First Lensman
Chapter 3

Public Domain

The superdreadnought Chicago, as she approached the imaginary but nevertheless sharply defined boundary, which no other ship had been allowed to pass, went inert and crept forward, mile by mile. Every man, from Commissioner and Councillor down, was taut and tense. So widely variant, so utterly fantastic, were the stories going around about this Arisia that no one knew what to expect. They expected the unexpected--and got it.

“Ah, Tellurians, you are precisely on time.” A strong, assured, deeply resonant pseudo-voice made itself heard in the depths of each mind aboard the tremendous ship of war. “Pilots and navigating officers, you will shift course to one seventy eight dash seven twelve fifty three. Hold that course, inert, at one Tellurian gravity of acceleration. Virgil Samms will now be interviewed. He will return to the consciousnesses of the rest of you in exactly six of your hours.”

Practically dazed by the shock of their first experience with telepathy, not one of the Chicago’s crew perceived anything unusual in the phraseology of that utterly precise, diamond-clear thought. Samms and Kinnison, however, precisionists themselves, did. But, warned although they were and keyed up although they were to detect any sign of hypnotism or of mental suggestion, neither of them had the faintest suspicion, then or ever, that Virgil Samms did not as a matter of fact leave the Chicago at all.

Samms knew that he boarded a lifeboat and drove it toward the shimmering haze beyond which Arisia was. Commissioner Kinnison knew, as surely as did every other man aboard, that Samms did those things, because he and the other officers and most of the crew watched Samms do them. They watched the lifeboat dwindle in size with distance; watched it disappear within the peculiarly iridescent veil of force which their most penetrant ultra-beam spy-rays could not pierce.

They waited.

And, since every man concerned knew, beyond any shadow of doubt and to the end of his life, that everything that seemed to happen actually did happen, it will be so described.

Virgil Samms, then, drove his small vessel through Arisia’s innermost screen and saw a planet so much like Earth that it might have been her sister world. There were the white ice-caps, the immense blue oceans, the verdant continents partially obscured by fleecy banks of cloud.

Would there, or would there not, be cities? While he had not known at all exactly what to expect, he did not believe that there would be any large cities upon Arisia. To qualify for the role of deus ex machina, the Arisian with whom Samms was about to deal would have to be a super-man indeed--a being completely beyond man’s knowledge or experience in power of mind. Would such a race of beings have need of such things as cities? They would not. There would be no cities.

Nor were there. The lifeboat flashed downward--slowed--landed smoothly in a regulation dock upon the outskirts of what appeared to be a small village surrounded by farms and woods.

“This way, please.” An inaudible voice directed him toward a two-wheeled vehicle which was almost, but not quite, like a Dillingham roadster.

This car, however, took off by itself as soon as Samms closed the door. It sped smoothly along a paved highway devoid of all other traffic, past farms and past cottages, to stop of itself in front of the low, massive structure which was the center of the village and, apparently, its reason for being.

“This way, please,” and Samms went through an automatically-opened door; along a short, bare hall; into a fairly large central room containing a vat and one deeply-holstered chair.

“Sit down, please.” Samms did so, gratefully. He did not know whether he could have stood up much longer or not.

He had expected to encounter a tremendous mentality; but this was a thing far, far beyond his wildest imaginings. This was a brain--just that--nothing else. Almost globular; at least ten feet in diameter; immersed in and in perfect equilibrium with a pleasantly aromatic liquid--a BRAIN!

“Relax,” the Arisian ordered, soothingly, and Samms found that he could relax. “Through the one you know as Bergenholm I heard of your need and have permitted you to come here this once for instruction.”

“But this ... none of this ... it isn’t ... it can’t be real!” Samms blurted. “I am--I must be--imagining it ... and yet I know that I can’t be hypnotized--I’ve been psychoed against it!”

“What is reality?” the Arisian asked, quietly. “Your profoundest thinkers have never been able to answer that question. Nor, although I am much older and a much more capable thinker than any member of your race, would I attempt to give you its true answer. Nor, since your experience has been so limited, is it to be expected that you could believe without reservation any assurances I might give you in thoughts or in words. You must, then, convince yourself--definitely, by means of your own five senses--that I and everything about you are real, as you understand reality. You saw the village and this building; you see the flesh that houses the entity which is I. You feel your own flesh; as you tap the woodwork with your knuckles you feel the impact and hear the vibrations as sound. As you entered this room you must have perceived the odor of the nutrient solution in which and by virtue of which I live. There remains only the sense of taste. Are you by any chance either hungry or thirsty?”

“Both.”

“Drink of the tankard in the niche yonder. In order to avoid any appearance of suggestion I will tell you nothing of its content except the one fact that it matches perfectly the chemistry of your tissues.”

Gingerly enough, Samms brought the pitcher to his lips--then, seizing it in both hands, he gulped down a tremendous draught. It was GOOD! It smelled like all appetizing kitchen aromas blended into one; it tasted like all of the most delicious meals he had ever eaten; it quenched his thirst as no beverage had ever done. But he could not empty even that comparatively small container--whatever the stuff was, it had a satiety value immensely higher even than old, rare, roast beef! With a sigh of repletion Samms replaced the tankard and turned again to his peculiar host.

“I am convinced. That was real. No possible mental influence could so completely and unmistakably satisfy the purely physical demands of a body as hungry and as thirsty as mine was. Thanks, immensely, for allowing me to come here, Mr... ?”

“You may call me Mentor. I have no name, as you understand the term. Now, then, please think fully--you need not speak--of your problems and of your difficulties; of what you have done and of what you have it in mind to do.”

Samms thought, flashingly and cogently. A few minutes sufficed to cover Triplanetary’s history and the beginning of the Solarian Patrol; then, for almost three hours, he went into the ramifications of the Galactic Patrol of his imaginings. Finally he wrenched himself back to reality. He jumped up, paced the floor, and spoke.

“But there’s a vital flaw, one inherent and absolutely ruinous fact that makes the whole thing impossible!” he burst out, rebelliously. “No one man, or group of men, no matter who they are, can be trusted with that much power. The Council and I have already been called everything imaginable; and what we have done so far is literally nothing at all in comparison with what the Galactic Patrol could and must do. Why, I myself would be the first to protest against the granting of such power to anybody. Every dictator in history, from Philip of Macedon to the Tyrant of Asia, claimed to be--and probably was, in his beginnings--motivated solely by benevolence. How am I to think that the proposed Galactic Council, or even I myself, will be strong enough to conquer a thing that has corrupted utterly every man who has ever won it? Who is to watch the watchmen?”

“The thought does you credit, youth,” Mentor replied, unmoved. “That is one reason why you are here. You, of your own force, can not know that you are in fact incorruptible. I, however, know. Moreover, there is an agency by virtue of which that which you now believe to be impossible will become commonplace. Extend your arm.”

Samms did so, and there snapped around his wrist a platinum-iridium bracelet carrying, wrist-watch-wise, a lenticular something at which the Tellurian stared in stupefied amazement. It seemed to be composed of thousands--millions--of tiny gems, each of which emitted pulsatingly all the colors of the spectrum; it was throwing out--broadcasting--a turbulent flood of writhing, polychromatic light!

“The successor to the golden meteor of the Triplanetary Service,” Mentor said, calmly. “The Lens of Arisia. You may take my word for it, until your own experience shall have convinced you of the fact, that no one will ever wear Arisia’s Lens who is in any sense unworthy. Here also is one for your friend, Commissioner Kinnison; it is not necessary for him to come physically to Arisia. It is, you will observe, in an insulated container, and does not glow. Touch its surface, but lightly and very fleetingly, for the contact will be painful.”

Samms’ finger-tip barely touched one dull, gray, lifeless jewel: his whole arm jerked away uncontrollably as there swept through his whole being the intimation of an agony more poignant by far than any he had ever known.

“Why--it’s alive!” he gasped.

“No, it is not really alive, as you understand the term...” Mentor paused, as though seeking a way to describe to the Tellurian a thing which was to him starkly incomprehensible. “It is, however, endowed with what you might call a sort of pseudo-life; by virtue of which it gives off its characteristic radiation while, and only while, it is in physical circuit with the living entity--the ego, let us say--with whom it is in exact resonance. Glowing, the Lens is perfectly harmless; it is complete--saturated--satiated--fulfilled. In the dark condition it is, as you have learned, dangerous in the extreme. It is then incomplete--unfulfilled--frustrated--you might say seeking or yearning or demanding. In that condition its pseudo-life interferes so strongly with any life to which it is not attuned that that life, in a space of seconds, is forced out of this plane or cycle of existence.”

“Then I--I alone--of all the entities in existence, can wear this particular Lens?” Samms licked his lips and stared at it, glowing so satisfyingly and contentedly upon his wrist. “But when I die, will it be a perpetual menace?”

“By no means. A Lens cannot be brought into being except to match some one living personality; a short time after you pass into the next cycle your Lens will disintegrate.”

“Wonderful!” Samms breathed, in awe. “But there’s one thing ... these things are ... priceless, and there will be millions of them to make ... and you don’t...”

“What will we get out of it, you mean?” The Arisian seemed to smile.

“Exactly.” Samms blushed, but held his ground. “Nobody does anything for nothing. Altruism is beautiful in theory, but it has never been known to work in practice. I will pay a tremendous price--any price within reason or possibility--for the Lens; but I will have to know what that price is to be.”

“It will be heavier than you think, or can at present realize; although not in the sense you fear.” Mentor’s thought was solemnity itself. “Whoever wears the Lens of Arisia will carry a load that no weaker mind could bear. The load of authority; of responsibility; of knowledge that would wreck completely any mind of lesser strength. Altruism? No. Nor is it a case of good against evil, as you so firmly believe. Your mental picture of glaring white and of unrelieved black is not a true picture. Neither absolute evil nor absolute good do or can exist.”

“But that would make it still worse!” Samms protested. “In that case, I can’t see any reason at all for your exerting yourselves--putting yourselves out--for us.”

“There is, however, reason enough; although I am not sure that I can make it as clear to you as I would wish. There are in fact three reasons; any one of which would justify us in exerting--would compel us to exert--the trivial effort involved in the furnishing of Lenses to your Galactic Patrol. First, there is nothing either intrinsically right or intrinsically wrong about liberty or slavery, democracy or autocracy, freedom of action or complete regimentation. It seems to us, however, that the greatest measure of happiness and of well-being for the greatest number of entities, and therefore the optimum advancement toward whatever sublime Goal it is toward which this cycle of existence is trending in the vast and unknowable Scheme of Things, is to be obtained by securing for each and every individual the greatest amount of mental and physical freedom compatible with the public welfare. We of Arisia are only a small part of this cycle; and, as goes the whole, so goes in greater or lesser degree each of the parts. Is it impossible for you, a fellow citizen of this cycle-universe, to believe that such fulfillment alone would be ample compensation for a much greater effort?”

“I never thought of it in that light...” It was hard for Samms to grasp the concept; he never did understand it thoroughly. “I begin to see, I think ... at least, I believe you.”

“Second, we have a more specific obligation in that the life of many, many worlds has sprung from Arisian seed. Thus, in loco parentis, we would be derelict indeed if we refused to act. And third, you yourself spend highly valuable time and much effort in playing chess. Why do you do it? What do you get out of it?”

“Why, I ... uh ... mental exercise, I suppose ... I like it!”

“Just so. And I am sure that one of your very early philosophers came to the conclusion that a fully competent mind, from a study of one fact or artifact belonging to any given universe, could construct or visualize that universe, from the instant of its creation to its ultimate end?”

“Yes. At least, I have heard the proposition stated, but I have never believed it possible.”

“It is not possible simply because no fully competent mind ever has existed or ever will exist. A mind can become fully competent only by the acquisition of infinite knowledge, which would require infinite time as well as infinite capacity. Our equivalent of your chess, however, is what we call the ‘Visualization of the Cosmic All’. In my visualization a descendant of yours named Clarrissa MacDougall will, in a store called Brenleer’s upon the planet ... but no, let us consider a thing nearer at hand and concerning you personally, so that its accuracy will be subject to check. Where you will be and exactly what you will be doing, at some definite time in the future. Five years, let us say?”

“Go ahead. If you can do that you’re good.”

“Five Tellurian calendar years then, from the instant of your passing through the screen of ‘The Hill’ on this present journey, you will be ... allow me, please, a moment of thought ... you will be in a barber shop not yet built; the address of which is to be fifteen hundred fifteen Twelfth Avenue, Spokane, Washington, North America, Tellus. The barber’s name will be Antonio Carbonero and he will be left-handed. He will be engaged in cutting your hair. Or rather, the actual cutting will have been done and he will be shaving, with a razor trade-marked ‘Jensen-King-Byrd’, the short hairs in front of your left ear. A comparatively small, quadrupedal, grayish-striped entity, of the race called ‘cat’--a young cat, this one will be, and called Thomas, although actually of the female sex--will jump into your lap, addressing you pleasantly in a language with which you yourself are only partially familiar. You call it mewing and purring, I believe?”

“Yes,” the flabbergasted Samms managed to say. “Cats do purr--especially kittens.”

“Ah--very good. Never having met a cat personally, I am gratified at your corroboration of my visualization. This female youth erroneously called Thomas, somewhat careless in computing the elements of her trajectory, will jostle slightly the barber’s elbow with her tail; thus causing him to make a slight incision, approximately three millimeters long, parallel to and just above your left cheek-bone. At the precise moment in question, the barber will be applying a styptic pencil to this insignificant wound. This forecast is, I trust, sufficiently detailed so that you will have no difficulty in checking its accuracy or its lack thereof?”

“Detailed! Accuracy!“ Samms could scarcely think. “But listen--not that I want to cross you up deliberately, but I’ll tell you now that a man doesn’t like to get sliced by a barber, even such a little nick as that. I’ll remember that address--and the cat--and I’ll never go into the place!”

“Every event does affect the succession of events,” Mentor acknowledged, equably enough. “Except for this interview, you would have been in New Orleans at that time, instead of in Spokane. I have considered every pertinent factor. You will be a busy man. Hence, while you will think of this matter frequently and seriously during the near future, you will have forgotten it in less than five years. You will remember it only at the touch of the astringent, whereupon you will give voice to certain self-derogatory and profane remarks.”

“I ought to,” Samms grinned; a not-too-pleasant grin. He had been appalled by the quality of mind able to do what Mentor had just done; he was now more than appalled by the Arisian’s calm certainty that what he had foretold in such detail would in every detail come to pass. “If, after all this Spokane--let a tiger-striped kitten jump into my lap--let a left-handed Tony Carbonero nick me--uh-uh, Mentor, UH-UH! If I do, I’ll deserve to be called everything I can think of!”

“These that I have mentioned, the gross occurrences, are problems only for inexperienced thinkers.” Mentor paid no attention to Samms’ determination never to enter that shop. “The real difficulties lie in the fine detail, such as the length, mass, and exact place and position of landing, upon apron or floor, of each of your hairs as it is severed. Many factors are involved. Other clients passing by--opening and shutting doors--air currents--sunshine--wind--pressure, temperature, humidity. The exact fashion in which the barber will flick his shears, which in turn depends upon many other factors--what he will have been doing previously, what he will have eaten and drunk, whether or not his home life will have been happy ... you little realize, youth, what a priceless opportunity this will be for me to check the accuracy of my visualization. I shall spend many periods upon the problem. I cannot attain perfect accuracy, of course. Ninety nine point nine nines percent, let us say ... or perhaps ten nines ... is all that I can reasonably expect...”

“But, Mentor!” Samms protested. “I can’t help you on a thing like that! How can I know or report the exact mass, length, and orientation of single hairs?”

“You cannot; but, since you will be wearing your Lens, I myself can and will compare minutely my visualization with the actuality. For know, youth, that wherever any Lens is, there can any Arisian be if he so desires. And now, knowing that fact, and from your own knowledge of the satisfactions to be obtained from chess and other such mental activities, and from the glimpses you have had into my own mind, do you retain any doubts that we Arisians will be fully compensated for the trifling effort involved in furnishing whatever number of Lenses may be required?”

“I have no more doubts. But this Lens ... I’m getting more afraid of it every minute. I see that it is a perfect identification; I can understand that it can be a perfect telepath. But is it something else, as well? If it has other powers ... what are they?”

“I cannot tell you; or, rather, I will not. It is best for your own development that I do not, except in the most general terms. It has additional qualities, it is true; but, since no two entities ever have the same abilities, no two Lenses will ever be of identical qualities. Strictly speaking, a Lens has no real power of its own; it merely concentrates, intensifies, and renders available whatever powers are already possessed by its wearer. You must develop your own powers and your own abilities; we of Arisia, in furnishing the Lens, will have done everything that we should do.”

“Of course, sir; and much more than we have any right to expect. You have given me a Lens for Roderick Kinnison; how about the others? Who is to select them?”

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