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Child of the Gods

By the time the boy was four, the scientist Joquin realized that drastic action was necessary if his mind was to be saved. Somewhere between three and four, Clane had realized that he was different. Enormously, calamitously different. Between four and six, his sanity suffered collapse after collapse, each time to be slowly built back again by the aging scientist.

"It's the other children," Joquin, white with fury, told the Lord Leader one day. "They torment him. They're ashamed of him. They defeat everything I do."

The Linn of Linn gazed curiously at the temple man. "Well, so am I ashamed of him, ashamed of the very idea of having such a grandson." He added, "I'm afraid, Joquin, your experiment is going to be a failure."

It was Joquin, now, who stared curiously at the other. In the six years that followed the crisis of the temples of the atom gods, he had come to have a new and more favorable regard for the Lord Leader. During those years, for the first time, it had struck him that here was the greatest civil administrator since legendary times. Something, too, of the man's basic purpose—unification of the empire—had shown occasionally through the bleak exterior with which he confronted the world.

Here was a man, moreover, who had become almost completely objective in his outlook on life. That was important right now. If Clane was to be saved, the cooperation of the ruler of Linn was essential. The Lord Leader must have realized that Joquin's visit had a specific objective. He smiled grimly.

"What do you want me to do? Send him to the country where he can be brought up in isolation by slaves."

"That," said Joquin, "would be fatal. Do not forget, normal slaves despise the mutations as much as do freedmen, knights and patrons." He finished, "The fight for his sanity must be made right here in the city."

The other looked impatient. "Well, take him away to the temples where you can work on him to your heart's content."

"The temples," said Joquin, "are full of rowdy initiates and juniors."

The Lord Leader glowered. He was being temporized with, which meant that Joquin's request was going to be a difficult one to grant. The whole affair was becoming highly distasteful. Six years before, a mutation had been born to the Lord Leader's daughter-inlaw, the Lady Tania. The mutation resulted from carelessness in the handling of the radioactive god-metals in one of the temples. And, while similar mutations occurred from time to time, Clane was the first ever to appear in an important family. Or, at least, if a mutation had ever before been born to a nobleman's wife, there was no record of it.

At the time of the birth, the Lord Leader allowed himself to be persuaded to let the child live. Joquin, the persuader, desired then— and apparently still—to prove that mutations had basically normal minds, needing only normal handling to become mature beings.

That theory was yet to be proved.

* * *

"I'm afraid, old one," said the Lord Leader gravely, "you are not being very sensible about this matter. The boy is like a hothouse plant. You cannot raise the children of men that way. They must be able to withstand the rough and tumble of existence with their fellows even when they are young."

"And what," flashed Joquin, "are these palaces of yours but hothouses where all your youngsters grow up sheltered from the rough and tumble of life out there?"

The old scientist waved his hand towards the window that opened out overlooking the capitol city of the world. The Leader smiled his acceptance of the aptness of the comparison. But his next words were pointed.

"Tell me what you want. I'll tell you if it can be done."

Joquin did not hesitate. He had stated his objections, and, having eliminated the main alternatives, he recognized that it was time to explain exactly what he wanted. He did so. Clane had to have a refuge on the palace grounds, a sanctuary where no other children could follow him under penalty of punishment.

"You are," said Joquin, "bringing up all your male grandchildren on your grounds here. In addition, several dozen other children—the sons of hostages, allied chiefs and patrons—are being raised here. Against that crowd of normal, brilliant boys, cruel and unfeeling as only boys can be, Clane is defenseless. Since they all sleep in the same dormitory, he has not even the refuge of a room of his own. Now, I am in favor of him continuing to eat and sleep with the others, but he must have some place where none can pursue him."

Joquin paused, breathless, for his voice was not what it had been. And, besides, he was aware of the tremendousness of the request. He was asking that restrictions be put upon the arrogant, proud little minds and bodies of the future great men of Linn—patrons, generals, chieftains, even Lord Leaders of twenty, thirty, forty years hence. Asking all that, and for what? So that a poor wretch of a mutation might have the chance to prove whether or not he had a brain.

He saw that the Lord Leader was scowling. His heart sank. But he was mistaken as to the cause of the expression. Actually, he could not have made his request at a better time. They day before, the Lord Leader, walking in the grounds, had found himself being followed by a disrespectful, snickering group of young boys. It was not the first time, and the memory brought the frown to his face. He looked up decisively. He said:

"Those young rascals need discipline. A little frustration will do them good. Build your refuge, Joquin. I'll back it up for a while."

* * *

The palace of the Leader was located on Capitoline Hill. The hill was skillfully landscaped. Its grounds were terraced and built up, be-gardened and be-shrubbed until the original hill was almost unrecognizable to old-timers like Joquin.

There was a towering rock on a natural peak at the west end of the grounds. To reach it one followed a narrow path up a steep slope, and then climbed the steps that had been cut into the solid rock to the top of the rock itself.

The rock was bare until Joquin took it over. Swiftly, under his direction, slaves carried up soil, and slave gardeners planted shrubs, grass and flowers, so that there might be protection from the hot sun, a comfortable green on which to stretch out and an environment that was beautiful and colorful. He built an iron fence to guard the approaches to the pathway, and at the gate stationed a freedman who was six feet six inches tall and broad in proportion. This man had a further very special qualification in that a child of the gods had also been born to his wife some four years before. The big man was a genial, friendly individual, who prevented the more rowdy boys from following Clane by the simple act of wedging his great body into the narrow gate.

For weeks after the aerie was ready, and the restriction imposed, the other children railed and shrieked their frustration. They stood for hours around the gate tormenting the guard, and yelling threats up to the rock. It was the imperviousness of the always friendly guard that baffled them in the end. And at long last the shivering boy on the aerie had time to become calm, to lose that sense of imminent violence, and even to acquire the first feeling of security. From that time on, he was ignored. No one played with him, and, while their indifference had its own quality of cruelness, at least it was a negative and passive attitude. He could live his private life.

His mind, that wounded, frightened and delicate structure, came slowly out of the darkness into which it had fled. Joquin lured it forth with a thousand cunnings. He taught it to remember simple poetry. He told the boy stories of great deeds, great battles, and many of the fairy tales currently extant. He gave him at first carefully doctored but ever more accurate interpretations of the political atmosphere of the palace. And again and again, ever more positively, he insisted that being born a mutation was something different and special and important. Anybody could be born ordinary human, but few were chosen by the gods of the atoms.

There was danger, Joquin knew, in building up the ego of a Linn to feel superior even to the human members of his own family.

"But," as he explained one day to the Lord Leader, "he'll learn his limitations fast enough as he grows older. The important thing now is that his mind at the age of eight has become strong enough to withstand the most vulgar and sustained taunting from other boys. He still stammers and stutters like an idiot when he tries to talk back, and it's pitiful what happens to him when he is brought into contact with a new adult, but unless surprised, he has learned to control himself by remaining silent.

"I wish," Joquin finished, "that you would let him accustom himself to occasional visits from you."

* * *

It was an oft repeated request, always refused. The refusals worried Joquin, who was nearly eighty years old. He had many anxious moments as to what would happen to the boy after his own death. And in order to insure that the blow would not be disastrous, he set about enlisting the support of famous scholars, poets and historians. These he first partially persuaded by argument, then introduced one by one as paid tutors to the boy. He watched each man with an alertness that swiftly eliminated those who showed in any way that they did not appreciate the importance of what was being attempted.

The boy's education turned out to be an expensive generosity, as neither the allowances of the Lord Leader, his grandfather, or of Lord Creg, his father, were sufficient to cover the fees of the many famous men Joquin employed. Indeed, when Joquin died, just before Clane's eleventh birthday, the liquid assets of the estate barely sufficed to pay the minor bequests after death taxes were deducted.

He left ten million sesterces to be divided among juniors, initiates and seniors of various temples. Five million sesterces he bequeathed to personal friends. Two million more went to certain historians and poets in order that they might complete books which they had begun, and finally there were five great grandnephews who each received a million sesterces.

That disposed almost entirely of the available cash. A bare five hundred thousand sesterces remained to keep the vast farms and buildings of the estate in operation until the next crop was harvested. Since these were left in their entirety, along with upward of a thousand slaves, to Clane, there was a short period when the new owner, all unknown to himself, was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The situation was reported to the Lord Leader, and he advanced a loan from his private purse to tide over the estate. He also took other steps. He learned that Joquin's slaves were disgruntled at the idea of belonging to a mutation. He sent spies among them to find out who were the ringleaders, and then hanged the four chief troublemakers as examples. It also came to his ears that Joquin's great grandnephews, who had expected the estate, were making dark threats about what they would do to the "usurper." The Lord Leader promptly confiscated their share of the inheritance, and sent all five of them to join Lord Creg's army which was on the point of launching a major invasion against Mars.

Having done so much, the old ruler proceeded to forget all about his grandson. And it was not until some two years later, when, seeing the boy one morning pass beneath the window of his study, he grew curious. That very afternoon he set out for the rock aerie to have a look at the strangest youth who had ever been born into the Linn family.

* * *

At this time, the Martian war was two years old, and it was already proving itself to be the most costly campaign ever launched. From the very beginning, when it was still in the planning stages, it had aroused men to bitter passions. To fight it or not to fight it— three years before that had been the question that split the inner government group into two violently opposing camps. Lord Creg Linn, father of Clane, son of the Lord Leader, and general in chief of the expedition, was from the first completely and without qualification opposed to the war.

He had arrived at the city from Venus some three years before in his personal space yacht, and accompanied by most of his staff. He spent months, then, arguing with his family and with various powerful patrons.

"The time has come," he told his hearers, "for the empire to stand firm on all its frontiers. From a single city state we have grown until we now dominate all Earth with the exception of a few mountainous territories. Four of the eleven island continents of Venus are allied to us. And on the three habitable moons of Jupiter, our allies are the strong powers. The Martians of Mars, it is true, continue to rule that planet in their brutal fashion, but it would be wise to leave them alone. The tribes they have conquered are constantly rebelling against them, and will keep them busy for a measurable time. Accordingly, they are no danger to us, and that must be our sole consideration for all future wars."

If reports were true, many patrons and knights were convinced by this reasoning. But when they saw that the Lord Leader favored the war, they quickly changed their tune, at least publicly.

Lydia, the Lord Leader's wife, and Lord Tews—Lydia's son by a previous marriage—were particularly in favor of the invasion. Their argument, and it eventually became the Lord Leader's, was that the Martians had condemned themselves to war by their complete refusal to have commercial and other intercourse with the rest of the Solar System. Who knew what plans were being made, what armies were under secret training, or how many spaceships were abuilding on a planet that for more than a dozen years had admitted no visitors.

It was a telling argument. Lord Creg's dry suggestion that perhaps the method used by the empire to invade the Venusian island of Cimbri was responsible, did not confound the supporters of the war. The method had been simple and deadly. The Cimbri, a suspicious tribe, agreed finally to permit visitors. They were uneasy when over a period of several months some thirty thousand stalwart young male visitors arrived singly and in groups. Their uneasiness was justified. One night the visitors assembled in the three major Cimbrin cities, and attacked all centers of control. By morning a hundred thousand inhabitants had been slain, and the island was conquered.

The commanding general of that expedition was Lord Tews. At his mother's insistence, an ashamed patronate voted him a triumph.

It was natural that the Lydia-Tews group should regard Creg's remark as a product of envy. The suggestion was made that his words were unworthy of so illustrious a man. More slyly, it was pointed out that his own wars had been drawn out, and that this indicated a cautious nature. Some even went so far as to say that he did not trust the fighting abilities of Linnan armies, and they immediately added the comment that this was a base reflection on the military, and that the only real conclusion to be drawn was that he was personally a coward.

To Lord Creg, doggedly holding to his opinions, the greatest shock came when he discovered that his own wife, Tania, supported the opposition. He was so angry that he promptly sent her a bill of divorcement. The Lady Tania, whose only purpose in supporting the war was that it would enhance her husband's career, and accordingly improve her position, promptly suffered a nervous breakdown.

A week later she was partially recovered, but her state of mind was clearly shown by the fact that she took a gig to her husband's headquarters in the camp outside the city. And, during the dinner hour, before hundreds of high officials, she crept to him on her hands and knees, and begged him to take her back. The astounded Creg led her quickly through a nearby door, and they were reconciled.

From this time dated the change in the Lady Tania. Her arrogance was gone. She withdrew to a considerable extent from social activities, and began to devote herself to her home. Her proud, almost dazzling beauty deteriorated to a stately good looks.

It was an anxious wife who kissed her husband good-by one early spring day, and watched his spear-nosed yacht streak off to join the vast fleet of spaceships mobilizing on the other side of Earth for the take-off to Mars.

Spaceships, like all the instruments, weapons and engines of transport and war known since legendary times, had their limitations. They were the fastest thing possessed by man, but just how fast no one had ever been able to decide. At the time of the invasion of Mars, the prevailing belief was that spaceships attained the tremendous speed of a thousand miles an hour in airless space. Since the voyage to Mars required from forty to a hundred days— depending upon the respective positions of the two planets—the distance of Mars at its nearest was estimated at the astounding total of one million miles.

It was felt by thousands of intelligent people that this figure must be wrong. Because, if it was correct, then some of the remoter stars would be hundreds of millions of miles away. This was so obviously ridiculous that it was frankly stated by many that the whole uncertainty reflected on the ability and learning of the temple scientists.

A spaceship one hundred and fifty feet long could carry two hundred men and no more on a trip to Mars lasting sixty days. It had room for many more, but the air supply created an insurmountable limitation. The air could be purified by certain chemicals for so long, then it gave out.

Two hundred men per ship—that was the number carried by each space transport of the first fleet to leave Earth. Altogether there were five hundred ships. Their destination was the great desert known as Mare Cimmererium. A mild-wide canal cut through the edge of this desert, and for a hundred miles on either side of the canal the desert was forced back by a green vegetation that fed on the thousands of tiny tributary canals. Oslin, one of the five important cities of the Martians, was located in a great valley at a point where the canal curved like a winding river.

In a sense the canals were rivers. During spring, the water in them flowed steadily from north to south, gradually slowing until, by midsummer, there was no movement.

Oslin had a population, which was reported to be well over a million. Its capture would simultaneously constitute a devastating blow to the Martians and an unmatched prize for the conquerors.

The fleet reached Mars on schedule, all except one ship turning up at the rendezvous within the prescribed forty-eight hours. At midnight on the second day, the vessels proceeded ten abreast towards the canal and the city. A site some five miles from the city's outskirts had been selected, and, one after another, the lines of ships settled among the brush and on the open fields. They began immediately to discharge their cargoes—all the soldiers, most of the horses and enough equipment and food for a considerable period.

It was a dangerous six hours. Spaceships unloading were notoriously vulnerable to certain types of attack ships fitted with long metal rams, capable of piercing the thin metal plates of which the outer walls were constructed. For an attack ship to catch a transport in the air meant almost certain death for everyone aboard.

The attacker, approaching from the side, transfixed an upper plate, and forced the transport over on its back. Since there were no drive tubes on the topside to hold the ship in the air, it usually fell like a stone. Periodic attempts to install drive tubes in the top as well as the bottom caused radioactive burns to crew and passengers, and no amount of interposed lead seemed to stop the interflow between the tubes.

* * *

The six hours passed without an attack. About two hours after dawn, the army began to move along the canal towards the city. When they had marched about an hour, the advance guards topped a hill overlooking a great valley beyond which was glittering Oslin. They stopped, rearing their horses. Then they began to mill around.

Swiftly, a messenger raced back to Lord Creg, reporting an incredible fact. A Martian army was encamped in the valley, an army so vast that its tents and buildings merged into the haze of distance.

The general galloped forward to have a look. Those about him reported that he was never calmer as he gazed out over the valley. But his hopes for a quick, easy victory must have ended at that moment.

The army ahead was the main Martian force, comprising some six hundred thousand men. It was under the personal command of King Winatgin, and present was the king's famous brother, Sashernay.

Lord Creg had already made up his mind to attack at once, when a small fleet of enemy attack ships whisked over the hill, and discharged a shower of arrows at the group on the hill, wounding nearly four dozen soldiers. The commander in chief was unhurt, but the escape was too narrow for comfort. Swiftly, he gave the necessary orders.

His purpose was simple. King Winatgin and his staff undoubtedly knew now that an attack was coming. But it was one thing for him to have the information, and quite another to transmit it to an encamped and spread-out army.

That was the only reason why the battle was ever in doubt. The attackers were outnumbered six to one. The defense was stolid and uncertain at first, then it grew heavy from sheer weight of numbers. It was later learned that a hundred thousand Martians were killed or wounded, but the small Linnan army lost thirty thousand men, killed, prisoner and missing. And when it had still made no headway by late afternoon Lord Creg ordered a fighting retreat.

His troubles were far from over. As his troops fell back alongside the greenish red waters of the canal, a force of five thousand cavalry, which had been out on distant maneuvers, fell upon their rear, cutting them off from their camp, and turning their retreat away from the canal, towards the desert.

The coming of darkness saved the army from complete destruction. They marched until after midnight, before finally sinking down in a fatigued sleep. There was no immediate rest for Lord Creg. He flashed fire messages to his ships waiting out in space. A hundred of them nosed cautiously down and discharged more equipment and rations. It was expected that attack ships would make sneak attacks on them, but nothing happened, and they effected a successful withdrawal before dawn.

All too swiftly, the protecting darkness yielded to bright daylight.

* * *

The new materiel saved them that day. The enemy pressed at them hour after hour, but it was clear to Lord Creg that King Winatgin was not using his forces to the best advantage. Their efforts were clumsy and heavy handed. They were easily outmaneuvered, and towards evening by leaving a cavalry screen to hold up the Martian army, he was able to break contact completely.

That night the Linnan army had a much needed rest, and Lord Creg's hopes came back. He realized that, if necessary, he could probably re-embark his forces and get off the planet without further losses. It was a tempting prospect. It fitted in with his private conviction that a war so ill begun had little chance of success.

But, reluctantly, he realized return to Linn was out of the question. The city would consider that he had disgraced himself as a general. After all, he had selected the point of attack, even though he had disapproved of the campaign as a whole.

And that was another thing. It might be assumed that he who had opposed the war, had deliberately lost the battle. No, definitely, he couldn't return to Linn. Besides, in any event he had to wait until the second fleet with another hundred thousand men aboard arrived about two weeks hence.

Two weeks? On the fourth day, the thin striplike ditches of canal water began to peter out. By evening the soldiers were fighting on sand that shifted under their feet. Ahead, as far as the eye could see was a uniformly flat red desert.

There was another canal out there somewhere about nineteen days march due east, but Lord Creg had no intention of taking his army on such a dangerous journey. Seventy thousand men would need a lot of water.

It was the first time in Creg's military career that he had ever been cut off from a water supply. The problem grew tremendous when eleven out of a dozen spaceships sent for water exploded as they approached the camp, and deluged the desert and the unlucky men immediately below with boiling water. One ship got through, but the water aboard was beginning to boil, and the ship was saved only when those aboard operated the air lock mechanism, letting the steaming water pour out onto the sand.

The almost cooked commander emerged shakily from he control room, and reported to Lord Creg.

"We did as you ordered, sir. Got rid of all our equipment, and dunked the entire ship in the canal, using it as a tanker. It began to get hot immediately."

He cursed. "It's those blasted water gods that these Martians worship. They must have done it."

"Nonsense!" said Lord Creg. And ordered the man escorted back to his ship by four high officers.

* * *

It was a futile precaution. Other soldiers had the same idea. The water and canal gods of the Martians had started the water boiling, and so the ships had exploded. Lord Creg in a rough and ready speech delivered to a number of legions pointed out that nothing happened to water brought in the ordinary water tanks of the ship.

A voice interrupted him, "Why don't you bring the water in them then?"

The men cheered the remark, and it was scarcely an acceptable explanation after that to answer that the main body of ships could not be risked in such an enterprise.

On the seventh day the army began to get thirsty. The realization came to Lord Creg that he could not afford to wait for the arrival of the second fleet. He accordingly decided on a plan, which had been in the back of his mind when he originally selected Oslin as the city which his forces would attack.

The night he called down two hundred ships, and packed his army into them, nearly three hundred and fifty men to the ship. He assumed that Martian spies had donned the uniforms of dead Linnans, and were circulating around his camp. And so he did not inform his staff of the destination until an hour before the ships were due.

His plan was based on an observation he had made when, as a young man, he had visited Mars. During the course of a journey down the Oslin Canal, he noticed a town named Magga. This town set among the roughest and craggiest hills on Mars, was approachable by land through only four passes, all easily defendable.

It had had a garrison twenty years before. But Lord Creg assumed rightly that, unless it had been reinforced since then, his men could swamp it. There was another factor in his favor, though he did not know it at the time of his decision. King Winatgin, in spite of certain private information, could scarcely believe that the main Linnan invasion was already defeated. Hourly expecting vast forces to land, he kept his forces close to Oslin.

Magga was taken shortly after midnight. By morning the troops were ready for siege with a plentitude of canal water on one flank. When the second fleet arrived a week later, they too settled in Magga, and the expedition was saved.

The extent of this defensive victory was never fully appreciated in Linn, not even by Lord Creg's followers and apologists. All that the people could see was that the army was jammed into a small canal town, and seemed doomed, surrounded as it was by a force which outnumbered it more than six to one. Even the Lord Leader, who had taken many a seemingly impregnable position in his military days, secretly questioned his son's statement that they were safe.

Except for forays, the army remained all that summer and the following winter in Magga. It was besieged the whole of the next year, while Lord Creg doggedly demanded another two hundred thousand men from a patronate, which was reluctant to send more men into what they considered certain destruction. Finally, however, the Lord Leader realized that Creg was holding his own, and personally demanded the reinforcements.

Four new legions were on their way on the day that the Lord Leader started up the pathway that led to the aerie-sanctuary of his mutation grandson.

* * *

He was puffing by the time he reached the foot of the rock. That startled him. "By the four atom gods," he thought, "I'm getting old." He was sixty-three, within two months of sixty-four.

The shock grew. Sixty-four. He looked down at his long body. An old man's legs, he thought, not so old as some men of sixty-four, but there was no question any more that he was past his prime.

"Creg was right," he thought, aghast. "The time has come for me at least to retrench. No more wars after Mars except defensive ones. And I must name an heir, and make him co-Leader."

It was too big a subject for the moment. The thought, heir, reminded him where he was. One of his grandsons was up there with a tutor. He could hear the murmuring baritone of the man, the occasional remarks of the boy. It sounded very human and normal.

The Lord Leader frowned, thinking of the vastness of the world and the smallness of the Linn family. Standing there, he realized why he was come to this spot. Everyone of them would be needed to hold the government together. Even the lamebrains, even the mutations must be given duties consonant with their abilities.

It was a sad and terrible thing to realize that he was approaching the ever more lonely peak of his life, able to trust only those of his own blood. And even they clung together only because of the restless tide of ambition that surged on every side.

The old man smiled, a mixture of wry, grim smile. Something of the steely quality of him showed in the natural shape his jaws and chin assumed. It was the look of the man who had won the bloody battle of Attium that made Linn his, the smile of the man who had watched his soldiers hack Raheinl to pieces with battle-axes.

"There was a man," he thought, still amazed after nearly thirty years that the leader of the opposing group should have been so perverse. "What made him refuse all my offers? It was the first time in the history of civil war that such an attempt at conciliation was made. I was the compromiser. He wanted the world, and I who did not want it, at least not in that way, had to take it perforce to save my own life. Why must men have all or nothing?"

Surely, Raheinl, cold and calm, waiting for the first ax to strike, must have realized the vanity of his purposes. Must have known, too, that nothing could save him, that soldiers who had fought and bled and feared for their lives would stand for no mercy to be shown their main enemy.

In spite of the impossibility, Raheinl had received a measure of mercy. The Leader recalled with crystallike clarity his selection of the executioners. He had ordered that the very first blow be fatal. The crowd wanted a torture, a spectacle. They seemed to get it, but actually it was a dead man who was hacked to bits before their eyes.

Watching the great Raheinl being destroyed chilled forever the soul of the Lord Leader. He had never felt himself a participant of the murder. The crowd was the killer, the crowd and its mindless emotions, its strength of numbers that no man could ignore without the deadliest danger to himself and his family. The crowd and its simple bloodthirstiness frightened him even while he despised it, and influenced him even while he skillfully used it for his own ends. It was rather dreadful to think that not once in his entire life had he made a move that was not motivated by some consideration of the crowd.

He had been born into a world already devastated by two powerful opposing groups. Nor was it a question of which group one joined. When the opposition was in power they tried to kill, disgrace or exile all the members of every family of the other party. During such periods, the children of many noble families were dragged through the streets on the end of hooks and tossed into the river.

Later, if you were among those who survived, it was a question of striving to attain power and some control of your own group. For that, too, could not be left to chance and sympathy. There were groups within groups, assassinations to eliminate dangerous contenders for leadership, an enormous capacity on everybody's part for murder and treachery.

The survivors of that intricate battle of survival were—tough.

Tough survivor the Lord Leader Linn pulled his mind slowly out of its depth of memory, and began to climb the steps cut into the towering rock itself.

* * *

The top of the rock had a length of twenty feet, and it was almost as wide. Joquin's slaves had deposited piles of fertile soil upon it, and from this soil flowering shrubs reared up gracefully, two of them to a height of nearly fifteen feet.

The mutation and the tutor sat in lawn chairs in the shade of the tallest shrub, and they were so seated that they were not immediately aware of the Lord Leader's presence.

"Very well, then," the scholar, Nellian, was saying, "we have agreed that the weakness of Mars is its water system. The various canals, which bring water down from the north pole, are the sole sources of water supply. It is no wonder that the Martians have set up temples in which they worship water as reverently as we worship the gods of the atoms.

"It is, of course, another matter," Nellian went on, "to know what use can be made of this weakness of Mars. The canals are so wide and so deep that they cannot, for instance, be poisoned even temporarily."

"Macrocosmically speaking," said the boy, "that is true. The molecular world offers few possibilities except the forces which man's own body can bring to bear."

The Lord Leader blinked. Had he heard correctly? Had he heard a boy of thirteen talk like that?

He had been about to step forward and reveal himself. Now, he waited, startled and interested. Clane went on:

"The trouble with my father is that he is too trusting. Why he should assume that it is bad luck which is frustrating his war, I don't know. If I were he I would examine the possibilities of treachery a little more carefully, and I'd look very close indeed at my inner circle of advisers."

Nellian smiled. "You speak with the positivity of youth. If you ever get onto a battlefield you will realize that no mental preconception can match the reality. Vague theories have a habit of collapsing in the face of showers of arrows and spears, and infighting with swords and axes."

The boy was imperturbable. "They failed to draw the proper conclusions from the way the spaceships carrying the water exploded. Joquin would have known what to think about that."

The talk, while still on a high grammatical level, was, it seemed to the Lord Leader, becoming a little childish. He stepped forward and cleared his throat.

At the sound, the scholar turned serenely, and then, as he saw who it was, he stood up with dignity. The mutation's reaction was actually faster, though there was not so much movement in it. At the first sound, he turned his head.

And that was all. For a long moment, he sat frozen in that position. At first his expression remained unchanged from the quiet calm that had been on it. The Lord Leader had time for a close look at a grandson whom he had not seen so near since the day Clane was born.

The boy's head was completely human. It had the distinctive and finely shaped Linn nose and the Linn blue eyes. But it had something more, too. His mother's delicate beauty was somehow interwoven into the face. Her mouth was there, her ears and her chin. The face and head were beautifully human, almost angelic in their structure.

It was not the only human part of him. But most of the rest was at very least subtly unhuman. The general shape was very, very manlike. The body, the torso, the legs and arms—they were all there, but wrong in an odd fashion.

The thought came to the Lord Leader that if the boy would wear a scholar's or scientist's gown, and keep his arms withdrawn into the folds—his hands were normal—no one would ever more than guess the truth. There was not even any reason why that face should not be put on one of the larger silver or gold coins, and circulated among certain remote and highly moral tribes. The angel qualities of Clane's face might very well warm many a barbarian heart.

"Thank the gods," thought the Lord Leader, not for the first time, "that he hasn't got four arms and four legs."

His mind reached that thought just as the paralysis left the boy. (It was only then that the Lord Leader realized that Clane had almost literally been frozen where he was.) Now, the transformation was an amazing spectacle. The perfect face began to change, to twist. The eyes grew fixed and staring, the mouth twitched and lost its shape. The whole countenance collapsed into a kind of idiocy that was terrible to see. Slowly, though it didn't take too long, the boy's body swung out of his chair, and he stood half crouching, facing his grandfather.

He began to whimper, then to gibber. Beside him, Nellian said sharply:

"Clane, control yourself."

The words were like a cue. With a low cry, the boy darted forward, and ducked past the Lord Leader. As he came to the steep, stone stairway, he flung himself down it at a reckless speed, almost sliding to the ground more than twenty feet below. Then he was gone down the pathway.

Silence settled.

* * *

Nellian said finally, quietly, "May I speak?"

The Lord Leader noted that the other did not address him by his titles, and a fleeting smile touched his lips. An anti-Imperialist. After a moment, he felt annoyed—these upright republicans—but he merely nodded an affirmative to the verbal request. Nellian went on:

"He was like that with me too, when Joquin first brought me up to be his tutor. It is a reversion to an emotional condition which he experienced as a very young child."

The Lord Leader said nothing. He was gazing out over the city. It was a misty day, and his left eye no longer had normal vision, so the haze of distance and the blur in one of his vision centers hid the farther suburbs. From this height, they seemed to melt into the haze—houses, buildings, land grown insubstantial. And yet, beyond, vaguely beyond, he could see the winding river, and the countryside partially hidden by the veils of mist. In the near distance were the circus pits, empty now that a great war was taxing the human resources of an earth which had attained the colossal population of sixty million inhabitants. In his own lifetime, the number of people had nearly doubled.

It was all rather tremendous and wonderful, as if the race was straining at some invisible leash, with its collective eyes on a dazzlingly bright future, the realities of which were still hidden beyond remote horizons.

The Lord Leader drew his mind and his eyes back to the rock. He did not look directly at Nellian. He said:

"What did he mean when he said that my son, Lord Creg, should watch out for treachery close to him?"

Nellian shrugged. "So you heard that? I need hardly tell you that he would be in grave danger if certain ears heard that he had made such remarks. Frankly, I don't know where he obtains all his information. I do know that he seems to have a very thorough grasp of palace intrigue and politics. He's very secretive."

The Lord Leader frowned. He could understand the secretiveness. People who found out too much about other people's plans had a habit of turning up dead. If the mutation really knew that treachery had dogged the Martian war, even the hint of such knowledge would mean his assassination. The Leader hesitated. Then:

"What did he mean about the spaceships with water blowing up just before they landed? What does he know about things like that?"

It was the other's turn to hesitate. Finally, slowly:

"He's mentioned that several times. In spite of his caution, the boy is so eager for companionship, and so anxious to impress, that he keeps letting out his thoughts to people like myself whom he trusts."

The scholar looked steadily at the Lord Leader.

"Naturally, I keep all such information to myself. I belong to no side politically."

The great man bowed ever so slightly. "I am grateful," he said with a sigh.

* * *

Nellian said after an interval, "He has referred a number of times to the Raheinl temple incident which occurred at the time of his birth, when four temples exploded. I have gathered that Joquin told him something about that, and also that Joquin left secret papers at his estate, to which the boy has had access. You may recall that he has visited the main estate three times since Joquin's death."

The Lord Leader recalled vaguely that his permission had been asked by Nellian on several occasions. The man went on:

"I hope it is unnecessary for me to say that the boy's mentality, as distinct from his emotional nature, is very mature, at least that of an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old."

"Hm-m-m," said the Lord Leader. His manner grew decisive. "We must cure him of his weakness," he said. "There are several methods." He smiled reminiscently. "In war, when we want to end a man's fear, we subject him to repeated dangers in actual combat. He might be killed, of course, but if he survives he gradually acquires confidence and courage. Similarly, an orator must first be trained in voice control, then he must speak again to acquire poise and an easy address."

The Leader's lips tightened thoughtfully. "We can hardly initiate him into war. The soldiers unfortunately regard mutations as ill omens. Public speaking—that can best be done by putting him into a temple in one of the remoter temples. From the security of a scientist's robes, he can deliver the daily incantations, first to the atom gods in private, then in the presence of scientists, initiates and juniors, and finally before the public. I will make arrangements for that experience to begin tomorrow. He does not need to live at the temple.

"Finally, sometime next year, we will assign him a separate residence, and have a couple of attractive slave girls from his estate brought up. I want small, mild, meek girls, who will not try to boss him. I'll select them myself, and give them a good talking to."

He added matter-of-factly: "They can be sold later in remote regions, or put to death, depending on how discreet they are. After all, we can't have talkative fools giving detailed accounts of the physical defects of members of my family."

The Lord Leader paused, and looked keenly at Nellian. "What do you think of that as a beginning?"

The scholar nodded judicially. "Excellent, excellent. I am glad to see you taking a personal interest in the boy."

The Lord Leader was pleased. "Keep me in touch about"—he frowned—"once every three months."

He was turning away when his gaze lighted on something half hidden in the brush at one edge of the rock.

"What's that?" he asked.

Nellian looked embarrassed. "Why," he said, "why, uh, that's, uh, a device Joquin rigged up."

The scholar's self-consciousness amazed the Leader. He walked over and looked at the thing. It was a metal pipe that disappeared down the side of the rock. It was almost completely hidden by creeping vines, but little glints of it were visible here and there both against the rock and against the cliff farther down.

He drew back, and he was examining the open end of the pipe again, when it spoke huskily, a woman's voice:

"Kiss me, kiss me again."

The Lord Leader placed a tuft of grass over the pipe end, and climbed to his feet amused. "Well, I'll be a—" he said. "A listening device, straight down into one of the rendezvous of the palace grounds."

Nellian said, "There's another one on the other side."

The Lord Leader was about to turn away again, when he noticed the notebook beside the tube. He picked it up, and rippled through it. All the pages were blank, and that was puzzling until he saw the bottle of ink and the pen half hidden in the grass where the book had been.

He was genuinely interested now. He picked up the bottle, and pulled out the cork. First, he looked hard at the ink, then he smelled it. Finally, with a smile, he replaced the bottle in the grass.

As he descended the pathway, he was thinking, "Joquin was right. These mutations can be normal, even supernormal."

He was not greatly surprised two weeks later when Nellian handed him a message from Clane.

The letter read:

* * *

To my grandfather, Most Honorable Lord Leader:

I regret exceedingly that my emotions were so uncontrollable when you came to see me. Please let me say that I am proud of the honor you have done me, and that your visit has changed my mind about many things. Before you came to the aerie, I was not prepared to think of myself as having any obligations to the Linn family. Now, I have decided to live up to the name, which you have made illustrious. I salute you, honorable grandfather, the greatest man who ever lived.

Your admiring and humble grandson,

It was, in its way, a melodramatic note, and the Lord Leader quite seriously disagreed with the reference to himself as the greatest man of all time. He was not even second, though perhaps third.

"My boy," he thought, "you have forgotten my uncle, the general of generals, and his opponent the dazzlingly wonderful personality, who was given a triumph before he was twenty, and officially when he was still a young man voted the right to use the word "great" after his name. I knew them both, and I know where I stand."

Nevertheless, in spite of its wordy praise, the letter pleased the Lord Leader. But it puzzled him, too. There were overtones in it, as if a concrete decision had been made by somebody who had the power to do things.

He put the letter among his files of family correspondence, starting a new case labeled "CLANE." Then he forgot about it. It was recalled to his mind a week later when his wife showed him two missives, one a note addressed to herself, the second an unsealed letter to Lord Creg on Mars. Both the note and the letter were from Clane. The stately Lydia was amused.

"Here's something that will interest you," she said.

The Lord Leader read first the note addressed to her. It was quite a humble affair.

To my most gracious grandmother, Honorable lady:

Rather than burden your husband, my grandfather, with my request, I ask you most sincerely to have the enclosed letter sent by the regular dispatch pouch to my father, Lord Creg. As you will see it is a prayer which I shall make at the temple next week for his victory over the Martians this summer. A metal capsule, touched by the god metals, Radium, Uranium, Plutonium and Ecks, will be dedicated at this ceremony, and sent to my father on the next mail transport.

Most respectfully yours,

"You know," said Lydia, "for a moment when I received that, I didn't even know who Clane was. I had some vague idea that he was dead. Instead he seems to be growing up."

"Yes," said the Lord Leader absently, "yes, he's growing."

He was examining the "prayer" which Clane had addressed to Lord Creg. He had an odd feeling that there was something here which he was not quite grasping. Why had this been sent through Lydia? Why not direct to himself?

"It's obvious," said Lady Linn, "that since there is to be a temple dedication, the letter must be sent."

That was exactly it, the Lord Leader realized. There was nothing here that was being left to chance. They had to send the letter. They had to send the metal dedicated to the gods.

But why was the information being conveyed through Lydia?

He reread the prayer, fascinated this time by its ordinariness. It was so trite, so unimportant, the kind of prayer that made old soldiers wonder what they were fighting for—morons? The lines were widely spaced, to an exaggerated extent, and it was that that suddenly made the Leader's eyes narrow ever so slightly.

"Well," he laughed, "I'll take this, and have it placed in the dispatch pouch."

As soon as he reached his apartment, he lit a candle, and held the letter over the flame. In two minutes, the invisible ink was beginning to show in the blank space between the lines, six lines of closely written words between each line of the prayer.

The Lord Leader read the long, precise instructions and explanations, his lips tight. It was a plan of attack for the armies on Mars, not so much military as magical. There were several oblique references to the blowing up of the temples many years before, and a very tremendous implication that something entirely different could be counted on from the gods.

At the end of the letter was a space for him to sign.

He did not sign immediately, but in the end he slashed his signature on to the sheet, put it into the envelope and affixed his great seal of state. Then he sat back, and once more the thought came:

But why Lydia?

Actually, it didn't take long to figure out the extent of the treachery that had baffled Lord Creg's sorely pressed legions for three years.

As close as that, the Lord Leader thought grayly. As close in the family as that.

Some of the plotting must have been done in one or other of the rendezvous some sixty feet below the rock aerie where a child of the gods lay with his ear pressed to a metal tube listening to conspiratorial words, and noting them down in invisible ink on the pages of an apparently blank notebook.

* * *

The Lord Leader was not unaware that his wife intrigued endlessly behind his back. He had married her, so that the opposition would have a skillful spokesman in the government. She was the daughter of one of the noblest families in Linn, all the adult males of which had died fighting for Raheinl. Two of them were actually captured and executed.

At nineteen, when she was already married and with child—later born Lord Tews—the Lord Leader arranged with her husband for what was easily the most scandalous divorce and remarriage in the history of Linn.

The Lord Leader was unconcerned. He had already usurped the name of the city and empire of Linn for his family. The next step was to make a move to heal what everybody said was the unhealable wound left by the civil war. Marriage to Lydia was that move, and a wondrously wise one it had been.

She was the safety valve for all the pent-up explosive forces of the opposition. Through her maneuvers, he learned what they were after. And gave as much as would satisfy. By seeming to follow her advice, he brought hundreds of able administrators, soldiers and patrons from the other side into the government service to manage the unwieldy populations of Earth, and rule solar colonies.

In the previous ten years, more and more opposition patrons had supported his laws in the patronate without qualification. They laughed a little at the fact that he still read all his main speeches. They ridiculed his stock phrases: "Quicker than you can cook asparagus." "Words fail me, gentlemen." "Let us be satisfied with the cat we have." And others.

But again and again during the past decade, all party lines dissolved in the interests of the empire. And, when his agents reported conspiracies in the making, further investigation revealed that no powerful men or families were involved.

Not once had he blamed Lydia for the various things she had done. She could no more help being of the opposition than he, years before, had been able to prevent himself from being drawn, first as a youth, then as a man, into the vortex of the political ambitions of his own group. She would have been assassinated if it had ever seemed to the more hotheaded of the opposition that she was "betraying" them by being too neutral.

No, he didn't blame her for past actions. But this was different. Vast armies had been decimated by treachery, so that Lord Creg's qualities as a leader would show up poorly in comparison to Lord Tews'.

This was personal, and the Lord Leader recognized it immediately as a major crisis.

The important thing, he reasoned, was to save Creg, who was about to launch his campaign. But meanwhile great care must be taken not to alarm Lydia and the others. Undoubtedly, they must have some method of intercepting his private mail pouch to Creg.

Dare he stop that? It wouldn't be wise to do so. Everything must appear normal and ordinary, or their fright might cause some foolhardy individual to attempt an impromptu assassination of the Lord Leader.

As it was, so long as Lord Creg's armies were virtually intact, the group would make no radical move.

The pouch, with Clane's letter in it, would have to be allowed to fall into their hands, as other pouches must have done. If the letter was opened, an attempt would probably be made to murder Clane. Therefore—what?

The Lord Leader placed guards in every rendezvous of the palace grounds, including two each in the two areas at the foot of the aerie. His posted reason for setting the guards was on all the bulletin boards:

I am tired of running into couples engaged in licentious kissing. This is not only in bad taste, but it has become such a common practice as to require drastic action. The guards will be removed in a week or so. I am counting on the good sense of everyone, particularly of the women, to see to it that in future these spectacles are voluntarily restricted.

A week or so to protect Clane until the dedication at the temple. It would be interesting to see just what the boy did do with the dedicated metal, but, of course, his own presence was impossible. It was the day after the dedication that the Lord Leader spoke to Nellian, casually:

"I think he should make a tour of Earth. Haphazard, without any particular route. And incognito. And start soon. Tomorrow."

So much for Clane. More personal, he made a friendly visit to the guards' camp outside the city. For the soldiers, it turned out to be an unexpectedly exciting day. He gave away a million sesterces in small but lavish amounts. Horse races, foot races and contests of every kind were conducted, with prizes for the winners, and even losers who had tried nobly were amazed and delighted to receive money awards.

All in all, it was a satisfactory day. When he left, he heard cheers until he reached the Martian gate. It would take several weeks at least, if not months, to cause disaffection among those troops.

The various precautions taken, the Lord Leader dispatched the mail pouch, and awaited events.

* * *

The group had to work fast. A knight emptied the mail pouch. A knight and a patron scrutinized each letter, and separated them into two piles. One of these piles, the largest one by far, was returned to the pouch at once. The other pile was examined by Lord Tews, who extracted from it some score of letters, which he handed to his mother.

Lydia looked at them one by one, and handed those she wanted opened to one or the other of two slaves, who were skilled in the use of chemical. It was these slaves who actually removed the seals.

The seventh letter she picked up was the one from Clane. Lydia looked at the handwriting on the envelope, and at the name of the sender on one side, and there was a faint smile on her lips.

"Tell me," she said, "am I wrong, or does the army regard dwarfs, mutations and other human freaks as bad omens?"

"Very much so," said one of the knights. "To see one on the morning of battle spells disaster. To have any contact with one means a great setback."

The Lady Leader smiled. "My honorable husband is almost recalcitrantly uninterested in such psychological phenomena. We must accordingly see to it that Lord Creg's army is apprized that he has received a message from his mutation son."

She tossed the letter towards the pouch. "Put this in. I have already seen the contents."

Hardly more than three quarters of an hour later, the dispatch carrier was again on his way to the ship.

"Nothing important," Lydia said to her son. "Your stepfather seems to be primarily concerned these days with preserving the moral stature of the palace grounds."

Lord Tews said, "I'd like to know why he felt it necessary to bribe the guards' legion the other day."

* * *

Lord Creg read the letter from Clane with an amazed frown. He recognized that the boy's prayer had been used to convey a more important message, and the fact that such a ruse had been necessary startled him. It gave a weight to the document, which he would not ordinarily have attached to so wild a plan.

The important thing about it was that it required only slight changes in the disposition of his troops. His intention was to attack. It assumed that he would attack, and added a rather unbelievable psychological factor. Nevertheless, in its favor was the solid truth that eleven spaceships filled with water had exploded, a still unexplained phenomenon after two years.

Creg sat for a long time pondering the statement in the letter that the presence of King Winatgin's army at Oslin had not been accidental, but had been due to treachery hitherto unknown in Linn.

"I've been cooped up here for two years," he thought bitterly, "forced to fight a defensive war because my stepmother and her plumpish son craved unlimited power."

He pictured himself dead, and Tews succeeding to the Lord Leadership. After a moment, that seemed appalling. Abruptly, decisively, he called on a temple scientist attached to the army, a man noted for his knowledge of Mars.

"How fast do the Oslin canal waters move at this time of the year?"

"About five miles an hour," was the reply.

Creg considered that. One hundred and twenty miles a day. A third of that should be sufficient, or even less. If the dedicated metal were dropped about twenty miles north of the city, the effect should be just about perfect.

The second battle of Oslin that was fought ten days later was never in doubt. On the morning of the battle, the inhabitants of the city awoke to find the mile wide canal and all its tributary waters a seething mass of boiling, steaming water. The steam poured over the city in dense clouds. It hid the spaceships that plunged down into the streets. It hid the soldiers who debouched from the ships.

By mid-morning King Winatgin's army was surrendering in such numbers that the royal family was unable to effect an escape. The monarch, sobbing in his dismay, flung himself at Creg's feet, and then, given mercy, but chained, stood on a hill beside his captor, and watched the collapse of the Martian military might.

In a week, all except one remote mountain stronghold had surrendered, and Mars was conquered. At the height of the triumph, about dusk one day, a poisoned arrow snapped out of the shadows of an Oslin building and pierced Lord Creg's throat.

He died an hour later in great pain, his murderer still unfound.

When the news of his death reached Linn three months later, both sides worked swiftly. Lydia had executed the two slave chemists and the dispatch carrier a few hours after she heard of Creg's victory. Now, she sent assassins to murder the two knights and the patron who had assisted in the opening of the mail. And, simultaneously, she ordered Tews to leave the city for one of his estates.

By the time the Lord Leader's guards arrived to arrest him, the alarmed young man was off in his private spaceship. It was that escape that took the first edge off the ruler's anger. He decided to postpone his visit to Lydia. Slowly, as that first day dragged by, a bleak admiration for his wife built up inside him, and the realization came that he could not afford to jeopardize his relations with her, not now when the great Creg was dead.

He decided that she had not actually ordered the assassination of Creg. Some frightened henchman on the scene, fearing for his own safety, had taken his own action; and Lydia, with a masterly understanding of the situation, had merely covered up for them all.

It might be fatal to the empire if he broke with her now. By the time she came with her retinue to offer him official condolences, his mind was made up. He took her hand in his with tears in his eyes.

"Lydia," he said, "this is a terrible moment for me. What do you suggest?"

She suggested a combination State funeral and triumph. She said, "Unfortunately, Tews is ill, and will not be able to attend. It looks like one of those illnesses that may keep him away for a long time."

The Lord Leader recognized that it was a surrender of her ambition for Tews, at least for the time being. It was in reality a tremendous offer, a concession not absolutely necessary in view of his own determination to keep the whole affair private.

He bent and kissed her hand. At the funeral, they marched together behind the coffin. And in all the great throng of mourners surely the least noticed was a boy wearing the robes of a scientist in the company of a scholar. It was even said afterwards that Clane Linn was not present.

But I was there.

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