. A native Earther, no matter how long he stays on a heavy world, still knows how to cope with Earthnorm gravity. Harris had to learn that. He did learn it, painstakingly, during the three weeks of overdrive travel toward the system of Sol.

Now the journey was almost complete. All that remained was the transfer from the starship to an Earth shuttle, and then he could begin life as an Earthman.

Earth hung outside the main viewport twenty feet from Harris's cabin. He stared at it. A great green ball of a world, with two huge continents here, another land-mass there, a giant moon moving in slow procession around it, keeping one pockmarked face eternally staring inward, the other glaring at outer space like a single beady bright eye.

The sight made Harris homesick.

Darruu was nothing like this. Darruu, from space, seemed to be a giant red fruit, covered over by the crimson mist that was the upper layer of its atmosphere. Beneath that could be discerned the great blue seas and the two hemisphere-large continents of Darraa and Darroo.

And the moons, Harris thought nostalgically. Seven glistening blank faces like coins in the sky, each at its own angle to the ecliptic, each taking its place in the sky nightly like a gem moved by clockwork. And the Mating of the Moons, when the seven came together once a year in a fiercely radiant diadem that filled half the sky—

Angrily he cut the train of thought.

You're an Earthman. Forget Darruu.

A voice on a speaker overhead said, "Please return to your cabins, ladies and gentlemen. In eleven minutes we will come to a rest at the main spaceborne depot. Passengers intending to transfer here please notify their area steward."

Harris returned to his cabin while the voice repeated the statement in other languages. Earth still spoke more than a dozen major tongues, which surprised him; Darruu had reached linguistic homogeneity three thousand years or more ago.

Minutes ticked by; at last came the word that the Lucky Lady had ended its ion-drive cruise and was tethered to the orbital satellite. Harris left his cabin for the last time and headed downramp to the designated room on D Deck where outgoing passengers were assembling.

"Your baggage will be shipped across. You don't have to worry about that."

Harris nodded. His baggage was important.

More than three hundred of the passengers were leaving ship here. Harris was herded along with the others through an airlock. Several dozen ungainly little ferries hovered just outside, linked to the huge starliner by connecting tubes. Harris entered a swaying tube, crossed over, and found a seat in the ferry. Minutes later, he was repeating the process in the other direction, as the ferry unloaded its passengers into the main airlock of Orbiting Station Number One.

Another voice boomed, "Lucky Lady passengers continuing on to Earth report to Routing Channel Four. Lucky Lady passengers continuing on to Earth report to Routing Channel Four. Passengers transhipping to other starlines should go to the nearest routing desk at once."

At Routing Channel Four, Harris was called upon to produce his papers. He handed over the little fabrikoid portfolio; a spaceport official riffled sleepily through it and handed it back without a word.

As he boarded the Earth-Orbiter shuttle, an attractive stewardess handed him a multigraphed sheet of paper which contained information of a sort a tourist was likely to want to know. Harris scanned it quickly.

"The Orbiting Station is located eighty thousand miles from Earth. It is locked in a twenty-four hour orbit that keeps it hovering approximately above Quito, Ecuador, South America. During a year the Orbiting Station serves an average of 8,500,000 travellers—"

He finished reading the sheet and put it down. He eyed his fellow passengers in the Earthbound shuttle. There were about fifty of them.

For all he knew, five were disguised Darruui like himself. Or they might be enemies—Medlins—likewise in disguise. Perhaps he was surrounded by agents of Earth's own intelligence corps who had already penetrated his disguise.

Trouble lay on every hand. Inwardly Major Harris felt calm, though there was the faint twinge of homesickness for Darruu that he knew he would never be able entirely to erase.

The shuttle banked into a steep deceleration curve. Artificial grav aboard the ship remained constant, of course. Earth drew near.

Landing came.

The shuttle hung over the skin of the landing-field for thirty seconds, then dropped; a gantry crane shuffled out to support the ship, and buttress-legs sprang from the sides of the hull. A steward's voice said, "Passengers will please assemble at the airlock in single file."

They assembled. A green omnibus waited outside on the field, and the fifty of them filed in. Harris found a seat by the window and stared out across the broad field. A yellow sun was in the blue sky. The air was cold; he shivered involuntarily and drew his cloak around him for warmth.

"Cold?" asked the man who shared his seat with him.

"A bit."

"That's odd. Nice balmy spring day like this, you'd think everybody would be enjoying the weather."

Harris grinned. "I've been on some pretty hot worlds the last ten years. Anything under ninety degrees and I start shivering, now."

The other chuckled and said, "Must be near eighty in the shade today."

"I'll be accustomed to it again before long," Harris said. "Once an Earthman, always an Earthman."

He made a mental note to carry out a trifling adjustment on his body thermostat. His skin was lined with sub-miniaturized heating and refrigerating units—just one of the useful modifications the surgeons had given him.

Darruu's mean temperature was 120 degrees, on the scale used by the Earthers. When it dropped to 80, Darruui cursed the cold. It was 80 now, and he was uncomfortably cold. He would have to stay that way for most of the day, at least, until in a moment of privacy he could make the necessary adjustments. Around him, the Earthers seemed to be perspiring and feeling discomfort because of the heat.

The bus filled finally, and spurted across the field to a high domed building of gleaming steel and green plastic. The driver said, "First stop is customs. Have your papers ready."

Inside, Harris found his baggage already waiting for him at a counter labelled HAM-HAT. There were two suitcases, both of them with topological secret compartments. He surrendered his passport and, when told to do so, pressed his thumb to the opener-plate. The suitcases sprang open. The customs man poked through them perfunctorily, nodded, said, "Anything to declare?"


"Okay. Close 'em up."

Harris locked the suitcases again, and the customs official briefly touched a tracer-stamp to them. It left no visible imprint, but the photonic scanners at every door would be watching for the radiations, and no one with an un-stamp could get through the electronic barriers.

"Next stop is Immigration, Major."

At Immigration they studied his passport briefly, noted that he was a government employee, and passed him along to Health. Here he felt a moment of alarm; about one out of every fifty incoming passengers from a starship was detained for a comprehensive medical exam, and if the finger fell upon him the game was up right here. Ten seconds in front of a fluoroscope would tell them that nobody with that kind of skeletal structure had ever been born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He got through with nothing more than a rudimentary checkup. At the last desk his passport was stamped with a re-entry visa, and the clerk said, "You haven't been on Earth for a long time, eh, Major?"

"Not in ten years. Hope things haven't changed too much."

"The women are still the same, anyway." The clerk shuffled Harris' papers together, stuck them back in the portfolio, and handed them to him. "Everything's in order. Go straight ahead and out the door to your left."

Harris thanked him and moved along, gripping one suitcase in each hand. A month ago, at the beginning of his journey, the suitcases had seemed heavy to him. But that had been on Darruu; here they weighed only two-thirds as much. He carried them jauntily.

Soon it will be spring on Darruu, he thought. The red-leaved jasaar trees would blossom and their perfume would fill the air.

With an angry inner scowl he blanked out the thought. He was Major Abner Harris, late of Cincinnati, here on Earth for eight months' vacation.

He knew his orders. He was to establish residence, avoid detection, and in the second week of his stay make contact with the chief Darruui agent on Earth. Further instructions would come from him.


It took twenty minutes by helitaxi to reach the metropolitan area from the spaceport. Handling the Terran currency as if he had used it all his life, Harris paid the driver, tipped him, and got out. He had asked for and been taken to a hotel in the heart of the city—the Spaceways Hotel. There was one of them in every major spaceport city in the galaxy; the spacelines operated them jointly, for the benefit of travelers who had no place to stay on the planet of their destination.

He signed in and was given a room on the 58th floor. The Earther at the desk said, "You don't mind heights, do you, Major?"

"Not at all."

He gave the boy who had carried his bags a quarter-unit piece, received grateful thanks, and locked the door. For the first time since leaving Darruu he was really alone. Thumbing open his suitcases, he performed the series of complex stress-pressures that gave access to the hidden areas of the grips; miraculously, the suitcases expanded to nearly twice their former volume. There was nothing like packing your belongings in a tesseract if you wanted to keep the customs men away from them.

Busily, he unpacked.

First thing out was a small device which fit neatly and virtually invisibly to the inside of the door. It was a jammer for spybeams. It insured privacy.

A disruptor-pistol came next. He slipped it into his tunic-pocket. Several books; a flask of Darruui wine; a photograph of his birth-tree. Bringing these things had not increased his risk, since if they had been found it would only be after much more incriminating things had come to light.

The subspace communicator, for example. Or the narrow-beam amplifier he would use in making known his presence to the other members of the Darruui cadre on Earth.

He finished unpacking, restored his suitcases to their three-dimensional state, and took a tiny scalpel from the toolkit he had unpacked. Quickly stripping off his trousers, he laid bare the desensitized area in the fleshy part of his thigh, stared for a moment at the network of fine silver threads underlying the flesh, and, with three careful twists of the scalpel's edge, altered the thermostatic control in his body.

He shivered a moment; then, gradually, he began to feel warm. Closing the wound, he applied nuplast; moments later it had healed. He dressed again.

He surveyed his room. Twenty feet square, with a bed, a desk, a closet, a dresser. An air-conditioning grid in the ceiling. A steady greenish electroluminescent glow. An oval window beneath which was a set of polarizing controls. A molecular bath and washstand. Not bad for twenty units a week, he told himself, trying to think the way an Earthman might.

The room-calendar told him it was five-thirty in the afternoon, 22 May 2562. He was not supposed to make contact with Central for ten days or more; he computed that that would mean the first week of June. Until then he was simply to act the part of a Terran on vacation.

The surgeons had made certain minor alterations in his metabolism to give him a taste for Terran food and drink and to make it possible for him to digest the carbohydrates of which Terrans were so fond. They had prepared him well for playing the part of Major Abner Harris. And he had been equipped with fifty thousand units of Terran money, enough to last him quite a while.

Carefully he adjusted the device on the door to keep intruders out while he was gone. Anyone entering the room would get a nasty jolt of energy now. He checked his wallet, made sure he had his money with him, and pushed the door-opener.

It slid back and he stepped through into the hallway. At that moment someone walking rapidly down the hall collided with him, spinning him around. He felt a soft body pressed against his.

A woman!

The immediate reaction that boiled up in him was one of anger, but he blocked the impulse to strike her before it rose. On Darruu, a woman who jostled a Servant of the Spirit could expect a sound whipping. But this was not Darruu.

He remembered a phrase from his indoctrination: it will help to create a sexual relationship for yourself on Earth.

The surgeons had changed his metabolism in that respect, too, making him able to feel sexual desires for Terran females. The theory was that no one would expect a disguised alien to engage in romantic affairs with Terrans; it would be a form of camouflage.

"Excuse me!" Harris and the female Terran said simultaneously.

His training reminded him that simultaneous outbursts were cause for laughter on Earth. He laughed. So did she. Then she said, "I guess I didn't see you. I was hurrying along the corridor and I wasn't looking."

"The fault was mine," Harris insisted. Terran males are obstinately chivalrous, he had been told. "I opened my door and just charged out blind. I'm sorry."

She was tall, nearly his height, with soft, lustrous yellow hair and clear pink skin. She wore a black body-tight sheath that left her shoulders and the upper hemispheres of her breasts uncovered. Harris found her attractive. Wonderingly he thought, Now I know they've changed me. She has hair on her scalp and enormous bulging breasts and yet I feel desire for her.

She said, "It's my fault and it's your fault. That's the way most collisions are caused. Let's not argue about that. My name is Beth Baldwin."

"Major Abner Harris."


"Interstellar Development Corps."

"Oh," she said. "Just arrived on Earth?"

He nodded. "I'm on vacation. My last hop was Alpheratz IV." He smiled and said, "It's silly to stand out here in the hall discussing things. I was on my way down below to get something to eat. How about joining me?"

She looked doubtful for a moment, but only for a moment. She brightened. "I'm game."

They took the gravshaft down and ate in the third-level restaurant, an automated affair with individual conveyor-belts bringing food to each table. Part of his hypnotic training had been intended to see him through situations such as this, and so he ordered a dinner for two, complete with wine, without a hitch.

She did not seem shy. She told him that she was employed on Rigel XII, and had come to Earth on a business trip; she had arrived only the day before. She was twenty-nine, unmarried, a native-born Earther like himself, who had been living in the Rigel system the past four years.

"And now tell me about you," she said, reaching for the wine decanter.

"There isn't much to tell. I'm a fairly stodgy career man in the IDC, age forty-two, and this is the first day I've spent on Earth in ten years."

"It must feel strange."

"It does."

"How long is your vacation?"

He shrugged. "Six to eight months. I can have more if I really want it. When do you go back to Rigel?"

She smiled strangely at him. "I may not go back at all. Depends on whether I can find what I'm looking for on Earth."

"And what are you looking for?"

She grinned. "My business," she said.


"Never mind the apologies. Let's have some more wine."

After Harris had settled up the not inconsiderable matter of the bill, they left the hotel and went outside to stroll. The streets were crowded; a clock atop a distant building told Harris that the time was shortly after seven. He felt warm now that he had adjusted his temperature controls, and the unfamiliar foods and wines in his stomach gave him an oddly queasy feeling, though he had enjoyed the meal.

The girl slipped her hand through his looped arm and squeezed the inside of his elbow. Harris grinned. He said, "I was afraid it was going to be an awfully lonely vacation."

"Me too. You can be tremendously alone on a planet that has twenty billion people on it."

They walked on. In the middle of the street a troupe of acrobats was performing, using nullgrav devices to add to their abilities. Harris chuckled and tossed them a coin, and a bronzed girl saluted to him from the top of a human pyramid.

Night was falling. Harris considered the incongruity of walking arm-in-arm with an Earthgirl, with his belly full of Earth foods, and enjoying it.

Darruu seemed impossibly distant now. It lay eleven hundred light-years from Earth; its star was visible only as part of a mass of blurred dots of light.

But yet he knew it was there. He missed it.

"You're worrying about something," the girl said.

"It's an old failing of mine."

He was thinking: I was born a Servant of the Spirit, and so I was chosen to go to Earth. I may never return to Darruu again.

As the sky darkened they strolled on, over a delicate golden bridge spanning a river whose dark depths twinkled with myriad points of light. Together they stared down at the water, and at the stars reflected in it. She moved closer to him, and her warmth against his body was pleasing to him.

Eleven hundred light-years from home.

Why am I here?

He knew the answer. Titanic conflict was shaping in the universe. The Predictors held that the cataclysm was no more than two hundred years away. Darruu would stand against its ancient adversary Medlin, and all the worlds of the universe would be ranged on one side or on the other.

He was here as an ambassador. Earth was a mighty force in the galaxy—so mighty that it would resent the role it really played, that of pawn between Darruu and Medlin. Darruu wanted Terran support in the conflict to come. Obtaining it was a delicate problem in consent engineering. A cadre of disguised Darruui, planted on Earth, gradually manipulating public opinion toward the Darruu camp and away from Medlin—that was the plan, and Harris, once Aar Khiilom, was one of its agents.

They walked until the hour had grown very late, and then turned back toward the hotel. Harris was confident now that he had established the sort of relationship that was likely to shield him from all suspicion of his true origin.

He said, "What do we do now?"

"Suppose we buy a bottle of something and have a party in your room?" she suggested.

"My room's a frightful mess," Harris said, thinking of the many things in there he would not want her to see. "How about yours?"

"It doesn't matter."

They stopped at an autobar and he fed half-unit pieces into a machine until the chime sounded and a fully wrapped bottle slid out the receiving tray. Harris tucked it under his arm, made a mock-courteous bow to her, and they continued on their way to the hotel.

The signal came just as they entered the lobby.

It reached Harris in the form of a sudden twinge in the abdomen; that was where the amplifier had been embedded. He felt it as three quick impulses, rasp rasp rasp, followed after a brief pause by a repeat.

The signal had only one meaning: Emergency. Get in touch with your contact-man at once.

Her hand tightened on his arm. "Are you all right? You look so pale!"

In a dry voice he said, "Maybe we'd better postpone our party a few minutes. I'm—not quite well."

"Oh! Can I help?"

He shook his head. "It's—something I picked up on Alpheratz." Turning, he handed her the packaged bottle and said, "It'll just take me a few minutes to get myself settled down. Suppose you go to your room and wait for me there."

"But if you're sick I ought to—"

"No. Beth, I have to take care of this myself, without anyone else watching. Okay?"

"Okay," she said doubtfully.

"Thanks. Be with you as soon as I can."

They rode the gravshaft together to the 58th floor and went their separate ways, she to her room, he to his. The signal in his abdomen was repeating itself steadily now with quiet urgency: Rasp rasp rasp. Rasp rasp rasp. Rasp rasp rasp.

He neutralized the force-field on the door with a quick energy impulse and opened the door. Stepping inside quickly, he activated the spy-beam jammer again. Beads of sweat were starting to form on his skin.

Rasp rasp rasp. Rasp rasp rasp.

He opened the closet, took out the tiny narrow-beam amplifier he had hidden there, and tuned it to the frequency of the emergency signal. Immediately the rasping stopped as the narrow-beam amplifier covered the wavelength.

Moments passed. The amplifier picked up a voice speaking in the code devised for use by Darruui agents alone.

"Identify yourself."

Harris identified himself according to the regular procedure. He went on to say, "I arrived on Earth today. My instructions were not to report to you for about two weeks."

"I know that. There's an emergency situation."

"What kind of emergency?"

"There are Medlin agents on Earth. Normal procedures will have to be altered. Meet me at once." He gave an address. Harris memorized it and repeated it. The contact was broken.

Meet me at once. The orders had to be interpreted literally. At once meant right now, not tomorrow afternoon. His tryst with the yellow-haired Earthgirl would just have to wait.

He picked up the house-phone and asked for her room. A moment later he heard her voice.


"Beth, this is Abner Harris."

"How are you? Everything under control? I'm waiting for you."

Hesitantly he said, "I'm fine now. But—Beth, I don't know how to say this—will you believe me when I say that a friend of mine just phoned, and wants me to meet him right away downtown?"

"Now? But it's after eleven!"

"I know. He's—a strange sort."

"I thought you didn't have any friends on Earth, Major Harris. You said you were lonely."

"He's not really a friend. He's a business associate. From IDC."

"Well, I'm not accustomed to having men stand me up. But I don't have any choice, do I?"

"Good girl. Make it a date for breakfast in the morning instead?"

"Lousy substitute, but it'll have to do. See you at nine."


The rendezvous-point the other operative had named was a street corner in another quarter of the city. Harris hired a helitaxi to take him there.

It was a nightclub district, all bright lights and brassy music. A figure leaned against the lamppost on the southeast corner of the street. Harris crossed to him. In the brightness of the streetlamp he saw the man's face: lean, lantern-jawed, solemn.

Harris said, "Pardon me, friend. Do you know where I can buy a mask for the carnival?"

It was the recognition-query. The other answered, in a deep harsh voice, "Masks are expensive. Stay home." He thrust out his hand.

Harris took it, gripping the wrist in the Darruui way, and grinned. Eleven hundred light-years from home and he beheld a fellow Servant of the Spirit! "I'm Major Abner Harris."

"Hello. I'm John Carver. There's a table waiting for us inside."

"Inside" turned out to be the Nine Planets Club, across the street. The atmosphere inside was steamy and smoke-clouded; bubbles of light drifted round the ceiling. A row of long-limbed nudes pranced gaily to the accompaniment of the noise that passed for music on Terra. The surgeons, Harris thought, had never managed to instill a liking for Terran music in him.

Carver said quietly, "Have you had any trouble since you arrived?"

"No. Should I expect any?"

The lean man shrugged. "There are one hundred Medlin agents on Earth right now. Yesterday we discovered a cache of secret Medlin documents. We have the names of the hundred and their photographs. We also know they plan to wipe us out."

"How many Darruui are on Earth?"

"You are the tenth to arrive."

Harris' eyes widened. One hundred Medlins against ten Darruui! "Stiff odds," he said.

Carver nodded. "But we know their identities. We can strike first. Unless we eliminate them, we will not be able to proceed with our work here."

The music reached an ear-splitting crescendo. Moodily Harris stared at the nude chorus-line as it gyrated. He sensed some glandular disturbance at the sight, and frowned. By Darruui standards, the girls were obscenely ugly.

But this was not Darruu.

He said, "How do we go about eliminating them?"

"You have weapons. I'll supply you with the necessary information. If you can get ten of them before they get you, you'll be all right." He drew forth a billfold and extracted a snapshot from it. "Here's your first one, now. Kill her and report back to me. You can find her at the Spaceways Hotel."

Harris felt a jolt. "I'm staying at that hotel."

"Indeed? Here. Look at the picture."

Harris took the photo from the other. It was a tridim in full color. It showed a blonde girl wearing a low-cut black sheath.

Controlling his voice, he said, "This girl's too pretty to be a Medlin agent."

"That's why she's so deadly," Carver said. "Kill her first. She goes under the name of Beth Baldwin."

Harris stared at the photo a long while. Then he nodded. "Okay. I'll get in touch with you again when the job's done."

It was nearly two in the morning when he returned to the hotel. He had spent nearly an hour with the man who called himself John Carver. He felt tired, confused, faced with decisions that frightened him.

Beth Baldwin a Medlin spy? How improbable that seemed! But yet Carver had had her photo.

It was his job to kill her, now. He was a Servant of the Spirit. He could not betray his trust.

First I'll find out for certain, though.

He took the gravshaft to the 58th floor, but instead of going to his room he turned left and headed toward the room whose number she had given him—5820. He paused a moment, then nudged the door-signal.

There was no immediate response, so he nudged it again. This time he heard the sound of a doorscanner humming just above him, telling him that she was awake and just within the door.

He said, "It's me—Abner. I have to see you, Beth."

"Hold on," came the sleepy reply from inside. "Let me get something on."

A moment passed, and then the door slid open. Beth smiled at him. She had "put something on," but the something had not been much—a flimsy gown that concealed her body as if she were wearing so much gauze.

But Harris was not interested in her body just now, attractive though it was. She held a tiny glittering weapon in her hand. Harris recognized the weapon. It was the Medlin version of the disruptor-pistol.

"Come on in, Abner."

Numbly he stepped forward, and the door shut behind him. Beth gestured with the disruptor.

"Sit down over there."

"How come the gun, Beth?"

"You know that answer without my having to tell it to you. Now that you've seen Carver, you know who I am."

He nodded. "A Medlin agent."

It was hard to believe. He stared at the girl who stood ten feet from him, a disruptor trained at his skull. The Medlin surgeons evidently were as skillful as those of Darruu, it seemed, for the wiry pebble-skinned Medlins were even less humanoid than the Darruui—and yet he would swear that those breasts, the flaring hips, the long well-formed legs, were genuine.

She said, "We had information on you from the moment you entered the orbit of Earth, Abner—or should I say Aar Khiilom?"

"How did you know that name?"

She laughed lightly. "The same way I knew you were from Darruu, the same way I knew the exact moment you were going to come out of your room before."

"The same way you knew I was coming here to kill you just now?"

She nodded.

Harris frowned. "Medlins aren't telepathic. There isn't a single telepathic race in the galaxy."

"None that you know about, anyway."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing," she said.

He shrugged. Apparently the Medlin spy system was formidably well organized. This nonsense about telepathy was merely to cloud the trail. But the one fact about which there was no doubt was—

"I came here to kill you," Harris said. "But you trapped me. I guess you'll kill me now."

"Wrong. I just want to talk," she said.

"If you want to talk, put some clothing on. Having you sitting around like this disturbs my powers of conversation."

She said pleasantly, "Oh? You mean this artificial body of mine stirs some response in that artificial body of yours? How interesting!" Without turning her back on him, she drew a robe from the closet and slipped it on over the filmy gown. "There. Is that easier on your glandular balance?"


The Darruui began to fidget. There was no way he could activate his emergency signal without moving his hands, and any sudden hand-motion was likely to be fatal. He sat motionless while sweat streamed down the skin they had grafted to his own.

Beth said, "You're one of ten Darruui on Earth. Others are on their way, but there are only ten of you here now. Correct me if I'm wrong."

"Why should I?" Harris said tightly.

She nodded. "A good point. But I assure you we have all the information about you we need, so you needn't try to make up tales. To continue: you and your outfit are here for the purpose of subverting Terran allegiance and winning Earth over to the side of Darruu."

"And you Medlins are here for much the same kind of reason."

"That's where you're wrong," the girl said. "We're here to help the Terrans, not to dominate them. We Medlins don't believe in violence if peaceful means will accomplish our goals."

"Very nice words," Harris said. "But how can you help the Terrans?"

"It's a matter of genetics. This isn't the place to explain in detail."

He let that pass. "So you deliberately threw yourself in contact with me earlier, let me take you out to dinner, walked around arm-in-arm—and all this time you knew I was a disguised Darruui?"

"Of course. I also knew that when you pretended to be sick it was because you had to contact your chief operative, and that when you said you were going to visit a friend you were attending an emergency rendezvous. I also knew what your friend Carver was going to tell you to do, which is why I had my gun ready when you rang."

He stared at her. "Suppose I hadn't gotten that emergency message. We were going to come here and drink and probably make love. Would you have gone to bed with me even knowing what you knew?"

"Most likely," she said without emotion. "It would have been interesting to see what sort of biological reactions the Darruui surgeons are capable of building."

A flash of hatred ran through Harris-Khiilom. He had been raised to hate Medlins anyway; they were the ancestral enemies of his people, galactic rivals for four thousand years or more. Only the fact that she was clad in the flesh of a handsome Earthgirl had kept Harris from feeling his normal revulsion for a Medlin.

But now it surged forth at this revelation of her calm and callous biological "curiosity."

He wondered how far her callousness extended. Also, how good her aim was.

He mastered his anger and said, "That's a pretty cold-blooded way of thinking, Beth."

"Maybe. I'm sorry about it."

"I'll bet you are."

She smiled at him. "Let's forget about that, shall we? I want to tell you a few things."

"Such as?"

"For one: did you know that you're fundamentally disloyal to the Darruui cause?"

Harris laughed harshly. "You're crazy!"

"Afraid not. Listen to me, Abner. You're homesick for Darruu. You never wanted to come here in the first place. You were born into a caste that has certain obligations, and you're fulfilling those obligations. But you don't know very much about what you're doing here on Earth, and for half a plugged unit you'd give the whole thing up and go back to Darruu."

"Very clever," he said stonily. "Now give me my horoscope for the next six months."

"Easy enough. You'll come to our headquarters and learn why my people are on Earth—"

"I know that one already."

"You think you do," she said smoothly. "Don't interrupt. You'll learn why we're on Earth; once you've seen that, you'll join us and help to protect Earth against Darruu."

"And why will I do all these incredible things?"

"Because it's in your personality makeup to do them. And because you're falling in love."

"With a lot of fake female flesh plastered over a scrawny Medlin body? Hah!"

She remained calm. Harris measured the distance between them, wondering whether she would use the weapon after all. A disruptor broiled the neural tissue; death was instantaneous and fairly ghastly.

He decided to risk it. His assignment was to kill Medlins, not to let himself be killed by them. He had nothing to lose by making the attempt.

In a soft voice he said, "You didn't answer. Do you really think I'd fall in love with something like you?"

"Biologically we're Earthers now, not Medlins or Darruui. It's possible."

"Maybe you're right. After all, I did ask you to cover yourself up." He smiled and said, "I'm all confused. I need time to think things over."

"Of course. You—"

He sprang from the chair and covered the ten feet between them in two big bounds, stretching out one hand to grab the hand that held the disruptor. He deflected the weapon toward the ceiling. She did not fire. He closed on her wrist and forced her to drop the tiny pistol. Pressed against her, he stared into eyes blazing with anger.

The anger melted suddenly into passion. He stepped back, reaching for his own gun, not willing to have such close contact with her. She was too dangerous. Better to kill her right now, he thought. She's just a Medlin. A deadly one.

He started to draw the weapon from his tunic. Suddenly she lifted her hand; there was the twinkle of something bright between her fingers, and then Harris recoiled, helpless, as the bolt of a stunner struck him in the face like a club against the back of his skull.

She fired again. He struggled to get his gun out, but his muscles would not obey.

He toppled forward, paralyzed.


Harris felt a teeth-chattering chill as he began to come awake. The stunner-bolt had temporarily overloaded his motor neurons, and the body's escape from the frustration of paralysis was unconsciousness. Now he was waking, and the strength was ebbing slowly and painfully back into his muscles.

The light of morning streamed in through a depolarized window on the left wall of the unfamiliar room in which he found himself. He felt stiff and sore all over, and realized he had spent the night—where?—

He groped in his pockets. His weapons were gone; they had left his wallet.

He got unsteadily to his feet and surveyed the room. The window was beyond his reach; there was no sign of a door. Obviously some section of the wall folded away to admit people to the room, but the door and door-jamb, wherever they were, must have been machined as smoothly as a couple of jo-blocks, because there was no sign of a break in the wall.

He looked up. There was a grid in the ceiling. Airconditioning, no doubt—and probably a spy-mechanism also. He stared at the grid and said, "Okay. I'm awake now. You can come work me over."

There was no immediate response. Surreptitiously Harris slipped a hand inside his waistband and squeezed a fold of flesh between his thumb and index finger. The action set in operation a minute amplifier embedded there; a distress signal, directionally modulated, was sent out to any Darruui agents who might be within a thousand-mile radius. He completed the gesture by lazily scratching his chest, stretching, yawning.

He waited.

Finally a segment of the door flipped upward out of sight, and three figures entered.

He recognized one of them: Beth. She smiled at him and said, "Good morning, Major."

Harris glared sourly at her. Behind her stood two males—one an ordinary-looking sort of Earther, the other rather special. He was about six feet six, well-proportioned for his height, with a regularity of feature that seemed startlingly beautiful.

Beth said, "Major Abner Harris, formerly Aar Khiilom of Darruu—this is Paul Coburn of Medlin Intelligence and David Wrynn of Earth."

"A real Earthman? Not a phony like the rest of us?"

Wrynn smiled pleasantly and said, "I assure you I'm a home-grown product, Major Harris." His voice was like the mellow boom of a well-tuned cello.

The Darruui folded his arms. "Well. How nice of you to introduce us all. Now what?"

"Still belligerent," he heard Beth murmur to the other Medlin, Coburn. Coburn nodded. The giant Earthman merely looked unhappy in a calm sort of way.

Harris eyed them all coldly. "If you're going to torture me, why not get started with it?"

"Who said anything about torture?" Beth asked.

"Why else would you bring me here? Obviously you want to wring information from me. Well, go ahead. I'm ready for you."

Coburn chuckled and fingered his double chins. "Don't you think we know that torture's useless on you? That if we tried any kind of forcible neural extraction of information from your mind your memory-chambers would automatically short-circuit?"

Harris' jaw dropped. "How did you know—" He stopped. The Medlins evidently had a fantastically efficient spy service. The filter-circuit in his brain was a highly secret development.

Beth said, "Relax and listen to us. We aren't out to torture you. We know already all you can tell us."

"Doubtful. But go ahead and talk."

"We know how many Darruui are on Earth. And we know approximately where they are. We'd like you to serve as a contact-man for us."

"And do what?"

"Kill the other nine Darruui on Earth," Beth said simply.

Harris smiled. "Is there any special reason why I should do this?"

"For the good of the universe."

He laughed derisively. "For the good of Medlin, you mean."

"No. Listen to me. When we arrived on Earth—it was years ago, by the way—we quickly discovered that a new race was evolving here. A super-race, you might say. One with abnormal physical and mental powers. But in most cases children of this new race were killed or mentally stunted before they reached maturity. People tend to resent being made obsolete—and even a super-child is unable to defend himself until he's learned how. By then it's usually too late."

It was a nice fairy-tale, Harris thought. He made no comment, but listened with apparent interest.

Beth continued, "We discovered isolated members of this new race here and there on Earth. We decided to help them—knowing they would help us, some day, when it became necessary. We protected these children. We brought them together and raised them in safety. David Wrynn here is one of our first discoveries."

Harris glanced at the big Earthman. "So you're a superman?"

Wrynn smiled. "I'm somewhat better equipped for life than most other Earthmen. My children will be as far beyond me as I am beyond my parents."

"Our purpose here on Earth is to aid this evolving race until it's capable of taking care of itself—which won't be too long now. There are more than a hundred of them, of which thirty are adult. But now Darruui agents have started to arrive on Earth. Their purpose is to obstruct us, to interfere with our actions, and to win Earth over to what they think is their 'cause.' They don't see that they're backing a dead horse."

"Tell me," Harris said. "What's your motive in bringing into being this super-race?"

"Motive?" Beth said. "You Darruui always think in terms of motives, don't you? Profit and reward. Major, there's nothing in this for us but the satisfaction of knowing that we're bringing something wonderful into being in the universe."

Harris swallowed that with much salt. The concept of altruism was not unknown on Darruu, certainly, but it seemed highly improbable that a planet would go to the trouble of sending emissaries across space for the sole purpose of serving as midwives to an emerging race of super-beings on Earth.

No, he thought. It was simply part of an elaborate propaganda maneuver whose motives did not lie close to the surface. There were no supermen. Wrynn was probably a Medlin himself, on whom the surgeons had done a specially good job.

Whatever the Medlins' motive, he determined to play along with them. By now Carver had probably picked up his distress signal and had worked out the location of the place where he was being held.

He said, "So you're busily raising a breed of super-Earthmen, and you want me to help? How?"

"We told you. By disposing of your comrades before they make things complicated for us."

"You're asking me to commit treason against my people, in other words."

"We know what sort of a man you are," Beth said. "You aren't in sympathy with the Darruui imperialistic ideals. You may think you are, but you aren't."

I'll play along, Harris thought. He said, "You're right. I didn't want to take the job on Earth in the first place. What can I do to help?"

Coburn and Beth exchanged glances. The "Earthman" Wrynn merely smiled.

Beth said, "I knew you'd cooperate. The first target is the man who calls himself Carver. Get rid of him and the Darruui agents are without a nerve-center. After him, the other eight will be easy targets."

"How do you know I won't trick you once you've released me?" Harris said.

Coburn said, "We have ways of keeping watch."

Harris nodded. "I'll go after Carver first. I'll get in touch with you as soon as he's out of the way."

It seemed too transparent, Harris thought, when they had set him loose. He found himself in a distant quarter of the city, nearly an hour's journey by helitaxi from his hotel.

All this talk of supermen and altruism! It made no sense, he thought—but Medlin propaganda was devious stuff, and he had good reason to distrust it.

Were they as simple as all that, though, to release him merely on his promise of good faith? If they were truly altruistic, of course, it made sense; but he knew the Medlins too well to believe that. Darkly he thought he must be part of some larger Medlin plan.

Well, let Carver worry about it, he thought.

Though he was hungry, he knew he had no time to bother about breakfast until he got in touch with the Darruui chief agent. He signalled for a helitaxi and gave his destination as the Spaceways Hotel.

When he finally arrived, fifty minutes later, he headed straight for his room, activated the narrow-beam communicator, and waited until the metallic voice from the speaker said in code, "Carver here."

"Harris speaking."

"You've escaped?"

"They set me free. It's a long story. Did you get a directional fix on the building?"

"Yes. Why did they let you go?"

"I promised to become a Medlin secret agent," Harris said. "My first assignment is to assassinate you."

The chuckle that came from the speaker grid held little mirth. Carver said, "Fill me in on everything that's happened to you since last night."

"For one thing, the Medlins know everything, but everything. When I went to visit the girl last night she was waiting for me with a gun. She stunned me and carted me off to the Medlin headquarters. When I woke up they gave me some weird line about raising a breed of super-Earthmen, and would I help them in this noble cause?"

"You agreed?"

"Of course. They let me go and I'm supposed to eradicate all the Darruui on Earth, beginning with you."

"The others are well scattered," Carver said.

"They seem to know where they are."

Carver was silent for a moment. Then he said, "We'll have to strike at once. We'll attack the Medlin headquarters and kill as many as we can. Do you really think they trust you?"

"Either that or they're using me as bait for an elaborate trap," Harris said.

"That's more likely. Well, we'll take their bait. Only they won't be able to handle us once they've caught hold of us."

Carver broke contact. Carefully Harris packed the equipment away again.

He breakfasted in the hotel restaurant after a prolonged session under the molecular showerbath to remove the fatigue and grime of his night's imprisonment. The meal was close to tasteless, but he needed the nourishment.

Returning to his room, he locked himself in and threw himself wearily on the bed. He was tired and deeply troubled.

Supermen, he thought.

Did it make sense for the Medlins to rear a possible galactic conqueror? Earthmen were dangerous enough as it was; though the spheres of galactic influence still were divided as of old between Darruu and Medlin, the Earthmen in their bare three hundred years of galactic contact had taken giant strides toward holding a major place in the affairs of the universe.

Their colonies stretched halfway across the galaxy. The Interstellar Development Corps of which he claimed to be a member had planted Earthmen indiscriminately on any uninhabited world of the galaxy that was not claimed by Darruu or Medlin.

And the Medlins, the ancient enemies of his people, the race he had been taught all his life to regard as the embodiment of evil—these were aiding Earthmen to progress to a plane of development far beyond anything either Darruu or Medlin had attained?

Ridiculous, he thought. No race breeds its own destruction knowingly. And the Medlins are no fools.

Certainly not fools enough to let me go on a mere promise that I'll turn traitor and aid them, he thought.

He shook his head. After a while he uncorked his precious flask of Darruui wine and poured a small quantity. The velvet-textured dark wine of his homeworld soothed him a little, but the ultimate result was simply to increase his already painful longing for home. Soon, he thought, it would be harvest-time, and the first bottles of new wine would reach the shops. This would be the first year that he had not tasted the year's vintage while it still held the bouquet of youth.

Instead I find myself on a strange planet in a strange skin, caught up in the coils of the devil Medlins. He scowled darkly, and took another sip of wine to ease the ache his heart felt.


A day of nerve-twisting inactivity passed. Harris did not hear from Carver, nor did any of the Medlins contact him. Once he checked Beth Baldwin's room at the hotel, but no one answered the door, and when he inquired at the desk he learned that she had moved out earlier in the day, leaving no forwarding address. It figured. She had established quarters in the hotel only long enough to come in touch with him, and, that done, had left.

Regretfully Harris wished he had had a chance to try that biological experiment with her, after all. Medlin though she was, his body was now Terran-oriented, and it might have been an interesting experience. Well, no chance for that now.

He ate alone, in the hotel restaurant, and kept close to his room all day. Toward evening his signal-amplifier buzzed. He activated the communicator and spoke briefly with Carver, who gave him an address and ordered him to report there immediately.

It was a shabby, old-fashioned building far to the east, at the edge of the river. He rode up eight stories in a gravshaft that vibrated so badly he expected to be hurled back down at any moment, and made his way down a poorly-lit dusty corridor to a weather-beaten door that gave off the faint yellow glow that indicated a protection-field.

Harris felt the gentle tingling in his stomach that told him he was getting a radionic scanning. Finally the door opened. Carver said to him, "Come in."

There were four others in the room—a pudgy balding man named Reynolds, a youthful smiling man who called himself Tompkins, a short, cold-eyed man introduced as McDermott, and a lanky fellow who spoke his name drawlingly as Patterson. As each of them in turn was introduced, he gave the Darruui recognition signal.

"The other four of us are elsewhere in the eastern hemisphere of Earth," Carver said. "But six should be enough to handle the situation."

Harris glanced at his five comrades. "What are you planning to do?"

"Attack the Medlins, of course. We'll have to wipe them out at once."

Harris nodded. Inwardly he felt troubled; it seemed to him now that the Medlins had been strangely sincere in releasing him, though he knew that that was preposterous. He said, "How?"

"They trust you. You're one of their agents, so far as they think."


"You'll return to them and tell them you've disposed of me, as instructed. Only you'll be bearing a subsonic on your body. Once you're inside, you activate it and knock them out—you'll be shielded."

"And I kill them when they're unconscious?"

"Exactly," Carver said. "You can't be humane with Medlins. It's like being humane with bloodsucking bats or with snakes."

The Darruui called McDermott said, "We'll wait outside until we get the signal that you've done the job. If you need help, just let us know."

Harris moistened his lips and nodded. "It sounds all right."

Carver said, "Reynolds, insert the subsonic."

The bald man produced a small metal pellet the size of a tiny bead, from which three tantalum filaments projected. He indicated to Harris that he should roll up his trousers to the thigh.

Instead, Harris dropped them. Reynolds drew a scalpel from somewhere and lifted the flap of nerveless flesh that served as trapdoor to the network of devices underneath. With steady, unquivering fingers, he affixed the bead to the minute wires already set in Harris' leg, and closed the wound with nuplast.

Carver said, "You activate it by pressing against the left-hip neural nexus. It's self-shielding for a distance of three feet around you, so make sure none of your victims are any closer than that."

"It radiates a pretty potent subsonic," Reynolds said. "Guaranteed knockout for a radius of forty feet."

"Suppose the Medlins are shielded against subsonics?" Harris asked.

Carver chuckled. "This is a variable-cycle transmitter. If they've perfected anything that can shield against a random wave, we might as well give up right now. But I'm inclined to doubt they have."

All very simple, Harris thought as he rode across town to the Medlin headquarters. Simply walk in, smile politely, stun them all with the subsonic, and boil their brains with your disruptor.

He paused outside the building, thinking.

Around him, Earthmen hurried to their homes. Night was falling. The stars blanketed the sky, white flecks against dark cloth. Many of those stars swore allegiance to Darruu. Others, to Medlin.

Which was right? Which wrong?

A block away, five fellow Darruui lurked, ready to come to his aid if he had any trouble in killing the Medlins. He doubted that he would have trouble, if the subsonic were as effective as Carver seemed to think.

For forty Darruui years he had been trained to hate the Medlins. Now, in a few minutes, he would be doing what was considered the noblest act a Servant of the Spirit could perform—ridding the universe of a pack of them. Yet he felt no sense of anticipated glory. It would simply be murder, the murder of strangers.

He entered the building.

The Medlin headquarters were at the top of the building, in a large penthouse loft. He rode up in the gravshaft and it seemed to him that he could feel the pressure of the tiny subsonic generator in his thigh. He knew that was just an illusion, but the presence of the metal bead irritated him all the same.

He stood for a moment in a scanner field. A door flicked back suddenly, out of sight, and a strange face peered at him—an Earthman face, on the surface of things at least.

The Earthman beckoned him in.

"I'm Armin Moulton," he said in a deep voice. "You're Harris?"

"That's right."

"Beth is waiting to see you."

The subsonic has a range of forty feet in any direction, Harris thought. No one Should be closer to you than three feet.

He was shown into an inner room well furnished with drapes and hangings. Beth stood in the middle of the room, smiling at him. She wore thick, shapeless clothes, quite unlike the seductive garb she had had on when Harris first collided with her.

There were others in the room. Harris recognized the other Medlin, Coburn, and the giant named Wrynn who claimed to be a super-Earthman. There was another woman of Wrynn's size in the room, a great golden creature nearly a foot taller than Harris, and two people of normal size who were probably Medlins.

"Well?" Beth asked.

In a tight voice Harris said, "He's dead. I've just come from there."

"How did you carry it out?"

"Disruptor," Harris said. "It was—unpleasant. For me as well as him."

He was quivering with tension. He made no attempt to conceal it, since a man who had just killed his direct superior might be expected to show some signs of extreme tension.

"Eight to go," Coburn said. "And four are in another hemisphere."

"Who are these people?" Harris asked.

Beth introduced them. The two normal-sized ones were disguised Medlins; the giant girl was Wrynn's wife, a super-woman. Harris frowned thoughtfully. There were a hundred Medlin agents on Earth. Four of them were right in this room, and it was reasonable to expect that two or three more might be within the forty-foot range of the concealed subsonic.

Not a bad haul at all. Harris began to tremble.

Beth said, "I suppose you don't even know who and where the other Darruui are yourself, do you?"

Harris shook his head. "I've only been on Earth a couple of days, you know. There wasn't time to make contact with anyone but Carver. I have no idea how to do so."

He stared levelly at her. The expression on her face was unreadable; it was impossible to tell whether she believed he had actually killed Carver.

"Things have happened fast to you, haven't they?" she said. She drew a tridim photo from a case and handed it to Harris. "This is your next victim. He goes under the name of Reynolds here. He's the second-in-command; first-in-command now, since Carver's dead."

Harris studied the photo. It showed the face of the bald-headed man who had inserted the subsonic beneath the skin of his thigh.

Tension mounted in him. He felt the faint rasp rasp rasp in his stomach that was the agreed-upon code; Carver, waiting nearby, wanted to know if he were having any trouble.

Casually Harris kneaded his side, activating the transmitter. The signal he sent out told Carver that nothing had happened yet, that everything was all right.

He handed the photo back to Beth.

"I'll take care of him," he said.

I press the neural nexus in the left hip and render them unconscious. Then I kill them with the disruptor and leave.

Very simple.

He looked at Beth and thought that in a few minutes she would lie dead, along with Coburn and the other two Medlins and these giants who claimed to be Earthmen. He tensed. His hand stole toward his hip.

Beth said, "It must have been a terrible nervous strain, killing him. You look very disturbed."

"You've overturned all the values of my life," Harris said glibly. "That can shake a man up."

"You didn't think I'd succeed!" Beth said triumphantly to Coburn. To Harris she explained, "Coburn didn't think you could be trusted."

"I can't," Harris said bluntly.

He activated the concealed subsonic.

The first waves of inaudible sound rippled out, ignoring false flesh and striking through to the Medlin core beneath. Protected by his three-foot shield, Harris nevertheless felt sick to the stomach, rocked by the reverberating sound-waves that poured from the pellet embedded in his thigh.

Coburn was reaching for his weapon, but he never got to it. His arm drooped slackly; he slumped over. Beth dropped. The other two Medlins fell. Still the subsonic waves poured forth.

To his surprise Harris saw that the two giants still remained on their feet and semi-conscious, if groggy. It must be because they're so big, he thought. It takes longer for the subsonic to knock them out.

Wrynn was sagging now. His wife reeled under the impact of the noiseless waves and slipped to the floor, followed a moment later by her husband.

The office was silent.

Harris pressed his side again, signalling the all clear to the five Darruui outside. Six unconscious forms lay awkwardly on the floor.

He found the switch that opened the door, pulled it down, and peered out into the hall. Three figures lay outside, unconscious. A fourth was running toward them from the far end of the long hall, shouting, "What happened? What's going on?"

Harris stared at him. The Medlin ran into the forty-foot zone and recoiled visibly; he staggered forward a few steps and fell, joining his comrades on the thick velvet carpet.

Ten of them, Harris thought.

He drew the disruptor.

It lay in his palm, small, deadly. The trigger was a thin strand of metal; he needed only to flip off the guard, press the trigger back, and watch the Medlins die. But his hand was shaking. He did not fire.

A silent voice said, You could not be trusted after all. You were a traitor. But we had to let the test go at least this far, for the sake of our consciences.

"Who said that?"

I did.

"Where are you? I don't see you."

In this room, came the reply. Put down the gun, Harris-Khiilom. No, don't try to signal your friends. Just let the gun fall.

As if it had been wrenched from his hand, the gun dropped from his fingers, bounced a few inches, and lay still.

Shut off the subsonic, came the quiet command. I find it unpleasant.

Obediently Harris deactivated the instrument. His mind was held in some strange stasis; he had no private volitional control.

"Who are you?"

A member of that super-race whose existence you refused to accept.

Harris looked at Wrynn and his wife. Both were unconscious. "Wrynn?" he said. "How can your mind function if you're unconscious?"


Gently Harris felt himself falling toward the floor. It was as if an intangible hand had yanked his legs out from under him and eased him down. He lay quiescent, eyes open, neither moving nor wanting to move.

The victims of the subsonic slowly returned to consciousness as the minutes passed.

Beth woke first. She stared at the unconscious form of Wrynn's wife and said, "You went to quite an extent to prove a point!"

You were in no danger, came the answer.

The others were awakening now, sitting up, rubbing their foreheads. Harris watched them. His head throbbed too, as if he had been stunned by the subsonic device himself.

"Suppose you had been knocked out by the subsonic too?" Beth said to the life within the giant woman. "He would have killed us."

The subsonic could not affect me.

Harris said, "That—embryo can think and act?" His voice was a harsh whisper.

Beth nodded. "The next generation. It reaches sentience while still in the womb. By the time it's born it's fully aware."

"And I thought it was a hoax," Harris said dizzily. He felt dazed. The values of his life had been shattered in a moment, and it would not be easy to repair them with similar speed.

"No. No hoax. And we knew you'd try to trick us when we let you go. At least, Wrynn said you would. He's telepathic too, though he can only receive impressions. He can't transmit telepathically to others the way his son can."

"If you knew what I'd do, why did you release me?" Harris asked.

Beth said, "Call it a test. I hoped you might change your beliefs if we let you go. You didn't."

"No. I came here to kill you."

"We knew that the moment you stepped through the door. But the seed of rebellion was in you. We hoped you might be swayed. You failed us."

Harris bowed his head. The signal in his body rasped again, but he ignored it. Let Carver sweat out there. This thing is bigger than anything Carver ever dreamed of.

"Tell me," he said. "Don't you know what will happen to Medlin—and Darruu as well—once there are enough of these beings?"

"Nothing will happen. Do you think they're petty power-seekers, intent on establishing a galactic dominion?" The girl laughed derisively. "That sort of thinking belongs to the obsolete non-telepathic species. Us. The lower animals. These new people have different goals."

"But they wouldn't have come into existence if you Medlins hadn't aided them!" Harris protested. "Obsolete? Of course. And you've done it!"

Beth smiled oddly. "At least we were capable of seeing the new race without envy. We helped them as much as we could because we knew they would prevail anyway, given time. Perhaps it would be another century, or another millennium. But our day is done, and so is the day of Darruu, and the day of the non-telepathic Earthmen."

"And our day too," Wrynn said mildly. "We are the intermediates—the links between the old species and the new one that is emerging."

Harris stared at his hands—the hands of an Earthman, with Darruui flesh within.

He thought: All our striving is for nothing.

A new race, a glorious race, nurtured by the Medlins, brought into being on Earth. The galaxy waited for them. They were demigods.

He had regarded the Earthers as primitives, creatures with a mere few thousand years of history behind them, mere pale humanoids of no importance. But he was wrong. Long after Darruu had become a hollow world, these Earthers would roam the galaxies.

Looking up, he said, "I guess we made a mistake, we of Darruu. I was sent here to help sway the Earthers to the side of Darruu. But it's the other way around; it's Darruu that will have to swear loyalty to Earth, some day."

"Not soon," Wrynn said. "The true race is not yet out of childhood. Twenty years more must pass. And we have enemies on Earth."

"The old Earthmen," Coburn said. "How do you think they'll like being replaced? They're the real enemy. And that's why we're here. To help the mutants until they can stand fully alone. You Darruui are just nuisances getting in our way."

That would have been cause for anger, once. Harris merely shrugged. His whole mission had been without purpose.

But yet, a lingering doubt remained, a last suspicion. The silent voice of the unborn superman said, He still is not convinced.

"I'm afraid he's right," Harris murmured. "I see, and I believe—and yet all my conditioning tells me that it's impossible. Medlins are hateful creatures; I know that, intuitively."

Beth smiled. "Would you like a guarantee of our good faith?"

"What do you mean?"

To the womb-bound godling she said, "Link us."

Before Harris had a chance to react a strange brightness flooded over him; he seemed to be floating far above his body. With a jolt he realized where he was.

He was looking into the mind of the Medlin who called herself Beth Baldwin. And he saw none of the hideous things he had expected to find in a Medlin mind.

He saw faith and honesty, and a devotion to the truth. He saw dogged courage. He saw many things that filled him with humility.

The linkage broke.

Beth said, "Now find the mind of his leader Carver, and link him to that."

"No," Harris protested. "Don't—"

It was too late.

He sensed the smell of Darruu wine, and the prickly texture of thuuar spines, and then the superficial memories parted to give him a moment's insight into the deeper mind of the Darruui who wore the name of John Carver.

It was a frightening pit of foul hatreds. Shivering, Harris staggered backward, realizing that the Earther had allowed him only a fraction of a second's entry into that mind.

He covered his face with his hands.

"Are—we all like that?" he asked. "Am I?"

"No. Not—deep down," Beth said. "You've got the outer layer of hatred that every Darruui has—and every Medlin. But your core is good. Carver is rotten. So are the other Darruui here."

"Our races have fought for centuries," Coburn said. "A mistake on both sides that has hardened into blood-hatred. The time has come to end it."

"How about those Darruui outside?"

"They must die," Beth said.

Harris was silent a moment. The five who waited for him were Servants of the Spirit, like himself; members of the highest caste of Darruui civilization, presumably the noblest of all creation's beings. To kill one was to set himself apart from Darruu for ever.

"My—conditioning lies deep," he said. "If I strike a blow against them, I could never return to my native planet."

"Do you want to return?" Beth asked. "Your future lies here. With us."

Harris considered that. After a long moment he nodded. "Very well. Give me back the gun. I'll handle the five Darruui outside."

Coburn handed him the disruptor he had dropped. Harris grasped the butt of the weapon, smiled, and said, "I could kill some of you now, couldn't I? It would take at least a fraction of a second to stop me. I could pull the trigger once."

"You won't," Beth said.

He stared at her. "You're right."

He rode down alone in the gravshaft and made his way down the street to the place where his five countrymen waited. It was very dark now, though the lambent glow of street-lights brightened the path.

The stars were out in force now, bedecking the sky. Up there somewhere was Darruu. Perhaps now was the time of the Mating of the Moons, he thought. Well, never mind; it did not matter now.

They were waiting for him. As he approached Carver said, "You took long enough. Well?"

Harris thought of the squirming ropy thoughts that nestled in the other's brain like festering living snakes. He said, "All dead. Didn't you get my signal?"

"Sure we did. But we were getting tired of standing around out here."

"Sorry," Harris said.

He was thinking, these are Servants of the Spirit, men of Darruu. Men who think of Darruu's galactic dominion only, men who hate and kill and spy.

"How many were there?" Reynolds asked.

"Five," Harris said.

Carver looked disappointed. "Only five?"

Harris shrugged. "The place was empty. At least I got five, though."

He realized he was stalling, unwilling to do the thing he had come out here to do.

A silent voice said within him, Will you betray us again? Or will you keep faith this time?

Carver was saying something to him. He did not hear it. Carver said again, "I asked you—were there any important documents there?"

"No," Harris said.

A cold wind swept in from the river. Harris felt a sudden chill.

He said to himself, I will keep faith.

He stepped back, out of the three-foot zone, and activated the subsonic generator in his hip.

"What—" Carver started to say, and fell. They all fell: Carver, Reynolds, Tompkins, McDermott, Patterson, slipped to the ground and lay in huddled heaps. Five Darruui wearing the skins of Earthmen. Five Servants of the Spirit.

He drew the disruptor.

It lay in his hand for a moment. Thoughtfully he released the safety guard and squeezed the trigger. A bolt of energy flicked out, bathing Carver. The man gave a convulsive quiver and was still.

Reynolds, Tompkins, McDermott, Patterson.

All dead.

Smiling oddly, Harris pocketed the disruptor again and started to walk away, walking uncertainly, as the nervous reaction started to swim through his body. He had killed five of his countrymen. He had come to Earth on a sacred mission and had turned worse than traitor, betraying not only Darruu but the entire future of the galaxy.

He had cast his lot with the Earthmen whose guise he wore, and with the smiling yellow-haired girl named Beth beneath whose full breasts beat a Medlin heart.

Well done, said the voice in his mind. We were not deceived in you after all.

Harris began to walk back toward the Medlin headquarters, slowly, measuredly, not looking back at the five corpses behind him. The police would be perplexed when they held autopsies on those five, and discovered the Darruui bodies beneath the Terran flesh.

He looked up at the stars.

Somewhere out there was Darruu, he thought. Wrapped in its crimson mist, circled by its seven moons—

He remembered the Mating of the Moons as he had last seen it: the long-awaited, mind-stunning display of beauty in the skies. He knew he would never see it again.

He could never return to Darruu now.

He would stay here, on Earth, serving a godlike race in its uncertain infancy. Perhaps he could forget that beneath the skin of Major Abner Harris lay the body and mind of Aar Khiilom.

Forget Darruu. Forget the fragrance of the jasaar trees and the radiance of the moons. Earth has trees that smell as sweet, it has a glorious pale moon that hangs high in the night sky. Put homesickness away. Forget Darruu.

It would not be easy. He looked up again at the stars as he reached the entrance to the Medlin headquarters. Earth was the name of his planet now.


He took a last look at the speckled sky covered with stars, and for the last time wondered which of the dots of brightness was Darruu. Darruu no longer mattered now.

Smiling, Aar Khiilom turned his face away from the stars.