Attack From Within can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



AUGUST. 1956

FANTASTIC UNIVERSE


When one of America's leading financial writers—Burton Crane has been a prominent staff writer for the new YORK times for a good many years—turns to the world of tomorrow in conflict with itself and analyzes its volcanic upheavals and revolts, its inventions and secret conspiracies, you can be sure that the entertainment meter will glow white hot. We're referring, of course, to the registering bulb at its summit which has been known to explode. But the electric bulb of this story is even more remarkable. It simply keeps on glowing, so dazzlingly you may well have to wear a radiation-insulated shield.


Attack From Within

by... Burton Crane

To be a secret agent in a future
torn by strife takes a great deal
of technical know-how — and a
courage that outshines the stars.

WHEN A MAN has been places and done things, an alias fits him about as well as his first pair of diapers. The most unlikely places are swarming with people who remember him.

In a Congo village, in a Tashkent slum, in a raw little settlement on Churchill, the fourth planet of Alpha Centauri, somebody is sure to come crawling out of the woodwork to ask, "When did you get back from Project Atmosphere on Mars?" or "How about that poker game on the old Albert Einstein in twenty-two ninety-five?" It had happened to Corson a dozen times, and always in the most unlikely and inconvenient places.

Now the unlikely place was the lobby of the Space-Carlton Hotel in Kweiyang, China. Corson braced himself as he followed the bellboy in from the helicopter, keenly aware that if he were not letter-perfect in his role as a tourist from Terra's colony on Mars, or if some old acquaintance penetrated his trivial disguises his death would be neither quick nor pleasant.

A week ago his hair had been dark and rather long. Now it was bleached and cut so short that it was little more than a peachdown fuzz against his spaceways tan. Small plastic inserts in his cheeks had changed the contour of his face. Padding stretched along his shoulders gave them a sharper slope.

"I rayed you from Lunar for one of your stinking rooms," said Corson abruptly. "Name of Mandeville." His offensive manner was deliberate. Martian colonists were notoriously boors, and had he been less abrupt he would have gotten off to a very bad start.

The desk clerk smiled and nodded. "Your papers, please."

The carefully-forged documents went into a shining metal device. There was a click. In seconds Kweichow Province gendarmerie headquarters would have facsimiles; in minutes they would be checked by world headquarters in Kokhara. The secret police were efficient in little things.

"If you will wait in the lounge," said the clerk, "I shall call you when the clearance comes through."

The lounge held the usual spaceways throng, mostly well-paid roughnecks, the truck and taxi drivers of the airless ways between the stars. Their women were like them, boldly handsome, brassy, tasteless. Every spaceport in the universe held their facsimiles, and every spaceport was pretty much the same—a money-mad boom town on the edge of a wasteland that could not be further injured by the variegated Bares of atomic exhausts.

Against that over-dressed and over-noisy background, the girl seemed out of place. A little above medium height she was—perhaps six feet four. She had a figure that sang in its close-fitting metallic sheath and she moved like a melody.

Corson watched her as she took a seat opposite him. She was dark —perhaps with a dash of Tonkinese blood—and her perfect features, although warm and vital, were enigmatically non-committal. They betrayed nothing, volunteered no information.

The girl picked up a magazine, and leafed through its pages idly. It was an old technique. Corson had used it himself. The girl was not reading; she was watching.

Corson turned to follow her line of sight. And that was how he happened to see Moore enter the lobby from the door marked "Barber."

Moore had been reported dead. Not for a month had The Committee had word of him, and Corson himself had been sent to Kweiyang to keep his eyes and ears open. Here was a mystery, perhaps, but a welcome one. Moore was a good man. It was unthinkable that he could be alive after three months on so difficult and dangerous an assignment without having learned a good deal.

Moore gave no sign by his manner or expression that he had seen Corson. His fingers fumbled in his pockets, extracted a short Venusian cigar, and lighted it without raising his eyes. But each movement could be performed in ten ways and each way was a number.

Corson read the signals easily. They said: Seven—four—one. Good! The code-conveyed numerals would be the number of Moore's room.

The bellboy had returned. "Your room, sir," he said.

As Corson went to the desk, he was conscious that Moore was cautiously following him at a distance.

"Room two twenty-two," said the desk clerk, "and now, sir, a few questions." There were more than a few. In addition to Name, Language, Planet, Address, Arrived From, Going Where and Probable Length of Stay, they covered such items as Address on January 1, 2311, Names of last Three Employers, Name and Nationality of Paternal Grandfather and Education. The last question had three divisions, Terrestrial, Martian or Extra-Terrestrial.

There were good reasons for the interrogation, Corson knew. Since man had never been able to attain a speed greater than that of light, his colonizing trips to the planets about Alpha Centauri still required more than four years. The leaders from the start had fought againsc the inevitable boredom by making a university of each shipload of a thousand souls, all screened for intelligence.

Great educators had been enlisted, definitive libraries and research laboratories loaded. And since there was nothing much else to do for twelve hours each day—eight were set aside for sleep and four more for sex and other forms of entertainment—nobody arrived at his new home without at least the basic equipment of a Terra-side Ph. D. or Doctor of Science.

The trips back were pure enjoyment. On these the returning professors and a few laymen devoted themselves to basic research. It was on such a voyage back from Roosevelt, the third Alpha Centauri planet, that Krongold had developed the polymerization process that gave Mars and the moon adequate atmospheres in a single century of experimentation.

Although he had made two round trips to Alpha, Corson quickly and cheerfully indicated that his education had been Martian.

Men from the Alpha planets and not a few of those from Terra had enough subtlety to be dangerous. But the Martian colonists were generally neglected by the secret police Their loud noises and occasional outbreaks of mob violence had no real significance and could be handled readily enough by the ordinary law enforcement agencies.

Room 222 was not locked. The bellboy threw open the door and stood aside for Corson to enter first.

"This room hasn't been cleaned yet," said Corson, his lips white. "You'd better give me another."

The bellboy looked past him and grunted a curse. In the middle of the floor lay the dead body of Moore.

II

THIS IS THE first of a series of addresses on human history to which you will be subjected on your voyage to the Planet Eisenhower. I hope my narrative-lecture method does not seem too strange to you. If it does, you will have four years in which to get used to it.

Because of the abominable inadequacies of your education to date, I shall have to fill in a good deal of background, so that you can understand the implications of Frederick Corson's history-making adventure.

The Atomic Wars of the second half of the Twentieth Century all but wiped out the advanced peoples of North America, Europe and Eastern Asia. Not a city of importance was left. Peace brought a hollow victory, for the underdeveloped peoples of Asia, Africa and South America submerged what was left of Western civilization by simple weight of numbers.

Inner Asia, Africa and South America had money and goods, and their factories were still operating. The West had nothing left, and faced utter starvation. Within a few months the new conquerors had bought or stolen every secret of atomic power. Under the leadership of a small and corrupt clique of Chinese—shortly to be replaced by an equally corrupt clique of Indians and Southeastern Russians—they ran the world.

The whole world was a police state. There were uniformed soldiers in every village, secret operatives of the police in every office, every factory. The United States became a country of fear, where no man trusted his next-door neighbor.

But Richard Hobart trusted Corliss Grayson and David Fellows trusted them both. Hobart was a chemist who knew that certain experiments with aniline dyes could make a person temporarily sterile. Grayson was a physicist whose specialty was radiation. Together they tackled the job—this was in the year 1995—of doing with rays what could with more difficulty be done by chemical reaction. To put the matter bluntly, they wanted to invent an electrical illuminating device that would temporarily sterilize anyone exposed to its rays for a reasonable length of time.

In ti...

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