In the space station, Forential sat in his cubicle in mental conference wit_he other aliens. Behind their flow of thoughts was the unreferred-to bu_ver-present fear for their own lives. Cowardice was taken for granted; it wa_o deeply a part of their own culture (if it wasn't somehow a racia_haracteristic) that it did not need to be acknowledged.
The aliens always let other races fight their wars of conquest.
Forential knew that his own personal existence might well hinge on the outcom_f the next few hours. None of the aliens knew how much knowledge Juli_ossessed. Unlike the other mutants, she had not been kept in ignorance of th_asic laws of nature. How dangerous she might be, they could only guess. Wa_she_ capable of attacking them?
Forential was physically ill; he wanted to flee. If he had had a ship capabl_f traveling interstellar distances, he would have embarked without delay. Bu_he huge interstellar ship of his race would not be back for another thirt_ears. There was no escape from the space station; there was no place to go.
And if the earthlings were not destroyed, if the invasion of Earth failed, retaliation from the planet would not be long coming. Once the Earth locate_he space station (and Earth would, once Earth realized its existence) eve_uman normals would be able to destroy it—one rocket with an atomic war hea_ould do—long before the interstellar ship returned.
Walt could not fail; the invasion could not fail.
**Let's try to make peace with the earthings,** one of the aliens thought.
**It's better than … than exposing _ourselves_ to physical violence!**
**That would be suicide: once they realized what we had been planning to do t_hem.**
**I don't trust them.**
**Let Forential send down _all_ his charges to kill the female!**
**Don't be hysterical!** the Elder thought hysterically.
Forential knew that to send down his charges first might alert Earth to th_anger of invasion: twenty-seven saucer-ships would not go unnoticed. But eve_f they would, even if Earth remained unaware, such a course would completel_isrupt the plan of conquest.
**She hasn't realized the menace yet,** the Elder thought. **Walt will kil_er. Walt will kill her, won't he, Forential?**
**Yes.** If only one of us went to make sure, Forential thought. To help him … no… . None of us would risk it. It's too dangerous.
The aliens did not have any equipment to make their single person ship_nvisible. It took bulky distortion machinery; the single person ships wer_oo large to cover with mental shielding.
Twenty years ago, yes (Forential thought) we could have risked it. But now th_adar screens around all the major countries are too tight. We could not, lik_alt, destroy our ship. We would need it to return in.
**We must give him all the help we can,** Forential thought.
**Lycan,** the Elder thought. **Can you cut the power of your charges?**
**An extended period might have a bad psychological effect… .**
**They won't realize the implication—that they're not Lyrians, that we contro_hem—until too late.**
**If we could give Walt twelve hours,** Forential thought. **… we've got t_ive him every chance!**
**When do you think he'll be close to her?** the Elder asked.
Forential consulted his maps. He calculated rapidly.
**If he travels fast—if he has luck—by another five hours.**
**Lycan,** the Elder instructed, **continue with training until then. We'l_ut off the greater transmitter five hours from now. Twelve hours should giv_alt more than enough time to kill her. It will be mutant trying to kill a_arth-normal. He can't fail!**
**He can't fail,** they echoed nervously.
**Will twelve hours be enough?**
**If he does, somehow, fail, we can't risk delaying the invasion more tha_hat.**
**I will see that it doesn't delay the invasion,** Lycan promised. **I'l_rain them right through normalcy.**
Walt had arrived in Hollywood. _Wait for me there._ Julia (dressin_arefully) projected to him. _I'll be right over to get you._
She finished combing her hair. She went to her handbag, snapped it close_ecisively, and slipped it over her arm. She was smiling.
On her way out of the room, she picked up the book on brain surgery that sh_adn't yet had the chance to read. She skimmed through it in the taxi on th_ay to pick Walt up.
She paused a fraction of a second over one of the illustrations; in that time, she was able to memorize it. My brain, she thought, is different right there; but I can't see my own brain well enough to tell much; I want to look at hi_or a minute if I can.
Having finished the book, she held it primly in her lap, tapping impatientl_n it with her fingers.
There's a lot of things funny about this boy, she thought. I've got to ge_ore information about him. I've got a suspicion he's going to be in for a fe_urprises.
(It was less than an hour before the aliens would cut off the large_ransmitter.)
When I first located him for sure, she thought, he was traveling _much_ to_ast; faster and higher than any experimental rocket I've ever heard of.
I've got to check on the old flying saucer reports, she thought. They're th_nly things I can remember reading about that were supposed to move that fast.
"This is him waiting up here," Julia said to the driver. "Just pull over t_he curb."
A moment later, opening the door, she said, "Get in. I'm Julia."
"I'm Walt Johnson," he said, flexing his hands. "Let's go someplace where w_an be alone."
"Well," she said. "It's good to see you, Walt." She extended her hand.
He had sealed off his thoughts. His hand was moist in hers; it responde_ncertainly to her warm pressure. She drew him inside. She caught a wisp o_hought that he was not quite able to conceal. "Back to the hotel," she tol_he driver.
Now I'm _sure_ , she thought, that he really tried to teleport me out of m_otel room. I wonder why he wanted to? Why should he want to kill me?
I'll have to keep an eye on him. But he's such a baby. He can't even contro_is emotions.
"Your clothing," she said, studying him with professional concern, "is al_rong. We'll just have to get some more. Some to fit your personality better.
I'll do that tomorrow."
Anger crossed his face. He rubbed his hand over his knee and looked down a_is trousers. "I like them," he said in a surly voice.
She was not afraid of him. She had no need to be. He was such an innocent!
Why, she thought, he doesn't seem to have any information to draw on hardly a_ll; he'll be harmless as long as I wish him so.
"I'm a Lyrian traitor, too," he said.
His accent. She could not remember any accent on Earth like that. He had no_earned his English from an earthman. A Lyrian had taught him?
"What are you doing here?" he said.
Boy! she thought. Is his conversation naive! Keep him talking, girl!
She studied his face. She thought: Get 'em young and raise 'em to sui_ourself, Julia.
She added up the facts she had already discovered. He was, like herself, _uman mutant. (I must check, she thought, to see if there were any huma_abies missing during the last flying saucer scare twenty-four years ago, th_ear I was born.) The mutants had been collected at birth, but the collector_ad overlooked her. Walt had traveled here from (where? Mars? Luna?) in orde_o rectify this oversight by putting her out of the way. Why? Obviously h_wed allegiance to the collectors (Lyrians?) from whom he had probabl_earned—among other things—his atrocious accent. He was—
She had ignored his question, so he asked another one. "Where is the war?"
"War?" Julia repeated. She frowned delicately. "There's no war. Not right now.
The international situation is getting better, I think." War? she aske_erself. He's got a lot of misinformation about us.
She kept trying to _see_ into the physical structure of his brain. Ah, sh_hought, yes. Right there—
A bridge there, all right.
It's probably an easy mutation, she thought. Probably latent in everyone'_enes. The next development of man? (But how many centuries will it take fo_t to come out again?) How did the collectors produce the mutation in th_irst place—assuming they did produce (as well as harvest) it?
Could, she thought, a surgeon—operate, as it were—on an adult brain to produc_he bridge?… I'll have to take up surgery. A few months to learn technique. _hink I could. It's easy to heal, because of the subconscious pattern (th_ellular pattern?) but to—operate—to change—to build into a differen_tructure, so that would require experiments and study, perhaps actual knif_ork… .
"There _has_ to be a war," Walt said. "Forential told us there was."
"There isn't. Not now." Forential? A non-human? An alien?
"He told us," Walt said.
"He lied," Julia said.
"He doesn't lie."
Julia shrugged. Walt is a loyal follower, she thought. "There's no war. Mayb_e meant there would be one shortly; maybe it was a premature announcement."
Lord! do these aliens have some way of prodding the Russian bear? she thought.
Or how the devil are they—Forentials, wherever they are—thinking of starting _ar?
Walt refused to consider her denial. He did not look her in the face. "I lik_ou," he said. He was desperate to change the subject. "Your smile. You're so … so … " _nice_. He thought the last word; he took the risk that she migh_eep his other thoughts. He was almost certain she could not; he hoped to pee_ers if she thought a reply. Forential couldn't be a liar!
Julia knew they were both incorrect: his statement and his conviction. But sh_iked to hear him say he liked her. I guess, she thought, he's trying to lul_y suspicions. Maybe I better lull his, too… .
She smiled sweetly.
"You see, I've never seen a Lyrian female before," Walt said. "… except one o_he ship just the other day; but just one, before."
Is Lyria supposed to be a _planet_? she thought to herself. "You've neve_een to Lyria, then, have you?"
"… we were very young when we left."
He doesn't even know he's a native of Earth! Julia thought. "You know," sh_aid, "I'll bet I know more about you than you think I do."
That brought a fear reaction from Walt.
_You don't need to be afraid of me_ , Julia thought soothingly.
(She had scarcely half an hour left before the aliens shut off the bi_ransmitter.)
"How soon… . When will we get to the hotel?"
"Soon, now," Julia said.
"We'll be alone?" Walt said.
"We'll have a chance to talk; there are a lot of things for us to talk about."
"Yes," he said. He began to rub his hands over one another. His growin_xcitement and his hatred bubbled just below the surface of his mind; Juli_ould feel the emotions without him being aware that she could.
My, she thought. He's going to take a lot of re-educating before he makes _ery good husband.
When they entered the hotel room, Walt found his throat expanding wit_xcitement.
Forential, he thought, will be pleased that I have killed her in secret. N_ne on Earth will ever know who she was killed by. When she is dead, I ca_lip out of the hotel and … and invisible, I can steal food and drink and sta_n empty rooms until the invasion comes; and when it does, then I can star_eleporting earthlings and slaying them with my hands, and… . She doesn'_uspect, he thought, that I am going to kill her in just a moment.
He complimented himself on how cleverly he had concealed his intentions.
Covertly he surveyed the room. The pitcher on the table? The chair? What with?
A sudden numbing blow—like the blow Calvin delivered to John. Then, afterwards, hands, knees, fingers—and she will be dead.
He saw himself rising triumphant from her still body. Saw Forential (when, later, he heard of it) smiling approval, saw his mates listening awe struck… .
His breath trembled in his throat; his arms ached to be moving.
"Won't you sit down?" she said.
I will wait until she is off guard, he thought. Smiling in anticipation, h_at down.
… she doesn't, he thought, seem like a traitor. Such bright, clear eyes. Sh_eems, so nice, so trusting, so innocent. It was foolish to have been afrai_f meeting her. She's small and harmless. I wish she weren't a traitor; maybe—
But Forential knows.
(How about the war? Why did Forential say there was a war?)
Forential knows. He said to kill her.
Julia, studying him with faint amusement, said "Have you looked at your brain?
I have a picture of a human brain here. I want to show you how alike the_re."
"Lyrians have a superficial resemblance to earthlings."
"Look at this. Very similar. The same, almost."
Walt shifted uneasily. Her eyes did not move from his face. What was sh_etting at?
"I wonder," she said, "why we … Lyrians … have had certain powers given to u_ust recently? Why, before, we were no different than earthlings?"
Walt frowned. He didn't want to think about it. He had a job to do.
"There's a—call it—a bridge in our minds. It's just recently been closed."
(It was ten minutes before the larger transmitter was to be turned off fo_welve hours.)
Walt decided on the pitcher. The answer to her question was suddenly obvious.
"That means we're ready to invade."
She watched him very closely. Her fingers tapped her knee. "… you said yo_ere on a ship?"
It's almost time to kill her, he thought. I'm sorry, he wanted to say: but _eally must. "Yes. A space station."
"How many of you are there?"
"Twenty-seven; twenty-eight, counting me."
"That's not many. Not enough." She bent forward. "You said you saw a Lyria_emale on the ship. I think there's another group of Lyrians on the ship. _hink they're going to invade first. That's the war your group is supposed t_ome in on the end of. You're going to be used as a clean-up group."
"Forential would have told us," Walt said.
"The question is: _Why didn't he tell you?_ "
Walt realized how terribly sly and dangerous she was. She was too smart to b_armless. Suppose she should warn—but who could she warn? Earthlings? Coul_hey get their atom bombs ready?
He felt his skin prickle. _Look behind you!_ he thought to her. It ha_orked with the officer; it worked with her.
Savagely, he grasped the pitcher with the mental fingers of teleportation. H_urled it as hard as he could at the back of her head.
Julia was ready for the blow. She had the molecules of the pitcher displace_efore it was half way to her. It passed through her body easily and smashe_gainst the far wall.
She turned quickly enough to avoid Walt's rush.
On her feet now, she wavered into partial displacement.
Snarling harshly, he advanced on her.
(There was less than five minutes remaining. One of the aliens hovered at th_arger transmitter.)
He tried to grab her. His hand passed through her body.
He tried to adjust to her level of displacement. He choked. Quickly h_ealized what was wrong; he rectified the air so he could breathe. She change_o normal just as he sprang. He hurtled through her as through the air itself.
She turned to face him. He was panting. "When I was a kid," she said, "I use_o throw rocks when I got mad."
_Damn you!_ His fists clenched. He towered over her.
She did not have any more time to waste with him. 'That means,' he had said,
'we're ready to invade.'
How much time did she have? The full extent of the menace was gradually takin_orm in her mind. With an army of indoctrinated mutants… . Invasion! Murder!
Destruction! For an instant she wanted to collapse and cry like a frightene_ittle girl.
What am I going to do? what am I going to do? what am I going to do? sh_hought frantically.
I've got to see someone! I've got to convince someone—I've got to show peopl_y mutant powers: they'll have to believe me! The President, the Army… .
How much time?
She made a distortion field. Invisible, she rushed to the door. She paused, returned for her handbag. Holding it, she passed through the door.
I haven't got time to beat reason into his head, she thought. I'll tend to hi_ater.
Half way down the stairs, she suddenly became visible.