VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Other Chapters or Short Stories

Dead Giveaway



Dead Giveaway







From: Dead Giveaway

Logic's a wonderful thing; by logical analysis, one can determine the
necessary reason for the existence of a dead city of a very high order
on an utterly useless planet. Obviously a shipping transfer point!
Necessarily...




"Mendez?" said the young man in the blue-and-green tartan jacket. "Why,
yes ... sure I've heard of it. Why?"

The clerk behind the desk looked again at the information screen.
"That's the destination we have on file for Scholar Duckworth, Mr.
Turnbull. That was six months ago." He looked up from the screen,
waiting to see if Turnbull had any more questions.

Turnbull tapped his teeth with a thumbnail for a couple of seconds, then
shrugged slightly. "Any address given for him?"

"Yes, sir. The Hotel Byron, Landing City, Mendez."

Turnbull nodded. "How much is the fare to Mendez?"

The clerk thumbed a button which wiped the information screen clean,
then replaced it with another list, which flowed upward for a few
seconds, then stopped. "Seven hundred and eighty-five fifty, sir," said
the clerk. "Shall I make you out a ticket?"

Turnbull hesitated. "What's the route?"

The clerk touched another control, and again the information on the
screen changed. "You'll take the regular shuttle from here to Luna, then
take either the Stellar Queen or the Oriona to Sirius VI. From
there, you will have to pick up a ship to the Central Worlds--either to
Vanderlin or BenAbram--and take a ship from there to Mendez. Not
complicated, really. The whole trip won't take you more than three
weeks, including stopovers."

"I see," said Turnbull. "I haven't made up my mind yet. I'll let you
know."

"Very well, sir. The Stellar Queen leaves on Wednesdays and the
Oriona on Saturdays. We'll need three days' notice."

Turnbull thanked the clerk and headed toward the big doors that led out
of Long Island Terminal, threading his way through the little clumps of
people that milled around inside the big waiting room.

He hadn't learned a hell of a lot, he thought. He'd known that Duckworth
had gone to Mendez, and he already had the Hotel Byron address. There
was, however, some negative information there. The last address they had
was on Mendez, and yet Scholar Duckworth couldn't be found on Mendez.
Obviously, he had not filed a change of address there; just as
obviously, he had managed to leave the planet without a trace. There was
always the possibility that he'd been killed, of course. On a thinly
populated world like Mendez, murder could still be committed with little
chance of being caught. Even here on Earth, a murderer with the right
combination of skill and luck could remain unsuspected.

But who would want to kill Scholar Duckworth?

And why?

Turnbull pushed the thought out of his mind. It was possible that
Duckworth was dead, but it was highly unlikely. It was vastly more
probable that the old scholar had skipped off for reasons of his own and
that something had happened to prevent him from contacting Turnbull.

After all, almost the same thing had happened in reverse a year ago.

Outside the Terminal Building, Turnbull walked over to a hackstand and
pressed the signal button on the top of the control column. An empty cab
slid out of the traffic pattern and pulled up beside the barrier which
separated the vehicular traffic from the pedestrian walkway. The gate in
the barrier slid open at the same time the cab door did, and Turnbull
stepped inside and sat down. He dialed his own number, dropped in the
indicated number of coins, and then relaxed as the cab pulled out and
sped down the freeway towards Manhattan.

He'd been back on Earth now for three days, and the problem of Scholar
James Duckworth was still bothering him. He hadn't known anything about
it until he'd arrived at his apartment after a year's absence.

* * * * *

The apartment door sighed a little as Dave Turnbull broke the electronic
seal with the double key. Half the key had been in his possession for a
year, jealousy guarded against loss during all the time he had been on
Lobon; the other half had been kept by the manager of the Excelsior
Apartments.

As the door opened, Turnbull noticed the faint musty odor that told of
long-unused and poorly circulated air. The conditioners had been turned
down to low power for a year now.

He went inside and allowed the door to close silently behind him. The
apartment was just the same--the broad expanse of pale blue rug, the
matching furniture, including the long, comfortable couch and the fat
overstuffed chair--all just as he'd left them.

He ran a finger experimentally over the top of the table near the door.
There was a faint patina of dust covering the glossy surface, but it was
very faint, indeed. He grinned to himself. In spite of the excitement of
the explorations on Lobon, it was great to be home again.

He went into the small kitchen, slid open the wall panel that concealed
the apartment's power controls, and flipped the switch from
"maintenance" to "normal." The lights came on, and there was a faint
sigh from the air conditioners as they began to move the air at a more
normal rate through the rooms.

Then he walked over to the liquor cabinet, opened it, and surveyed the
contents. There, in all their glory, sat the half dozen bottles of
English sherry that he'd been dreaming about for twelve solid months. He
took one out and broke the seal almost reverently.

Not that there had been nothing to drink for the men on Lobon: the
University had not been so blue-nosed as all that. But the choice had
been limited to bourbon and Scotch. Turnbull, who was not a whisky
drinker by choice, had longed for the mellow smoothness of Bristol Cream
Sherry instead of the smokiness of Scotch or the heavy-bodied strength
of the bourbon.

He was just pouring his first glass when the announcer chimed. Frowning,
Turnbull walked over to the viewscreen that was connected to the little
eye in the door. It showed the face of--what was his name? Samson?
Sanders. That was it, Sanders, the building superintendent.

Turnbull punched the opener and said: "Come in. I'll be right with you,
Mr. Sanders."

Sanders was a round, pleasant-faced, soft-voiced man, a good ten years
older than Turnbull himself. He was standing just inside the door as
Turnbull entered the living room; there was a small brief case in his
hand. He extended the other hand as Turnbull approached.

"Welcome home again, Dr. Turnbull," he said warmly. "We've missed you
here at the Excelsior."

Turnbull took the hand and smiled as he shook it. "Glad to be back, Mr.
Sanders; the place looks good after a year of roughing it."

The superintendent lifted the brief case. "I brought up the mail that
accumulated while you were gone. There's not much, since we sent cards
to each return address, notifying them that you were not available and
that your mail was being held until your return."

He opened the brief case and took out seven standard pneumatic mailing
tubes and handed them to Turnbull.

Turnbull glanced at them. Three of them were from various friends of his
scattered over Earth; one was from Standard Recording Company; the
remaining three carried the return address of James M. Duckworth, Ph.
Sch., U.C.L.A., Great Los Angeles, California.

"Thanks, Mr. Sanders," said Turnbull. He was wondering why the man had
brought them up so promptly after his own arrival. Surely, having waited
a year, they would have waited until they were called for.

Sanders blinked apologetically. "Uh ... Dr. Turnbull, I wonder if ... if
any of those contain money ... checks, cash, anything like that?"

"I don't know. Why?" Turnbull asked in surprise.

Sanders looked even more apologetic. "Well, there was an attempted
robbery here about six months ago. Someone broke into your mailbox
downstairs. There was nothing in it, of course; we've been putting
everything into the vault as it came in. But the police thought it might
be someone who knew you were getting money by mail. None of the other
boxes were opened, you see, and--" He let his voice trail off as
Turnbull began opening the tubes.

None of them contained anything but correspondence. There was no sign of
anything valuable.

"Maybe they picked my box at random," Turnbull said. "They may have been
frightened off after opening the one box."

"That's very likely it," said Sanders. "The police said it seemed to be
a rather amateurish job, although whoever did it certainly succeeded in
neutralizing the alarms."

Satisfied, the building superintendent exchanged a few more pleasantries
with Turnbull and departed. Turnbull headed back toward the kitchen,
picked up his glass of sherry, and sat down in the breakfast nook to
read the letters.

The one from Standard Recording had come just a few days after he'd
left, thanking him for notifying them that he wanted to suspend his
membership for a year. The three letters from Cairo, London, and Luna
City were simply chatty little social notes, nothing more.

The three from Scholar Duckworth were from a different breed of cat.

The first was postmarked 21 August 2187, three months after Turnbull had
left for Lobon. It was neatly addressed to Dave F. Turnbull, Ph.D.

* * * * *

Dear Dave (it read):

I know I haven't been as consistent in keeping up with my old pupils as
I ought to have been. For this, I can only beat my breast violently and
mutter mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I can't even plead that
I was so immersed in my own work that I hadn't the time to write,
because I'm busier right now than I've been for years, and I've had to
make time for this letter.

Of course, in another way, this is strictly a business letter, and it
does pertain to my work, so the time isn't as hard to find as it might
be.

But don't think I haven't been watching your work. I've read every one
of your articles in the various journals, and I have copies of all four
of your books nestled securely in my library. Columbia should be--and
apparently is--proud to have a man of your ability on its staff. At the
rate you've been going, it won't be long before you get an invitation
from the Advanced Study Board to study for your Scholar's degree.

As a matter of fact, I'd like to make you an offer right now to do some
original research with me. I may not be a top-flight genius like
Metternick or Dahl, but my reputation does carry some weight with the
Board. (That, Turnbull thought, was a bit of needless modesty;
Duckworth wasn't the showman that Metternick was, or the prolific writer
that Dahl was, but he had more intelligence and down-right wisdom than
either.) So if you could manage to get a few months leave from
Columbia, I'd be honored to have your assistance. (More modesty,
thought Turnbull. The honor would be just the other way round.)

The problem, in case you're wondering, has to do with the Centaurus
Mystery; I think I've uncovered a new approach that will literally kick
the supports right out from under every theory that's been evolved for
the existence of that city. Sound interesting?

I'm mailing this early, so it should reach you in the late afternoon
mail. If you'll be at home between 1900 and 2000, I'll call you and give
you the details. If you've got a pressing appointment, leave details
with the operator.

All the best,
Jim Duckworth

* * * * *

Turnbull slid the letter back into its tube and picked up the second
letter, dated 22 August 2187, one day later.

* * * * *

Dear Dave,

I called last night, and the operator said your phone has been
temporarily disconnected. I presume these letters will be forwarded, so
please let me know where you are. I'm usually at home between 1800 and
2300, so call me collect within the next three or four days.

All the best,
Jim

* * * * *

The third letter was dated 10 November 2187. Turnbull wondered why it
had been sent. Obviously, the manager of the Excelsior had sent
Duckworth a notice that Dr. Turnbull was off-planet and could not be
reached. He must have received the notice on the afternoon of 22 August.
That would account for his having sent a second letter before he got the
notice. Then why the third letter?

* * * * *

Dear Dave,

I know you won't be reading this letter for six months or so, but at
least it will tell you where I am. I guess I wasn't keeping as close
tabs on your work as I thought: otherwise I would have known about the
expedition to Lobon. You ought to be able to make enough credit on that
trip to bring you to the attention of the Board.

And don't feel too bad about missing my first letters or the call. I was
off on a wild goose chase that just didn't pan out, so you really didn't
miss a devil of a lot.

As a matter of fact, it was rather disappointing to me, so I've decided
to take a long-needed sabbatical leave and combine it with a little
research on the half-intelligent natives of Mendez. I'll see you in a
year or so.

As ever,
Jim Duckworth

* * * * *

Well, that was that, Turnbull thought. It galled him a little to think
that he'd been offered a chance to do research with Scholar Duckworth
and hadn't been able to take it. But if the research hadn't panned
out.... He frowned and turned back to the first letter.

A theory that would "literally kick the supports right out from under
every theory that's been evolved for the existence of that city," he'd
said. Odd. It was unlike Duckworth to be so positive about anything
until he could support his own theory without much fear of having it
pulled to pieces.

Turnbull poured himself a second glass of sherry, took a sip, and rolled
it carefully over his tongue.

The Centaurus Mystery. That's what the explorers had called it back in
2041, nearly a century and a half before, when they'd found the great
city on one of the planets of the Alpha Centaurus system. Man's first
interstellar trip had taken nearly five years at sublight velocities,
and bing!--right off the bat, they'd found something that made
interstellar travel worthwhile, even though they'd found no planet in
the Alpha Centaurus system that was really habitable for man.

They'd seen it from space--a huge domed city gleaming like a great gem
from the center of the huge desert that covered most of the planet. The
planet itself was Marslike--flat and arid over most of its surface, with
a thin atmosphere high in CO2 and very short on oxygen. The city showed
up very well through the cloudless air.

From the very beginning, it had been obvious that whoever or whatever
had built that city had not evolved on the planet where it had been
built. Nothing more complex than the lichens had ever evolved there, as
thousands of drillings into the crust of the planet had shown.

Certainly nothing of near-humanoid construction could ever have come
into being on that planet without leaving some trace of themselves or
their genetic forebears except for that single huge city.

How long the city had been there was anyone's guess. A thousand years? A
million? There was no way of telling. It had been sealed tightly, so
none of the sand that blew across the planet's surface could get in. It
had been set on a high plateau of rock, far enough above the desert
level to keep it from being buried, and the transparent dome was made of
an aluminum oxide glass that was hard enough to resist the slight
erosion of its surface that might have been caused by the gentle, thin
winds dashing microscopic particles of sand against its smooth surface.

Inside, the dry air had preserved nearly every artifact, leaving them as
they had been when the city was deserted by its inhabitants at an
unknown time in the past.

That's right--deserted. There were no signs of any remains of living
things. They'd all simply packed up and left, leaving everything behind.

Dating by the radiocarbon method was useless. Some of the carbon
compounds in the various artifacts showed a faint trace of radiocarbon,
others showed none. But since the method depends on a knowledge of the
amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere of the planet of origin, the rate
of bombardment of that atmosphere by high-velocity particles, and
several other factors, the information on the radioactivity of the
specimens meant nothing. There was also the likelihood that the carbon
in the various polymer resins came from oil or coal, and fossil carbon
is useless for radio-dating.

Nor did any of the more modern methods show any greater success.

It had taken Man centuries of careful comparison and cross-checking to
read the evolutionary history written in the depths of his own planet's
crust--to try to date the city was impossible. It was like trying to
guess the time by looking at a faceless clock with no hands.

There the city stood--a hundred miles across, ten thousand square miles
of complex enigma.

It had given Man his first step into the ever-widening field of Cultural
Xenology.

Dave Turnbull finished his sherry, got up from the breakfast nook, and
walked into the living room, where his reference books were shelved. The
copy of Kleistmeistenoppolous' "City of Centaurus" hadn't been opened in
years, but he took it down and flipped it open to within three pages of
the section he was looking for.

"It is obvious, therefore, that every one of the indicators
points in the same direction. The City was not--could not have
been--self-supporting. There is no source of organic material on the
planet great enough to support such a city; therefore, foodstuffs must
have been imported. On the other hand, it is necessary to postulate
some reason for establishing a city on an otherwise barren planet and
populating it with an estimated six hundred thousand individuals.

"There can be only one answer: The race that built the City did so for
the same reason that human beings built such megalopolises as New York,
Los Angeles, Tokyo, and London--because it was a focal point for
important trade routes. Only such trade routes could support such a
city; only such trade routes give reason for the City's very existence.

"And when those trade routes changed or were supplanted by others in the
course of time, the reason for the City's existence vanished."

Turnbull closed the book and shoved it back into place. Certainly the
theory made sense, and had for a century. Had Duckworth come across
information that would seem to smash that theory?

The planet itself seemed to be perfectly constructed for a gigantic
landing field for interstellar ships. It was almost flat, and if the
transhipping between the interstellar vessels had been done by air,
there would be no need to build a hard surface for the field. And there
were other indications. Every fact that had come to light in the ensuing
century had been in support of the Greek-German xenologist's theory.

Had Duckworth come up with something new?

If so, why had he decided to discard it and forget his new theory?

If not, why had he formulated the new theory, and on what grounds?

Turnbull lit a cigarette and looked sourly at the smoke that drifted up
from its tip. What the devil was eating him? He'd spent too much time
away from Earth, that was the trouble. He'd been too deeply immersed in
his study of Lobon for the past year. Now all he had to do was get a
little hint of something connected with cultural xenology, and his mind
went off on dizzy tizzies.

Forget it. Duckworth had thought he was on to something, found out that
he wasn't, and discarded the whole idea. And if someone like Scholar
James Duckworth had decided it wasn't worth fooling with, then why was a
common Ph. D. like Turnbull worrying about it? Especially when he had no
idea what had started Duckworth off in the first place.

And his thoughts came back around to that again. If Duckworth had
thought enough of the idea to get excited over it, what had set him off?
Even if it had later proved to be a bad lead, Turnbull felt he'd like to
know what had made Duckworth think--even for a short time--that there
was some other explanation for the City.

Ah, hell! He'd ask Duckworth some day. There was plenty of time.

He went over to the phone, dialed a number, and sat down comfortably in
his fat blue overstuffed chair. It buzzed for half a minute, then the
telltale lit up, but the screen remained dark.

"Dave!" said a feminine voice. "Are you back? Where on Earth have you
been?"

"I haven't," said Turnbull. "How come no vision?"

"I was in the hammam, silly. And what do you mean 'I haven't'? You
haven't what?"

"You asked me where on Earth I'd been, and I said I haven't."

"Oh! Lucky man! Gallivanting around the starways while us poor humans
have to stay home."

"Yeah, great fun. Now look, Dee, get some clothes on and turn on your
pickup. I don't like talking to gray screens."

"Half a sec." There was a minute's pause, then the screen came on,
showing the girl's face. "Now, what do you have on your purported mind?"

"Simple. I've been off Earth for a year, staring at bearded faces and
listening to baritone voices. If it isn't too short notice, I'd like to
take you to dinner and a show and whatever else suggests itself
afterward."

"Done!" she said. "What time?"

"Twenty hundred? At your place?"

"I'll be waiting."

Dave Turnbull cut the circuit, grinning. The Duckworth problem had
almost faded from his mind. But it flared back up again when he glanced
at the mail tubes on his desk.

"Damn!" he said.

He turned back to the phone, jammed a finger into the dial and spun it
angrily. After a moment, the screen came to life with the features of a
beautifully smiling but obviously efficient blond girl.

"Interstellar Communications. May I serve you, sir?"

"How long will it take to get a message to Mendez? And what will it
cost?"

"One moment, sir." Her right hand moved off-screen, and her eyes shifted
to look at a screen that Turnbull couldn't see. "Mendez," she said
shortly. "The message will reach there in five hours and thirty-six
minutes total transmission time. Allow an hour's delay for getting the
message on the tapes for beaming.

"The cost is one seventy-five per symbol. Spaces and punctuation marks
are considered symbols. A, an, and, and the are symbols."

Turnbull thought a moment. It was high--damned high. But then a man with
a bona fide Ph. D. was not exactly a poor man if he worked at his
specialty or taught.

"I'll call you back as soon as I've composed the message," he said.

"Very well, sir."

He cut the circuit, grabbed a pencil and started scribbling. When he'd
finished reducing the thing to its bare minimum, he started to dial the
number again. Then he scowled and dialed another number.

This time, a mild-faced young man in his middle twenties appeared.
"University of California in Los Angeles. Personnel Office. May I serve
you?"

"This is Dr. Dave Turnbull, in New York. I understand that Scholar
Duckworth is on leave. I'd like his present address."

The young man looked politely firm. "I'm sorry, doctor; we can not give
out that information."

"Oh, yap! Look here; I know where he is; just give me--" He stopped.
"Never mind. Let me talk to Thornwald."

Thornwald was easier to deal with, since he knew both Duckworth and
Turnbull. Turnbull showed him Duckworth's letter on the screen. "I know
he's on Mendez; I just don't want to have to look all over the planet
for him."

"I know, Dave. I'm sure it's all right. The address is Landing City,
Hotel Byron, Mendez."

"Thanks, Thorn; I'll do you a favor some day."

"Sure. See you."

Turnbull cut off, dialed Interstellar Communications, sent his message,
and relaxed. He was ready to make a night of it. He was going to make
his first night back on Earth a night to remember.

He did.

* * * * *

The next morning, he was feeling almost flighty. He buzzed and flitted
around his apartment as though he'd hit a high point on a manic cycle,
happily burbling utter nonsense in the form of a perfectly ridiculous
popular song.

My dear, the merest touch of you
Has opened up my eyes;
And if I get too much of you,
You really paralyze!
Donna, Donna, bella Donna,
Clad in crimson bright,
Though I'm near you, I don't wanna
See the falling shades of night!

Even when the phone chimed in its urgent message, it didn't disturb his
frothy mood. But three minutes later he had dropped down to earth with a
heavy clunk.

His message to Mendez had not been delivered. There was not now, and
never had been a Scholar James Duckworth registered at the Hotel Byron
in Landing City. Neither was his name on the incoming passenger lists at
the spaceport at Landing City.

He forced himself to forget about it; he had a date with Dee again that
night, and he was not going to let something silly like this bother him.
But bother him it did. Unlike the night before, the date was an utter
fiasco, a complete flop. Dee sensed his mood, misinterpreted it,
complained of a headache, and went home early. Turnbull slept badly that
night.

Next morning, he had an appointment with one of the executives of
U.C.L.I.--University of Columbia in Long Island--and, on the way back he
stopped at the spaceport to see what he could find out. But all he got
was purely negative information.

On his way back to Manhattan, he sat in the autocab and fumed.

When he reached home, he stalked around the apartment for an hour,
smoking half a dozen cigarettes, chain fashion, and polishing off three
glasses of Bristol Cream without even tasting it.

Dave Turnbull, like any really top-flight investigator, had developed
intuitive thinking to a fine art. Ever since the Lancaster Method had
shown the natural laws applying to intuitive reasoning, no scientist
worthy of the name failed to apply it consistently in making his
investigations. Only when exact measurement became both possible and
necessary was there any need to apply logic to a given problem.

A logician adds two and two and gets four; an intuitionist multiplies
them and gets the same answer. But a logician, faced with three twos,
gets six--an intuitionist gets eight. Intuition will get higher orders
of answers from a given set of facts than logic will.

Turnbull applied intuition to the facts he knew and came up with an
answer. Then he phoned the New York Public Library, had his phone
connected with the stacks, and spent an hour checking for data that
would either prove or disprove his theory. He found plenty of the former
and none of the latter.

Then he called his superiors at Columbia.

He had to write up his report on the Lobon explorations. Would it be
possible for him to take a six-month leave of absence for the purpose?

It would.

The following Saturday, Dr. Dave F. Turnbull was on the interstellar
liner Oriona, bound for Sirius.

* * * * *

If ever there was a Gold Mine In The Sky, it was Centaurus City. To the
cultural xenologists who worked on its mysterious riches, it seemed to
present an almost inexhaustible supply of new data. The former
inhabitants had left everything behind, as though it were no longer of
any value whatever. No other trace of them had as yet been found
anywhere in the known galaxy, but they had left enough material in
Centaurus City to satisfy the curiosity of Mankind for years to come,
and enough mystery and complexity to whet that curiosity to an even
sharper degree.

It's difficult for the average person to grasp just how much information
can be packed into a city covering ten thousand square miles with a
population density equal to that of Manhattan. How long would it take
the hypothetical Man From Mars to investigate New York or London if he
had only the City to work with, if he found them just as they stand
except that the inhabitants had vanished?

The technological level of the aliens could not be said to be either
"above" or "below" that of Man: it could only be said to be "different."
It was as if the two cultures complemented each other; the areas of
knowledge which the aliens had explored seemed to be those which Mankind
had not yet touched, while, at the same time, there appeared to be many
levels of common human knowledge which the aliens had never approached.

From the combination of the two, whole new fields of human thought and
endeavor had been opened.

No trace of the alien spaceships had been uncovered, but the
anti-gravitational devices in their aircraft, plus the basic principles
of Man's own near-light-velocity drive had given Man the ultralight
drive.

Their knowledge of social organization and function far exceeded that of
Man, and the hints taken from the deciphered writings of the aliens had
radically changed Man's notions of government. Now humanity could build
a Galactic Civilization--a unity that was neither a pure democracy nor
an absolute dictatorship, but resulted in optimum governmental control
combined with optimum individual freedom. It was e pluribus unum plus.
Their technological writings were few, insofar as physics and chemistry
were concerned. What there were turned out to be elementary texts rather
than advanced studies--which was fortunate, because it had been through
these that the cultural xenologists had been able to decipher the
language of the aliens, a language that was no more alien to the modern
mind than, say, ancient Egyptian or Cretan.

But without any advanced texts, deciphering the workings of the
thousands of devices that the aliens had left behind was a tedious job.
The elementary textbooks seemed to deal with the same sort of science
that human beings were used to, but, at some point beyond, the aliens
had taken a slightly different course, and, at first, only the very
simplest of their mechanisms could be analyzed. But the investigators
learned from the simpler mechanisms, and found themselves able to take
the next step forward to more complex ones. However, it still remained a
fact that the majority of the devices were as incomprehensible to the
investigators as would the function of a transistor have been to James
Clerk Maxwell.

In the areas of the social sciences, data was deciphered at a fairly
rapid rate; the aliens seemed to have concentrated all their efforts on
that. Psionics, on the other hand, seemed never to have occurred to
them, much less to have been investigated. And yet, there were devices
in Centaurus City that bore queer generic resemblances to common
Terrestrial psionic machines. But there was no hint of such things in
the alien literature.

And the physical sciences were deciphered only slowly, by a process of
cut-and-try and cut-and-try again.

The investigations would take time. There were only a relatively small
handful of men working on the problems that the City posed. Not because
there weren't plenty of men who would have sacrificed their time and
efforts to further the work, but because the planet, being hostile to
Man, simply would not support very many investigators. It was not
economically feasible to pour more men and material into the project
after the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Theoretically,
it would have been possible to re-seal the City's dome and pump in an
atmosphere that human beings could live with, but, aside from every
other consideration, it was likely that such an atmosphere would ruin
many of the artifacts within the City.

Besides, the work in the City was heady stuff. Investigation of the City
took a particular type of high-level mind, and that kind of mind did not
occur in vast numbers.

It was not, Turnbull thought, his particular dish of tea. The physical
sciences were not his realm, and the work of translating the alien
writings could be done on Earth, from 'stat copies, if he'd cared to do
that kind of work.

* * * * *

Sirius VI was a busy planet--a planet that was as Earthlike as a planet
could be without being Earth itself. It had a single moon, smaller than
Earth's and somewhat nearer to the planet itself. The Oriona landed
there, and Dave Turnbull took a shuttle ship to Sirius VI, dropping down
at the spaceport near Noiberlin, the capital.

It took less than an hour to find that Scholar Duckworth had gone no
farther on his journey to Mendez than Sirius VI. He hadn't cashed in his
ticket; if he had, they'd have known about it on Earth. But he certainly
hadn't taken a ship toward the Central Stars, either.

Turnbull got himself a hotel room and began checking through the
Noiberlin city directory. There it was, big as life and fifteen times as
significant. Rawlings Scientific Corporation.

Turnbull decided he might as well tackle them right off the bat; there
was nothing to be gained by pussyfooting around.

He used the phone, and, after browbeating several of the employees and
pulling his position on a couple of executives, he managed to get an
appointment with the Assistant Director, Lawrence Drawford. The
Director, Scholar Jason Rawlings, was not on Sirius VI at the time.

The appointment was scheduled for oh nine hundred the following morning,
and Turnbull showed up promptly. He entered through the big main door
and walked to the reception desk.

"Yes?" said the girl at the desk.

"How do you do," Turnbull said. "My name is Turnbull; I think I'm
expected."

"Just a moment." She checked with the information panel on her desk,
then said: "Go right on up, Dr. Turnbull. Take Number Four Lift Chute to
the eighteenth floor and turn left. Dr. Drawford's office is at the end
of the hall."

Turnbull followed directions.

Drawford was a heavy-set, florid-faced man with an easy smile and a
rather too hearty voice.

"Come in, Dr. Turnbull; it's a pleasure to meet you. What can I do for
you?" He waved Turnbull to a chair and sat down behind his desk.

Turnbull said carefully: "I'd just like to get a little information, Dr.
Drawford."

Drawford selected a cigar from the humidor on his desk and offered one
to Turnbull. "Cigar? No? Well, if I can be of any help to you, I'll
certainly do the best I can." But there was a puzzled look on his face
as he lit his cigar.

"First," said Turnbull, "am I correct in saying that Rawlings Scientific
is in charge of the research program at Centaurus City?"

Drawford exhaled a cloud of blue-gray smoke. "Not precisely. We work as
a liaison between the Advanced Study Board and the Centaurus group, and
we supply the equipment that's needed for the work there. We build
instruments to order--that sort of thing. Scholar Rawlings is a member
of the Board, of course, which admits of a somewhat closer liaison than
might otherwise be possible.

"But I'd hardly say we were in charge of the research. That's handled
entirely by the Group leaders at the City itself."

Turnbull lit a cigarette. "What happened to Scholar Duckworth?" he said
suddenly.

Drawford blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

Again Turnbull's intuitive reasoning leaped far ahead of logic; he knew
that Drawford was honestly innocent of any knowledge of the whereabouts
of Scholar James Duckworth.

"I was under the impression," Turnbull said easily, "that Scholar
Duckworth was engaged in some sort of work with Scholar Rawlings."

Drawford smiled and spread his hands. "Well, now, that may be. Dr.
Turnbull. If so, then they're engaged in something that's above my
level."

"Oh?"

Drawford pursed his lips for a moment, frowning. Then he said: "I must
admit that I'm not a good intuitive thinker, Dr. Turnbull. I have not
the capacity for it, I suppose. That's why I'm an engineer instead of a
basic research man; that's why I'll never get a Scholar's degree." Again
he paused before continuing. "For that reason, Scholar Rawlings leaves
the logic to me and doesn't burden me with his own business. Nominally,
he is the head of the Corporation; actually, we operate in different
areas--areas which, naturally, overlap in places, but which are not
congruent by any means."

"In other words," said Turnbull, "if Duckworth and Rawlings were working
together, you wouldn't be told about it."

"Not unless Scholar Rawlings thought it was necessary to tell me,"
Drawford said. He put his cigar carefully in the ashdrop. "Of course, if
I asked him, I'm sure he'd give me the information, but it's hardly
any of my business."

* * * * *

Turnbull nodded and switched his tack. "Scholar Rawlings is off-planet,
I believe?"

"That's right. I'm not at liberty to disclose his whereabouts, however,"
Drawford said.

"I realize that. But I'd like to get a message to him, if possible."

Drawford picked up his cigar again and puffed at it a moment before
saying anything. Then, "Dr. Turnbull, please don't think I'm being
stuffy, but may I ask the purpose of this inquiry?"

"A fair question," said Turnbull, smiling. "I really shouldn't have come
barging in here like this without explaining myself first." He had his
lie already formulated in his mind. "I'm engaged in writing up a report
on the cultural significance of the artifacts on the planet Lobon--you
may have heard something of it?"

"I've heard the name," Drawford admitted. "That's in the Sagittarius
Sector somewhere, as I recall."

"That's right. Well, as you know, the theory for the existence of
Centaurus City assumes that it was, at one time, the focal point of a
complex of trade routes through the galaxy, established by a race that
has passed from the galactic scene."

Drawford was nodding slowly, waiting to hear what Turnbull had to say.

"I trust that you'll keep this to yourself, doctor," Turnbull said,
extinguishing his cigarette. "But I am of the opinion that the artifacts
on Lobon bear a distinct resemblance to those of the City." It was a
bald, out-and-out lie, but he knew Drawford would have no way of knowing
that it was. "I think that Lobon was actually one of the colonies of
that race--one of their food-growing planets. If so, there is certainly
a necessity for correlation between the data uncovered on Lobon and
those which have been found in the City."

Drawford's face betrayed his excitement. "Why ... why, that's amazing! I
can see why you wanted to get in touch with Scholar Rawlings, certainly!
Do you really think there's something in this idea?"

"I do," said Turnbull firmly. "Will it be possible for me to send a
message to him?"

"Certainly," Drawford said quickly. "I'll see that he gets it as soon as
possible. What did you wish to say?"

Turnbull reached into his belt pouch, pulled out a pad and stylus, and
began to write.

I have reason to believe that I have solved the connection between the
two sources of data concerned in the Centaurus City problem. I would
also like to discuss the Duckworth theory with you.

When he had finished, he signed his name at the bottom and handed it to
Drawford.

Drawford looked at it, frowned, and looked up at Turnbull questioningly.

"He'll know what I mean," Turnbull said. "Scholar Duckworth had an idea
that Lobon was a data source on the problem even before we did our
digging there. Frankly, that's why I thought Duckworth might be working
with Scholar Rawlings."

Drawford's face cleared. "Very well. I'll put this on the company
transmitters immediately, Dr. Turnbull. And--don't worry, I won't say
anything about this to anyone until Scholar Rawlings or you, yourself,
give me the go-ahead."

"I'd certainly appreciate that," Turnbull said, rising from his seat.
"I'll leave you to your work now, Dr. Drawford. I can be reached at the
Mayfair Hotel."

The two men shook hands, and Turnbull left quickly.

* * * * *

Turnbull felt intuitively that he knew where Rawlings was. On the
Centaurus planet--the planet of the City. But where was Duckworth?
Reason said that he, too, was at the City, but under what circumstances?
Was he a prisoner? Had he been killed outright?

Surely not. That didn't jibe with his leaving Earth the way he had. If
someone had wanted him killed, they'd have done it on Earth; they
wouldn't have left a trail to Sirius IV that anyone who was interested
could have followed.

On the other hand, how could they account for Duckworth's disappearance,
since the trail was so broad? If the police--

No. He was wrong. The trouble with intuitive thinking is that it tends
to leave out whole sections of what, to a logical thinker, are pieces of
absolutely necessary data.

Duckworth actually had no connection with Rawlings--no logical
connection. The only thing the police would have to work with was the
fact that Scholar Duckworth had started on a trip to Mendez and never
made it any farther than Sirius IV. There, he had vanished. Why? How
could they prove anything?

On the other hand, Turnbull was safe. The letters from Duckworth, plus
his visit to Drawford, plus his acknowledged destination of Sirius IV,
would be enough to connect up both cases if Turnbull vanished. Rawlings
should know he couldn't afford to do anything to Turnbull.

Dave Turnbull felt perfectly safe.

He was in his hotel room at the Mayfair when the announcer chimed, five
hours later. He glanced up from his book to look at the screen. It
showed a young man in an ordinary business jumper, looking rather
boredly at the screen.

"What is it?" Turnbull asked.

"Message for Dr. Turnbull from Rawlings Scientific Corporation," said
the young man, in a voice that sounded even more bored than his face
looked.

Turnbull sighed and got up to open the door. When it sectioned, he had
only a fraction of a second to see what the message was.

It was a stungun in the hand of the young man.

It went off, and Turnbull's mind spiraled into blankness before he could
react.

* * * * *

Out of a confused blur of color, a face sprang suddenly into focus, swam
away again, and came back. The lips of the face moved.

"How do you feel, son?"

Turnbull looked at the face. It was that of a fairly old man who still
retained the vitality of youth. It was lined, but still firm.

It took him a moment to recognize the face--then he recalled stereos
he'd seen.

It was Scholar Jason Rawlings.

Turnbull tried to lift himself up and found he couldn't.

The scholar smiled. "Sorry we had to strap you down," he said, "but I'm
not nearly as strong as you are, and I didn't have any desire to be
jumped before I got a chance to talk to you."

Turnbull relaxed. There was no immediate danger here.

"Know where you are?" Rawlings asked.

"Centaurus City," Turnbull said calmly. "It's a three-day trip, so
obviously you couldn't have made it in the five hours after I sent you
the message. You had me kidnaped and brought here."

The old man frowned slightly. "I suppose, technically, it was
kidnaping, but we had to get you out of circulation before you said
anything that might ... ah ... give the whole show away."

Turnbull smiled slightly. "Aren't you afraid that the police will trace
this to you?"

"Oh, I'm sure they would eventually," said Rawlings, "but you'll be free
to make any explanations long before that time."

"I see," Turnbull said flatly. "Mind operation. Is that what you did to
Scholar Duckworth?"

The expression on Scholar Rawling's face was so utterly different from
what Turnbull had expected that he found himself suddenly correcting
his thinking in a kaleidoscopic readjustment of his mind.

"What did you think you were on to, Dr. Turnbull?" the old man asked
slowly.

Turnbull started to answer, but, at that moment the door opened.

The round, pleasant-faced gentleman who came in needed no introduction
to Turnbull.

Scholar Duckworth said: "Hello, Dave. Sorry I wasn't here when you woke
up, but I got--" He stopped. "What's the matter?"

"I'm just cursing myself for being a fool," Turnbull said sheepishly. "I
was using your disappearance as a datum in a problem that didn't require
it."

Scholar Rawlings laughed abruptly. "Then you thought--"

Duckworth chuckled and raised a hand to interrupt Rawlings. "Just a
moment, Jason; let him logic it out to us."

"First take these straps off," said Turnbull. "I'm stiff enough as it
is, after being out cold for three days."

Rawlings touched a button on the wall, and the restraining straps
vanished. Turnbull sat up creakily, rubbing his arms.

"Well?" said Duckworth.

Turnbull looked up at the older man. "It was those first two letters of
yours that started me off."

"I was afraid of that," Duckworth said wryly. "I ... ah ... tried to get
them back before I left Earth, but, failing that, I sent you a letter to
try to throw you off the track."

"Did you think it would?" Turnbull asked.

"I wasn't sure," Duckworth admitted. "I decided that if you had what it
takes to see through it, you'd deserve to know the truth."

"I think I know it already."

"I dare say you do," Duckworth admitted. "But tell us first why you
jumped to the wrong conclusion."

Turnbull nodded. "As I said, your letters got me worrying. I knew you
must be on to something or you wouldn't have been so positive. So I
started checking on all the data about the City--especially that which
had come in just previous to the time you sent the letters.

"I found that several new artifacts had been discovered in Sector Nine
of the City--in the part they call the Bank Buildings. That struck a
chord in my memory, so I looked back over the previous records. That
Sector was supposed to have been cleaned out nearly ninety years ago.

"The error I made was in thinking that you had been forcibly abducted
somehow--that you had been forced to write that third letter. It
certainly looked like it, since I couldn't see any reason for you to
hide anything from me.

"I didn't think you'd be in on anything as underhanded as this looked,
so I assumed that you were acting against your will."

Scholar Rawlings smiled. "But you thought I was capable of underhanded
tactics? That's not very flattering, young man."

Turnbull grinned. "I thought you were capable of kidnaping a man. Was I
wrong?"

Rawlings laughed heartily. "Touche. Go on."

* * * * *

"Since artifacts had been found in a part of the City from which
they had previously been removed, I thought that Jim, here, had found
a ... well, a cover-up. It looked as though some of the alien machines
were being moved around in order to conceal the fact that someone was
keeping something hidden. Like, for instance, a new weapon, or a device
that would give a man more power than he should rightfully have."

"Such as?" Duckworth asked.

"Such as invisibility, or a cheap method of transmutation, or even a new
and faster space drive. I wasn't sure, but it certainly looked like it
might be something of that sort."

Rawlings nodded thoughtfully. "A very good intuition, considering the
fact that you had a bit of erroneous data."

"Exactly. I thought that Rawlings Scientific Corporation--or else you,
personally--were concealing something from the rest of us and from the
Advisory Board. I thought that Scholar Duckworth had found out about it
and that he'd been kidnaped to hush him up. It certainly looked that
way."

"I must admit it did, at that," Duckworth said. "But tell me--how does
it look now?"

Turnbull frowned. "The picture's all switched around now. You came here
for a purpose--to check up on your own data. Tell me, is everything here
on the level?"

Duckworth paused before he answered. "Everything human," he said
slowly.

"That's what I thought," said Turnbull. "If the human factor is
eliminated--at least partially--from the data, the intuition comes
through quite clearly. We're being fed information."

Duckworth nodded silently.

Rawlings said: "That's it. Someone or something is adding new material
to the City. It's like some sort of cosmic bird-feeding station that has
to be refilled every so often."

Turnbull looked down at his big hands. "It never was a trade route
focus," he said. "It isn't even a city, in our sense of the term, no
more than a birdhouse is a nest." He looked up. "That city was built for
only one purpose--to give human beings certain data. And it's evidently
data that we need in a hurry, for our own good."

"How so?" Rawlings asked, a look of faint surprise on his face.

"Same analogy. Why does anyone feed birds? Two reasons--either to study
and watch them, or to be kind to them. You feed birds in the winter
because they might die if they didn't get enough food."

"Maybe we're being studied and watched, then," said Duckworth,
probingly.

"Possibly. But we won't know for a long time--if ever."

Duckworth grinned. "Right. I've seen this City. I've looked it over
carefully in the past few months. Whatever entities built it are so far
ahead of us that we can't even imagine what it will take to find out
anything about them. We are as incapable of understanding them as a bird
is incapable of understanding us."

"Who knows about this?" Turnbull asked suddenly.

"The entire Advanced Study Board at least," said Rawlings. "We don't
know how many others. But so far as we know everyone who has been able
to recognize what is really going on at the City has also been able to
realize that it is something that the human race en masse is not yet
ready to accept."

"What about the technicians who are actually working there?" asked
Turnbull.

Rawlings smiled. "The artifacts are very carefully replaced. The
technicians--again, as far as we know--have accepted the evidence of
their eyes."

* * * * *

Turnbull looked a little dissatisfied. "Look, there are plenty of people
in the galaxy who would literally hate the idea that there is anything
in the universe superior to Man. Can you imagine the storm of reaction
that would hit if this got out? Whole groups would refuse to have
anything to do with anything connected with the City. The Government
would collapse, since the whole theory of our present government comes
from City data. And the whole work of teaching intuitive reasoning would
be dropped like a hot potato by just those very people who need to learn
to use it.

"And it seems to me that some precautions--" He stopped, then grinned
rather sheepishly. "Oh," he said, "I see."

Rawlings grinned back. "There's never any need to distort the truth.
Anyone who is psychologically incapable of allowing the existence of
beings more powerful than Man is also psychologically incapable of
piecing together the clues which would indicate the existence of such
beings."

Scholar Duckworth said: "It takes a great deal of humility--a real
feeling of honest humility--to admit that one is actually inferior to
someone--or something--else. Most people don't have it--they rebel
because they can't admit their inferiority."

"Like the examples of the North American Amerindian tribes." Turnbull
said. "They hadn't reached the state of civilization that the Aztecs or
Incas had. They were incapable of allowing themselves to be beaten and
enslaved--they refused to allow themselves to learn. They fought the
white man to the last ditch--and look where they ended up."

"Precisely," said Duckworth. "While the Mexicans and Peruvians today are
a functioning part of civilization--because they could and did
learn."

"I'd just as soon the human race didn't go the way of the Amerindians,"
Turnbull said.

"I have a hunch it won't," Scholar Rawlings said. "The builders of the
City, whoever they are, are edging us very carefully into the next level
of civilization--whatever it may be. At that level, perhaps we'll be
able to accept their teaching more directly."

Duckworth chuckled. "Before we can become gentlemen, we have to realize
that we are not gentlemen."

Turnbull recognized the allusion. There is an old truism to the effect
that a barbarian can never learn what a gentleman is because a barbarian
cannot recognize that he isn't a gentleman. As soon as he recognizes
that fact, he ceases to be a barbarian. He is not automatically a
gentleman, but at least he has become capable of learning how to be one.

"The City itself," said Rawlings, "acts as a pretty efficient screening
device for separating the humble from the merely servile. The servile
man resents his position so much that he will fight anything which tries
to force recognition of his position on him. The servile slave is
convinced that he is equal to or superior to his masters, and that he is
being held down by brute force. So he opposes them with brute force and
is eventually destroyed."

Turnbull blinked. "A screening device?" Then, like a burst of sunlight,
the full intuition came over him.

Duckworth's round face was positively beaming. "You're the first one
ever to do it," he said. "In order to become a member of the Advanced
Study Board, a scholar must solve that much of the City's secret by
himself. I'm a much older man than you, and I just solved it in the past
few months.

"You will be the first Ph.D. to be admitted to the Board while you're
working on your scholar's degree. Congratulations."

Turnbull looked down at his big hands, a pleased look on his face. Then
he looked up at Scholar Duckworth. "Got a cigarette, Jim? Thanks. You
know, we've still got plenty of work ahead of us, trying to find out
just what it is that the City builders want us to learn."

Duckworth smiled as he held a flame to the tip of Turnbull's cigarette.

"Who knows?" he said quietly. "Hell, maybe they want us to learn about
them!"





Next: The Destroyers

Previous: Damned If You Don't



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 443