By Irving Cox, Jr.

Greg was sure the kids had no right being
in control of a planet; after all what had they
learned about life? Still, what had he learned?

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
October 1955
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The old ship wheezed and clattered into the landing slot. Greg was an expert pilot, but skill was no substitute for outdated equipment. He unstrapped the safety webbing and eased himself out of the cabin, cluttered with its worn and scarred electronic gadgetry. With the handcrank he opened the airlock. Rusting metal screamed as the panel slid back into the hull. Greg found himself panting from the sudden muscular effort in the heavier atmosphere of the earth.

I'm an old man, he thought bitterly—old at forty; as antiquated as my ship, and as much in need of repair. But no one can do anything for either of us. I gave them the stars, and in twenty years they've forgotten. They've made me a museum piece, these pampered, undersized kids of the new generation.

Greg walked down the ramp. He hadn't been home for seven years, but he was still surprised that no flight inspector met him with the officious clipboard of check-out sheets. The landing fields in the colonies were far more efficiently supervised.

Greg saw a light in the field control building and walked toward it. The field, sprawling for miles across the California desert, was empty, a mocking moment to the magnificent dream the new generation had rejected. Behind him Greg saw the long rows of landing slots, towering metal shafts raised against the night sky. Only four ships rested in the slots, his and three other rusting cargo carriers. In front of the unlighted terminal building the passenger liners stood untended, decaying hulks that would never lift again. Fifteen years ago—even as recently as ten years ago—the California field had hummed with activity. Greg could remember the tide of humanity, the clattering pick-up trucks gliding like curious ants among the freighters, the shotgun blast of lift tubes, the parade of ships trailing flame across the sky.

Now the dream was gone. The terminal windows were filmed with dust. Grass grew in the cracking asphalt of the field.

Greg pushed open the door of the control building. One man sat with his feet propped on a desk. Once the room had required a hundred technicians. Once the traffic-control panel, filling a wall nearly a quarter of a mile long, had been a maze of dancing, colored lights. Now the board was dead; the enamel was peeling; the exposed metal was red with rust.

The attendant took Greg's manifest without interest. "You're our first landing in two years, Captain—" He glanced at the sheet. "Captain Greg. I see you're in from Mars."

"I'm carrying five tons of Redearth." In the old days such a cargo would have cleared three million after transportation costs; a whole new industry had been built on the Martian antibiotical spore.

"No market, I'm afraid, Captain." The attendant flipped the manifest aside.

"Sell it at auction. I have to raise enough cash to—"

"You won't get a buyer."

"I've got to get some new equipment for my ship!"

"You'd have done better in the colonies. Mars has excellent repair facilities, we understand."

"At sky-high prices, sure."

"The earth isn't building flight equipment any more. What's the point? The kids don't want it." The attendant shrugged his shoulders. "You aren't the first one, Captain Greg, who's come home for nothing; and you won't be the last. Check with me tomorrow. I'll see what I can work out."

"If I can't dispose of my cargo—"

"We waive all field charges in cases of destitution. You can dump the Redearth and the kids will stake you to a cargo of iron ore; it's going at triple premium on Venus, we're told."

Greg turned on his heel and walked stiffly out of the building. One bitter word burned in his mind: destitution. It was like a kick in the teeth. He thought, in a fury of blind anger, I gave them the stars and they make me a charity case—this new generation! Children who could never build a colonial bubble or pioneer a star route. Soft-minded and soft-muscled idiots.

The field attendant hadn't even recognized Greg's name.

Suddenly the past was alive again, like an angry nightmare. The speeches and the headlines, the bands and the screaming mobs, the politicians, the scientists, the generals. Handclasps and newsreel pictures. "Just one more, sir, for the TV cameras." ... "A Citation by a joint session of the Congress of the United States, to Captain Victor Greg, U. S. Rocket Forces...." GREG MAKES MARS.... L. A. WELCOMES GREG.... FIRST SPACEMAN IN N. Y. PARADE... "And I say to you, my constituents, the name Greg shall be forever writ large in the hearts of a grateful people." ... GREG LANDS FIRST MARTIAN CARGO.... "For the discovery of Redearth, the eternal gratitude of the medical profession...." GREG TAKES NOBEL PRIZE.... "A small token of the gratitude of American industry...." GREG JOINS IMPORT FIRM.... "The undying gratitude of the United Patriotic Mothers of America...." FIRST COLONISTS ON MARS.... COLONIES ON THE MOONS OF JUPITER.... VENUS BUBBLE COMPLETED....

The dream of yesterday, and the dream was gone. The rocket ports were dead. The machines were crumbling into rust. And Captain Victor Greg?—a destitute tramp, waiting for a handout from a generation of brats which had forgotten him.

He crossed the field toward the clutter of buildings beyond the terminal: Port City, raised in less than a year on the California desert, the first minor miracle of the new frontier. The endless mass of traffic, the noisy honky tonks, the nervous neon shimmering in the night, the brassy bands and the fancy women—all of it was gone. Desert sand had drifted across the streets. The highpoled intersection lights, still burning, cast a blue halo in the empty, dirty windows.

Greg's shoulders sagged as he walked toward the central square of Port City. He had to see the monument again. He had to drain the last bitterness from his homecoming. In the Martian colony they had told him it would be like this. He hadn't believed them. How could a legend be forgotten in a generation?

From a block away he saw the metal statue, turned a sickly blue by the corner street light. The high shaft of a primitive rocket ship, with its nose foregear lifted proudly toward the stars; in the foreground, the towering giant of a spaceman, his legs spread wide to embrace the symbolic sphere of the earth. "Sky Frontier"; the sculptor had named it that.

Greg sat wearily on the granite base of the monument. He could read, all too clearly, the lettering on the plaque, "Commemorating the first solar flight, earth to Mars, made by Captain Victor Greg of the U. S. Rocket Fleet. Launched from this site on the first day of June and completed—"

Greg ground his fists against his eyes, yet still the words danced through his brain. His attitude of dejection was an ironic counter-point to the confident, metal monster rising above him. Twenty years and a new generation made the difference. Yet there was a striking similarity between the statue and the man, for Greg had posed for the original model. Greg was still a powerful, muscular man; his face was still clean cut and unlined. Only the torment in his eyes reflected the dream he had lost.

"But nothing is lost. It is just—different."

Greg looked up. A serious-faced boy of twelve stood close to him, in the shadow of the statue. One of the new children. Greg felt a cold chill crawl up his spine. Fear and loathing: he hated them. They had destroyed his world; they had made him a nonentity. Yet when the boy came closer and Greg saw how frail and small he was, the fear seemed foolish.

"You live around here, kid?" Greg asked. Out in the colonies they said the new children read minds—which really wasn't much, considering their other abilities—but Greg refused to believe it.

"Not minds," the boy corrected him. "We know your feelings—which is probably much the same thing. No, I don't live in Port City. I came from Chicago after you landed; I thought you might need me."

From Chicago!—fifteen hundred miles, the instantaneous transportation of living matter. Greg's mind boggled at the familiar fact; he felt the hate and the fear again. These were not the natural children of men, but monstrosities spawned by an unknown universe and eating out the heart of human culture. Greg stood up, his arms stiff and his fists clenched. "When I need the help of a kid," he growled, "I'll know it's time to cash in my chips."

"It's wrong to think that way, Captain Greg."

"No pint-sized child's going to tell me—"

"I wanted to make things easier for you. You should have stayed in the colonies; it was a mistake to come home."

"Now you're trying to drive us off the earth!"

"We want to save you the discomfort of homecoming. We can't turn back the clock; neither can you."

Greg strode down the deserted street, through the small drifts of sand. He recognized the corner where there used to be a bar. He flung open the door and entered the long, dark room. The stale air smelled of dust and neglect; his boots echoed hollowly on the oak floor. He fumbled for a match and in the pale, yellow light he saw the bottles crowding the shelves.

He snatched a fifth of bourbon and ripped off the cap. He gulped the liquor thirstily and the hot fire burned warm in his veins. After the third drink he felt the strong self-confidence of his manhood again. He leaned his elbow against the bar and glanced toward the street. The sad-eyed kid was out there somewhere, waiting like a nightmare; or maybe he had already done his magic and transported himself back to Chicago.

It didn't matter. The kid wasn't human. Greg took another pull at the bottle and he saw it all very clearly. In the beginning men had speculated about life forms on other worlds. Before Greg's pioneering flight to Mars the Sunday supplements had been filled with a vast number of lurid speculations. Yet the spacemen had found nothing but virgin worlds which became the colonies of man. The truth was—Greg understood it now—they had looked for intelligent life in familiar forms. But there had been something out there, something as undetectable as a virus epidemic—and as deadly. It had invaded the earth and captured the minds of the children.

Greg killed the bottle. By that time he was very impressed with the brilliance of his own reasoning. Small inconsistencies kept nagging at his mind and it seemed strange that no one had ever thought of it before—but all that was of no consequence.

Greg heard footsteps outside. His body tensed. Was it the kid coming back? He would know what Greg was thinking; he would know how close Greg was to the real truth. And the new children—no, invaders; Greg must remember that—would not let him survive. They were puny and undersized. Physically, Greg had no reason to be afraid of them. But how was he to fight an enemy who could instantly disappear and rematerialize thousands—or millions—of miles away?

The shuffling steps came closer. A stooped, white-haired man, wearing soiled and unpressed tweeds, stepped through the door. Greg seized the newcomer's shoulder; the man gave a bleat of animal terror.

"Who the hell are you?" Greg demanded.

"Dr. Vayle—Adrian Vayle."

"The astrophysicist?" Greg remembered the name from the ponderous text he had studied in the flight school.

The old man straightened his shoulders with a semblance of pride. "You know me?"

"What are you doing in Port City?"

"This is where I live. I couldn't stand it in the city any longer and I didn't want to emigrate to the colonies. The children don't object. They bring us supplies. Holly and I are quite comfortable." Dr. Vayle ran his fingers over Greg's uniform. "You're a pilot! I haven't met one in years. Usually the children send them back to the colonies as soon as they land."

"Where do you live, Dr. Vayle?"

"The best hotel in town. I'll show you." He bent closer and whispered, "And I'll let you see what we're working on. But I have to have my nightcap first." Vayle groped in the dark for a bottle. He drank the liquor eagerly, wiping his lips on his sleeve.

Greg and the astrophysicist went outside. Greg looked along the deserted street for the twelve year old, but the boy was nowhere in sight. Perhaps he had returned to Chicago. Yet if he had come to send Greg back to the colonies, would he have given up so easily?

The blue intersection lights swam in a comfortable haze, spinning when Greg looked at them directly. Occasionally the drifts of sand seemed to run like water and Greg became unsure of his footing. He knew he was drunk, but alcohol had never interfered with his reasoning. Back in the bar he had made a tremendous discovery; he mustn't let it slip his mind. The children were alien invaders: that was it. In the morning he would be able to decide what he was to do with the information.

The old man took him to a pseudo-Spanish structure across the main highway from the field. The Biltmore Hacienda, at one time the gaudiest and costliest hotel in Port City. Now the neon signs were out, the streetfront shops were closed, and only a pale light glowed dimly behind the ornate, iron gate.

As he followed Vayle up the three tile steps, Greg looked back toward the field. He saw his ship standing in its landing slot. Someone was working to unload his useless cargo of Redearth. The field attendant was displaying an unusual conscientiousness, Greg thought; he hadn't expected action in less than a week.

Then, abruptly, Greg knew the real significance of such prompt service. It fit with the discovery he had made in the bar. The only trouble was, his mind was too hazy for him to grasp the connection clearly. It would come to him later; he was sure of that.

He followed Vayle through the dusty, thick-carpeted lobby. Vayle slept in a disorderly room adjoining the cavernous hall of the dining room, where the tables were covered with dust and the band instruments lay rusting on the bandstand. The astrophysicist swept a litter of loose manuscript pages from his bed and sat down. He fished a bottle of gin from under the bed and took a long drink.

"For my nerves," he apologized.

Greg saw a score of empty bottles in the debris on the floor. Apparently Vayle had been treating his nerves for a long time. Greg picked up one of the manuscript pages. It was a part of a book. At least the patter of phrases was familiar, but the whole context was incoherent, without beginning or end.

"My new text," Vayle explained. "When it's finished, the kids have promised to publish it. That's why they let me stay here, so I can work in peace." He pulled at the bottle again. "They're still children at heart. An adult can twist them around his finger, if he goes at it properly."

"You mean the book's just a blind?"

The scientist eyed Greg carefully. "You're too old. You can't be one of them." He rolled back the mattress and took out a thin file of paper, holding it tenderly in his hand. "I'm analyzing the cause, sir. I'm going to demonstrate how the children have made us believe they are able to defy the laws of physics. When I publish this, the nightmare will be over."

Vayle handed over the file reluctantly. Greg turned back the cover—and the shock sobered him. Vayle was an established authority; Vayle was an eminent scientist; Vayle was a man Greg had learned to respect. But the book Vayle showed him contained nothing but blank pages.

"You're interested in our project?"

The throaty, silky voice came from the open door. Greg whirled. He saw a tall, thin woman, heavily painted. She was wearing a bangled, scarlet gown, which hung loose from her shoulders. Her beauty had faded long ago; her face was a lined, marble mask; her yellow hair was streaked with gray. Fifteen years ago Greg could have found her counterpart lurking in any Port City honky tonk, her thin hips swaying with the brassy jargon of the music and invitation in her eyes.

"This is Holly Wilson," Vayle said. "My secretary."

Secretary! Greg thought. So that's what they were calling it now. Holly Wilson's profession had gone by many names. The pickings on earth must have become mighty thin, if she were satisfied to saddle herself with a white-haired professor of astrophysics. Greg introduced himself, grinning contemptuously.

"You're just in from the colonies, Captain?" she asked.


"Staying long?"

"That depends. I have a cargo to auction and—"

"The kids will take care of that. But you'll stay through tonight, of course. Let's see if we can find you a room."

Greg thought he knew what she had in mind. But as soon as they were out of earshot of the scientist's bedroom, she said, "Come outside, Captain; I have to talk to you."

They went into the tiled patio of the hotel. The kidney-shaped pool was empty, and its basin was criss-crossed with gaping cracks. Many of the potted shrubs had died untended, but the palms still flourished. The fronds laced skeletal fingers across the face of the full moon. The dry, desert wind washed through the trees, the ghost whisper of the dream that had died in Port City.

"Don't say anything to Dr. Vayle about his book." Holly Wilson's voice was surprisingly sincere. "Play along with him, please; let him go on thinking he's found the great secret."

"What is it—alcoholism or madness?"

"A little of both. No one's really sane any more."

"I came home the last time seven years ago. It wasn't this bad then. What's happened?"

"Most of the adults have emigrated to the colonies. There are only a few derelicts left—like Adrian Vayle and myself."

Nearly sober, Greg remembered the discovery he had stumbled on in the bar, and the logic still held up. "They've taken over the earth and thrown men out."

"The children? You talk as if—"

"Tell me everything about it, from the beginning."

"The kids are different; that's all there is to it. They read minds. They move themselves anywhere they please simply by thinking about it. God knows what else they'll learn to whip up after they get the hang of it."

"Are all the children like this?"

"No. The others emigrated with their parents. Dr. Vayle says there are about five million. That's approximately the total population of the earth, now. They've shoved the rest of us out."

"By force?"

"Who wants to hang around like a pet ape to amuse his own brats? Dr. Vayle was too old to go. I—I couldn't get a medical clearance."

"I don't think the colonies are aware that the emigration was so large."

"Why should they be? We've half a dozen worlds out there. They could absorb us all."

"So the kids have taken over everything."

"What they wanted, yes. For a while we thought it was temporary. Dr. Vayle didn't begin drinking until we knew the change was permanent. The oldest kids are nineteen now. They're beginning to marry, and all their children have the same abilities. Or witchcraft. Call it what you like."

"As old as nineteen? Then the change dates from—"

"From your first flight, Captain Greg. I sometimes look at that damn statue in the square and laugh till it hurts. A brave, new frontier you discovered—but that wasn't all you gave us."

"You believe I'm responsible for—" Greg gestured toward the slow decay in the patio. "For this?"

"Who else, Captain? It's the kids who should build you a monument. You gave them the earth."

For the first time Greg saw the monstrosity hidden by his dream. He had made the pioneer flight; and he had created this new generation. The relationship was plain. If he could unravel it and find the real cause—but he knew that now. An invasion, an invisible virus life that had taken over their minds. How? When he knew that, how could he fight it? How could he turn back the clock and restore the earth to man?

He walked slowly to the end of the patio where he could see the deserted field across the highway. In the slot they were still scooping the Redearth of Mars out of the hull of his ship. He smiled grimly. A decade ago the Redearth had been priceless; that one import alone had made the conquest of space commercially possible. Redearth had built Port City and the colonies; Redearth had created the import companies, once so tremendously profitable.

A light burned for a moment above Greg's ship. Clearly he saw the puny, twelve year old boy and the four other children who were dumping the cargo. It gave him another explosive insight. Greg knew then how the invasion had come from the stars.

The Redearth of Mars; the invisible molds of that unknown world: that was the alien life form no man had recognized. The enemy was tangible. The enemy was real. And such an enemy could be conquered.

Greg's first inclination was to cross the road and smash with his fist the pint-sized weaklings who had stolen his world. Physical conflict: that was something man understood and respected. But the children were not human; he must never allow himself to forget that. They had to be fought on other terms.

First, Greg had to escape the earth without letting them read his mind and measure his hatred. Until he could lift his ship, he had to play along with whatever plans they made for him. The children didn't want him here; escape should be easy—if he could only wall off his thinking.

He turned back toward the faded woman in the scarlet dress. As matter-of-factly as he could, he asked her to show him his room. "I'll probably leave tomorrow; they're doing an efficient job out there."

"The kids don't waste any time. They'll stake you to a cargo of iron ore for Venus; that's the usual procedure." She put her arm through his. "And you promise, Captain: you won't say anything to Dr. Vayle?"

"Why are you so interested in that old fool?"

"We're derelicts. It would be damn lonely without him. He has something to believe in—nonsense, yes; but what difference does that make? Sometimes I can almost believe in it, too."

"Men aren't licked yet."

She laughed. "You noble souls who drop in on us out of space talk so bravely; that's your brand of madness, Captain. Thank your stars you don't have to get to know the kids as well as we do."

She took him to a room on the first floor of the hotel. The air, when he opened the door, was stale. The full moon behind the Venetian blinds made an unpleasant symbolic shadow pattern of prison bars on the carpet. Greg ripped open the zipper of his flight jacket; his chest was wet with sweat. The woman turned to go and he caught her arm, pulling her toward him.

"This much at least hasn't changed," he grinned.

She neither resisted nor responded. She stood looking up into his face. Her eyes were cold and tired. "I have to go back to Adrian, Captain Greg. He's frightened when I leave him alone too long."

"That doddering graybeard—"

"None of the things that used to be so important matter any more. All we have left is our love for each other. Adrian and I have that; I don't want to lose it."

She glided away from him. Angrily Greg jerked up the blinds—to erase the prison symbol—and ground open the windows. The hot desert wind whispered through the screen. Greg stripped off his uniform and lay naked on the bed.

After a time he slept—fitfully, caught in a confusion of fragmentary dreams. The hope of yesterday and the disillusionment of now; his pride as a pioneer; and the pain of his responsibility for what his frontier had created. Out of the chaos a pattern of action slowly emerged. Sometime in the small hours before the dawn Greg made up his mind what he would do.

It would be futile to try to arouse the colonies to attack the earth. Each man in his own soul might admit the truth, but as a culture they would all reject it. They needed to keep the symbol of earth as home, though they might never return to it. Even if that psychological objection could be overcome, war was not the answer. Only if the children were taken completely by surprise—given no time to use their alien abilities—could they be effectively destroyed.

Greg knew how that could be done. A decade before his pioneer flight to Mars, the first artificial satellite had been sent up in an orbit around the earth. A purely military weapon—capable of destroying any objective on the surface of the earth—the satellite had overturned the balance of power and forced the creation of a united world. The resources of a planetary government had made Greg's first flight possible. Afterward, in the excitement of exploiting the new frontier, the satellite had been forgotten.

But it was still there, still armed with a firepower capable of wiping the earth clean of life. It would be the murder of a world—but murder to save human kind. Greg could do it alone. His only problem was to lift his ship without the children knowing what was in his mind. He felt no guilt, no pang of conscience. Once the decision was made, Greg slept easily; and he awoke completely refreshed, with only a slight headache from the liquor he had drunk the night before.

Dr. Vayle and Holly Wilson insisted that Greg breakfast with them in the hotel. He would have preferred to forage for himself. The painted woman's protective, maternal affection for the astrophysicist made Greg acutely uncomfortable. It was not the sort of behavior he would have expected of either of them. Greg's discomfort quickly became a feeling of guilt. If he used the old satellite wheel to destroy the alien children, he would be slaughtering the few human beings who remained on the earth. Discreetly he asked how many others had stayed behind.

"It's hard to say," Vayle told him. "A hundred thousand, perhaps."

"Do you keep up any sort of contact?"

"Why should we? We're outcasts." With a sudden rationality, he added, "We're ashamed. When we're together we feel bound to face the truth. It's impossible for man to admit he's a second-rater. So we hide out in deserted villages like this one—and pretend all this nightmare never happened." Then Vayle slipped back into his delusion again. "However, all that will be different as soon as my research is finished. Why, do you know, Captain—"

"I'm leaving this morning," Greg broke in. "Would you like to go with me?"

Vayle shook his head. "I'm too old to make a new start on your frontier, Captain." He reached for the woman's hand. "And as long as my secretary can't have a clearance—"

"Leave us as we are," Holly said. "Your dream is no better than ours."

After breakfast Greg left the hotel and crossed the highway to the field. It was still early morning, but the desert sun blazed hot in a copper sky. As Greg passed the old terminal building, the twelve year old boy suddenly materialized and fell in step beside him.

This was the thing Greg feared most. He began to walk more rapidly, fighting a rising panic. How could he keep the kid from prying into his mind? Desperately he tried to think of something else—anything, inane or banal. The children were not gods; they couldn't dig deeper than his conscious thought. (Or could they? Greg wasn't sure.)

"We're giving you a cargo for Venus," the boy said conversationally. "It will put you in business again, Captain. The Martian colony is equipped to repair your ship. You'll have enough cash to pay for it, now."

"Fine," Greg grunted. In his mind he was frantically reciting a rhyme his grandmother had taught him ago, "One two, buckle my shoe; three four, open the door...." Reciting it with fervor, like a prayer for survival—which it was.

"After this, Captain, it might be better if you stayed in the colonies. Don't get me wrong. You're welcome on earth anytime you want to come home, but conditions are different here and...."

Suddenly the boy's tone changed. "But you aren't responsible, Captain!"

Greg's muscles tensed. So the boy had probed that deep!

"A new frontier always means change, Captain—but not tragedy; not defeat! We've never supposed any of you would believe that. You gave us a miracle, the greatest frontier men have ever crossed. When all the other pioneers are forgotten, Captain, your name...."

Pretty words, like the pretty speeches Greg had listened to twenty years ago. They wanted to confuse him, make him doubt the decision he had made. "One two, buckle my shoe! Three four, open the door!"

The boy caught Greg's sleeve. "You might as well blame Galileo or Copernicus because they studied the universe. Or go back to the beginning. Blame the unknown who did our first scientific pioneering."

Copernicus and Galileo? What was the kid trying to say? And why would a twelve year old speak so glibly—so knowingly—of the giants? That proved his alienness. When Greg was twelve, the only thing he had thought about seriously was football or baseball or summer vacation or how he was going to get out of the piano lessons his mother imposed on him.

The boy pulled him to a stop. "The first pioneer, Captain: do you blame him for it all? We don't know his name, but we do have his monument. Look, Captain Greg." In the drifting sand the boy sketched the outline of a wheel.

Greg panicked. He was too intent upon keeping his mind impregnable to make any other interpretation. The wheel symbolized the satellite riding above the earth; then the boy knew what Greg was going to do.

Greg swung his fist blindly. He took the boy by surprise. The child had no time to rematerialize at a safe distance. Greg's fist struck his chest and the boy went down, with a cry of agony. Greg felt a subconscious surge of satisfaction; humanity hadn't been defeated after all and the children were by no means invulnerable. Surprise—physical initiative—gave men their trump card over these undernourished mind readers.

Greg sprinted toward his ship. The body lay on the drifting sand gasping for breath, gesturing futilely with his small hand.

Greg's foot was on the ramp when he heard a scream behind him. He looked back toward the road. He saw Dr. Vayle and Holly Wilson running toward him. A mongrel, frothing at the mouth, was yapping at their heels.

Greg reacted with an altogether human instinct. He ripped a metal bar loose from the ramp rail and went back to help them, two fellow humans in trouble. A tiny warning of logic flamed briefly in his mind: this could be a trick; his only real chance of escape was to leave now, while he could. But he ignored it.

He ran across the field and swung the bar at the dog, crushing its skull with one blow. The woman clutched his arm. Her hands were shaking; her face was white with fear.

"What happened?" Greg demanded.

"Adrian and I were clearing the breakfast table. Suddenly the dog was—he was just there, growling at us."

"A mad dog," the astrophysicist added. "The kids did it. They can make any living thing appear anywhere they please."

"A trick!" Greg said. The whisper of logic had been right. He glanced at where the boy had fallen; the child was gone.

"They're trying to make me leave," Vayle complained, "before I finished my research. They know I have the answer to—"

"Now you have no other choice," Greg snapped. He pulled the scientist toward his ship; the woman followed. Greg reasoned that he might still have an outside chance. The children obviously had expected him to take Vayle back to the hotel. That would have given them a chance to disable his ship.

Greg pushed the two through the airlock. His luck still held. He shoved them toward the safety webbing and jerked down the firing toggle. As the ship quivered in the thunder of the power tubes, Greg dialed the satellite course on the pilot computer.

It was the simplest setting he could make. His was an old ship, built when the satellite had still been used as an initial landing station, before the new fuel had made the big wheel obsolete. Every ship had once had an automatic satellite course projection taped in the pilot computer. Without a new setting, the ship would move into the core ramp of the wheel and the lock would open automatically when the magnetic seal was completed.

Greg felt the sudden, crushing weight of gravity. He caught at the safety webbing until the pressure stabilized. From that point—if he remembered his early flights accurately—it would be six minutes before the ship reached the satellite. He had won. Nothing could stop him—nothing.

Then Holly Wilson screamed and Greg saw the twelve year old boy standing beside the flight console.

"It wasn't a virus invasion," the child said, shouting to be heard above the roar of the power tubes. "I didn't know you were thinking that this morning. I could have explained if—"

Greg swung his fist—against an emptiness. The boy rematerialized two feet away.

"Reset your course!" the boy cried. "You understand machines, Captain; we don't. And I can't get enough technical information from your mind to do it for you."

"One two, buckle my shoe!" Greg thought, in an ecstacy of triumph. He had kept that much of his thinking safe. The kids were making one last effort to save themselves—he was sure of that—but it wouldn't work. They had the alien skill to pry into a human mind, but they were helpless against man's machines. Inexorably the computer would drive the ship to the satellite; nothing could stop it.

"Think rationally," the boy pleaded, "not with your emotions. You have only four minutes left, Captain Greg. If the Redearth was a virus invasion as you believe it was, why were only the children affected? We made it an antibiotic; we used it for millions of people; every colonist was innoculated before he emigrated."

He was lying. He had to be lying. He was trying to confuse Greg with side issues. It didn't matter now how the virus had been brought back to the earth. "Three four, open the door; five six, pick up sticks."

"We aren't different, Captain. We've simply crossed your frontier in a different way. We have a theory how it happened, but no proof. The Martian Redearth worked as a sort of mental catalyst when it was used for newly born infants. It awoke the full thought potential of our cerebral cortex. That's all. We have no ability that men haven't always been capable of; if you believe that, you can do it yourself."

Belief!—mystical nonsense. Did the kid really think Greg would buy that? Greg glanced at Adrian Vayle. The scientist's face was gray with horror. Sweat stood in beads on his lips. Holly Wilson clung desperately to his hand.

"I drew a wheel in the sand for you, Captain: another monument to another pioneer, the first primitive who grasped what we might do with a rolling disk. He gave us terror and disaster, yes; but he gave us progress, too. Do we blame him because his heirs sometimes misapplied his discovery? Do we call ourselves alien invaders because we have a more complex technology than his? Then why heap shame on yourself because you gave us a frontier in the stars? It won't end the way you thought it would; nothing ever does. We're your children, Captain; we're your new frontier."

"Aliens!" Greg spat.

"My research was for nothing," Dr. Vayle said numbly. The words were a whisper of agony, the torment of a soul ripped out of the comfortable world of madness.

"Don't say that. You'll finish your work," Holly told him soothingly.

He pushed her away. "Not now. It was pointless."

The boy wrung his hands. "You have only two minutes left. Forget your emotions; put aside your self-pity. It's a luxury you can't afford any longer. Use the brains God gave you, Captain Greg. You can't land on the satellite. You must—"

Greg swung again and again he missed the boy, but he lost his balance and plunged into the pilot computer, smashing the machine. Greg saw what he had done and began to laugh. It was impossible, now, for anyone to change the course setting. The boy's pleading was for nothing.

The twelve year old rematerialized and stood looking at the broken computer. Then shrugged his shoulders calmly. "A minute and a half left, Captain; and now you have no choice." The child sighed, as a parent might have sighed over the prank of a mischievious son.

"You killed the mad dog," he said. "You didn't hesitate about that. I thought him into Port City to give you an object lesson. You missed the point, I'm afraid. You couldn't understand that you were yourself a mad dog yapping at our heels. Potentially, all the older generation threaten us the same way. Your kind of emotional reasoning, in one form or another, will sooner or later infect them all. We encouraged the migration to the colonies in order to prevent a conflict. By administering the Redearth to every adult who left the earth, we thought we might make a few of them realize their mental capacity. Apparently the catalyst works only with an infant, and not always then. In a sense, Captain Greg, your frontier has made us two species—ours, mankind; yours, the rejects; the unfinished men."

Dr. Vayle made a choking sound deep in his throat. His dream was gone; the comfort of his madness had been stripped away from him.

"And if it does come to the point of conflict," the boy went on quietly, "we fully intend to survive."

"Not after I reach the satellite," Greg answered grimly. His voice sounded hollow and uncertain, even to himself. The boy had destroyed the dramatic fiction of a virus invasion. Greg's dream, too, was gone.

"I tried to save you, Captain, but by your own violence you made that impossible. Now you will provide another object lesson. What I have told you is true; every man has our ability. In sixty seconds your ship will reach the old satellite; the airlock will open automatically—only there will be no air in the wheel. This shell rusted open years ago. You face death just as certain as if you leaped into outer space. But you can save yourselves—all three of you—by thinking yourselves back to the earth, or out to one of the colonies. This experiment interests us a great deal. We didn't intend to resort to it quite so soon, but you've given us an ideal opportunity. If you can unshackle your minds now, we have hope for the rest of the rejects. There will be fewer mad dogs for us to dispose of later on."

The boy was gone.

Greg felt the ship slide into the ramp of the satellite. He heard the grapples clang against the hull, and the scream of rusting metal as the airlock began to open. A paralyzing emotional opiate flamed through his mind: this was a dream, nothing more. In a moment he would jerk himself awake and be amused by his terror. But there was something else in his mind, too, a stirring of greatness, a fire of magnificence, a new self he had never known before. He groped blindly toward that pinpoint of light.

From a great distance, like an echo of shattering ice, he heard Adrian Vayle's voice, "The children have mastered the art of hypnotic illusion, but obviously they cannot violate the established physical laws. Our problem is entirely mechanical. I am sure Captain Greg can work out...."

Vayle had found the sublime ignorance of sanity; and that was no solution.

"Kiss me," Holly Wilson whispered. "Nothing else matters, Adrian."

And she had chosen the equally blind sterility of resignation.

Greg knew they were both wrong. He was a realist; a spaceman had to be. The kid had been able to read his thoughts; naturally the kid could put this weird sense of a new self in Greg's mind. It was only a clever, semantic manipulation of words to keep Greg from using the satellite.

He squared his shoulders. The star-point of greatness flickered out in his mind. Greg was a man, a product of a sophisticated and intelligent culture. This undernourished, alien generation wasn't going to confuse him with mystic mumbo jumbo about belief. He knew how to sort out fact from childish magic.

He walked toward the lock, straight and proud with the confidence of man. He was smiling savagely. Mankind was no mad dog, to be crushed into oblivion by a pack of puny children. They might as well learn that now!

And then the airlock screamed open.