THE MAN WHO COULDN'T DIE
Originally printed in Adventure Magazine 1961
Gardner F Fox
Slowly, reluctantly, the man who had been dead returned to keep his promise. For they had offered the puny Earth Thing eternal life—for the secret which would obliterate his world!
Clarr Morson swam up lazily through the black mists. He was leaving a strange, lovely world, and he did not want to return to reality. He had been dead. Now he was coming back, through the mists, to life.
"Disconnect the neural gauges," a voice whispered in the darkness. "Prepare to shock his brain with adrene-electrical charges."
They were making him come back. Suddenly he hated them all, the smug, white-garbed scientists who had taken him away from the neuro-psychiatric ward for Criminal Atavars to offer him immortality for a voyage. He had been happy back there, as happy as a man can be who is in punitive limbo.
Clarr opened his eyes. A face filtered through pale mists. It blurred, then cleared into the smiling, ruddy features of Dr. Hartley Ens, Chief of the United World Science Corporation.
"Can you hear me?" Clarr tried to nod, but nothing happened. This was not his body. It was—Why couldn't he remember? Oh, yes. They'd taken his brain from his starved, beaten body and put it in an eight-foot monstrosity of moonalite and stil, and given him cables for arms and legs and neck.
He tried again. This time the neural wires reacted. His head lifted. There was a dull clunk as the square metal brain-case fell back against the tabletop where he lay.
"Good. You know who you are, and the great honor that will be yours?" Clarr tried to sneer, forgetting he had no lips, only a meshed oval for a mouth and the synthetic sound box. He tried, sending his will along the tiny wires. He heard a queer, harsh grating. That was to be his voice, from here on in.
"My name is Clarr Morson. I was a criminal, an Atavar. The year is Thirty-two Ninety-one. I am going to be the first sentient being ever sent to a star system."
"Again, good. Try to sit up, to move." It was hard, but he made it. His cable-legs touched the floor as he sat on the high table. Dr. Ens walked around him, scrutinizing everything. He came to a stop in front of Clarr and smiled.
"No ill effects? I thought not," he said. "Lacing your nerve-ends onto the control wires—sheer genius. Only Claghorn could have done it. He came over from Sout Afrik, you know."
"Yeah. Sure. All the best! But how long will I live?"
"You're immortal. The Carrel experiments proved that. In case of uncontrollable growth, there is a special adsorption feature built into the brain-case It will keep your brain the same size it is now."
The door opened and a bald man, with the double scrolls of the Legal Craft worked into his tunic, came briskly into the room. He lifted out long documents, riffled through them.
Dr. Ens said, "The post-operative consent. You will sign, of course?"
"Sure. I'll sign." Ens regarded him critically from under his white brows. He said, "Do you still feel your criminal tendencies, Morson?"
"I don't know. Shouldn't I?"
"No. Chi'en Su worked with Claghorn on the job. Chi'en Su is the world's best brain specialist. He said he could remove those atavistic tendencies by a delicate operation. I wondered if he'd succeeded."
"How would I know if he succeeded?"
"You would realize the great honor that is yours. You would be anxious, as a good citizen of the World State, to get into the Shark and be off at once. You wouldn't have any of those old schemes of yours. Working the angles, you used to call it"
Chi'en Su had not succeeded. Clarr knew that. He was already considering whether it would pay him to take the gigantic Shark into a port on Mars or Titan and sell it. He might get a good price from the asteroid pirates.
But he said, "Why, I do feel that way. It's a sort of warm glow, isn't it?" He wondered if a brain would have any feeling at all.
Ens patted his shoulder, held out a pen. Clarr took it between two cable-like tentacles, held it gently. He bent and scrawled words on ten sheets of legal cap.
The lawyer examined the signatures fussily. He said briskly, "It is necessary that the signer give a summary of the events up to—" he paused, looking embarrassed, "the operation."
Clarr said, "I am—was, rather—a criminal atavar. I was apprehended for my crimes against the state on Dawn 7, 3289, and sentenced to the psychopathic ward for observation and possible hypnotic cure. During my interment, the World Science Council offered pardon to any criminal who would consent to make the first trip to a star system."
"We've explored the solar system, but have never been beyond Pluto." interrupted Ens.
* * *
Clarr made the necessary addition. He went on, "My brain was removed from my body and placed in this robot form. I understand it will remain immortal. I have also been cured of my criminal tendencies."
Dr. Ens interrupted again. "And a mental bloc has been added, by post-operative hypnosis, to correct any backsliding in case the operation was not completely successful."
Clarr repeated the words; went on, "I am to be given the greatest space vessel ever built in the System, the Shark. It is equipped with hydrogen-fission drives. It takes its fuel from the particles of hydrogen that float in free space, as a fish does oxygen in water, through metal gills that filter out everything but the hydrogen and sift that into the fission chambers."
Ens, following him closely, nodded seriously. "My mission is: to travel in the Shark until I find a star system with an inhabitable planetary system; to make reports periodically, furnishing the Council with any discoveries I might make."
The lawyer snapped shut his briefcase, nodded to Ens and went out, closing the door behind him. Doctor Ens walked around the room, head bent.
He muttered, "You have the education, Morson. You received that from the State before your atavistic impulses overrode your normal responses."
Clarr stood up. He growled, "How long will this trip take?" Ens shrugged, smiled wistfully. "I will be dead and buried before you land your keel on dirt. But others will come after me. The race will go on. Who knows? Fifty years? A hundred?"
Clarr checked an oath. "I'll go mad!"
"You have the hibernation chamber. You can sleep for ten or twenty years at a stretch, rise to check the controls, then go back to sleep again."
"A hell of a life!"
"I'd go if they'd let me."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll never die. I know that. But—" He thought of Ada with the brown eyes and the yellow hair, and the shape that tormented his dreams. In fifty years, Ada would be—
"May I see any old friends?" he asked. Ens said, "Certainly. Matter of fact, an Ada Taggart has been hounding the receptionists for permission to talk to you."
"Ada! I'd like to see her. Alone?" Ens went out. Clarr spent the minutes staring at his tremendous bulk in a tri-dimensional reflector. He towered eight feet in the air, his great cable legs thick as tree-boles, but malleable as a snake. His chest was round, with arced panels for needed repairs. His head was a square, thick mechanism with wired jewels for eyes and a meshed screen for a mouth. His arms were thick cables, equipped with lean, powerful tentacles for fingers.
He wasn't pretty, but he was durable! God, when he thought what power he might get his hands on, somewhere out there in the stars!
The door, swung wide and Ada came dancing in, yellow mane bobbing over her shoulders, her brown eyes wide. When she saw him, she drew back. "I was expecting a friend of mine. A Clarr Morson."
Clarr looked at her. She was different, less appealing. That dress that delineated her body, now. He recalled how much he'd liked her in clothes like that. Now...
"I'm Clarr, Ada. Oh, stop looking so horror-stricken. You knew what they were going to do with me! The Starobot, they call me. Or have you lost the knack of scanning the tri-dims?"
She backed into a chair. She licked her lips. "It's a shock Clarr. You—you ain't the same guy, are you?"
"That pleases you, does it? You and that Drake character will have yourselves a time, no doubt?" He moved like a cat, for all his metallic bulk. His right arm whipped out, caught and held her up against his side. His square head bent. "Get this, Ada! Drake isn't going to get you. I'm coming back, see? Nothing can kill me. They made a mistake, those egghead scientists. If I can keep away from the World Militia, their local patrollers will never get me. I'm coming back—and I'll be the biggest crime lord since the twenty-third century!"
"Sure you will, Clarr. Sure... Only let me go. You're hurting my arm!" He let her go. If it weren't for his memory that lived on, he wouldn't give a snap of his tentacles for her. But he remembered nights on the Volga, afternoons in Brazil... swimming in Peconic Bay—that weekend in the underwater hotel off the Bahamas.
"I'm selling out the Shark! I'm offering it for ten million worths to the pirates. They'll pay that for it. I'll need somebody—human—to build up a gang. I don't want you to move from the apartment, Ada. You hear me? I'll find you, if you do. And you'll be sorry."
"I won't move on you, Clarr. I won't. I swear it." Clarr gestured her away. Already his brain was knowing the power that was his. He turned it over in his mind zestfully. Power was a wonderful thing.
* * *
That same power was reflected in the long, sleek lines of the Shark. Clarr stared at his new home from the speaker's platform. The speeches were almost over. He had made a credible one himself, spouting all the gush the people sopped up like sponges. World State! Glory of the Race! New Vistas opening to the World!
How they had cheered him! Doctor Hartley Ens was bobbing his white head, smiling. Clarr knew he was thinking that Chi'en Su had performed a miracle. Clarr let his brain feel scorn for a moment.
He moved fluidly toward the gangplank, and crossed it. With one stamp of his great foot, he smashed it to splinters. There would be no going back. The crowd screamed its delight at his gesture.
Clarr closed the parabolic door. He went into the interior and locked the safety valves. He made his way along a narrow corridor into the control chamber. The transparent metal they'd found on the moon thirteen centuries before afforded him a view of the thronged field and flier-dotted sky.
He stood erect in the chamber and waved both his cables at the mob. He let them see him lean forward and grasp the fission lever. He pulled it back slowly. Deep in the rear of the ship, the great engines sprang to thunderous, vibrating life.
"The fools!" Clarr whispered to himself. "The benighted fools!" The Shark roared upward through the clouds, gathering speed. It went up faster in the heaviside. The Earth was a slowly turning globe under its jets. It rolled faster and grew smaller as the ship fled away from it.
Clarr stared downward. At the rate the vessel was traveling, he would be out around Mars in one month, at the end of the Solar System in four. If he were going that far, that is. He wasn't, of course. Out beyond the asteroid belt, he'd cut his left banks into silence and swerve to Titan. He had ways of contacting the pirates.
Clarr mentally rubbed his hands, thinking of the ten millions worths they'd pay for this titanic hull. That much wealth would enable him to start in on Mars and build up an organization in the Dust Basins near Syrtis Major, expand to Venus and then to Earth. He was immortal. He had plenty of time. All he needed was the money.
After a long time, he went and stared out the forward ports. The moon was receding behind him, big and silvery where the sunlight hit it. He made out the chrysalis domes dotting the Sims Iridium and the Alpine Valley.
He stamped around the room, restlessly, knowing he had a good bit of traveling ahead of him. No sense in getting bored right off the Earth lanes so he decided to explore the ship. He went down the metal stairways into the bowels of the vessel and found laboratories and draughting room, complete libraries on the arts and sciences. Clarr nodded, seeing row on row of books. They would help to pass the time.
He went onto a tiny catwalk and stared into the metal depression that held the gleaming fission chambers with their steady hum and throb. Faintly he could hear the hum of the jet blasts that choked into silence when they hit empty space. It was an almost silent world he rode. The only noise was his own clankings.
He wandered into one of the laboratories and played with a Gorton burner and some chemicals. He discovered he remembered a lot about his courses at State under O'Mahoney and Nelson. He went through the silicide tests, just for practice, radio-activated some carbon, amused himself blowing odd colors into glass and shaping it in the forms of Venusian temple harlots.
* * *
When he went upstairs, Mars was looming two points off port side. Three long thin needles were sliding away from the snow-capped planet with its red hue, and coming to meet him. Clarr started, flipped over his visual screen, amplified it. The needles were big space-dragons, armed to the teeth with disintegrators.
He tapped out signals, but they wouldn't answer. They let him go out in front by a million miles, and they followed like patient nursemaids. Clarr let cold fact penetrate his brain. They weren't taking any chances, back on Earth. They were herding him out of the System, making sure he'd keep on going. Probably there'd be pickup relays from Titan and Neptune.
Clarr swore coldly and thoroughly." He kicked pettishly at a slim stil leg on a control table, and snapped it. Then he laughed at himself. "I can go from one end of the galaxy to the other and come back. By that time they'll have forgotten all about me. What'm I getting so burned up about?"
He unscrewed the damaged table and lugged it down decks to one of the laboratories, and fitted it with a new leg. He thought, I'm going to have to keep busy. Anything—even this table leg to work on—is better than doing nothing. The space-dragons tailing his jets would make sure he got out of the Solar System. They were taking no chances on Clarr Morson! It came to him that the authorities were afraid of him, in a sense. A criminal brain in a gigantic metal body!
"I could organize the greatest band of space pirates and planet jumpers the Patrol ever met up with. Nobody could kill me, except for a lucky shot. I could even go onto Jupiter, for I don't have to breathe to live."
He took the repaired table up and re-fastened it. Through the plasoport lenses, he watched Saturn and her rings swim by, and then only utter darkness was out here, relieved occasionally by specks of light that were the distant stars. Loneliness came into the ship with the passage of the ringed planet. Clarr Morson felt as though a weight were pressing him down, stifling him.
He would be out of the System in another billion miles. Clicking on the visual screen he noted there weren't any space-dragons within ten million miles. But they might be back there, waiting. Clarr didn't want to risk being blown to elemental electrons. He'd rather go out there among the stars, and wait.
It dawned on him that he'd been riding for months, and he wasn't tired. He hadn't slept, but labored for weeks at a time down in the laboratories, not noticing the time. He chuckled. In his eight-foot metal shell, all his brain received from the food-vats was energy. There were no human muscles or organs to sap it.
He could go into the hibernation chamber and sleep for twenty years; but he didn't have to. He could go down to the laboratories and amuse himself with every volume they'd given him. From simple formulae he could work into the more complex. From easy experiments in the chemistry and physics primers, he could work his way through the whole set in... Well, how long would it take?
It took him seven years to go through every book, to study it and work out every phrase, equation and solution. He found five errors in the books. And at the end of that time he found he knew more about nuclear physics, organic and inorganic chemistry and biology than the entire teaching staff of State and World Universities. Seven years, working and experimenting day and night, were like a lifetime of study back on Terra.
There was only one drawback: His revived brain wouldn't let him rest. He found himself dissatisfied with things. He took the amplifier out of the curved hull and dismembered it. He found flaws. He used different wiring terminals, and added a new chemical mixture which he froze to plastic hardness as a screen for the bulb he wired and blew from spare glass parts. The amplifier showed him a lot more.
He was headed for Alpha Centauri. The Solar System lay astern, behind his jets. The amplifier worked miracles. It revealed a single space-dragon, a hundred million miles off black Pluto, hanging there in space, waiting to prevent his return.
He would have liked very much to grin. Why return, he thought, when somewhere out ahead I might find the help I need to take a sweet revenge?
He thought of Ada, but the old hunger was gone. She'd be thirty-nine years old now. By the time he got back, even if he started now, she'd be edging fifty. And he did not intend to go back, not yet.
* * *
Ahead of him were the unknown stars. Somewhere among them would be a planet with intelligent beings on it! He turned to the new amplifier and spun dials and he found planets, but when he ran tests on them, he found them frozen chunks of matter, or half-nebulous cores surrounded by swirling gases.
The planets he found were uninhabitable, every one of them. And Clarr Morson wanted to waste no time on a planet where only he could live. He wanted a planet with living, intelligent beings. People to serve him, acknowledge him as master, to return with him, armed and ready for war on the solar worlds.
At last he found a planet in his amplifier that was fifteen hundred light years away. As large as Earth, it had the same general atmosphere and plant life. But—fifteen hundred light years! It would take him five thousand years to get there! Earth would have forgotten about him centuries ago.
It was a problem. Clarr took it down into his laboratories and locked himself away for five years. At the end of that time he'd discovered that galaxies—and space itself—vibrated in certain rhythms.
For the next two years he tested his vibratory theories. He built tiny models and discarded them. Then one day he built a model and didn't discard it. After he completed it, it vanished from in front of his eyes. It took him three months to locate it, ten light years ahead of him.
He toiled to make his spaceship a big model. Only the giant metal shell that was his body, only the brain that he'd built up in the long, lonely years in the spaceship could have done it. He completed the job, made his entire ship one single entity ready to vibrate in rhythm at the pull of a switch.
He couldn't explain it, exactly. The nearest he could liken it to was an ant climbing a staircase. He would walk the length of a tread, then up the height of a step. Assuming there was an escalator tread beside the stairs, and the ant could swing onto it, he would go to the top easier and faster. That vibratory pulse was the escalator tread. He would climb into its flow when he pulled the lever.
* * *
Tor Nall stared with infinite puzzlement at the series of radar-graphs that lined the replaceable walls of his study. His slim forefinger traced a red line midway between Altair and Cygnus-3. He shook his head in bewilderment.
"There is no planet there, no star. Unless an asteroid—" He went to the wall cabinets and drew out a thin volume, selected three films from it and ran them through the viewer. He emerged more bewildered than ever. He elevated three floors and went into a takkus-wood-lined office. A big man with a bald head and keen gray eyes, looked up from his desk.
"Well, Tor Nall! Haven't seen you for ages! What brings you up to my hideout?"
"Something that's where it shouldn't be. An asteroid or a planet out of its orbit—or a spaceship." Integrator Jol Rayy raised his eyebrows. His lips quirked at their corners. "Bit imaginative, aren't you? The only inhabitable planet in five thousand light years is Sol Three. And you know about it."
"That's what worries me, sir. I'm positive it isn't from there. It could come from anywhere, because it doesn't travel the usual way."
Jol Rayy looked worried for the first time. "How does it travel?"
"It jumps. My radar-screens catch it in spots ten light years apart. It hops like an insect, or as though it were being carried along by a—a sort of flow."
Jol Rayy got to his feet. "Let's have a look," he said decisively. They descended the power chute together and went into the round radar room. Tor Nall slid his screens out and twirled dials. He said, "I'm guessing, right now. But I should say he'd be minus point two three one crossing at irregular tangent five. Let's give it a try."
He missed, but he kept trying. He found the thing twenty light years ahead. Jol Rayy worked on the oscilloscope, following Tor Nall's computations. He hung on grimly until he had his black-and-whites on the chart.
"Spaceship," he said dully, staring at the tiny recording. Tor Nall looked at him. "Or a small asteroid?"
"What asteroid ever traveled light years at a clip?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Warn the Patrol, naturally. Smash it." Clarr was in his workshop when the alarm jarred the driving chambers over to full pile drive. The ship quivered slightly, and only Clarr knew it was hopping light years as a grasshopper jumps leaves of grass. To the space-dragons from Trannvia, it simply disappeared.
He was interested enough to check on his radar recorders. He ran an almost invisible wire into a visualizer and made a low sound in his voice-box Nine space-dragons, away out here in forgotten space! Then he kicked the controls over to manual and made a wide arc, coming back as fast as he had gone. But now there were infro-space screens up around the hull, and a dozen beamers sliding out silently through lifting vanes in the prow of his ship.
He overran his target, but a glancing beam caught one of the space-dragons on its tail and whirled it end over end. Clarr circled, and came back. He hung there motionless, like a poised killer-shark. The eight spaceships blasted at him, but the infro-space screens sent the violet rays looped over the hull to meet and touch each other, with the Shark an unhurt core of violet brilliance.
Clarr let the ships pull out their best punches before he signaled. He knew they wouldn't understand his code, but they'd recognize intelligence.
Jol Rayy was nervous. He paced the wide metal strip far above the city, and watched the alien ship lower slowly between the eight space-dragons He had scanned and re-scanned the space captain's report until he could recall it from memory.
The best Weapons of the Trann had only served to spotlight the strange craft. Somehow, with the wisdom of a god, the alien had found a way to shrug off weapons it had taken the Trann half a million years to invent.
The strange craft was settling into the cradle now. Soon the valves would be opening and a stranger would be setting foot for the first time on his home planet. Jol Rayy shivered. It was not a first meeting with an alien civilization. But it was a first meeting with a different species, where the weapons of the Trann were futile.
He swung into the descendor and threw over the lever.
* * *
Clarr watched the sprawling, white and gold city emerge into the wide glassine panels of his port window. A high type civilization. Higher even than Earth culture. Fascinated, he watched narrow ribbons of metal curve upward almost to cloud level, and the narrow, speeding cars that rocketed on monorails. There were parks and swim-lakes scattered throughout the metropolis. Giant buildings moved up and up, and up, spaced by lower and wider ones whose roofs were dotted with lush green foliage.
"Couldn't have asked anything better," he muttered. "High culture. Advanced civilization. They're warlike, judging from the welcome I got. They ought to be interested in attaching a few rich planets to themselves, as colonies. With my space-drive units installed in their ships, they're that much closer to Earth. It's worthwhile colonizing, then."
Still, there was no sense in being a wide-eyed baby in this first meeting. He didn't know what sort of tricks they might pull, once he was out of the Shark. It might be well to be prepared.
He sighed and clomped- down the passageway toward his workshop. He fumbled in his tool kit, and drew out a few twisty-barreled objects. Staring at his reflection in a mirror, he went to work on his left shoulder.
He cut a square hole and took out the cutting. Next, he welded a small metal box together, making sure that it fit the cut exactly. Into the box he crowded fission chambers and fuel ducts, each a perfect miniature of the great atom bombs on display in the World Museum. If he had to go he'd take a lot of them along.
The last thing he added was a red stud that looked like an ornament. One touch on that stud and he would detonate a shell of fury that would disintegrate one hundred square miles.
He couldn't step out with a pile-gun in each tendril. He would have to emerge unarmed. On the surface, anyhow! He let a tendril slide over the red stud reassuringly, thinking what an untidy mess it would make if he ever had to press it.
Reassured, Clarr went out into the passageway and climbed to his forward tower. He was almost in the cradle now. He reached out and touched controls. The ship settled nicely, without a jar. He sat silent while the cradle lowered. There was a bump and a grate of metal against metal, and then a glittering walk of polished silver slid forth on silent rollers to the very edge of the spaceship's door.
Clarr touched a button, and the door opened. Looming in the doorway, he stared from his jeweled eyes at the thronged walks and railings.
They were men! He felt tricked, cheated. Back on the Shark, he had envisioned his meeting with some alien star beings. Secretly, he had imaged them as scrawny octopi, who would fawn on him. They would accept him as a god, would learn science under him. With their science, the star beings would form a mighty army under Clarr Morson and subjugate Earth. Revenge would be sweet!
A little delegation of white-robed men walked toward him, and halted. He saw their lips move, and heard sounds come out, but he could not understand them. He motioned them to silence, went back into the ship, and brought out an electro-graph, which he clicked onto an arm. The electro-graph had been developed by Klauss to assist in the study of the mentally deficient. It recorded the electrical waves given off by human thought. Fertelli had added an adapter which transmitted those thought waves into code.
"We of Trann greet you," they said. Clarr said, "I am glad to be here. Would you like to come aboard my ship?" Then he took them through the Shark, seeing their reactions reveal knowledge of some objects, and their utter ignorance of others. The things Clarr had worked on, alone in the Shark, they had never seen before. It was an advantage to read their minds when they could not understand his mental reactions.
* * *
The Trann, he discovered, were strangely suspicious of him. One faction wanted him killed. Another group wanted to make use of him. He had come from somewhere, and that somewhere might be ripe for conquest. He felt uneasy. But he learned, before long, that the Trann were planning a giant attack on another star system.
Space-dragons and cruisers were being ordered, new weapons were being developed.
After the investigation of his ship, Clarr was taken to a great building in the center of the city. Here he clanked across a white marble floor to stare unwinkingly into the hard, cold eyes of Stol Tay, Overlord of Trann. The Overlord was lean and fit, with arrogance stamped on his fine features, his lips proclaiming the physical appetites that warred in his makeup.
Clarr heard himself discussed, argued over, insulted, praised and flattered. From the thought-waved code being transmitted into his auriculox, and the sounds of the Trann speech, he was able to match up a thought and a word, here and there. Soon he found himself understanding the simple, austere Trann language. When he was sure that he knew the words he wanted to use, he stood up.
He lifted a metallic tentacle. A profound silence, of shock and awed disbelief, fell upon the room when he began to speak.
"People of Trann, I come in peace. I seek your aid to punish my people who did me a wrong." Stol Tay was leaning forward, eyes glittering. With a smile on his lips, he said, "You who understand our speech so readily, tell me! Who are your people? Whence come you? These people who wronged you—do they resemble you?"
Clarr said, "I came from Sol Three. It is a small planet revolving around—" He went no further. The entire room seemed to explode in sound, as men stood and waved silks and sashes, drummed on the floor with sandaled feet. Their voices were hoarse and savage. Here and there, Clarr caught a shouted, "He's a spy!" And other voices joined in with, "Disintegrate him! Disintegrate the spy!"
Stol Tay stood erect before his throne, nostrils flared, trying to look down the tumultuous reaction Clarr's announcement had caused. He lifted a right arm and swept it before his chest. Armed guards sprang from the walls, long lances butt foremost.
The hard steethus-wood butts enforced silence. Here and there a man held his silks to a bleeding head. The guards faced the gathering, now, and the butts were reversed. Instead of steethus-wood the men faced glittered spear-points
* * *
Stol Tay said softly, "One more disturbance, and my palace guards will sweep you from the audience chamber! This man is from Sol Three. Obviously he would not know we ourselves planned' to invade his native planet, else he would never have been so rash as to come before us!
Clarr staggered, as though hit with a stil-wedge. The Overlord's words burned in his brain. We ourselves planned to invade his native planet...
"But that can't be!" he protested. "I came hunting revenge. I find you here, at hand, ready to do what I've dreamed of doing for years!"
Stol Tay laughed softly. He said, "The gods choose strange servants for their ends. Your people, now. Are they like you?" Clarr shook his head. "No—like you. They put my living brain in this metal body to send me out among the stars. I hated them for it. I want to go back, to conquer them, to—"
Stol Tay clapped his hands. He gave orders that Clarr be taken to a suite of rooms high in his palace, there to be tended by speech instructors and savants who would teach him of Trann, its history and sciences. The Overlord looked at Clarr and said, "I will come myself to visit you within a week. By that time, learn all my savants teach you."
It did not take long. Soon Clarr Morson spoke the short, yet liquid syllables of the Trann properly, soon he understood their past and their hoped-for future.
In mid-morning of his fifth day on the planet Trann, Stol Tay came to see him. Clarr Morson spoke of the power piles of Earth, of their weapons, of their almost barbaric genius for battle. But over that he laid a layer of praise for his own infro-space screen, which no weapon could penetrate.
Then he frosted his words with descriptions of stil mines on Venus, of the rare corbonyx crystals of Mars' red deserts, of the strange vannar atoms that man mined from Saturn's rings, which could furnish enough power from a lump of vannar the size of a pea to push a spacecraft across the Solar System a dozen times or more.
He dwelt on the pleasure chambers of Amerasia, where girls from all corners of Earth Empire were taught oddly pleasing habits. He referred to the underwater rooms off the Bahamas and Philippines, where a man could taste the strange effects of Martian stahalish without ill reactions. He spent some time on the giant metro-poles of Mars and Earth and Venus, rightly calculating the greed and the lust in the eyes of the Trann Overlord.
"I want to go back there," he said in conclusion. "I want to lead that force of Trann space-dragons and cruisers you've been gathering for years for just this invasion! I'll run up your Cat banner over every one of the System's major cities! You wanted war with Sol Three because it's the nearest inhabited star system. I'll bring you your war, with a positive victory. With my knowledge, my info-screen, plus your fighting ships and men, we can't lose! I'll make you Overlord of two star systems!"
* * *
Stol Tay licked his lips. "And you?"
"I'll be your second-in-command of the Solar System. You'll get your tribute. I just want a thin slice of it. That'll be enough for me."
Stol Tay stalked the room, his chest pumping with the greed and excitement that Clarr's words had started in him. He whirled with a sway of his white cloak, eyes bright.
"Taxes? Can you tax those people of yours?" Clarr laughed. "I'll tax them bloody! I'll give enough to the ones in authority so that we'll keep them always just one jump short of armed rebellion. I've had a long time to plan the way to run the Three Planets. You'll get money for your—amusements."
Stol Tay opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. He chuckled, dryly. It was impossible to know anger against this thing of metal. It was like a servant, a perfect servant. He thought about his own particular brand of amusement, and a little thrill of anticipation coursed down his backbone. He locked his fingers and squeezed hard, to gain that cold control on which he prided himself.
He said, "We of Trann have certain things to offer you, as well as Over-lordship of the Three Planets. Our medical men have long been using a plasto-flesh synthesis to repair battle wounds. There is no reason why they could not form a body of plasto-flesh for you, complete with neural system, implying as that does a thorough enjoyment of the five senses."
Clarr could not betray his emotions, but his brain remembered Ada. By this time, Ada was a rotting corpse, but there were other women in the Three Planets. He had always had a hankering for a redheaded Martian temple girl, but those temple girls cost money. Now he would have that money. It would be a nice setup. It was almost too good to be true.
For two hours, Clarr Morson and Stol Tay talked. They outlined to each other an entire course of action that would see the Three Planets overwhelmed in less than two years.
Stol Tay concluded, "We will tell the leading citizens of Trann, at a great council meeting, one week from today. I will have engineers there, the finest in the Trann Empire, to install your infro-space screens in one hundred of our mightiest space-dragons I will have medical geniuses there, to begin work on your new body. I will have space-fleet commanders there to confer with you on battle tactics. There will be artists, to sculpt and paint you in your present form—the man who has made our invasion plans so simple and easy! I myself will deliver into your hands the scroll, making you a Trann citizen, with the rank of Sandar!"
Clarr got up, seeing the interview was at an end. He murmured his thanks, which Stol Tay brushed aside. "After all," he told Clarr, "you have put certain victory in our hands!" For a long while after the Overlord had gone, Clarr Morson stood by the arched window, tasting the warm satisfaction of a cherished dream soon to be realized.
* * *
One week later, Clarr Morson sat on a huge chair raised above the speaker's platform in the Great Council Room of the Trann. Before an audience of ten thousand of the first ranking Trann statesmen and engineers, scientists and scholars, Stol Tay presented him with the radiant scroll that made him an honorary citizen of the Trann in the advanced rank of Sandar.
Standing on the dais that overlooked the vast chamber, Stol Tay said, "We are gathered here to make the most decisive step in the long history of the Trann. We are sworn to secrecy, so that no word of what transpires here will reach the people, until such time as we can announce overwhelming victory!
"As you know, we planned to invade Sol Three, the nearest star system with habitable planets. That plan has become reality, thanks to Clarr Morson."
Stol Tay waited for the cheering to subside before he went on. "He will confer with all of you in the next few weeks, outlining my plans for making the Trann Empire the greatest in the stars..."
Clarr sat, a giant metal image, at the speakers' rostrum, and listened to the flow of oratory. Soon now, he would begin conferences with engineers and militarists. He would reveal the secret of his infro-space beams and other weaponry. He would expose the value of Earth weapons, the extent of space and planet defenses.
The thought came unbidden. I am a traitor to my people! But he pushed it aside, savagely. Clarr Morson owed no Earthling allegiance! He owed allegiance only to himself; and now, to the Trann.
If his metal mouth could have smiled, it would. He thought back on Dr. Ens and what he had said the day before he left Earth in the Shark. What was it? Oh, yes... "And a mental bloc has been added by post-operative hypnosis to correct any chance of your backsliding." He supposed that treachery was a form of backsliding into criminal ways. But there was nothing Dr. Ens of Earth could do, now.
Stol Tay turned and gestured to him. Clarr turned his attention to the Overlord of Trann. Stol Tay was saying, "According to our new citizen, the Earth and her satellite planets are rich with plunder. As Overlord of the Three Planets, he will make sure that we of the Trann Empire receive our full share. And now I present—Clarr Morson, of Trann!"
The room shook with applause. Clarr towered high on the dais, looking down at the upturned faces. The brains of all Trann were gathered here. If anything happened to them, he thought, and to myself, the Earth would be safe forever.
But what could happen? Clarr thought of Dr. Ens and his mental bloc, and mentally sneered. He lifted his right hand to still the continued cheering. At the height of his shoulder, his metallic hand paused and swerved. For one instant, as his hand turned aside and came down, Clarr remembered the powerful atom bomb he had built into his shoulder casing.
And then his metal finger touched the red stud, and thrust it down.
* * *
The historians of the Trann never did find out what caused the fearful mushroom of atomic power that blew its greatest brains to hazy mists in the Month of the Acorn, Year of the Red Dragon. That mushroom set them back two hundred years, in science and the arts. By the time they recovered from the blow, it was too late.
Earth Empire had already reached out and conquered the Trann.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more of Mr. Fox’s short pulp works, The Return of Dargoll & Other Pulp Stories is available in hard and soft cover editions.