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He knew he was faced with overwhelming odds, but he vowed to fight until he fell...

By Raymond F. Jones

Not until the girl he loved became a hunted thing, branded as a freak, did Arthur Zoran declare war on all mankind!

THE EIGHTEEN-MONTH job on Cyprian II was done and Arthur Zoran was coming home. Counting travel time both ways, he had been away from Earth a full two years.

Through his stateroom window he watched the disc of Earth, growing as the liner neared home. He imagined the face of Ardyth framed in that circle like a picture in a locket. He could see her as he remembered her, a piquant, inquisitive face with very wide, brown eyes. Her expression was one of perpetual amazement at the wonder of the common things of Earth. Her hair was deep, golden brown, cut short and pressed close to her head in the fashion of the times—which Arthur did not like.

She'd be waiting there at the pier for him; she'd spot him as he left the port and ran down the gangway. She'd wave and call his name in that breathless voice that could send little chills through him. Then she'd be in his arms again, and everything would be as it was before.

Two years.

Six letters.

He sat at the desk and glanced at those letters, which he had laid out there. He didn't need to look at them any more. He knew them by memory now.

The most recent was six months old—three months to reach him, plus his own three month journey home. None of the letters was the kind a man expects to receive from the woman he is to marry. Only the first one, which arrived on the next ship after he reached Cyprian II, was full of loss at his leaving and anticipation of the time he would return.

The second and third were heavily censored until scarcely a single intelligible line remained. It was a strange and frightening thing, for there had been no censorship when Arthur left Earth, nor any cause for such.

The men of his work crew were equally puzzled and alarmed by their own communications from home, so heavily garbled by the black swabs, but no one had any answers.

Then these final three letters came through complete as if censoring had been abandoned, but Ardyth spoke then as if Arthur had fully understood the earlier ones.

"The eradication of Syns has gotten fully out of hand," she wrote. "Some of us have begun to wonder if the world will ever be the same again. It can't be for those of us who have seen helpless creatures dragged through the streets and killed by crazed mobs.

"We know the Syns are not human, perhaps not even living things in any sense, but that does not excuse the brutality and terror that has swept the cities. No one feels safe or sure these days. His most intimate friends might turn out to be Syns, to be dragged away and slaughtered. People hardly speak to one another any more. Workers go from the laboratories and offices to their homes and lock themselves in with their families and the streets at night are ghostly places were sometimes Syns prowl and kill—"

THERE WAS more—much more, for Ardyth had seemed to be pouring out the terror of her heart in that final letter, but it was all equally meaningless to Arthur Zoran. He had heard rumors of Syns from other sources in this final year. A group of workmen brought in from a job nearer home had carried with them stories of the terror that walked the streets of Earth's cities, particularly midwestern America where the thing seems to have started. They said that the term, Syn, was a corruption of Synthetic Men. But their stories were still second and third hand.

It sickened Arthur to think that this was what he and Ardyth would have surrounding them as they began their lives together. Most of all, it sickened him to think what it might have done to her. Her letters were as if she had forgotten every dream they had dreamed together. Not once—since that first time—had she mentioned the things they had planned, the white house, the great trees like those of Harold and Dorothy Weaver with whom she lived.

He would have brought Ardyth to Cyprian and signed on for another construction period, but even that had become impossible. A total ban against leaving Earth had been in effect for almost a year. Only the carefully screened crews of ships were allowed to leave, and Arthur had not seen any of these until three weeks ago. It was a series of long and unorganized hops from Earth to Cyprian II. Earth liners covered only half the distance. The rest of the way was by increasingly decrepit freighters and tubs of all kinds.

The crew members of the liner he was on were as close mouthed as clams. He had exulted at the first sight of them and let go with all the questions he had bottled up for more than a year. They refused a single answer. His fellow passengers, coming home from scattered points of expatriation, were equally ignorant.

Burning sunlight advanced upon the port that looked into his room, and the automatic shades twisted to block out the invading rays and cast an ochre hue upon the air.

It was a sick dismal color, thought Arthur, the color of death. The color of the world to which he was going if he could believe but half of what he had heard.

He watched his hands resting upon his thighs. They looked like the hands of a mummy in that light. Shrunken and dehydrated by the long, unhealthful stay on Cyprian II, he was partly glad that Ardyth hadn't been permitted to come. He would not have wanted to see her become like himself, for it was the way all Earthmen became under those conditions.

TTHE ANNUNCIATOR chimed and a smooth baritone voice spoke in the room with sudden, gentle persuasion.

"All passengers will please come at once to the main dining salon. Instructions and preparations for landing must begin, and you are to be acquainted with the changes that have taken place upon Earth since you last saw it. This information is vital to everyone. Stewards will make a roll call and account for every passenger, so your cooperation and presence will be appreciated."

In the corridor, Arthur joined the other passengers slowly making their way toward the dining salon. There was little of shipboard gaiety among them. Through the journey their spirits had gradually dampened until a shroud of mutual hostility enfolded each like an invisible coccoon.

Arthur nodded to the few acquaintances he had. There was Ian McCarthy, a heavy, bronzed man of middle age, an explorer whose own ship had foundered many months ago and left him helpless until his accidental discovery. There were a couple of businessmen returning from extensive overseeing of their foreign properties.

These were about the sum of his acquaintances except for a slim figure of a girl who slipped into step beside him. When he became aware of her presence he did not know how long she had been there. She spoke suddenly in a frightened whisper of a voice. "It's about the Syns, isn't it?"

"I suppose so. I've never gone through anything like this before."

Her name was Jan Mercer, and she reminded him greatly of Ardyth with her small trim head of hair so neatly pressed into place. She had spoken to him frequently during the long days past, but he knew nothing of her.

"I wish I had never come back," she whispered.

He found them seats near the front of the room. He could not help noticing the trembling of her hands and lips.

"I had a friend, once, who was a Syn," she offered an explanation.

"Then you know! Tell me what it means—"

She shook her head. "You'll soon learn."

He wondered what kind of terrors this slender, frightened girl had seen. But he knew it was useless to press her for answers.

There was little murmuring among the passengers as they gathered. There were only three hundred of them, which was less than a third the capacity of the ship. The room felt cold although the temperature was adequate. It seemed as if already they were coming into the cloud of fear that hung about the Earth, its deepening mist sucking warmth and humanity out of them.

CAPTAIN TANNER, master of the vessel, rose before the group as the stewards reported the last of the passengers accounted for. He was a tall, gray-haired man whose face was lined not alone with age and responsibility of his profession but with a heavy regret as if he had somehow betrayed that profession by bringing them all back to Earth.

His voice was too low to be heard by those in the rear of the group, but all he said was. "Your response is appreciated, ladies and gentlemen. I present Captain Fairchild of Central Security, who has a message for you."

The CS man seemed the only one in the whole room who was sure of himself. He approached the speaker's point with the'assurance of a military commander who knows that he, personally, does not have to meet the enemy. His florid face was grim and his voice ponderous.

"All of you here," he said, "have been away from Earth for more than a year. Since you have been away, few of you have learned more than rumors of the tragic events that have occurred in your absence. You have probably heard the term, Syn, in these rumors. Let me tell you what Syn means.

"Almost two years ago there came to one of our mental hospitals a patient with the fantastic story that he was not a human being but an artificial production that had been turned out in one of the chemical research plants under Borg-K type logic-engine control. Routine analysis showed that this was not part of his insanity, but it was incredibly true. The punched molecules of his brain showed a variation and alteration that could not have come about in any known growth process. Electroencephalographs proved this. Their structure was analyzed thoroughly on the great Borg-K machine of the Allied Control Company. This confirmed the unbelievable story."

Arthur Zoran was startled as if a stranger had suddenly called his own name. Allied was the company for which he worked. The great Borg-K machine, which they called Eddie, was one he had helped build, at least in its expansions. And it was the logicengine laboratory that he had supervised before leaving for Cyprian II.

"Not only did the logic engine show this man's story to be true," continued Fairchild, "it also revealed that many hundreds of thousands of these creatures of the same kind had been produced and turned loose among humanity. We learned how to identify them by an encephalogram analysis determined with the help of Allied's logic engine.

"The only thing we did not learnand have not yet learned—is where these creatures are being produced. We know the how because we have actually duplicated the process with the aid of information provided by the logic engine. The creatures were given the name of Synthetic Men, and from this came Syn."

The room was hushed as if some alien thing had come into their midst and might have assumed the form of the person sitting next to each passenger. Arthur glanced at Jan Mercer. Her face was white and immobile.

"Each of you can guess in your own minds what this has meant on Earth," said the CS officer. "These Syns have been moving steadily into human society, taking their places among men. Some have appeared as old men and women, others as young people, some as children. In ten thousand devious ways they have taken up life among us, even going to the extent.of marrying human beings. And because of the destruction of population records during the War, it has not been suspected until now that these were not bona fide members of society. Ninety percent of the present population is without known filial relationships.

"The obvious and avowed purpose of the Syns is to replace humanity with what they consider a higher form of life. So far, they have given no evidence of intent to conquer by open warfare. But, like weeds growing in a garden, they hope to take over the entire garden for themselves.

"In every city of Earth we have set up inspection centers. Once a month the entire population is tested by electroencephalograph. Before you leave this ship each of you will be given such a test. In spite of the ban on travel from Earth, we pick up some Syns returning to Earth, having left before the ban.

"The human race will not be safe until these creatures are wiped out, until we destroy the reproduction centers from which they come. Our own technical organization is so complex that we have not been able to shut it down long enough or search deeply enough to find this source.

"It is a bitter world to which you are returning, and I offer no apology for it. The facilities of the entire world are concerned with the one task of destroying the Syns. If something of human dignity is being lost in the process—as you will find is the case—it is a small and temporary loss in order to wipe out this evil in our midst.

"If any one doubts the urgency of this, consider for the moment: The man sitting next to you—the man or woman to whom you are married—any of these may be a Synthetic Man intent upon replacing and destroying you."

THE CS MAN sat down, and Captain Tanner stood again to give instructions in his tired voice for the testing of each passenger before landing.

Arthur Zoran scarcely heard this. He was still trying to digest the things that Fairchild had spoken. Arthur knew logic engines and factory controllers. That one of these should get out of kilter and start making artificial human beings was beyond his comprehension.

But the CS man believed it and, apparently, so did the rest of the world. There must be some additional truth somewhere that was as fantastic as this explanation which he could scarcely force himself to accept.

The passengers rose and moved from the room. Each glanced more coldly and more fearfully at his neighbor than before as they made their way towards the privacy and security of the lonely cells.

Jan immediately lost herself in the crowd without a word to Arthur. He went alone to the solitary stateroom prison. There, he sat down on the bed and stared out at Earth's green disc. In the half million years since human forms of life appeared upon it, there had been spawned numberless and nameless kinds of horror. His parents and Ardyth's had known the War, and their grandparents likewise. But he wondered if any previous frightfulness had matched this one.

In that single moment as the group of passengers rose to leave the dining salon he felt a breath of hate exuding from each to all the rest. Past terrors had aligned men against men in mighty, evenly numbered divisions—but this put every man against every other.

He knew too well the vast potentialities of the controlling machines and logic engines, which he had helped build, to refuse acceptance of the story on the grounds of impossibility. Thousands of times the automatically controlled vats in the great chemical research centers duplicated the primal conditions of Earth's seas when sentient life first spawned in them. But for that vast process to be duplicated, a billion years of evolution compressed into months: there was the fantasy of it. In that, he could scarcely believe.

But yet he had to believe. The rumors of Syns, and the story of the CS men would not turn out now to be dreams. The Syns existed. He put away his doubts and incredulity, and with full acceptance of this thing there came that terrible fear: what had it done to Ardyth?

He spent the next hours with preliminary packing, and when he was barely through he heard his name called for the encephalograph test. There were a dozen or so in line ahead of him. Jan Mercer was near the head of it, but she did not look back. A dull, uniform fear was in the faces of each man and woman present. It was a personal thing, as if each in his own heart were no longer sure of his own identity.

After the test, Arthur returned to his stateroom. Timed by the Earth zone in which they would land, he spent a night period of restlessness. Other passengers appeared to have done likewise, for they were on the promenade deck when he went out in the morning, their eyes drab with the failure of sleep.

He saw Jan coming down the deck, and they headed for the same spot by the rail. She smiled now, and it made him remember the laughter of Ardyth. She looked more refreshed than at any time before, as if she had reached the low of her depression and had already begun the upward climb.

"It will be good to be home again," she said. "I should never had tried to run away, but I couldn't stand it after they took Jim...away. He was my husband—a Syn."

Arthur wished that she had prepared him for that. He wished for some preliminary remark before the sudden unveiling of that naked insight into the desolation that lay below them. It caught his breath and made his lungs ache in a moment of inexpressible pity.

Her eye lashes were wet now, and he saw that despite the smile they had scarcely dried since she last cried.

"What—happened—?" he murmured.

"What happens to all of them? Killed—slaughtered like some animal. They were wrong. Jim was human and real. I tell you there's something terribly wrong down there on Earth. They haven't found the answer yet. I don't know about the rest of the Syns, but I know my Jim was real—!"

Arthur put his arm about her shoulders to control the sudden trembling that again possessed her. His hand encountered another touch that he instinctively judged as brutal. He looked around. Captain Fairchild and another CS man were standing behind, reaching for Jan.

"We want to see you, Mrs. Mercer. Will you please come to your cabin at once?"

The girl turned. At the sight of the men she screamed once. Other passengers gathered quickly, comprehending the significance of the CS men. They closed about with predatory expectancy that relieved for the moment the pressure upon their own minds.

Arthur felt suddenly sick and yearned to smash the nearest of those animal faces, but Fairchild's assistant was pushing them back with impatient snarls.

"Please come," repeated Fairchild, jerking at Jan's arm.

She held back and turned again to Arthur. "I told you," she murmured, and now her face seemed lighted with a great expectancy and relief.

"I told you they were wrong and hadn't found the answer—but this is my answer! This is why nothing seemed right after Jim was taken. He's been waiting for me. He knew I'd soon be coming!"


THERE WERE none of the gay crowds at the dock. It was like a landing at a ghost city of Mars, where only scattered handsful of men skulked between half abandoned buildings in nameless pursuits.

At the edge of the field, no more than a mile away, were the skeletal ru*ns of Old Town, the city destroyed by the War, its scars not yet erased by fne new generation.

Baggage handlers moved reluctantly up to the ships. There were tiny knots of people huddled by the pillars under the roof of the pier watching anxiously as the passengers streamed from the ship through three separate ports.

At each pier gate three CS men stood in ominous guardianship. They examined the card that each passenger had to present, showing he had passed the test aboard ship, proving his humanity.

As if he might be an enemy of his own country Arthur received grim permission to pass.

"Don't lose that card, buddy," one gumd said. "It's as much as your life is worth to be without one."

This ominous warning was scarcely heard, lost in the urgency with which his eyes searched the dock for Ardyth. She would be there to welcome him. But she was not a part of the tiny knot of people beside the nearest column. He ran the whole length of the pier. Within minutes, he knew that she was not present on the almost barren landing area.

Through the doors of the port building he went out to the street. At midday this looked half deserted, and its desolation was all the greater for Ardyth's absence.

She worked in a laboratory. He knew the idiosyncrasies of lab directors. Maybe she had been refused leave. But she would be off in a couple of hours. He would go to Harold and Dorothy Weaver's house, where Ardyth lived.

Because she had no family of her own, Ardyth Crane boarded with the Weavers in their own home. Arthur took a waiting cab and was soon riding through the familiar streets.

On every side was the same persistent lifelessness. It had the look of a city built for a million and inhabited by a thousand or two.

"Looks pretty bad, huh?" The driver was watching his face.

"You'd think some disease had wiped out half the population and sickened the rest," said Arthur.

"Yeah, I never seen anybody get off a ship yet that didn't wish he could get right back on and go to where he came from. If they didn't have the ban on, I'd have gone long ago and so would most everybody else."

He pulled up in front of the Weavers' and let Arthur out.

THE WEAVERS had the kind of place that Arthur and Ardyth had dreamed of owning for themselves. There was a wide, rambling white house set in big grounds surrounded by trees. On the grass beside the house he saw now the figure of Sally, the five-year-old Weaver, but, no—she had been five. She would be seven now, he thought. He wondered if she would remember.

"Hi, Sally," he called.

The child looked up with a sudden frightened glance, and then, screaming, she ran to the rear of the house. Arthur went up to the front door and knocked. He could hear the commotion of Sally's sobbing cries inside, and then footsteps approaching the door.

"Hello, Dorothy. I'm sorry I gave Sally such a fright. She couldn't have recognized me after I've been on Cyprian for so long."


It was not an exclamation of welcome. His smile faded as he tried to understand what was in Dorothy Weaver's voice as she spoke his name. Then he had it. Dismay.

She was a heavy, auburn-haired woman who had always had a ready laugh upon her lips, but she had changed in a kind of horrible way. She had lost much weight and her flesh seemed to have sagged without shrinking. Her face looked as if she had not smiled for a very long time.

"Arthur—" she repeated as if in a kind of daze. "I had almost forgotten—Wait just a moment and I'll call Harold."

Carefully she closed the door, leaving him standing outside. The spring wind in the trees felt suddenly cold.

If the Syn hunt had done this to gay Dorothy, what might it have done to his serious, wondering, little Ardyth? He felt a quick panic as if he had to see her that very instant. He almost turned to flee down the walk and find Ardyth where she worked, but the door opened suddenly and Harold Weaver stepped out.

"Hello, Arthur. I'm glad you're back," he said. But in his eyes there was no welcome. "You'll have to excuse Dorothy. We just weren't looking for you, that's all. We can't let you stay more than a minute, but come in and sit down for that long, anyway."

"Yeah—yeah, sure." Arthur picked up his bag and followed Harold into the house. Harold was a thin, bony man of intense energies, but that energy seemed to have been drained out of him. Of friendship there was none; yet once they had been very close.

"I'm sorry about Sally," said Arthur as they sat upon a sofa. "I didn't think I'd scare her even if I had been away so long."

"It's not that." Harold passed a hand over his forehead in a helpless gesture. "It's just all of this—We've told her not to speak to anyone—made her afraid to. The sight of a stranger terrifies her since—"

Suddenly he looked up with helpless terror in his eyes. He glanced from Arthur to the doorway leading to the rear of the house. Dorothy was coming in, the trembling Sally beside her.

"Dorothy—" Harold gasped. "Arthur doesn't—can't know—"

Then Arthur heard his own voice rising in fear. "What is it? Ardythhas anything happened to her?"

Dorothy spoke flatly as if beyond all shock, all fear. "She's a Syn, didn't you know?"

IT WAS NOT the face of Ardyth whose image exploded in his mind. Rather, that of slim, terrified Jan Mercer when the CS men took her by the arm and she had cried. "I told you they were wrong and hadn't found the answer—"

They had taken her away to be destroyed like an animal marauder. "Ardyth—" His voice broke with panic. "They killed her—"

"No," said Dorothy. "She got away. When they think they're about to be discovered lots of the Syns escape. They're clever."

"But you don't believe she was a Syn!" he cried. "No...

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