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Crown of Infinity

By Alan Matthews,2014-11-04 20:35
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Published by Ace Books on 1968/09/15

CROWN OF INFINITY

    Copyright ?, 1968, by John M. Faucette

    All Rights Reserved

     Cover by Kelly Freas.

    PROLOGUE

    THE SHIP WAS READY.

    Soothed by the soft stuttering of the computers and the myriad tiny ship noises that spelledlife, Captain Corrindus clasped his hands behind his back. Actually, in terms of humanreference, he joined two jade blue pseudopods across the gelatinous mass of that part of hisbody directly op-posite the light-sensitive group of cells that went into action whenever hisbrain decided to take in visual stimuli. He looked out the control module port at the sweepingand majestic panorama of the multicolored stars of the worlds of Civilization. The closest ofthem visibly moved from right to left against the backdrop of space as the battle fortress Warrior of Civilization crawled slowly ahead. Corrindus sighed, his boneless body quiveringin the master cup before the control panel, conscious of the weight of the presence of hisofficers. Citizens of a half dozen planets, members of an equal number of species, theyclustered be-hind him, waiting. He knew they were expecting answers, but answers were lacking.

    The silence was broken, finally, by Guidi, the impatient feathered creature.

    "The ship is ready, Captain. We are ready."

    Corrindus sighed again, the upper portion of his amorphous bulk rippling in imitation of amovement once observed on one of the legendary Star Kings.

    The ship was ready—but for what? There was no enemy at hand, no orders to give. Only theunceasing questions that came first from his own crew, and then as the news spread throughoutthe galaxy, from ships and planet-bases far away.

    "Advice, gentlemen?" asked Corrindus, almost begging, as he extruded an eyestalk. The humanoidand hominid mem-bers of the staff shrugged shoulders in a fashion pain-fully reminiscent of thevanished Star Kings. None spoke.

    "We're wasting time," said Corrindus. His body shifted and plopped in the cup. The ship

    spoke in its normally quiet voice, unaware that the Universe had changed—not physically, butin a subtle way that registered only as the presence or absence of a race.

    The ship was bred for battle—needed battle as the very stuff of its life, bred as it was fromhalf-sentient non-life crystal cultures in a region of the galaxy mist-thick with dust cloudsthat might someday be part of stars. The weaponry bristled behind the ready shields, storagecells half-drained against the possible surge of power from enemy beams . . .

    But there was no enemy, and the absence was a pang almost as deep-hurting as the absence of theStar Kings.

    The ships of the vanished past still existed. The rolling names came easily to mind: Omaha!

     Pacific!

     Lancaster!

     Rio Grande!

    Meaningless syllables to these representatives of races not from the planets that had givenbirth to the mightiest race the galaxy had ever known. Even so, they were capable of stirringstrong emotions. Alps!

     Britain!

     Harvard!

    The mighty ships of the Star Kings, deserted hulks now, populated only by withered husks thathad once been flesh and bone, husks no longer recognizable in the absence of the moving spirit.The Star Kings were dead. The news tolled throughout the galaxy and beyond, shocking, numbing,stirring a million races to unreasonable anger with the heart-rending knowl-edge ofirreplaceable loss. The Star Kings were dead, but they did not die quietly. At the instant ofannihilation, their Death Calls burst forth, spreading through the entire galaxy, speeding everonward to the very end of Existence. This great lament marked their passing, tolled the end of

a race, and gave the friendly races of the Universe the hope of vengeance.

    There was a reason for the sudden death of a race, and answers did exist—somewhere. The galaxydecided to find that reason.

    The galaxy declared vengeance, a vengeance that would spread across the vast canvas ofeternity. The peoples of the galaxy embarked on the journey of vengeance, examining the entirehistory of the Star Kings for a clue toward the mysterious disappearance.

    On one ship, one commander was struck by sudden in-spiration that he intuitively knew to beright. I

    the main ramp fell to the bare, burnt rock ground with-out a sound since there was no air tocarry it. For a moment he stood there, a space-suited silhouette against the lights from withinthe ship. Then he walked down the ramp to place his thick soled boots upon the hard ground.

    The landscape of pitted, charred, glazed rock blurred as Fleet Commander Grey, a citizen of theobsolete national division known as the United States of America, stood sur-veying the homeplanet of Mankind. This lifeless region was once known as the District of Columbia. It was noexception to the general rule, no minor spot of ruin and devastation. The entire planet was nowbut a ball of scorched rock. His hand went briefly to the blue and gold insignia of a FleetCommander on the helmet and shoulders of his silver space suit. He resisted the urge to clawthose painted mark-ings off. Tears rolled down his sunken cheeks as his eyes swept the barrenwastes.

    He had been born on this planet, in this city that no longer was. He had sworn to protect it,and every other city of every other planet of the United Stars of Man.

    He had failed. He had not kept his word. The United Stars were dead now, lifeless, airlessworlds like the Earth. His slight muscular body trembled with rage and futility.

    Why? he screamed silently, clenching his hands until they ached. He ignored the pain; the

    physical sensation was as nothing to that he felt in his heart.

    More than just a world had died here; an ethic of being had been swept from the galaxy.Contradictory, obstinate, unreasoning, the greatest race the galaxy had known was gone. Notthat there was anything particularly holy about the passing, for Man the race had been in themidst of one of the interminable wars of his history. For no good reason, they fought theShraix, golden creatures whose ancient empire commanded an even larger volume of space thantheir own. Oh, there were great battles! Glories were being won on both sides . . .

    And then a third force, a civilization incredibly more ancient than either Human or Shraix,stepped in and an-nihilated both.

    The worlds of Man and Shraix were scorched clean of life and artifacts. And of the outposts,fleets, secret bases— of every being of two great races, only Command Division, 43rd TerranFleet, survived. Everything else had been de-tected and destroyed, leaving no life trace toindicate that they had once been there.

    The tears stopped, the last tears Man would ever know. Commander Grey turned back to survey theremnants of his command, the heavy cruiser, Crusader, and the protective light missile ships

    that was all that remained of Command Division, 43rd Fleet. This display of former militarymight was all that was left of Man.

    And Grey knew why! It was the only thing that kept him alive, that kept him from opening hisface plate there on that airless plain, as a number of his men and women already had. His, thecrack 43rd, was to have been the first fleet to be equipped with the new device that would havegiven victory to the hard pressed fleets of Man: the Ramdic Shield. A fleet so equipped wouldhave been undetectable at FTL speeds since vibrations in the fabric of space were cut to aminimum and radiations from the Ramdic FTL Drive were neutralized.

    Eager to test the device, he had taken the Command Division out on a communications-silencedshakedown cruise instead of waiting for the eleven remaining home divisions to have theirsinstalled. While the 43rd cruised outside the fabric of normal space, the unknown murderers

    struck. The attack, the computer section calculated, had totally destroyed the worlds of Manand the Federated Stars of the Shraix in less than thirty seconds!

    Grey, Commander of the last few men and women alive, cast one final look around at thedesolate, barren planet. There was a coldness in the region of his heart. He stared up at theuncaring stars, bright and brittle over the airless world, and made a personal vow.

    Vengeance.

    He recognized the futility of his vow, but even more futile was the senseless destruction ofthose two races.

    Man and Shraix would be avenged—in full!

    Slowly he entered the ship. It was a long walk to the Command Room, the nerve center of a fleetthat was no more. He could have taken a gravity tube, but he wanted the time to think. Allheads swiveled around to watch him as he entered. He ignored their pleading eyes, snapping

    Crusader rose to become part of the umbrella that hadorders, his train-ing taking over. The

    protected it. He followed Standard Op-erating Procedures: scouts ahead, flankers out, rearguard behind. All radiating devices were cut off; all communications prohibited except fortight beamed directional rays. He gave more orders; the twenty warships pointed their blunt,black noses at Mercury and began accelerating.

    The blowers whirred loudly in the Command Room as the uniformed officers stood stiffly atattention. Grey knew they were trying not to think of the fellow men and women they had justburied, of the men and women under sedation in the Med-wards, or of those in straitjackets incompartments aft. He read their faces. Young and old, man and boy, woman and girl; there wouldbe no help from any of them. Numbed and shocked, they all looked at him. At twenty-seven, hewas younger than the most senior of them. They had once resented his meteoric rise to FleetCommander—but that was all forgotten now. The future of humankind was in his hands.

    As he hit the com-switch, he found himself staring at the red-headed woman rating who hookedhim into the fleet's broadcast system. He hesitated a moment, and then she smiled at him,shyly. He spoke. "Men and women of the 43rd Fleet, we've been together a long time. We'vefought many battles, we've buried our fallen comrades on alien worlds; we've grown to know andlove and respect one another."

    Suddenly the past years of fighting came back; the as-saults upon the Shraix defensive sphere,the silent, deadly battles in deep space with the nearest star light-years away; the times theyhad fought, alongside their sister fleets, turn-ing back the thrusts of Shraix suicide fleets.

    "It will not be easy to do what must be done, yet I know you will do it." He remembered thetime when the 43rd had encountered a complete Shraix invasion force— six fleets—and held themuntil reinforcements had arrived. Then there was the time they had been assigned to take out akey Shraix planet and how the 43rd had fought its way through everything the Shraix could throwat them for two hundred light-years to accomplish their mission. And, like the others, heremembered the long fight coming back, and the ships that had not made it.

    "We're proceeding to Mercury. Indications are that the robot supply dumps there were unknown tothe attacker. We may be able to construct additional ships fitted with the Ramdic Shield.Suitably armed, and manned by crews consisting of one fertile man and one fertile woman, Com-mand Division, 43rd Fleet will then be disbanded forever. All ranks abolished. The United Starsthemselves must be for-gotten. We must break completely with the past. There will be no timefor nostalgia, homesickness or tears. We can never go back. The past is finished, as is theEarth.

    "Once away, no ship shall ever contact another again. The race must survive, somehow. Thesingle ships will disperse to the far corners of the galaxy, seeking out colony worlds. It willbe the duty of each ship to populate their world."

    A grizzled gray-haired woman in her sixties held up her hand. She wore the arm patch of abiotechnician. Grey recognized her.

    "Impossible, Commander. One couple can't populate a planet. Genetic drift—inbreeding. You'llhave total disaster within a very few generations."

    "Duplicates of the Master Life Banks were included in the Mercury Dumps, Technician. I proposeeach ship carry a miniature Life Bank. The women can host other ova, while the sperm of theages is available for the taking.

    "We're setting a monumental task for the children that are yet to be born. We must locate thehome base of the enemy, learn his secrets—above all, we must bide our time. The day ofvengeance may not come for a thousand—for ten thousand years.

    "But it will come! That I promise! That I promise as a Man!" II

    it was on its return sweep, as it came hurtling out of the black depths, that the Master'sPatrol Vessel picked up the Ramdic radiations that could only be an attempt at com-munication.Stars leaped as the huge nonreflecting surfaced ship, driven by the power equivalent of a halfdozen suns, raced for the source of those radiations.

    Twenty miles of ultra-pressurized seamless-hulled alloyed metal, ten miles in diameter, came toa halt over the radiating object. Like a large black egg it hovered over the offending objectwhich was buried beneath the surface of Earth.

    Invisible probe rays flashed out, passing through the ve-hicle's hull as if it weren't there.The buried vessel was analyzed down to each particle of errant dust. The languages of thesystem's inhabitants were plucked from the minds of the thousand collected specimens in coldvaults within the Master's craft. Computers went through the scores of major languages andsilently broke the code. Then the broadcasting vessel was vaporized, leaving only a wisp offast dispersing white mist. The message was totally without purpose; therefore the strange,lizard-like creature in charge reasoned that the ship had not been left as a purposefultransmitter. He smelled a trap; someone had wanted to attract him while that someone observedfrom a safe position.

    The creature set up the computers to search the system of Sol cubic yard by cubic yard. Onlyminutes elapsed before they found the prey hiding in a lunar crater. The patrol vessel swoopeddown, instruments measuring and analyzing defensive and offensive capabilities of the ship. Theinformation was noted and sneered at—billions of years old his species might have had a shiplike it. In microseconds every map, book, tape, pad and drawing on the ship was in the memorybanks of the Master's com-puter. Then the Master unleashed the mind probes; they bored in,scooping up whatever thoughts and information they could detect from the poorly shielded life-force. At last, all the mighty armament of the Crusader was loosed, but the Master's screens

    barely registered the attack. The creature calmly continued his examination of the crew of theTerran ship. When the probes were finished, the creature touched a button and the Crusader

    followed the unmanned decoy into oblivion. Seconds later an instrument just below the frozencrust of Pluto sensed the vaporizing of the Crusader. It immedi-ately began to broadcast a

    continuous burst of nondirectional Ramdic radiations. Across the system, another instrumentpicked up the signals and proceeded to relay them across the galaxy.

    The Master gave the equivalent of a smile. At last he had found something to break the monotonyof endless patrols. He set up a search pattern and began hunting.

    The Master had early decided that the continued domi-nance of the Universe could be possibleonly by the instant and utter destruction of intelligent life as soon as it ap-peared. Anyexception could spell their end, for nature could evolve superior races fantastically fast,when the time span was measured against the clock of galactic history.

    The first Masters, creatures of the first planet to bear life after the creation of theUniverse, made their choice billions of years ago, after they had barely escaped completedestruc-tion at the hands of the Tashi, a race of equally intelligent beings that had laterevolved on the same planet. After centuries of bloody warfare, the Masters decided that theywould rule or they would die, but they would never live in the shadow of another species.

    As the Masters expanded into the Universe, they at first found few other races to compete withthem. These were quickly overcome. But as the Universe aged and the sphere of the Masters'influence increased geometrically, the problem became greater and greater, until finally themajor portion of their economy was aimed toward support of the myriad Patrol Ships that sweptacross the length, breadth, and depth of the galaxy.

    The Masters multiplied many times over as they ex-panded to fill the galaxy, until finally theywere homed upon nearly ten thousand worlds, all formerly homes of other races. Even so, andeven though the number of their ships was uncountable except to the uncaring minds ofcomputers, the galaxy was so large that certain less likely areas were patrolled only at longintervals.

    Perhaps fifty thousand years had passed since the last patrol of the Terran sector, duringwhich time both Man and Shraix had achieved a level of intelligence recognizable as dangerousto the Masters. The Master's smile increased, the long, forked tongue darting out; he could

    two intelligent, space-faringimagine snouted heads flying as a result of his discovery of

    races in an unpatrolled Sector!

    He punched a second message through subspace to Com-puter Prime, the great brain that filled aplanet, situated so far outside the galaxy proper that the light from the now-red sun thatshone down upon it would not reach the dead Earth for a million years.

    The patrol ship's computer passed on the information the mind probes had ripped from thehumans—everything except the directions the fleeing two-man ships had taken, for Grey hadblanked all screens whenever one left, and all crews had been commanded to keep courses anddestinations secret. For a moment the Master felt a spark of admiration for Commander Grey—butonly for a moment. He snarled as he picked up the reply to his message coming in from ComputerPrime. A hundred full-strength battle cruisers were flashing from nearby Sectors to hunt thesurvivors of Man's end. The patrol scout, its presence no longer required, continued itsinterrupted homeward journey. But the operation that Commander Grey had code-named Star King

    was already well under way. At the time that the Master's scout was sending its call for aid,thousands of the two people ships were already many light-years away in all the directions ofthe star-filled heavens, traveling as fast as their engines could carry them. When the steadyburst of directionless Ramdic radiations reached them, phase two of Operation Star King

    began.

    They buried themselves and their almost undetectable ships on the nearest planets—or thebottoms of oceans, in the hearts of mountains; when forced amidst the silently howlingelectromagnetic storms of interstellar space. Others pushed their engines to the limit whilestill others coasted amid vast meteor drifts, engines silent, power off, while they slept thedeep sleep of suspended animation. But wherever they were hidden, no matter how deep the ocean,how dense the rock or violent the storms of space, the little ships were found and the thoughtsof their passen-gers brutally torn from them, the ships and their records searched molecule bymolecule, atom by atom, and then destroyed so that no trace was left.

    But here and there a ship was missed.

    To those few, last minute messages on directionless Ramdic were constant reminders of theirfoe's efficiency. So, too, were the lifeless worlds they always found. Like Earth, they hadbeen scorched clean of life, some of them millions of years before.

    Eventually even the stubbornest and bravest of the last of mankind realized that an Earth shipwas no match for a Master. The bases and planets of the awesome enemy could not be infiltrated,nor their ships captured, or even damaged in the least amount. The Masters were invincible. Atlast, the handful of survivors realized that their generation had no chance of avenging theEarth; it would be up to their children, or their children's children.

    So they turned to their offspring.

    It was in the third generation that the breakthrough was made.

III

    caesar augustus smith was transferred immediately from his mother's womb to a specially-designed life support sys-tem, without ever tasting unsupported existence. His brain, deniednormal outside stimuli, was plugged into a network of false nerve endings; a computer, alsospecially designed, began feeding into his carefully nurtured brain cells the sum total ofhuman knowledge that had been saved from the destruction of the race.

    Ninety-two years passed as his physical body expanded to fill an area the size of a humancoffin and his mentality expanded into and beyond the limits of the galaxy. More than half ofthe time was taken up by the mere recording of the information; the balance came in educatinghim into its use. Never knowing hunger, he never tasted food, yet his mind knew the mostdelicate nuances of the most subtle spices, recorded by some unknown race-ancestor a hundred ora thousand years before.

    In the ship about him, his brothers and sisters were born, played, grew into adulthood andeventually married and departed in ships of their own, each departure adding to the chance ofracial survival. Countless star systems were visited and left behind; new weapons wereinvented, old ones discarded; a thousand disasters threatened and avoided as he lay in hisartificial womb. His parents, once beautiful and handsome, grew old and wrinkled. They who usedto come and watch his nude, brown-haired body grow into adolescence and manhood came no more ashe drifted toward old age, his hair snow white.

    More years, long and endless, went by. His father died after a month's sickness, was ejectedfrom the ship and forgotten. Through the lonely corridors lined with mementos of a hundred sonsand daughters and playrooms filled with their toys, his mother sometimes came to look down uponher remaining son's aged face. At times there were streaks of moisture down her cheeks, butthen she would square her frail, bent shoulders and beneath her now shallow breath there wasthe old glorious anthem of the United Stars that her own mother had taught her.

    Onward the lonely ship went, sneaking quietly through the vast depths, somehow always managingto be just missed by the countless patrols of the Masters that combed the Universe for the few,the now so very few, that had some-how escaped them.

    Gradually she grew less able to take care of the ship; a robot broke down and went unrepaired,and dust settled over everything, furniture and equipment alike, until it seemed that the shipwas uninhabited, a derelict eternally floating through the vast blackness of space, lifelessexcept for a hermetically sealed glass coffin in which a man lay thinking.

    Gray-haired, his Star King mother slowly came back from the drugged fantasy world that hadbecome her refuge as the long, endless years crawled by. With her husband gone forever, realityno longer held any meaning. All she had left now were dreams, and the drugs. The one kept theother alive. Then, in a half-lucid moment, activated by an impulse she could not understand,she passed beyond the closed door of her room for the first time in years. Through the corridorcarpeted with the dust of memories, into the dimly lit hall untrodden for nearly a decade, shedragged her ancient frame. Fear welled up inside her and her shriveled hands began to tremble.Her breathing was shallow, dry, raspy; her frame shuddered as a frail bone snapped when itsettled against its socket, a tiny chip working loose and digging with a twinge into thedesiccated muscles that were almost pulled away from the bone. Reluctantly she found herselfapproaching the door to the life-support room. Her hand pushed it open, the hinges faintlysqueaking with disuse. She forced herself in and to the side of the glass coffin. She lookeddown at the visible head of her son, almost as mummified as herself, and stifled a cry ofhorror. For the first time since birth, his eyes were open, staring up at her. A watery blue incolor, there appeared to be no human life within them—only a cold that was as deep as the coldof space itself. A never-used speaker hummed as it came to life. Softly, in a voice that couldhardly be heard, Caesar Augustus Smith began to speak.

    "Mother?"

    She screamed and fainted, falling forward across the coffin, and sliding to the ground. Hidingfrom the horror, her brain called out for the release of death, but death refused to come.

    Then, gradually, she returned to consciousness to hear her son's voice speaking as though herfaint had passed un-noticed.

    "... For all eternity I've lain here, longing for this day, knowing other people's memories,but never knowing one that I could call my own."

    The words weren't passing the atrophied lip and throat muscles, but were being generatedelsewhere.

    "I have never played, never known love, never known laughter, or peace, or happiness, orchildren. Only endless time. I've prayed to the Almighty Creator for release from thissuffering, but he answered me that I cannot find release. Not until my duty is done.

    "Why is it my duty, Mother? Why me?"

    Her wrinkled face relaxed and a measure of sanity re-turned as the memories of the past werestirred and brought to the fore. She forced herself erect, ignoring the pain of cracked andshattered bones, and leaned on the coffin. A look of serenity came to her face, and her voicewas firm when she spoke.

    "Have you solved the problem we set you so long ago, my son?"

    "Yes, I have the solution, Mother. What else could I do with these years of imprisonment? Ihave a program that can bridge eternity itself. It will take much time, but it can be done."

    "Then the sacrifice was worth it," she said.

    "What sacrifice, Mother? I am the one who sacrificed."

    She gazed down at him with love. "You were my first son. I would have taken your place myself,rather than do to you what we did. I would have given an arm or a leg to prevent yoursuffering. But it was necessary, my son, if we were to avoid the final and utter destruction ofour race.

    "The human mind is the greatest creative, intuitive com-puter known, but it has several seriousweaknesses. It ages, and as it ages, it forgets. It seldom operates at anything near peakcapacity. Its attention wanders, and the body that houses it fatigues quite easily.

    "With this equipment and the use of drugs we were able to eliminate those shortcomings withoutimpairing the strength. We were unable to prevent the aging of the body, but we could stop theaging of the brain cells.

    "A hundred years went into the design of the genetic blue-print that would become you. Once youwere chosen, the die was cast. You were created to save the race of Man, my son. Have wesucceeded?"

    "Yes, Mother," he replied, his voice growing even softer. "But . . ." The question was stilluncertain in his mind. "Was it worth it?"

    IV

    it was black—big and black and silent—as its ovoid shape slid effortlessly through the depthsof space, its Ramdic Shield not permitting its mighty engines and power plant to betray itspresence to those who searched endlessly and ruthlessly for its kind.

    The multitude of sensory information received by the Star King Ship Yale from without was

    fed into the computer which digested it and relayed the result via the headgear designed byCaesar Smith directly into the brain of British descended, professorial George Bronson, who wasat that moment brushing his stubby moustache and puffing on a pipe that burned tobacco that hadnever seen the soil of Earth, while walking among the stainless steel artificial wombs thathoused his experiments. Bronson was a short, graying individual with a tendency to lecture.Inside the ship he knew the condition of each and every element, transistor and fuel cell; theair pressure in every compartment; how efficiently machinery—including even the watch on hiswrist—was working, and approximately when replacements and/or repairs would have to be made.In a score of labs, experiments were being carried out by automatic equipment.

    He knew the results of each experiment as soon as it occurred, without consulting one meter,dial, or other data receiving device; he also knew the age, overall temperature, abnormalities,measurements, gene history and present general health of each of the thirty embryos at thatexact moment as they floated within their vats.

    In addition, if anything of a hostile nature were detected, he could locate, track and fire awhole arsenal of weapons that ranged from recoilless guns shooting explosive steel slugs thesize of an ear of corn to the deadly hellfire of the pure energy blasters, again withoutconsulting any controls, instrument banks or pushing any button, switches or toggles exceptthose that were in his mind in the form of the Caesar Smith—shortened by the normal evolutionof human lan-guage to C-S—headgear. At that particular moment everything was working smooth-ly; the detection screens were clear, so he was free to con-centrate on the embryo designatedas D-866. The gleaming sides of the stainless steel artificial womb rolled to him. He stood ina professorial pose as a check on the instruments showed everything perfect.

    In each and every one of the two hundred artificial wombs in the various labs about the shipwas a human embryo at some stage of development.

    He called them his experiments and few deserved the name; most did not. They were the result ofpairing re-activated sperm and egg cells that Grey had put aboard each ship and that hadremained in the deep freeze vaults until such time as they could be used to continue the race,also making sure that as few genes as possible were lost to the gene pool.

    The others were the result of hormone stimulation of his wife's ovaries, a practice that hadproduced hundreds of eggs within an extremely short period of time, and artificial inseminationfertilization with his own sperm cells. Except for the few units used in his specialexperiments, the majority would grow up into normal healthy human beings.

    He looked at the microsimulator on a far wall that showed the fertilized egg with itschromosomes, without any unusual interest or excitement; over the past thirty years he hadlooked at such electronic reproductions thousands of times. His father, a genius of a man, hadstarted the experiments long ago. Bronson was merely carrying on, although he had added a fewrefinements of his own. Before fertilization, he had operated with lasers on the sperm and egg.Now that fertilization had occurred despite his tamperings, he was ready for the next stage.

    Without moving, except for more frequent puffs on his pipe, he checked the lasers, examiningthe future Star King, then began the ordeal. By proper manipulation and use of temperature anddrugs, he forestalled further development of the fertile egg. It remained dormant during theten hour gene altering operation. Eventually the egg became a foetus, its umbilical cordattached to an artificial placenta within the stainless steel womb.

    Each day Bronson returned to the lab, each day another sperm and egg underwent the cold cuttingfury of the lasers. The failures were fewer now. D-866 had been the break-through. Day by day,and night by night, the manipulation and alteration of genes—before managed only by chanceradiation and the accidents of nature—became less hap-hazard, more of an exact science. Nolonger tied by the strictures of a planetary time structure, the Star Kings con-tinued theirexperiments for as many hours as interest con-tinued and fatigue could be warded off.

    D-866 died. It was just as well, for in the end it was a misshapen monster which Bronson,despite all the advanced surgical techniques at his command, could not have cor-rected. Butsoon the monsters became fewer and fewer; the physical and mental shortcomings less gross.

    Years went by.

    The ship became scarred and pitted. Bronson saw hun-dreds of his normal sons and daughtersborn, educated, mated and gone on their own mission to save humanity, never to be seen again.Their fate remained unknown except in those rare instances when one might manage to get off amessage before they were blown into wispy vapor by patrols of the Masters.

    Machinery broke down and was repaired, power sources diminished and were replenished; themammoth task of creating starships for his children used energy that would have lasted a singleplanet a normal human lifetime.

The experiments continued despite all.

    V-101 was the next breakthrough. It was also significant in that it was the beginning of adifferent line of experiments.

    It became a perfectly normal-looking foetus, preliminary tests estimating optimal I.Q.development to be in the genius-plus category, off the numerical scale. The optimal SanityQuotient potential measured an astonishing plus 2.3 on a scale that ran from a minus fifty to aplus fifty—0.0 being the theoretical normal of all human beings.

    The S.Q. was a major achievement in itself, recognition of the fact that a person can be either

    too stable. In the latter case, a too-stable person ismentally unstable or mentally

    basically unadaptable. In the sixth month V-101 was removed from its protective tank and placedin a standard pure oxygen incubator.

    More years passed along.

    At three, V-101, sitting quietly and calmly with his golden haired head propped up by his tinyhands, beat him in tri-d sphere chess despite all Bronson's sputtering and spitting and pipepuffing. Tri-d sphere chess is an offshoot of cylindrical chess which is, in turn, an offshootof regular chess. In regular chess all pieces are hemmed in by the four sides of the board andthe four rook pawns (two per player) are only half as powerful as the inner pawns. These twofacts are not so in cylindrical chess; the pieces are hemmed in by only two sides of the boardand the rook pawns are just as powerful as the others. In addition, a rook can attack a pieceon an open rank from two directions at the same time and once if the rank is blocked once. Thebishops and queens can attack the opposing player's castled position twice each from oppositedirections. The castled king finds himself flanked by two rooks and two knights (providing thequeen knight is developed at queen rook three—in ordinary chess, a very unpromising and badmove in the vast majority of positions).

    Sphere chess is cylindrical chess with the open ends of the board or cylinder joined. Thesquares are of varying sizes, but that is of little importance as far as the game is concerned.In sphere chess the king and queen become of paramount importance since in two moves either canbe at any point in their circular camp that is under direct attack. No piece is restricted inits movements except by other pieces. It is possible for the queen, via ranks—files anddiagonals—to attack a piece six times from six directions, and in special circumstances, eightdifferent directions at the same time.

    Bronson had been playing tri-d sphere chess against the ship's computer for over thirty years,winning occasionally— after programming it to lose. So he had not expected to lose the firstgame he played with V-101.

    The little golden haired prodigy also won consistently at all card games. At five, V-101 tookover his experiments, over Bronson's protests.

    At six, V-101 located a Sol-Mercury type planet and built a smaller but more deadly edition ofthe Yale. After having christened it Star King Ship Earth in remembrance of the place it

    would never ever see, he set out by himself.

    At eight, just when Bronson was finally admitting to worry, V-101 returned—with a Masters'battle cruiser-of-the-line!

    She was god-awful big, thought Bronson, as the infamous silhouette of the battle cruisercentered itself in the cross-hairs of the Yale's forward vision-screens. All courses of

    action were examined and discarded. The Masters' ship was faster, more maneuverable, andcarried enough fire power to vapor-ize him in milli-microseconds through the best defensiveshields he had.

    His own weapons, triggered microseconds after the de-tection of the Masters' ship, proved justas useless as he had expected. No ship in Star King history had ever pene-trated the shields orultra-pressurized alloyed hull of a Masters' ship.

    Bronson waited, ready to self-destruct to prevent him-self and any information he possessedfrom falling into enemy computer banks.

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