“They seemed as shocked as we, my lord. They were unarmed and made no attempt to resist us. Their language was unknown. At present they are under psychostudy, which I imagine will include a course in Solar, and I’ve no access to them. But the records division tells us, from the documents aboard, that the language is—” T’u Hayem searched his memory. “Old American. The documents are being translated, but I haven’t been told of any findings made.”
Old American! thought Brannoch. How old is that ship, anyway? Aloud: “What other material do you have?”
“Stats of all the documents, pictures and whatever else was found aboard, my lord. It... it wasn’t easy to get them.”
Brannoch grunted indifferently. “Is that all?”
T’u Hayem’s mouth fell open. “All, my lord? What else could I do?”
“Much,” said Brannoch curtly. “Among other things, I want a complete report on the findings of the interrogators, preferably a direct transcript. Also the exact disposition made of this case, daily bulletins of progress on the alien hunt... yes, much.”
“My lord, I haven’t the authority to—”
Brannoch gave him a name and address. “Go to this fellow and explain the problem—at once. He’ll tell you whom to get in touch with at the field and how to apply the right pressures.”
“My lord”—T’u Hayem wrung his hands—“I thought perhaps, my lord... you know m-my wife—”
“I’ll pay you the flat rate for this stuff, applied against your debts,” said Brannoch. “If it turns out to be of some value, I’ll consider a bonus. You may go.”
Silently, t’u Hayem bowed and backed out.
Brannoch sat motionless for a while after he was gone, and then ran through the series of stat-pictures. Good clear ones, page after page of writing in a language that was very strange to him. Have to get this translated, he thought, and the file cabinet in his brain gave the name of a scholar who would do it and keep a closed mouth.
He lounged a bit longer, then rose and went to the north wall of the room. It showed a moving stereo-pattern, very conventional; but behind it was a tank of hydrogen, methane, and ammonia at a thousand atmospheres pressure and minus one hundred degrees temperature, and there was visual and aural apparatus.
“Hello, you Thrymkas,” he said genially. “Were you watching?”
“I was,” said the mechanical voice. Whether it was Thrymka-1, -2, -3, or -4 which spoke, Brannoch didn’t know, nor did it matter. “We are all in linkage now.”
“What do you think?”
“Apparently this alien has telekinetic powers,” said the monsters unemotionally. “We assume these to be simply over electronic flows, because it is noted that everything he controlled or disabled involved electronic tubes. Only a small amount of telekinetic energy would be needed to direct the currents in vacuum as he wished and thus to take over the whole device.
“With high probability, this means that he is telepathic to some degree: sensitive to electrical and other neural pulses and capable of inducing such currents in the nervous systems of others. However, he could hardly have read the minds of his guards. Thus his action was probably just to remain free until he could evaluate his situation; but what he will then do is unpredictable until more is known of his psychology.”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought, too,” said Brannoch. “How about the ship—any ideas?”
“Verification must await translation of those documents, but it seems probable that the ship is not from some lost colony but from Earth herself—the remote past. In the course of wanderings, it chanced on the planet of this alien and took him along. The distance of said planet depends on the age of the ship, but since that seems to date from about five thousand years ago, the planet cannot be more than twenty-five hundred light-years removed.”
“Far enough,” said Brannoch. “The known universe only reaches a couple of hundred.”
He took a turn about the room, hands clasped behind his back. “I doubt that the humans matter,” he said, “Especially if they really did come from Earth; then they’re only of historical interest. But this alien, now—that electron-control effect is a new phenomenon. Just imagine what a weapon!” His eyes blazed. “Put the enemy guns out of action, even turn them on their owners—disable the Technon itself- Father!”
“The same thought has doubtless occurred to the Solar authorities,” said the Thrymans.
“Uh-huh. Which is why they’re pressing the hunt so hard.
If they don’t catch him, these human friends of his may know how to do it. Even if they do make the capture, he’s still likely to be influenced by his crewmates. Which makes the fellow of more importance than I’d realized—” Brannoch prowled the floor, turning the fact over in his mind.
All at once, he felt very alone. He had his aides here, his bodyguard, his agents, his spy ring, but they were few among the hostile billions of Sol. It would take almost four and a half years to get a message home... as long for the fleet to come here—
Sharp within him rose the image of his home. The steep, windy mountains of Thor, whistling stormy skies, heath and forest and broad fair plains, gray seas rolling under the tidal drag of three moons, the dear hard pull of the planet’s mass; the hall of his ancestors, stone and timber rearing heavily to smoky rafters and ancient battle flags, his horses and hounds and the long halloo of hunting; the proud quarrelsome nobles, the solid, slow-spoken yeomen; great hush of winter snowfall and the first green flames of spring—the love and longing for his planet was an ache within his breast.
But he was a ruler, and the road of kings is hard. Also, and here he grinned, it would be fun to sack Earth, come the day.
His mission had suddenly narrowed. He had to get this alien for Centauri, so the scientists back home could study the power and duplicate it in a military unit. Failing that, he had to prevent Sol from doing the same—by killing the creature if necessary. He dismissed the idea of joining the chase with his own agents: too much of a giveaway, too small a chance of success. No, it would be better to work through those human prisoners.
But what hold could he get on men whose world was five thousand years in its grave?
Returning to the scanner, he went back through its spool. Some of the frames showed pictures and other objects which must be of a personal nature. There was one photograph of a woman which was quite excellent.
An idea occurred to him. He walked back onto the balcony, picked up his wineglass, and toasted the morning with a small laugh. Yes, it was a fine day.
Langley sat up with a gasp and looked around him. He was alone.
For a moment, then, he sat very still, allowing memory and thought to enter him in a trickle. The whole pattern was too shatteringly big to be grasped at once.
Earth, altered almost beyond recognition: no more polar caps, the seas encroaching miles on every shore, unknown cities, unknown language, unknown men—there was only one answer, but he thrust it from him in a near panic.
There had been the landing, Saris Hronna’s stunningly swift escape (why?), and then he and his companions had been separated. There were men in blue who spoke to him in a room full of enigmatic machines that whirred and clicked and blinked. One of those had been switched on and darkness had followed. Beyond that, there was only a dreamlike confusion of half-recalled voices. And now he was awake again, and naked, and alone.
Slowly, he looked at the cell. It was small, bare save for the couch and washstand which seemed to grow out of the green-tinted, soft and rubbery floor. There was a little ventilator grille in the wall, but no door that he could see.
He felt himself shaking, and fought for control. He wanted to weep, but there was a dry hollowness in him.
Peggy, he thought. They could at least have left me your picture. It’s all I’ll ever have, now.