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Chapter 8

  • Kirk came to with the feeling that his period of unconsciousness had bee_omentary. Naia was standing as she had stood before, just beyond the inne_oorway. The mocking smile was still on her face. "Did you trip?"
  • Kirk got groggily to his feet. "No, angel. That's the way I always cross _oom." As he came upright his hand reached toward the bulge made by hi_houlder holster. But it didn't get that far.
  • He had not seen from whence the first blow came but that was not true with th_econd. From a tiny opening in the door jamb, a pinpoint of light appeared. I_ung there for a moment. Then it brightened, expanded, and shot forth as _lim beam. It contained a silvery radiance and the kick of a Missouri mule. I_lammed against Kirk's jaw, but not quite so hard this time; only hard enoug_o send him down again amidst a cloud of shooting stars.
  • He shook his head and got to his hands and knees. "Wha's 'at? A traine_lashlight?" He began coming up. As soon as he didn't need his right hand fo_ising he reached for his gun. The light beam seemed to resent this. It hi_im in the solar plexus this time; a sickening blow that fed nausea dow_hrough his legs. He tightened his stomach against the agony and began gettin_p again.
  • "You see how useless it is?" Naia asked. "Beside us, you Earthlings ar_hildren. Will you stop being foolish, or must I kill you?"
  • Kirk squinted craftily at the pinpoint of light with one closed eye. Cleve_ittle devil. What the hell! Nude innocents. Tigers on leashes. Light beam_hat knocked your teeth out. Paul Cordell with a shaved spot on his head.
  • "You got your bag packed for a little trip, baby?"
  • For a brief moment, genuine fear flamed in Naia's eyes. And in Kirk's mind: Dumb babe. What's she got to be scared of? They hit you with nothing and mak_t stick. Kirk croaked, "Grab your bag, baby. We'll go find that flyin_iscuit. We got a date with Arthur Kahler Troy."
  • He was really cagey this time. When the light beam shot out, he hurled himsel_o the side. But he could have saved the effort. A beam came from the othe_oor jamb and he stepped right into it. That one really tore his head off.
  • Somebody was talking. It was a man and he had a deep resonant voice: a voic_ull of authority—and censure. "I'm surprised at you Naia. I never suspecte_ou of having a sadistic streak."
  • Naia's sullen reply. "Do you think anyone can do the work I do and remai_nmarked?"
  • "I suppose not. But as I remember it, you asked to serve."
  • "As a benefit to humanity."
  • "We won't go into it."
  • But Naia pressed the point. "I have always followed orders. I placed myself i_ossible jeopardy on Earth by clearing Paul Cordell."
  • "But Paul Cordell was not cleared."
  • "Not through any fault of mine."
  • "But why this? What end does torturing this poor unfortunate serve?"
  • Martin Kirk cautiously opened one eye. It brought to his brain the image of _arge blue globe. A man of fine and commanding appearance stood within th_lobe, suspended about a foot from the floor. The globe and the man gave ever_ndication of having just come through the opaque glass wall of the room, an_s Kirk watched, the man was lowered slowly to the floor and the globe becam_ blue mist that spiralled lazily and was gone.
  • Kirk opened both eyes now, stirred, and climbed dizzily to his feet. "You bum_nto the damndest things around here," he said, "But let's get down to th_mportant business. My name is Martin Kirk. I'm an American police officer.
  • One of your subjects committed a murder on American soil. I hope you aren'_oing to be difficult about extradition."
  • The other could not hide his surprise. Nor did he try to. "Amazing," h_urmured. Then, "I am Tamu, the overlord of the galaxy. I wonder if Naia'_ruelty hasn't affected your mind?"
  • "If you mean I'm nuts, I think maybe you're right. But it wasn't littl_layful here who did it. I've gone through a lot and I don't speak with an_ense of bragging. I've seen more funny things happen than any one man shoul_ee in so short a time. So maybe I am off my rocker. So I'd like you_ermission to take my prisoner back to Earth so I can give all my time t_egaining my sanity."
  • Tamu regarded Kirk with thoughtful eyes. "I think we should have a talk."
  • "I would like a talk. I would like nothing better than to chew the fat wit_ou for hours on end if my jaw didn't hurt so damned much. So I'll just tak_y prisoner and go. Do I have to sign a paper or something?"
  • The overlord's surprise was fast becoming a kind of fascinated awe. "Kirk, yo_aid?" He pointed to the door leading to the inner room. "Please go in, sir.
  • There's no use of our standing out here while we discuss your problem."
  • The Lieutenant eyed the door frame warily, "I tried getting through ther_efore but the light got in my eyes!"
  • "You can trust me."
  • The police officer stepped cautiously through the opening and on into _uxuriously furnished room. Tamu, dressed much the same as one of Earth'_etter bankers, followed him in and suggested he sit down.
  • "Why?" Kirk demanded bluntly. "Let's stop kitten-and-micing around, Mr. Tamu.
  • I'm not comfortable here and I want to leave. With her." He tilted his hea_oward the watching, sullen-faced Naia North. "And now."
  • Tamu said, "Believe me, it will be as easy for you to return to Earth an hou_rom now. You seem weary to the point of exhaustion. I ask you again: sit dow_nd get back some of your strength. Naia will find you something to eat."
  • Kirk's stubborn determination to force an immediate showdown wavered. It ha_een born largely of fear to begin with, and the thought of relief for hi_urning throat was impossible to resist.
  • "I could use a drink," he admitted.
  • Tamu gestured and Naia North turned to leave the room. But Kirk leaped forwar_o block her off. "Nothing doing! I don't take my eyes off you, baby. I'l_ust pass up that drink."
  • The girl glanced at the overlord and shrugged helplessly. Tamu said, "Have _irl bring in something. While we're waiting I suggest all three of us ge_omfortable."
  • While Naia was speaking into a tiny screen set into one of the silk-covere_alls, Tamu and the man from Earth sat down across from each other on a pai_f fragile-legged chairs. The overlord leaned back and sighed. "You've aske_y leave to return to Earth and to take Naia back with you to stand trial fo_urder. Have you considered that I may refuse that permission?"
  • "I don't think I have to consider it," Kirk said promptly.
  • "You don't?" Tamu was mystified again. "Why not?"
  • "You tell me you're the overlord. I take that to mean you're in charge. Tha_eans you have laws to govern your people and  _that_ means you believe i_aws. One of your subjects has broken the law of my country. You can't refus_o let her take the consequences any more than if the situation was reversed."
  • Tamu was shaking his head and smiling slightly. "I'm afraid you're not takin_nto consideration one fact, Mr. Kirk. Naia North broke your law, as you cal_t, on express and definite instructions from me."
  • Martin Kirk made a show of astonishment. "Let me get this straight. Yo_ordered_  Professor Gilmore and Juanita Cordell murdered? Is that what you'r_elling me?"
  • "Yes."
  • "Why?"
  • "Exactly the reason I suggested we have a talk. To make you see why they—an_thers in the same classification—could not be allowed to live."
  • "Men like Karney? Kennedy? Blatz?"
  • Tamu blinked. "My respect for you increases, Martin Kirk."
  • "Don't let it throw you. I'm a police officer, and police officers are traine_o do the job right."
  • The overlord crossed his legs and settled deeper into the chair. "Mythox need_en like you, Martin Kirk. That is why I'm going to give you a chance fo_ife. For this you must understand: if I wanted it, you would be dead withi_econds."
  • A chill slid along the stubborn back of the Lieutenant but nothing showed i_is impassive expression and he did not speak.
  • "But because we do need you, I am going to tell you things no Earthman knows.
  • I believe that once you understand why Mythox has undertaken to meddle in th_ffairs of another world—and I tell you frankly that our doing so is a_bhorrent to us as anything you can imagine—once you understand our reasons, you will cheerfully, even eagerly, join us."
  • "And if I don't?"
  • "You know the answer to that, I'm sure."
  • A slim fair-haired girl in a pale green toga-like dress entered the roo_arrying a tray holding tall glasses of some sparkling blue beverage. Sh_ffered it first to Kirk, then the others. The Lieutenant removed one of th_lasses, waited until Tamu and Naia had done the same, but not until they ha_runk some of the liquid did he tilt his own glass. The cold tangy liquid hi_im like a bombshell—a bombshell on the pleasant side. He could almos_iterally feel his strength flow back, his senses sharpen and the poisons o_atigue and mental strain disappear.
  • "I'm listening," he said.
  • Tamu set his glass on the edge of a nearby table and bent forward, his manne_arnest. "It won't take long, Martin Kirk. Hear me. We of Mythox are far i_dvance of the peoples of Earth—both spiritually and scientifically. Life o_ur planet materialized in much the same manner as on your own world, bu_ountless ages before. Almost the same process of evolution took place; bu_omewhere along the line humanity on Mythox managed to reach full developmen_ithout the flaws of character found among so many of Earth's inhabitants.
  • When I tell you that we find it almost impossible to voice an untruth, tha_aking a human life willfully for any reason is equally difficult, that crim_f any nature is almost unknown here—then you will see the difference betwee_he two planets.
  • "For ages our scientists have observed the events taking place on Earth. B_erfecting a method for changing matter from terrene to contraterrene, we hav_anaged to bridge the million light years of space separating our worlds as w_aw fit. Thousands of years ago we could have gained control of your ball o_lay and turned mankind into any pattern we might choose.
  • "That is not our way, Martin Kirk. Free will is our heritage too—and w_espect it in ourselves, and for that reason must respect it in others. S_ong as Earth's peoples confined their more destructive tendencies t_hemselves we kept our hands off—even while we failed to understand suc_enseless conduct.
  • "And then one day we witnessed an explosion on Earth's surface—an explosio_ifferent from any of the countless ones before it. That explosion was th_irst man-made release of atomic energy—a process we had known how to brin_bout for ages, but one we would never use. For we have learned the secret o_imitless power without the transformation of mass into energy. Your way i_he way of destruction, Martin Kirk; ours is exactly the opposite.
  • "For the first time, the leaders of Mythox knew the meaning of fear—fear that, once Earth's scientists had found the secret of nuclear fission they would g_n to the one extreme forbidden throughout the Universe itself.
  • "And so we acted. Not in the way your people would have acted were th_ituations reversed. For we were still determined that there would be n_ntervention on our part in Earth's affairs—and that is still our way, just a_t must always be. But there must be one exception to this rule: no one o_arth must be allowed to blunder into the extreme I mentioned a moment ago."
  • Tamu, overlord of Mythox, paused to drink from his glass and to cast _peculative glance at the stolid face of Martin Kirk. He might as well hav_tudied the contours of a brick wall.
  • "The road to that blunder had been opened the day your learned men first spli_he atom. If they persisted down that path, it was bound to follow that the_ould attempt the thing we feared: the splitting of hydrogen atoms—th_ydrogen bomb, as you call it.
  • "We know what that would mean: a chain reaction that would wipe out an entir_alaxy in one blinding flash.  _Our galaxy_ , Martin Kirk—yours and mine! D_ou have any thought at all on what that means?"
  • The question was rhetorical; even before Kirk could shake his head, th_verlord pressed on.
  • "Mythox and Earth are two grains of dust on opposite sides of a galaxy—_piral formation of stars and planets 200,000 light years wide and 20,00_hick. Between us lie countless other worlds, a vast number of them supportin_ife—not always, or even often, life as we know it, but life nonetheless.
  • "There is not one of those worlds, Martin Kirk, we do not know as thoroughl_s we do our own. Fortunately for our purpose only a relative few hav_rogressed along a line which can lead to danger for the rest. Yours is one o_hose which has—and that is why we of Mythox have taken a well-masked place i_our affairs  _so far as they relate to nuclear physics_.
  • "Every scientist of your world, male or female, is constantly under the eye o_ Watcher. These Watchers are members of your own races—people we hav_nlisted in the fight to save not just their world or mine—but millions o_orlds.
  • "When a Watcher learns a physicist is close to the one key to success in hi_ffort to make a hydrogen bomb—an equation that begins: 'Twelve times zer_oint seven nine'—we are notified and a killer from our own people is sent t_xecute that scientist. Yes, Martin Kirk, we have those among us—a ver_ew—who are capable of killing on orders and for cause. Naia, here, is one o_hem. She was sent to take the lives of Gregory Gilmore and Juanita Cordell; but she bungled and instead of their deaths resembling heart failure, the_ere obviously murdered.
  • "Alma Dakin tried to cover up the truth by making it appear both scientist_ad died at the hands of a jealous husband. She succeeded, both because of he_erjured testimony and the fact that Paul Cordell insisted on telling th_ruth. But when we of Mythox learned what had happened, Naia was sent back t_onfess the crime. She entered the laboratory only a few hours before she cam_o your office; while she was in the laboratory the second time, the clues yo_ound were put there.
  • "Our mistake was in thinking that, once proof was offered clearing Cordell, the innocent man would be freed. For once more we credited Earthlings with th_ame code of ethics we of Mythox adhere to.
  • "You succeeded in following Naia here. Only a man composed of equal parts o_arth bulldog and genius could have done so. Martin Kirk, I offer you a plac_mong us and a lifetime devoted to making sure the galaxy of which we both ar_ part does not perish. What say you?"
  • Several minutes dragged by. The eyes of both Tamu and Naia North were glued t_he grim visage of Homicide Lieutenant Kirk. It was impossible for either o_hem to know what thoughts were churning behind that stone face.
  • Abruptly he stood up. "I'm a cop. I leave your kind of problem to the peopl_ho are good at it. My people, Tamu. You see, I belong to my world, not t_ours.
  • "But you've got a solid argument—one I'd be a fool not to consider. Let m_leep on it. Tomorrow morning we'll talk about it some more; then I'll giv_ou my answer. Right now I'm too worn out to think in a straight line."
  • "Of course." The overlord rose to his feet. "Find Martin Kirk comfortabl_uarters, Naia, and leave orders he is not to be disturbed until he is read_o join us."
  • On his way down a corridor behind the same slip of a girl who had brought hi_is drink, Martin Kirk was thinking: They didn't even frisk me for a gun!
  • Martin Kirk went into his apartment and lay for a while looking at th_eiling. After a time, he got up and went out again.