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The Key

Karl Jennings kneas going to die He had a matter of hours to live and much to do

There was no reprieve from the death sentence, not hereon the Moon, not with no communications in operation

Even on Earth there were a few fugitive patches where, without radio handy, a ht die without the hand of his fellow man to help him, without the heart of his fellow man to pity him, without even the eye of his fellow man to discover the corpse Here on the Moon, there were few spots that were otherwise

Earthmen kneas on the Moon, of course He had been part of a geological expedition-no, selenological expedition! Odd, how his Earth-centered eo-'

Wearily he drove hih he was, he still felt that artificially iht Anxiously he looked about There was nothing to see He was in the dark of the eternal shadow of the northern interior of the wall of the crater, a blackness relieved only by the intermittent blink of his flash He kept that intermittent, partly because he dared not consuh and partly because he dared not take more than the minimum chance that it be seen

On his left hand, toward the south along the nearby horizon of the Moon, was a crescent of bright white Sunlight Beyond the horizon, and invisible, was the opposite lip of the crater The Sun never peered high enough over the lip of his own edge of the crater to illuminate the floor immediately beneath his feet He was safe from radiation- from that at least

He dug carefully but clumsily, swathed as he was in his spacesuit His side ached abominably

The dust and broken rock did not take up the 'fairy castle' appearance characteristic of those portions of the Moon's surface exposed to the alternation of light and dark, heat and cold Here, in eternal cold, the slow cru of the crater wall had sieneous oing on

He ed the unevenness of the dark surface for a ments The particles dropped with the slowness characteristic of the Moon and yet with the appearance of a blinding speed, for there was no air resistance to slow them further still and spread them out into a dusty haze

Jennings' flash brightened for a ed rock out of the way He hadn'tdeeper into the dust

A little deeper and he could push the Device into the depression and begin covering it Strauss must not find it


The other member of the team Half-share in the discovery Half-share in the renown

If it were merely the whole share of the credit that Strauss had wanted, Jennings ht have allowed it The discovery was o with it But what Strauss wanted was soht to prevent

One of the few things Jennings illing to die to prevent And he was dying

They had found it together Actually, Strauss had found the ship or, better, the reht havebeen the reous to a ship

'Metal,' said Strauss, as he picked up soed and nearly ah the thick lead glass of the visor, but his rather harsh voice sounded clearly enough through the suit radio

Jennings ca over from his own position half a mile away He said, 'Odd! There is no free metal on the Moon'

There shouldn't be But you knoell enough they haven't explored more than one per cent of the

Moon's surface Who knohat can be found on it?'

Jennings grunted assent and reached out his gauntlet to take the object

It was true enough that alht be found on the Moon for all anyone really knew Theirs was the first privately financed selenographic expedition ever to land on the Moon 'I'll l then, there had been only governun affairs, with half a dozen ends in view It was a sign of the advancing space age that the Geological Society could afford to send two ical studies only

Strauss said, 'It looks as though it once had a polished surface'

'You're right,' said Jennings 'Maybe there's more about'

They found three ed object that showed traces of a seam

'Let's take them to the ship,' said Strauss

They took the small skim boat back to the mother ship

They shucked their suits once on board, solad to do He scratched vigorously at his ribs and rubbed his cheeks till his light skin reddened into welts

Strauss eschewed such weakness and got to work The laser beam pock-raph Titanium-steel, essentially, with a hint of cobalt and molybdenum

That's artificial, all right,' said Strauss His broad-boned face was as dour and as hard as ever He showed no elation, although Jennings could feel his own heart begin to race

It inning, 'This is a developainst which we must steel ourselves-' with a faint stress on 'steel' to indicate the play on words

Strauss, however, looked at Jennings with an icy distaste, and the attehed He could never swing it, somehow Never could! He remembered at the University-

Well, never mind The discovery they had made orth a far better-pun than any he could construct for all Strauss's calmness

Jennings wondered if Strauss could possibly nificance

He knew very little about Strauss, as a ical reputation That is, he had read Strauss's papers and he presuht well have passed by night in their University days, they had never happened to meet until after both had volunteered for this expedition and had been accepted

In the week's voyage, Jennings had grown uncoure, his sandy hair and china-blue eyes, and the way the muscles over his pros, hihter in build, also blue-eyed, but with darker hair, tended to withdraw automatically from the heavy exudation of the other's power and drive

Jennings said, 'There's no record of any ship ever having landed on this part of the Moon Certainly none has crashed'

'If it were a part of a ship,' said Strauss, 'it should be smooth and polished This is eroded and, without an atmosphere here, that means exposure to micrometeor bombardment over many years'

Then he did see the significance Jennings said, with an ale jubilation, 'It's a non-human artifact Creatures not of Earth once visited the Moon Who kno long ago?'

'Who knows?' agreed Strauss dryly

'In the report-'

'Wait,' said Strauss i to report If it was a ship, there will be more to it thanhave'

But there was no point in looking further just then They had been at it for hours, and the next meal and sleep were overdue Better to tackle the whole job fresh and spend hours at it They see

The Earth was low on the eastern horizon, als looked at it while they ate and experienced, as he always did, a sharp homesickness

'It looks peaceful enough,' he said, 'but there are six billion people busy on it'

Strauss looked up from some deep inner life of his own and said, 'Six billion people ruining it!' Jennings frowned 'You're not an Ultra, are you?'

Strauss said, 'What the hell are you talking about?'

Jennings felt hiainst his fair skin, turning it pink at the slightest upset of the even tenor of his e He turned back to his food, without saying anything

For a whole generation now, the Earth's population had held steady No further increase could be afforded Everyone adher' wasn't enough; the population had to drop Jennings hilobe of the Earth was being eaten alive by its heavy freight of humanity

But hoas the population to bethe people to lower the birth rate still further, as and how they wished? Lately there had been the slow rise of a distant rumble which wanted not only a population drop but a selected drop-the survival of the fittest, with the self-declared fit choosing the criteria of fitness

Jennings thought: I've insulted him, I suppose

Later, when he was almost asleep, it suddenly occurred to hi of Strauss's character What if it were his intention to go out now on a foraging expedition of his own so that he etsole credit for-?

He raised hi heavily, and even as Jennings listened, the breathing grew into the characteristic burr of a snore

They spent the next three days in a single-minded search for additional pieces They found so with the tiny phosphorescence of Lunar bacteria Such bacteria were coh, but nowhere previously had their occurrence been reported in concentration so great as to cause a visible glow

Strauss said, 'An organic being, or his reanisms within him did not In the end they consumed him'

'And spread perhaps,' added Jennings That enerally They may not be native at all but o'

'It works the other way, too,' said Strauss 'Since the bacteria are completely different in very fundaanis this was their source-must have been fundamentally different too Another indication of extraterrestrial origin'

The trail ended in the wall of a small crater

'It's a'We had better report this and get help'

'No,' said Strauss soht have formed a million years after the ship had crash-landed'

'And vaporized most of it, you mean, and left only e've found?' Strauss nodded

Jennings said, 'Let's try anyway We can dig a bit If we draw a line through the finds we've made so far and just keep on'

Strauss was reluctant and worked halfheartedly, so that it was Jennings who h Strauss had found the first piece of s had found the artifact itself

It was an artifact-cradled three feet underground under the irregular shape of a boulder which had fallen in such a way that it left a hollow in its contact with the Moon's surface In the hollow lay the artifact, protected fro for a million years or more; protected froe, so that it remained fresh and new forever

Jennings labeled it at once the Device It looked not remotely similar to any instrus said, why should it?

There are no rough edges that I can see,' he said 'It h'

'Maybe,' said Jennings, 'but there see movable It's all one piece and certainly oddly uneven' He noted his own play on words, then went on with a not-altogether-successful attempt at self-control This is e need A piece of worn metal or an area rich in bacteria is only -a Device that is clearly of extraterrestrial manufacture'

It was on the table between thes said, 'Let's put through a preliminary report, now'

'No!' said Strauss, in sharp and strenuous dissent 'Hell, no!'

'Why not?'

'Because if we do, it becomes a Society project They'll swarm all over it and on't be as much as a footnote when all is done No!' Strauss looked alet as much out of it as possible before the harpies descend'

Jennings thought about it He couldn't deny that he too wanted to make certain that no credit was lost But still-- He said, 'I don't know that I like to take the chance, Strauss' For the first tiht it off 'Look, Strauss' he said, 'it's not right to wait If this is of extraterrestrial origin, then it must be from some other planetary system There isn't a place in the Solar System, outside the Earth, that can possibly support an advanced life form'

'Not proven, really,' grunted Strauss, 'but what if you'reright?'

Then it would mean that the creatures of the ship had interstellar travel and therefore had to be far in advance, technologically, of ourselves Who knohat the Device can tell us about their advanced technology It ht be the clue to an uniinable scientific revolution'

That's roy far advanced over ours, we'll learn nothing fro Einstein back to life and show him a microprotowarp and ould he make of it?'

'We can't be certain that on't learn'

'So what, even so? What if there's a small delay? What if we assure credit for ourselves? What if wewith this, that we don't let go of it?'

'But Strauss'-Jennings felt hiet across his sense of the importance of the Device-'what if we crash with it? What if we don't ' He tapped it then, alh he were in love with it 'We should report it now and have theet it It's too precious to-'

At the peak of his eroarm under his hand A portion of its surface, half-hidden under a flap of lowed phosphorescently

Jennings jerked his hand away in a spash; the

He said, al into your skull I could see into your mind'

'I read yours,' said Strauss, 'or experienced it, or entered into it, or whatever you choose' He touched the Device in his cold, withdraay, but nothing happened

'You're an Ultra,' said Jennings angrily 'When I touched this'-And he did so 'It's happening again I see it Are you a madman? Can you honestly believe it is humanly decent to condemn almost all the human race to extinction and destroy the versatility and variety of the species?'

His hand dropped away froliain Oncehappened said, lets not start a discussion, for God's sake This thing is an aid to communication-a telepathic amplifier Why not? The brain cells have each their electric potentials Thought can be viewed as a wavering electronetic field of microintensities-'

Jennings turned away He didn't want to speak to Strauss He said, 'We'll report it now I don't give a damn about credit Take it all I just want it out of our hands'

For a moment Strauss remained in a brown study Then he said, 'It's more than a communicator It responds to emotion and it amplifies emotion'

'What are you talking about?'

Twice it started at your touch just now, although you'd been handling it all day with no effect It still has no effect when I touch it'


'It reacted to you when you were in a state of high emotional tension That's the requirement for activation, I suppose And when you raved about the Ultras while you were holding it just now, I felt as you did, for just a moment'

'So you should'

'But, listen toman on Earth that doesn't know the planet would be better off with a population of one billion rather than six billion If we used automation to the full-as now the hordes won't allow us to do-we could probably have a completely efficient and viable Earth with a population of no s

Don't turn away, man'

The harshness in Strauss's voice al 'But we can't reduce the population dee, because uterine inserts solved the birth control probleo; you know that It's a roups to reduce theree with theroup, to prevail I want the Earth to be inherited by the elite, which means by men like ourselves We're the true men, and the horde of half-apes who hold us down are destroying us all They're doomed to death anyhy not save ourselves?'

'No,' said Jennings strenuously 'No one group has a es, trapped in a humanity robbed of its variety and versatility, would die of boredoht'

'Es You don't believe that You've just been trained to believe it by our damn-fool equalitarians Look, this Device is just e need Even if we can't build any others or understand how this one works, this one Device ht do If we could control or influence the minds of key men, then little by little we can superianization You must know that if you've seen ned than any other organization on Earth The brains of mankind flock to us daily Why not you too? This instrument is a key, as you see, but not just a key to a bit e It is a key to the final solution of men's problems Join us! Join us!' He had reached an earnestness that Jennings had never heard in him

Strauss's hand fell on the Device, which flickered a second or two and went out

Jennings snificance of that Strauss had been deliberately trying to work hih to activate the Device and had failed

'You can't work it,' said Jennings 'You're too darned super-mannishly self-controlled and can't break down, can you?' He took up the Device with hands that were tre, and it phosphoresced at once

'Then you work it Get the credit for saving humanity'

'Not in a hundredand barely able to breathe in the intensity of his e to report this now'

'No,' said Strauss He picked up one of the table knives 'It's pointed enough, sharp enough'

'You needn't work so hard to s, even under the stress of the moment conscious of the pun 'I can see your plans With the Device you can convince anyone that I neverexisted You can bring about an Ultra victory

Strauss nodded 'You read my mind perfectly'

'But you won't,' gasped Jennings 'Not while I hold this' He illing Strauss into immobility

Strauss edly and subsided He held the knife out stiffly and his arm trembled, but he did not advance

Both were perspiring freely

Strauss said between clenched teeth, 'You can't keep it-up all-day'

The sensation was clear, but Jennings wasn't sure he had the words to describe it It was, in physical terth, one that wriggled incessantly Jennings had to concentrate on the feeling of immobility

He wasn't familiar with the Device He didn't kno to use it skillfully One ht as well expect someone who had never seen a sword to pick one up and wield it with the grace of a musketeer

'Exactly,' said Strauss, following Jennings' train of thought He took a fu step forward

Jennings knew himself to be no match for Strauss's mad determination They both knew that But there was the skiet away With the Device

But Jennings had no secrets Strauss saw his thought and tried to step between the other and the skim boat

Jennings redoubled his efforts Not iht desperately Sleep! Strauss slipped to his knees, heavy-lidded eyes closing

Heart pounding, Jennings rushed forward If he could strike hi, snatch the knife

But his thoughts had deviated from their all-important concentration on sleep, so that Strauss's hand was on his ankle, pulling doith raw strength

Strauss did not hesitate As Jennings tus felt the sharp pain and his mind reddened with fear and despair

It was the very access of emotion that raised the flicker of the Device to a blaze Strauss's hold relaxed as Jennings silently and incoherently screae from his own mind to the other Strauss rolled over, face distorted

Jennings rose unsteadily to his feet and backed away He dared do nothing but concentrate on keeping the other unconscious Any attempt at violent action would block out too much of his own mind force, whatever it was; toomind force that could not lend itself to really effective use

He backed toward the skies- The ski-distance runs Nor was Jennings, any longer His right side was slick with blood despite the bandages The interior of his suit was caked with it

There was no sign of the ship itself on his tail, but surely it would come sooner or later Its poas many times his own; it had detectors that would pick up the cloud of charge concentration left behind by his ion-drive reactors

Desperately Jennings had tried to reach Luna Station on his radio, but there was still no answer, and he stopped in despair His signals would merely aid Strauss in pursuit

He ht reach Luna Station bodily, but he did not think he could make it He would be picked off first

He would die and crash first He wouldn't make it He would have to hide the Device, put it away in a safe place, then make for Luna Station

The Device

He was not sure he was right It ht ruin the human race, but it was infinitely valuable Should he destroy it altogether? It was the only reent life It held the secrets of an advanced technology; it was an instruer, consider the value-the potential value- No, he ain-but only by the enlightened Moderates of the government Never by the Ultras

The ski the northern inner rim of the crater He knehich one it was, and the Device could be buried here If he could not reach Luna Station thereafter, either in person or by radio, he would have to at least get away fro spot: well away, so that his own person would not give it away And he would have to leave some key to it's location

He was thinking with an unearthly clarity, it see? Did it stie? Or was it the hallucination of the dying, and would none of it make any sense to anyone? He didn't know, but he had no choice He had to try

For Karl Jennings kneas going to die He had a matter of hours to live and much to do

H Seton Davenport of the Aation rubbed the star-shaped scar on his left cheek absently 'I'erous'

The Division Head, M T Ashley, looked at Davenport narrowly His gaunt cheeks were set in disapproving lines Since he had sworn off sers to close upon a stick of chewing gum, which he shelled, cru old, and bitter, too, and his short iron-gray ainst it

He said, 'You don't kno dangerous I wonder if anyone does They are s the powerful who, after all, are perfectly ready to consider themselves the elite No one knows for certain who they are or how many'

'Not even the Bureau?'

'The Bureau is held back We ourselves aren't free of the taint, for that matter Are you?' Davenport frowned 'I'm not an Ultra'

'I didn't say you were,' said Ashley 'I asked if you were free of the taint Have you considered what's been happening to the Earth in the last two centuries? Has it never occurred to you that a ? Have you never felt that it would be wonderful to get rid of the unintelligent, the incapable, the insensitive, and leave the rest I have, damn it'

'I' so it as a practical sche else'

'The distance froreat as you think Convince yourself that the end is ih, and the ly less objectionable

Anyway, now that the Istanbulyou up to date on this matter Istanbul was of no ient Ferrant?'

The one who's disappeared? Not personally'

'Well, two o, a stranded ship was located on the Moon's surface It had been conducting a privately financed selenographic survey The Russo-Aht, reported the ship's failure to report A routine search located it without much trouble within a reasonable distance of the site from which it had made its last report

'The ship was not daone and with it one s The other man, Jan of physical dae to Strauss, but he was quite insane He still is, and that's important'

'Why?' put in Davenport

'Because the ated him reported neurochemical and neuroelectrical abnormalities of unprecedented nature They'd never seen a case like it Nothing huht it about'

A flicker of a smile crossed Davenport's solemn face 'You suspect extraterrestrial invaders?'

'Maybe,' said the other, with no smile at all 'But let hborhood of the stranded ship revealed no signs of the skinals of uncertain origin They had been tabbed as co from the western rim of Mare Iin or not, and no vessel was believed to be in the vicinity The signals had been ignored With the skim boat in mind, however, the search party headed out for Is was aboard, dead Knife wound in one side It's rather surprising he hadlived as long as he did

'Meanwhile the ly dis turbed at the nature of Strauss's babbling They contacted the Bureau and our two men on the Moon-one of them happened to be Ferrant-arrived at the ship

'Ferrant studied the tape recordings of the babblings There was no point in asking questions, for there was, and is, no way of reaching Strauss There is a high wall between the universe and himself-probably a perh heavily repetitious and disjointed, can be saw puzzle

'Apparently Strauss and Jennings had come across an object of some sort which they took to be of ancient and non-huo Apparently it could somehow be made to twist the human mind'

Davenport interrupted 'And it twisted Strauss's mind? Is that it?'

That's exactly it Strauss was an Ultra-we can say "was" for he's only technically alive-and Jennings did not wish to surrender the object Quite right, too Strauss babbled of using it to bring about the self-liquidation, as he called it, of the undesirable He wanted a final, ideal population of five million

There was a fight in which only Jennings, apparently, could handle the s left, he was knifed, but Strauss's mind had been destroyed'

'And where was the ?'

'Agent Ferrant acted decisively He searched the ship and the surroundings again There was no sign of anything that was neither a natural Lunar fory There was nothing that could be the s Again nothing'

'Could the first search tea-could they have carried so off?' They swore they did not, and there is no reason to suspect the Then Ferrant's partner--'

'Who was he?'

'Gorbansky,' said the District Head

'I know hiether'

'I know you have What do you think of him?'

'Capable and honest'

'All right Gorbansky found so most routinely human indeed It was an ordinary white three-by-five card riting on it, spindled, and in the s had written it before his death and, also presumably, it represented the key to where he had hidden the object'

'What reason is there to think he had hidden it?'

'I said we had found it nowhere'

'I erous to leave intact?'

That's highly doubtful If we accept the conversation as reconstructed fros-and

Ferrant built up what seeht theto be of key iinable scientific revolution" He wouldn't destroy so like that He would merely hide it froovernment Else why leave a clue to its whereabouts?'

Davenport shook his head, 'You're arguing in a circle, chief You say he left a clue because you think there is a hidden object, and you think there is a hidden object because he left a clue'

'I adful? Is Ferrant's reconstruction valid? Is

Jennings' due really a clue? Is there a s called it, or isn't there? There's no use asking such questions Right noe must act on the assumption that there is such a Device and that it must be found'

'Because Ferrant disappeared?'


'Kidnapped by the Ultras?'

'Not at all The card disappeared with him'

'Oh-I see'

'Ferrant has been under suspicion for a long time as a secret Ultra He's not the only one in the Bureau under suspicion either The evidence didn't warrant open action; we can't siut the Bureau from top to bottom He was under surveillance'

'By whom?'

'By Gorbansky, of course Fortunately Gorbansky had filmed the card and sent the reproduction to the headquarters on Earth, but he ad object and included it in the information sent to Earth only out of a desire to be routinely complete Ferrant-the better nificance and took action He did so at great cost, for he has given himself away and has destroyed his future usefulness to the Ultras, but there is a chance that there will be no need for future usefulness If the Ultras control the Device--'

'Perhaps Ferrant has the Device already'

'He was under surveillance, remember Gorbansky swears the Device did not turn up anywhere'

'Gorbansky did notwith the card Perhaps he did notthe Device unnoticed, either'

Ashley tapped his fingers on the desk between them in an uneasy and uneven rhythm He said at last, 'I don't want to think that If we find Ferrant, we e he's done 'I'll l then, we s hid it, heplace Else why leave a clue? It wouldn't be found in the vicinity'

'He et away'

Again Ashley tapped, 'The skiht and had all but crashed at the end That is consistent with the view that Jennings was trying to place asplace'

'Can you tell from what direction he came?'

'Yes, but that's not likely to help From the condition of the side vents, he had been deliberately tacking and veering'

Davenport sighed 'I suppose you have a copy of the card with you'

'I do Here it is' He flipped a three-by-five replica toward Davenport Davenport studied it for a few moments It looked like this:

Davenport said, 'I don't see any significance here'

'Neither did I, at first, nor did those I first consulted But consider Jennings ht not have known that Strauss had been put out of action, at least, not permanently He was deadly afraid, then, that an Ultra would find him before a Moderate would He dared not leave a clue to open This'-and the Division Head tapped the reproduction-'must represent a clue that is opaque on the surface but clear enough to anyone sufficiently ingenious'

'Can we rely on that?' asked Davenport doubtfully 'After all, he was a dying, frightenedobject hi clearly, or even humanly For instance, why didn't he make an effort to reach Lunar Station? He ended half a circumference away almost Was he too twisted to think clearly? Too paranoid to trust even the Station? Yet he must have tried to reach the is that this card, which looks as though it is covered with gibberish, is covered with gibberish'

Ashley shook his head sole bell 'He was in panic, yes And I suppose he lacked the presence of mind to try to reach Lunar Station Only the need to run and escape possessed hiether too well Every notation on the card can be ether'

'Where's the sense, then?' asked Davenport

'You'll notice that there are seven iteht Consider the left-hand side first The third one down looks like an equals sign Does an equals signin particular?'