The Black Galaxyby Murray Leinster
The Chairman of the Space Project Committee was very polite. But he was a politician and Rod Cantrell had been a soldier and was a very
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Unexpectedly the starship Stellaris hurtled off the earth and into the farthest reaches of space. If only that was the only problem! No star maps, killer aliens and a ship that was only partially built.
The Chairman of the Space Project Committee was very polite. But he was a politician and Rod Cantrell had been a soldier and was a very famous man and all politicians know that soldiers and other practical men can be most obstinate when politics shows clearly what should be done.
"Permit me to congratulate you," the Chairman said blandly, "on your promotion."
"On being kicked upstairs?" asked Rod drily. "I'm not pleased. It looks to me — since that's what I came to protest about —that I'm promoted to something like a dummy job so that the work I want to do and the decisions I need to make will be made by people who think more of elections than of really important things,"
The Chairman of the Space Committee laughed appreciatively. But he made a mental black mark. This man would not be amenable to political pressure. Perhaps he had better be a little more thoroughly deprived of authority — and given more prestige to make up for it.
"Oh, come, come!" he said indulgently. "What have you to complain of? The ship you're building has certainly all the funds anyone could need!"
"I think," Rod said flatly, "that we should postpone any attempt at interplanetary travel until we get some interplanetary weapons." As the Chairman beamed at him he went on doggedly.
"I designed the drive-units for the ship we're building, for the one now under construction. I made the first interplanetary flights — the only ones made to date. But I urge the postponement of exploration until we have some defense. The weapons we have now would be useless against an enemy with spaceships."
The Chairman beamed on and offered Rod a cigar. Rod curtly refused it.
"Yet," mused the Chairman amiably, "you did not encounter any other space-ships in your three interplanetary flights, you cannot name possible enemies and you have not any real evidence that this — ah — hypothetical enemy you speak of has weapons superior to our own. After all, we have a gift for destruction ourselves! And remember, the idea of space-conquest has caught the imagination of the public!"
Rod set his jaws. He was prepared to be made ridiculous if he could bring about some measure of defense against the dangers he foresaw. But a politician could not be expected to believe anything dangerous if it brought in votes. And the proven possibility of travel, not only to other planets but to the stars, had roused enormous popular enthusiasm.
"There were Martians, once," said Rod. "There aren't anymore. They had a civilization that in some ways was higher than ours. You've seen the proofs of that. And they were wiped out. They simply vanished leaving their cities to fall in ruins behind them."
"You assume that your — ah — hypothetical space-travelers destroyed them?"
"I do," said Rod. He added with some irony, "You must remember that I saw the dead Martian cities with the least stray possession left in place and what I believe were the remains of the Martians lying where they dropped. And I saw that pyramid on Calypso, which surely no men made. It was made by the race I'm talking about, which I haven't seen, which I can't name or describe, but which made it to lure the first man to see it into sending them a signal that space-travel had been achieved on Earth."
"Yet you did not even photograph it," said the Chairman, tolerantly. "And you insist that we devote research and money to weapons — when the world is very weary of weapons and of war — instead of upon space-travel, which has filled humanity with optimism it has never known before! My dear sir, it would be political suicide!"
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