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   Chapter 18 No.18

Islands of Space By Jr. John W. Campbell Characters: 13519

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hundreds of years ago, on Nansal, there had lived a wise and brilliant teacher named Norus. He had developed an ideal, a philosophy of life, a code of ethics. He had taught the principles of nobility without arrogance, pride without stubbornness, and humility without servility.

About him had gathered a group of men who began to develop and spread his ideals. As the new philosophy spread across the planet, more and more Nansalians adopted it and began to raise their children according to its tenets.

But no philosophy, however workable, however noble, can hope to convert everyone. There always remains a hard core of men who feel that "the old way is the best way". In this case, it was the men whose lives had been based on cunning, deceit, and treachery.

One of these men, a brilliant, but warped genius, named Sator, had built the first spaceship, and he and his men had fled Nansal to set up their own government and free themselves from the persecution they believed they suffered at the hands of the believers of Norus.

They fled to the second planet, where the ship crashed and the builder, Sator, was killed. For hundreds of years, nothing was heard of the emigrants, and the people of Nansal believed them dead. Nansal was at peace.

But the Satorians managed to live on the alien world, and they built a civilization there, a civilization based on an entirely different system. It was a system of cunning. To them, cunning was right. The man who could plot most cunningly, gain his ends by deceiving his friends best, was the man who most deserved to live. There were a few restrictions; they had loyalty, for one thing-loyalty to their country and their world.

In time, the Satorians rediscovered the space drive, but by this time, living on the new planet had changed them physically. They were somewhat smaller than the Nansalians, and lighter in color, for their world was always sunless. The warm rays of the sun had tanned the skins of the Nansalians to a darker color.

When the Satorians first came to Nansal, it was presumably in peace. After so many hundreds of years without war, the Nansalians accepted them, and trade treaties were signed. For years, the Satorians traded peacefully.

In the meantime, Satorian spies were working to find the strengths and weaknesses of Nansal, searching to discover their secret weapons and processes, if any. And they rigorously guarded their own secrets. They refused to disclose the secrets of the magnetic beam and the magnetic space drive.

Finally, there were a few of the more suspicious Nansalians who realized the danger in such a situation. There were three men, students in one of the great scientific schools of Nansal, who realized that the situation should be studied. There was no law prohibiting the men of Nansal from going to Sator, but it seemed that Nature had raised a more impenetrable barrier.

All Nansalians who went to Sator died of a mysterious disease. A method was found whereby a man's body could be sterilized, bacteriologically speaking, so he could not spread the disease, and this was used on all Satorians entering Nansal. But you can't sterilize a whole planet. Nansalians could not go to Sator.

But these three men had a different idea. They carefully studied the speech and the mannerisms and customs of the Satorians. They learned to imitate the slang and idioms. They went even further; they picked three Satorian spaceship navigators and studied them minutely every time they got a chance, in order to learn their habits and their speech patterns. The three Satorians were exceptionally large men, almost perfect doubles of the three Nansalians-and, one by one, the Nansalians replaced them.

They had bleached their faces, and surgeons, working from photographs, changed their features so that the three Nansalians were exact doubles of the three astrogators. Then they acted. On three trips, one of the men that went back as navigator was a Nansalian.

It was six years before they returned to Nansal, but when they finally did, they had learned two things.

In the first place, the 'disease' which had killed Nansalians who had come in contact with Satorians on Nansal was nothing but a poison which acted on contact with the skin. The Nansalians who had gone to Sator had simply been murdered. There was no disease; it had simply been a Satorian plot to keep Nansalians from going to Sator.

The second thing they had learned was the secret of the Satorian magnetic space drive.

It was common knowledge on Sator that their commander would soon lead them across space to conquer Nansal and settle on a world of clear air and cloudless skies, where they could see the stars of space at night. They were waiting only until they could build up a larger fleet and learned all they could from the Nansalians.

They attacked three years after the three Nansalian spies returned with their information.

During those three years, Nansal had secretly succeeded in building up a fleet of the magnetic ships, but it went down quickly before the vastly greater fleet of the Satorians. Their magnetic rays were deadly, killing everyone they struck. They could lift the iron-boned Nansalians high into the air, then drop them hundreds of feet to their death.

The buildings, with their steel and iron frames, went down, crushing hundreds of others. They practically depopulated the whole planet.

But the warnings of the three spies had been in time. They had enlarged some of the great natural caverns and dug others out of solid rock. Here they had built laboratories, factories, and dwelling places far underground, where the Satorians could never find them.

Enough men reached the caverns before the disaster struck to carry on. They had been chosen from the strongest, healthiest, and most intelligent that Nansal had. They lived there for over a century, while the planet was overrun by the conquerors and the cities were rebuilt by the Satorians.

During this century, the magnetic ray shield was developed by the hidden Nansalians. Daring at last to face their conquerors, they built a city on the surface and protected it with the magnetic force screen.

By the time the Satorians found the city, it was too late. A battle fleet was mobilized and rushed to the spot, but the city was impregnable. The great domed power stations were already in operation, and they were made of nonmagnetic materials, so they could not be pulled from the ground. The magnetic beams were neutralized by the shield, and no ship could pass through it without killing every man aboard.

That first city was a giant munitions plant. The Nansalians built factories there and laughed while the armies of Sator raged impotently

at the magnetic barrier. They tried sending missiles through, but the induction heating in every metal part of the bombs either caused them to explode instantly or to drop harmlessly and burn.

In the meantime, the men of Nansal were building their fleet. The Satorians stepped up production, too, but the Nansalians had developed a method of projecting the magnetic screen. Any approaching Satorian ship had its magnetic support cut from under it, and it crashed to the ground.

It took nearly thirty years of hard work and harder fighting for the Nansalians to convince the people of Sator that Nansal and the philosophy of Norus had not only not been wiped out, but was capable of wiping out the Satorians.

With their screened and protected fleet, the followers of Norus smashed the Satorian cities, and drove their enemy back to Sator.

There were only three enemy cities left on Nansal when, somehow, they managed to learn the secret of the magnetic screen.

By this time, the forces of Nansal had increased tremendously, and they developed the next surprise for the Satorians. One after another, the three remaining cities were destroyed by a barrage of poison gas.

The fleet of Sator tried to retaliate, but the Nansalians were prepared for them. Every building had been sealed and filters had been built into the air conditioning systems.

Shortly, the men of Nansal were again in control of their planet, and the fleet stood guard over the planet.

The Satorians, beaten technologically, were still not ready to give up. Falling back on their peculiar philosophy of life, they pulled a trick the Nansalians would never have thought of. They sued for peace.

The government of Nansal was willing; they had had enough of bloodshed. They permitted a delegation to arrive. The ship was escorted into the city and the parleying began.

The Satorian delegation asked for absolutely unreasonable terms. They demanded fleet bases on Nansal; they demanded an unreasonable rate of exchange between the two powers, one which would be highly favorable to Sator; they wanted to impose fantastic restrictions on Nansalian travel and none whatsoever on their own.

Month followed month and months became years as the diplomats of Nansal tried, patiently and logically, to show the Satorians how unreasonable their demands were.

Not once did they suspect that the Satorians had no intention of trying to get the conditions they asked for. Their sole purpose was to drag the parleying on and on, bickering, quarreling, demanding, and conceding just enough to give the Nansalians hope that a treaty might eventually be consummated.

And during all that time, the factories of Sator were working furiously to build the greatest fleet that had ever crossed the space between the two planets!

When they were ready to attack, the Satorian delegation told Nansal frankly that they would not treaty with them. The day the delegation left, the Satorian fleet swept down upon Nansal!

The Nansalians were again beaten back into their cities, safe behind their magnetic screens, but unable to attack. But the forces of Sator had not won easily-they had, in fact, not won at all. Their supply line was too long and their fleet had suffered greatly at the hands of the defenders of Nansal.

For a long while, the balance of power was so nearly equal that neither side dared attack.

Then the balance again swung toward Nansal. A Nansalian scientist discovered a compact method of storing power. Oddly enough, it was similar to the method Dr. Richard Arcot had discovered a hundred thousand light centuries away! It did not store nearly the power, and was inefficient, but it was a great improvement over their older method of generating energy in the ship itself.

The Nansalian ships could be made smaller, and lighter, and more maneuverable, and at the same time could be equipped with heavier, more powerful magnetic beam generators.

Very shortly, the Satorians were again at the mercy of Nansal. They could not fight the faster, more powerful ships of the Nansalians, and again they went down in defeat.

And again they sued for peace.

This time, Nansal knew better; they went right on developing their fleet while the diplomats of Sator argued.

But the Satorians weren't fools; they didn't expect Nansal to swallow the same bait a second time. Sator had another ace up her sleeve.

Ten days after they arrived, every diplomat and courier of the Satorian delegation committed suicide!

Puzzled, the government of Nansal reported the deaths to Sator at once, expecting an immediate renewal of hostilities; they were quite sure that Sator assumed they had been murdered. Nansal was totally unprepared for what happened; Sator acknowledged the message with respects and said they would send a new commission.

Two days later, Nansal realized it had been tricked again. A horrible disease broke out and spread like wildfire. The incubation period was twelve days; during that time it gave no sign. Then the flesh began to rot away, and the victim died within hours. No wonder the ambassadors had committed suicide!

Millions died, including Torlos' own father, during the raging epidemic that followed. But, purely by lucky accident, the Nansalian medical research teams came up with a cure and a preventive inoculation before the disease had spread over the whole planet.

Sator's delegation had inoculated themselves with the disease and, at the sacrifice of their own lives, had spread it on Nansal. Although the Satorians had developed the horribly virulent strain of virus, they had not found a cure; the diplomats knew they were going to die.

Having managed to stop the disease before it swept the planet, the Nansalians decided to pull a trick of their own. Radio communication with Sator was cut off in such a way as to lead the Satorian government to believe that Nansal was dying of the disease.

The scientists of Sator knew that the virus was virulent; in fact, too virulent for its own good. It killed the host every time, and the virus could not live outside a living cell. They knew that shortly after every Nansalian died, the virus, too, would be dead.

Their fleet started for Nansal six months after radio contact had broken off. Expecting to find Nansal a dead planet, they were totally unprepared to find them alive and ready for the attack. The Satorian fleet, vastly surprised to find a living, vigorous enemy, was totally wiped out.

Since that time, both planets had remained in a state of armed truce. Neither had developed any weapon which would enable them to gain an advantage over their enemy. Each was so spy-infested that no move could pass undiscovered.

Stalemate.

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