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   Chapter 6 No.6

Skylark Three By E. E. Smith Characters: 30085

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Peace Conference

"Here's a chart of the green system, Mart, with all the motions and the rest of the dope that they've been able to get. How'd it be for you to navigate us over to the third planet of the fourteenth sun?"

"While you build a Fenachrone super-generator?"

"Right, the first time. Your deducer is hitting on all eight, as usual. That big ray is hot stuff, and their ray-screen is something to write home about, too."

"How can their rays be any hotter than ours, Dick?" Dorothy asked curiously. "I thought you said we had the very last word in rays."

"I thought we had, but those birds we met back there spoke a couple of later words. Their rays work on an entirely different system than the one we use. They generate an extremely short carrier wave, like the Millikan cosmic ray, by recombining some of the electrons and protons of their disintegrating metal, and upon this wave they impose a pure heat frequency of terrific power. The Millikan rays will penetrate anything except a special ray screen or a zone of force, and carry with them-somewhat as radio frequencies carry sound frequencies-the heat rays, which volatilize anything they touch. Their ray screens are a lot better than ours, too-they generate the entire spectrum. It's a sweet system and when we revamp ours so as to be just like it, we'll be able to talk turkey to those folks on the third planet."

"How long will it take you to build it?" asked Crane, who, dexterously turning the pages of "Vega's Handbuch" was calculating their course.

"A day or so-maybe less. I've got all the stuff and with my Osnomian tools it won't take long. If you find you'll get there before I get done, you'll have to loaf a while-kill a little time."

"Are you going to connect the power plant to operate on the entire vessel and all its contents?"

"No-can't do it without redesigning the whole thing and that's hardly worth while for the short time we'll use this old bus."

Building those generators would have been a long and difficult task for a corps of earthly mechanics and electricians, but to Seaton it was merely a job. The "shop" had been enlarged and had been filled to capacity with Osnomian machinery; machine tools that were capable of performing automatically and with the utmost precision and speed any conceivable mechanical operation. He put a dozen of them to work, and before the vessel reached its destination, the new offensive and defensive weapons had been installed and thoroughly tested. He had added a third screen-generator, so that now, in addition to the four-foot hull of arenak and the repellers, warding off any material projectile, the Skylark was also protected by an outer, an intermediate, and an inner ray-screen; each driven by the super-power of a four-hundred-pound bar and each covering the entire spectrum-capable of neutralizing any dangerous frequency known to those master-scientists, the Fenachrone.

As the Skylark approached the planet, Seaton swung number six visiplate upon it, and directed their flight toward a great army base. Darting down upon it, he snatched an officer into the airlock, closed the door, and leaped back into space. He brought the captive into the control room pinioned by auxiliary attractors, and relieved him of his weapons. He then rapidly read his mind, encountering no noticeable resistance, released the attractors, and addressed him in his own language.

"Please be seated, lieutenant," Seaton said courteously, motioning him to one of the seats. "We come in peace. Please pardon my discourtesy in handling you, but it was necessary in order to learn your language and thus to get in touch with your commanding officer."

The officer, overcome with astonishment that he had not been killed instantly, sank into the seat indicated, without a reply, and Seaton went on:

"Please be kind enough to signal your commanding officer that we are coming down at once, for a peace conference. By the way, I can read your signals, and will send them myself if necessary."

The stranger worked an instrument attached to his harness briefly, and the Skylark descended slowly toward the fortress.

"I know, of course, that your vessels will attack," Seaton remarked, as he noted a crafty gleam in the eyes of the officer. "I intend to let them use all their power for a time, to prove to them the impotence of their weapons. After that, I shall tell you what to say to them."

"Do you think this is altogether safe, Dick?" asked Crane as they saw a fleet of gigantic airships soaring upward to meet them.

"Nothing sure but death and taxes," returned Seaton cheerfully, "but don't forget that we've got Fenachrone armament now, instead of Osnomian. I'm betting that they can't begin to drive their rays through even our outer screen. And even if our outer screen should begin to go into the violet-I don't think it will even go cherry-red-out goes our zone of force and we automatically go up where no possible airship can reach. Since their only space-ships are rocket driven, and of practically no maneuverability, they stand a big chance of getting to us. Anyway, we must get in touch with them, to find out if they know anything we don't, and this is the only way I know of to do it. Besides, I want to head Dunark off from wrecking this world. They're exactly the same kind of folks he is, you notice, and I don't like civil war. Any suggestions? Keep an eye on that bird, then, Mart, and we'll go down."

* * *

The Skylark dropped down into the midst of the fleet, which instantly turned against her the full force of their giant guns and their immense ray batteries. Seaton held the Skylark motionless, staring into his visiplate, his right hand grasping the zone-switch.

"The outer screen isn't even getting warm!" he exulted after a moment. The repellers were hurling the shells back long before they reached even the outer screen, and they were exploding harmlessly in the air. The full power of the ray-generators, too, which had been so destructive to the Osnomian defenses, were only sufficient to bring the outer screen to a dull red glow. After fifteen minutes of passive acceptance of all the airships could do, Seaton spoke to the captive.

"Sir, please signal the commanding officer of vessel seven-two-four that I am going to cut it in two in the middle. Have him remove all men in that part of the ship to the ends, and have parachutes in readiness, as I do not wish to cause any loss of life."

The signal was sent, and, as the officer was already daunted by the fact that their utmost efforts could not even make the strangers' screens radiate, it was obeyed. Seaton then threw on the frightful power of the Fenachrone super-generators. The defensive screens of the doomed warship flashed once-a sparkling, coruscating display of incandescent brilliance-and in the same instant went down. Simultaneously the entire midsection of the vessel exploded into light and disappeared; completely volatilized.

"Sir, please signal the entire fleet to cease action, and to follow me down. If they do not do so, I will destroy the rest of them."

The Skylark dropped to the ground, followed by the fleet of warships, who settled in a ring about her-inactive, but ready.

"Will you please loan me your sending instrument, sir?" Seaton asked. "From this point on I can carry on negotiations better direct than through you."

The lieutenant found his voice as he surrendered the instrument.

"Sir, are you the Overlord of Osnome, of whom we have heard? We had supposed that one was a mythical character, but you must be he-no one else would spare lives that he could take, and the Overlord is the only being reputed to have a skin the color of yours."

"Yes, lieutenant, I am the Overlord-and I have decided to become the Overlord of the entire green system, as well as of Osnome."

He then sent out a call to the commander-in-chief of all the armies of the planet, informing him that he was coming to visit him at once, and the Skylark tore through the air to the capital city. No sooner had the earthly vessel alighted upon the palace grounds than she was surrounded by a ring of warships who, however, made no offensive move. Seaton again used the telegraph.

"Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the planet Urvania; greetings from the Overlord of this solar system. I invite you to come into my vessel, unarmed and alone, for a conference. I come in peace and, peace or war as you decide, no harm shall come to you, until after you have returned to your own command. Think well before you reply."

"If I refuse?"

"I shall destroy one of the vessels surrounding me, and shall continue to destroy them, one every ten seconds, until you agree to come. If you still do not agree. I shall destroy all the armed forces upon this planet, then destroy all your people who are at present upon Osnome. I wish to avoid bloodshed and destruction, but I can and I will do as I have said."

"I will come."

The general came out upon the field unarmed, escorted by a company of soldiers. A hundred feet from the vessel he halted the guards and came on alone, erect and soldierly. Seaton met him at the door and invited him to be seated.

"What can you have to say to me?" the general demanded, disregarding the invitation.

"Many things. First, let me say that you are not only a brave man; you are a wise general-your visit to me proves it."

"It is a sign of weakness, but I believed when I heard those reports, and still believe, that a refusal would have resulted in a heavy loss of our men," was the General's reply.

"It would have," said Seaton. "I repeat that your act was not weakness, but wisdom. The second thing I have to say is that I had not planned on taking any active part in the management of things, either upon Osnome or upon this planet, until I learned of a catastrophe that is threatening all the civilization in this Galaxy-thus threatening my own distant world as well as those of this solar system. Third, only by superior force can I make either your race or the Osnomians listen to reason sufficiently to unite against a common foe. You have been reared in unreasoning hatred for so many generations that your minds are warped. For that reason I have assumed control of this entire system, and shall give you your choice between co-operating with us or being rendered incapable of molesting us while our attention is occupied by this threatened invasion."

"We will have no traffic with the enemy whatever." said the general. "This is final."

"You just think so. Here is a mathematical statement of what is going to happen to your world, unless I intervene." He handed the general a drawing of Dunark's plan and described it in detail. "That is the answer of the Osnomians to your invasion of their planet. I do not want this world destroyed, but if you refuse to make common cause with us against a common foe, it may be necessary. Have you forces at your command sufficient to frustrate this plan?"

"No; but I cannot really believe that such a deflection of celestial bodies is possible. Possible or not, you realize that I could not yield to empty threats."

"Of course not," said Seaton, "but you were wise enough to refuse to sacrifice a few ships and men in a useless struggle against my overwhelming armament, therefore you are certainly wise enough to refuse to sacrifice your entire race. However, before you come to any definite conclusion, I will show you what threatens the Galaxy."

* * *

He handed the other a headset and ran through the section of the record showing the plans of the invaders. He then ran a few sections showing the irresistible power at the command of the Fenachrone.

"That is what awaits us all unless we combine against them."

"What are your requirements?" the general asked.

"I request immediate withdrawal of all your armed forces now upon Osnome and full co-operation with me in this coming war against the invaders. In return, I will give you the secrets I have just given the Osnomians-the power and the offensive and defensive weapons of this vessel."

"The Osnomians are now building vessels such as this one?" asked the general.

"They are building vessels a hundred times the size of this one, with the same armament."

"For myself, I would agree to your terms. However, the word of the Emperor is law."

"I understand," replied Seaton. "Would you be willing to seek an immediate audience with him? I would suggest that both you and he accompany me, and we shall hold a peace conference with the Osnomian Emperor and Commander-in-Chief upon this vessel. We shall be gone less than a day."

"I shall do so at once."

"You may accompany your general, lieutenant. Again I ask pardon for my necessary rudeness."

As the Urvanian officers hurried toward the palace, the other Terrestrials, who had been listening in from another room, entered.

"It sounded as though you convinced him, Dick; but that language is nothing like Kondalian. Why don't you teach it to us? Teach it to Shiro, too, so he can cook for, and talk to, our distinguished guests intelligently, if they're going back with us."

As he connected up the educator, Seaton explained what had happened, and concluded:

"I want to stop this civil war, keep Dunark from destroying this planet, preserve Osnome for Osnomians, and make them all co-operate with us against the Fenachrone. That's one tall order, since these folks haven't the remotest notion of anything except killing."

A company of soldiers approached, and Dorothy got up hastily.

"Stick around, folks. We can all talk to them."

"I believe that it would be better for you to be alone," Crane decided, after a moment's thought. "They are used to autocratic power, and can understand nothing but one-man control. The girls and I will keep out of it."

"That might be better at that," and Seaton went to the door to welcome the guests. Seaton instructed them to lie flat, and put on all the acceleration they could bear. It was not long until they were back in Kondal, where Roban, the Karfedix, and Tarnan, the Karbix, accepted Seaton's invitation and entered the Skylark, unarmed. Back out in space, the vessel stationary, Seaton introduced the emperors and commanders-in-chief to each other-introductions which were acknowledged almost imperceptibly. He then gave each a headset, and ran the complete record of the Fenachrone brain.

"Stop!" shouted Roban, after only a moment. "Would you, the Overlord of Osnome, reveal such secrets as this to the arch-enemies of Osnome?"

"I would. I have taken over the Overlordship of the entire green system for the duration of this emergency, and I do not want two of its planets engaged in civil war."

The record finished, Seaton tried for some time to bring the four green warriors to his way of thinking, but in vain. Roban and Tarnan remained contemptuous. They would have thrown themselves upon him, but for the kno

wledge that no fifty unarmed men of the green race could have overcome his strength-to them supernatural. The two Urvanians were equally obdurate. This soft earth-being had given them everything; they had given him nothing and would give him nothing. Finally Seaton rose to his full height and stared at them in turn, wrath and determination blazing in his eyes.

"I have brought you four together, here in a neutral vessel in neutral space, to bring about peace between you. I have shown you the benefits to be derived from the peaceful pursuit of science, knowledge, and power, instead of continuing this utter economic waste of continual war. You all close your senses to reason. You of Osnome accuse me of being an ingrate and a traitor; you of Urvania consider me a soft-headed, sentimental weakling, who may safely be disregarded-all because I think the welfare of the numberless peoples of the Universe more important than your narrow-minded, stubborn, selfish vanity. Think what you please. If brute force is your only logic, know now that I can, and will, use brute force. Here are the seven disks," and he placed the bracelet upon Roban's knee.

"If you four leaders are short-sighted enough to place your petty enmity before the good of all civilization, I am done with you forever. I have deliberately given Urvanians precisely the same information that I have given the Osnomians-no more and no less. I have given neither of you all that I know, and I shall know much more than I do now, before the time of the conquest shall have arrived. Unless you four men, here and now, renounce this war and agree to a perpetual peace between your worlds, I shall leave you to your mutual destruction. You do not yet realize the power of the weapons I have given you. When you do realize it, you will know that mutual destruction is inevitable if you continue this internecine war. I shall continue upon other worlds my search for the one secret standing between me and a complete mastery of power. That I shall find that secret I am confident; and, having found it, I shall, without your aid, destroy the Fenachrone.

"You have several times remarked with sneers that you are not to be swayed by empty threats. What I am about to say is no empty threat-it is a most solemn promise, given by one who has both the will and the power to fulfill his every given word. Now listen carefully to this, my final utterance. If you continue this warfare and if the victor should not be utterly destroyed in its course, I swear as I stand here, by the great First Cause, that I shall myself wipe out every trace of the surviving nation as soon as the Fenachrone shall have been obliterated. Work with each other and me and we all may live-fight on and both your nations, to the last person, will most certainly die. Decide now which it is to be. I have spoken."

* * *

Roban took up the bracelet and clasped it again about Seaton's arm, saying, "You are more than ever our Overlord. You are wiser than are we, and stronger. Issue your commands and they shall be obeyed."

"Why did not you say those things first, Overlord?" asked the Urvanian emperor, as he saluted and smiled. "We could not in honor submit to a weakling, no matter what the fate in store. Having convinced us of your strength, there can be no disgrace in fighting beneath your screens. An armlet of seven symbols shall be cast and ready for you when you next visit us. Roban of Osnome, you are my brother."

The two emperors saluted each other and stared eye to eye for a long moment, and Seaton knew that the perpetual peace had been signed. Then all four spoke, in unison:

"Overlord, we await your commands."

"Dunark of Osnome is already informed as to what Osnome is to do. Say to him that it will not be necessary for him to build the vessel for me; the Urvanians will do that. Urvan of Urvania, you will accompany Roban to Osnome, where you two will order instant cessation of hostilities. Osnome has many ships of this type, and upon some of them you will return your every soldier and engine of war to your own planet. As soon as possible you will build for me a vessel like that of the Fenachrone, except that it shall be ten times as large, in every dimension, and except that every instrument, control, and weapon is to be left out."

"Left out? It shall be so built-but of what use will it be?"

"The empty spaces shall be filled after I have returned from my quest. You will build this vessel of dagal. You will also instruct the Osnomian commander in the manufacture of that metal, which is so much more resistant than their arenak."

"But, Overlord, we have...."

"I have just brought immense stores of the precious chemical and of the metal of power to Osnome. They will share it with you. I also advise you to build for yourselves many ships like those of the Fenachrone, with which to do battle with the invaders, in case I should fail in my quest. You will, of course, see to it that there will be a corps of your most efficient mechanics and artisans within call at all times in case I should return and have sudden need for them."

"All these things shall be done."

The conference ended, the four nobles were quickly landed upon Osnome and once more the Skylark traveled out into her element, the total vacuum and absolute zero of the outer void, with Crane at the controls.

"You certainly sounded savage, Dick. I almost thought you really meant it!" Dorothy chuckled.

"I did mean it, Dot. Those fellows are mighty keen on detecting bluffs. If I hadn't meant it, and if they hadn't known that I meant it, I'd never have got away with it."

"But you couldn't have meant it, Dick! You wouldn't have destroyed the Osnomians, surely-you know you wouldn't."

"No, but I would have destroyed what was left of the Urvanians, and all five of us knew exactly how it would have turned out and exactly what I would have done about it-that's why they all pulled in their horns."

"I don't know what would have happened," interjected Margaret. "What would have?"

"With this new stuff the Urvanians would have wiped the Osnomians out. They are an older race, and so much better in science and mechanics that the Osnomians wouldn't have stood much chance, and knew it. Incidentally, that's why I'm having them build our new ship. They'll put a lot of stuff into it that Dunark's men would miss-maybe some stuff that even the Fenachrone haven't got. However, though it might seem that the Urvanians had all the best of it, Urvan knew that I had something up my sleeve besides my bare arm-and he knew that I'd clean up what there was left of his race if they polished off the Osnomians."

"What a frightful chance you were taking, Dick!" gasped Dorothy.

"You have to be hard to handle those folks-and believe me, I was a forty-minute egg right then. They have such a peculiar mental and moral slant that we can hardly understand them at all. This idea of co-operation is so new to them that it actually dazed all four of them even to consider it."

"Do you suppose they will fight, anyway?" asked Crane.

"Absolutely not. Both nations have an inflexible code of honor, such as it is, and lying is against both codes. That's one thing I like about them-I'm sort of honest myself, and with either of these races you need nothing signed or guaranteed."

"What next, Dick?"

"Now the real trouble begins. Mart, oil up the massive old intellect. Have you found the answer to the problem?"

"What problem?" asked Dorothy. "You didn't tell us anything about a problem."

"No, I told Mart. I want the best physicist in this entire solar system-and since there are only one hundred and twenty-five planets around these seventeen suns, it should be simple to yon phenomenal brain. In fact, I expect to hear him say 'elementary, my dear Watson, elementary'!"

"Hardly that, Dick, but I have found out a few things. There are some eighty planets which are probably habitable for beings like us. Other things being equal, it seems reasonable to assume that the older the sun, the longer its planets have been habitable, and therefore the older and more intelligent the life...."

"'Ha! ha! It was elementary,' says Sherlock." Seaton interrupted. "You're heading directly at that largest, oldest, and most intelligent planet, then, I take it, where I can catch me my physicist?"

"Not directly at it, no. I am heading for the place where it will be when we reach it. That is elementary."

"Ouch! That got to me, Mart, right where I live. I'll be good."

"But you are getting ahead of me, Dick-it is not as simple as you have assumed from what I have said so far. The Osnomian astronomers have done wonders in the short time they have had, but their data, particularly on the planets of the outer suns, is as yet necessarily very incomplete. Since the furthermost outer sun is probably the oldest, it is the one in which we are most interested. It has seven planets, four of which are probably habitable, as far as temperature and atmosphere are concerned. However, nothing exact is yet known of their masses, motions, or places. Therefore I have laid our course to intercept the closest one to us, as nearly as I can from what meager data we have. If it should prove to be inhabited by intelligent beings, they can probably give us more exact information concerning their neighboring planets. That is the best I can do."

"That's a darn fine best, old top-narrowing down to four from a hundred and twenty-five. Well, until we get there, what to do? Let's sing us a song, to keep our fearless quartette in good voice."

"Before you do anything," said Margaret seriously, "I would like to know if you really think there is a chance of defeating those monsters."

* * *

"In all seriousness, I do. In fact, I am quite confident of it. If we had two years, I know that we could lick them cold; and by stepping on the gas I believe we can get the dope in less than the six months we have to work in."

"I know that you are serious, Dick. Now you know that I do not want to discourage any one, but I can see small basis for optimism," Crane spoke slowly and thoughtfully. "I hope that you will be able to control the zone of force-but you are not studying it yourself. You seem to be certain that somewhere in this system there is a race who already knows all about it. I would like to know your reasons for thinking that such a race exists."

"They may not be upon this system; they may have been outsiders, as we are-but I have reasons for believing them to be natives of this system, since they were green. You are as familiar with Osnomian mythology as I am-you girls in particular have read Osnomian legends to Osnomian children for hours. Also identically the same legends prevail upon Urvania. I read them in that lieutenant's brain-in fact, I looked for them. You also know that every folk-legend has some basis, however tenuous, in fact. Now, Dottie, tell about the battle of the gods, when Osnome was a pup."

"The gods came down from the sky," Dorothy recited. "They were green, as were men. They wore invisible armor of polished metal, which appeared and disappeared. They stayed inside the armor and fought outside it with swords and lances of fire. Men who fought against them cut them through and through with swords, and they struck the men with lances of flame so that they were stunned. So the gods fought in days long gone and vanished in their invisible armor, and--"

"That's enough," interrupted Seaton. "The little red-haired girl has her lesson perfectly. Get it, Mart?"

"No, I cannot say that I do."

"Why, it doesn't even make sense!" exclaimed Margaret.

"All right, I'll elucidate. Listen!" and Seaton's voice grew tense with earnestness. "Visitors came down out of space. They were green. They wore zones of force, which they flashed on and off. They stayed inside the zones and projected their images outside, and used rays through the zones. Men who fought against the images cut them through and through with swords, but could not harm them since they were not actual substance; and the images directed rays against the men so that they were stunned. So the visitors fought in days long gone, and vanished in their zones of force. How does that sound?"

"You have the most stupendous imagination the world has ever seen-but there may be some slight basis of fact there, after all," said Crane, slowly.

"I'm convinced of it, for one reason in particular. Notice that it says specifically that the visitors stunned the natives. Now that thought is absolutely foreign to all Osnomian nature-when they strike they kill, and always have. Now if that myth has come down through so many generations without having that 'stunned' changed to 'killed', I'm willing to bet a few weeks of time that the rest of it came down fairly straight, too. Of course, what they had may not have been the zone of force as we know it, but it must have been a ray of some kind-and believe me, that was one educated ray. Somebody sure had something, even 'way back in those days. And if they had anything at all back there, they must know a lot by now. That's why I want to look 'em up."

"But suppose they want to kill us off at sight?" objected Dorothy. "They might be able to do it, mightn't they?"

"Sure, but they probably wouldn't want to-any more than you would step on an ant who asked you to help him move a twig. That's about how much ahead of us they probably are. Of course, we struck a pure mentality once, who came darn near dematerializing us entirely, but I'm betting that these folks haven't got that far along yet. By the way, I've got a hunch about those pure intellectuals."

"Oh, tell us about it!" laughed Margaret. "Your hunches are the world's greatest brainstorms!"

"Well, I pumped out and rejeweled the compass we put on that funny planet-as a last resort, I thought we might maybe visit them and ask that bozo we had the argument with to help us out. I think he-or it-would show us everything about the zone of force we want to know. I don't think that we'd be dematerialized, either, because the situation would give him something more to think about for another thousand cycles; and thinking seemed to be his main object in life. However, to get back to the subject, I found that even with the new power of the compass the entire planet was still out of reach. Unless they've dematerialized it, that means about ten billion light-years as an absolute minimum. Think about that for a minute!... I've just got a kind of a hunch that maybe they don't belong in this Galaxy at all-that they might be from some other Galaxy, planet and all; just riding around on it, as we are riding in the Skylark. Is the idea conceivable to a sane mind, or not?"

"Not!" decided Dorothy, promptly. "We'd better go to bed. One more such idea, in progression with the last two you've had, would certainly give you a compound fracture of the skull. 'Night, Cranes."

* * *

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