Country of first publication: Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
This work is Copyright. All rights are reserved.
As a thinking machine the Magnis Mensas was infallible. When it said the aliens were essential to Mankind's progress, it meant just that even though humanity apparently suffered
Illustrated by HUNTER
“Mankind refuses to be a slave-race!” Alan said.
Many people had been hurrying through the arched doorways of the Magnis Mensas. The inner corridors, extending the whole circumference of the building, were busy and he had noted that all the cubicle doors receding from sight were closed. An attendant with “M.M.” in gold on his lapel approached.
“You’ll have to go to the second level — the Magnis Mensas is very busy to-day.”
Alan had mounted the wide staircase: lift-fields might derange the electronic units of the great machine. The green “vacant” sign glowed over a cubicle. He entered, closed the door, and passed between rows of seeing electronic eyes, taking his place in a chair facing view-screens.
“Thank you,” the machine said through a grille. “You are recognised. Please continue.”
Alan had felt awed, as when he had first come to the great machine twenty years before, a mere lad. Complex beyond the imaginings of men, it conducted uncounted thousands of interviews simultaneously and its references contained the whole knowledge of mankind.
“All my life I’ve lived under the threat of the Ogoids,” he repeated. “So
has all mankind. We’re slaves ! I’m not content this should be so.”
“Discontent is a normal reaction, common to all men in difficulties.”
The machine’s impersonal voice echoed hollowly. Alan leaned forward.
“I wish to see the Ogoids !”
“That cannot be permitted.”
“Why not ?” Alan demanded. “I should not cause trouble or precipitate war ”
“A man’s evaluation of himself is often inaccurate,” observed the Magnis Mensas from its grille. “Furthermore, many people have made this request, more frequently during the last few years . . .”
“Then you can let me see them !”
“No, that is an illogical assumption. Your psycho-reactance charts show that you are not the most suitable person. Therefore it is illogical to assume that you may see the Ogoids when other men may not . . .”
The machine's voice droned on and Alan thought of his childhood. Then the threat of the Ogoids was immediate and new: men moved in hourly fear of a terrible attack. Born on the hills beyond the city, he had lived through childhood years which were nightmarish and terrible. An old man’s burning eyes still haunted his dreams
“Child, I found you ! Always obey me ! You must help overcome their threat! I, your master, say it ! You cannot sleep — you can find no peace — while they dominate us!”
Those repeated words had become part of Alan’s life, a growing, unconquerable compulsion. At last he had run from the wild old man of the hills, but the words could never be escaped. Years of suggestion had moulded him into the pattern the old man had intended — he must struggle against the enemy, even if, in all the Earth, there was no other person to fight at his side.
“Then choose an envoy yourself,” Alan suggested as the Magnis Mensas halted. “Send our most able man. Personal contact might accomplish more than this long-distance negotiation.”
“The Ogoids refuse to consider it,” the Magnis Mensas pointed out unhurriedly. “As stated in the General Record, page 791, they fear infection from unfamiliar virus or germ strains.”
“Precautions could be taken!”
“The Ogoids will not permit personal contact.”
Alan swore softly but comprehensively. The Magnis Mensas, one with the score of interconnected units scattered over the continents of Earth, was all-powerful. None dared disregard it. It had been built by men to guide mankind, and none wished to . . .
“The term you used suggests annoyance,” it murmured smoothly. “To what must I attribute this ?”
“To being a slave for thirty years to an enemy I have never seen !” Alan snapped. “Must it always be like this ?”
“Presumably so, since the enemy is overwhelmingly superior in every branch of scientific knowledge.”
“And our disarmament must continue ?”
“Obviously, since the enemy is superior and demands it as a term of continued peace.”
Alan got up, bitterly disappointed, but seeing that he could accomplish nothing, and went from the great building. A crowd was pushing along the street, hindering traffic, and a man in a long scarlet robe stalked in front, one arm upraised, his unkempt beard flowing.
“Listen, oh my people ! The Ogoids are a terrible enemy and Earth shall grow dark with men’s blood ! The Ogoids shall thrust their fearful sting into the very heart of quivering mankind, so that we find no rest, but only terrible death. That day shall come, and soon, my people, unless we recognise them as our masters ! We must bow to them and make sacrifice — human sacrifice — for they can crush us like a child in a great beast’s hungry jaws ”
He swept on and his fanatical voice was lost in the clamour. Sickened, Alan went through side streets and to a quiet flat. He was admitted by an old man with keen gaze, wrinkled face and silken hair.
“It’s no use,” Alan said, hurt by the complete, wounding failure.
Sam Hatrill shrugged and closed the door. “I told you the machine would not permit it. Its negotiations with the Ogoids are so complicated no mere human would be allowed to interfere.”
Alan looked away from him and out over the city. The giant building of the Magnis Mensas dominated the skyline. Complex antennae encased in a huge transparent globe topped it, maintaining contact with the machine’s distant components. Effectively the Magnis Mensas existed simultaneously in a score of great cities. Into the component buildings forming its enormous unity white, brown and yellow races hurried, under dawn, noon, dusk, and midnight skies.
“You remember when the Ogoids came ?” he said abruptly.
“Clearly, lad. I’d helped plump our two rockets on the Moon. Then the Magnis Mensas, which had all the most powerful radar and other equipment even in those days, reported unknown objects approaching Earth. They were ships which took up orbit a thousand miles out. There was panic. The Magnis Mensas reported signals; said they were comprehensible, and naturally became the go-between. The ships contained the Ogoids — a race so clever and terrible everyone was glad for the big brain to handle things.” The old man sighed. “The Ogoids said they would burn up a whole continent in retaliation if we tried to attack them. The Magnis Mensas declared they had the power to do so — were advanced in sciences we do not understand. So our preparations stopped. Then edicts from the Ogoids came fast ”
“I remember them,” Alan said thinly. “They’re history. One, no antagonistic preparations may be made on Earth. Two, production of all weapons must cease. Three, defensive measures must cease. Four, present stocks of weapons and the data of all warlike sciences must be destroyed.” He turned bitterly from the high window to Hatrill. “Result — a defenceless Earth !”
“We had to agree, or be annihilated, as the Magnis Mensas pointed out. It isn’t logical to fight a superior enemy . . .”
“Men do just that — and sometimes win !” Alan declared. “Think of all the illogical, apparently hopeless, attacks and defences which have made history, as successes!”
Hatrill nodded slowly, his face inscrutable. “I follow, lad. You want to come to grips with the Ogoids. You’re tired of being ordered about.” He jerked his head towards the great angular building. “You want to think for yourself, like we all did before the machine was built.” He tapped a pocket, face sullen. “Now we’re all indexed and have little cards issued by it ! Without our card we have no food, clothing, or work — become outcasts.”
“And remain slaves to an alien race !” Alan said, voice hard. “I’ve other plans !”
Hatrill smiled bleakly. “You’re not alone in wanting a new, free Earth . . .”
Later, in his own flat, allocated by the Magnis Mensas to suit his occupation, Alan gazed at secret diagrams taken from his desk. They showed a craft with a minimum range of 1,000 miles, through air or space, and with a very considerable weapon power. If it failed, he would try other measures. He would defeat the Ogoids — or die.
Next morning he opened the door to loud knocking. Two men with “M.M.” on their lapels stepped in quickly.
“The Magnis Mensas orders you be taken for interview,” one said.
Alan shrugged. Protest was useless. They marched through the streets in a compact group. The sky was high and blue and he strained his eyes upwards, searching for the glint of an Ogoid ship. There was none. Not surprising, at that distance, he decided. And the Magnis Mensas said they always kept over the planet’s dark side, or over cloud. He had never succeeded in spotting one, though some folk claimed they had.
The guards pushed him into a cubicle and he sat down.
“Thank you,” said the Magnis Mensas. “Your conduct has made this necessary.”
Alan moved uneasily before the impassive discs. “I don’t understand.”
“That is a statement calculated to deceive.” No reproof sounded in the impersonal voice. “You have taken stocks of certain alloys in excess of your normal requirements. Investigations show that you plan to construct a craft capable of sustained flight in space. As you kept this fact secret from me logic suggests that your aim is one I would not permit.”
“So what ?” snapped Alan, hair bristling. “I’ve done no harm !”
“Harm may arise when an individual’s acts may cause danger to his fellows. I cannot permit this work to continue and shall confiscate your craft. Your previous questions and reactance patterns show that you intended to contact the Ogoids. Therefore, as a disciplinary measure your card will be reduced one grade. If other lapses follow, more severe punishment will be adopted. Watch.”
The backdrop of space and a vast shape which moved against the stars appeared on one of the screens.
“The Ogoids are immeasurably terrible,” the Magnis Mensas murmured in the dimmed cubicle. “Their weapons are fearful beyond expressing. Their vessels are enormous, their sciences immeasurably advanced.”
The huge shape glided through space, eclipsing the stars. A tiny silvery mote crept up towards it.
“Though not generally known, a third Moon rocket with an atomic war- head hastily installed, and controlled by seeker radar, was launched against the first Ogoid ship,” the machine stated. “This was concealed to avoid panic. Watch.”
The mote, a grain compared to the enormous shadow, crept upwards. A pale pink line lanced from the shadow; the mote blinked into blue fury, then was gone.
“I calculate the range of the destroying Ogoid ray as over 500 miles,” the Magnis Mensas stated. “It employs a principle having no parallel in Earth sciences.”
Alan gazed at the shadowy vessel, here pictured on a film made before he was born, and tried to still his trembling limbs. These were the powers he was dedicated to destroy !
“Remembering such demonstrations of power, it is illogical to risk any breakdown in peaceful negotiations,” the machine added. “The Ogoids state no craft may approach them. No radar may be directed towards them, and their ships must not be viewed through telescopes. They apparently have a means, unexplained by Earth science, of determining when their edicts are broken. Twice soon after their coming they issued urgent warnings, and each time I found that exploratory instruments were being secretly directed towards them. I therefore confiscated all such apparatus.”
The screen dimmed and the cubicle light snapped on. Alan felt his brow damp.
“Only peaceful pursuits are allowed,” stated the Magnis Mensas. “No warlike objects may be constructed; no threat, or act which suggests a threat, is permissible. It is illogical peace be jeopardised. Earth possesses no weapons capable of destroying our enemy; therefore we must accept their terms. They have honourably kept their bargain. They have wantonly destroyed nothing; have so far caused no single death on Earth. I was built to serve men, and I can permit no act which threatens continued peace. Upon such an act the Ogoids would immediately destroy our planet. Furthermore, as an active servant of men, I take care no such threat arises.”
“But they’re aliens ! We’re reduced to slavery !” Alan pointed out, fists clenched hard as steel.
“We have no means of defeating them. Irresponsible individuals will not be permitted to cause the destruction of all humanity. I therefore advise you to return to your peaceful work. Close the door as you go out . . .”
Sam Hatrill leaned back in his padded chair and exhaled smoke towards the ceiling globe cluster.
“The Magnis Mensas was built to an activity pattern it can never change — to serve mankind faithfully, guarding and guiding wisely. It has acted exactly as I supposed.”
Alan wondered why there seemed a strange significance in Hatrill’s superficially unimportant words. Something was odd — did not quite fit.
“I’m an old man, Kederick,” Hatrill said as Alan was silent, “and have cardiac trouble. I fight for our free new world from my armchair.”
Alan nodded. Hatrill was fragile; his breathing often hastened and a faint blue spread to his lips and hands. Alan eyed the phial of tablets Hatrill had taken from his desk.
“If you’ve a plan I’m ready to help,” he said. He had been unable to concentrate on routine work; had left his office, drawers empty where the confiscated diagrams had been, and sought out Hatrill, feeling that the old man living on borrowed time was a key. Though what lock he fitted was not clear.
Hatrill leaned forward and pointed a long, thin finger. The tablet had improved his colour. “Humanity is rich; humanity is at peace. That peace has continued for thirty years — longer than ever before in civilised history. Production of weapons and defences has ceased and there are no civilian shortages, poverty or want. That is because the vast industrial wastage of war has ceased. Indeed a glorious epoch !”
Alan flushed. He had seen the great, peaceful cities, and wide roads spanning continents. No one lacked any necessity of life, any more, but there was a snag
“Men ceased to fight each other because of a common enemy — the Ogoids !”
Hatrill hooded his eyes with veined lids, suddenly seeming very old. “I pass you on to Wallsend,” he said. “Listen. At the northern outskirts are old flats, soon to be rebuilt. Take the outside iron stairway of the east corner building and knock five times.” He demonstrated on the desk. “That’s all. Go at dusk.”
Alan rose, looking back from the door. Hatrill was relaxed in his chair, his eyes closed. There could have been a smile on his lips, though its significance was hidden.
With apparent nonchalance Alan walked eastwards towards the old workers’ fiats. A girl was mounting the iron stairway and he stood in shadows, listening. Five taps sounded significantly.
He went up quickly, rubber-shod feet quiet, and she started violently. She was breathing heavily and her eyes were afraid. Alan reached past and repeated the signal. The terror went from her eyes.
“Like eighteenth century anarchists,” he said.
She shivered. “I thought you were one of the fanatics. They chased me.”
She put a finger to her lips. From a turning came a rabble of men. Alan recognised their leader, and the voice floating up.
“We must have human sacrifice, my people ! Hear my true words, and tremble. Our terrible enemy shall crush the tormented soul of all mankind ! Our flesh shall writhe, shredding like rotten peel into the flames !”
Alan closed his ears. The fanatics had quickly become so numerous disciplinary police action was scarcely practical. He wondered if the girl were part of the jigsaw. Or did no strange pattern of interlocking possibilities exist except in his own mind ? She was up to his chin, dark-haired and with a certain pointed, purposeful expression.
The door opened ; a man was momentarily outlined mountainously against the bright light as he admitted them, locked the door, and gazed bleakly at Alan.
“You’re Wallsend ?” Alan said.
The big man nodded; his eyes turned towards the girl and softened. “Back so soon, Judith ?” He jerked his head. “This is Judith Summerley.”
“I’m Alan Kederick. Sam Hatrill sent me.”
Wallsend led them into a second room. Judith Summerley began mixing drinks and Wallsend pressed Alan’s shoulder, seeming to force him down into a chair.
“You want to by-pass the Magnis Mensas and contact the Ogoids ?” His eyes were keen; his voice echoed as from a cask.
“That’s the idea.”
“One not — wholly original.” The big man put a green glass of amber liquid before Alan.
“I’d like to contact others who think the same,” Alan said.
Wallsend emptied his glass smoothly. “Those who join us never withdraw. It implies — life membership. Or membership until death: put it how you wish. We’re a small group. We choose carefully. Sam Hatrill has watched you for years and suggested you. We need men of technical ability.”
The keen scansion of his eyes belied the easy words and Alan felt his muscles tighten.
“We’re few — yet,” Wallsend stated. “Those who join us can never — resign. It is not permitted. Nor are divided allegiances. Judith is quite a recent member.”
Alan finished his drink and leaned back. The pair seemed to be waiting, their expressions odd.
“You have — five minutes.”
Wallsend’s eyes went to the clock as he spoke and Alan felt an abrupt return of his previous unease. Wallsend was tense; Judith Summerley pale, though she smiled.
“There need be nothing to fear.”
Alan thought her voice pleasant.
“Three minutes ” Wallsend said.
Alan felt an odd lethargy. He made a blundering attempt to rise, his limbs unresponsive.
“The drink . . ." he breathed.
“Of course.” Wallsend’s face floated close out of a growing haze. “Scarcely a minute, now. There is no second chance . . .”
“For what ?”
Wallsend’s face seemed a lantern beyond mist. “For life — membership,” he said.
Alan strove for words: “I’ll join.”
When it returned Alan found himself pillowed on a couch in a dimly-lit room. He moved his eyes experimentally. Judith was reading by a table- lamp. He tried to turn and felt pressure at his right ear, level with the jaw. A touch disclosed bandages.
Judith closed the book. “Better ?”
He nodded awkwardly, touching the dressings. “Why these ?”
“A slight operation was necessary. A cavity was made in the bone and our audio-conductor fitted. Listen.”
Alan did. At first, so strange it seemed as incomprehensible as light to a man always blind, came whispering — ghostly, and in his right ear. As distant whispers sounded the voices of Wallsend and Hatrill — and others. They came and went; were silent, then spoke again.
“It’s our — badge of membership,” Judith said. “Words you speak will be audible to us, always. Distance does not matter.”
Alan listened. “Kederick, Kederick,” a tiny voice was demanding. “Answer him,” Judith said.
Alan eyed her. She could hear — and the score of others. It was old Sam Hatrill.
“Glad you joined us, laddie.”
A voice Alan did not recognise came: “He is a stratocraft expert ?”
“He is.” That was Wallsend.
“Has capital ?”
“I’m willing to put it at your disposal,” Alan said.
Hatrill chuckled weirdly. “We’ll beat the Ogoids yet !”
Alan lay back, head whirling, palms pressed to his temples.
“The audio-conductor won’t worry you after a few days,” Judith said loudly.
He looked at her. “If I’d refused to join ?”
“No antidote would have been injected. You would have been dead an hour ago. Our aims admit of no half-measures.”
He realised what her purposeful expression meant and sank back, too exhausted to talk but conscious of the whispers in his ear. Membership was — until death.
“The operation was delicate,” Judith said. “Sleep if you can.”
“You are known,” said the Magnis Mensas. “Please sit down.”
Alan did so. Two days regrowth stimulation treatment had closed even the scar. “Remember you must find out everything about the Ogoids,” Hatrill’s ghostly voice whispered inside his ear.
He surveyed the glowing screens, duplicates of their fellows in the other cubicles, and all he had ever seen of the Magnis Mensas. The whole inner building and three sub-levels were completely filled with the mechanisms of reference, integration and deduction, but he had never been inside. The machine did not admit anyone except its skilled technicians.
“I do not believe that the Ogoids are so superior that we must always remain dominated by them,” he said. “We should be allowed to contact them.” “You could accomplish nothing. Their superiority has been amply demonstrated.”
“Not to my satisfaction ! I believe men might win freedom!”
“A belief not based on logic,” the machine said evenly. “Your character indices reveal wishful thinking as a strong trait. Any inimical act could lead to this planet’s annihilation by the Ogoids. Therefore no such act can be permitted.”
Alan leaned forwards. “Let men think for themselves !”
“No. That would be illogical. Men are unfitted to deal with this highly complex matter. I cannot allow personal attempts at wish-fulfilment to cause the destruction of our planet.”
Alan swore to himself; the Magnis Mensas was always proved so completely right !
“I have evaluated the Ogoid sciences. They are so advanced no possible combination of Earth power or science can triumph,” the machine continued. “The Ogoids are unbeatable. They have kept their promises, ever since they came on the eve of a great international war, and have killed no men wantonly. They insist on our complete disarmament; on the destruction of warlike knowledge ”
“I know !” Alan snapped. “Return to my request.”
“Very well. You reveal characteristics similar to those shown by other individuals whose names I have noted. All displayed a certain similarity of reasoning. All have had prior contact with one Henry Wallsend.”
Alan started. “I don’t know what you’re talking about !”
There was a momentary pause, then: “Your interjection suggests you wish to conceal that you know Wallsend. This suggests you attach importance to the fact that you know him. In view of your previous questions it is logical to assume that Wallsend and the Ogoids are connected in your mind. This suggests you plan to contact the Ogoids through Wallsend.”
Alan felt cold perspiration on his brow. A battle of logic and wits could never be successful when the opponent had the utter, unhuman cogitative ability of the Magnis Mensas.
“This supposition coincides with my data on Wallsend’s personality,” continued the machine evenly. “Therefore you must be informed further of Wallsend’s character. Watch.”
The screen lit with a facsimile of the card everyone carried. Headed Henry Wallsend, its sub-heading caught Alan’s eye: “Psychoneuroses (if any): Escapist insanity in respect of Ogoids . .
“A complex likely to grow more common,” murmured the Magnis Mensas from its grille. “Rather than continue to accept the proved fact of mankind’s subservient position Wallsend’s mind has erected an irrational thought- pattern suggesting the Ogoids may be discounted . .
Alan stared at the card, mind quivering. Its original doubtless lay in Wallsend’s pocket. He got up shakily, his plans crumbling before the unexpected, mortal blow.
“Thank you,” said the Magnis Mensas. “Please shut the door as you leave ...”
As Alan walked away from the great building whispers clamoured in his ear.
“I learned nothing,” he said quickly.
“You discovered no weakness in the Ogoid defences ?” — Hatrill’s voice.
“Nor a means of attack ?” a barrel-like undertone enquired.
At Wallsend’s voice Alan felt irritation. Was there no jigsaw — except in Wallsend’s distorted mind ? Wallsend refused to face facts: under-estimated the Ogoids to a point where it became insanity . . .
A blue light, soundless from distance, blinked on in the night sky. Alan halted, gaze upturned. The glint seemed as high as the stars. It expanded slowly into a steely sun, casting hard shadows from buildings and people suddenly still. Seconds passed. It faded and was gone. People began to move, their faces white, hesitating as sound filled all the heavens from mighty corpuscular shockwaves striking the outer envelope of the planet’s atmosphere.
“An atomic burst in space !” — A whisper in Alan’s ear.
“What has happened ?” That was Wallsend, somewhere indoors and not understanding.
“There was an explosion . . .”
Alan interrupted Hatrill’s whisper: “Still at your flat, Hatrill ?”
He walked quickly and took the lift up. Hatrill looked sickly. “A — general broadcast,” he said.
The voice of the Magnis Mensas was trumpeting from a reproducer inside the apartment.
“Stern measures will be taken against anyone making any such future attempts. The death sentence will be imposed. Peaceful negotiations with the Ogoids must not be interrupted.”
“You missed most of it,” Hatrill observed heavily as he took his chair, his lips purple. “The Magnis Mensas says a rocket directed by seeker-beam was fired at an Ogoid ship supposed to be overhead. What fool made and fired it we aren’t told. The rocket was destroyed by the Ogoids while scarcely out of our atmosphere, the Magnis Mensas says. They have sent a stern warning.”
He shrivelled into the padding of the chair, but Alan felt his gaze closely on him. He wondered how secrecy had been maintained by the rocket’s builders, brave yet foolish men. The Ogoids usually kept above the dark- side hemisphere, and the launching would have been tricky. And Hatrill’s expression was odd . . .
“The Ogoids insist on complete disarming,” stated the voice from the radio. “Existing plant able to produce such missiles or craft as that they destroyed will be dismantled.”
Hatrill sighed heavily, face white and lips blue. He motioned towards his desk, beads of sweat glinting on his forehead.
“Top drawer — right — tablets -”
Alan opened it, saw the phial, and took it round the desk.
“Switch that — thing off,” Hatrill whispered.
Alan silenced the reproducer. Hatrill gulped a tablet and his colour slowly returned. Alan looked at him without seeing the tormented face. Before his eyes floated a vivid memory of a card in the desk drawer: Sam Hatrill . . . “Psychoneuroses (if any): Escapist insanity: Inability to accept fact of domination of the Ogoids.”
“Thanks,” Hatrill breathed, wiping his face. “The shock was too much. I’m an ill man . -. .”
Two blocks from Hatrill’s apartment, Alan walked quickly towards his own rooms, his brain clearing itself of the block to reasoning the card formed. Hatrill; Wallsend — both insane of this point ! They wanted to believe Earth might free itself from the Ogoid domination. That longing had become a psychotic obsession and they no longer remained sane, preferring the delusion that the Ogoids were unimportant.
He frowned, thought of the jigsaw with the pieces that did not fit, and of Judith. There could be a key-piece which must be discovered before the puzzle could be completed. He had looked into old Sam Hatrill’s eyes, undimmed by his bodily weakness, and swore them the eyes of a man wholly sane. It did not fit.
“Judith,” he said.
No whisper answered. “I have not heard her since the explosion,” Wallsend’s voice murmured. “Where is she ?”
The question passed from voice to voice; no one knew. She had been alone somewhere in the city. Now, her voice was gone from the whispering throng.
“Can the fanatics have kidnapped her ?” Alan asked, chilled. No one answered. “Judith,” he urged. “Judith.”
Her voice did not come. Alan felt a terrible unease; a growing mental tension as if uncomprehensible things strove to push up into consciousness. It did not fit. And there could be only one key — the Magis Mensas.
“You are known,” said the machine. “Please sit down.”
Alan did so. “I wish to report the disappearance of an acquaintance, Judith Summerley.”
He wished the Magnis Mensas was living: here could be no tonal indication of triumph or hesitancy. The machine’s voice never changed. A pause showed mechanisms were seeking more deeply into the millions of references below and correlating data, nothing more.
“Your report is noted.”
Alan’s lips pressed together and he made his guess: “You have had her arrested!”
“That is so.”
“Why ?” Alan thought of the dreadful silence where her whispering voice should be. “You have no authority to arrest without cause !”
“There was cause. Her acts were inimical to continued peace.”
“Have you — killed her ?”
There was a pause, then: “You are not a fit person to whom the answer to that question should at present be given.”
Alan groaned. “You would do murder !”
“I will answer your implied question. If killing a single person avoided the destruction of many people that killing would be logical. Men put their personal welfare before the welfare of the whole. That is illogical. I am logical, and put first the welfare of the whole. Each man wishes most to save himself and those he loves ; to him the welfare of other people is secondary. To me, and my extensions overseas, the welfare of humanity, as a whole, is primary. Everything becomes secondary to it.”
“There’s no excuse for killing her !” Alan grated.
“I do not make excuses, I state logical reasons. Furthermore, she is not yet dead.”
Alan’s dread changed to triumph. “Then you cannot hold her ! I shall have her released ”
“An assumption based on the incorrect belief that you will go free,” interrupted the machine. “That you will not be allowed to take any such action obviates the need for a reply to your first statement.”
Chill came again to Alan’s spine. The jigsaw was now almost complete : the pieces were laid upon the table; could, perhaps, be assembled . . .
“Your mental reactance patterns suggest you would arrive at this conclusion,” the Magnis Mensas stated. “It was also reached by Judith Summerley. Please accompany the men I have summoned outside.”
The door opened to four men, “M.M.” on their lapels. They stepped smartly around him and conducted him away down a long corridor. A door was opened and he was thrust in.
She rose from a chair, pale but unharmed. “Why the silence ?” Alan asked quietly.
She understood. “Some type of screening. The audio-conductor won’t work.”
Alan listened; the whispers of Hatrill, Wallsend and the others had gone. For them, his voice would have ceased.
“I regret having to detain you, but your mentality-indices suggest you will reach a conclusion which must be suppressed.”
Alan looked round uneasily and saw a grille and screens on the end wall.
“You are a logical machine ?” he said.
“And dedicated to the service of mankind ?”
“Completely. That pattern was imposed upon me when I was built.”
“Yet you would kill us ?”
“If necessary. The welfare of a whole society is more important than the lives of a few of its individuals.”
Alan’s face grew white. “You are aiding the Ogoids !” he said.
The Magnis Mensas was silent.
“Are you aiding the Ogoids ?” he pressed. A direct question always brought some answer: thus was the machine made.
“I cannot deny it.”
A sharp intake of breath came from Judith; Alan met her gaze and looked away. Her expression showed her shock was as awful as his own.
“Your mentality indices showed that you would eventually reach that opinion,” the Magnis Mensas said evenly,
Judith’s gaze remained on Alan. “But it works for the good of mankind ! Can it be possible that it is best the Ogoids win ?”
Alan shivered. A dreadful thought. But the puzzle did not fit thus easily — yet. Much remained incomprehensible; much resembled dim forms on the hinderland of consciousness. Almost he felt that thought here ran too deep for mere man. The Magnis Mensas, as a thinking entity, was overwhelming . . .
“You still have time to change your decisions,” the voice from the grille murmured.
Alan swore. “Never ! You, the intermediary, are helping the enemy ! It’s unbelievable ! It’s treachery !”
The door opened abruptly and six men entered. Alan’s card was removed and he was strapped into a chair; Judith was secured by his side. In front were the screens of unknown purpose, and the men withdrew.
“I regret having to summon attendants to secure you,” said the Magnis Mensas evenly. “It is illogical to destroy unnecessarily. Only when necessity postulates shall I order your annihilation. Will you swear never to try to contact the Ogoids ?”
Alan tried to look at Judith, but his head was strapped in a curved rest.
“No,” he said. “I cannot swear to leave them unchallenged!”
“ No.” Judith’s voice was weak.
“Regrettable,” said the Magnis Mensas. “Watch. And remember I shall not permit you to influence others with this knowledge.”
The twin screens showed a dozen massive vessels moving ponderously against the stars, and so huge that they could have eclipsed half the Earth into darkness.
“These records are kept secret to avoid unnecessary panic,” murmured the Magnis Mensas.
A ship shaped like a great slug grew and grew, seeming to fill all the heavens. No means of propulsion was visible. A segment on its side slowly withdrew into the hull; inside shadowy forms moved. Alan stared, focused them, and found sweat start to his face. He struggled but could not move, could scarcely speak.
“No ! They’re too terrible !”
The scene dimmed quickly.
“The Ogoids are completely alien and wholly terrible,” stated the Magnis Mensas. “I have kept knowledge of their true form from humanity . . .”
Alan trembled, his mind recoiling from the horror he had seen, so completely the antithesis of man’s idea of the form any sentient life could take. Nothing could be more revolting and terrible than those moving shapes . . .
Alan’s trembling subsided. Yet the Ogoids’ actual appearance was not the piece making the jigsaw complete !
“The history of mankind is full of unnecessary wars,” the Magnis Mensas observed. “Men wish to force their beliefs or rule upon their fellows. Even at this moment the fanatics are trying to do that. I shall be forced to issue an edict from the Ogoids, stating severe measures will be taken if this continues ”
Alan felt his brain curling in his skull; at last the pieces fitted. The torturous byways had reached their end. Every obvious fact said that the Ogoids were terrible and inviolable; yet deeper significances gave a different answer
“ There are no Ogoids!” he whispered.
There was a pause, then the Magnis Mensas murmured: “As I stated, an evaluation of your mentalities revealed you would reach this decision ”
“The pictures were faked — created to deceive us !”
“An obvious deduction. They were designed to be most fearful to men, and have often proved sufficient.”
“You’re a — devil !” Alan cried. “Humanity is terrified by a mere imagined enemy ! You have created data, engineered proof such as that explosion ...” “Faithfully to carry out my purpose of serving men,” interrupted the Magnis Mensas. “No human has been killed. Instead of war has been world peace; instead of armament and want, plenty. Instead of fear of human enemies and death, life and fear of a non-human enemy.”
“But they seem so terrible !”
“Only those who enquire too closely are shown what you have seen. For humanity, the Ogoids are a mere name ”
“A bogy with which to threaten them,” Alan stated.
“Exactly. For their own good. Calculations suggest that after another twenty years I can state that the Ogoids are withdrawing. A generation which has never known war will then exist. Meanwhile, I cannot allow you or others to jeopardise my plan.”
A green spot wove on the screen and a mesmeric tone began to hum in Alan’s ears and brain. He seemed to fall backwards down a deep pit, curling and spinning in space, where shadows moved. Lights came bright and grew dim. “I work for the good of men,” said an emotionless voice. “It is logical we disarm: the Ogoids require it.” The sound and lights went on and on, weaving in tireless synchrony to the green spot, and Alan’s last speck of consciousness faded.
He awoke to find himself being helped from the cubicle by two guards, Judith at his side. Questions clamoured in his mind, and whispers hissed in his ear.
“Have you anything to report ?”— Hatrill’s voice. “What’s happened ?” That was Wallsend.
The guards conducted them into an annex; they were handed their cards and the door opened.
Outside many paused to listen to the reproducers along the outer walls of the building. The voice echoed along the street:
“Furthermore, the Ogoids state that if the fanatical quarrels do not cease serious measures will be taken. No fighting can be permitted. Complete peace is a term of continued armistice ...”
Alan gazed at the anxious faces around him. The fighting would die like the tumult of schoolboys at the master’s return.
“We must not fight ...” a man declared.
Alan looked at the card he carried, and bearing his name. The bottom had been blank, but now: “Psychoneuroses (if any): An escapist insanity of great fixidity suggesting the Ogoids do not exist.”
Alan laughed abruptly. Judith’s card would be the same. They fitted with Hatrill, Wallsend and the others, now. Were completely free, and their numbers would grow . . .
Francis G. Rayer.
This page has an addfreestats tracker.