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Title: Weapon

Author: Jesse F. Bone

Illustrator: Bernklau

Release date: January 25, 2024 [eBook #72795]

Language: English

Original publication: New York, NY: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1961

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




Illustrated by BERNKLAU

The Dauntless was one of the
most powerful ships in the
Confederation space navy.
Yet, in the showdown with
the Eglani, victory was not
necessarily to the mighty.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Amazing Stories June 1961.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Bright chatter flowed around her, filling the clean conditioned air of the room with inconsequential noise that hid the tension in a froth of words. It was what wasn't being said that was important, Ellen Fiske thought as she listened to the high-pitched voices. Of course, one never paraded feelings. It was indecent,—something like undressing in public. But this matter of keeping a stiff upper lip could be carried to extremes. You went to these get-togethers, played cards and talked about dresses and children and grocery bills just as though there was no war, as though the Eglani never existed, as though the men in the Navy would come back as regularly and predictably as they did from commercial runs in the old days. But try as you did, you couldn't keep the undercurrents hidden. Fear clung to the sharp shards of sound. There was longing, grief, resignation, and hope, all mixed with a firm unreasoning conviction that if one buried her feelings deep enough everything would solve itself and wind up with a happy ending.

Her hands tightened convulsively and cards squirted from her fingers to the floor as the high-pitched keening shriek of a spaceship's jets came to her ears. The talk stopped suddenly as every woman in the room paused to listen and every eye turned involuntarily toward the ceiling. A big one was coming in. The entire house shivered, quivering in resonant sympathy to the throbbing pulse of the spaceship's drives. The sound swelled to a crescendo—to stop abruptly with a sharp finality that left an aching silence in its wake.

"I'm sorry, Anne," Ellen said as she bent to retrieve the cards scattered on the floor. "For a moment I couldn't help thinking that—" she stopped and blushed.

"Don't apologize," Anne Albertson said. "I know how you feel. Fact is I've felt that way myself—more than once." Her eyes were gray and wise in the frame of her pointed elfin face.

Ellen felt a rush of gratitude. Anne was understanding beyond her years, little Anne with her piercing giggle and gay smile. Anne with a husband already a week overdue. She didn't allow herself the luxury of worry, Ellen thought enviously, but then she had been married nearly four years now. She was a veteran of a thousand nights of waiting, not a bride of four months who had only seen her husband twice since that utterly mad and beautiful honeymoon, that precious two weeks torn from a reluctant Navy.

It wasn't easy to be a Navy wife, to listen to the shriek of jetblasts that lowered ships to earth or sent them hurtling outward into the void. It wasn't easy to constantly wonder with each incoming craft "Is it his ship? Has he come home safely once more?" Or as the weeks passed to feel the question turn to a prayer "Please God, make this one his,—make it his!" This one wasn't Alton's ship. It couldn't be. He wasn't due back from patrol for another week, and until that week had passed she needn't worry. Her reaction was just the involuntary twitch of overwrought nerves.

The talk began again,—the bright chatter that tried so hard to hide the constant unvoiced prayer "Please,—oh please God—let this war end. Make this senseless killing stop. Turn the Eglani back to where they came from and let us go back to the ways of peace we know and love." The prayer, Ellen thought bitterly, didn't have a ghost of a chance of being answered. God apparently was on the side of the biggest fleet and the best battle discipline, and neither of these was the property of the Confederation.

For centuries men had travelled the starlanes unopposed. Intelligent races were seldom encountered, and those that were were always on a lower technological level than the outward-sweeping hordes of Earth. They could be safely ignored and their worlds bypassed. There were plenty of others without intelligent life.

Colonies were planted. Civilizations were built. Wealth was produced, traded, and exploited. And in time a loosely organized Confederation was established,—a glorified Board of Trade that advised rather than governed. And as system after system passed by default into mankind's hands, the idea grew that the galaxy was man's oyster and the Creator had graciously provided him with a knife.

At that, there was some justice in the thought. An expanding civilization meeting no obstacles for centuries is unlikely to believe the minority of Cassandras. So when the expanding front of humanity collided with that of the Eglani, the first reaction was disbelief, the second panic,—and the third grim anger.

But anger was not enough. Mankind was trying desperately, but a thousand years of peaceful expansion were poor experience to pit against an organized race of warlike conquerors.

The war wasn't going too well. Even the communiques had stopped calling the shrinking sphere of human power "strategic withdrawals" and "tactical regroupments." Nowadays they either didn't mention the loss of another world, or published the new frontier line without comment. Long ago the dent in mankind's expanding perimeter had become a bulge, and the bulge a dome that cut inexorably into the worlds of the Confederation. Slowly man's domination of this sector of the galaxy was being blotted out. In slightly more than five years a hundred Confederation worlds had fallen into the hands of the Eglani as the Confederation evacuated and withdrew, bartering precious space and lives for infinitely more precious time to forge the weapons and battle skills to crush the aliens.

Ellen knew all this, but it didn't seem important. What mattered was that her man was out there on the frontier fighting the Eglani. She wanted him home with all the blind possessive selfishness of her sex. She wanted to feel his arms around her and later in the quiet of their home to tell him what he had a right to know. She laid down her cards and ran her hands over her abdomen with a curious half protective half possessive gesture, a wry smile touching her lips. She was doing her part just as Alton was doing his. Life was needed. Life had to be replaced.

Another keening shriek from the sky. Another ship was in.

And Ellen was standing up. Her face was glory.

"It's Alton!" she said with odd softness. "I'd know the sound of those drives anywhere in the galaxy." And then—quietly—she fainted....

Within minutes after landing, interrogation teams from Central Intelligence swarmed over ship and crew like vultures on a dead carcass. For hours the questioning and examination went on and not until the last tape, the last instrument, and the last crewman of the "Dauntless" had been wrung dry of information did the torture stop. Literally nothing was overlooked but the results as usual were negative—three strikes, three kills, two boardings, and nothing to show for them but Eglan corpses. As usual the aliens were thorough. They fought while they could and died when they could fight no more, and headless bodies were no use to Central Research. Reluctantly, Intelligence released the officers and crew.

The Eglan Enigma was no closer to solution than it was five years ago when the aliens had blasted a Confederation exploration ship and had started the war. But Commander Alton Fiske wasn't worried about that. Ellen was out there waiting for him and he'd been delayed too long already.

A week is never long at best,—and this had been shorter than most, Fiske decided as he picked up a ground car at fleet headquarters and directed the driver to take him to his quarters. It was a little better than an hour until blastoff, which would give him time enough to pick up his kit and say goodbye, to Ellen for the fourth time. He'd been lucky. The "Dauntless" needed modification and repair and the week planetside was his longest time ashore since his honeymoon. Of course, Ellen wasn't going to like his sudden departure, but she was a Navy wife and she knew what she was getting into before they were married. It was an abiding wonder that she had married him in the face of his Cassandra prophecies of trouble and heartache. But then—Ellen was an unusual woman.

As he left the forbidding grimness of Fleet Headquarters he almost smiled. In a way it was a relief to get away from the long-faced brass whose professionally preoccupied air was merely a camouflage for the worry that ate at the linings of their stomachs. Fiske was glad that he wasn't one of the Ulcer Echelon, that his worries involved relatively simple things such as fighting a ship and getting home alive.

As it was, the pain of leaving again was bad enough, and if it weren't for Ellen's "get-togethers" it would be greater. They were the one fault in her otherwise perfect character. How a perfectly sane and sensible woman could endure those gabfests where every blessed female was talking at the same time was more than he could understand. But Ellen not only took them in her stride, she took them three or four times a week.

His face clouded as he saw the squadron of ground cars parked before his quarters. Their significance was obvious. Of course, she didn't expect him home this early in the day, and if she'd known of the orders he'd received there probably would have been no one here but her. Still, he'd have to go inside and face that crowd of cats mewling at each other over some conversational bone. He sighed as he stepped out of the car, told the driver to wait, and walked the few steps to his quarters.

Through the clatter of shrill voices the squealing giggle of Anne Albertson cut like a knife, piercing his ears as he stood in the tiny entrance hall, reluctant to enter farther yet unwilling to leave. He winced. Sure, Anne probably had a right to squeal. Her husband had landed his riddled ship yesterday morning and had walked away from the wreckage. Sure—she had a right to squeal, but did she have to do it in his house?

Fixing his expression into a noncommittal mask, he stepped into the living room, and with his appearance the noise stopped. Twelve pair of eyes looked at him and Anne Albertson said into the silence, "I think we'd better leave, girls. We're not needed here right now." There was a murmur and a rustle, and miraculously the room was empty, except for Ellen. She stood in front of him, a slim straight girl with a face that was oddly white against the wealth of her blue-black hair. She wasn't pretty, Fiske thought. She was beautiful.

"Are you off again?" Ellen asked.

Fiske nodded. Wives, he suspected, were telepathic.

"Admiral Koenig should go drown himself," she said bitterly. "He has no right to send you off like this. You've been home only six days."

"That's twice as long as last time," Fiske pointed out reasonably. He felt proud of her. She was pure steel all the way through. No tears, no fuss, even a faint smile on her lips. If possible he loved her more than ever. "If you don't like it," he continued with a wry grin, "you might take it up with the Admiral."

"Not me," Ellen said. "The one time I saw him at close range he scared me half to death."

"Oh well, you needn't worry. It's just another try for prisoners. The Research Institute wants a live Eglan."

"Haven't they got some? Ed Albertson came in with a few last trip."

"Those were civilians. The labs want a military man or two. There's a lot of differences between the Eglan military and civilians that don't make sense."

"All they'd need to do is look at our fighting men. There's a lot of differences between them and civilians that don't make sense."

Fiske grinned. "Anyway, it's a milk run this time," he lied.

"Don't kid the troops on the home front," she said. "It's big, mean, and dirty."

"It's no worse than any other mission. Sure, they're all bad but I'm on detached assignment and there won't be a lot of other ships around cluttering up space and drawing attention."

"I wish they'd leave us alone."

"So do I. But these mule-eared Eglan militarists aren't going to be satisfied until we pin their ears back."

"I suppose so, but I don't like to think of you out there."

"Someone has to go," he said quietly, "and besides I've always managed to come back. I'm getting pretty good at it now." He kissed her lightly on the end of her nose.

"Just keep on being good," she said. "I like having you around." She kissed him then, a fierce hungry kiss that left him breathless. "All right sailor, there's something for you to come home to. Now let's get your gear together."

Ellen followed him to the door. "I'm not going down to the field with you this time," she said. "Last time was enough. I don't think I could stand watching you disappear outside again. But I made something to take with you." She picked up a square flat package from the top of the recorder and thrust it into his hands.

"Another tape like the last one?" he queried.

"Not exactly like the last one," she smiled, "but it's along the same lines. You said you liked the other."

"I did. It was nice to hear your voice. And would you believe I never grew tired of hearing it? It gets lonely out there."

"It gets lonely here too. Now, off with you or I'll be tempted to kidnap you for the duration." She kissed him, a cool wifely kiss that was tender but passionless, pushed him gently away, and stood beside the door until his car disappeared around the corner on its way back to the Base.

She sighed and turned back to the house. That was all it was now—just a house—but for the past week it had been a home. She wondered when, if ever, it would be a home again. It was starting already—the worry, the hidden fear, the agony of suspenseful waiting.

She jumped as the doorbell rang and Anne Albertson's face appeared in the viewplate.

"I came back," Anne said as she entered the room. "I thought you might need me, and besides—I forgot something." She looked at the recorder with an odd expression on her pointed face. "Well," she said finally, "I didn't think anyone wanted it worse than I did. I thought it might amuse Ed. He's pretty low. He lost a lot of men."

"Wanted what?" Ellen asked curiously.

"That recording I made of the first part of our get together. I left it lying on top of the recorder, but it isn't there now."

Ellen gasped and put the back of her hand to her mouth. "Oh no!" she said in a strangled voice.

Anne looked at her curiously.

"I gave it to Alton," Ellen said. "I thought it was the one I made for him."

"Oh well, he shouldn't mind. Your voice is on it too."

"You don't know Alton," Ellen said miserably....

As the "Dauntless" bored through Cth space in the middle blue component, Fiske reviewed his last meeting with Admiral Koenig. It hadn't been too satisfactory. Central Research, it seemed, still wanted a live Eglan trooper. It didn't matter that the Navy hadn't captured one in five years of trying. The requirement still stood. It took no great intelligence to understand why Central wanted a prisoner. A great deal about the aliens could be understood if there was live meat available. The only trouble was that there never had been, and probably never would be a live Eglan prisoner of war. Fiske automatically excluded the Eglan civilians. They were essentially no different than a civilized human.

It puzzled Fiske. How a people who were gentle, civilized, and understanding could produce a warrior caste so fiercely dedicated and so utterly different was a mystery he couldn't solve. Sure—some of it probably was connected with the suicide devices surgically implanted in their skulls, but that wasn't all of it. Their fanatic will to fight, their utter disregard of death and their incredible discipline had no reflection in their civilian counterparts. The Eglan soldiery were a living denial of the human axiom that a society left its impression upon all of its components. Certainly there was no reflection of the Eglan civilian in the Eglan soldier,—or vice versa.

Fiske shrugged. After all, it wasn't his problem outside of the fact that he had to fight them. And it had been proven some time ago that ship for ship humanity was fully a match for the aliens. It was only when groups were involved that the Eglan superiority was apparent. And then it was overwhelming.

There was some trick of discipline or communication that welded a group of Eglan fighting ships into a single cohesive unit that was thus far unbeatable. Humanity had to learn—or it was lost—and would go the way of the other civilizations that had been in the path of alien conquest.

Fiske shrugged. Given time, men might learn the answer. But time was getting short. Koenig felt that if the answer wasn't found soon, humanity would pass the point of no return. Already the inner worlds were glutted with refugees. Industry was trying vainly to gain upon the tremendous attrition in ships and weapons and still supply the population. Financial structures were tottering on the brink of ruin. Taxation was oppressive, restrictions were galling and unpleasant, and everywhere disaffection with the progress of the war was rampant.

"If the armchair admirals had their way," Koenig had said bitterly, "we'd be through now. But we can't hold out much longer. This delaying policy is going to split wide open. We're going to be forced to mount a counter offensive against an enemy we know can outmaneuver and out-fight us in large formations,—an enemy who knows a great deal about us, but about whom we know nothing. We simply have to get a line on how they operate."

So here he was again, chasing the will-o-the-wisp of an Eglan prisoner. He sighed, shrugged and turned his attention to the banks of instruments that recorded every vital function of the ship.

This part of the voyage was easy. Not even the inhumanly efficient Eglani could guard all parts of the fluid hemisphere they had pushed into the territory of the Confederation, and ships travelled with relative ease across the ill defined border that separated the two warring races.

But life aboard ship was neither easy nor relaxed. Under Fiske's command, it was a constant striving for perfection. Five years of battle experience had taught him that neither officers nor crew could become too familiar with the offensive and defensive armaments of a ship. Constant practice was the only answer to Eglan coordination and every man aboard knew that the more proficient they became the better were their chances of coming home alive. So all hands spent every spare moment refining skills of war, solving simulated tactical problems, trying to increase response speed and improve combat efficiency.

Fiske checked the control console, his eyes sweeping across the lights and dials that indicated the "Dauntless" was manned and ready and that the crew were at their proper stations. Satisfied that everything was in order, he set up a tactical problem on the board and buzzed for the Executive officer.

"Take over, Oley," he said, as the Exec slid into the chair beside him.

"Hmm, a stinker you leave me," Olaf Pedersen remarked as his eyes scanned the board.

"I'll be in quarters if you need help," Fiske said. He pushed off in a flat dive toward the hatch that led to his quarters as Pedersen took up the problem and the drill went on. As ship commander he enjoyed the priceless luxury of privacy, and for the little time that remained before breakout, he would luxuriate in solitude and listen to what Ellen taped for him. It was a pleasure he had carefully saved for this moment before they went into action. He hoped that it was something gay and inspiring, perhaps with a little of the affection they had for each other—but whatever it was it would be Ellen's voice and for awhile it would give him the illusion that she was near.

He webbed into his shock-couch, threaded the spool of tape into the playback and flipped the switch. For a few seconds the tape hummed quietly through the guides. Then a blast of noise erupted from the speaker.

Anne Albertson's piercing giggle.


Voices—piercing female voices pitched at their most irritating level—a cacophonous clatter through which snatches of treble phrases sliced with nerve jangling shrillness!

Fiske's howl could be heard through the entire forward part of the ship!

He reached out angrily to turn off the playback, but even as he did, he hesitated. Ellen must have given him this tape for a reason,—and it was obvious that he was missing it. She wasn't the sort to play practical jokes. Gritting his teeth he forced himself to listen to the gabble that rasped his ears and frayed his temper. It was the quintessence of irritation, a garbled, calm-destroying jangle that had all the comfort of a dental drill grinding out an infected molar.

And then he heard it. The background noise died a little, and across the disconnected chatter came Ellen's voice—clear crisp and light—mouthing the same banalities as the others! It was wrong. Everything about it was wrong. And then he understood.

For behind her voice a pattern emerged, a pattern that was neither light, nor gay, nor superficial. It was a desperate clinging to the familiar little things that made up normal life, a deliberate avoidance of the war, the fear and the worry. And Fiske realized with an odd feeling of surprise that here was a counterpart of the wardroom gabfests aboard ship. The attitude was the same. There was no essential difference. He stood it until her voice faded into the background and then he turned off the playback. Ellen should have known that he understood how she felt. There was no need for this. He felt oddly cheated as he put the tape away in his locker and returned to the control room.

The "Dauntless" broke out of hyperspace travelling just under Lume One, well within Eglan territory. Fiske knew from experience that the enemy detectors were efficient and it was always risky to breakout into normal space—but he had to come out to get a fix on potential targets.

"Set!" the gunnery officer said.

Instantly the "Dauntless" slammed back into fourspace. The scan had taken barely ten seconds, and with reasonable luck the dip into normal space would remain unnoticed long enough to give them the advantage of surprise. At best such an advantage would be fleeting. At worst he would breakout in the middle of an Eglan trap. Actuality would probably be somewhere in between. He'd have perhaps twenty minutes—and in that time he'd have to accomplish his mission and get the "Dauntless" back into the relative safety of fourspace.

The world ahead was a small planet about two thirds the size of Earth, and from it came the persistent radiation of nuclear stockpiles and atomic machinery. There was a base here—a big one supported by a massive industrial complex. The Eglani had the habit of concentrating their works, which made for greater efficiency of operation, but also made them far more remunerative targets.

There was no waiting. The cruiser flashed into normal spacetime, a bank of red lights blossomed on the control board, and the gunnery officer launched a salvo of torpedoes at the Eglan Base. The torps were new. Each carried a tiny hyperspace converter that pushed them up into the lower orange. They would arrive on target milliseconds after they were launched, breakout into normal space, and detonate. They were tricky things that required nearly ten seconds data to adjust, but when properly set they could materialize within any fixed screen. The inherent qualities of fourspace made them useless against maneuvering ships, but against a city or a planetary base they were deadly. Of course, compartmentalized screening would reduce the damage, but if the Eglani were using a hemisphere, God help anything inside.

Air screamed around the hull as the cruiser slammed into the planet's upper atmosphere, her jets thundering to match intrinsics with the planet. Within minutes the banshee screech faded away and the cruiser hung motionless in the upper air. Over the rim of the world behind them an awesome pillar of mushroom capped cloud rose into the sky.

"Scratch one Eglan base!" an anonymous voice in Fire Control yelped joyfully.

"Stow that. Silence down there," Fiske barked.

"Airboat at 0025," a spotter announced, "hedgehopping."

"Forward batteries ready."

"Use a force rod," Fiske ordered. "I want that ship intact."

The pale lance of a paramagnetic beam clawed through the atmosphere and struck the airboat. Driven by the awesome power of the cruiser's generators it struck, clung, and wrenched the airship from its slow path through the sky. Instantly all jamming devices in the cruiser flicked on, ripping the air with a blast of interference that filled all the nearer reaches of space.

"Quarter drive, vertical," Fiske ordered, and the cruiser leaped upward, dragging the airboat behind it into the airless outer regions where the beam could operate more effectively.

"Okay, boys, pull her in," the bored voice of the gunner's mate in the forward blister came over the intercom, and a moment later the fragile shell of the airboat thudded against the armored hull of the cruiser.

"Boarders away!" Fiske ordered.

The boarding party, specifically trained for this operation, opened the airlocks, carved the side off the airboat, and dove into the crowded interior.

The Eglani, caught without spacesuits, smashed to the floor of their craft by uncompensated acceleration, their air lost in a mighty rush, still tried to resist. Space is not immediately lethal, and by holding their breath several managed to fire a few hand-blasts at the incoming boarders. But it was useless. The beams clawed futilely at the heavy armor and the return fire carved a smoking path through the packed bodies. Then the living died to join the already mutilated dead as tiny explosions limned their heads with momentary brightness.

Fiske sighed at the familiar carnage visible in the viewscreen. Another abortion. But he had expected it. No one yet had caught a living Eglan soldier and he didn't think that he'd be the first to do so.

Young Lieutenant Fitzhugh commanding the party stepped up to the signalman's scanner and reported. "They're all dead, sir. We have no casualties."

"All right, disengage and return." Fiske said as the signalman scanned the piled headless heap of short-legged, long-bodied aliens. One still had a face. The wide mouth, prehensile proboscis and mule ears were still intact, but the back was gone from its head. The face had a masklike quality as it glared up at him with bulging eyes half driven from their cavernous sockets.

"Aye, sir." Lieutenant Fitzhugh turned away from the scanner, and one by one the men came back along the boarding line to the cruiser's airlock. The scanner flicked off as the signalman made his way back.

"Enemy on starboard beam," the talker's voice was lost in a clangor of alarms and a thudding concussion as the entire starboard battery erupted one simultaneous blast of destruction at the Eglan cruiser which had suddenly emerged a scant five miles away.

The Eglan was quick, inhumanly quick in his reaction. He had broken out much too close, but even so his primary screens flared an instant before the broadside struck. But no primary screen ever built could stand alone against the megatons of energy that instantaneously erupted against it. Screen and ship disappeared in the hellish blast, reduced instantly to glowing radioactive gas. The enormous fireball licked hungrily toward the "Dauntless" as the automatic controls promptly took her back into hyperspace.

Lieutenant Fitzhugh, still ten feet from the open airlock saw the flare of the explosion and the premonitory shudder of the ship. He knew that he didn't have time enough to make it. With the strength of desperation he threw the object he carried toward the rapidly closing airlock as the ship vanished from sight and the searing fireball enveloped his body. He never had time to decide whether his aim had been true or not....

Fiske looked at the Eglan head Lockman Vornov was holding up to his viewplate. The man was talking. "—He was still outside when we hypered, sir, but he threw this in through the airlock. It hit me on the leg, sir."

For the first time Fiske really understood the term "mixed emotion." He was feeling it now. Regret at Fitzhugh's death was exactly balanced by the wild hope that the impossible might have happened—that the head was that of an Eglan soldier rather than a civilian. Certainly Fitzhugh wouldn't have brought it back unless he had good reason to suspect that it might be useful—nor would he have tried so desperately to get it aboard ship.

"Get that thing down to Doc Bonner," he ordered, "and tell him that I'll be along in a minute."...

Old Doc Bonner who derived his nickname from combat rather than chronological age looked inquiringly at Fiske. "Should I post it or pickle it?" he asked.

"Post it. It might blow up before we reach home. Get to work."

"It's a point," Bonner admitted, "but it might not be too valid with Headquarters. Since it hasn't exploded by now it probably won't."

Fiske shook his head. "There's no sense in taking chances. Besides it might belong to a civilian."

"Not this baby," Bonner said. "It's military." He indicated a white line at the base of the skull. "That's where they blow up," he said. "There's a charge implanted there. And besides, it's as you say, sir, we shouldn't take chances." Bonner laid out a row of shining instruments, turned on the visual recorder over the table and went to work.

"Hmm—must have been quite a bit of dissection here," he commented as he inspected the back of the head. "Poor job of suturing and lots of fibrous connective tissue, but it's healed well enough." He cut in delicately with a scalpel. "Oh-oh! Paydirt! Now wait a minute—let's find out where these leads go—hmm,—that'd be the spinal accessory nerve if this head were human, but with this fellow it might be anything." He swung an auto-camera into place and took a series of still pictures, probed the skull for a moment with a pair of long-jawed forceps and lifted out a tiny translucent capsule with a fused dark globule dangling below it. "Ah—here we are." He placed the capsule carefully in a cotton lined pan. "You'd better get that thing down to engineering," he said. "That's not my line. I'll finish this post while you're gone. I might find something of interest to report in the Medical Journal. Incidentally, that capsule was linked to the nerve over a micropore graft. I'm keeping that part for microdissection. It wouldn't do you any good."

Fiske took the pan and left the surgery. Doc was right. This was the part that was his baby, not that ball of meat in there on the tray....

Chief Engineer Sandoval took the pan gingerly. Setting it on a bench he peered at it thoughtfully. "Hmm, a sealed unit," he said. "We'll X-ray it first and maybe then we can do something about it."

"Better disconnect that detonator, or the damn thing may blow your head off," Fiske advised.

"Don't try to tell me my business, skipper," Sandoval grinned. "I was doing this when you were in knee pants. You go back and run the ship and me and my boys'll find out what makes this tick."

Fiske grinned with mild embarrassment. "Okay, Sandy, I'm off to the ivory tower. Pass the word when you find what cooks."

"Sure thing."...

Bonner reported nothing new on the brain. "It'll make a nice paper," he said, "but that's all. In fact I'd surmise that our own are a trifle more complex than theirs if convolutions have anything to do with mental power. The Eglan brain is rather simple in some aspects. But of course it's the relative weights of brain and cord that really count."

"You're way over my head," Fiske said.

"Incidentally, what did engineering find out about that gadget?"

"No report as yet. I'll let you know if anything develops." Fiske cut Doc off the intercom as Chief Sandoval came in.

Fiske looked at his grim face curiously. "What's the trouble?"

"Nothing,—that's the hell of it. I've been kicking myself for not figuring it out before. That gadget's nothing but a fined-up subetheric communicator. We used them before the Lorcom was developed. There's an explosive charge, but the arming mechanism was burned off. And that's it."

"Not quite," Fiske said. "There was a direct neural connection. And that's why they fight as a unit. A ship's commander would have complete charge of his ship like a brain with a hundred bodies—and he's probably hooked up with a squadron C.O. And the squadron C.O.—what a system!" Fiske cut off and twisted the selector.

"Communications!" he said.

"Aye sir."

"Contact Chief Engineer Sandoval, tape his data and send it to Prime."

"Sorry sir—can't be done!"


"Yes sir—there's an interference blanket in Cth that you can't drive anything through. I've been trying to raise Base for an hour."

"When did this come on?—Why wasn't I informed."

"It came on about an hour ago, and you were busy. We've never had anything like this before, sir. I thought I'd try to punch a beam through it before I quit."

"All right—break out the message torps—tape the data and send them off."


"That's all, Lieutenant—get cracking."

"Aye sir."

"Well—that's a new wrinkle," Fiske observed. "They've figured out our Lorcom—and we're jammed."

Pedersen looked up from the control board. "Hmm—doesn't smell so good. They wouldn't jam us unless they had something else up their sleeves. They're figuring on stopping us, no doubt."

Fiske nodded. "I thought of that—but how?"

"Damned if I know—but they've got some idea."

"Well two can play at this jamming game—and we'll deal with the other thing when it comes." Fiske dialed Sandoval. "Sandy"—he said as the engineer's face appeared on the screen. "Can your boys build an all wave subetheric broadcaster?"

"Yes and no," Sandoval said. "We can build one—but we're not able to. No components."

"How about modifying the Lorcom?"

"That wouldn't be too tough. But you can't be thinking of—"

"How long would it take?"

"Twenty hours minimum. You realize, of course, that it's going to deprive us of long range communications."

"All right, so we lose them. They're worthless anyway. We're being jammed. Now get going on that conversion, and cut all the time you can."

"Aye sir."

Sandoval's boys must have sweated blood, Fiske thought, for it was barely twenty two hours before the Chief's heavy voice came over the intercom. "It's finished, sir," Sandoval said. "We're ready to roll."

"Good," Fiske replied. "What's the output?"

"A kilowatt across the board."

"Hmm—not so good.—We're not going to blanket much with that."

"You'll get through all right; but you can't expect any more than that. If you want to jam you'd better concentrate on the 1400 band. You can smother anything in that area."

"No. I'd rather have full coverage. I think the noseys are laying for us, and I want something that'll affect every Eglan in range, not just part of them. If we confuse them enough we can crack straight through before they recover."

"What do you intend to use to cause this confusion?" Sandoval asked.

A grin crossed Fiske's face. "We might put a signalman on the mike and give them the latest box scores in the Tri World league mixed with double talk. Or our linguist could issue phoney orders in Eglanese."

Sandoval grinned in answer. "Sneaky, isn't it?—this business of hoisting the engineers on their own petards. Personally, I favor music—some of these squirm combos the boys listen to would drive a saint out of Heaven."

Fiske chuckled. "It's an idea—and not a bad one at that. Angelo Bordoni in the signal section has some progressive squirm recordings that'd make your hair curl. We'll make him a disk jockey as soon as we have some Eglani to try it on."

"You won't have to wait long, sir," Pedersen said, as he swivelled his chair to face Fiske. "Detectors report a disturbance in C-green about ten hours ahead. Looks like a couple of class one cruisers. Not ours."

"What's their bearing?"

"They're moving along our line slightly under our component."

Fiske leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful expression on his face. He looked at Pedersen and nodded.

"Battle Stations, condition two," Pedersen said to the talker. "Well, there's two of them down there to try your gadget on."

"Gives us one break at least," Fiske said. "We're not too outnumbered."

Pedersen shrugged off the pun. "In your shoes, sir," he said, "I'd be tempted to run like hell."

"Sure, so am I. But just where could we get a better chance than this? If we're going to fight we might as well get decent odds."

"You call two to one decent?"

"I'll tell you more when their drive patterns are analyzed. If they're cruisers we can outgun and outrun them,—and if they're battlewagons they'll never catch us. Not even—"

"Objects register as enemy heavy cruisers," the talker said. "Drive intensity point oh two over ours."

"Well," Pedersen remarked. "You're wrong on one point. We're not going to outrun them."

"Seems that way," Fiske agreed. "They must be new models,—probably ones like those that chewed up Ed Albertson's ship. But they can't be any more heavily armed than we are."

"Maybe not, but there's two of them," Pedersen said drily. "I would imagine this changes things."

"Naturally. We'll run for awhile. I'm not risking my ship against those odds if I can help it." Fiske turned on the command circuit. "One eighty gyro turn," he said. "Execute!"

The "Dauntless" swapped ends and virtually without delay began backtracking across the warps of Cth space. Since inertia didn't exist in hyperspace the change in direction was made instantaneously. At maximum blast the "Dauntless" began to put space between her and her pursuers, who at once changed course to overtake the fleeing Confederation ship.

Hour after hour the three ships drove through the harsh blue monochrome of upper Cth, and slowly the distance between pursuers and pursued lessened. Travelling in a great curve that would ultimately take them into Confederation territory Fiske and Pedersen watched the telltale dots in the spotting tank come closer.

"We're not going to make it," Fiske said finally. "They'll catch or pass us before we hit the frontier."

"Nice," Pedersen replied. "With one ahead matching our component and sowing mines, and the other behind and above us just in case we try to drop out. We've got about the same chance as a snowball in hell."

"It's not quite that bad. We have weapons and we've got the broadcaster. They won't be expecting it, and if we drop into normal space looking like we want to fight, I'll bet they'll follow us."

"Sure they will."

"They'll get a surprise then. How'd you like to be wearing one of those cute little communicators and get a blast of Bordoni's progressive squirm the minute you made breakout?"

"I wouldn't."

"I'm betting that they won't either." Fiske turned to the talker—"all hands—Battle Stations! Full armor. Condition one. Bordoni—stand by with your recordings—report when ready." A cold ball bounced in Fiske's stomach as the reports snapped in. Up until now the Confederation ships had been individually superior to the aliens, an advantage that barely counterbalanced the Eglani's coordination, but these ships were superior to his own in speed at least, and what they might lack in firepower they made up in numbers.

No skipper in his right mind would tackle two to one odds in favor of the aliens. But it was unavoidable now. Fiske shrugged. If he was right about the effect of his broadcaster, he had a chance—but the chance was a slim one anyway you looked at it. Sure—he knew the secret of Eglan coordination, but could he disrupt that coordination? It was a distinct possibility that his attempt at jamming would only be a minor annoyance, and if it was, the secret of the Eglani would die with him.

Of course, there was a possibility that one of the message torpedoes would get through—but torpedoes travelling on a fixed course were usually intercepted and destroyed. At best they were a forlorn hope—sent Earthward more as a gesture than with any expectation of arrival.

And with the Lorcom converted to a subetheric broadcaster he had no exterior communications. The "Dauntless" was on her own—cut off from help—wholly dependent upon the skill of her crew for survival.

"Stand by for breakout," Fiske ordered.—"Execute."

Smoothly the ship swapped ends, halted instantly, and dropped like a stone through the Cth components as Sandoval cut the converters. With scarcely a shudder the "Dauntless" slipped into normal space.

"Full ahead," Fiske ordered and familiar acceleration clutched at the bodies of the crew. With every electronic and visual sense extended, screens glowing on standby, drives flaring a fierce blue against the dark of space the "Dauntless" swept forward toward the frontier far ahead. Her speed was less than a snail's crawl compared to the inconceivable velocities she had been travelling in Cth but in normal spacetime weapons functioned and subetheric communicators worked. Here, fighting was an art—refined by years of drill and practice.

"Bearing zero two four—enemy cruiser. Range two thousand—closing," the talker said. "Bearing one nine zero—nega—cruiser. Range fifteen hundred—extending."

"Not too smart," Fiske observed. "That rear ship'll have to hyper to get ahead of us, and by that time we should get a crack at our long eared friends up ahead."

"Bearing zero one eight—range one thousand—closing. Bearing one nine zero—negative," the talker interrupted.

"Our little follower's gone back into Cth," Pedersen said.

"Gives us three minutes at least, before he can adjust on us."

"Bearing zero one six—range five hundred—closing," the talker said.

"Stand by all stations," Fiske said calmly—"Bearing zero one six steady—range four hundred,—three hundred,—two five zero,—two two zero,—two hundred,—one eight zero," the talker's metallic voice was flat in the tense silence of the ship.

"At my command," Fiske said as he poised his finger over a large red button on the control console.

Over the complex network of spotting, ranging, and computing devices electronic orders flowed into the gun, and torpedo stations. Servos hummed as the weapons aligned on their target and gun crews alertly followed the movements of the automatics ready for emergencies or malfunctions.

"Bearing zero one three, range fifty—closing," the talker's unemotional voice continued. Fiske's hand stabbed the button and an instant later the "Dauntless" yawed violently to the blast of fire that erupted from every weapon capable of bearing on the Eglan.

"Enemy has fired," the talker said. The "Dauntless" slewed violently as the pilot took evasive action.

For a long second the Eglan hung in space, her screens blazing. Then she began to turn,—but it was too late. The concentrated fury of the "Dauntless" broadside erupted against her screens in blazing pyrotechnics. The Eglan staggered and spun off at a tangent. A second later the "Dauntless" bucked and jumped as the Eglan's fire crashed home. The secondary screens flared and vanished. The primaries crackled into the violet under the enormous load of dissipating the megatons of energy that flared against them.

"Holy George!—what sort of stuff are those fellows carrying?" Pedersen breathed, "They outgun us too!" A trickle of blood ran from his nose.

"No—we're about even there," Fiske said as another broadside erupted from the "Dauntless" and another load of destruction hurtled towards the Eglan.

"Enemy has fired," the talker said, and the "Dauntless" again turned off to one side. This time the salvo missed by a comfortable margin.

"What's wrong with them?" Pedersen asked as he stared into the tank. "They're not evading."

"Maybe they can't. We hit him near the drives."

"There they go—too slow, way too slow!"

The "Dauntless" salvo struck and for a moment an intolerable flame lighted space, and when it died the Eglan cruiser had vanished.

"Bearing zero four five—enemy cruiser—range one hundred—closing," the talker's voice interjected. "Enemy has fired."

The "Dauntless" yawed violently as Fiske stabbed at the Cth switch. The familiar quivering shook them as the ship clawed at the edge of hyperspace—and simultaneously a pile-driver blow struck them astern tearing crewmen from their safety webs and slamming them with bonecrushing force against unyielding plates and bulkheads. The "Dauntless" rang like a giant gong—the sound disappearing slowly with shimmering reverberations that assumed tangible shapes as the harsh red of lower Cth closed around them.

"Skipper!" the ship intercom rattled. "We can't hold her here! Number three converter's dismounted and there's a hole in the engine room big enough to drive a truck through!"

"Enemy cruiser Cth yellow dead ahead—dropping to our component," the talker said.

"Well—we got one of them," Pedersen said. "Might as well take our medicine like good boys. He'll be sowing mines in a minute."

"That Eglan was cold meat," Fiske said. "The broadcast worked!"

"That second ship wasn't. They came in on us like a hawk at a chicken," Pedersen answered.

"They didn't have time to get the full benefit of it."

"You going to give them another chance?"

"We'll have to. We can't stay here. We can't run, and up here the broadcaster doesn't work. So we go down again. With that noise of Bordoni's we should be able to jar their back teeth loose. Which reminds me—I'd better see how he's doing. That broadcaster is pretty near the engine room." He punched the intercom selector. "How's it going, Bordoni?" he asked.

An anguished wail came out of the speaker. "I was just changing a platter when we got struck. I sat on them! Even on my Stan Kenton album, and that's a classic!! They're busted to hell! All of 'em!"

"Bordoni!" Fiske snapped.


"Valve it off son. It can't be helped.—Have you any more?"

"No, sir."

"Can you sing or make noise, or something?" Fiske asked hopefully.

"Negative sir. I've got mike fright—always did have."

Fiske sighed—"Very well—you're relieved. Report to your station."

"Now what?" Pedersen asked.

"We get something else."

"What?—Bordoni had the only squirm aboard. I know. I shook the ship down—there isn't a thing one tenth as—"

"Enemy has matched components," the talker said.

"Down two shades," Fiske ordered. "We can dodge for awhile," he said absently as the ship dropped into a deeper red monochrome, "but he'll get us eventually."

"Sir, the engine room broke in. The converters aren't going to take much more of this—we're on twenty percent overload right now!"

"They'll have to take it," Fiske snapped. "If we want to stay alive!"

"I'll try to keep 'em going, boss," Sandoval's voice broke in.

"Thanks Sandy." Fiske cut off. "Now about the noise business—"

"Well," Pedersen said—"You might try doing it yourself. Seems that I remember you howling like a wounded wolf a few days ago, just before we clobbered that Eglan base. If it's noise you want, why don't you give out with a few warwhoops. You damn near lifted the lid off this can."

Fiske's eyes widened. "You have something there," he admitted. He flipped the selector to communications. "George," he said, "can you rig a continuous tape playback into that broadcaster? Bordoni's aborted,—smashed his records."

"Sure. Give me ten minutes."

"Make it five and send one of your boys up here. I have a package for him." Fiske switched off and turned to Pedersen. "Have someone go to my quarters and get that roll of sound tape out of my locker. It's in the upper left compartment. Give it to George's man when he shows up." He looked at Pedersen's puzzled expression and grinned. "We're not licked yet, Oley."

"Enemy has matched component," the talker said.

"Down two shades—and keep changing our course. Don't follow one line for more than ten seconds," Fiske ordered.

"That gives us about four more drops before we breakout," the pilot's voice said over the speaker. "And we can't dodge too long. He can outmaneuver us, and ride us right out of Cth."

"How long?"

"Maybe five minutes—maybe less."

"Well—get on with it—we can't stay here"—Fiske looked glumly at the control board. There was nothing he could do at the moment.

"Aye sir." The red monochrome deepened a trifle as the "Dauntless" dropped closer to breakout.

"Damn—they're quick!" Fiske muttered.

"We're not going to be here long at this rate," Pedersen observed.

"We do what we can. Unless we get that broadcast rigged we've got no chance at all." Fiske lapsed into silence.

A minute passed as the "Dauntless" dodged frantically and the Eglan maneuvered for position.

"Enemy has matched component," the talker said. Instantly the "Dauntless" was surrounded by a reddish-black gloom.

"Infra band coming," Pedersen remarked. "Our spotting isn't too good there. He can be on top of us before we know it."

"Let's hope theirs isn't either," Fiske answered absently.

"Enemy has matched component," the talker said.

"Well—that's that," Fiske said with grudging admiration as the ship went dark, and began to buck and shudder in the stress area at the border of Cth and normal space. "He's just about kicked us out of commission."

A violent shock lifted the cruiser and shook her. Metal screamed and ripped as the ship, struck by a mine at the very edge of Cth, was driven downward through the border into breakout. Flashes and pinwheels of light flamed across Fiske's eyes as the ship spun madly into normal space.

The talker wakened him. "Enemy cruiser, range three fifty—steady."

Fiske cursed weakly at the unemotional robot voice. Somewhere amidships a dull explosion shook the ship, and then the whole mass of the cruiser moved sideways as a broadside let loose.

Fiske came to awareness with a jerk. Beside him was Pedersen, his face a bloody mask, calmly operating the control board. A piece of scalp had been stripped neatly from his head and hung down the back of his neck together with the smashed wreckage of his helmet.

"Break off, Pete—I'm back. Get a patch on that scalp and a new helmet. You'll look silly breathing space if they hull us up here."

"I thought you had it, skipper," Pedersen grinned through the blood. "That last jump was pretty rough."

"What's up?"

"I don't know. Our Eglan friend is shooting at us from long range. He doesn't seem very eager to close. Came in to three fifty and has been matching us ever since. Looks like he's waiting for help."

"We can't let this go on.—What's our situation?"

"Damage control reports we're about eighty percent effective. They're working on the number three converter but it'll be at least an hour before she's ready. We've lost two secondary batteries, but the mains are all right and our screens are keeping out the stuff our playmate's sending over."

"Our drives?"

"Okay—except for the converters like I said."

Fiske looked into the plotting tank. "Full right turn," he ordered. "If he won't close—we will."

"Skipper!" the intercom chattered. "We've got that tape in. We're ready to roll down here."

"Well—get going," Fiske snarled. "Do I have to tell you everything?"

"No sir—but we thought—"

"Stop thinking and turn that broadcast on!"

"Yes sir!"

"Eighty five degrees right turn—down five," Fiske said. "Full drive—execute!" He bent over the tank and watched the Eglan. The enemy response was slow. "It's working," Fiske murmured happily.

The blindest observer could see that something was wrong with the alien. His maneuvering was sloppy, his fire confused, sporadic, and inaccurate,—and as the "Dauntless" shells crashed into his secondary screens there were no evasive maneuvers or blazing pyrotechnics of point reinforcement. Fiske grinned ferociously. A few more salvos and that would be the end of him.

A violent blow wrenched the "Dauntless" sideways, and another hurled her forward with a tremendous burst of acceleration. And the drives stopped dead. Under momentum alone the cruiser shot onward.

"We've had it, boss." Sandoval's voice came in like a knell of doom. "Torpedo caught us right on the drive lattice. The drives are shot."

"Enemy cruiser coming up dead astern," the talker said. "Range eighty—closing slowly."

The "Dauntless" lay dead—coasting through space. The faint hiss of escaping air and the clatter of booted feet were the only sounds in the hull. The lights still burned on emergency power—but the drive and the powerplant were gone, and with them the "Dauntless" capability to fight.

Fiske wondered dully what was keeping the ship intact. Somehow the riddled hulk had failed to explode in the sunburst that usually marked the finish of a fighting ship. The guns were silenced. The last mine and torpedo had been fired. The intercom was a shambles of shorted circuits and dead lines. A hole fully a foot across had been ripped through the right side of the control room giving a free opening onto the blackness of space. One more shell, Fiske thought—and that would be the end of it.

But it never came.

The Eglan ship matched velocity less than a hundred yards away—and a dazed communications officer reported—"Sir—they've opened a channel—they want to surrender!"

Fiske looked at Pedersen.

Pedersen looked at Fiske.

The blank incomprehension on the face of one was precisely matched in the face of the other. This was incredible! The Eglan was still in fighting trim. The "Dauntless" was a wreck. Yet the aliens were offering to surrender—and they never surrendered!

"A trap?" Pedersen asked.

"Why? They've got us. We're helpless and they know it." Fiske turned to the intercom. "Tell them we accept. Tell them to lower their screens and prepare to receive boarders." He turned to Pedersen. "Wonder how we're fixed for a boarding party? You have any idea?"

Pedersen shook his head.

"I'm going to have a look." Fiske removed his safety harness and rose stiffly from his chair, moving painfully toward the manway that led aft to the main gun batteries and the drives.

He passed shambles. Bodies were everywhere. The sick bay had been destroyed by a direct hit. Guns and torpedo mounts were twisted wreckage garnished with dead. The communications center was miraculously untouched, still operating on emergency power, still broadcasting over the all wave transmitter as the endless tape ran and reran through its guides. A hulking figure was bent over the transmitter, working with torch and welding rod resetting tie-downs broken by concussion. With dull surprise, Fiske recognized Sandoval.

The big man saw him and grinned feebly. It was a miracle that he hadn't been opened up, but his battered armor was intact except for several minor rips covered with patches and sealant. His helmet was dented and the short range communicator at its back was shot away. Fiske shook his head as he approached and laid his helmet against the engineer's.

Sandoval's voice came through "I've got what's left of my boys working on the drive. Give us an hour and we'll be moving again."

"Call them off, Sandy. There's no need. The Eglan has surrendered."

"They've what?"

"Surrendered. Quit. Given up. We've won!"

"You sure you're not in shock, skipper?"

"Just get your men together. We've got to make up a boarding party out of this mess somehow. We've got to collect the wounded and get them out of this wreck. Since the Eglan's still intact we'll take over his ship."

"But skipper, everybody knows that the Eglani don't—"

"Break it off Sandy, and do as you're told. That's an order."

Shaking his head the big man floated off as Fiske shrugged and turned upward toward the gun-decks, picking his way through torn and splintered metal, collecting survivors and issuing orders similar to those he had given Sandoval. In the next twenty minutes Fiske destroyed forever his carefully built reputation for compassion and humanity....

They assembled on the main deck—what was left of them. The whole and the wounded, barely thirty men of a crew that had numbered over a hundred. They gathered in a tight knot staring into the vision screen that gave a clear view of the alien drawn up alongside. The Eglan ship hung black and massive in space, her seamless sides blank save only for the circle of yellow light that marked an open airlock. No glitter of screens reflected the icy glint of the stars. There was a stillness about the ship that was almost frightening as she edged slowly closer to the battered sides of the "Dauntless."

"Boarders away!" Fiske ordered and the motley group of survivors towing the wounded who still lived, opened the airlock and pushed off across the intervening space that separated the two ships. Fiske waited until the last man disappeared into the circle of light in the Eglan's side before pushing off. He blinked once or twice to clear the traces of moisture from his eyes as he looked around the empty stillness that had been his ship. It wouldn't do at all for his men to suspect that besides being a softy, he was a cry baby to boot....

The Eglan had a double airlock, and as he emerged through the second airtight valve, he was met by Olaf Pedersen. Pedersen's helmet was off and there was a peculiar expression on his face.

"Well? What did you find?" Fiske asked, anxiety in his voice.

"She's all ours. There's no fight left in them," Pedersen said. His voice was oddly strained. "We just moved in and took over. The men are collecting the prisoners now—what's left of them." He pointed down the low wide manway that led into the interior of the ship. "Control room's down there," he said.

"I know." Fiske looked around curiously. The ship was like the other captured jobs he'd seen. Even the two decapitated Eglani on the deck were familiar—and the other enemy dead he passed on the way to the control room were not abnormal. One expected to see them in a captured Eglan ship. It was the living who were strange, tight faced, thick bodied, stiffly erect aliens and their human guards who stood in the cross passageways watching him as he passed. Fiske shivered. He had never in his life seen eyes so hell-haunted as those the Eglani turned on him. The aliens looked like they would shatter at a touch, brittle shells held intact by a force greater than their wills.

"Gives you the creeps, doesn't it?" Pedersen asked in a low voice.

"It's worse than anything I've ever seen," Fiske replied. "These people are on the edge of collapse. This is chaos!"

The feeling of brittle tension increased as they entered the control room in the center of the ship. A short wide Eglan stood beside the master console. He raised his arm in what was obviously a salute, which Fiske punctiliously returned. A muscle in the Eglan's cheek twitched spasmodically. His fingers were clenched, the knuckles white against his greenish skin.

"I am Sar Lauton, of the Eglan Directorate, commander of this ship," the alien said in fluent Terran.

"And I am Commander Alton Fiske of the Confederation Navy," Fiske replied. "I have transferred my men to this ship since you didn't leave much of mine."

"For that I am sorry," the Eglan said. "You fought well and deserved a better end. However, you still have won. It is finished." The Eglan smiled bitterly. "You see, Commander, we never knew that war could be such horror. To many of my crew it was too horrible. You undoubtedly saw some of them on your way here."

Fiske nodded. "Now about the surrender terms—" he began.

"There are no terms," the alien said woodenly. "You have won." His face twitched. "Can't you appreciate what your weapon has done? I am an Eglan. An Eglan never surrenders. Yet I and half my crew have surrendered. Don't you appreciate the implications of that? Can't you realize that the Directorate is doomed—that you have won a victory here that is more complete than any we have won in a thousand years of war?"


"From birth," the Eglan went on, ignoring the abortive interruption, "we of the warrior caste have been trained to believe that there is no glory other than in battle—that the honor of the Directorate and its supremacy is paramount—that the Directorate must expand to bring the blessings of order to the less favored—that the orders of a superior are to be obeyed unquestioningly—that it is only right that we subordinate ourselves to the greater glory of the Eglan race—that our minds and lives are dedicated to this service—that there is no higher honor, no greater glory than to die for the Eglani." He sounded as though he was reciting a litany that had suddenly become no longer believable.

"But this, I find, is wrong. Such a belief is not life. It is death—extinction first of the soul, then of the mind, and finally of the body. Your weapon struck us here at the core of our belief and through our weakest link—a link we had to keep because, paradoxically, it was also the source of our strength and unity. Through our neurocommunicators your feelings, emotions, and beliefs waged battle with our own. And yours won because their truth was more basic and more just than our own. And so we were disarmed. We were confused. We could not hold control. And finally we could not kill—not even ourselves!" The muscle in his cheek twitched again.

Fiske drew a deep breath. With sudden understanding he recalled his own feelings when he had heard Ellen on that tape. But there must have been more than Ellen—much more. All those others—and somehow the Eglani had sensed the true meaning behind that nauseous gabble! And the meaning had destroyed them!

Of course, this single action wasn't the end of the war, but it was the beginning of the end. The war would go on, but now it wouldn't be humanity with its back against the wall. The Eglani, too, would know the meaning of defeat. Fiske sighed. Somehow he couldn't help feeling sorry for them. They were too understanding!

"Thank you," Sar Lauton said unexpectedly. "Your sympathy is appreciated."

Fiske looked at him uncomfortably. "Take him away, Oley," he said, "and put him with the others. I'm getting this crate out of here." Fiske sank into the control chair and scanned the board. There was no problem here. He knew Eglan centralized controls almost as well as his own. One man could operate this ship if necessary although it took many others to fight and service it.

He energized the drives and the ship moved ahead. The view-screens glowed framing star studded space and the battered shape of the "Dauntless" falling slowly astern. The old girl lay quietly, coasting through space, gleaming faintly in the cold light of the distant stars. Slowly she shrank to a toy as the Eglan ship moved away.

It was time, Fiske thought, as he adjusted a vernier dial and pushed a small lever. The faint ion trail of the torpedo shone like a pale swordblade in the darkness vanishing toward the derelict astern. Seconds passed and then a gigantic fireball blotted out the stars, and with its dying the "Dauntless" was gone save for a fiercely radiating haze of molecules that spread rapidly outward through circumambient space....

Pedersen came in quietly and took a seat opposite Fiske. "The prisoners are secure, sir, and our men are ready for Cth jump," he said.

"Good. We'll start familiarization after we reach cruising component."

"Aye sir."

"The "Dauntless" is gone," Fiske said absently as he energized the converters and the ship shivered at the border of hyperspace.

"I know. I saw her die."

"She was a good ship."

"The best. She won our war."

"I hated to kill her, Oley."

"I know that too. But you had to do it."

Fiske sighed as he took the ship up through the Cth components. It handled smoothly enough, but not as smoothly as the "Dauntless." The two men sat silently with the control board between them.

Fiske spoke finally. "You know, Oley," he said. "I thought it was a calamity when Bordoni broke his recordings."

Pedersen looked at him soberly. "You might still be right," he said. "We're going to win this war now. We're going to win it completely. They can't stop us now we know their weakness."

"And that's a calamity?"

"Possibly. After all—what are we going to do when we win? What sort of conquerors will we be? How will we treat them and the races they have conquered? We have no precedents. We've bypassed other intelligent races in our sphere. We've left them alone because we didn't know how to handle them, and we knew we didn't know. But we can't leave the Eglani alone. They're going to be our responsibility—and we've never learned to rule."

Fiske stared, shrugged, and grinned. "Could be that the Eglani will win after all—even though we defeat them in battle. They have the administrative experience."

Pedersen chuckled without humor. "You see what I mean? It still may be a calamity."...