The Hilda rode high in the tossing waters of the Venusian ocean. The splatter of strong, steady rain drummed its sound upon the outer hull in what was almost an Earthlike rhythm. To Bigman, with his Martian background, rain and ocean were alien, but to Lucky it brought memories of home.
Bigman said, "Look at the V-frog, Lucky. Look at it!"
"I see it," said Lucky calmly.
Bigman swept the glass with his sleeve and then found himself with his nose pressing against it for a better look.
Suddenly he thought, Hey, I better not get too close.
He sprang back, then deliberately put the little finger of each hand into the corners of his mouth and drew them apart. Sticking his tongue out, he crossed his eyes and wiggled his fingers.
The V-frog stared at him solemnly. It had not budged a muscle since it had first been sighted. It merely swayed solemnly with the wind. It did not seem to mind, or even to be aware of, the water that splashed about it and upon it.
Bigman contorted his face even more horribly and went "A-a-gh" at the creature.
Lucky's voice sounded over his shoulder. "What are you doing, Bigman?"
Bigman jumped, took his hands away, and let his face spring back into its own pixy-ish appearance. He said, grinning, "I was just showing that V-frog what I thought of it."
"And it was just showing you what it thought of you!"
Bigman's heart skipped a beat. He heard the clear disapproval in Lucky's voice. In such a crisis, at a time of such danger, he, Bigman, was making faces like a fool. Shame came over him.
He quavered, "I don't know what got into me, Lucky."
"They did," said Lucky, harshly. "Understand that. The V-frogs are feeling you out for weak points. However they can do it, they'll crawl into your mind, and once there they may remain past your ability to force them to leave. So don't follow any impulse until you've thought it out."
"Yes, Lucky," muttered Bigman.
"Now, what next?" Lucky looked about the ship. Evans was sleeping, tossing fitfully and breathing with difficulty. Lucky's eyes rested on him for a bare moment, then turned away.
Bigman said almost timidly, "Lucky?"
"Aren't you going to call the space station?"
For a moment Lucky stared at his little partner without comprehension. Then slowly the lines between his eyes smoothed away and he whispered, "Great Galaxy! I'd forgotten. Bigman, I'd forgotten! I never once thought of it."
Bigman cocked a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at the port into which the V-frog was still owlishly gazing. "You mean, it-?"
"I mean they. Space, there may be thousands of them out there!"
Half in shame Bigman admitted to himself the nature of his own feelings; he was almost glad that Lucty had been trapped by the creatures as well as he. It relieved him of some of the blame that might otherwise attach to him. In fact, Lucky had no right…
Bigman stopped his thoughts, appalled. He was working himself into a resentment against Lucky. That wasn't he. That was they!
Savagely he orced all thought from his mind and concentrated on Luqky, whose fingers were now on the transmitter, working them into the careful adjustment required to reach finely out into space.
And then Bigman's head snapped back at a sudden new and strange sound.
It was a voice, flat, without intonation. It said, "Do. not tamper with your machine of far-reaching sound. We do not wish it."
Bigman turned. His mouth fell open and, for a moment, stayed so. He said, "Who said that? Where is it?"
Lucky said, "Easy, Bigman. It was inside your head."
"Not the V-frog!" said Bigman despairingly.
"Great Galaxy, what else can it be?"
And Bigman turned to stare out the port again, at the clouds, the rain, and the swaying V-frog.
Once before in his life Lucky had felt the minds of alien creatures impressing "their thoughts upon him. That had been on the day he had met the immaterial-energy beings that dwelt within the hollow depths of Mars. There his mind had been laid open, but the entry of thought had been painless, even pleasant. He had known his own helplessness, yet he had also been deprived of all fear.
Now he faced something different. The mental fingers inside his skull had forced their way in and he felt them with pain, loathing, and resentment.
Lucky's hand had alien away from the transmitter, and he felt no urge to return to it. He had forgotten it again.
The voice sounded a second time. "Make air vibrations with your mouth."
Lucky said, "You mean, speak? Can you hear our thoughts when we do not speak?"
"Only very dimly and vaguely. It is very difficult unless we have studied your mind well. When you speak, your thoughts are sharper and we can hear."
"We hear you without trouble," said Lucky.
"Yes. We can send our thoughts powerfully and with strength. You cannot."
"Have you heard all I've said so far?"
"What do you wish of me?"
"In your thoughts we have detected an organization of your fellow beings far off, beyond the end, on the other side of the sky. You call it the Council. We wish to know more about it."
Inwardly Lucky felt a small spark of satisfaction. One question, at least, was answered. As long as he represented only himself, as an individual, the enemy was content to kill him. But in recent hours the enemy had discovered he had penetrated too much of the truth, and they were concerned about it.
Would other members of the Council learn as easily? What was the nature of this Council?
Lucky could understand the curiosity of the enemy, the new caution, the sudden desire to learn a little more from Lucky before killing him. No wonder the enemy had forborne forcing Evans to kill him even when the blaster was pointed and Lucky was helpless, forborne just an instant too long.
But Lucky buried further thought on the subject. They might, as they said, be unable to clearly hear unspoken thoughts. Then again, they might be lying.
He said abruptly, "What do you have against my people?"
The flat, emotionless voice said, "We cannot say what is not so."
Lucky's jaw hardened at that. Had they picked up his last thought concerning their lying? He would have to be careful, very careful.
The voice continued. "We do not think well of your people. They end life. They eat meat. It is bad to be intelligent and to eat meat. One who eats meat must end life to live, and an intelligent meat eater does more harm than a mindless one since he can think of more ways to end life. You have little tubes that can end the lives of many at one time."
"But we do not kill V-frogs."
"You would if we let you. You even kill each other in large groups and small."
Lucky avoided comment on the last remark. He said, instead, "What is it you want of my people, then?"
"You grow numerous on Venus," said the voice. "You spread and take up room."
"We can take only so much," reasoned Lucky. "We can build cities only in the shallow waters. The deeps will always remain yours, and they form nine parts of the ocean's ten. Besides that, we can help you. If you have the knowledge of mind, we have the knowledge of matter. You have seen our cities and the machines of shining metal that go through air and water to worlds on the other side of the sky. With this power of ours, think how we can help you."
"There is nothing we need. We live and we think. We are not afraid and we do lot hate. What nore can we need? What should we do with your cities and your metal and your ships? How can it make life better for us?"
"Well, then, do you intend to kill us all?"
"We do not desire to end life. It is enough for us if we hold your minds so that we will know you will do no harm."
Lucky had a quick vision (his own? implanted?) of a race of men on Venus living and moving under the direction of the dominant natives, gradually being cut off from all connection with Earth, the generations growing more and more into complacent mental slaves.
He said, in words whose confidence he did not entirely fel, "Men cannot allow themselves to be controlled mentally."
"It is the only way, and you must help us."
"We will not."
"You have no choice. You must tell us of these lands beyond the sky, of the organization of your people, of what they will do against us, and how we may guard ourselves."
"There is no way you can make me do that"
"Is there not?" asked the voice. "Consider, then. If you will not speak the information we require, we will then ask vou to descend back into the ocean in your machine of shining metal, and there at the bottom you will open your machine to the waters."
"And die?" said Lucky grimly.
"The end of your lives would be necessary. With your knowledge it would not be safe to allow you to mingle with your fellows. You might speak to them and cause them to attempt reprisals. That would not be good."
"Then I have nothing to lose by not telling you."
"You have much to lose. Should you refuse what we ask, we would have to delve into your mind by force. That is not efficient. We might miss much of value. To diminish that danger, we would have to take your mind apart bit by bit, and that would be unpleasant for you. It would be much better for us and for you if you were to help us freely."
"No." Lucky shook his head.
A pause. The voice began again: "Although your people are given to ending life, they fear having their own lives end. We will spare you that fear if you help us. When you descend into the ocean to your life's end, we will remove fear from your mind. If, however, you do not choose to help us, we will force you into life's end anyhow, but we will not remove fear. We will intensify it."
"No," said Lucky, more loudly.
Another pause, a longer one. Then the voice said, "We do not ask your knowledge out of fear for our own safety, but to make it unnecessary for ourselves to take measures of an unpleasant nature. If we are left with but uncertain knowledge as to how to guard ourselves against your people from the other side of the sky, then we will be forced to put an end to the threat by ending life for all your people on this world. We will let the ocean into their cities as we have already almost done to one of them. Life will end for your people like the quenching of a flame. It will be snuffed out, and life will burn no more."
Lucky laughed wildly. "Make me!" he said.
"Make me speak. Make me dive the ship. Make me do anything."
"You think we cannot?"
"I know you cannot."
"Look about you, then, and see what we have already accomplished. Your fellow creature who is bound is in our hands. Your fellow creature who stood at your side is in our hands."
Lucky whirled. In all this time, through all this conversation, he had not heard Bigman's voice once. It was as though he had completely forgotten Bigman's existence. And now he saw the little Martian lying twisted and crumpled at his feet.
Lucky dropped to his knees, a vast and fearful dismay parching his throat. "You've killed him?"
"No, he lives. He is not even badly hurt. But, you see, you are alone now. You have none to help you now. They could not withstand us, and neither can you."
White-faced, Lucky said, "No. You will not make me do anything."
"One last chance. Make your choice. Do you choose to help us, so that life may end peacefully and quietly for you? Or will you refuse to help us, so that it must end in pain and sorrow, to be followed, perhaps, by life's end for all your people in the cities below the ocean? Which is it to be? Come, your answer!"
The words echoed and re-echoed within Lucky's mind as he prepared to stand, alone and unfriended, against the buffets of a mental power he did not know how to fight save by an unbending stubbornness of will.