The Godmen and The Stars, My Brothers: Two Space Epics from the Glory Days of the SF Pulps [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Edmond Hamilton
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: The Godmen & The Stars, My Brothers: Two Space Epics from the Glory Days of the SF Pulps
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2006
BOOK ONE THE GODMEN * * * * CHAPTER I
8 Reader Ratings:
Break free, little Earthmen, break free of Sol and Earth!
He had broken free. Forgotten and petty now were the first feeble attempts, the Sputniks, the moon and Mars rockets that had followed them, all those stumbling baby steps. Now, with the star-drive, man had broken free and for the first time the stars were conquered--
And suddenly it seemed to Mark Harlow that all the universe was laughing at him, at the vanity of man, a cosmic laughter ringing across the galaxies.
But you are not the first, little Earthmen! The Vorn did it long ago!
And the gargantuan laughter of that jest rocked and shook the constellations, and Harlow cried out in disappointment and shame.
He cried out, and awoke.
He was not in space. He was in his bunk in the Thetis, and he was sweating, and Kwolek, his second officer, was looking down at him in wonder.
"I came to wake you, sir--and you gave a yell."
The fading echoes of that cosmic laughter still rang mockingly in Harlow's ears. He got out of the bunk and stood on the plastic deck and he was thinking.
"If it's true, it is a joke on all of us. And the joke may have cost Dundonald his life."
The Thetis rested quietly upon the soil of an alien planet, and alien pink sunlight came through the ports of his little cabin. The small starship was a thing of Earth, and the nineteen men aboard it were men of Earth. They had come far, and worked hard, and the feeling that it had never been done before had sparked them all the way, and now if they found out they had been anticipated, how would they feel?
Harlow told himself to forget that; there was no use dwelling upon it. Dundonald had brooded too much on that cosmic mystery, had gone forth to solve it, and where was Dundonald now? Where, indeed? It was up to him to find out, and that was why he was here at ML-441, and he was getting exactly nowhere in his search.
He stretched wearily, a stocky, broad-shouldered man in jacket slacks, looking more rumpled than a Star Survey captain should look. He asked, "What is it, Kwolek?"
Kwolek's round red face was worried. "Nothing's happened. But that's what makes me uneasy. Not one of those people have come near us all day--but they keep watching us from the edge of their town."
Harlow came alert. "N'Kann hasn't sent any word?"
"No." And Kwolek added, "You ask me, those saffron so-and-sos have just been stalling you."
Harlow grunted. "You may be right. But I'll wait till sunset. If he doesn't send a message, I'll go and have it out with him."
"It's your neck," said Kwolek, a characteristic fine, free lack respect. "But they look kind of ugly to me."
Harlow went through the narrow metal corridors and out of the lock, stepping onto withered, orange-colored grass. The heat and glare, reflected by the shining metal flank of the Thetis, hit him like a blow.
A dull-red sun glared from low in the rosy sky. It was not a very big or important star. It had no name, only a number in the Star Survey catalogues. But it had two planets, of which this was the innermost, and it was a big enough sun to make this world hot and humid and slightly unbearable.
The orange-colored grassy plain on which the Thetis had landed ten days before rolled gently away to hills crowned by yellow forests. But only a mile away upon the plain rose the strange crimson stone town of the people who called themselves the Ktashas in their own language. The red light of the setting sun painted their weird monolithic city an even deeper crimson.
Harlow could see the gay-colored short robes of the golden-skinned people who stood in irregular rows at the edge of the town, and stared toward the Thetis.
"What gets me," said Kwolek, "is that they're so blasted much like us."
He had followed Harlow out of the ship, and so had Garcia, the Third Officer, a young Mexican whose trimness was a constant reproach to Harlow and Kwolek. The Star Survey was strictly UN, and the Thetis had a dozen different nations represented in its crew.
"I should have thought you would have got over your surprise at that, by now," said Garcia.
Kwolek shrugged. "I don't believe I'll ever get over it. It was too big a shock."
Yes, thought Harlow, that had been the first surprise men had got when, after the first trips to the disappointingly lifeless nearer planets, they had got to other stars. The discovery that an Earth-type world would usually have human and animal life reasonably close to the Terran had been unexpected. But then the quick-following discovery that the old Arrhenius theory had been correct, that there were spores of life in deep space, had explained it. Wherever those spores had come from, whatever faraway fountainhead of life, they were identical and when they fell upon a world like Earth they had quite naturally developed the same general types of life.
A big surprise, yes, but not a dismaying one. Earthmen were still ahead, sometimes far ahead, of these other human and humanoid races in achievement. After all, they had said, we were the first race of all to conquer space, to invent the ion-drive and then the spacewarp, and travel between the stars. We men of Earth--the pioneers.
And that, thought Harlow, was where the second surprise had come. As ships of the Star Survey landed on far-separated star-worlds, as their linguists learned alien languages and spoke with these peoples, they gradually got the surprise. Almost all these peoples of the stars had a common belief, a legend.
"You Earthmen are not the first. Others have traveled the stars for a long time and still do. The Vorn." * * * *
The name was different on different worlds, but the legend was always the same. Earthmen were not first. The Vorn had been first. They had been, and still were, star-travelers. And--
"The Vorn use no ships like yours. They come and go, but not in ships."
Small wonder that scientists of the Star Survey, like Edwin Dundonald, had felt a feverish curiosity to get at the bottom of this legend of the Vorn. There had to be something behind it. Peoples forever separated by light-years could not make it up in their own heads simultaneously.
And Dundonald's party had set out in their Starquest, and that had been the start of it, for Harlow. For no communic-message could come back from Dundonald at these vast distances. And when Dundonald himself had not come back, after months, the Survey became worried. Which was why the Survey had sent Harlow to find Dundonald, who was his friend and also a valuable scientist. Since his plans had included this star-system, they had come to ML-441 to find his trail.
"We've been here all this time," Kwolek was saying pessimistically, as they stared at the silent, distant figures and the town. "We've learned their language, and that's all we have learned. It's a washout. And now I think they want us off their world."
"We're not leaving," Harlow said, "until we talk to that man Brai."
Brave words, he thought. What had he been doing here all this time but trying to find Brai, and failing. Failing in the very first step of his search for Dundonald.
As they stood there, the sun touched the horizon and washed lurid light over everything. Harlow turned.
"I'm going in to see N'Kann. I'm going to have this out with him."
"I'll go with you," said Kwolek, but Harlow shook his head.
"And I don't want you coming after me, either. Wait."
As Harlow walked forward, he was conscious of the sullen hostility in the gay-robed, immobile, silent group at the edge of the monolithic town. The very first Star Survey ship to touch here had accurately estimated the half-civilized state of the Ktashan culture, and it was the Survey's policy to deal with all such peoples with a careful absence of patronage or domination.
That, Harlow thought, was what had made it difficult for him all along. He didn't think it would be any easier now, when his persistent questions about Dundonald and the Vorn had roused superstitions.
The sun went out like a lamp and the moonless dark clapped down. Torches flared as he walked across the plain, and he headed toward them. And there in the torchlight amid other tall, impassive, golden-skinned men stood N'Kann. His powerful face was hostile, and his voice rolled harshly in the slurred language that Harlow had learned.
"There is nothing for you here. Take your ship and go!"
Harlow walked up to him, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. He kept his voice carefully calm and casual.
"We will go. But it is as I have said before. We seek the Earthman, Dundonald, who was here. We must know where he went from here."
"I have told you that we do not know," retorted the Chief Councilor.
Harlow nodded. "But there is someone here who does know. A man of your people named Brai, Dundonald talked to him."
He remembered very well the garrulous old man of the Ktashas who had told him--cackling the meanwhile at Harlow's mispronunciations--that the last Earthman here had talked of the Vorn with young Brai. He had not found Brai. He had not even found the old man again.
Harlow said, "Where is Brai?"
"Who knows that name?" retorted N'Kann. The faces of all the Councilors were blank. "No one."
"Yet Dundonald spoke with him," persisted Harlow. "He spoke with him of the Vorn."
The ruddy torches flared steady and unshaken but it was as though a cold wind swept through the group of golden men when they heard that name.
And N'Kann threw up an arm free of his barbaric bright robe, and gestured with it toward the black sky, spangled by stars across which the dark blot of the mighty Horsehead Cloud sprawled like a brooding cosmic octopus.
"My people do not talk of the Wanderers--no!"
So the Vorn were also called the Wanderers here? Harlow filed that fact mentally, and pressed another question.
"Why? Are you afraid of them?"
The flash in N'Kann's eyes was dangerous. "We do not fear any men. Certainly not Earthmen."
"Then the Vorn are not men?"
"I will not talk of them." N'Kann's voice rose, heavy with rage. "They come and they go from star to star as they wish, and it is their right, and it is not for us to speak of them. Nor for you, Earthman--nor for you!"
The little group muttered agreement, and from all along the torchlit row of men there was a movement toward Harlow. Hands were under their short robes now, and he knew they had weapons in their grasp.
He had no weapon, nor if he had could he have used one. The law of the Star Survey was iron on that point. If you went to another people's world and flashed Earth weapons, court-martial awaited you.
"I say again that we wish no more talk of the Vorn!" cried N'Kann. "And that by tomorrow's sunrise, your ship must be gone."
Harlow knew that he had failed. He had not found even the first clue to Dundonald's trail, and if he left ML-441 now, he would never find one. Yet they were not going to let him into the town again to look for Brai, that was clear.
He turned and walked back into the darkness of the plain. He heard low, fierce voices behind him, and the timbre of them made him think that he had been lucky to get away from them unscathed.
But had he got away yet? The torches were soon well behind him, and the lights of the Thetis a half mile ahead, when Harlow's ears picked up a stealthy sound from behind. A sound of quiet running.
He turned quickly. He could see nothing. Whoever came was being careful not to show himself against the distant torches.
So they had decided not to wait out their own ultimatum, and had sent someone after him? Harlow felt anger rise in him. He had no weapon. But they were not going to hunt down an Earthman in the dark like this.
Too far, to call to the Thetis. His only chance was in counter-surprise. He went down on one knee and poised waiting, listening.
He heard the soft, fast footsteps come closer, and just glimpsed a flitting darker shadow against the dark.
Harlow lunged and crashed into the runner, hard.