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Captive of the Centaurianess
Lord of a Thousand Sun
Out of the Iron Womb
Sargasso of Lost Starships
Swordsman of Lost Terra
The Virgin of Valkarion
Tiger by the Tail
Witch of the Demon Seas
Table of Contents
The hero is the child of his times, in that his milieu furnishes him with motives and means, and yet the hero seizes the time and shapes it as he will. And he remains an enigma to his contemporaries and to the future.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the strange story of the three whose discoveries and achievements determined the whole course of history. The driving idealism and bold military genius of Dyann Korlas; the mighty wisdom, profound and benign, of Urushkidan; above all, perhaps, the transcendent clarity of mind and inspired leadership of Ballantyne—these molded our century and all centuries to come, and yet we will never understand them, they are too far beyond us and their essential selves must be forever a mystery.
—Vallabbhai Rasmussen, History of the Twenty-third Century, v. 1
Table of Contents
The tender loomed above the crowd of passengers and leave-takers, a great shining bullet caught in floodlights against the dark, and Ray Ballantyne quickened his steps. By Heaven, he'd made it! The flight from San Francisco to Quito, the nail-biting dawdle as he waited for the airbus, then the flight out to Ecuador Spaceport, the last walk through the vast echoing hollowness of the terminal, out onto the field—and there it was, there the little darling lay, waiting to carry him from Earth up to the Jovian Queen and safety.
He kissed his fingers at the tender and shoved rudely through the swarm of people and Martians. He'd already missed the first trip up to the liner, and the thought of waiting for the third was beyond endurance.
As the heavy hand fell on his arm, Ballantyne whirled, his heart slamming against his teeth and his spine dropping out. The thick-set man compared his thin sharp features with the photograph in the other paw, nodded, and said, "All right, Ballantyne, come along."
"Se llama Garcia!" gibbered the engineer. "No hablo Inglés."
"I said come along," said the detective wearily. "I thought you'd try to leave Earth. This way."
Ballantyne's free hand reached up and crammed the fellow's hat down over his eyes. Wrenching loose, he turned and ran for the gangway, upsetting a corpulent Latin woman en route and pursued by a volley of imprecations. He shoved aside the passenger before him and ran into the solid wall of an impassive Jovian ship's officer.
The Jovian, a tall muscular blond in a dazzling crispness of white uniform, looked at him with the thinly veiled contempt of a proper Confed for the lesser breeds of humanity. "Ticket and passport, please," he said stonily.
Ballantyne shoved them at him, glancing shakily back to the detective who had become entangled with the indignant woman and was being slapped with a handbag and volubly cursed. With maddening deliberation the Jovian scanned the engineer's papers, compared them with a list in his hand, and waved him on.
The detective caromed against the same immovable barrier. "Let me by!" he gasped.
"Your ticket and passport, please," said the Jovian.
"That man is under arrest. Let me by."
"Your ticket and passport, please."
"I tell you I'm an officer of the law and I have a warrant for that man. Let me by."
"Proper authorization may be obtained at the main office," said the Jovian coldly.
The detective tried to rush, encountered a bit of expert judo, and tumbled back into the crowd. Every able-bodied Jovian was a well-trained military reservist.
"Proper authorization may be obtained at the main office," repeated the immovable barrier. To the next man, "Your ticket and passport, please."
Ray Ballantyne dashed the sweat off his brow and permitted himself a nasty chuckle. By the time the hapless detective had gone through all that red tape, the tender would be well on its way.
Before one of his country's secret police the Jovian would have quailed and said nothing. But this was Earth, and the Confeds loved to bait Terrestrials, and there was no better way than by demanding the endless papers which their file-clerk mentalities had devised.
The engineer went on into the tender, found a seat, and strapped himself in. He was clear. Before Heaven, he was away!
Even the long Vanbrugh arm did not reach to Jupiter. Ballantyne's alleged crimes weren't enough for the Earth government to ask his extradition. He could stay on Ganymede till the whole business had blown over, and then—well—
He sighed, relaxing—a medium-sized young man, slender and wiry, with close-cropped yellow hair and features a little too sharp to be handsome. His thin deft fingers rearranged his overly colorful tie and straightened his sports jacket. Always wanted to see the Jovian System, anyway, he rationalized.
The tender's airlock sighed shut and a stewardess went down the aisle handing out anti-acceleration pills. She had the full-bodied, pure-blooded good looks of the ideal Jovian together with their faintly repellent air of hard, purposeful efficiency. The rockets began to throb, warming up, and a siren hooted.
Ballantyne turned to the man beside him, obsessed with the idiotic desire for conversation found in all recent escapees from the law or the dentist. "Going home, I see," he remarked.
The man was a tall specimen in the gray Jovian army uniform, with colonel's planets on his shoulders and a chestful of ribbons and medals—about forty, closely shaven head, iron jaw, ramrod spine. He fixed the Earthling with a chill pale eye and said, "And you, I see, are leaving home. Two scintillating deductions."
"Ummm—uh—well." Ballantyne looked away, his ears ablaze. The Jovian clutched his heavy portfolio tighter to his side.
The tender shook itself, howled, and jumped into the sky. Ballantyne leaned back in the cushioned seat, staring out the port at the fire-starred unfolding of space. The Jovian colonel sat rigid as before, not deigning to yield to the pressure.
They came up to the Jovian Queen, where the great liner held her orbit about Earth, and Ballantyne glimpsed her long metal shape, blinding in the raw sunlight, as the tender swung in for contact. When the airlocks joined there was a steady one-gravity as the spaceship rotated on her axis. Whatever you could say against the Jovians—and that was quite a bit—they did maintain the best transport in the Solar System. Earth's heavy passenger and freight haulers were in tight financial straits competing with the state-subsidized lines of Jupiter.
An expressionless uniformed steward took charge of the passengers as they entered the ship, herding them to their respective destinations. Ballantyne lugged his valise toward third-class section. He'd have to share his cabin with two others—how had the mighty fallen! Thinking over the decline and fall of the Ballantyne pocketbook, he sighed, and the suitcase seemed to drag at him. He'd hit Ganymede pretty broke, unless....
He opened his assigned door.
Ballantyne dropped his suitcase and his jaw. Within the narrow cabin a Martian was struggling in the clutch of a six-foot armored woman.
"Put—me—down!" he spluttered. He coiled his limbs snakelike around the woman's brawny arms, and a Martian's four thick, rubbery walking-tentacles have formidable strength. She didn't seem to notice. She laughed and shook him a bit.
"I—beg your pardon—" gasped Ballantyne, backing away.
"You are forgiven," said the woman. Her voice was a husky contralto, burdened with a rippling, slurring accent he couldn't place. She shot out one Martian-encumbered arm, grabbed him by the coat, and hauled him inside. "You be the yudge, my friend. Is it not yustice that I have the lower berth?"
"It is noting of te sort!" screamed the Martian, fixing Ballantyne with round, bulging, and indignant yellow eyes. "My position, my eminence, clearly entitle me to ebery consideration, and ten tis hulking monster—"
The Earthling let his gaze travel up and down the woman's smooth-muscled form and said in an awed whisper, "I think you'd better accept the lady's generous offer. But—uh—I seem to have the wrong cabin—"
"Are you Ray Ballantyne of Earth?" asked the woman.
He pleaded guilty.
"Then you belon vith us. I have looked at the passenyer lists. You may have the cot."
"Th-thanks," shivered Ballantyne, sitting down on it.
The Martian seemed to give the fight up as a bad job and allowed himself to be placed on the upper bunk. "To tink of it," he squeaked. "Tat I, te great Urushkidan of Ummunashektaru, should be man-handled by a sabage who does not know a logaritm from an exponent!"
Urushkidan. Ballantyne knew the name of the Martian mathematician, the latter-day Gauss or Einstein, and stared as if this were the first Martian he had seen in his life. Urushkidan looked like any other of his race, at least to the inexperienced eye. A great gray-skinned cupola of a body balanced four feet high on the walking-tentacles, with the two slim, three-fingered arm-tentacles writhing from either side of a wide lipless mouth set beneath that torse. Big unwinking eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles, flat nose, elephantine ears—"Not the Urushkidan?" he gasped.
"Tere is only one Urushkidan," said the Martian.
* * * * *
The amazon sat down on her own bunk and laughed, a Homeric shout of laughter ringing between the metal walls and shivering the furniture. "Velcome, little Earthman," she cried. "You are cute, I think I vill like you. I am Dyann Korlas of Kathantuma." She grabbed his hand in a bone-cracking grip.
"One of the Centaurians," said Ballantyne feebly.
"Yes, so you call us." She opened her trunk and began unpacking. Ballantyne watched her with appreciation and some curiosity. He'd only seen the Alpha Centaurian visitors on television before now.
She looked human enough externally, aside from a somewhat different convolution of the ears. Internally there were plenty of peculiarities, among them a skeletal and tissue structure considerably harder and denser than that of Homo Solis. Alpha Centauri III—or Varann, as its more advanced nation had decided to call it after learning from the terrestrial explorers that it was a planet—was Earth-like enough in a cool and bracing way, but it had half again the surface gravity.
Sexual differentiation also varied a bit from the Solar norm. The Centaurian men were somewhat smaller and weaker than the women. They stayed at home and did the housework while their wives conducted the business. In the warlike culture of Kathantuma and its neighbor states that meant going out, cutting the other army into hamburger, and stealing everything which wasn't bolted down.
This—Dyann Korlas—was something to write home about as far as looks went. Her size and the broadsword at her waist were intimidating, but her build was magnificent in a statuesque, tiger-lithe way. She looked young, her skin smooth, and faintly golden, a heavy mass of shining bronze hair coiled about the haughtily lifted head. Her face was close to the ideal of an ancient Hellenic sculptor, clean straight lines, firm jaw, brilliant gray eyes under heavy brows. She wore a light cuirass over her tunic, sandals, a bat-winged helmet on her head.
"It—ah—it's strange they'd put you in the same cabin with me," said Ballantyne hesitantly.
"Oh, you are safe enough," she grinned.
He flushed, reflecting that the ladies from Centauri were in little danger from any Solar man. Very likely it was the other way around. Then he recalled that their native titles translated into things like warrior, district-ruler, chief, and so on. With their arrogant indifference to mere exploration and ethnology, the Jovians had probably assumed that Dyann Korlas was male. Well, he wasn't going to enlighten them.
He looked up to Urushkidan, who was morosely stuffing a big-bowled pipe. "Ah, I know of your work, of course," he said hesitantly. "I am—was—a nuclear engineer, so maybe I even have some appreciation of what it's about."
The Martian preened. "Doubtless you have grasped it bery well," he said generously. "As well as any Eartman could, which is, of course, saying bery little."
"But, if I may ask, sir, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, I have an inbitation from te Jobian Academy of Science to lecture. Tey are commendably interested and seem to realise my fundamental importance. I will be glad to get off Eart. Te air pressure, te gravity, pfui!"
"But a man, uh, Martian of your distinction—traveling third class—"
"Oh, they sent me a first-class ticket, of course. But I turned it in, bought a tird class, and banked te difference." He scowled darkly at Dyann Korlas. "Tough if I must be treated so—Well." He shrugged. A Martian shrugging is quite a sight. "It is of no matter. We of Uttu—Mars as you insist on calling it—are so incomparably far advanced in te philosophic virtues of serenity, generosity, and modesty tat I can accept wit equanimity."
"Oh," said Ballantyne. To the Centaurian, "And may I ask why you are going to Jupiter—ah—Miss Korlas?"
"You may call me Dyann," she said sweetly, "and I vill call you Ray, so? I vish only to see Yupiter, though I doubt it vill be as glamorous as Earth." Her eyes glowed. "You live in a fable. The flyin and travelin machines, auto—automatic kitchens, television, clocks an vatches, exotic dress. Aah, it vas vorth ten years travelin yust to see them."
* * * * *
Ballantyne reflected on what he knew of Alpha Centauri. Even the fantastically fast new exploratory ships took ten years to cross the interstellar gulf to its wild planets, and there had only been three expeditions so far. The third had brought back a group of curious natives who were to report to their queen what the strangers' homeland was like.
He imagined that the spacemen had had quite a time, with that score of turbulent barbarians crammed into a narrow hull though of course they'd passed almost the whole voyage in suspended animation. The visitors had spent about a year now on Earth and Luna, staring, asking endless questions, wondering what their hosts did with themselves now that the U. N. had brought the nations together and ended war. There hadn't been much trouble. Occasionally one of them would get mad and break somebody's jaw, and then there'd been the one who was invited to speak at a women's club.... He chuckled to himself.
"Are these Yovians humans like you?" asked Dyann.
"Uh-huh," he nodded. "The moons were colonized from Earth about a hundred and twenty-five years ago. They declared their independence about sixty years past, and nobody thought it was worth the trouble to fight about it. Though maybe we should have."
"Oh well, the colonists were misfits originally, remnants of the old Eurasian militarisms. They did do heroic work in settling and developing the Jovian System, but they live under a dictatorship and make no bones about despising Earth and considering themselves the destined rulers of all the planets. Last year they grabbed the Saturnian colonies on the thinnest of pretexts, and Earth was too chicken-livered to do more than give them a reproachful look. Not that the U. N. has much of a navy these days, compared to theirs."
Dyann shrugged and went on unpacking. She hung an extra sword on the wall, unshipped her armor and put it up, and slipped into a loose fur-trimmed robe. Urushkidan slithered to the floor and opened his own trunk, pulling out a score of fat books which he placed on the shelf over his bunk and expropriated the little table for his papers, pencils, and humidor.
"You know—ah—Dr. Urushkidan—" said Ballantyne uneasily, "I wish you weren't going to Jupiter."
"And why not?" asked the Martian belligerently.
"Well, doesn't your reformulation of general relativity indicate a way to build a ship which can go faster than light?"
"Among oter tings, yes." Urushkidan blew a malodorous cloud of smoke.
"Well, I don't think the Jovians are interested in science for its own sake. I think they want to get you and your knowledge so they can build such ships themselves which would be the last thing they need to take over the Solar System."
"A Martian," said Urushkidan condescendingly, "is not concerned wit te squabblings of te lower animals. Noting personal, of course."
Dyann pulled an idol from her trunk and put it on her shelf. It was a small wooden image, gaudily painted and fiercely tusked, each of its six arms holding some weapon. One, Ballantyne noticed, was a carved Terrestrial tommy-gun. "Qviet, please," she said, raising one arm. "I am about to pray to Ormun the Terrible."
"Barbarian," guffawed Urushkidan.
Dyann took a pillow and stuffed it in his mouth. "Qviet, please, I said." She smiled gently and prostrated herself before the god.
After a while she got up. Urushkidan was still speechless with rage. She turned to Ballantyne and asked, "Do the ships here carry live animals? I vould like to make a small sacrifice too."
Table of Contents
The bulletin board said that in the present orbital positions of the planets, the Jovian Queen would make her voyage at one Earth-gravity acceleration in six days, forty-three minutes, and twelve seconds, plus or minus ten seconds. That might be pure braggadocio, though Ballantyne wouldn't have been surprised to learn that it was sober truth. He hoped the time was overestimated. His cabin mates were a little wearing on the nerves. Urushkidan filling the room with smoke, sitting up till all hours covering paper with mathematical symbols and screaming at any interruption. Dyann was nice-looking but rather overwhelming. In some ways she was reminiscent of Catherine Vanbrugh. The Engineer shuddered.
He slouched moodily into the bar and ordered a martini he could ill afford. The place was quiet, discreetly lit, not very full. His eyes fell on the stiff-laced Jovian colonel, still clutching his portfolio like grim death, but talking with unusual animation to a stunning Terrestrial redhead. It was clear that ideas about the purity of the Jovian stock—"hardened in the fire and ice of outer space, tempered and beaten into the new and dominant mankind"—had been temporarily shelved.
If I had some money, thought Ballantyne gloomily, I could detach her from him and enjoy this trip.
The bartender informed him, with some awe, that the man was Colonel Ivan Hosea Domenico Roshevsky-Feldkamp, late military attaché of Jupiter's Terrestrial embassy and an officer who had served with distinction in suppressing the Ionian revolt and in asserting Jupiter's rightful claims to Saturn. Ray was more interested in the girl's name and antecedents. Just as he'd thought, an heiress on a pleasure trip. Expensive.
A couple of genial Earthmen moved up and began talking to him. Before long they suggested a friendly game of poker.
Oh-ho! thought Ray, who knew that sort. "Sure," he said.
They played most of the time for a couple of days. Luck went back and forth but in general Ray won, and toward the end he was a couple of thousand U. N. credits to the good. He let his eyes glitter with febrile cupidity, and the sharks—there were three of them all told—almost licked their lips.
"Excuse me a minute," said Ray, pocketing his winnings. "I'll be back, and then we'll play for real stakes."
"You bet," said the sharks. They sat back, lit anticipatory cigars, and waited.
Ray found the redhead remarkably easy to pry from the colonel.
The girl thought it would be just too much fun to go slumming and have the captain's dinner with him in the third-class saloon. He led her down the thrumming corridor, thinking wistfully that before he knew it he'd be in Ganymede City and as broke as he'd been to start with.
Urushkidan crawled slowly by, waving an idle tentacle at him. The Martian walking system was awkward under Earth gravity and, their table manners being worse than atrocious, they ate in a separate section. It was Dyann who really started the trouble. She strode up behind Ray and clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Vere have you been?" she asked reproachfully. "You have not been in our cabin for two days and nights now."
The redhead blushed.
"Oh hullo, Dyann," said Ray, annoyed. "I'll see you later."
"Of course you vill." She smiled. "Ah, you dashin' glamorous Earthmen, you make me feel so small and veak." She topped him by a good two inches.
They came into the doorway of the saloon and three familiar figures barred Ray's passage.
"What the hell became of you, Ballantyne?" demanded one. His geniality was quite gone. "You was going to play some more with us."
"I forgot," said Ray huskily. The three men looked bigger than they had, somehow.
"It's not sporting to quit when you're so far ahead," said another.
"Yeah," said a third. "You ought at least to give us our money back."
"I haven't got it," said Ray.
"Look, pal, things happen to people that ain't good sports. They ain't very pop-u-lar, and things happen to them. Where's that money?"
They crowded in, hemming him against the wall. Beyond them, he could see Colonel Roshevsky-Feldkamp staring coldly at the tableau. Ray wondered if he hadn't put the players up to this. They wouldn't have dared start trouble without some kind of sub rosa official hint.
* * * * *
"Come on back to our cabin and we'll talk this over, pal."
The redhead squeaked and shrank aside. A meaty hand closed on Ray's arm and dragged him half off his feet. Dyann bristled, one hand clapped to her sword. "Are these men annoyin' you, Ray?" she asked.
"No, we just want a quiet little private talk with our friend," said one of them. "Just come along easy, Ballantyne."
"Dyann, I think they are annoying me," said the engineer, the words rattling in a suddenly dry and tightened throat.
"Oh, vell, in that case—" She smiled, reached out, and grabbed a collar.
There was a minor explosion. The man catapulted into the air, hit the ceiling, caromed off a wall, and bounced on the floor. Sheer reflex sent knives flying into the hands of the other two.
"Ormun is good!" shouted Dyann joyously. She gave the nearest gambler a fistful of knuckles, tossed him into the air, clutched his ankles as he came down, and whirled him against the wall.
The third was stabbing at her back. Blindly, Ray grabbed his arm and pulled him away. He snarled and lunged at the engineer, who tumbled backward clutching after the nearest weapon. It happened to be Colonel Roshevsky-Feldkamp's massive briefcase. He grabbed it free and brought it down on the gambler's head. It hit with a dull thwack and the fellow lurched. Ray hit him again. The briefcase burst open and papers snowed through the air. Then Dyann got the enemy from behind and proceeded to tie him in knots.
The redhead had already departed, screaming. Ray sank to one shaky knee and looked up into the colonel's livid face.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir," he gasped. "Here, let me help—"
He began stuffing papers back into the briefcase. A polished boot hit him where it would do the most good and he skidded through the disorderly mass. "You unutterable fool!" raged the voice above him.
"You vould kick my friend, huh?" asked Dyann indignantly.
A revolver clanked from the colonel's belt. "That will do," he snapped. "Consider yourself under arrest."
Dyann's broad smooth shoulders sagged a little. "I am so sorry," she said meekly. "Let me help yust a litle." She stooped and picked up one of the unconscious men.
"March!" rapped the colonel.
"Yes, sir," whispered Dyann abjectly. Then, being almost next to him, she rammed her burden into his belly. He sat down with a thunderous oof and Dyann kicked him behind the ear.
"That vas fun," she grinned, picking up the revolver and sticking it into her belt. "Vat shall ve do now?"
* * * * *
"You," said Urushkidan acidly, "are a typical human."
Ray looked despairingly out of the brig at him. "What else could I do?" he asked wildly. "I couldn't fight a shipful of Jovians. It was all I could do to talk Dyann into surrendering."
"I mean in fighting in te first place," said Urushkidan. "I hear it started over a female. Why don't you lower animals habe a regular rutting season as we do on Uttu? Ten you could spend time tinking of someting else too, someting constructive."
"Well—" Ray couldn't suppress a wry smile, "those are constructive thoughts, of a sort. But what happened to Dyann?"
"Oh, tey questioned her, found she couldn't read, and let her go. But tey won't let her see you."
"I suppose Earth would raise more of a stink over her being arrested than it's worth to the Jovians. But what's her literacy got to do with it?"
"Te colonel's papers, you idiot. Tey are bery secret. Doubtless tey are information about Eart's defenses, obtained by his spies and to be brought home by him in person."
"But I didn't read them either!"
"You saw tem. Tey are implanted in your subconscious memories and a hypnotreatment could extract tem. An illiterate like Dyann lacks te word-gestalts, she would not remember eben subconsciously, but you—Well, tat is luck. Maybe Eart can sabe you."
"Oh, no!" Ray clutched his head. "They won't bother. They don't give a damn. I'm wanted back there, and old Vanbrugh will be only too pleased to see me get the works."
"Banbrugh—te Nort American Councillor?"
"Uh-huh." Ray leaned gloomily against the door. "I was just a plain ordinary engineer till Uncle Hosmer left me a million credits. Damn him, I hope he fries in hell."
"A man left you money and you don't like it?" Urushkidan's eyes bugged so they seemed in some danger of falling out. "Shalmuannusar, what did you do wit it?"
"I spent it. I spent damn near every millo in a year."
"Oh, wine, women, song—the usual."
Urushkidan clapped his tentacles to his eyes and groaned. "A million credits!"
"It got me into high society," went on Ray. "I made out as if I had more than I did. I met Catherine Vanbrugh—that's the Councillor's daughter—and she got ideas that I might make a good fifth husband, or would it be the sixth? Well, she wasn't a bad-looking wench, and I—uh—well—about the time my money gave out and I went into debt, she was really after me. It was somewhat urgent. I skipped, of course. Old Vanbrugh got the cops after me. I barely escaped. He's got enough influence to—well, it boils down to the fact that the Jovians can do anything to me their little hearts desire."
He strained against the bars. "Can't you do anything, sir? Your fame is so illustrious. Can't you slip the word to somebody?"
The Martian puffed out his chest above his eyes and simpered. Then he said with mild regret, "No, I cannot entangle myself in te empirical. My domain is te beauty and purity of matematics alone. I adbise you to accept your fate wit philosophy. Perhaps I can lend you Ekbannutil's Treatise on te Unimportance of Temporal Sorrows. It has many consoling toughts."
He waved affably and waddled off. Ray sank to the bunk.
Presently a squad of soldiers arrived to escort him to the tender which would take him down to Ganymede. Colonel Roshevsky-Feldkamp was there, as stiff as ever, though the bandage behind his ear set his cap somewhat askew.
"Where am I going?" asked Ray.
"To Camp Muellenhoff, outside the city," said the Jovian with a hard satisfaction. "It is where we keep spies until we get ready to question and shoot them."