A HALF hour after the big rubber hands of the telemanipulator yanked Phil out of his cubicle in the black maria, he had been exposed to so many sets of security checks that he guessed there were only two places in America he could be headed for: the Heptagon or White House, Junior, in New Washington.
Moved along by telemanipulators which did not seem to care which side up they carried people, he had been prodded, thumped, scanned, sampled, and subjected to other indignities. His footprints, retinal blood vessel layout and other physical patterns and dimensions had been taken, presumably for checking against his FBL dossier; likewise his voice pattern and hand writing. He had been X-rayed and magnetically tested for bombs that might be surgeried inside him. His breath and blood had been checked for BW germs and viruses. He had been thoroughly geigered. Lights had been flashed in his eyes, questions had droned in his ears. Once or twice he thought he'd been put to sleep. All throughout the process he'd felt a miserable and futile indignation.
But now, as a final rubber hand sliding in a slot in the wall hurried him down a corridor and deposited him at the entrance to a large room, he suddenly realized that he didn't care any more. In fact, he began to feel calm.
And then he was being conducted to a seat by a human usher at last. He looked around. Almost everyone he'd been mixed up with in the past few days was here: Jack and Juno Jones, looking quite awestruck, along with Cookie; Moe Brimstine with his incongruous red hair; Mitzie Romadka and her father, pale and woozy; Sacheverell and Mary Akeley; Dr. Garnett and Chancellor Frobisher from the Humberford Foundation; Dion and Dytie da Silva, the latter with a cloak huddled around her; even Carstairs, Llewellyn and Buck. Along with them were quantities of unfamiliar faces-FBL people, Phil supposed. Others, presumably guards, lined the walls.
Most of these individuals were watching three men who were seated like judges behind a large desk across the room: Dr. Morton Opperly, President Robert T. Barnes, and a stony faced man whom Phil recognized as John Emmet, head of the FBL.
Emmet looked as thin as Opperly, but infinitely tougher. Like Opperly's his face showed an intense and ceaseless curiosity, but a curiosity that never became carefree, as if each new fact was for him a new responsibility.
At the moment, Emmet was speaking to Dave Greeley, who was supervising two white-smocked technicians as they telemanipulated Lucky, who was limp as a dish cloth, into a low walled box set between banks of electronic tubes and transistors. Apparently Greeley had voiced a doubt as to the safety of the set up, for Emmet was telling Greeley that the research division guaranteed that the low intensity stunfield in which Lucky had now been placed would keep the green cat harmless.
But Phil heard only the tail end of the conversation as he was being seated between Dr. Garnett and Sacheverell. The next moment the room got very quiet. Emmet looked them all over.
Finally Emmet said, "I think you all know why you're here. I want the fullest cooperation from everyone. Within the walls of security now surrounding us, complete frankness is possible. I, myself, shall be as frank as I expect you to be."
Emmet paused, then leaned forward a little. "To begin with, the creature known as the green cat is real. Its powers of influencing thought and emotion are also real. It truly intends the conquest of America and of the entire world. Finally, it is neither mutant nor mechanism, but an invader from the planetary system of another star. Dr. Opperty, will you kindly outline the information you have obtained from the being masquerading as Miss Aphrodite da Silva?"
Dr. Opperly's voice was faint but very clear.
"The eighth planet of the Star Vega-that is, if Miss da Silva and I have got our identifications straight-is earth-type though of somewhat greater mass. Its landscape, Miss da Silva tells me, can be pictured as endless, hard baked plains dotted with small lakes and marshes, and groves of tall trees. On this planet, intelligence evolved in a swift hoofed biped leaf eater, whose forelegs became specialized as organs for manipulating branches and for brief food seeking climbs. This specialization occurred when the creature was a primitive equine, so that while its hind legs were developing very horselike hoofs, its forelegs were becoming startlingly humanoid hands. The result was a being remarkably similar to the satyrs and fauns of Greek mythology. Miss da Silva, would you care to give these people an idea?"
Dytie stood up, whipped off her cloak, and stood facing them in hirsute nudity. For a moment there was no reaction, then she stamped her hoofs twice and her figure became real. She wrapped the cloak around her and sat down.
"Miss da Silva tells me that clothing is not customary on Vega Eight," Opperly observed. "They have also advanced farther than we in technology, possessing force fields that divert gravity, also direct atomic drive spaceships capable of approaching the speed of light. But perhaps the most remarkable fact about this satyr race is that they are symbiotes, and that their symbiotic partners are a sort of creature that never evolved on Earth and that has a way of life with which we are quite unfamiliar. For the moment, I will say nothing about these symbiotic partners, except that they have no technology, did not originate on Vega Eight, and that they are not very intelligent, but are responsible for the Vegan invasion of Earth."
Opperly ignored the murmurs greeting these paradoxical statements. "Under the urging of their symbiotic partners, the satyrs-if I may use that term-sent a spaceship to Earth. I gather that the 26 light years were covered in something like 35, though of course the time was much less to the voyagers. Approaching Earth, they put their ship into an orbit and rendered it invisible. For about two more years they stayed in the ship, except for careful exploratory trips in a gravity-diverting space dinghy, They monitored our radio and TV broadcasts, learned something of our languages and customs. The satyrs realized that it would be possible to disguise themselves as earthlings and eagerly did so, since they knew it would be highly desirable for them to keep in close contact with their rather scatter-brained symbiotic partners when the invasion began.
"And now," Opperly said slowly, "I come to the point where I must describe the symbiotic partners and I'm not too sure that I can. Don't you think, Miss da Silva -?" But Dytie shook her head emphatically. Opperly shut his eyes for a moment, then he said, "You know how the presence of a pet can occasionally bring harmony into a home. Or sometimes it's a child. Well, imagine an animal that, at some nudge in the evolutionary helter-skelter, began to specialize for this purpose, and to evolve into a harmony bringer. Think how the cat has established itself in our culture, largely on the basis of its charm, and imagine how much more successful it would be if it could bring us not only beauty but harmony and peace. Imagine such a creature gradually evolving the power to create and spray hormones that would dispel anger and create amity in other creatures, somewhat like the flowers which evolved scents and odors to attract the bees. And think of it developing, for self-defensive purposes, hormones to create terror. Imagine it acquiring extrasensory perception and a sensitivity to thought waves, and discovering in this way a whole new realm of possibilities for bringing harmony and creating peace. Imagine it becoming what might be called an espcatalyst, either by acting as an esp relay station amplifying and redirecting thought waves, or by receiving, copying and projecting clouds of punched memory molecules. Imagine it surviving and multiplying because it is paid for the peace and emotional rapport it brings, as the cat is paid for its beauty, in the coin of food, fondling and protection.
"Such a creature wouldn't develop general intelligence, because it would always depend for its survival on the care of others. Yet it would have a high intelligence in understanding and manipulating moods and feelings in other animals. It would..."
He hesitated and Dytie da Silva called to him, "... play by ear?"
"Thank you," Opperly told her. "It would always be transmitter, not originator
. But although lacking general intelligence, it would always seek out beings with the highest possible general intelligence, since they could bring it the greatest security. It would be cunning in all deceptions enabling it to penetrate a new culture, such as the imitation of similar appearing animals for camouflage purposes. Like any other species, it would strive to multiply and colonize, to fulfill its destiny in the cosmos. By means of its extrasensory powers, it would spy out intelligence in distant places, even distant planets, and persuade its symbiotic partners to take it to those places and planets."
He paused. "And now I ask all of you," he said, "to try to imagine what it would be like to be the symbiotic partners of such a harmony bringing creature, to have a telepathy of feelings and perhaps of thoughts with those around you, to have a constant guard against those moments of blind rage and icy selfishness that lead to murder and to war, to be always reasonably in tune-and yet not deprived of any of your basic faculties and insights and powers?"
Again he paused, then said softly, "But I don't have to ask you, for you're in that state of being right now. You're symbiotes of the green cat-or rather, I should say, one of the green cats."
As he said that, a head rather more golden yellow than Lucky's poked itself up from Emmet's lap and looked at them all. And Phil realized that the feeling that had possessed him ever since he had come into this room was the radiance of one of Lucky's cousins. And then he felt Lucky's radiance added to it, and looking around toward the electronic contraption, he saw Lucky lifting his head over the edge.
Meanwhile, John Emmet was saying, "I told you that the green cat-or rather, cats-intended the conquest of America. I wanted you to hear a little more of the background before adding that, as far as the Federal Bureau of Loyalty and the Office of the President are concerned, the conquest has been completed." And John Emmet smiled.
"Also," he added, "judging from the messages we've just received from their newsmoon, along with some extraordinary tokens of faith, the Kremlin has also capitulated to the Vegan invasion."
"Is good?" Dytie shouted, jumping up. "You know just four satyrs, ten pussycats come in ship. We send seven pussycats, two satyrs behind ferrous veil-mean iron curtain. We think they need pussycats just a little bit more you do."
And with that the whole solemn meeting melted into a tumbling flood of questions and answers, shouted insights, babbling conversation. Catching a bit here and there, Phil learned how the second and yellower green cat, out of touch with Dion and Dytie for a week, had unexpectedly returned to its Vegan mistress after visiting a large number of most ecstatic church services, and how Opperly had smuggled that cat in to Barnes and so to Emmet. He heard Dytie explain how the cats were tricky at feigning unconsciousness after recovering from being stunned, and why they insisted on eating in private on Earth-they were imitating ordinary cats and knew that their hormone spraying mouths, necessarily extended in eating, would give them away. He heard Dion try to picture to Dr. Garnett how the cats on Vega Eight had taken to pointing their muzzles toward the star that was the Sun and wailing at it at night, and Dr. Garnett proudly suggested that they must have been esping the brain waves beamed out by the Humberford Foundation. Whereupon Dion tried to explain how Vega Eight had once been a war-tom planet, until a race of what sounded like intelligent space traveling worms had brought them the green cats.
But while Phil was drinking in all this information and exchanging words with this person and that, he was moving through the churning crowd in a very definite direction and with a very definite purpose. Yet during his progress he continued to overhear scraps of discourse.
He heard Sacheverell Akeley explaining to Chancellor Frobisher that the green cats were probably all offspring of Bast anyway and that the ancient Egyptians-or perhaps Atlanteans-probably had had spaceships and had taken the green cats to Vega in the first place.
He heard Cookie gently twitting Mary Akeley about falling for a satyr and she happily assuring him that she went for men with hoofs, and in any case was going to make a doll of him.
He heard Jack pointing out to Dr. Romadka that now that they had the green cats, there wasn't going to be too much use for psychoanalysts or for thought police and commissars, and Romadka was reminding him that most of the commodities peddled by Fun Incorporated, including male-female wrestling, wouldn't have much of a market either.
He heard Carstairs, Llewellyn and Buck talking about organizing a chivalric order that was to be called the Knights of the Green Cat.
He heard Juno Jones telling Moe Brimstine how ever since her farm childhood she'd always liked animals better than humans and was very glad that an animal was going to help her change her mind-and where was that little rat Jack? Moe Brimstine explained to her in reply that he'd spent so much time getting the jump on people that he'd never learned to understand them-while poor old Hans Billig had jumped around so fast he'd never noticed people at all.
He heard John Emmet and Dave Greeley talking green cat logistics-how would they ever manage to blanket the whole world with the creatures?
He heard Morton Opperly and Dr. Garnett talking something way over his head about esp-nexuses and thought lines and which galaxy did the cats come from in the first place?
He took Mitzie Romadka's slim tired hand and assured her that he loved her and that he thought that violence and jealousy and even revengefulness were admirable up to a point.
But he never lost sight of his chief purpose. As he approached the low walled box from which Lucky was still peering calmly, President Barnes left off assuring Mary Akeley that the directive for the destruction of all cats had already been cancelled, and came over to Phil and threw his arm around his shoulders in a fatherly way and said, "Hi, young fellow, I hear how you were pretty close to this cat for a couple of days. Sorry I'm going to have to be taking him off your hands."
Phil straightened up. "You're not," he said, "Lucky is my cat."
"Well, see here, young fellow," Barnes protested amiably, "I'm the president, so I have to have one of these cats. Emmet has one already and the Humberford Foundation really needs one, and there are only three in the country. You heard the young lady from Vega say it."
Several people and the two satyrs wandered up, attracted by the argument.
"I don't care," Phil said, greatly encouraged by the tightness with which Mitzie's hand gripped his. "I know that this is a cosmic crisis and all that, but this is my cat and I fed it and I'm going to keep it. C'mere, Lucky."
Lucky jumped out of the box into his arms.
"I guess that proves it," Phil said.
Barnes looked at him just a bit indignantly and there were all sorts of murmured comments, but just then they heard a tiny and varied mewing. It came from the box from which Lucky had sprung.
They looked in and saw five tiny duplicates of Lucky nosing their little conical faces upward.
Dytie said, "They small, but they just much good big pussycat, just much helpful."
Barnes said, spreading himself around, "Why, now there'll be one for the Army, the Navy, Dr. Opperly, myself, that goon back east who thinks he's going to be the next president..."
"Now Bobbie," Opperly suggested, "don't go giving away more kittens than you've got."
"... and, I was about to say," Barnes finished calmly, "one for this young fellow here."
Phil looked down at Lucky cradled in his arms. "So you're a she after all," he said.
"Oh no!" Dytie burst out excitedly, half out of her cloak and half in it. "You no un'erstand Vega. On Vega sex different. On Vega it's like..." and she screwed up her face, seeking for the word.
"Kangaroos," Opperly interposed.
"Yes!" Dytie exclaimed triumphantly. "Only this difference: wife carry babies while, then babies go in father's pouch, he carry rest time. Everybody help. Later on, babies leave pouch, nurse from mother. Take off pants, Dion, show pouch."
But Dion refused rather indignantly.
"Vega men much modest," Dytie observed to Phil. "Anyway, Lucky is he."