Several years ago author Rayer had a rather
unique novel published entitled “Tomorrow
Sometimes Comes,”, dealing with the 'birth' of the Magnus Mensis,
a gigantic analytical computing machine which
ultimately rules the human race. Here is an
offshoot story from the same theme but dated
sometime after the events in the original story.
After fifty years of space travel and expansion, mankind had
learnt to throw responsibility for the more difficult decisions of
exploration and colonisation upon the Mens Magna. Its resolute
judgment, based as it was upon its possession of all human
knowledge, had brought peace and prosperity to the planets
under Man's dominion.
Martin watched the truck stop. A bit taller than most, with a hard, tanned expression, he stood with fingers looped round his army belt and puzzlement in his eyes. His brows inched towards each other and he drew in his cheeks, frowning.
The truck driver got out and went to the back of the vehicle. There, the canvas flaps opened, and a lean man of moderate height sprang down lightly, to stand with a rifle in his hands as he jerked out a command. Two Errians lowered themselves from the back of the truck. Average specimens, lean, human like and hardy, they were about five feet tall, and their round eyes were resentful.
More trouble, Martin thought, and walked from the huts towards the truck. There had been no end to trouble since they had landed on Erris twelve months before. Except for that it would have been a good planet, though a trifle smaller than Earth, three-quarters sea, and a bit infertile.
Lieutenant Bowes was urging the pair towards the huts, where one building served as prison. He halted, the rifle ready at waist level.
“ Another pair for jail, I think, sir,” he said.
Martin read an undertone of helplessness in his voice. The two Errians stood erect, their round eyes bright with intelligence. They had quick minds, Martin knew, and were lean, wiry specimens well adapted to their rather hard life on Erris. Judging from their hand woven garments, they were husband-men who wrestled a scanty life from the stony soil.
Lieutenant Bowes glared at them accusingly. “ They were stealing rations out of the truck, sir !” he stated.
Martin had expected it. Petty and not so petty thieving had been the bane of his life ever since the Elberfeld had touched down on Erris.
One Errian shook his head, a gesture learned from men. “ We did not steal.”
“ No,” the other said.
Bowes made an explosive sound. “ I saw them myself, sir !”
The same story, Martin thought. Bowes was clipped and precise, and did not make errors. But the two Errians had a disconcertingly direct gaze. The ease with which they had picked up a new language showed their intelligence, and there was no clear reason why they should lie, if caught in the very act.
Martin decided he would ignore the denial. “ Why did you take things from our truck ?”
Both heads shook now. “ We did not.”
“ No, we touched nothing.”
Bowes swore softly. “ Is someone suggesting I dreamt it ?”
Martin saw that he would get nowhere. This had happened before, frequently. It was now almost a ritual : accusation by reliable men ; absolute denial by the Errians.
“ Put them in the prison hut until I’ve decided what shall be done !” he snapped.
He watched them go. There was more under this than petty pilfering — much more. If anything was stolen, it was usually of small value. Thefts and lies, when they arose, were only symptomatic of a much more serious defect. The lack of a working relationship between humans and Errians. And in twelve months no real progress had been made. The Errians had learnt a simple form of the newcomers’ language ; men had noted how Errians worked, fished, hunted and lived. But nothing had come of it all. The Errians were incomprehensible as ever, living a dozen or so together in scattered groups, and apparently with no regard whatever for the truth. It was no good, Martin thought.
Dusk was gathering round the buildings as Martin left them. Erris was not an old planet, and judging by the lack of deep tilth and vegetative deposit, it had enjoyed no epoch like that forming the coal strata of Earth. Circling a small sun in the Praesepe Cluster, it had probably cooled fairly rapidly, Martin thought. Evidence suggested it would be relatively easy to make significantly large areas fertile. If men were allowed to remain . . .
The headquarters set up at Firbey Hills were quite elaborate, but some of the equipment in the Elberfeld was of a kind which could only be moved into permanent buildings, if at all. As he drove, Martin wondered whether the plan he had formulated was wise. It had brewed for some time, and the sight of the last two Errians, brought in by Bowes, had made him realise the situation was both serious and likely to remain permanent.
The ship rested vertically on rocky flats only a few miles from Firbey Hills. Martin halted the jeep, got out, and walked to her. A huge vessel, the Elberfeld had made the trip from Earth to the Praesepe Cluster in five months. He signalled for the personnel lift, and waited for it to descend.
As he rode up the gleaming side of the ship, Martin had an extending view in the evening light. Far to his left water gleamed, and small sails stood like raised wings — fishing craft. Nearer, a small band of Errians moved towards their unseen camp. They changed camp often, and seldom gathered in large numbers. Birds were calling near the water, very remote. Martin strained his eyes to discern the cause of their unease, or to catch sight of the other important species of the planet, who averaged eighteen inches taller than the Errians, and had been labelled Erris Major. But none were to be seen. Already the sky was growing dark, except for the golden glow where the planet’s small sun had set. Other suns of the Praesepe Cluster were beginning to sparkle in the heavens towards the zenith.
Martin sighed and entered the ship, nodding briefly to the officer left on watch. It was up to the Mens Magna now, he thought.
Across light years of space a sub-radio link coupled the Elberfeld with the Mens Magna information reception and despatch centre on Earth. The city of the Mens Magna gleamed in the fresh morning air of a mountain slope. Nowhere within a hundred miles was any industry which might contaminate the air or send vibrations through the rock strata upon which the giant building of the calculator itself was founded. Possessing the whole accumulated knowledge of mankind, the Mens Magna could deal simultaneously with hundreds of thousands of separate channels.
As Martin stepped into the interview cubicle on the Elberfeld, reference centres in the Mens Magna awoke. Automatic devices infinitesimally adjusted directive aerials high in the mountains, beaming an array on far Erris.
“ You are recognised. Major Martin Cole,” the Mens Magna said. “ Please sit down.”
Martin sat, facing the scanner that relayed his features. A sense of awe was strong upon him, as if he were in the presence of something larger than himself.
“ We still have no satisfactory relationship with the natives of this planet,” he said. “ They steal frequently — pointlessly. They lie about it even more frequently. It’s the latter that worries me. We have now experienced hundreds of individual, isolated cases — ”
The reproducer in the side of the cubicle awoke, interrupting him. “ I am aware of the cases. I have them tabulated. Thirty-six of minor thefts. Ten of serious theft. Three of injury to your men, possibly unintentional. Seventeen of entering buildings and areas not permitted — ”
Martin let the voice drone on. It was not for this that he had come to the interview cubicle in the Elberfeld. When the list was concluded, he leaned forward.
“ You are sure that we cannot remain here until a relationship showing mutual understanding exists between the natives and ourselves ?”
“ That such a relationship must exist is my intention. Logic indicates it is necessary. Subjugation by force is not a basis for lasting prosperity.”
“ But it is impossible to arrive at mutual understanding with a people who never speaks the truth !” Martin declared.
There was a moment’s pause. “ Your statement that they never speak the truth is not substantiated by my data.”
Martin snorted and his brows twitched. “ Very well, then — let’s put it that they lie so often we never know where we are ! We ask them to stay away from building sites. They say they will. Half an hour later we have to rescue a dozen up to their necks in fresh concrete !” His eyes sparkled as he remembered cases. “ They watch us put up fences, and swear with the honesty of saints they’ll leave them untouched. And by the time we’re back in our trucks they’ve pulled up half the posts ! There’s no end to it — ”
“ I am aware of these instances,” the Mens Magna said evenly. “ Your tone is one showing personal irritation. That is not a state in which you can best logically evaluate the situation. If you have new facts to put before me, please do so.”
Martin breathed deeply, consciously relaxing tensed muscles. “ I wish to have your permission to use our lie detector analyser on the Errians.”
There was a long pause. Sometimes he regretted the complete authority of the Mens Magna. But decision and rule had long become too complicated for human individuals. In addition, personal factors could cloud judgment, as the Mens Magna said.
“ The analyser is an imposition upon the integrity of the individual,” the reproducer stated at last. “ As such, it cannot be used except against criminals.”
“ And aren’t the Errians criminals ?” Martin snapped. “ Which is preferable : that we find what’s at the bottom of it all, or leave Erris ?”
“ In view of the difficult situation, I have already extended your adjustment period by one year,” the Mens Magna pointed out. “ That was unprecedented.”
“ So was our lack of progress,” Martin put in. “ We shall make no advance unless this restriction is removed.”
“ That is your considered opinion ?”
“ It is,” Martin said.
Equipment on the mountain flashed through polarised magnetic indices. Points were evaluated, classified, stored, related to new information. Computer cells balanced the lack of progress on Erris with Earth’s need for just such planets.
“ You are convinced no further progress can be made without the lie analyser ?” the Mens Magna asked.
“ I am sure of it.”
Magnetic impulses cascaded. Memory traces lingered on fluorescent screens, were integrated. Reports indicated the Errians were untruthful. Their untruth could conceal unlawful acts. They could thus be criminals.
“ You may use the lie detector analyser,” the Mens Magna said.
Martin rose, relieved. To use it without position would have ended his career.
“ Immediately I’ve anything to go on, you’ll have the data too !” he said.
It did not take long to get things moving. Bowes was ordered to bring the two Errians to the ship. The detector equipment engineer was told to be ready. Then Martin went in search of someone who should be present when the Errians disclosed why they had lied.
Jim Ockley was always a ready listener. His light blue eyes settled on Martin, and did not stray until Martin had finished. Then he scratched his sandy head.
“ You’re afraid the Mens Magna will instruct us all to leave the planet,” he said.
Martin nodded. “ It has always allowed this period of twelve months for evidence of a working relationship with the natives to be produced. We’ve got extra grace, but failed to produce that evidence. The method’s worked well enough on other planets — if you can’t get things reasonably straight in a year, you never will. That’s how the Mens Magna reasons.”
“ You think all this lying hides something else ?”
“ I do. What’s more, the Errians would eventually have to take their place in our society, if not as equals, at least according to their ability. How is that possible when we can never believe a word they say ?”
“ True enough,” Jim Ockley admitted. He indicated files with a long finger. “ Anthropology as applied to non-human species is never easy. But I’ve never had a situation this hard."
"When we landed I thought it simple, and that I’d have no important loose ends after a few months.” He sighed. “ Instead, what do I find. A people we can’t trust. Scattered in groups, but probably numbering a hundred million, all told. And therefore important. Then there is the Erris Major species, outnumbered by the smaller Errians a hundred to one, but fierce enough to command respect. I’ve questioned both species until I’m blue in the face, and still don’t know why I can never trust an Errian.”
“ The lie analyser may show that,” Martin said feelingly.
They went down the corridor. The Errians had already been brought to the Elberfeld and one was ready for questioning He could almost have been a human of less than average height and build, except for his round eyes and pointed ears. He now showed every symptom of terror, and momentarily strove to free himself from the plastic bands holding arms, legs and body.
Martin took up a position just in front of him and to his right, so that he could study the expressive features.
“ You won’t be harmed,” he said.
He saw that the Errian did not believe. Instead, the round eyes fastened on Martin.
“ Let me free, and I will answer your questions truthfully,” the Errian said. “ And I will not try to escape.”
Martin sighed, indicating the test to begin. If he freed the Errian, he would lie unceasingly, and try to bolt.
The electroencephalograph dome settled over the Errian’s head. A light began to weave its pattern over his face. The injected sedative was taking hold, and the analyser officer nodded.
“ He’s under, sir.”
Martin sat on a low mushroom stool, knee to knee with the Errian. The round eyes were glazed.
“ You will tell me the truth,” Martin said.
Martin glanced at the officer, who nodded, gaze back on his screens. “ He’s under, sir, and telling the truth.”
“ Good.” Martin studied the stressed face. Perspiration was visible from brow to pointed ears. “ Why did you steal stores from the truck ?”
The glazed eyes stared back. “ I did not steal.”
Martin felt astonishment. A sworn exclamation brought his gaze up. Lieutenant Bowes was red.
“ I saw him, sir ! With my own eyes !”
Martin looked at the analyser officer, whose head moved almost imperceptibly.
“ The apparatus indicates that the Errian is speaking the truth, sir.”
His voice was oddly flat. Bowes swore, stepping forward. “ Are you suggesting I’m lying — ?”
“ No, sir.” The officer’s gaze returned to his screens. “ I am merely saying what the machine shows.”
In the background Jim Ockley moved uneasily. “ Possibly the Errian does not look upon his act as stealing. Phrase it differently. Ask him if he took anything from the truck.”
Martin repeated the question. The answer was prompt :
“ No, sir, I took nothing.”
Martin rose from the stool. “ You must have brought the wrong pair. Lieutenant Bowes.”
“ No, sir !” Bowes’s denial was emphatic. “ I saw this pair myself, caught them myself, and brought them here myself ! This is the same pair, and I saw them taking stores from the truck. I’ll stake my rank on that — ”
“ You may have to stake it,” Martin said abruptly. He flipped up a switch, and the weaving spot faded. The dome began to lift. “ Have the lie detector analyser tested !” he snapped.
The officer looked astonished. “ It’s virtually impossible for it to fail, sir. It’s self-checking — ”
Martin moved for the door. “ Test it !”
At the door he paused. “ After testing it, check the other Errian. Let me know the result.” His gaze settled on Jim Ockley. “ I wish to discuss this with you, Captain.”
They walked along the corridor side by side, and entered the personnel lift. Jim Ockley tattooed on its shining rail with his fingers.
“ This is getting you down, Martin.”
Martin leaned on the rail, watching the ground slowly come to meet them. Darkness covered the surrounding terrain beyond the reach of the floodlights.
“ Another month of this, and I’ll be asking to be relieved of my command, Jim,” he admitted.
The lift touched solid rock. Near the rim of the illuminated area a tall, heavily built creature had appeared. Martin felt the instinctive unease which must have been fear when defenceless ancestors met a tiger or other predator. The feel of the small arm at his belt was reassuring.
Jim Ockley followed his gaze. “ At least they don’t cause trouble,” he said.
Martin nodded. This specimen of Erris Major was indeed a fine individual, with a sleek hairy pelt under his coarse cloth garment. He was nearly seven feet, and probably twice the weight of an average man. Nor did he retreat as they walked towards him. At three or four paces, Martin halted.
The creature smiled. It was in some ways a chilling spectacle, displaying a wide, powerful mouth with fanged eye teeth.
“ You don’t usually come this near our ship,” Martin said curiously.
Eyes red as a tiger’s examined him. “ We often come — but you seldom see us.”
The words were a trifle ill-formed, as if the language were difficult. All the specimens of Erris Major so far seen spoke the Errians’ language fluently, Martin recalled. But only a few could converse with humans in the latter’s tongue.
Martin shrugged. It mattered little whether individuals of the Erris Major species came near the ship or not. But he felt a warning was necessary.
“ It is not wise to touch things you don’t understand,” he pointed out.
The fangs were revealed again. “ We shall not do that.” The creature backed, turned, and slid into the darkness.
“ Nasty specimens,” Jim Ockley said feelingly. “ But at least they tell the truth. That’s an advantage. But I’m glad they’re the minority here. I doubt if there’s a million, against the hundred million Errians.”
Martin walked to the parked jeep. “ What kind of relationship exists between the smaller Errians and Erris Major ?”
“ None, that I’ve discovered.” Ockley got in beside him. “ The Errians go their way, and Erris Major his. I’ve never heard an Errian mention his big brothers. Can’t say I’d blame anyone for keeping out of their way.”
His headlights making twin cones of light ahead, Martin admitted he felt that way himself. On Earth, tigers possibly had their uses. One admitted tigers existed. One could see them. But no one sought the companionship of them, even if they could stand on their hind legs and talk.
The rocky surface gave way to the lower slopes of the hills. Ockley’s mild features were thoughtful. He scratched his sandy head with a finger.
“ Have you ever thought that Bowes could have been lying ?”
“ It had occurred to me.” Martin slowed where the road turned among bushes. “ But I don’t think he has. There’s no reason why he should. Furthermore, it’s not the first time we’ve found the Errians don’t know what truth is.”
Jim Ockley glanced quickly at Martin, his blue eyes glinting. “ You could always run a detector test on Bowes.”
“ I could. But it would be bad for discipline.”
Back at the H.Q. buildings, Martin waited impatiently for the lie detector report. He prowled his office, his lips in a thin line, his brows twitching together. This, he thought, was a problem with no solution.
After half an hour a knock came on his door. At his terse word it opened, admitting a girl of a trifle over average height, with close set natural black curls. Martin smiled, his stern face momentarily transfigured.
“ You wanted to see me. Miss Jones ?” A common name, but uncommon nature, he thought. Alvie had a vivid spark in her brown eyes, indicating something.
“ Captain Ockley was telling me about the lie detector test, sir,” she said easily. “ I had two years in interrogation before coming here, and never knew a detector fail, or give a wrong answer.”
Martin inclined his head. A bit taller than most, he was gazing unseeingly at the curls on her brow. “ I have never heard of a detector failing,” he admitted.
“ Then why not go from there, and assume it hasn’t failed this time ?” Her usual enthusiasm was beginning to show. “ That leaves only one possibility— Lieutenant Bowes told a lie ?”
“ And all the others before him ?” Martin asked.
A quick jerk of her head showed she recognised the importance of his statement.
“ No, sir. We could forget the earlier cases, because we had no lie detector tests. We could make a fresh start, working only from what is proved — ”
Martin drew in his cheeks, but he smiled. “ You mean you would like to make a fresh start, on the supposition that Bowes lied.”
She did not look embarrassed. “ Yes. Jim suggests we’ve only got a few months. The Mens Magna won’t give another extension. We get results, or leave. I don’t need to remind you it would be the first time such a promising planet has ever been abandoned.”
“ No,” Martin agreed heavily. “ Don’t remind me of that, Alvie.”
“ Then let me work on it. The language job can rest. I’ve enough to go on there, anyway. If I can find out why the Errians lie — or, if they don’t, who does, would that help ?”
“ Help !” Martin did not try to hide his gratitude. “ It would be the most important thing anyone could do — ”. He halted, as the phone buzzed, and took it up. “ Major Cole here.”
“ It’s about the lie detector, sir. We’ve run all usual tests, and got specified reactions. The analyser is perfect. There is no reason whatever to suspect any of its findings.”
“ Thanks.” Martin put down the receiver, and his gaze rested on Alvie Jones, neat in her lieutenant’s uniform, but her eyes sparkling. “ You heard that,” he said. “ Now you know as much as I do. I’m taking Bowes along to the Elberfeld now. He won’t like it, but it’s necessary !”
Bowes’s features grew tight, but he did not object. Martin felt sorry for him. It was unpleasant to be disbelieved.
Preparations were soon made. The light began to weave upon the lieutenant’s face and the electroencephalograph murmured quietly in the background, watched by the technical officer.
“ You brought here two Errians, to be tested,” Martin said from the mushroom stool. “ Were they out of your sight from the moment you arrested them ?”
The other’s eyes were glassy. “ They were not out of my sight from the moment of their arrest, until I brought them here and you questioned them.”
“ There was no interval, however slight, when they could have changed places with other Errians ?”
“ Good.” Martin glanced at the technical officer, who nodded. They had established that the two were those Bowes had arrested. “ You saw the pair near the truck ?” Martin asked.
“ I did.”
“ You saw them steal or take goods from the truck ?” This was the point where Bowes must have lied.
There was no hesitation : “ I did.”
Martin felt a shock. “ You know that under lie detector test the pair said they had not taken anything ?”
“ Yet you say they had !”
“ I do.” Bowes’s voice was remote, disinterested.
“ And there was no opportunity whatever for the two to be replaced by others?”
“ None whatever.”
Martin felt complete frustration. He glanced at the technician, who nodded.
“ The equipment indicates that Lieutenant Bowes is speaking the truth, sir.”
Lips in a thin line, Martin swore. “ They can’t all be telling the truth — their statements are contradictory !”
The officer looked at him, not answering, and Martin sighed. The man could not elucidate this. Who could, Martin wondered. He struck up the switch.
“ There will be no more lie detector analyser tests for the present.”
“ No, sir.”
Outside the test cubicle, Martin gnawed at his lower lip, his brows lowering, his features reflecting his bewilderment. The Errians and Bowes spoke the truth, according to the analyser, and it tested out in order ! An impossible situation !
The deeper he went, the harder it got, Martin thought. He had expected the detector tests to clear up the problem but instead another had been posed. Frowning, he sought the corridor leading to the Mens Magna cubicle.
The door swung shut as he entered. Far away on Earth recognition circuits flashed through their filed information, and the even voice from the grille greeted him.
“ Please sit down. Major Cole.”
Martin sat, hands on his knees, his elbows out. “ Have you any record of an error made by a lie detector analyser ?”
There was a slight delay. “ No. The equipment is so made that a fault is virtually impossible, and would indeed call attention to itself, if present.”
Martin leaned forward, elbows flexing outwards. “ Yet such a fault could arise ?”
“ But couldn’t there be a secondary fault, perhaps, which would conceal the primary fault ?”
“No. The equipment is designed to avoid such possibilities.”
Sighing, Martin sat back. He must accept the fact that the lie detector was in order.
Light years away, on Earth, myriads of references flashed under attention, becoming co-ordinated with other data. Vast beyond the comprehension of man, the Mens Magna had recorded within itself all information ever reaching it through any of its multitude channels.
“ In view of the purpose of your previous visit, has your lie detector test proved unsatisfactory?” the Mens Magna asked.
Martin started. He occasionally looked upon the Mens Magna simply as a giant question-answering machine, forgetting how it could form questions for itself.
“ I have run three tests. All were unsatisfactory,” he said.
“ So I deduced.”
“ I have also had the detector tested.”
“ So your initial questions suggested,” the Mens Magna pointed out. “ You would not question the reliability of lie analysers unless you suspected such a fault.”
Martin nodded. The movement was picked up by the screens, compared with recorded data, and accepted as agreement.
“ The detector shows the two Errians were speaking the truth,” he said carefully. “ It also shows Lieutenant Bowes spoke the truth. Yet the Errians say they took nothing, while Bowes says they did. No substitute of one pair of Errians for another arose. And the detector equipment tested out as in order.”
Circuits buried behind electrostatic screens in the mountain side evaluated the data, rejected it, evaluated it as a possibility, and produced a deduction.
“ There must exist a factor of which you have no knowledge”
“ What factor?” Martin demanded, leaning forward. “ I have given you all the information.”
“ Then your information must be incomplete.” The Mens Magna paused, as if selecting data from remote indices. “You have produced mutually contradictory statements. Yet both are substantiated by the lie detector. The probability of a fault in the latter being undiscovered is so infinitesimally small it can be discounted. Therefore both statements, though contradictory, are true.”
“ How the devil can they be true !” Martin demanded. He stuck a hand up in front of the screen, fingers spread. “Assume I don’t know how many fingers I have. One man says five, another says ten. They can’t both be right !”
“ Obviously not,” the Mens Magna agreed.
“ Then who’s lying — the Errians, or Bowes ?”
There was a slight pause. “ The question is unanswerable. I have insufficient data.” Stored information was integrated, a possibility selected. “ If the Errians regarded taking some- thing as not theft, they would not admit they had committed theft—”
“ Of course not.” Martin could not keep the nasty tone from his voice. “ That was realised, and our questions phrased accordingly. Is there no other possibility ?”
A delay. “ Not from the information given,” the Mens Magna said at last. “ I can only point out one distinction to you, since you have not observed it.”
Martin felt renewed interest. “ Yes ?”
“ You stated that if the lie detector is in order, both the Errians and Lieutenant Bowes are speaking the truth. That is not a statement in accordance with the facts. To agree with the facts, your statement must be modified. I can summarise it as follows. First, evidence suggests the lie detector is in order. Second, the detector indicates that the Errians are speaking the truth. Third, the detector indicates that Bowes is speaking the truth. Your error is to accept an indication by the detector as a positive fact. You must adjust your statement regarding the Errians and Bowes to the following : Both the Errians and Lieutenant Bowes are speaking the truth, according to the lie detector."
Martin snorted audibly. “ But the detector is admitted to be in good order !”
“ It is.”
“ Then the difference between my original statement, and your new phrasing of it, is one of no significance !” He rose. It was not the first time the Mens Magna had in some way irritated him beyond endurance.
On Earth, circuits analysed the words and voice. “ Your tone shows irritation,” the Mens Magna said. “ Such is not wise when trying to achieve a logical analysis of a situation. From your previous actions, and other interviews, I am forced to say that you occasionally relapse into anger which serves no useful purpose — ”
Martin growled something unintelligible. This gratuitous advice was not what he sought —
“ Do not slam the door as you go out,” the Mens Magna said. “ The act would serve no useful purpose — ”
A swish and bang of the soundproof panels cut off its words. Martin stood in the corridor fuming. Both the Errians and Bowes were speaking the truth, according to the lie detector, and the detector was in order. He would have to use the Mens Magna’s choice of words, or it would not admit further discussion of the subject. But he could not see that the change helped.
Two days passed and Martin’s hard, tanned face seemed to become more lined. His lips were in a permanently thin line, and his eyes were of colder grey. He sat for hours alone, pondering, or sat in a jeep on the hills, watching the Errians. He went with Alvie and Jim on a long expedition, visiting Errian camps, noting everything because he did not know what was important, what insignificant.
The Errian camps seldom housed more than a score, and none were permanent. Most were of skin tents, blending with the bushes and hills. A few camped in caves. Among the hunters beyond the hills, rough tree houses were frequently found. There seemed nothing of special note, unless it was the great diversity of the camps, and the frequency with which their locations were changed. Hunters would comb a small area clear of game, then move on. Even the Errians who tilled with simple, crude tools moved often, to suit planting and harvest.
Of Erris Major they saw little. Sometimes a solitary individual could be spotted disappearing into the bushes. Once Martin saw a group of three, but it was the exception. Apparently they hunted singly, always on the move.
The day after Martin was standing on the hills when he saw Alvie Jones pass along a path below, driven in a jeep by one of the men. The vehicle stopped near an opening where three Errians were gathering nuts, and the man lifted out a portable recorder. Another language session, Martin thought. Their knowledge of Errian was by now fairly complete. So far as he knew both the smaller Errians and Erris Major had exactly the same tongue.
He studied other areas of the hills. From here the tall silver spire that was the Elberfeld could not be seen, but many of the roofs of the H.Q. buildings were visible. He slowly turned his binoculars full circle. The landscape was almost like that of Earth, though less wooded. And most trees were small, because of the poor depth of soil.
His gaze reached the clearing again in time to see two of the Errians grab the recorder and run. Alvie was getting something from the jeep, and the man who had driven was talking with other Errians fifty yards away.
Martin shouted. His bellow drifted down the slope, echoed, and Alvie saw what happened. The driver looked round, began to run, then Martin lost sight of him as he scrabbled down the hill.
When he reached the clearing the man was covering two Errians with a small arm. The pair were breathing heavily, and the recorder lay at their feet. Furthermore, one had a decoration of green dye at his chest, which Martin recognised.
“ We’ve had you in for stealing before,” he said harshly.
The Errian stared at him with eyes round and innocent. “ I have not stolen.”
“ Taking this away, then !” Martin snapped, pointing at the recorder. “ You don’t deny you were running off with it !”
The Errian looked at the instrument. His eyes seemed to carry no hint of recognition. He could have been examining something just seen for the first time.
“ We have not run off with it,” he said. “ I had not ever noticed it until you spoke — ”
The driver made a sound expressing contempt. Martin recognised him as Dunnett, a youngish man who had his own opinion about the worth of the lying Errians, as he called them.
“ I caught him running with it in his hand, sir,” Dunnett said.
Martin stepped forward, lifting the Errian’s hand. It was slender, five fingered, and across the inside of the palm was a red mark such as would have been caused by carrying the relatively heavy instrument.
“ There’s no doubt this was the one who took it,” Alvie Jones stated quietly.
Martin looked from her to the trembling Errian. “ He denies it !”
“ Don’t they all, sir ?” Dunnett asked. “ If you’ll let me, I think I might get the truth out of one for once !”
Martin flashed him a glance. “ How ?”
“ By shooting him if he won’t speak the truth, that’s all.”
The refusal that was springing to Martin’s lips did not come. Why not, Martin wondered. Or at least let it seem so. He nodded, saw the expression on Alvie’s face, and gripped her arm, the pressure explaining.
The Errian’s eyes had not left Dunnett and the gun. Dunnett caught the green dyed tunic, twisting it.
“ I want the truth this time. You took the recorder.”
The Errian’s head shook negatively. “ I — I did not.”
Dunnett swore. “ Confess it. We saw you. You heard what I said — tell the truth, or you don’t live — ”
The round eyes went from Dunnett’s face to the weapon, and sweat sprang into being on the Errian’s face.
“ I — I did not take it.”
The words were only a whisper. Dunnett snorted. “ I know you did. I saw you. What’s more, if you don’t admit it by I count three, you’re dead — ”
He began to count. Martin tensed, ready for the split second when he should stop Dunnett. The Errian’s eyes were terrified, his body sagging with fear.
“ Two,” Dunnett said. “ We saw you, you fool.”
The head shook weakly. Martin was sorry for the Errian, who believed he would die.
“ Three,” Dunnett stated.
He levelled the weapon, sighting it. His finger tightened visibly on the trigger.
“ I — I did not take it,” the Errian wailed, raising his hands to his eyes.
Dunnett lowered the gun, face expressing defeat. Martin saw that the safety catch had never been off.
“ It seemed worth trying,” Dunnett said, embarrassed.
They took the recorder back to the jeep, dumping it on a seat. The Errian and his companion were left standing where they had been caught.
“ So we’re just where we were before,” Alvie said as the jeep bumped into motion. “ I can understand their pilfering — most natives are attracted by the novelty and wonder of things like that. But why risk death denying something three people have seen you do ?”
There was no answer, and Martin did not attempt to give one. They skirted the hills, gaining speed as the track improved, and emerged into view of the buildings. A little group stood outside the prison hut. More Errians brought in, Martin thought, dispirited.
As they drew near he saw it was not wholly as he had expected. A fine specimen of Erris Major was being covered. Jim Ockley was questioning him, and his face lit up as Martin got out of the jeep.
“ Here’s one admits he stole !” Ockley called.
Martin felt it difficult to believe. Though this was the first time Erris Major had been brought in, he recalled.
He passed through the ring of men. They were keeping at a respectful distance from the native.
“ He pinched a big can of food while we were working,” a man in dusty overalls declared.
Martin studied their captive. “ Do you deny that ?”
Angry red eyes glared at him. “ Why should I. They saw me.
“ You know we regard it as wrong to steal.”
The fangs were bared momentarily. “ I knew.”
Martin’s brows quivered. There was a fierce independence about the creature’s eyes and features. Martin returned his gaze. “ We’ll go into this later.” He turned on a heel. “ Lock him up.”
“ We’ve still got nowhere,” Jim Ockley stated. “ All we’ve established is that the Erris Major don’t lie like the other Errians. That’s not very important. It’s with the small Errians we have to co-operate, if we’re ever to live on this planet.”
True enough, Martin admitted. The angry eyed creature had been kept captive nearly a week. During that time other Errians of the second species had been brought in, and all had denied their guilt. The situation was, as Jim said, unchanged.
“ I think I’ll have another look at our friend,” Martin said.
Dunnett was standing guard outside the prison hut, and handed over the key used to lock the door on the inside. Martin thanked him briefly.
“ I’ll go in alone and let myself out when I’ve finished. He may have more to say if I’m by myself. You’ll stay here.”
“ Yes, sir.”
Martin entered, and Dunnett drew shut the door. Their captive stood at the barred window opposite. The low ceiling emphasised his height, and his eyes shone with animal fire as he gazed at Martin. He was no more subdued than a recently caged tiger.
“ I’d like to know why you stole food,” Martin said.
“ To eat. I told you.”
Martin moved a pace forward, cheeks drawn pensively in. “ You scarcely seemed to be starving — ”
Red eyes watched him, and the pointed fangs were shown momentarily. “ Hunting has been poorer since you came. I was not hungry, but my mate and family were.”
“ I see.” Studying the other, Martin decided that a recently caged tiger might not come off best in single combat with a good specimen of Erris Major. “ What would you do if one of your kind stole food from you ?”
“ Kill him.”
As bad as that, Martin thought. The creature’s hairy pelt was visibly bristling under his garment and there was a taut look about him. His legs were slightly bent, his hands curved, and he leaned forward, his wide nostrils dilating with each breath.
“ And if you do not take food to your mate and family ?” Martin asked.
“ They will find what they can, or die.”
“ Might not one of your — friends take care of them ?”
Martin saw his jab had reached home. Lips drew back to reveal the pointed teeth.
“ If so, I will kill him, when I am free !”
The deep, throaty undertones were rumbling thunder in the hut. Abruptly Martin remembered that he had not locked the door. The key was still in his hand, unused — forgotten because his attention had been upon the prisoner.
The thought was scarcely formed when the creature leapt, swift as a tiger, past Martin in a rush, to the door. One great hand clawed it open, sending it clear with a crash. Dunnett shouted, but was thrust flat with a single movement. Martin reached the doorway in time to see the speeding figure round the comer of other buildings fifty yards away. His hand closed momentarily on Dunnett’s shoulder as Dunnett rose.
“ Let him go !”
Alvie switched off the recording machine. “ You think it wasn’t coincidence that he rushed for the door the moment you remembered you hadn’t locked it ?” she asked.
“ No. I suspect he guessed my thoughts — or read them.” Martin sat down on a high stool near her equipment. “ He never tried to escape before.”
“ There could be something in it,” Jim Ockley agreed. He indicated the neatly filed spools in cabinets on the wall. “ There’s no mention of telepathic powers ?”
The girl shook her head. “ Not a hint of it. But Erris Major has a habit of keeping out of our way, and until we had this captive I hadn’t many recordings of their speech. He was reasonably co-operative, but did not mention telepathy.”
“ Probably wouldn’t,” Ockley pointed out. “ So long as we didn’t know, he had the advantage.”
Martin felt inclined to agree. Erris Major, usually glimpsed in the distance, was still something of a mystery. The smaller Errians invariably remained mute on the subject.
Alvie turned a switch and the sonorous voice of the escaped native filled the room, speaking in the brief phrases of his own tongue.
“ The two races speak almost exactly the same language,” she said.
Martin noted her tone. “ I thought their speech was identical ?”
She smiled fleetingly in recognition of his understanding. “No. When they use our language, translations from theirs are identical. But when Erris Major speaks of the smaller Errians, he uses a different name than the Errians use for themselves. The Errians call themselves mereno. Erris Major calls them ulatan. It’s virtually the only difference between their languages.”
Martin watched her, realising she believed this significant. “ Ulatan,” he murmured. Somehow the word made him uneasy. “ You’ve got it on this recording ?”
“ It’s coming.”
The deep voice of the captive droned on. Speaking his own language, he seemed to be reaching a state of high emotion. Martin could get only occasional phrases. Then came the word ulatan, repeated several times. The tone was a mixture of mockery, triumph, and something that made Martin’s blood grow chill. Alvie turned off the equipment.
“ As you’ve guessed, Erris Major hates the Errians,” she said.
“ And he said so ?”
“ In brief, yes.”
Martin got up from the stool. No possible clue was too insignificant. “ Have you an idea of the relationship between the two races ?”
“ Each seems to keep clear of the other. A long time ago they probably lived together. Their common language indicates that. But the split is now about as complete as it could be.”
The wall phone buzzed. She answered it, looked at Martin. “ It’s for you.”
The officer at the other end sounded relieved as Martin answered. But an edge remained to his voice.
“ I’ve been up at the end of the hills, sir. Some kind of — of preparation seems to be taking place — ”
Martin echoed the word, not understanding. “Preparation?”
“ There are hundreds of Errians, sir. Perhaps thousands. Some kind of gathering. I think you should look.”
“ I’ll do that !”
Explaining briefly, Martin went out, leaving Alvie to her spools, and Jim to his continued studies of what they knew of the Errians. It would be almost an hour’s drive to the south end of the hills, with speed limited by the rough tracks.
The sun was moderately hot with midday just past. The Firbey Hills, where the discoverer of Erris had lost his life in an accident, were a low range totalling several miles. The southmost end gave a wide view of scantily bushed flats.
When the jeep surmounted the rise Martin saw that the scene had changed. He had never before seen so many Errians together. The officer had either under-estimated, or the numbers had increased since.
Martin watched them for a time through binoculars. They were in small groups, without any common focus. Perhaps some kind of celebration or feast day, he supposed.
After remaining half an hour he started back for base. There seemed no need to watch the Errian gathering. All races had their customs.
He had scarcely reached the perimeter of the scattered buildings when Alvie Jones came from her workroom, the animation of her face and the spark in her eyes showing her urgency. He stopped the jeep and opened the door, leaning out as she called. Men working on a truck nearby paused, looking up in interest. Martin swung his feet to the ground.
“ You’ve something of importance. Miss Jones ?”
“ Yes, sir. About the language difference I mentioned.”
Martin felt curious. “ Yes ?”
Her clear eyes turned momentarily to the mechanics near the truck. “ I’d like you to come in and hear it, sir.”
“ Very well.”
He followed, wondering. She closed the door, but did not cross to her equipment.
“ I thought it best they didn’t know — just yet, Martin,” she said.
The expression in her eyes made him uneasy. He drew in his cheeks.
“ Tell me.”
“ I mentioned the words which were different.” A deep shadow crossed her face. “ The small Errians call themselves mereno. The Erris Major refer to them as ulatan. It conveyed nothing to me for a long time — but now I know — ”
She paused, moistening her lips. Her face seemed pinched, and pain lay in her eyes.
“ It’s something — bad ?” Martin asked.
“ Pretty horrible. But natural. It depends how you look at it.”
He wondered what was coming. Customs remote from any known on earth were not infrequent, and some were a bit shocking, by human standards.
“ And what is — the difference between mereno and ulatan ?” he asked thinly.
“ The same as between — between — ” she seemed to seek a parallel. “ We’ve no equivalents. The nearest is with sheep. A dead sheep is mutton. The Errian word equals sheep, man, or person. The Erris Major word for an Errian equals mutton, deadman — food.”
Martin had expected a shock, but not this. Food ! It was clear, now. The physical strength of Erris Major. His ferocity and fanged jaws. The way the Errians never mentioned him. Erris Major was a predator ! He had mentally likened their captor to a tiger. And a tiger he was indeed.
“ That’s not all — quite,” Alvie said. “ A situation like this one has never existed on any planet I’ve heard of.”
Martin was growing accustomed to the idea. “ It’s not so unusual. There are man-eating tigers on Earth. Lots of large animals prey on natives — ”
“ But they don’t talk ! That’s what is unique. We have two races on Erris, one preying on the other, and they speak the same language !”
He stared at her, dim comprehension creeping over him like a cold hand. “ Two speaking races, one eating the other. Tigers who walk erect and talk to their victims in their own language.”
“ And have some powers of telepathy,” Alvie put in.
Martin nodded slowly, but felt that he could not add up all these facts to their full significance.
“ I think this development originated fairly recently, as time periods in the development of a species go,” Alvie said. “ Probably Erris Major and the smaller Errians lived together, after arising from common stock. That would explain the common language. Then some change in climate, or the disappearance of natural prey, turned Erris Major into the vicious creature he is now. With his usual source of food gone, he began to attack the small Errians. That would cause a wholesale split such as we have now.”
It was likely, Martin agreed. A species must adjust, to meet changed conditions, or die. With other game gone, Erris Major had modified his hunting habits in the only way possible. But it would be some time before all the present implications of the change were known.
The phone buzzed. Alvie answered it and frowned. “ Why do they always interrupt, Martin ?”
He took it. The voice was that of the duty officer on the Elberfeld.
“ The Mens Magna wishes to speak with you, sir. At once.”
Martin’s brows twitched. “ I’ll be along.”
He explained briefly, and Alvie compressed her pink lower lip between her small white teeth.
“ I’m not sure I envy you !” she said.
“ It is imperative that you and all your companions withdraw completely from Erris,” the Mens Magna said.
Martin could not pretend he felt no dismay. Withdrawal would mean failure for himself and the expedition.
“ Why ?” he asked thinly.
“ As you have stayed longer than the usual period, without solving the problem of your relationship with the Errians, it is likely you will never solve it — "
“ But you granted an extension of that period !” Martin put in.
“ Provisionally. That extension must now be cancelled. As commanding officer, you are justified in asking why. First, I have deduced that the Errians increasingly resent your presence, and are likely to make some demonstration against you, even if they have not yet done so.”
Martin recalled the gathering at the south end of the hills, and breath hissed between his teeth. So it was no mere local custom to be observed !
Pick-ups in the cubicle caught the sound. Beamed subradio relayed it to Earth. In the mountain side sorting devices flashed through references, made identification, and integrated a reply.
“ It would appear this danger has already materialised,” the Mens Magna said. “ My first deduction thus becomes a fact. From it, related facts can be found. It is logical to assume that the Errians will show violence towards you. Only two possibilities will then exist. First, you can suppress their revolt by force. Second, you will be defeated and have to flee the planet. Both are undesirable. Contact with all other planets has been friendly. Men cannot retain domination of his planets by force. Therefore the conflict between yourself and the Errians will be useless. It would also be a bad example. Since neither possibility is acceptable, both must be avoided by your immediate withdrawal.”
Martin swore silently. The Mens Magna was right, as always. When the Elberfeld reached Earth, his command of her would cease. If another party eventually came to Erris, he would not be with it. Worst of all, he felt that some progress had been made, even though no one yet knew the significance of Alvie’s discoveries.
“ I request that at least some extension of time be given us,” he said.
“ That is impossible. The original period was such as to allow reasonable progress. None was made. It was also the longest period which the planetary species type could endure without resentment, in the event of co-operation not arising. Data now show it would be unwise to allow any extension, for the reasons given. You must therefore prepare to leave Erris.
Navigation data for your flight out of the Praesepe Cluster will be prepared and given you ...”
Martin did not listen as the voice droned on. Complete logic was often the death of human hope.
“ It will take a long time to get all the men and equipment aboard,” he said evasively. “ A very long time.”
“ I think not. There is the standard procedure, in which you have been trained.”
But which he had never expected to use, Martin thought. He gazed at the scanner steadily.
“ We have been here a long time. We’re scattered, with lots of stuff at the camp.” He rose. “ Naturally I’ll do what I can, but no one could promise to tidy up here in a matter of hours — or days.”
There Was a delay. “ Your remark is noted, but its accuracy is not admitted,” the Mens Magna stated at last. “ As you asked for an extension of time, queried my reasons for not granting it, and would personally suffer from my instructions, it is logical to assume you will endeavour to postpone leaving. Such conduct would in no way prove to be to your advantage, when you eventually reach Earth. I do indeed most strongly recommend that you do not delay — ”
Swearing, Martin turned from the screens and left the cubicle. The sprung door swished shut behind him. He was a fool thus to jeopardise what remained of his reputation, he knew. And yet he could not leave Erris with a report of failure filed against his name. There could be no such half-way circumstance : he would succeed, or terminate his service altogether.
On Earth, equipment recorded that the cubicle had been vacated, and no promise given. Analysing electronic devices reviewed Martin Cole’s character, and from it deduced his probable reactions. Forceful, used to success, he would much dislike failure. Having his own opinions, and trusting them, he would perhaps hope that a few days’ grace would allow him to solve the problem. But in the estimation of the calculating devices of the Mens Magna, it was unthinkable that such human considerations influence the decision. The success or failure of a single person was immaterial.
Signals flashed from the main integrating centre of the machine, and a communicator in a cruiser near the rim of the Praesepe Cluster buzzed a note of top priority. The officer on watch heard it, and within moments the ship’s commander was in the vessel’s cubicle.
“ You are required to set an immediate course for the planet Erris, with a view to landing and taking command,” the Mens Magna stated. “ Detailed instructions are being prepared and will be sent you shortly. From your present position I compute you can reach Erris within twenty four hours.”
“ That is so,” the commander agreed. He was a veteran, utterly reliable, unimaginative and efficient.
“ Then perhaps you will give provisional course instructions, then return,” the Mens Magna said.
“ I will.”
The commander rose, leaving the cubicle. A signal flowed from the ship to earth. A query was beamed from Earth to the Elberfeld. Electronic devices returned the answer : the cubicle on the Elberfeld was empty. Major Martin Cole had not returned. As the reply signal was picked up by the directive aerials and passed into the Mens Magna, devices began planning to replace Martin Cole completely, on the assumption that he was no longer willing to follow instructions. Meanwhile, data piled up, awaiting the return of the commander of the Silenius, which was even now going into a turn that set her bow towards Erris.
The sun had just set when the Errians came over the hills. They moved quickly but cautiously and carried sticks, stones and primitive weapons. Their silence was purposeful.
Jim Ockley went to meet them in a jeep, held a shouted conversation, ducked a few well aimed stones, and returned to the camp.
“ They’re sick of us,” he said as he got out. “ Most of all they’re fed up with the way we treat them as liars. For some reason that particularly offends their native dignity. I gathered it would be safer to steal their wives, if you wanted, than accuse them of untruthfulness.”
“ That’s helpful to know,” Martin said hopelessly.
It soon became clear that an actual battle would arise if the camp was not vacated. The Errians gathered thickly, apparently waiting for darkness, then began to move towards the nearer buildings. Martin ordered immediate evacuation. There were some fifty men, valuable records, but luckily enough vehicles to carry them. A convoy of jeeps and trucks moved away from the hills towards the Elberfeld.
“ The Mens Magna had decided this would happen,” Martin said.
Jim Ockley looked at him quickly, his face lit by the truck bumping behind.
“ You didn’t tell me that, Martin ! Have you ever known it wrong ?”
“ Never,” Martin admitted.
“ Then why did you ignore it ?” Alvie asked from the back seat.
Martin turned round so that he could see her. “ Because I was still hoping we’d find out what was behind all this. I was playing for time, I suppose.”
He looked ahead again. Though they had recently learnt extra facts about the Errians and Erris Major the information seemed to lead nowhere.
The vehicles deployed round the Elberfeld, and the records were taken aboard. Half the men followed in the personnel lift ; half remained with the trucks, ready to enter the ship if necessary. Martin walked gloomily among the floodlit vehicles. Retreat did not come easily, he thought.
After an hour a red glow began to light the sky towards Firbey Hills, variable but increasing. The Errians were destroying the buildings. It decreased towards morning, but dawn showed heavy smoke drifting slowly on an east wind.
The sun had risen when Errians began to appear from the bushes half a mile away, gathering to converge on the ship. Martin ordered the vehicles to be abandoned and the men retreated into the vessel. The natives crossed the rocky plain slowly, as if expecting danger, then began to destroy the trucks systematically, tearing off tyres, lamps and seats, smashing engine components with heavy stones. Soon the Elberfeld appeared to occupy the centre of a scrapyard.
Groups of Errians walked round the ship, staring up at her unscalable sides. They vanished into the bushes, returning at last with large boughs, which they began to arrange round the stem fins. Looking down, Martin saw that it would only be a matter of time before they could reach the entrance port. He ordered a man to stand by to close it, if necessary.
Deep in the ship an imperative beeping had begun. The maximum priority call of the Mens Magna. Martin let it sound for a long time before he entered the cubicle.
“ You are recognised,” the Mens Magna said evenly. Its voice was completely impersonal, as always. “ Your disobedience of my instructions has been noted, and the vessel Silenius should reach you before evening. Her commander has been instructed to relieve you of all authority. You will return to Earth to be disciplined. Your delay in following my instructions has been illogical and cannot be permitted. Your conduct has not been satisfactory for a person having authority.”
Martin heard it out without moving. He had expected nothing more. He had been foolish to come to the cubicle, he thought, and rose. Scanners picked up the motion, identified it.
“ Kindly remain,” the Mens Magna said. “ I have instructions regarding the manner in which you will hand over authority to Commander Tadlow of the Silenius. All your junior officers will place themselves under him — ”
Martin grunted, opening the cubicle door. He well remembered old Tadlow, and scowled.
“ Please return to your seat,” the Mens Magna said. “ I have not finished — ”
Martin let the door close, shutting off the voice. Moments elapsed, then the imperative beeping began again. Let it, Martin thought, irritated. Could the man on the spot never have the last word on a decision of importance !
The pile of branches round the ship slowly mounted, and so did the number of Errians swarming round the hull. By midday Martin knew that he could not take the Elberfeld up without killing hundreds.
He prowled the corridors, oppressed by the feeling that the problem should not be insoluble, but that he lacked wit to solve it. The beeping summons never ceased, and echoed in the ship. A few hours after midday the Silenius began to come in on the radio, giving identification. She would be on schedule.
The pile of branches grew high enough for the more agile climbers to reach the port, and Martin had it closed. From an observation hatch he saw that the relays of natives carrying boughs, bushes and other rubbish were increasing in numbers.
He went to a higher deck and found Jim Ockley and Alvie gazing morosely from a port.
“ We’ll come to your funeral,” Ockley said. “ Or do suicides have funerals? It was suicide to ignore the Mens Magna, and your funeral will be discharge with ignominy.”
Martin looked from the port. Far below the Errians were still carrying long boughs to increase the pile. A unique situation, he thought. Two speaking races, one eating the other. Erris Major, the predator, able to gain at least some knowledge of other beings’ thoughts, by telepathy. The Errians lying like troopers and coming out as truthful on the lie detector. All these facts made one whole, but something unusual, unsuspected, and therefore undiscovered. He recalled a distinction the Mens Magna had made. Brainwave analysis by the electroencephalograph section of the detector showed the Errians as speaking the truth, but that did not mean it was in actual fact the truth.
“ When a person lies, he usually knows it,” he said pensively. “ But when the Errians lie, they believe they’re speaking the truth. If I tell you my name is Jack Smith, and you believe it, a lie detector test would say you spoke the truth, even though my name isn’t Smith.”
“ So what, Martin ?” Jim Ockley asked.
Alvie stirred at the port, peering down. “ I’m not sure they aren’t going to set fire to this pile of stuff,” she said uneasily.
Martin went quickly to the port. He had assumed the branches were a means of ascent, to reach the entrance, or otherwise get into the ship. But the Errians were carrying bushes and smaller piles of rubbish and placing them at the bottom of the heap, as if constructing a bonfire.
“ You could be right,” he admitted.
“ They must hate the Erris Major even more than us,” Alvie said.
Martin agreed. There would be hate and contempt for the race that was once friendly, but had become deadly in its enmity. That hunters and hunted spoke the same language gave the situation a unique angle. A thrill as of discovery ran through Martin. Suppose the hunters wanted more victims, to feed wives and children. A victim could be subjected to great stress — could be offered liberty itself, instead of death, if he betrayed his companions, or told where others of his kind could be found !
“ You look as if you’ve thought of something,” Jim Ockley said curiously.
Alvie looked interested. “ It needs to be good.”
“ It could be, if there’s time !” Martin’s brows twitched, and his excitement mounted. “ Is there anything to show if Erris Major has a keen sense of smell ?”
“ Sense of smell ?” Jim Ockley was puzzled. “ Far as I know it’s pretty poor. That’s not unusual in a species fairly civilised.”
“ Then they’d lack that usual means of tracking down game ?” Martin pressed.
“ Probably, now you mention it.”
Martin paced the narrow deck. A predator who had lost the primitive, almost essential sense of smell. Telepathic. Speaking the tongue of a smaller race whose members changed camp often . . .
A junior officer tapped on the door and entered. “ A routine report from the radio operator, sir,” he said.
Martin took it. The Silenius was a mere two thousand miles out, and preparing to land. Her commander requested contact with him. Martin crumpled the flimsy.
“ Radio Commander Tadlow that I shall be contacting him in due course.”
When the officer had gone Ockley sighed deeply. “ Why pile up trouble, Martin ? If you refuse Tadlow’s request it’ll be another stinking mark against you.”
“ We’ll see !” Martin retorted.
The complexity of half-formed ideas in his mind gave him a sense of unreality. What Tadlow did seemed unimportant. He had no thoughts to spare on him or the Silenius. Instead, his mind was occupied with the sudden discovery of significance in pieces of a jig-saw puzzle which had never seemed to fit.
He left the observation deck, scarcely aware of opening the door. Outside, the repetitive beeping of the Mens Magna priority call echoed loudly. Smiling slightly, Martin strode along the corridor, and entered the cubicle. The beeping stopped.
“ You are recognised, Martin Cole,” the Mens Magna said. “ Your unnecessary absence and refusal to obey instructions have been noted, together with your earlier disobedience.”
Martin did not fail to notice the absence of official rank, but only a lesser part of his mind registered that fleetingly.
“ My absence was caused by finding a solution to the problem which has existed here,” he said.
There was a slight delay. “ Your words infer you have the solution, but idle and unsubstantiated promises will not help
“ It is no idle promise !” Martin snapped. He leaned forwards, fixing a pointing finger at the scanner. “ Listen ! If you study my past records, you will find I am not in the habit of telling untruths ! Nor have I pretended to knowledge I don’t possess ! You cannot deny that.”
Impulses flashed from Erris to Earth. References cascaded. Signals passed from the aerials beamed towards the Praesepe Cluster.
“I agree that your record has hitherto been one of reliability” the Mens Magna said.
“ Good ! Then you’ll agree I may be able to make decisions for myself, without the aid of a tin-can clockwork adding machine !” Martin knew this part was bluff, but it was worth it. “ That being so, I claim that my refusal to follow your instructions immediately was justified.”
Electronic references scanned idiom, dialect, and terms of emphasis and abuse.
“ Your classification of me is incorrect,” the Mens Magna stated. “ My motivation is not derived from clockwork, and my primary function is not that of addition. Furthermore — ”
Nearly a minute passed while it refuted his caustic description and Martin used it to order his thoughts. When the Mens Magna had ended, he sat back in the chair, his hands on his knees, elbows out. He had gained the point that he had expected to solve the problem, instead of stumbling upon it. That fact, now recorded in the machine, could save his career from the dogs.
“ I assume your silence is an admission of my accuracy,” the voice from the grille murmured. “ Therefore let us revert to your original point — that you are now able to promise peaceful and understanding relationships exist between your-selves and the natives.”
' “ I can,” Martin said. He was ready, now. “ There are two races here. Both use the same tongue. One is much more powerful, physically. He is a predator, eating the other. He is also telepathic. Originally the two races were friends. A change in planetary conditions, coupled with hunting, lessened and removed the predator’s natural game. He then started preying on the lesser race. The situation was unique because of the common language. When game was very scarce, the predators terrified or tortured their victims into disclosing where their companions were. The smaller Errians often lied to save mates, children and friends. But the predators had an inherent ability towards telepathy, and so survival favoured those most able to use this to find when a captive spoke the truth. To counteract this, the Errians slowly developed the ability to lie, under stress, in such a way that the lie was concealed even from the telepathic probings of their hunters. Errians unable to do this disappeared, because their groups fell easy prey to the hunters.”
Martin paused. How perfectly it all fitted, he thought. But how impossible it had at first seemed.
“ Your remarks are logically connected,” the Mens Magna said.
Martin took a deep breath. “ I’ve not finished ! The same odd mental ability which deceived the predators also deceived the lie detector. This ability is probably unconscious — a survival factor now instinct. When we had any Errian in for questioning, he was under stress, and this defence mechanism operated. Now we know this, we can act accordingly. There is, I believe, an adjustment period. After a certain time lapse, when stress has subsided, the Errians again speak the truth. Their extreme annoyance at being called liars shows that untruthfulness is a subject of special hate for them. It is probably associated with personal danger, stress, and the death of friends.” He leaned forwards. “ Knowing this, we can now promise a sound working relationship.”
On Earth, indices flicked through hundreds of thousands of electronic references. The situation was a new one, but could be reached by the logical extrapolation of known terms.
“ And you claim that it was knowledge of this complex situation which made you disregard my instructions ?” the Mens Magna asked.
Martin gazed steadily at the scanner. “ I do. Pressure of other circumstances made it impossible to explain then. But you will agree I was justified in wishing to remain on Erris.”
The silence grew. “ I agree that you were justified,” the Mens Magna said finally.
“ Good.” Martin rose. “ You will, of course, have Commander Tadlow informed ?”
“ Of course.”
“ Thank you.”
Smiling, Martin emerged from the cubicle. Jim Ockley was hurrying down the corridor. “ The Errians are demanding a promise of peace and non-interference, or they’ll make us the centre of a bonfire !”
Martin put up a finger, indicating the need for silence, and carefully closed the door of the cubicle. Sometimes there were things it were better the Mens Magna did not hear !
“ I think we can handle them now, Jim,” he said evenly.
“ I’ve got the secret of their conduct.”
He started off along the corridor, Jim Ockley following. Deep in the mountainside on Earth, references flashed, replacing the rank but lately removed from Martin’s name. Other aerials were energised, signalling the Silenius. Within minutes she was turning away from Erris, gaining speed to reach her original standby point in the Praesepe Cluster. A section of the Mens Magna that had been busily occupied for several days gradually settled to the low hum of memory indices, as the information was stored. All was well with the many worlds of man’s dominion. . .
Francis G. Rayer.
Return to story index
This work is Copyright. All rights are reserved. F G Rayer's next of kin: W Rayer and Q Rayer. May not be reprinted, republished, or duplicated elsewhere (including mirroring on the Internet) without consent.
This page has an addfreestats tracker.