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Title: A Planet for Your Thoughts
Author: Norman, James
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                      A PLANET FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

                            By JAMES NORMAN

               With the grape-headed Uvans acting as the
               brains of the Universe, Mankind no longer
           needed to think for itself. So when a freebooter
           like Bill Petrie began getting original ideas, he
              caused a crisis that threatened the cosmos.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Winter 1941.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The first of the _things_ to pass below him had round yellow eyes
in the top of its head. The next one had an eye on each side, just
below the ears. Soon they came in droves, crowding into the fantastic
market-place, staring up at Bill with quizzical curiosity. There seemed
to be no regularity at all about where they wore the eyes on their
heads.

Bill Petrie didn't attempt to move. He couldn't. His chafed neck and
wrists were firmly clamped within the slots of a medieval pillory. As
he hung there, sweltering in the heat, he wondered how long he had
been unconscious and how long in the pillory. Somehow, it was hard to
believe he actually was where he was.

"Uva, north-ecliptic tangent, electric buzzer," he muttered fuzzily.

The Uva part of it made sense all right, but that was all. In the
fast-paced life of 2451 A.D., Uva, or Planetoid eighty-one in the
Sirius north-ecliptic tangent, held a unique position in the universe.
It was the most respected, yet least visited, body in the skies. People
called it the _brain-register_ of the universe just as a certain dimly
storied Wall Street had once been the cash register of the Earth.

It was generally known that there were natives on Uva whose heads
resembled strange clusters of grapes and whose eyes had a disconcerting
habit of never being in one regular place on their heads. Some years
after the discovery of Uva by the Gonzales "space-shot" it was found
that the Uvans had a peculiarly facile brain. They could take any
problem, no matter how tough, and crack it down into simple formula.
You gave them a problem and an equals sign--they gave you the answer.
It was a wonderful discovery.

Brains were no longer at a premium. Uvans did all the thinking,
technicians did the work and the Interworld Government did the
administering. It was administrators that counted now.

Bill Petrie wasn't an administrator. He was a freebooter, one of that
rare, declassed group who still clung to the idea that they could do
their own thinking instead of having it done for them.

He squinted hard at the Uvans who crowded beneath the pillory and
shuddered. Something was wrong. The Uvans were supposed to be very mild
and not at all addicted to the use of ancient tortures. This time he
shut his eyes and held them that way, cutting out sight while he tried
to think back.

He recalled the first scene: shooting upward to the top offices of the
Interworld Fuel Monopoly....

       *       *       *       *       *

Bill worked for the Monopoly as a kind of glorified errand boy.
Everyone worked for monopolies in this day and age, freebooter or not.
As he rode upward, he had an inkling that something important was
disturbing the smoothly regulated mechanism of the world. The entire
IWFM building buzzed with feverish activity.

"Another fuel crisis," Bill murmured thoughtfully. He stepped from
the elevator and hurried down a hall to a door marked--_Commissioner
Castlebottom_, Fuel. Bill rapped.

"Come in," said a voice. It was a smooth feminine voice, not
Castlebottom's.

Bill entered and was stared at from behind a desk. The eyes that were
fastened upon him were worried and balloon-like. They belonged to
Castlebottom, a youngish, rotund individual with a great deal of front.

"So it's you at last," Castlebottom puffed. "Such delays! The
crisis ... etheroel."

Bill sniffed, then jockeyed his eyes around, searching for the other
voice. It was then that he caught his breath....

Kitty Carlton was the woman of the moment, the toast of three
worlds--Mars, Venus and Earth. The Planetoids didn't count for they
were just colonies. Kitty was the very capable chief of the giant
Cosmetics Monopoly. But she wasn't toasted for that. It was her very
trim, blonde, dimpled loveliness that did the trick. Dressed in
leatherine white from head to foot, she resembled a snow queen.

"Petrie!" Castlebottom's strained voice jarred Bill back into
the present. "Pay attention, please! That's the trouble with you
freebooters. Minds always wander."

"Do you blame me?" Bill murmured.

"The matter in hand," Castlebottom said, frowning and paying no
attention to the girl. "You know there's an etheroel crisis? We've
tapped the last fuel sands on Venus. Our supply will be gone within a
month. You know what that means?"

"Where do I fit in?" Bill asked.

"This, precisely," said Castlebottom. "You leave for Planetoid Uva
immediately. We can't spare anyone else. Here are the _equals_ to be
filled in by the Uvans. We've outlined the problem. We need a synthetic
etheroel. The Uvans will give you the answer. Guard it with your life.
Now you'll need credentials ... wait...."

Castlebottom was up from his desk. He disappeared into a side office.

"Freebooter, eh?" It was Kitty Carlton. She had crossed the room and
now sat on the edge of Castlebottom's desk, looking at Bill with frank,
deep-blue eyes. "Very interesting. You're the first one I've ever seen
this close. You don't look very different."

"So you think," Bill grinned. "You ought to hear my side of the
difference. How about lunch any one of these years?"

The girl's penciled brows knitted. "With a freebooter? No!" Her lips
parted with a vague smile. "But if you were ... ah ... for example, a
monopoly commissioner like Tubby--"

"Tubby?" asked Bill.

"Yes, Castlebottom, my fiancé."

"You'd give me a buzz?"

"Perhaps."

Castlebottom returned to the room, puffing with bureaucratic vigor.
"Here are your credentials, Petrie," he said, handing Bill a metallic
IWG diplomatic pass. "There's a Patrol cruiser waiting."

Bill took one look at Kitty Carlton and tossed the pass back upon the
desk. "I'm not going!" he said.

"Not going!" Castlebottom exploded. "But the fuel crisis, man!"

"Get someone else. I said I'm staying. I'm working my way up to head a
monopoly."

"You!" Castlebottom turned purple.

"Yeah, me. I'll think my way up. That's more than you ever did."

Castlebottom looked very threatening for a second. He clenched and
unclenched his hands spasmodically, finally stabbing a pudgy finger at
a pushbutton on his desk. He had the look of a conqueror as he stared
toward the door.

Bill pivoted in time to see the three Monopoly Building policemen
charge in. Each one was built on the order of an eight-gun
space-destroyer and the result was about as devastating. Bill got in
one sharp jab but a moment later the three destroyers carried him out.
Bill's sandy hair was a bit mussed. His good-natured mouth was clamped
tightly on a trickle of blood and the rest of his body felt like
strenuously whipped eggs.

"Freebooter!" That was the last thing he heard Castlebottom saying.
"Take him down to the cruiser."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bill was in no condition to appreciate the next few days. He sensed
the wallowing of the IWP Cruiser as it hit difficult gravs and felt
his ears dulled by the hollow drumming of the rocket pumps. Sometimes
a mess-boy brought in food but more often, icepacks. Between icepacks,
Bill figured a dozen ways of evening the score with Commissioner
Castlebottom.

The plans were all very good, but with one exception. The next day,
the Patrol Cruiser hovered over a planetoid surface described by
astronomers as Uva. Castlebottom was back on Earth.

A Junior Officer ferried Bill from the Cruiser to the planetoid in a
small auxiliary plane.

"We'll pick you up in fifty hours," said the officer.

"Why will it be that long?" asked Bill.

"It'll take that long. You don't know the Uvans."

Bill made a wry face. "Why don't you come down and wait?"

"Can't," replied the officer noncommittally. "There's only one
Interworld Government pass for landing on Uva. You've got it now. Even
the Patrol is only allowed to land in cases of extreme emergency.
They're strict about that. No visitors allowed."

The tiny plane settled quietly in what appeared to be the suburb of the
only city on Uva. Bill dropped to the ground and breathed deeply of the
somewhat muggy, compressed atmosphere of the little planetoid.

"The American Commissioner's place is straight up this street," said
the officer. "So long!" He waved good-by and gunned the plane away.
Bill watched it climb for a second, then turned, marching briskly up
the street.

The germ of an idea--perhaps two ideas--chased around in his brain.
"Maybe I'll get the Uvans to figure out a way for me to head a
monopoly. Something quick," he thought. "If not, I can always hi-jack
the synthetic etheroel formula they'll give me. Castlebottom will give
plenty for it."

He quickened his pace. The Uvan city closed about him. Bill wasn't
paying much attention to it. He gave half-hearted notice to the rather
wild, idiotic arrangement of buildings and streets. Almost everything
was done in amber. Streets stemmed off from the main drag, then
suddenly stopped flush against a building as though some absent-minded
architect had laid the city out.

Something jerked Bill's arm. He turned and found himself staring.
Then he gulped enormously. The _thing_ was undoubtedly a native. It
stood about four feet high and had a salt-cellar body, thick at the
bottom and slim at the top, made of what appeared to be a translucent
amber plastic. Then there was the head. It was bright purple and lumpy
all over, like a cluster of lush grapes. It had ears on each side, a
pointed mouth and a pair of eyes right under the lower lip.

A pair of tenuous arms waved before Bill. The eyes scrutinized him from
under the lip with a vague sort of intelligence. "Caviar," demanded
the _thing_. It stretched one blade-like hand greedily forward.

Bill gasped. He felt dazed. Good Lord, these were the Uvans.

"Caviar?"

One of the grapes on the grape-cluster head of the Uvan flashed a
yellow light. It blinked on and off like a busy signal on a telephone
operator's switchboard. For an instant, the Uvan tried to look menacing.

Bill whipped out his credentials. The pass seemed to strike a
responsive chord in the Uvan for the latter's two eyes saddened. "No
caviar," he murmured. "No caviar. A sadness. Up revolution."

The last phrase had some sort of magical effect for no sooner had
it been uttered, than the streets were filled with more Uvans. They
crowded around, muttering, taking up the refrain--"Up revolution. No
caviar. Up revolution."

Bill backed away cautiously. There was a sudden empty feeling at the
pit of his stomach. Why hadn't Castlebottom or the Patrol told him
about this business of caviar? Why hadn't they warned him the Uvans
were touchy about revolution?

Some fifty of them gathered in the street now. The individual grape
cells on their heads flashing brilliant lights. They were a motley
array, like nothing Bill had ever seen. Somehow, they didn't attempt to
attack. They just strung along behind him, muttering "revolution" left
and right with amazing persistence.

Then Bill spied the Interworld Government flag, bright gold on crimson,
fluttering above a rambling low building--the American Commissioner's
residence. He moved cautiously toward the doorway, afraid to excite the
Uvans by too sudden a motion. At last he looked back. That was strange!
The Uvans stood at a respectful distance.

Bill let out a sigh of relief and pushed the doorbell buzzer. He let
out a wild yell. A fiery something grabbed his finger. Knives seemed to
jab up his arm and slid down his spine. He reeled back among the Uvans
who watched him as though this were all a very lively experiment.

"What the devil happened?" Bill gasped.

"Electric," answered one of the Uvans.

"Electric," Bill murmured. Then the light dawned. The electric buzzer
on the door wasn't insulated. He had punched a live wire.

The cumulative strain of being followed by the grape-headed natives,
then the shock from the buzzer had its effects on Bill. His legs sagged
uncertainly and a cold sweat broke out, bathing his brow. He reached
in one pocket, bringing forth a handy flask of super-potent Venusian
brandy and unscrewed the cap.

Raising the flask, he felt the searing warmth trickle down his throat.
What happened an instant later couldn't have come from the brandy.
Bill felt something hit him from all four sides. It had the composite
solidness of an avalanche, a few battering rams and a dozen Uvans.

A second before his consciousness keeled over backward into a depthless
funnel of darkness he was under the distinct impression of seeing his
brandy flask spin upward, spilling liquor over an orange-eyed Uvan. But
that wasn't all. The Uvan simply dissolved before his eyes like a sugar
man soaked by water!

       *       *       *       *       *

With his eyes still shut, his neck and wrists clamped in the pillory,
these last thoughts flashed through Bill's mind. Was it a crime to
drink on Uva? What about the caviar? Why had the Uvans jumped on him
without explaining? What were they going to do now?

A bustle of excitement in the market-place caused him to open his eyes
again. He saw the stubby bodied Uvans pushing two new pillories into
place, one on each side of Bill's.

It was then that Bill gasped. His eyes blinked in incredible wonder.
"It's not possible!" he murmured. The head thrust through the pillory
on the right was familiarly dainty--yes, Kitty Carlton!

Bill's astonished eyes swerved to the left.

"Castlebottom!" he shouted.

Castlebottom, with his pudgy neck uncomfortably pinched in the tight
pillory slot, fussed and fumed with impotent rage. "Get me out of
here!" he cried. "Someone will suffer. I say, there!"

Bill grinned, highly pleased. He twisted his head around as far as it
would go, looking toward Kitty Carlton. "You hardly look put out,"
he commented. The girl did look rather pleased with the situation,
despite the unyielding wooden collar.

Kitty smiled. "I'm not," she said.

"How'd you get here?"

"Very simple," said Kitty, her eyes flashing from Bill to Castlebottom.
"Tubby wanted to marry me. I agreed to elope. It's so romantic you
know. I thought Uva would be just the place."

"You mean Tubby ... ah ... Castlebottom agreed to elope and be married
on Uva?"

"Well, he didn't know about that part of it!"

Bill grinned widely. "Something tells me you knew all along you'd
be arrested the minute you brought a ship down here without entry
credentials."

The outer fringe of the market-place crowd surged suddenly. Bill
quickly swerved his glance, for a minute half expecting the Uvans to
froth over and charge the pillories. This, however, seemed to be a wild
surmise for the Uvans stood around, for all the world looking like a
peaceful, deeply preoccupied convention of scientists and professors.
Many of them carried umbrellas, some open, others closed. Many appeared
to be puzzled as to why they were in the market-place at all.

Then Bill saw the cause of the disturbance. A lean, thatch-haired
earthman moved through the crowd. He was dressed in a _mono_, the
belted, coverall uniform strictly reserved for Interworld Government
officials. The Uvans moved respectfully aside, opening a channel to the
pillories.

He stopped directly before Bill and gazed up in a half bewildered
fashion. "I'm Webster," he said. "Interworld Government representative
on Uva. There's going to be a trial. I suppose you're the people up for
trial?"

"A trail for what?" Bill asked.

Webster flashed Bill a disconcerted look, then turned and conferred
with three official looking Uvans, some of whose eyes were at the backs
of their heads. A low, earnest conversation ensued. Finally Webster
fastened his eyes on Bill, appealingly.

"Do you mind telling me who's responsible?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" Bill demanded, impatiently.

"Look here," said Webster, "you don't understand. There's going to
be a trial. That's certain. But I might tell you for your own good,
the Uvans are most absent-minded. They can't remember the charges
against more than one person so I'd like to know which one of you is
responsible. All of you can't be responsible. It just won't do. Now,
which one of you caused the trouble?"

Bill glanced at Kitty, then at Castlebottom. Uva began to exhibit signs
of unlimited promise for an alert freebooter. Bill twisted his pinioned
left hand, crooking an accusing finger at Castlebottom.

"He's the trouble," said Bill. "Miss Carlton and I came together. I'll
show you my credentials. We're here to get an _equals_ for the Fuel
Monopoly. This tubby chap stowed away on our ship. He's trying to
smuggle liquor into Uva."

"Liquor?" A curious, tense note entered Webster's voice. "Liquor, did
you say?"

"It's a bald lie. I did no such thing," Castlebottom protested
chokingly. "You know who I am? Ask Miss Carlton. She'll tell you who I
am."

Commissioner Webster stared appreciatively at Kitty Carlton who, even
though her head was caught in a pillory, would still be the toast of
three planets.

"I never saw the fat man in my life," Kitty protested.

"That settles it then," said Webster. "Liquor. Hmm, a sadness, too.
It could have been something else." He conferred again with the Uvan
officials.

A moment later the pillory holding Castlebottom was carted away to
the local courthouse, the entire population of Uva following it. The
stocks, holding Bill and Kitty were released, freeing them.

"That's nice," said Bill as he rubbed his neck and dropped to the
ground beside Kitty and the Commissioner. "But what's going to happen
to Castlebottom?"

Webster shook his head forlornly. "Oh, by the time they get him to the
court and ready for trial they'll have forgotten the charges again. The
Uvans are terribly absent-minded about little things like that. They'll
bring him back to the market and put him in the stocks again. It's the
stock punishment. But now, let's get along and find you an office."

"An office?" Kitty Carlton interrupted.

Webster took her arm in colonial gentleman fashion and began walking.

"Yes, my dear," he said. "You'll both need an office. Everyone needs a
place to think in. An office is best. You understand, Uva's principal
industry is thinking. If you're to be here for any length of time
you'll need an office."

Webster halted, let his eyes scan the oddly shaped buildings bordering
the market-place, then he set off toward an empty stall in a nearby
building. As he entered, followed by Bill and Kitty, he waved his hand
elegantly. "This should do. Everything you'll need: umbrella stand,
chairs and a do-not-disturb sign ... ah.... What's your name?"

"Petrie, Fuel Monopoly," said Bill.

Webster took a scrap of chalk from his pocket and scrawled a hasty,
uneven sign on the amber sidewalk before the little office.

                      PETRIE OFFICE FUEL MONOPOLY

"Now, let's go in," continued Webster. He hung out the do-not-disturb
sign and pulled all the shades so that nothing could be seen of the
street. Then, with exaggerated caution resulting only from life in a
prohibition era, he brought forth a personal flask and three folding
cups. "Got to be careful here," he added. "The Uvans are made mostly of
resin. It's soluble in alcohol."

"Hah, so that's why the door buzzer on your residence gave me such a
jump," Bill laughed. "Resin is a non-conductor of electricity. They
don't need any insulation here, eh?"

"They're awfully absent-minded," smiled Kitty. "Has that anything to do
with their brightness?"

Webster sipped his brandy slowly and discreetly.

"You don't know about the segmentation?" he asked.

"No," replied Kitty. "All that we know about Uva is what we're supposed
to know. In fact, the outside world has the general impression that the
Uvan _brain-register_ is just one big puddle of brains. You push a
button and out comes an answer."

"Ah, such a sadness. Such misconception," Webster murmured.

"What about the segmentation?" asked Bill.

       *       *       *       *       *

Webster brightened and blinked his gentle eyes. "A most interesting
phenomena," he began. "You recall the story about that warrior in
ancient history--Napoleon. It is said that he had a mind like a file
cabinet. He could open any drawer in his mind and think about what was
in it to the exclusion of all else. Then, at will, he could shut off
a particular thought just as one closes a drawer. The Uvans are like
that. Their minds are segmented.

"Their faculty for thinking is as precise as a machine. All their
thought efforts can concentrate in any one of the grape-like thought
cells in their heads completely cutting out all other thoughts. That's
why they're so absent-minded about little things. They have absolutely
no administrative or practical ability. Administration required, not
concentration, but spread."

"But how'd they get so bright?"

"Ah, just listen," said Webster. "Nature just happened to provide in
this manner. However, the segmentation is a slow process. Uvans live to
be about a hundred and fifty years old. After that, their resin bodies
crystallize and flake away. They reach their _age of thought_ at the
age of one hundred and forty years which means they've only got about
ten years for good active thinking. It's quite a problem. That's why
the Interworld Government guards them so carefully.

"The young Uvans are nursed along through their first century and forty
years of childhood as though they were gems. Very few get born and
fewer attain their _age of thought_. The day of the final segmentation
and solidifying of their brains is one of great celebration. The
Uvans are a pleasant people. They love celebrations, particularly
revolutionary ones."

Bill gulped on his liquor. "Caviar?" he gasped.

"Ah, caviar," Webster beamed. "You've heard of the caviar wars?"

"Wouldn't say I had," replied Bill.

Webster hesitated a moment, ran over to the window and peeked out
through the crack between the window and shade. He returned to his
chair. "Where was I?"

"The caviar wars," Kitty prompted.

"Ah, yes. They figure a great deal in Uva's history. You remember
that period in history when the world was still dominated by
freebooters--not that I have anything against them--the Spaniards,
under Gonzales, discovered Planetoid Uva. They called the natives here
"_cabeza uvas_" or "grape-heads." Well, they tried exploiting the
planetoid for various natural resources and consequently, many native
Uvans died. It is also said that the Gonzales expedition, when it hit
Uva, was carrying a cargo of Venusian caviar to delivery to Earth. It
was used here as a trade medium.

"The Spaniards have always been unlucky as a colonial power, even in
the space world. Discovering America, they took away gold without
realizing the country was far more valuable than all its yellow metal.
With Uva it was the same. They exploited certain natural resources
without realizing that the Uvan natives, with their peculiar brain,
were far more valuable as _brain-registers_."

"So," Bill interrupted, "When the Interworld Government was formed, Uva
was restricted. We capitalized on nothing but their brains, eh?"

"Oh, it wasn't as easy as that," Webster shook his head. "We had to
grant them autonomy. They're very revolutionary. Intergovernment laws
don't apply on Uva. Even now there are difficulties. The only way we
maintain any control is by judicious doles of caviar. But sometimes,
when they all get the caviar bug at the same moment, a few lively
anti-world government wars break out. You're not here for that, are
you?"

"I'm here to get an _equals_ formula," replied Bill. "The Fuel Monopoly
is in a hole. The Venus etheroel supply is about run out."

"Etheroel!" Commissioner Webster jerked back suddenly, spilling his cup
of liquor.

"Yeah, how do I get an _equals_?"

Webster shook his head worriedly. "You'll have to go to the _Uvan
Thought Clinic_. Just present an _equals_ there and they'll give you a
completed answer." Webster hesitated a second, fished into his pocket
and brought out a personal calling card. He handed it to Bill. "There's
liable to be some trouble," he added. "If you get in trouble, here's my
card."

Webster jumped back again at the sound of footsteps shuffling near
the door. He hastily hid the brandy flask and three cups, and not a
moment too soon for Castlebottom and an Uvan guard who lugged a stubby
radium-plate gun around without the vaguest notion of why he carried
it, burst into the office.

"So! Stealing my fiancé, you despicable freebooter," he cried, shaking
his fist at Bill.

"Tut, Tut," Bill grinned. "Watch out. You're under arrest. Whatever you
say'll be held against you."

Castlebottom smouldered pinkly. "Arrest! You'll be under arrest. I've
radioed the Patrol to rescue Kitty and me."

"They can't land," said Bill.

"They'll land. They're getting a special permit from the government. I
saw to that too."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I say, what are you going to do about this, freebooter?" Kitty asked.
She seemed to thoroughly enjoy the entire situation. She stood with her
back to Webster, staring at the two younger men.

Bill grinned wryly. "You asked for it," he said. "Come on!" His arm
swept around her slim, belted waist, urging her toward the door and out
in the market-place.

"What are you doing?" cried Kitty.

"I'm doing a stitch in time, gal. I never run short of ideas. We're
heading for the _Uvan Thought Clinic_. If I can get the right etheroel
formula before the Patrol comes, I'll have Castlebottom where I want
him. That formula means his job and I have an idea the Uvans don't give
out duplicates."

"So that's freebooting?" The look that Kitty flashed Bill had something
more in it than mere admiration.

"Hey, she's my girl!" Castlebottom bleated from the doorway. He stood
there powerless for the Uvan guard's radium gun was poking a little
valley in his stomach.

"Keep a sharp eye on him, Webster," Bill shouted back. "Dangerous
type!"

A preposterous gurgle choked up Castlebottom's throat as Bill Petrie
and Kitty Carlton disappeared, hand in hand, beyond the square.

The _Uvan Thought Clinic_ was housed in a pale amber building. It
contained twelve main halls, one dedicated to each of the major
sciences. In an outer-reception room, an ancient Uvan whose resin-hard
body was rapidly flaking away, fastened a pair of pearl gray eyes on
Bill Petrie as he presented his credentials.

"Chemistry," said the oldster.

"Fuel," answered Bill.

The old Uvan led the way to a circular chamber. There, after elaborate
preparations, he sat himself on a sort of throne that floated in a bed
of pure mercury.

Kitty gripped Bill's hand, excitedly. "What's that for?" she asked.

"Don't know," Bill replied. "Maybe it insulates him from contact with
matter. He can think better in the abstract."

The old Uvan nodded and sat rigidly upon the throne. Suddenly the
lights dimmed within the chamber, leaving only a suspended glow that
was like the infinite apartness and silence of the distant universe.

"I am suitable for thought," the old Uvan spoke in a vague tone. "Give
me your _equals_."

Bill squeezed Kitty's arm, whispering, "I'm going to try something just
to see how this works." He faced the Uvan and spoke aloud. "I have two
_equals_. The first is something that my Boss needs. The second is for
the Fuel Monopoly. Here's the first."

Bill handed the Uvan a prepared slip. It asked for a chemical formula
which would react on the physical body of Castlebottom in a certain
manner, producing a specified result. For a second the Uvan considered
the slip, absorbing the requirements. Sudden lights glowed in the
segmented grape-cells composing the Uvan's head. The lights shifted
from one cell to another, flickering here and there.

Abruptly, all the lights went out but a small purplish glow in the
grape-cell over the Uvan's right ear. "He's got the answer," Bill
whispered.

"MgSO_{4},7N_{2}O equals your problem," said the Uvan.

"Good!" Bill gasped. "Great Comets, these fellows never miss."

"But what's it the formula for?" Kitty asked.

"Epsom salts!"

"And the second equals?" demanded the vague-voiced Uvan.

Bill thrust a second slip forward. The one requiring a formula for
synthetic etheroel. Again the lights, blinking like bulbs in a bank of
electric lights, hopped from segment to segment in the Uvan's head,
feeling around, searching for the cell that contained the correct
answer.

But now something queer happened. The lights began popping madly
in all the cells. They blinked on and off and ran the gamut of
colors. Instantly, the old Uvan leaped from his throne, clutched his
grape-cluster head and began swearing a blue streak.

Bill jerked Kitty to one side, and just in time. The Uvan charged past
her, grabbed a hammer and began beating out a wild clangor upon a brass
gong near the doorway.

"Bill, what is it?" Kitty cried in alarm.

"Don't know and it doesn't sound comfortable," he grunted. "We'd better
get out, quick!" With Kitty at his side, he raced toward the door, past
the hammer-wielding Uvan and into the reception room of the building.

"Look! Bill!" There was a note of terror in Kitty's voice.

Through the numerous doorways that debouched into the reception room,
dozens of angry eyed Uvans charged. Some of them carried radium-guns
which, somehow, they forgot to use. Bill glanced around hastily, then
ducked into an unblocked doorway with Kitty.

"A passageway," he hissed. "It leads out. Hurry."

Racing through the dim passageway, they came to another door. This
opened upon a curving Uvan street. As Bill stepped through the doorway,
he saw another mob of Uvans hurrying toward the building. By now, gongs
were ringing wildly throughout the entire city.

"Something went very wrong," Bill muttered. "We're going to put a lot
of space between us and town."

Both he and Kitty ran as fast as their legs could carry them, following
the long bed of the street. Behind them the pursuing crowd gathered in
size and more natives came in from side streets.

"We're making it," gasped Kitty.

Bill glanced at the girl appreciatively. She wasn't only pretty but she
was an athlete. She could run. Her face flushed with a clear golden
healthiness as she matched strides with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

A half mile more and they had cleared the limits of the Uvan
metropolis. Bill's lungs burned for air. He had never done this much
running in his life. He looked back, and thankfully, saw that the Uvans
had been outdistanced and were giving up the chase. But--no!

There was still one Uvan following. Bill swore and tried to urge his
feet on. Then, suddenly, the lone Uvan whizzed past them and came to a
stop a short distance ahead. He stared back at Bill and Kitty, looking
bewildered.

"Wait a second," murmured Bill, breathing heavily. "This may be a
trick. Have you got your gun, Kitty?"

The girl shook her head.

The Uvan approached slowly, staring at Bill and the girl in friendly,
though puzzled fashion. He was about an inch shorter than the average
Uvan, sort of important looking and with his lavender eyes set close to
the top of his head.

When he had come within ten feet, he halted again. "Please," he asked.
"Who are we chasing?"

Bill's jaw sagged with surprise.

"You mean you don't know why you were running?" he demanded.

The Uvan shook his grape-clustered head. "I did know when I started,
but I forgot," he answered apologetically. "I suppose you're
Earthfolks. That's nice. My name's Olé. I'm chief editor of the _Uvan
Clarion_."

"So you publish a paper here?" Kitty smiled.

"Yes, when we remember. How about letting me show you around?"

Bill stared at Kitty and Kitty stared at Bill. Both smiled.

"The first thing to see on Uva is...." The little Uvan named Olé
pointed toward a structure which looked to Bill like a capped artesian
well. It was then that Olé hurriedly changed his mind. "No, I really
can't show you that," he said.

"Why?" asked Bill.

"Why? Well, because the gongs would ring again. Then I'd have to run.
So would you."

"Run?" Bill muttered. He looked at the well more carefully. The
super-structure stood above a shack constructed of some amber
substance. It was quiet. He could neither hear nor see any signs of
activity. Somehow it gave him an idea. "Voices are telling me there's
a guard inside there and I ought to have a look around," he said to
himself.

Turning toward Kitty, he saw her blushing in deep embarrassment. Olé,
the Uvan, was indulging in a bit of scientific research. He was poking
his resin-hard finger into the soft flesh of Kitty's arm and marveling
at the sight of the skin yielding to his touch.

"Soft, eh?" he announced in a high-pitched voice. "Are all you people
soft like that?"

Bill shot the girl a warning glance and quickly disappeared in the
direction of the well while Olé wasn't looking. If it had been
Castlebottom touching Kitty, it would have been a different matter.

As he cut around to the far side of the amber well-shack, Bill abruptly
came to a halt. He stood there for a second, motionless, barely daring
to breathe. A Uvan guard, with an eye in front of his head and another
in the back, crouched in the doorway. Bill waited another minute. The
eye in front didn't move.

"Asleep," he murmured at last.

He moved silently, edging around the Uvan, finally gaining entry into
the shack. His eyes swept around swiftly, taking in the jumble of
motionless, rusted machinery, the pumps and the well-collar.

"They drilled here for something, and pumped something out," he thought
aloud. He crossed to the well-collar where his gaze dropped upon a hand
shut-off valve. The valve had been sealed.

Bill's eyes widened as he noted the date stamped on the seal. It was
dated 2201 A.D. That was the year the Planetoid had been taken under
the protective wing of the Interworld Government.

Curious, Bill fumbled with the seal. Then he made up his mind. "I'm
in trouble now. May as well go the whole hog." He jerked his arm,
breaking the seal off. Then he twisted the valve, the rust flaking away
as he forced it open.

Suddenly a gong thundered behind him. He pivoted in time to see the
door guard bang an alarm gong with the butt of his radium-plate gun,
then reverse the gun. Bill froze in his tracks, his hand tight upon the
well valve, as he started into the muzzle of the leveled gun.

"Hey wait a second," he shouted at the guard.

The Uvan's head was ablaze with violently popping colored cell-lights.
He banged the gong once more and then started to trigger his gun.

"Be reasonable!" Bill shouted. He lunged to one side, taking the
shut-off valve handle with him. A liquid hissing burst in his ears. He
glimpsed a stream of strong-smelling liquid shoot from the well valve,
over his head, spearing the Uvan guard with a tremendous splash. Then
he shook himself. He could hardly believe what his eyes saw. _The
Uvan simply melted under the liquid!_ In less than a minute there was
nothing but a lump of resinous substance on the floor and a radium gun
in the middle of it.

Bill shook his head as though he were suffering from a fantastic form
of nightmare generally known as "space jitters." He jammed the shut-off
valve back into place without actually accounting for his actions and
stumbled out of the shack.

"Bill, where have you been?" It was Kitty.

"Where have I been? Great Comets, I know the ropes now! Let's get
Webster before the Patrol comes."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh," said Uvan Commissioner Webster as he saw Bill, Kitty and
Olé stumble into the parlor of his residence, "I thought you were
the Tubby person. Made so much noise. He claims he's an important
man--Commissioner of the Fuel Monopoly. Is that right?"

"Forget Tubby Castlebottom a moment," said Kitty. "Bill's made a
discovery."

"A discovery? On Uva? That's impossible," said Webster.

"Impossible--nothing!" Bill cut in excitedly. He pushed Webster into a
chair. "You know what? There's etheroel on this planetoid. The real
stuff. It's drilled and ready to take off. Come on now, give me the
lowdown on why those wells are sealed? Why didn't you tell me?"

Commissioner Webster stiffened in his chair. His sunny features turned
dead white. For a second he gaped at his three visitors, then he
noticed that little Olé looked more scared than himself.

"Y-Y-You shouldn't have found the wells," he finally stuttered. "Oh,
Lord, it's the taboo."

"Taboo? You mean you knew about the etheroel wells all this time?" Bill
demanded in exasperation.

Webster nodded timidly. "Certainly. But I thought you came here merely
to get a formula for the synthetic fuel."

"They wouldn't give it to me."

"No. I didn't imagine they would. But trying didn't hurt," explained
Webster. "You see, it's the taboo. The undersurface of Uva is
fantastically rich in etheroel reservoirs. When the Spaniards first
controlled Uva they exploited the etheroel hand over fist because it
was worth its weight in gold. But they were ruthless about it for
etheroel, like everything that has an ether-alcohol base, is death to
the Uvans."

"Dissolves them, eh?" said Bill.

Webster shot back a frightened glance. "Yes, the alcohol just tears
down their resin bodies. The Spaniards made the mistake of forcing
the Uvans to operate the wells. Cheap labor, you know. That's why
the government sealed the wells. The Uvans were more valuable as
_brain-registers_ for the universe. Alcohol and caviar are the two
things these people are never absent-minded about."

"Well, we've got to have that etheroel," Bill spoke firmly. "They won't
give us a formula."

Webster began pacing the floor in small circles, glancing from Bill
to Olé in a distraught manner. "It's a vicious circle," he muttered.
"Indeed, a very vicious circle! It's up to the Interworld Government to
choose between slaughtering all the Uvans if they uncap the wells, or
not having the etheroel."

"It is tough, isn't it?" Bill nodded thoughtfully.

"Oh, that isn't all," replied Webster. "Don't you see what'll happen?
No one in the outside world is capable of making an independent
decision of this magnitude. They've gotten in the habit of referring
all major problems to the _Uvan Thought Clinic_. They'll refer this one
back to the Uvans and you know how the Uvans stand on the question of
etheroel. What we need is a good old fashioned freebooter to take up
the matter."

"Freebooter!" A thoughtful frown creased Bill Petrie's handsome brow.
He glanced at Olé, the Uvan editor, who blinked his top-side eyes
worriedly. If Bill had had a grape-cell head, a few lights would have
popped off and on in it at this instant for the shape of an idea was
forming in his brain.

Suddenly he took Kitty's two hands in his own and, staring into her
deep blue eyes, said: "Kitty, you're a very wealthy gal. I need some
cash. Are you, or aren't you going to radio your bank and have them
open your account unconditionally to a company I'm floating right now?"

The girl stared at him, startled. Perhaps the way he held her hands, or
the look of earnestness in his gaze, did something to her. She suddenly
smiled, murmuring, "Yes, Bill. I'm with you. What's the company?"

"I'll sound crazy," Bill grinned. He turned to Olé and collared the
little man. "Listen, Olé," he explained quickly. "You go back to the
square and find my office. Open it up. Put a sign in front--Uvan Caviar
Import Company. You'll be sales manager."

"Caviar!" The little Uvan's face brightened.

Bill tied a couple of strings to Ole's fingers and shoved him out the
door. "Those strings are to remind you what to do when you get to the
office. I'll be over there in a minute. I've got work to do now." He
faced Webster. "Where's your transmitter?"

"Bill, have you gone mad?" Kitty demanded.

"Not yet, honey!" He kissed Kitty briefly but effectively, adding, "Get
the money transferred to my Import Company. Then you go out to the
square and keep Castlebottom happy for a half hour. He's on the pillory
again. I'll see you at the office."

       *       *       *       *       *

A half hour later Bill Petrie stepped from the residence transmitter
room with a smile of triumph on his lips. Webster, Kitty and Olé were
nowhere about so he walked briskly through the fantastically laid out
streets of Uva to the market-place. There the smile faded from his
mouth.

As his eyes swept the square, he knew something had gone wrong.
Castlebottom was still on the pillory, sweating in the muggy heat, but
the Uvans no longer crowded around him. The entire mass of resin-bodied
grape heads were clamoring around Bill's office.

Bill pushed through the crowd until he came to the door where Webster
stood, white faced and worried.

"They after the caviar already?" Bill grinned.

"Caviar!" Webster exclaimed. "No such thing. They've discovered that
you tampered with the etheroel well and dissolved one of their people.
They're working themselves up to a revolt. Give them a half hour and
they'll tear us apart. This is serious."

"The patrol will be here any minute," Kitty said tensely.

Webster shook his head helplessly. "They won't do us any good. You
don't know the Uvans."

The broad, heavy tones of an alarm gong vibrated across square. Uvans
milled about, pressing in closer upon Bill's office entrance. Dry,
high-pitched voices threw out angry cries. Hundreds of grape-cluster
Uvan heads flashed their cell-like lights. Some could be seen in the
daylight, some not.

Bill turned toward Olé whose own anger was slowly mounting a step
behind that of the crowd in the market-place. "Calm yourself," Bill
spoke sharply. "You and your people want caviar, eh? Well, behave and
you'll get it. All you want. I've got the company."

"You've got caviar?" Webster cut in.

Bill shouldered the government commissioner aside and spoke rapidly
with Olé. "Here's what you do, little man," he said. "Go out there and
sell them stock. Yeah. Stock in our Caviar Import Company. The real
stuff will be on its way here in a day or two. Now get going! Take
these sales contracts."

He gave the little Uvan a shove and sent him through the doorway. Olé
disappeared in the crowd, talking fast as he entered it. Bill watched
tensely, then after a minute he looked toward Webster and Kitty.

Webster's eyes shifted from the market-place and met Bill's glance. The
Commissioner's mouth opened, amazed. Out in the market, he had seen the
sudden, incredible change that occurred among the Uvans. Their anger
had turned to delighted excitement. They haggled, shouted and fought to
buy up the Caviar Company stocks Olé offered.

Kitty stared at Bill accusingly. "It was a nice trick," she said. "But
what makes you think they'll get any caviar?"

There was a grin on Bill's square face. "Simple," he said. "With your
money, Webster's transmitter and my brain, I cornered the Interworld
caviar market. Our company owns every speck of caviar that exists."

"But why?"

"Don't look so dazed, I organized the caviar to line up popular support
behind me. All that I needed was the confidence of the Uvans because
I've figured out a way of exploiting the etheroel wells without harming
the Uvans."

Bill looked around triumphantly. "You want to hear?" he added.

"It's wonderful, Bill," Kitty murmured.

"You mean they won't dissolve?" asked Webster. A look of hope entered
his eyes. "Will it work for whiskey too?"

Bill shook his head. "Afraid not," he said. "You see I did a lot
of freebooting in chemistry when I worked for the Fuel Monopoly. I
discovered you could hydrate etheroel the same as you hydrate diethyl
ether. You just evaporate etheroel on thick blotting paper, subject it
to a temperature of twenty-six degrees Fahrenheit and it becomes solid.
We'll have Earthmen or Martians handle that operation. After it's
solid, it won't harm the Uvans. They'll be able to ship it out. We'll
dehydrate on some clearing planetoid."

"Excellent! Excellent!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Bill whirled around at the first sound of the voice coming from the
doorway. He saw Castlebottom standing there and behind him, three armed
Space Patrolmen. There was a very satisfied smirk on Castlebottom's
lips and a very efficient look about the Patrolmen.

"Excellent thought," Castlebottom said in his most administrative
manner, "The Fuel Monopoly appreciated what you've done to recover the
Uvan etheroel supply. We'll send you a medal--in jail! Very lucky I
overheard you." He signalled the patrolmen. "All right, men, arrest him
for smuggling caviar, kidnapping me and my fiancé. You might tack on a
few other charges. Anything will do."

There was a little cry as Kitty threw her arms around Bill and glared
at Castlebottom. "You can't arrest him. Look what he's done."

"Hah!" grunted Castlebottom, rubbing his fingers over the ham-slice
folds of his neck where the pillory clamps had fitted too tightly. "He
hasn't got a foot to stand on. That is what comes of freebooting. He's
already given us the answer on how to save the etheroel. We'll do it
ourselves. We don't need him."

"Please," Kitty pleaded.

"Do you really mean that?" said Bill. He held Kitty's cheeks in his
hands, turning her face up toward his. "I guess you do," he murmured.

Suddenly he pushed Kitty aside and stepped toward Castlebottom. "Well,
maybe you win," he said slowly. "But if you're going to arrest me, do
me a favor. Hold your chin out like ... ah...."

Castlebottom thrust his chin forward. "Glad you're sensible about
this," he said. "You mean, hold it like this?"

"That's right--perfect," exclaimed Bill.

Castlebottom's chin was tilted just right. Bill's arm suddenly went
back, coiled, then shot forward with the speed and stroke of a
precisely ground piston. There was a flabby crack of soft flesh being
struck by harder flesh and knuckles. A kind of foolish look crossed
Castlebottom's face for an instant, then he folded up like a deflated
balloon. One of the Patrolmen caught him just as he hit the floor.

"That," said Bill as he licked his knuckles, "Is something I've always
wanted to do."

A look of horror flashed in Kitty Carlton's eyes and she lifted a small
hand to her lips. "Bill," she cried. "You shouldn't have. There's a
twenty year sentence for striking a commissioner."

Castlebottom shook his head and leaned against the Patrolman who had
picked him up. He tried desperately to reassemble his rage. "I'll have
his hide for that!" he croaked. "Arrest him!"

Bill suddenly waved a warning finger. "You'll have nothing for that,
Tubby boy. _I still hold the trump cards!_ First of all, Interworld
Laws don't apply on Uva. The government here, when it remembers it's a
government, is autonomous. So you can't arrest me unless the Uvans do
it. Furthermore you're going to drop all charges against Kitty, myself
and anyone else."

"Drop charges!" Castlebottom revived and exploded. "You practically
kidnapped Kitty!"

Bill shook his finger again. "Easy there," he smiled. "If you want any
etheroel, you'd better forget everything, including Kitty. You see, I
control the etheroel on Uva!"

Castlebottom fell back a step, white as a sheet. "What's this, a
trick?" he demanded.

"No--just freebooting," Bill grinned. "My Caviar Import Company became
a big holding company. For shares in the Caviar concern, the Uvans
had only two things worth trading--brains and etheroel rights. Being
a freebooter myself, why, should I want anyone else's brain. Since I
still hold fifty-one per cent of the Caviar Company stocks, naturally I
control the etheroel rights. Come to think of it, I'm the head of two
monopolies.... Maybe three.... I don't think Kitty will mind!"

"I don't think so either." It was Kitty, speaking.





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