INSIDE, the Humberford Foundation was a gloomy Edwardian mansion to which had been sketchily grafted a pleasantly disorganized scientific enterprise. Glassed shelves of leatherbound books that hadn't been opened for decades were elbowed by trim microfilm files. Blackened portraits of John Junius Humberford and his ancestors looked down on machines for shuffling the eternal Rhine cards and on fluorescent screens-in-depth that blended a dozen recordings of a brain wave made from different angles into the shadowy semblance of a human thought. Stately drawing rooms that set one thinking of bustles and teacups instead held solemn faced, scantily clad girls with electrodes attached to twenty parts of their bodies. Laboratory technicians in loose smocks caught their heels in stair carpets a hundred years old.
But today there was an excitement that pushed the Edwardian half of the place far into the background and brightened the very grime on the walls. Chancellor Frobisher and his little train of visitors were not even noticed. Girls triumphantly calling Rhine cards stared past them unseeingly. Clairvoyants sketching objects being imagined by someone else three floors away didn't look up from their blackboards. A technician darted out with a large syringe and took air samples under their very noses without seeming to be aware of their presence. Correlating engines hummed and spat cards.
Phil was so busy peering about for his green cat that he heard little of what Frobisher was telling them.
Occasional high pitched explanatory phrases floated back to Phil: "... her 117,318thrun through the cards... telepathic communion with lower animals... perhaps some day share the thoughts of an amoeba... No, I really don't know where Dr. Garnett is, I'm busy with important visitors, Miss Ames... telekinesis will make handies obsolete..."
Plodding behind da Silva up the stairs to the top floor, Phil started to listen to Frobisher consecutively. The Chancellor of Philosophy was saying, "Now in the room I'm about to show you, an experiment incomplete telepathy is underway. When telepathy is perfected, it will be possible for two individuals to lay their minds side by side and compare all their thoughts and feelings in the raw, as it were."
"Is good!" da Silva interjected.
Frobisher frowned at the interruption before remembering it was a journalist talking. He went on smilingly, "In this case, however, we have only a preliminary stage: two individuals, by means of prolonged speech, writing, sketching, musical expression and so forth, are attempting to share their inmost thoughts to such an extent that they will tend to become telepathic, as seems to be the case with some husbands and wives." As they came to the top of the stairs, Frobisher continued a bit breathlessly, "Incidentally, the young man in this experiment is one of our most consistent espers, while the young lady is a handie bit player who graciously devotes her leisure time to science."
He paused with his hand on an ancient brass doorknob.
"Let's not disturb them, Hugo," Opperly suggested a bit faintly, leaning against the wall though he showed no other effects of the climb. "Sounds like rather an intimate experiment."
Frobisher shook his head, "As I say," he pronounced, "these two researchists are seeking to lay their minds side by side."
He opened the door, looked in, gasped, and hastily slammed it-though not before da Silva, peering over his shoulder, had emitted an appreciative and rather whinnying chortle.
"As I say, theirminds, " Frobisher repeated, walking away from the door a bit unevenly. "Perhaps you're right, Dr. Opperly, we'd best not disturb them. Research is at times a strenuous affair." He looked apprehensively at the purported representative ofLa Prensa. "I trust, Senor da Silva -"
"Is very good!" da Silva assured him enthusiastically.
Frobisher looked at him blankly, shook himself a bit and said briskly, "It now remains, gentlemen, to give you a glimpse of our crowning project-the one on the roof. If you'll just precede me up this circular staircase..."
"I think I'll stay here, Hugo," Opperly told him. "Touring research can be strenuous too."
"But I rather imagine Dr. Garnett must be on the roof."
"Then bring him down."
As Phil trudged up the musty cylinder lit by tiny bull's-eye windows, his feet clanking on worn metal treads, it occurred to him that Lucky certainly seemed to have been having a field day here, bringing people together in understanding and love and what not. In fact, it made him rather jealous the way Lucky was strewing his favors around.
From behind Chancellor Frobisher's fussy voice filtered up. "I should preface this ascent by saying that one of J. J. Humberford's chief motives in establishing the Foundation was the conviction that mankind will soon destroy itself unless some superior power intervenes. So we feel bound to apply what little knowledge of esping we have gained to seeking such intervention. Even if there is only one chance in a million of contacting a superior power somewhere in the universe, the stakes are so great that we must not overlook the chance. Incidentally, gentlemen, please watch out for the next to the last step. There isn't any."
Phil, who was just putting his foot on it, caught himself, took a bigger step, and the next moment was out on the roof. The sodium mirror that orbited around earth was pouring sunlight down, though hardly enough to explain the dark glasses Frobisher handed him and da Silva.
Phil briefly studied the verdigris underside of the saucer topping most of the roof. He noted the flimsy looking beams supporting it and frowningly inspected the tiny penthouse under its center. Then Frobisher was urging him and da Silva up a ladder that led to a small platform next to the rim of the saucer.
Reaching the platform, Phil instantly realized the need for the dark glasses. The interior of the saucer was polished to such a degree that even the sodium-reflected sunlight flashed from it with a pale brown blindingness. He clamped his eyes shut and quickly put on the black specs.
"As you are aware," Frobisher was saying, "the exact nature of thought waves is unknown. It may be that they move instantaneously, or at least at speeds far greater than that of light. We have yet to get a figure on them, although we have carefully timed thought-casts between here and Montevideo-but the human or physiological factor confounds us. They may not be waves at all. On the other hand it is possible that they are reflected and refracted like ordinary light."
"Is right," interjected da Silva, a vague blur beside Phil, who hadn't yet got over the first blinding glimpse of the saucer's interior.
"You believe so?" Frobisher questioned sharply.
La Prensa 'sfaun-like representative shrugged his muscular shoulders. "Just guessing," he said.
"At any rate," Frobisher continued, "we are working on that latter supposition here. This copper structure is a parabolic mirror. Thought waves originating at its focus are concentrated into a beam which is directed upward into the sky toward any stellar planetary systems which may happen to lie above."
"Amazing," da Silva grunted. "Explains everything."
"What do you mean?" Frobisher asked sharply.
"Just humble before wonders of science," da Silva told him.
Frobisher nodded. "You're right," he said. "Who knows but what the message now being beamed, with its appeal for help from a war-threatened and deluded humanity, may some day or century be received by a truly mature and benign race, which will swiftly come to our aid? By the by, Mr. Gish, watch that railing. It's broken."
Phil jerked his hand away from the rusted pipe. "Yes," he said to Frobisher, "but how do these thought waves originate at the focus?"
"Just look," Frobisher told him. Phil squintingly studied the gleaming saucer through his dark glasses and it became less of a jumble of highlights. Projecting from a hole in the center of the bowl was a brownish-red blob wearing goggles that looked as if they were made of a darker glass than his own specs. The blob's lips moved and Phil heard a hauntingly familiar voice saying, of all things, "S-O-S, earth. S-O-S, earth."
"Our star esper," Frobisher chortled, "if you'll pardon a pun of which we're rather fond. To be sure, it's thought waves, not sound waves, he's originating, but it helps him esp if he says the message at the same time he thinks of it. He's a bit of an eccentric-a religious scholar-but that's the case with most of our best people."
At that moment Phil's vision, buffered by the dark glasses, became quite clear and he saw that the sweating head at the focus of the parabolic mirror was that of Sacheverell Akeley. At the same moment Sacheverell saw Phil and his sunburned top disappeared from the saucer as swiftly as a hand puppet jerked below stage.
"He shouldn't do that," Frobisher said sharply. "There's at least twenty minutes of his duty remaining. Well, I presume you've seen all you'll need for your articles, gentlemen, so we'd best go down."
As Phil's foot touched the roof, Sacheverell Akeley darted up to him, sweat pouring off his ruddy-bronze forehead.
"What are you doing here?" Phil asked sharply. "How did you get away from them-Romadka's friends, I mean."
"They raced off a couple of hours after Romadka left," Sacheverell answered quickly. "Got a phone call. Incidentally, Romadka abducted three of our cats. As for me, I've worked here for ages. The important point is," he continued in an intense whisper, "thathe's here, isn't he? I mean the Green One. I've never esped like this before, even at stars."
But before Phil could answer, Frobisher and da Silva glanced at them inquisitively. Phil and Sacheverell followed them down the metal staircase.
Reaching the top floor they found Opperly deep in conversation with a man who looked at least half out of this world. He was fat and had a beard, but his dull eyes seemed to be seeing twice as much as he was looking at. Sacheverell tugged at Phil's sleeve guardedly. "Garnett's frightfully espy," he whispered, his lips next to Phil's ear.
"But Winnie, how do you explain it?" Opperly was saying. "Why all this success with esping, in practically all your projects, all of a sudden?"
Garnett frowned. "Well, there is one unusual circumstance. Our lab technicians claim to have found hormones, or some sort of specialized protein molecules floating around in the air
"What hormones?" Opperly asked quickly.
"Well," Garnett said, "they have had some difficulty identifying them." He hesitated. "The hormones seem to show a tremendous variability-almost chameleon-like."
Opperly smiled and threw Phil a twinkling gaze.
"Winnie, do you by any chance know," Opperly said, "whether an odd animal of some sort appeared at the Foundation early this morning?"
Phil felt Sacheverell's hand tighten on his biceps.
Dr. Garnett looked around puzzledly. Then his eyebrows shot up. "Yes," he said, "Ginny Ames found a green cat, a fashion mutant, I suppose, wailing at the door early this morning. We don't have much food here, but she tried it on some elderberry preserves and apparently it liked it. I believe the creature's still around."
"Winnie, don't you get any bulletins from Security?" Opperly asked incredulously "Or from the FBL?"
Garnett shook his big head. "Not for the past ten years. Esp's so unpopular that even the government's forgot us."
"I see," Opperly said, his eyes glittering with interest. "In that case you haven't read anything about a mutant creature described as a green cat, that's believed to have super-human parapsychological powers and to have caused officials to go over to Russia and do all sorts of other things described as crazy? The public hasn't been told, but all the higher echelons-scientists, doctors, psychiatrists-have been getting bulletins on the subject, demanding that they report anything they know or have heard about a green cat. Even I've been told a little."
"Can you beat it," Garnett said disgustedly, "something involving esp and they consult everyone but us." Then he turned to Opperly like a man waking up. "Do you mean to suggest that this creature is responsible for the esp results we've been getting?"
Opperly nodded. "I do."
"But how, why?"
Opperly shrugged happily. "I don't know. I've merely been making some of those farfetched guesses I've warned my young journalist friends about." And he smiled at Phil and da Silva.
"Guesses!" Garnett said. "Well, we'll soon find out." And he started past them toward the front end of the hall, his big feet stirring dust from the ancient carpet. "We'll have a look at this animal and see what we think about it. Miss Ames -!" he started to call, and then suddenly his face went half out of this world again and he stopped in midstride. "She thinks the same," he said softly and so astonishedly that even Phil knew he must be esping. "She agrees with you, Op." The big face seemed to go a little further out of the world. "In fact, they all do. Practically everybody at the Foundation." The big face seemed to go out almost all the way, while the voice sank to a faint murmur. "In fact, you're right."
The door opened at the front end of the hall and a long nosed young lady in a lab smock stepped out and nodded gently at Garnett. Her brow smoothed and her eyes half closed, as if she were esping something to him, then she seemed to notice that there were visitors around. "Would you care to see this green animal with your outer eyes?" she asked.
"We sure would, Ginny," Garnett told her and started forward again. Phil wanted to burst out with all his information about Lucky, but da Silva forestalled him.
"Gentlemen," he said. "Think you understand better I supposed. Sorry underrate you. Best to tell you now -"
At that moment Lucky ambled out of the door from which Ginny had emerged. He strode lazily, like a self-confident green god. The long nosed girl closed the door behind him. Phil felt his spirits splurge suddenly, happily, familiarly.
Akeley squeezed Phil's upper arm. "It ishe!"
And almost at the same moment, a voice commanded from behind them, "Break to either side, everybody."
Phil obeyed the command and so did all the others.
Dave Greeley was standing at the head of the stairs. The representative of the FBL was looking both knowledgeable and competent, though even more gray haired and anxious than last night.
He nodded quickly at Opperly, said, "Pardon me, doctor," then leveled his stun-gun between the ranks of men crowding the wail and punched the trigger. But his nerves couldn't have been as good as Phil thought they were, for instead of the green cat collapsing, Miss Ames pitched over on her face, gasping wonderingly, "My leg-I can't feel it!"
Greeley grimaced and re-directed his stun-gun, as the dust mushroomed up from the carpet around Miss Ames. But at the same moment Phil felt the golden wave billowing out from Lucky. Greeley 's face turned red and his fingers stiffly uncurled from the gun, as if invisible hands were prying them away, and it dropped to the floor.
At that moment another voice behind them, languorous and scornful, said, "Stay where you are, gentlemen. It would be dangerous to move your hands."
Dora Pannes stood at the head of the stairs. The violet blonde was simply dressed in a gray frock, while a large handbag swung carelessly from her shoulder, but she looked rather more beautiful than last night. In her slender hand was a great big ortho.
Phil didn't feet at all frightened, although a vague memory nagged momentarily at his mind. He knew she couldn't hurt anyone while Lucky was there. He was more interested in the reactions of the others.
But with one exception there weren't any reactions.
The exception was da Silva. He was staring at Dora Pannes with a hungry adoration.
Meanwhile the violet blonde was walking forward in a most business-like way. She didn't even glance at da Silva. As she passed Greeley, her free hand snatched sidewise like a lizard's tongue for the stun-gun, snatched again at a larger one inside his coat, dropped them both in her handbag, and kept going straight for the cat.
Now she'll begin to feel it, Phil told himself.
But she kept straight on. Lucky seemed to be studying her casually. Abruptly he sprang back onto the window sill, his green fur rose, his muzzle lengthened, and from it came a prolonged, spitting hiss.
The next moment Phil felt such a formless terror as he had never known before, as if all reality were about to be crunched in a single fist, as if the blackness between the stars were lashing down to strangle him. Dimly across the hall, he saw the waves of white wash along the ranked faces. He gazed fearfully at Lucky, as if the green cat had turned into a devil, and saw Dora Pannes coolly stooping to grab him. The cat started to streak past her, but Dora's hands were faster. Then the cat sprang straight at her face, claws raking, but Dora calmly detached him and shoved him in her handbag and shut it and started back. She looked quite as beautiful and composed as she had at the stair head. The blood hadn't started to flow from the scratches in her face.
As she passed da Silva, he looked up at her groggily. In his expression there was still the ghost of desire.
"You jerk," she said to him and walked on and went down the stairs.
Phil felt his heart hammering ten, eleven, twelve times, like a clock striking, and then he was racing downstairs and someone was pounding along after him.
He caromed off the open front door and stumbled down the steps in time to see a dark car roar off. Greeley was beside him now, barking orders into a pocket radio. From the other end of the street, another car shot in. Red plumes shot forward from under its hood as it rocket-braked to a heaving stop. Greeley piled into the back seat. Phil scrambled in after him.
"You can still see them," Greeley yelled at the driver. "Take all chances. Rockets!" Then he turned to Phil.
"Who are you?"
"Phil Gish of the U.S. Newsmoon," Phil replied recklessly, but the last word was lost in the rocket's roar.
The other car had been about five blocks away when they had taken off. As Phil untwisted himself with difficulty from the huddle into which acceleration had thrown him, he saw that its lead had been reduced to almost one block.
"Douse the jets," Greeley ordered. "We can curb them on our regulars; but watch out they don't shift. They may have rockets. Where do you stand in Project Kitty, Gish?"
"Sort of special observer," Phil improvised gaspingly, still hanging on with both hands. "My section has decided the green cat may not be dangerous."
"What?" Greeley demanded, peering ahead.
"Didn't you feel it up there?" Phil asked.
"Feel what?" Greeley said, his eyes measuring the lessening distance between the two cars. "You mean the horror?"
"No," Phil said. "Peace. Understanding -"
But just then the car ahead of them slowed a bit and something green flashed out of it, roiled over half a dozen times, and darted toward an alley.
"Brakes!" Greeley yelled and Phil almost tumbled into the lap of the man beside the driver as the forward rockets jetted and the back of the car lifted and slammed down. Then he realized he was the only one left in the car and scrambled out.
"The alley's blind; there's no way for it to get out," Greeley was calling. "Advance abreast. Gish, back us up!"
"Don't hurt him," Phil warned.
"We know enough for that!" Greeley yelled back.
By this time Phil was behind them, and saw the green cat crouching defiantly in the narrow alley's blind end, some twenty feet away from the advancing men.
The distance lessened to ten, and then the green cat darted forward, dodged this way, that, and dove between Greeley and the man on his right, straight into Phil's outstretched hands.
"Lucky!" Phil said blissfully, lifting the cat closer.
Five claws raked his chin painfully, while fifteen others dug into his hands.
He looked at the little face. Except for its color, it was a most ordinary, though spittingly furious cat face. In fact, it was a most ordinary cat.
And he could smell the dye.
"Here," he said calmly and handed the animal to Greeley.
"Lucky?" Greeley yelled as the claws sank into his hands. "It's a dye-job, or I'll eat it! They had it all ready and threw it out to misdirect us. Come on! Here, take it, Simms, we've got to keep it to be on the safe side."
And presumably a third man's hands got clawed as they sprinted to the car.
But Phil was not with them. He hadn't the heart. As the rockets roared again, he simply stood halfway down the alley, scratched and weary.