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"No! You can't! You lie!--lie!--why?--why?" It was a roar--a roar of childish indignation, filling the ancient court-room from the varnished floors to the oaken rafters, swelling through the open windows to stop the startled crowds in the streets outside. It was loud, unexpected, halting in its anguish, but fiercer still it roared from the unlocked mind. Like a volcanic flare it surged outwards, glaring, burning into the brains of the listeners, as brilliant to the mind as blast-glare to the eye.
The court listener, for a startled moment, knew his error. He shrieked, and grasped his head, but his pain was like a whisper to the scream that followed, for now anguish was changing to partial understanding, to a knowledge of treachery and injustice, and welling with it came hate. Hate that spewed from the pulsing brain like a roaring thunderclap. Hate that seared and locked the nerves. While the non-sensitives gazed in confusion and horror, the listener's shriek rose until his gaping mouth had expended all his breath, but hate was in his brain, locking his nerves in shorted knots, and his ribs could not open; his heart was seized, his living stopped. He toppled forward, slowly, bending reluctantly. Then he crashed, unhinged, dead.
Still the hate flared out, swelling, a wave travelling faster than light. A million listeners heard it, screaming in agony, clasping heads in useless protest. On, over the lighted earth, on, into the world of night where hapless sleepers jerked upright from nightmare beds, and fell back screaming, moaning, or blankly silent.
Now a second wave followed the first, hundreds of minds sweeping the world with fearful inquiry, "Who?Why?"
They acted quickly in the courtroom. While eyes and cameras focused yet uncomprehendingly on the listener, police moved in on the struggling prisoner. He was hustled out. Five men it took, despite the chains, and two of those fell out, and had to be replaced, but they were quick. A closed truck was waiting. Space Port was close. A weather hitch that was holding up the count-down of Star-bird III suddenly came clear, and, before the cries of mistrial reached the court, the rockets blasted, the spacer stood for a moment on a gush of fire, then rent the heavens in a violent clawing for the void. She was gone on her pencil of flame, trailing thunder, pulsing back hate. All day the earth was bathed in it. All night the listeners crouched, and moaned, and whimpered under its battering. The old died, the very young went still and staring, their minds blasted into endless night. The strong survived. For almost forty-eight hours they cringed under the onslaught of that savage hate, and then, like a light switched off, it was gone, and they rested, knowing that the source slept, was unconscious, or was dead.
For four days they felt his waking moments, while the Star-bird ate space, building speed on SACQ drive, swallowing a million miles in a single breathing. Incredibly, some of the greatest listeners felt him like a deep depression for another two days, though Star-bird III was lost to the solar system, a tiny mote, for all her speed, creeping through the vast and stately sweep of the stars.
He was gone, but long they pondered on him. Mistrial it had been, and scapegoats were available to bear the blame, but the questions lingered. How had they not known him? How had there been a sender of such power, and no listener knew of him? Had he merely been a listener until the trauma of injustice and exile had broken the bonds of sending? Had he been a listener/sender shielded? That was the question. If he had been, then Earth had sent the most valuable product of five hundred years of breeding and research to High America, where no sensitive could survive.
Useless to try to call him back. The Star-bird was lost to Earth for four years, and it would be another two, after that, for a messenger to ride it back to High America. No sensitive had ever survived on High America more than a dozen weeks. He had no chance of surviving six years. He was lost. But why?
Nearly six hundred years before, it had started. Some historians claimed to have found evidence that it had started during some ancient, forgotten war, but most were content to trace its origin no further than the old world-wide sports events called Olympics. Time and catastrophe have cast a dimness over it all, but it is at least well documented, that in the Twenty-first Century competition between nations had become fierce. All the old grievances and tensions that had led to the great wars of the Twentieth Century found outlet only in organised sport between nations, because the development of nuclear, and even more horrible weapons, had denied man the catharsis of international conflict.
The selection of young children with sports potential, and the intensive training of these in special institutions, had long been a tradition in many countries. Now it was taken up even more intensely, but the country, then called Germany, went even further. Drugs, and even surgery, were used with telling effect. In the Thirty-second Olympiad, Germany won every gold medal except two. The other nations of the world were humbled as they had never been before, and the conceit of "Super-race" once more took root in German minds.
But humiliation makes an uneasy cloak for governments to wear. Democracies foundered, Tyrannies fell. A wave like an earthquake traversed the globe, and shook the men of power into startled fright. All countries began intensive training programmes, those under dictators by direct order and dark threats; those still called democracies, by coercion, veiled threats, and the promise of rich rewards. Each was successful in its measure.
For three more Olympiads Germany spurned the efforts of all competitors. The world's record books became German "Who's Who" of sport. The concept of the super-race became an article of national faith.
Then, in the Thirty-sixth Olympiad, Germany crashed. Only three medals were won, and those in low prestige areas. When the great fall, mightily do they fall!
Now the nations of the world took revenge. Germany's team was laughed out of the arena--their own arena in Bonn--on which they had lavished the massive wealth of their nation to make it a fitting setting for their expected triumphs, and the vindication, once more, of their pride. The nation went into a state of shock. Three athletes were clubbed to death in the streets by enraged citizens, and the rest were taken into protective custody, while the media screamed for treason trials. In the end, the entire Olympic team and coaches were transported under guard to Switzerland, and, six months later, when they were brought back, they were presented in secret with a computer formulated breeding programme. They were not in a position to refuse.
There was a rash of divorces and marriages, but a still chuckling world took only sufficient notice to coin a number of bar-room jokes. German sports schools and complexes, once the glittering showpieces of a proud nation, became secretive, dark, and unwelcoming.
The first generation of the specially bred sports men and women lifted Germany once more into the top medal winners, but the second stunned an incredulous world. Records fell like snow flakes, as the arenas saw the first of the true super-people.
The secret, long suspected, could no longer be denied by Germany, or ignored by the rest of the nations. Long was the debate, and bitter the arguments. Churches preached hell-fire once more, vigilante groups formed, and merged, made declarations, and faded. Indignant politicians won places in government by declaring that such evil would never be allowed in states under their care. But within ten years, every nation had a specialised human breeding programme mostly disguised under some euphemism, but there just the same.
So were bred the super-sports-people in a world mildly, or satanically insane, according to one's viewpoint, but it was all harmless enough. The amazing successes, however, were viewed by those whose thoughts were of more sinister bent.
Warfare had been confined to guerrilla type, limited conflicts of rebellion, counter-rebellion, and coup. There were professional soldiers--why not super-soldiers? They were bred, taking as basis the stock of the more aggressive sports. They were big, powerful, with swift reflexes, courage, and stamina, but not too great intelligence. Thinking soldiers are dangerous to more than just the enemy.
By the end of the Twenty-second Century sportsmen and soldiers were recognised as different subspecies of the human race. Genetics was the prestige science. Specialised breeding was accepted, and had its own body of rules and traditions.
It was a bad time for the human race, however. Populations were large, and resources were scarce. Limited wars had become savage conflicts with referee nations standing in the background like the old time seconds at a duel, ready to inflict instant annihilation on the country who first used the banned weapons. Men looked once more to the stars with yearning in their hearts.
Space travel had its boom in the latter part of the Twentieth, and early Twenty-first Centuries. The solar system had been explored. Research bases had been established on the Moon and Mars, but the impetus outwards had gradually died, smothered by the staggering costs, and the insurmountable barrier of distance.
Star-seeker I had been launched with great pomp and ceremony, and had carried out of the solar system, into the unknown, some two hundred persons willing to condemn themselves, and their descendants, to a prison which might last for eternity. There had been a great emotional build-up throughout the world. Nations had been invited to send applicants for selection, and the launch was considered the ultimate in national prestige. Visionaries had seen it as the start of a glorious new era, but, instead of firing greater enthusiasm for the space research, it fell as an anti-climax. When radio contact was lost with the ship, it was hard to think of the voyagers as still living. Slowly nations came to realise that there would be no return but hollow prestige for such an enormous outlay of valuable resources. Space research faltered.
Sports also faltered. Sportspeople were no longer the boy or girl next door made good. They were different--a different race almost--to be admired for their perfection and powers, but not to be personally involved with. There developed more interest in the "Com" or "Ped" games, so named because competitors were required to have pedigrees stretching back ten generations in which there was no sports, or soldier, breeding.
As men looked back to the stars a new interest in research developed. New technologies were required to supplement dwindling resources. A new breeding programme was developed--for the first time openly breeding for intelligence. So came the "Brains".
As before, some nations started early, others late. The United States of North and Central America started late, but, in a crash programme to try to catch up, took their breeding along two lines--intelligence, and early sexual maturity. It was a logical step, but one that created another great surge of outrage when it was discovered that girls were maturing sexually, and having babies, within the programme before their eighth birthday. However, by that time, the U.S.N.C.A. had been long producing two generations to the rest of the world's one, and were far in advance. The SACQ engine was their vindication, and the stars their reward. Outrage was heightened by almost insane jealousy when High America was discovered on the very first exploration, and quickly colonised.
The sensitives were an off-shoot of the intelligence programme. Suddenly, powers that had been half believed for all of history were demonstrated beyond doubt. Initially the powers were freakish, and control was very limited. Some of the more gifted found employment as night-club performers, and they might not have developed beyond that, had not there been a more sinister employment for their abilities. Listeners made excellent spies, and senders made ideal communicators. Listener-senders were eagerly sought, bred, and trained. It was an intensive but short-lived programme. Listeners also made excellent counter-spies, and spying became almost a dead art in more ways than one. Each nation tried desperately to be the first to develop a shielded sensitive, and persistent rumours of them circled the globe, and destroyed the sleep of countless heads of state.
Selective breeding went on automatically also, for with few exceptions, sensitives could find mates only amongst their own kind. They were not accepted by the common people.
A super-sportsman or woman was not that much different. He, or she, did only the things all people could do, only better, faster, higher, further. A super soldier was only a better soldier, a brain, only a better thinker. But a sensitive--a sensitive was different. A sensitive had powers that common people lacked. He invaded privacy. He could be told no lies. He knew each one for what he was. He knew of desires, greeds, lusts, all the dark animalisms that were once hidden--that once could be hidden. People feared sensitives, and avoided them. Stories about sensitives could always be relied on to sell newsdisks and lift media ratings. Stories were distorted. Hate was bred, and grew. The old racial differences had mostly been interbred to such an extent that few groups could any longer be distinguished. Racism had almost faded out. Now there was a new focus for racial bigotry--the sensitives.
The sensitives became the greatest disruptive force of the Twenty-third Century. In self-defence they banded together, and sought political power. Both tendencies increased the fear and hate. When news broke that sensitives could not survive on High America, something broke on Earth. Some taut string of sanity snapped, and the world exploded into war.
Before sanity was recovered, all of what had been South America, the richest area of resources left on Earth, had been converted into a gigantic mirror of coloured glass, whose reflection at times shone vividly on the moon. Large parts of Asia became charnel houses in which every human died under a senseless onslaught of germ warfare, and every nation lost much of its essential industry and population.
While the nations reeled, disorganised, a virus, possibly under the influence of radiation drifting up from the ruin of South America, possibly released as part of warfare, mutated. It became known as Mexican Death, and spread across the world like nightfall. Cities became great morgues, peopled only by the dead. Like the times of the Black Plagues of Europe, the survivors pressed out into the country, but found no welcome there.
Earth plunged into another Dark Age in which sensitives were burnt at the stake as in the days of old. As in the days of old, they went underground, hiding their powers. For almost a hundred years Earth was a world of War Lords and peasant farmers, but knowledge was still there, locked in the cities, and knowledge is power. Men went seeking it. Outlaws ran for the cities to escape the law. Some died quickly, others survived, and at last knowledge was rekindled, research found a vaccine to combat the virus. The nations came back into being. A great upsurge of learning followed. Again advance of knowledge became the measure of prestige, but the cost of knowledge was the acceptance of the sensitives.
A very rigid set of laws were developed to restrict the sensitives. They had to be registered. There were special listeners in every community whose task it was to identify any hidden member or developing child, for the upheaval had led to the loss of the old records, and there had been sensitives hidden, and they had mated with non-sensitives. Indeed, all the carefully controlled programmes had been destroyed, and the breeds had gone wild. They were banned totally from the field of politics, and they were restricted in many fields of employment. In the police force they were used, but strictly controlled, and, in the courts of law they found their most acceptable employment.
When contact with High America was established once more, there was no question of it reverting to colony status. On the other hand, there was no surplus of people to fill the pressing need for immigrants. High America reluctantly agreed to accept convicts and political exiles from all the nations of the world, but maintained special relations with U.S.N.C.A. That sensitives could not survive there had become little more than a rumour or folk tale amongst the common people, and it was allowed to remain so.