David Starr Space Ranger (Page 11)

David waited. There was no use in speaking to empty air. Presumably the entities who had built the caverns and who could so immobilize him in so immaterial a fashion would be perfectly capable of playing all the cards.

He felt himself lift from the ground and slowly tip backward until the line of his body was parallel with the floor. He tried to crane his head upward but found it to be nearly immovable. The bonds were not so strong as those which had tightened about his limbs. It was rather like a harness of velvety rubber that gave, but only so far.

He moved inward smoothly. It was like entering warm, fragrant, breathable water. As his head left the air lock, the last portion of his body to do so, a dreamless sleep closed over him.

David Starr opened his eyes with no sensation of any passage of time but, with the sensation of life near by. Exactly what form that sensation took he could not say. He was first conscious of the heat. It was that of a hot summer day on Earth. Second, there was the dim red light that surrounded him and that scarcely sufficed for vision. By it he could barely make out the walls of a small room as he turned his head. Nowhere was there motion; nowhere life.

And yet somewhere near there must be the working of a powerful intelligence. David felt that in a way he could not explain.

Cautiously he tried to move a hand, and it lifted without hindrance. Wonderingly he sat upright and found himself on a surface that yielded and gave but whose nature he could not make out in the dimness.

The voice came suddenly. "The creature is aware of its surroundings..." The last part of the statement was a jumble of meaningless sound. David could not identify the direction from which the voice came. It was from all directions and no direction.

A second voice sounded. It was different, though the difference was a subtle one. It was gentler, smoother, more feminine, somehow. "Are you well, creature?"

David said, "I cannot see you."

The first voice (David thought of it as a man's) sounded again. "It is then as I told..." Again the jumble. "You are not equipped to see mind."

The last phrase was blurred, but to David it sounded like "see mind."

"I can see matter," he said, "but there is scarcely light to see by."

There was a silence, as though the two were conferring apart, and then there was the gentle thrusting of an object into David's hand. It was his flashlight.

"Has this," came the masculine voice, "any significance to you with regard to light?"

"Why, certainly. Don't you see?" He flashed it on and quickly splashed the light beam about himself.

The room was empty of life, and quite bare. The surface he rested upon was transparent to light and some four feet off the floor.

"It is as I said," said the feminine voice excitedly. "The creature's sight sense is activated by short-wave radiation."

"But most of the radiation of the instrument is in the infrared. It was that I judged by," protested the other. The light was brightening even as the voice sounded, turning first orange, then yellow, and finally white.

David said, "Can you cool the room too?"

"But it has been carefully adjusted to the temperature of your body."

"Nevertheless, I would have it cooler."

They were co-operative, at least. A cool wind swept over David, welcome and refreshing. He let the temperature drop to seventy before he stopped them.

David thought, "I think you are communicating directly with my mind. Presumably that is why I seem to hear you speaking International English."

The masculine voice said, "The last phrase is a jumble, but certainly we are communicating. How else would that be done?"

David nodded to himself. That accounted for the occasional noisy blur. When a proper name was used that had no accompanying picture for his own mind to interpret, it could only be received as a blur. Mental static.

The feminine voice said, "In the early history of our race there are legends that our minds were closed to one another and that we communicated by means of symbols for the eye and ear. From your question I cannot help but wonder if this is the case with your own people, creature."

David said, "That is so. How long is it since I was brought into the cavern?"

The masculine voice said, "Not quite a planetary rotation. We apologize for any inconvenience we caused you, but it was our first opportunity to study one of the new surface creatures alive. We have salvaged several before this, one only a short while ago, but none were functional, and the amount of information obtained from such is, of necessity, limited."

David wondered if Griswold had been the recently salvaged corpse. He said cautiously, "Is your examination of myself over?"

The feminine voice responded quickly. "You fear harm. There is a distinct impression in your mind that we may be so savage as to interfere with your life functions in order to gain knowledge. How horrible!"

"I'm sorry if I have offended you. It is merely that I am unacquainted with your methods."

The masculine voice said, "We know all we need. We are quite capable of making a molecule-by-molecule investigation of your body without the need of physical contact at all. The evidence of our psycho-mechanisms is quite sufficient."

"What are these psycho-mechanisms you mention?"

"Are you acquainted with matter-mind transformations?"

"I am afraid not"

There was a pause, and then the masculine voice said curtly, "I have just investigated your mind. I am afraid, judging by its texture, that your grasp of scientific principles is insufficient for you to understand my explanations."

David felt put in his place. He said, "My apologies."

The masculine voice went on. "I would ask you some questions."

"Proceed, sir."

"What was the last part of your statement?"

"It was merely a manner of honorable address."

A pause. "Oh yes, I see. You complicate your communication symbols in accordance with the person you address. An odd custom. But I delay. Tell me, creature, you radiate an enormous heat. Are you ill or can this be normal?"

"It is quite normal. The dead bodies you examined were undoubtedly at the temperature of their environment, whatever it was. But while functioning, our bodies maintain a constant temperature that best suits us."

"Then you are not natives of this planet?"

David said, "Before I answer this question, may I ask you what your attitude would be toward creatures like myself if we originated from another planet?"

"I assure you that you and your fellow creatures are a matter of indifference to us except in so far as you arouse our curiosity. I see from your mind that you are uneasy with regard to our motives. I see that you fear our hostility. Remove such thoughts."

"Can you not read in my mind, then, the answer to your questions? Why do you question me specifically?"

"I can only read emotions and general attitudes in absence of precise communication. But, then, you are a creature and would not understand. For precise information, communication must involve an effort of will. If it will help to ease your mind, I will inform you that we have every reason to believe you to be a member of a race not native to this planet. For one thing, the composition of your tissues is utterly different from that of any living thing ever known to have existed on the face of the world. Your body heat indicates also that you come from another world, a warmer one."

"You are correct. We come from Earth."

"I do not understand the last word."

"From the planet next nearer the sun than this one."

"So! That is most interesting. At the time our race retired to the caverns some half a million revolutions ago we knew your planet to possess life, though probably not intelligence. Was your race intelligent then?"

"Scarcely," said David. One million Earth-years had passed since the Martians had left the surface of their planet.

"It is indeed interesting. I must carry this report to the Central Mind directly. Come,..."

"Let me remain behind, .... -. I would like to communicate further with this creature."

"As you please."

The feminine voice said, "Tell me of your world." David spoke freely. He felt a pleasant, almost delicious, languor. Suspicion departed and there was no reason he could not answer truthfully and in full.

These beings were kind and friendly. He bubbled with information.

And then she released her hold on Ms mind and he stopped abruptly. Angrily he said, "What have I been saying?"

"Nothing of harm," the feminine voice assured him. "I have merely repressed the inhibitions of your mind. It is unlawful to do so, and I would not have dared do it if.... were here. But you are only a

creature and I am so curious. I knew that your suspicion was too deep to let you talk without a little help from me and your suspicion is so misplaced. We would never harm you creatures as long as you do not intrude upon us."

"We have already done so, have we not?" asked David. "We occupy your planet from end to end."

"You are still testing me. You mistrust me. The surface of the planet is of no interest to us. This is home. And yet," the feminine voice seemed almost wistful, "there must be a certain thrill in traveling from world to world. We are well aware that there are many planets in space and many suns. To think that creatures like yourself are inheriting all that. It is all so interesting that I am thankful again and again that we sensed you making your clumsy way down toward us in time to make an opening for you."

"What!" David could not help but shout, although he knew that the sound waves his vocal cords created went unheeded and that only the thoughts of his mind were sensed. "You made that opening?"

"Not I alone... helped. That is why we were given the chance to investigate you."

"But how did you do it?"

"Why, by willing it."

"I don't understand."

"But it is simple. Can you not see it in my mind? But I forget. You are a creature. You see, when we retired to the caverns we were forced to destroy many thousands of cubic miles of matter to make space for ourselves under the surface. There was nowhere to store the matter as such, so we converted it to energy and.... ..."

"No, no, I don't follow you."

"You don't understand? In that case, all I can say Is that the energy was stored in such a way that it could be tapped by an effort of the mind."

"But if all the matter that was once in these vast caverns were converted into energy.... "

"There would be a great deal. Certainly. We have lived on that energy for half a million revolutions, and it is calculated that we have enough for twenty million more revolutions. Even before we left the surface we had studied the relation of mind and matter and since we have come to the caverns we have perfected the science to such a degree that we have abandoned matter entirely as far as our personal use is concerned. We are creatures of pure mind and energy, who never die and are no longer born. I am here with you, but since you cannot sense mind, you are not aware of me except with your mind."

"But surely people such as yourselves can make themselves heir to all the universe."

"You fear that we shall contest the universe with poor material creatures such as yourself? That we shall fight for a place among the stars? That is silly.

All the universe is here with us. We are sufficient to ourselves."

David was silent. Then slowly he put his hands to Ms head as he had the sensation of fine, very fine tendrils gently touching his mind. It was the first time the feeling had come, and he shrank from its intimacy.

She said, "My apologies again. But you are such an interesting creature. Your mind tells me that your fellow creatures are in great danger and you suspect that we might be the cause. I assure you, creature, it is not so."

She said it simply. David had no course but to be-Eeve.

He said, "Your companion said my tissue chemistry was entirely different from that of any life on Mars. May I ask how?"

"It is composed of a nitrogenous material."

"Protein," explained David.

"I do not understand that word."

"What are your tissues composed of?"

"Of... It is entirely different.

There is practically no nitrogen in it."

"You could offer me no food, then?"

"I am afraid not... says any organic matter of our planet would be quickly poisonous to you. We could manufacture simple compounds of your life type that you might feed on, but the complex nitrogenous material that forms the bulk of your tissue is quite beyond us without much study. Are you hungry, creature?" There was no mistaking the sympathy and concern in her thoughts. (David persisted in thinking of it as a voice.)

He said, "For the moment I have still my own food."

The feminine voice said, "It seems unpleasant for me to think of you simply as a creature. What is your name?" Then, as though she feared she might not be understood, "How do your fellow creatures identify you?"

"I am called David Starr."

"I do not understand that except that there seems a reference to the suns of the universe. Do they call you that because you are a traveler through space?"

"No. Many of my people travel through space. 'Starr' has no particular meaning at present. It is simply a sound to identify me, as your names are simply sounds. At least they make no picture; I cannot understand them."

"What a pity. You should have a name which would indicate your travels through space; the way in which you range from one end of the universe to the other. If I were a creature such as yourself, it seems to me that it would be fitting I should be called 'Space Ranger.'"

And so it was that from the lips of a living creature he did not see and could never see in its true form David Starr heard, for the first time, the name by which, eventually, all the Galaxy would know him.