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The Power of the Plea

by Khristo Poshtakov

The capsule was a product of humanity’s technological breakthrough, and the glaciated deposit on its metal surface spoke of numerous subspatial transitions. Its comfortable interior housed a small crew of three, who, despite minor squabbles and threats from outer space, tended to work well together during times of trial.

The poor results of several recent expeditions had somewhat lowered the spirits of the crewmembers, but their present mission looked as if it might compensate for their earlier failures.

‚Incredible, inconceivable, and yet it is a fact!‘ Jim Gatsby shook with excitement. As well as delight, his ruddy face also betrayed high blood pressure. This was due to the news received by the telepathist of the expedition, Ivan Dimov. ‚Can you imagine it?‘ Jim went on. ‚There are several civilisations coexisting on this planet! Have we ever dreamt of such a chance?‘

The xenobiologist’s blue eyes radiated ecstasy in the direction of the crew leader’s sulky face. The latter’s name was Ron Polansky. The athletic navigator with iron nerves rarely succumbed to the euphoria of Jim, who was as excited as a small boy with a new toy. Ron had gained the reputation of being an unerring leader capable of damping every hasty outburst, and his scepticism didn’t escape him now: ‚We’ll see if it’s for the better.‘

‚I don’t get you!‘ Jim retorted. ‚This is a unique phenomenon!‘

‚We are still short of data, we know nothing yet,‘ Ron replied laconically.

‚We’ve already got a visitor,‘ Ivan Dimov terminated the dispute. He originated from a South-East Europian area famous for its abundance of people with extrasensory abilities who, after proper training, became an indispensable part of the crew of every galactic expedition. His modest appearance belied his extraordinary mind, which could interpret any telepathic message.

The existence of reason in some sectors of the universe was a rare phenomenon, but Neuman’s functions concerning its dispersion in a definite type of galaxy saved a lot of futile efforts. The discovery transcended the limits of mathematical distributions, exceeding the possibilities offered by the probability theory.

‚Is the visitor harmless?‘ Ron asked after studying the creature’s characteristics provided by the computer.

‚Completely,‘ Ivan confirmed. ‚There are no aggressive intentions in its thoughts.‘

‚Let it in then, but don’t forget to turn on the bacteriological shield.‘

What crept in through the narrow aperture was quite uncomely: a scaly thin body of a lizard, foolishly lucent goggle eyes, a small head and membranous limbs.

‚What does it want?‘ the expedition leader asked.

‚It’s complaining about something it calls ‘plarks’. It implores us, the mighty dags, inhabiting the sky, to help its race, known as the deks.‘

‚I see. It’s clearly still at a very primitive development stage. Ask it what exactly those plarks are like.‘

‚They constitute the second, more advanced civilization in the local hierarchy. As far as I can understand from the mentagramme, they resemble big rats and dwell in the top-soil. They incessantly destroy the eggs of the reptilian creature’s little people, usually doing so at night. They come to the surface, then swim in the water basins and feed on them. In or¬der to guarantee their posterity, the poor deks are compelled to lay a growing number of eggs. This circumstance has even forced them to become bisexuals so as to increase the reproduction possibilities.‘

‚Tell it that we shall try to help. For instance, we could build a guarded enclosure.‘

The grey creature threw itself at Ron’s feet and shrieked, probably expressing satisfaction.

‚It – or he – blesses you,‘ Ivan explained. ‚He thanks you on behalf of his race.‘

‚Let him go away in peace and hope,‘ Ron answered loftily. It was obvious that he liked playing the part of a benefactor. ‚We’ll set about solving the problem first thing tomorrow morning,‘ he added.

Jim Gatsby immediately busied himself with the project. It needed to cover the area of the surrounding marshes and he envisaged the deks’ isolation by means of a selective power shield. The representatives of the little grey people willing to lay eggs would use a peculiar nature-made pass-card: the intensity of their own biological field, whose maximum magnitude had already been measured by the computer.

On the third day after the landing, the crew heard a choir of shrill sounds coming from the guarded territory: no doubt the wretched deks had, for the first time, known the joy of laying their eggs freely.

The next morning the capsule was surrounded by an enormous army of representatives of the second species inhabiting the planet – the plarks. The mass of rat-like creatures raised their tails and hit the ground in time. The rumble they created seemed to be a form of protest. Jim Gatsby was excited again; the sea of tails on the panorama display had upset him.

‚Maybe we’ve made a mistake,‘ he turned to Ron. ‚Maybe protecting the eggs was a hasty step.‘

‚You’re the expert; I only made a suggestion. It was your responsibility.‘

‚The idea of the enclosures was yours!‘

‚But you built it. Don’t try to blame me!‘

‚We have another visitor,‘ Ivan interposed. ‚Harmless again. I could hardly detect its – or should I say his – particular signal against the general background of noises emanating from thousands of brains. Much more of this and these small animals will make my head burst! The fellow who wants to come in is some sort of leader of the plarks.‘

‚Let him enter,‘ Ron ordered, assuming an appropriate posture.

The yellow eyes of the short creature glowed with excitement, the tawny fur on his back bristled.

‚Interpret!‘ the leader of the expedition urged.

‚Oh, Wise Leader!‘ Ivan started. ‚You, who come from the remote worlds as predicted by Yer Senior, you, who surmount the space of the Universe, be generous! Be fair, do not deprive us of the elements of life! Why do you doom us to destruction not prophesied in the holy books? How have we aroused your unjust anger?‘

‚What is he talking about?‘ Ron said with astonishment. ‚What are these elements he mentions? How does he know we come from outer space?‘

‚This is wonderful!‘ Jim exclaimed. ‚I never expected so much reason in such a small creature, and though he looks like a rat, I’m beginning to like him. I told you we’d made a mistake, Ron. Setting up enclosures was a hasty step. We’ve harmed a civilization of a higher rank, I can feel it instinctively. They have their script, their idea of the world is cosmogonic, they have knowledge about the structure of matter! Let us be more polite and try to understand our mistake.‘

‚I’ve already asked what elements he is talking about, clear this up!‘ Ron addressed Ivan.

‚Oh, Commander Almighty!‘ Ivan interpreted. ‚The egg-shells of the inferior deks contain elements indispensable to our existence. But their content keeps decreasing, they seem to be running low in the environment and we have no other way of obtaining them. When they are completely gone, we’ll be gone too: the metabolism in our organisms cannot take place without them. We are quite exhausted as it is, for the cryts who come down upon our minds at night feed on our dreams. Oh, Almighty! Give us back the eggs of the deks and we shall be grateful to you forever. We shall roam about in caves and underground passages glorifying your generosity, worthy of a giant!‘

Ron seemed to be flattered by so many words of praise: the leader’s speech had impressed him.

‚Tell him that we shall do everything in our power. Let his compatriots go back to their holes again and spend the night in peace. We’ll have to come up with a compromise.‘

‚Thank you, Master! Thank you for all the magnificence of your soul that has brought light upon me and has left me hoping!‘

‚That fellow has overdone the fawning,‘ Ron murmured. ‚Jim, this next project is all yours. Make sure you do a good job this time.‘

The creature bowed and left the interior of the capsule. After a while the noise outside subsided and the numerous representatives of the rat-like people sank into the ground in the literal sense of the word.

When the fifth day dawned on Jim Gatsby, he had a finalized scheme in his mind. It was similar to the previous one but it had an essential addition called a matter-multiplier. It would be set in motion by the omega-wave emanating from the minds of the rat-like creatures and directly linked with their desire to consume eggs. There would be several multipliers and within each of them, in a special kryogen chamber, there would be an original sample egg of a dek. Having registered an omega-wave emitted by an individual, the multiplier would produce as many eggs as would be necessary to meet his needs, while the multiplier system as a whole would meet the needs of all plarks. Their habitats would also be protected by selective defence shields intended to safeguard them from the predatory actions of the cryts. In this way, the three rational races would remain isolated from each other. On the computer design, the delineated areas resembled enormous colour soap bubbles whose membranes let in only dots of the same colour.

The project was implemented that evening.

On the morning of the sixth day, an indistinct formation appeared within the capsule. It looked like a mixture of vapour and smoke, which swelled at regular intervals. The researchers were not particularly surprised. They had already encountered similar life forms.

‚Try to establish contact with that thing,‘ Ron ordered Ivan. ‚And tell it to stop swelling, I feel sick!‘

‚It says that if it gets hold of your brain you’ll feel real nausea,‘ Ivan explained embarrassed. ‚The contact with it is quite difficult but I’ll try to interpret simultaneously.‘

His face twisted with strain: it evidently cost him a lot of effort. At last, he managed to speak: ‚Oh, irrational matter, liable to decay!‘ the amorphous creature began with ill grace. ‚Oh, flighty representatives of an even flightier civilization! Why do you interfere in the affairs of an unknown world, why are you trying to alter harmony and habits? Do you, stupid leader, know that by feeding on the dreams of the plarks we actually relieve them of their energy excess? They are crazy enough as they are, were it not for us they would go completely mad! Why do you, wretched humans, take the liberty of depriving the mighty MO of the energy envisaged for him? Maybe you want to arouse his anger or wish us to compensate for the deficiency by using the content of your own minds? Restore matters to their previous status and get lost – the faster the better for you!‘

‚Interpret that we are able to compensate for their losses by creating a non-stop dream-generator,‘ Jim interposed. ‚I shall design it quickly and they’ll be highly satisfied: its capacity will be bigger than the total dream output of the plarks. Explain that our aim is the well-being of all; isn’t this why expeditions are undertaken? Mutually beneficial cooperation always creates advantages.‘

‚It says it doubts the results of your intentions, yet it will let you try,‘ Ivan answered. ‚But you have to do it by tomorrow, for they can’t stand it any longer. And failure isn’t an option. It once again hints at the content of our minds: the cryts can suck it out quite easily!‘

‚Let them not question Jim’s ability,‘ Ron put in. ‚He is a gifted man and he has proved it. And get this thing out of here, I can’t stand it. I have seen creatures swell before, but not in such a disgusting manner…‘

The amorphous creature disintegrated into thin streamlets which ran out through the walls of the capsule: Jim’s proposal was accepted. He opened the hatch of the warehouse, disappeared inside it and in a little while came out with two helmets covered with a cable network.

‚You will dream hard tonight,‘ he said to Ron. ‚You’ll dream and I’ll record the dreams, then I’ll create a new apparatus. That last visitor looked a bit dangerous. I don’t want to aggravate it or its kind.‘

Ron held his tongue sulkily, behaviour that wasn’t usually part of his iron character. His knitted eyebrows betrayed doubts of future mishaps.

The seventh morning found Jim tired and sleepy, yet quite satisfied. This was due to the apparatus that he held in his hands – the fruit of a strenuous night’s labour.

‚Will you explain what you’ve done?‘ Ron’s voice startled him: its owner rose from his berth with difficulty.

‚A chaotic dream generator. The initial basis will be provided by your own dreams. Later the built-in processor will confuse their order, it’ll mix them to produce arbitrary combinations, it’ll add something from itself. Thus it’ll create all sorts of nonsense necessary for the cryts. The field generated is a broad-track and high-frequency one; the power cell is of great capacity; it operates on the principle of cold nuclear synthesis and will last some one hundred years.‘

‚And then?‘

‚The protective shields of both deks and plarks have the same term of expiry, the power supply of the multipliers may last longer.‘

‚And what will follow?‘

‚The deks will have had enough time to lay huge amounts of eggs, the plarks will have eaten up mountain-loads of their copies, the cryts will have consumed infinite variants of meaningless dreams. They’ll all be contented and there’ll be prerequisites for future understanding. The new co-existence will rest on quite a different basis: there will be no shortages in demand satisfaction. There’ll be a demographic boom that’ll impose natural constraints on the reproduction of each species and this will result in declining consumption on the part of each of the three rational races. The deks, for example, will be glad to have a portion of their uselessly enormous amounts of eggs eaten up by the plarks, while the latter, in their turn, will not be affected by an excessive dream consumption on the part of the cryts as they are now.‘

‚We’ll see if it’s for the better,‘ Ron repeated his favourite phrase and it was obvious that the sulky mood still had a grip on him in spite of all the hard dreaming.

‚I don’t have doubts as to the final success, and if anybody does, it’s his own problem,‘ Jim snapped.

‚Time will tell,‘ the expedition leader retorted. ‚I hope you’re right.‘

Jim took the apparatus and went out angrily. He looked around and saw a cavity in a big stone that seemed appropriate for the purpose. He shoved in the generator, than adjusted it and set it in operation. The only thing left to be done was to stretch, yawn and forget about the squabble. A delicious scent filled the air; Ivan had woken up and was already preparing breakfast. It was a sunny day, the orange beams shone pleasantly in the almost terrestrial atmosphere and nothing around him boded the tumultuous events that were to break out. The capsule stood quietly on the yellowish grass strewn with small white flowers.

The peaceful idyll of the alien world boosted his spirits again, the smell of fried bacon tickled his nostrils anew and urged him to return to the capsule.

They were still having their breakfast when the shapeless creature reappeared.

‚Damn!‘ Ron roared. ‚That thing has come swelling again! Doesn’t it see that I haven’t finished eating yet?‘

‚It’s come to thank us‘, Ivan reassured him. ‚But it’s not sure if the Mighty MO will like Jim’s product.‘

‚The Mighty MO? Didn’t it mention that last time it was here?‘

‚I’m finding it hard to understand. Maybe it means the fourth rational species, the highest in the planet’s hierarchy. The cryt maintains that its kind constantly process dreams for it. They transform the dreams, converting them into a new type of energy, which they give to the Mo with reverence. The cryt says that serving the Mighty MO is supreme bliss.‘

‚Let it serve whoever it wishes as long as it stops swelling! It’s making my gut ache. I’ve never come across anything so disgusting in my life! And this situation is going from the sublime to the ridiculous! What if this MO also comes to complain about something?‘

He had hardly uttered the last words when the cryt shrank in dismay, turned into a thin streamlet and stringed out along the subspatial connection aerial. On the panorama screen the sun grew paler as it was enveloped in a dark, quickly thickening substance. A cold wave rushed in through the entrance aperture.

‚Get to your places immediately, and prepare to leave!‘ Ron shouted, making a dash for the control board.

Before the aperture could close automatically, the ears of the three men tingled, a sharp pain searing their ear-drums as if they were sinking into deep water.

‚You, wretched things!‘ a powerful voice thundered in their minds. ‚I’ll crush you, I’ll beat you to a pulp! I won’t let you palm me off with that dream substitute junk deprived of the plarks‘ subtle insight!‘

Ron stared at the external pressure indicator, growing numb with fear. A hundred and fifty atmospheres…, the figures were racing feverishly…, a hundred and sixty, a hundred and seventy… It was getting pitch-dark outside, the metal seams of the capsule cracked. Almost instinctively, and without checking the initial conditions, he gave the command to make a direct subspatial transition – a dangerous move. But surely it was more dangerous to linger in MO’s powerful grip…

The time stopped, the space regulator, deprived of co-ordinate commands, measured several thousand parseks and the capsule was automatically ordered to emerge.

The panorama screen showed neither bright stars, nor faint spots of Galaxies. The screen was black and empty.

‚Where are we? What’s happened?‘ Ivan was the first to react.

‚The Great MO has punished you and keeps punishing you,‘ the computer replied.

‚What’s that prattle, you fool? When did this cretin become great?‘ Ron roared, having come to his senses. ‚What punishment are you talking about, you crazy chatterbox?‘

‚In a while we shall land on a planet adequate to your crimes, and then you will know,‘ the computer spoke impassively. ‚Such is the will of the Great MO.‘

‚We’ll have to dismantle the computer for at least a fortnight, it’s gone nuts,’ Ron said. ‘In such cases my favourite professor used to say: “Why do you punish me, Lord?” At the time I wasn’t aware of who exactly he meant, but I always felt that the phrase matched the situation in which the professor sometimes found himself.‘

‚The Great MO is the only authority, there are no others,‘ the computer murmured. Ron angrily pulled out the plug that connected the control board to the basic memory blocks.

‚Doing that will achieve nothing,‘ the impassive machine voice spoke out again. ‚The reserve memory co-ordinates have also been changed, such was the wish of the Great MO. Your only chance is to grope your way to one of the penalty planets dispersed in the Dark Universe.’

The crew looked at each other in alarm, tiny drops of perspiration breaking out on Ron’s temple. They felt as if the narrowness of the capsule was choking life out of them.

‚What can we do?‘ Ivan asked helplessly. ‚The damned rational creature has erased the necessary information; we don’t even know where we are! What shall we do?‘ he repeated plaintively, sounding almost tearful. ‚Let’s plead with someone to rescue us. Let’s plead with someone!‘ Jim replied, breaking his silence. „I don’t know whom we should plead with, but I feel we should do it, there is nothing else we can do. I knew an old lady once, she always prayed to someone and she said she got help at times of trial. It seems to me that people have forgotten this someone and that they use His name without imparting the necessary meaning to it.‘

Ron looked at him in surprise, then turned his attention to the dark surface of the panorama screen, his lips moving silently. Beside him, pale as a ghost, Ivan was doing the same. Despair kneaded them in its palms, trying to turn them into small beasts ready to wail mournfully because of their dolelful destiny. All the self-confidence of beings close to supercreatures, their many years of steeling themselves as astronauts melted with the shock of encountering something more powerful than they were. How long would they endure locked up in this space trap? A year, two years, maybe more? And then?

Their lips kept moving seeking help from Him, who despite their pride had remained within them. ‚Wait,‘ Ron uttered suddenly. ‚We don’t need the million bits of information crammed into the computer memory. All we need is the minimum: the approximate spatial and temporal co-ordinates of the Earth!‘

Jim and Ivan gazed at him hopefully.

‚Surely you remember them, Ron, you’ve seen them so many times on the control screen,‘ Ivan almost shouted.

‚You studied them during the navigator training course!‘ Jim added.

‚I’ve never made it a point to remember them, but there’s one way of securing them. It’s true that the time co-ordinate has changed a bit, but this is not essential. Once in our Galaxy zone, we can establish subspatial contact.‘

‚How are you going to find the co-ordinates?‘ the other two asked at once. ‚Don’t torment us any longer!‘

‚They are written in an ancient book that was given to me by my grandfather. He was a navigator, too. I received the book several weeks before his death. He became infected with some lousy non-terrestrial stuff, one of those maladies that can’t be cured. He made me swear I’d never part with the book and I’ve kept my promise ever since. If we know the co-ordinates we can programme the capsule’s subspatial inverter manually, and then we can go home…‘

‚Where is the book?‘ Jim interrupted him impatiently. ‚Tell us where to look for it!‘

‚It’s here, it must be among my things.‘

The three men gazed eagerly at the interior of the metal case, their nimble hands throwing out its contents. Old clothes, video-books, souvenirs, all sorts of odds and ends that people hate parting with, and at the bottom…

They stared for some time at the half-erased gilt letters printed on the cover of the small black volume with faded pages, finally making out the word, ‘Bible’. Ron took it carefully in his hands and opened it. The following was written in beautiful handwriting on the blank sheet preceding the title page: ‚Remember these co-ordinates, this is where you were born!‘ This was followed by ‚X-44880; Y-32223; Z-5153; K-266‘. This was the location of the Solar System in reference to the conventional centre of the Universe.

Coyright © 2012 by Khristo Poshtakov


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