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Three complete novels from a Golden Age master of science fiction in one volume: Empire of the Atom, The Wizard of Linn, and Mission to the Stars.
Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn: Global war smashed civilization—or so the legends told—but not all of its machines. A caste of “scientists” arose who knew how to repair and operate the ancient machines, but not how they worked, and worshipped at the altars of the atomic gods who were said to make the machines run. Society ...
Three complete novels from a Golden Age master of science fiction in one volume: Empire of the Atom, The Wizard of Linn, and Mission to the Stars.
Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn: Global war smashed civilization—or so the legends told—but not all of its machines. A caste of “scientists” arose who knew how to repair and operate the ancient machines, but not how they worked, and worshipped at the altars of the atomic gods who were said to make the machines run. Society was a strange mix of the modern and the medieval, with armies riding on horseback into huge spaceships, then flying to human colonies on other planets to wage war with swords and arrows.
Then came the mutant Clane, who would have been put to death for his deformities had he not been born into the ruling family. Though his body was twisted, his mind was brilliant, and he not only recovered the lost science behind the ancient machines, but found the truth behind the legends of civilization’s downfall. Alien invaders, not human war, had reduced humanity to barbarism as a prelude for a later return in force to colonize the Solar System. And that return would happen soon, unless Clane could find a way to stop it. . . . For the first time, the entire Clane saga, told in the two novels Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn, is complete in one volume.
Mission to the Stars, Van Vogt’s sweeping novel of interstellar adventure, is also included, along with the two short novels in the “Ezwal” series, chronicling the struggle of one man to convince a feral but intelligent species to join with humanity in the battle against a mutual enemy—but first he must convince the lone Ezwal who is trapped with him in a deadly jungle to co-operate, or neither will survive.
About A.E. Van Vogt:
"A. E. Van Vogt's early stories broke like claps of thunder through the science fiction field.”—Jack Williamson
"I can still recall the impact of his early stories.”—Arthur C. Clarke
"Nobody . . . came close to matching van Vogt for headlong, breakneck pacing.”—Gardner Dozois
Part I: Empire of the Atom
A Son is Born
Junior scientists stood at the bell ropes all day, ready to sound forth the tidings of an important birth. By night time, they were exchanging coarse jests at to the possible reason for the delay. They took care, however, not to be overheard by seniors or initiates.
The expected child had actually been born a few hours after dawn. He was a weak and sickly fellow, and he showed certain characteristics that brought immediate dismay to the Leader household. His mother, Lady Tania, when she wakened, listened for a while to his piteous crying, then commented acidly:
"Who frightened the little wretch? He seems already afraid of life."
Scientist Joquin, in charge of the delivery, considered her words an ill-omen. He had not intended to let her see the monstrosity until the following day, but now it seemed to him that he must act swiftly to avert calamity. He hurriedly sent a dozen slave women to wheel in the carriage, ordering them to group around it in close formation to ward of any malignant radiation that might be in the bedroom.
Lady Tania was lying, her slim body propped up in bed, when the astonishing procession started to squeeze through the door. Shewatched it with a frown of amazement and then the beginning of alarm. She had patiently borne her husband three other children, and so she knew that what she was seeing was not part of any normal observance. She was not a soft spoken creature, and even the presence of a Scientist in the room did not restrain her. She said violently:
"What is going on here, Joquin?"
Joquin fluttered his head at her in distress. Did she not realize that every ill-tempered word spoken at this period only doomed the handicapped child to further disasters? He noted, startled, that she was parting her lips to speak again-and, with a silent prayer to the atom gods, he took his life in his hands.
Three swift strides he made towards the bed, and clapped his palm over her mouth. As he had expected, the woman was too astounded by the action to utter a sound. By the time she recovered, and began to struggle weakly, the carriage was being tilted. And over his arm, she had her first glimpse of the baby.
The gathering storm faded from her blue eyes. After a moment, Joquin gently removed his hand from her mouth, and slowly retreated beyond the carriage. He stood there, quailing with the thought of what he had done, but gradually as no verbal lightning struck at him from the bed, his sense of righteousness reasserted. He began to glow inwardly and ever afterwards claimed that what he had done saved the situation as far as it could be saved. In the warmth of that self-congratulatory feeling, he almost forgot the child.
He was recalled by the Lady Tania saying in a dangerously quiet tone:
"How did it happen?"
Joquin nearly made the mistake of shrugging. He caught himself in time, but before he could say anything, the woman said, more sharply:
"Of course, I know it'd due to the atom gods. But when do you think it happened?"
* * *
Joquin was cautious. The scientists of the temples had had much experience with atomic mutation, enough to know that the controlling gods were erratic and not easily pinned down by dates. Nevertheless, mutation did not occur after an embryo baby was past the fish stage, and therefore a time limit could be estimated. Not after January, 470 A.B., and not before- He paused, recalling the approximate birth date of the Lady Tania's third child. He completed his figuring aloud- "Not before 467 A.B."
The woman was looking at the child now, more intently. What she saw made her swallow visibly. Joquin, watching her, thought he knew what she was thinking. She had made the mistake a few days before her confinement of boasting in a small company that four children would give her an advantage over her sister, Chrosone, who only had two children, and over her stepbrother, Lord Tews, whose acid-tongued wife had borne him three children. Now, the advantage would be theirs, for, obviously, she could have no more normal children, and they could overtake or surpass her at their leisure.
There would also be many witty exchanges at her expense. The potentialities for personal embarrassment were actually almost endless.
All that, Joquin read in her face, as she stared with hardening eyes at the child. He said hurriedly:
"This is the worst stage, Lady. Frequently, the result after a few months or years is reasonably-satisfactory."
He had almost said "human." He was aware of her gaze swinging towards him. He waited uneasily, but all she said finally was:
"Has the Lord Leader, the child's grandfather, been in?"
Joquin inclined his head. "The Lord Leader saw the baby a few minutes after it was born. His only comment was to the effect that I should ascertain from you, if possible, when you were affected."
She did not reply immediately, but her eyes narrowed even more. Her thin face grew hard, then harsh. She looked up at the scientist at last.
"I suppose you know," she said, "that only negligence at one of the temples could be responsible."
Joquin had already thought of that, but now he looked at her uneasily. Nothing had ever been done about previous "children of the gods," but it had been growing on him that the Linns at least regarded this as a special case. He said slowly:
"The atom gods are inscrutable."
The woman seemed not to hear. Her cold voice went on:
"The child will have to be destroyed, I suppose. But you may be sure that, within a month, there will be a compensatory stretching of scientific necks such as the world has not seen in a generation."
She was not a pleasant person when roused, the Lady Tania Linn, daughter-in-law of the Lord Leader.
* * *
It proved easy to trace the source of the mutation. The previous summer, Tania, tiring of a holiday on one of the family's west coast estates, returned to the capitol before she was expected. Her husband, General of the Realm, Creg Linn, was having extensive alterations made to the Hill Palace. No invitation was forthcoming from her sister at the other end of the city, or from her stepmother-in-law, the wife of the Lord Leader. Tania, perforce, moved into an apartment in the Town Palace.
This assortment of buildings, though still maintained by the state, had not been used as a residence for several years. The city had grown immense since it was built, and long since the commercial houses had crowded around it. Due to a lack of foresight, by an earlier generation, title had not been taken to the lands surrounding the palace, and it had always been deemed unwise to seize them by force.
There was one particularly annoying aspect of the failure to realize the profitable potentialities of the area. This was the scientists' temple that towered in the shelter of one wing of the palace. It had caused the Lady Tania no end of heartache the previous summer. On taking up residence, she discovered that the only habitable apartment was on the temple side, and that the three most gorgeous windows faced directly onto the blank lead walls of the temple.
The scientist who had built the temple was a member of the Raheinl group, hostile to the Linns. It had titillated the whole city when the site was made known. The fact that three acres of ground were available made the affront obvious.
It still rankled.
The agents of the Lord Leader discovered at the first investigation that one small area of the lead wall of the temple was radioactive. They were unable to determine the reason for the activity, because the wall at that point was of the required thickness. But the fact was what they reported to their master. Before midnight of the second day after the child was born, the decision was in the making.
Shortly before twelve, Scientist Joquin was called in, and told the trend of events. Once more he took his life in his hands.
"Leader," he said, addressing the great man direct, "this is a grave error into which your natural irritation is directing you. The scientists are a group, who, having full control of atomic energy dispensation, have developed an independent attitude of mind, which will not take kindly to punishments for accidental crimes. My advice is, leave the boy alive, and consult with the Scientists' Council. I will advise them to remove the temple of their own volition, and I feel sure they will agree."
Having spoken, Joquin glanced at the faces before him. And realized that he had made a mistake in his initial assumption. There were two men and three women in the room. The men were the grave, lean Lord Leader and the plumpish Lord Tews, who was the Lady Leader's eldest son by her first marriage. Lord Tews was acting General of the Realm in the absence of Lord Creg, Tania's husband, who was away fighting the Venusians on Venus.
The women present were the Lady Leader Linn, wife of the Lord Leader, and stepmother-in-law to the two other women, Chrosone, Tania's sister and Lady Tania, still in bed. The Lady Tania and her sister were not on speaking terms, for a reason that need not be gone into here.
Joquin assumed that these five had called him for consultation, as they had on past occasions. Now, looking at them, realization came that their interest in him was psychological rather than logical. They listened intently to his words, but what he said apparently merely confirmed their previously held opinion.
Lord Tews looked at his mother, a faint smile on his plumpish face. She half lowered her eyelids. The two sisters remained frozen faced, staring at Joquin. The Lord Leader ended the tension by nodding a dismissal to the scientist.
Joquin went out, quivering. The wild idea came, to send a warning to the endangered temple scientists. But he quickly abandoned that as hopeless. No message from him would be allowed out of the palace.
He retired finally, but he was unable to sleep. In the morning, the fearful rescript that he had visualized all through the night was posted on the military board, for all to read. Joquin blinked at it palely. It was simple and without qualification.
It commanded that every scientist of the Raheinl temple was to be hanged before dusk. The property was ordered seized, and the buildings razed to the ground. The three acres of temple land were to be converted into a park.
It did not say that the park was to be added to the Town Palace of the Linns, though this later turned out to be the fact.
The rescript was signed in the firm hand of the Lord Leader himself.
Reading it, Joquin recognized that a declaration of war had been made against the power of the temple scientists.
* * *
The Scientist Alden was not a man who had premonitions. And certainly he had none as he walked slowly along towards the Raheinl temple.
The morning glowed around him. The sun was out. A gentle breeze blew along the avenue of palms which stalked in stately fashion past his new home. In his mind was the usual cozy kaleidoscope of happy reminiscences, and a quiet joy that a simple country scientist had in only ten years become the chief scientist of the Raheinl temple.
There was but one tiny flaw in that memory, and that was the real reason for his swift promotion. More than eleven years ago, he had remarked to another junior that, since the gods of the atom had yielded certain secrets of mechanical power to human beings, it might be worthwhile to cajole them by experimental methods into revealing others. And that, after all, there might be a grain of truth in the vague legends about cities and planets ablaze with atomic power and light.
Alden shuddered involuntarily at the brief remembrance. It was only gradually that he realized the extent of his blasphemy. And when the other junior coolly informed him the following day that he had told the chief scientist-that had seemed like the end of all his hopes.
Surprisingly, it turned out to be the beginning of a new phase in his career. Within a month he was called for his first private conversation with a visiting scientist, Joquin, who lived in the palace of the Linns.
"It is our policy," Joquin said, "to encourage young men whose thoughts do not move entirely in a groove. We know that radical ideas are common to young people, and that, as a man grows older, he attains a balance between his inward self and the requirements of the world.
"In other words," the scientist finished, smiling at the junior, "have your thoughts but keep them to yourself."
It was shortly after this that Alden was posted to the east coast. From there, a year later, he went to the capital. As he grew older, and gained power, he discovered that radicalism among the young men was much rarer than Joquin had implied.
The years of ascendancy brought awareness of the foolishness of what he had said. At the same time, he felt a certain pride in the words, a feeling that they made him "different" from, and so superior to, the other scientists.
As chief he discovered that radicalism was the sole yardstick by which his superiors judged a candidate for promotion. Only those recommendations which included an account of unusual thinking on the part of the aspirant, however slight the variance from the norm, were ever acted upon. The limitation had one happy effect. In the beginning, his wife, anxious to be the power behind the power at the temple, declared herself the sole arbiter as to who would be urged for promotion. The young temple poets visited her when Alden was not around, and read their songs to her privately.
And then they discovered that her promises meant nothing. Their visits ceased. Alden had peace in his home, and a wife suddenly become considerably more affectionate.
His reverie ended. There was a crowd ahead, and cries. He saw that people were swarming around the Raheinl temple. Alden thought blankly, "An accident?"
He hurried forward pushing through the outer fringes of the throng. Anger came at the way individuals resisted his advance. Didn't they realize that he was a chief scientist? He saw mounted palace guardsmen urging their horses along the edge of the crowd a few score feet away, and he had his mouth open to call on them to assist him, when he saw something that stopped his words in his throat.
His attention had been on the temple proper. In his endeavor to move, his gaze flicked over the surrounding park.
Five of Rosamind's young poets were hanging from a tree limb at the edge of the temple grounds farthest from the temple. From a stouter tree nearby, six juniors and three scientists were still kicking spasmodically.
As Alden stood paralyzed, a dreadful screaming came from four initiates whose necks were just being fitted with rope halters.
The screaming ended, as the wagon on which they were standing was pulled from under them.
* * *
The Lord Leader walked the streets of Linn. The downtown markets were crowded with traders from the hills and from across the lake, and there was the usual pack of wide-eyed primitives from the other planets. It was no effort at all to start a conversation.
He talked only to people who showed no sign of recognizing the unshaven man in the uniform of a private soldier as their ruler. It didn't take long to realize that the thousand persuasive men he had sent out to argue his side of the hangings were doing yeoman service. No less than three of them approached him during the course of the afternoon, and made skillful propaganda remarks. And the five farmers, three merchants and two laborers, to whom he talked, all answered his rough criticism of the Lord Leader with pro-government catchphrases they could only have heard from his own men.
It was gratifying, he told himself, that the first crisis he had forced was turning out so well.
The Linnan empire was only a generation out of the protracted civil war that had brought the Linn family to the leadership. His tax collectors were still finding the returns lean. And trade, though it was reviving swiftly in Linn itself, was making a much slower recovery in other cities, which were not favored by special exemptions.
Several wars of conquest were under way, three of them on Venus against the Venusian tribes. Ostensibly, these wars were being fought to punish the tribes for their raids against Earth. But the Lord Leader knew of at least two more important reasons. First, there was not enough money at home to pay the soldiers who, his generals reported, were still in a dangerously revolutionary mood. And second, he hoped to replenish the treasury with loot from conquered cities.
Excerpted from Transgalactic by A. E. Van Vogt Eric Flint David Drake Copyright © 2006 by A.E. van Vogt . Excerpted by permission.
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