To the crew of the Exploratory Ship Canopus, outward bound on the first intergalactic voyage to the flaring suns of mighty Andromeda, the evil whisperings that spilled out from the nebula into deep space came as a warning. This was something far beyond their previous experience. Nor were they the only ones to come under the malignant influence of the alien intelligence. In the empty, murmuring void, virtually half-way between the two galaxies of stars, a solitary sun streaked away from Andromeda, dragging its lonely, ammonia-laden planet with it. And it was here that the explorers first gained their glimpse of the black horror that lay straddled across the intergalactic darkness. Something that had being. Something that existed where it seemed impossible that anything could. It fell on Klau-Telph, the only non-Terran on board the Canopus, to finally track down and destroy the inhuman monster that threatened to drive the inhabitants of a trillion planets over the red edge of madness. Not until it was done did he find that the hidden reason behind the insidious whisperings was not what it seemed. In fact, it was something that even he, with his strange double mind, had never thought possible...
Release date: June 30, 2015
Print pages: 123
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When it had first started, some two hundred thousand light years out from the main galaxy, it had been little more than a vague smattering of thought radiation. Now, capricious and deadly, utterly malignant, it clamped down against the skulls of the men on board with a nameless terror.
Insidiously, it seemed to hiss and trill in cadenzas of frenzy; dying suddenly in a long, drawn-out whine of suppressed agony, only to burgeon up again a moment later into clamouring, shrieking life. Yet always, there was an undertone of warning, clear and unmistakable.
On the bridge of the Canopus, in the vast room of massive, humming machines, Klau-Telph moved uncomfortably against the cushions of his chair. His position was over by the blue-shining transparency of the sweeping glassite dome, away from the main, centralised banks of controls.
As the only extraterrestrial representative on board, he was becoming used to being in the background of things. Seven months had passed since they had left the outer environs of the main galaxy; and for the most part, the specialists had pointedly ignored him.
Many of them had only the remotest idea where his home planet of Curaan was located and they cared very little anyway. But already he was making plans to rectify that. It was just that, so far, the favourable opportunity to do so had not presented itself.
As a non-human, he possessed certain advantages over the other hundred-odd members of the crew. But there were times when having a hypersensitive, double brain could be a distinct disadvantage. And this was one of those times. He had realised from the start, what the trouble was. Mental attack!
And on a vast scale. Even though he knew there was nothing tangible there, his hands leapt to his forehead in a single, convulsive, automatic movement. But the pressure was inside his head. A massing of numerous stabs of alien thought which were not quite pain; and which linked up to form an intolerable tightening behind his temples.
In the first flash of violent adjustment, it seemed to him that it would pass beyond the limit of endurance. What eventually saved him was that even this dangerous eventuality had been foreseen and provided for during his intensive training.
His had been a life of forced, artificial evolution. Within microseconds, his mind had adjusted. And a moment later, he realised that the feeling was quite bearable. A swift glance around the room was sufficient to show him that the others were experiencing the same effects. Then he started as the tiny communicator, set in the arm of his chair, sprang into abrupt life.
“Personally Commander, I don’t think we ought to take any rash chances—or jump to any immediate conclusions. This isn’t any ordinary type of vibration spilling out from one or other of the galaxies. It’s far more than that.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Klau-Telph recognised the voice as belonging to Cranson, the ship’s astronomer. He listened intently as the other went on:
“We can actually sense these vibrations. As far as my department has been able to determine in the short time that the effect has been brought to our notice, the radiation appears to be coming from the spiral nebula, M-33, in Andromeda, which is our ultimate destination. That’s my opinion, though I’d like Erdsen to qualify that statement if he considers it to be necessary.”
There was a short silence. Then the chief physicist’s voice, deeper and calmer, took up the story. A swift glance at the row of red-flashing indicator bulbs set alongside the communicator, was enough to tell Klau-Telph that the physicist was speaking from his own department which lay amidships of the Canopus.
“There’s very little I’d like to add at the moment. It’s virtually impossible to tell when these whisperings first began to be noticed. Certainly they weren’t apparent during our initial acceleration out of the main galaxy. We passed through the outermost fringes of the Magellanic Clouds several weeks ago.
“I can state quite positively, that there was no detectable increase in the volume of radiation during that time. To my mind, Cranson is quite right when he suggests that they originate in the spiral nebula in Andromeda. We have instruments on board which are capable of measuring both the direction and strength of this radiation.”
The communicator crackled loudly. “What kind of instruments are you referring to, Erdsen?” interrupted Commander Anderson sharply.
Klau-Telph threw a swift glance over shoulder towards the main portion of the bridge. The Commander was seated directly below the vast forward viewing plate. A tall, oldish man, his dark hair already greying at the temples; his lean, furrowed features were screwed up in a frown of vague annoyance. He repeated his former question.
“Encephalographs, nerve-impulse counters and the like,” answered the physicist slowly. “Most of the extremely sensitive electrical equipment has been affected in some way from the very beginning.”
“I see. Go on!”
“That’s about all there is. I agree with Cranson—in fact, I think we all agree—that these impulses are definitely evil. On the whole, taking all the available evidence into account, my considered opinion is that they are pouring out into space from the entire nebula. Someone, or something,” he corrected himself quickly “—feels rather strongly about our intrusion and wants us out of the way. In fact—”
With a sharp flick of his forefinger, Klau-Telph snapped down the sending switch of his communicator. This was something he hadn’t previously considered, but even so, he found it difficult to agree with Erdsen’s point of view.
“Just a minute, Erdsen!” he muttered quickly. “Do I understand you to imply that this thing is galactic in scale?”
“That’s right,” answered the other, after a moment’s deliberation. “Naturally, I admit that on this basis, the scale of magnitude is fantastic, almost beyond our comprehension. But nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that this alien bombardment is not coming in on a narrow beam that is fastened on to the Canopus. The chances of the ship striking such a beam while in intergalactic space are incredibly small; virtually zero in fact.”
He broke off to allow the full implications of his statement to sink in. No one made any comment. As the silence continued, Klau-Telph turned slightly in his seat and directed the whole of his attention to the endless night of space that strained against the hurtling ship, clutching it tightly in the grip of its mighty coils.
As yet, they were still several thousand light years distant from the outermost condensation arms of the spiral nebula. The nearest stars of the periphery were still so far away that the trillions of diamond points of white brilliance that made up the vast nebula were unresolvable.
Not for an instant did he dare to relax his vigilance against the mental attack. His mind remained crystal clear and alert, but only for so long as he maintained his defensive screen of mental energy that protected it from the alien intelligence.
Facing forward again, he saw that the Commander was busily manipulating the controls of the gigantic forward viewing plate. Occupying as it did, the whole of one curving wall, the scene on it was well within the view of the Curaanian. He leaned forward in his chair.
At first, the image was slightly blurred. There was a vague, overall fuzziness that seemed to defy all of the Commander’s attempts to clear it. Then, abruptly, the twisting haze was gone. The night scene flashed on in brilliant, astounding clarity.
The plate was focused on space at such an angle that the gigantic wheel of the galaxy was fully visible from edge to edge. Also in the field of view, low down in the left-hand corner of the plate, were the twin clusters of the Magellanic Clouds.
But already, these were drifting off the edge of the plate; and would soon have fallen back into the darkness behind them. In between, there was nothing but the never-ending distances of space.
Almost unconsciously, the Curaanian withdrew his normal mind into the background of his thoughts and pushed his second, Telph mind, to the front. That peculiar secondary mind that had no will of its own, but which formed a part of the vast complex of Telph minds scattered throughout the receding galaxy.
For the most part, he kept it deliberately apart from his thoughts, but wherever necessary, it could react with a tremendous power. It possessed no reasoning ability, but its memory capacity was terrific.
That was one thing the Terran psychologists had overlooked when the Curaanian system had been accepted into the Terran Empire. The strange, uncanny linking of minds on the part of his people.
He watched intently as the Commander adjusted the multiple rows of varicoloured controls. There was a vague, elusive suspicion nagging at the back of his Telph mind. He sat quite still, outwardly calm, feeling around with his second mind. Almost immediately, a barrage of thought excitation began to affect his brain.
The pressure was continuous. Faint murmurings of sound, light flashes that spun in front of his eyes, and an emotional turmoil that threatened to overwhelm him. These were the thoughts of every man on board the ship, coupled with the evil whisperings of the night.
In vain he tried to sort them out, to make sense from the jumble of fear-thoughts and half-expressed ideas. In the end, he gave it up and turned his attention to the scene in the control room. A voice he didn’t recognise, drawled: “I’ve been listening to your earlier conversation with great interest, Commander. It seems to me that no one has reached the most obvious conclusion. Namely, that these vibrations are the equivalent of the blanketing of radio waves that surround our own island universe. To my mind, that is the only explanation for a thing such as this, assuming it to be galactic in scale.”
The Commander’s voice came back almost instantly. “It’s certainly worth investigating. Then that’s a job for you, Antrim. Work in close touch with the physics section and get all the information you possibly can. That knowledge may be vitally important in the near future.
“I think we’d better face the fact that we’re dealing with sentient beings. We’ve entered somebody else’s domain and believe me, we may be confronted by an intelligence that is larger and more powerful than Man. If this mental attack gets any worse as we approach M-33, it may become necessary for us to find some way of eliminating it.”
While Anderson had been speaking, Klau-Telph had mentally noted with satisfaction that he had used the speaker’s name. That had been a great help. Antrim, communications chief. Another name and voice to file away in the machine-like memory of his Telph mind.
He settled himself once more in his chair and awaited further events. For a while, nothing happened. The endless pulsing of the atomic engines continued with their even, unhurried note. A constant trickle of glittering-uniformed men moved in and out of the twin doors leading up on to the bridge from the remainder of the ship.
In spite of himself, he felt impressed. It seemed incredible, that in so short a space of time, the science of Earth could have gotten so far ahead; outstripping the combined efforts of an entire galaxy, by the work of several million years. It was slightly awe-inspiring.
To realise that every passing, fleeting second brought them a colossal, inconceivable distance nearer to the vast universe of Andromeda. Here, all around him, one of the biggest, most powerful, and costliest ships ever built by any race was eating up the miles of dark space at a velocity that had virtually no meaning.
For a speeding moment, his mind, his normal mind now, hung poised in tense fascination. Outside, through great transparent dome, there was no outward sign, no indication, of motion. There was blackness, deep and utterly remote—and there was light of a sort. The strange, all-pervading blur of light that sped outwards from the glittering wheel of stars that lay far ahead.
But that was all.
He looked away, frowning. Then he put the incident out of his mind. A sense of inexorable time, urging him to decision seemed to grow strongly within him. He stirred slowly in his seat.
Commander Anderson was still seated in his chair in front of the imposing glitter and array of the instrument board. In spite of its clever design and trim compactness, it was a tremendous, curving structure. Long shining tiers of flashing red and green indicator tubes, buttons, switches, levers and studs were spread out, one above the other with connecting sweeps of steps leading upward from one bank of controls to the next.
The smooth expanse of the forward viewing plate was dark. But whether this was because the power leads had been disconnected or because it was focused on the black spaces between the nebulae, he was unable to decide.
He grew aware that Anderson was speaking again. His voice sounded but there was an undertone of urgency that didn’t escape Klau-Telph’s practised ears. He turned to look more closely at the Commander. He was saying:
“We’ve got to do something about these thought impulses. If we don’t there’s likely to be a——”
He looked up startled as a sudden cry burst from the wall transmitter. The words were slurred and vaguely indistinct. Gradually, they resolved themselves.
“Commander! This is Morton, Second Officer of the watch. I’m speaking from the outer corridor between the Eighth and Ninth levels. Get some men down here—quick! There’s trouble!”
With a convulsive movement, the Commander pulled himself to his feet. The action brought him face to face with the small communicator plate. His fingers fumbled momentarily with the control studs. Finally, he found the one he wanted, and pressed it.
“What the devil’s going on down there?” he demanded harshly. The man’s next words were confused and spilled out into the throbbing murmur of the bridge in a babbling torrent.
“It’s some of the technicians, sir. This alien thought pressure seems to have got inside their minds. They must have gone crazy. It looks to me as though they’re trying to wreck the entire ship. I haven’t got enough men here to control them. We——”
There was silence. A taut, quivering silence that hung on the air like a veiled threat. Within seconds, Klau-Telph was on his feet and across the room to where, the Commander was standing in front of the long instrument panel. Even as he moved, one of the senior officers, standing stiffly to attention at the rear of the control room, snapped a sudden, sharp command.
Immediately, a dozen or so men, piled out through the double doors and headed into the interior of the ship. Klau-Telph could hear the sound of their heavy feet clattering on the steel floors of the corridors outside. Slowly, it died away into silence.
He looked across at Anderson. . .
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