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Stirring science STORIES FEBRUARY, 1941

Dan Lothar fell into the seal of Neptune and found himself in the midst of interstellar war.

CITADEL OF THOUGHT

by James Blish

(Author of "Bequest of the Angel," "Emergency Refueling," etc.)

CHAPTER I

WHEN Dan Lothar's shattered Ganymedian dropped into the ammoniac mists of Neptune, turning slowly and trailing a wraith-like, ephemeral fan of incandescent gaB, there was nothing to show the watching police cruiser that death was not waiting to enfold it below. The cruiser's job, after all, was done; the Ganymedian was crumpled, seared, riddled, and falling out of control to a bleak and uninhabited planet; the cruiser's young captain, who still required his men to call him "sir," was justly proud of himself.

That he did not take into account Lothar's phenomenal resourcefulness was perhaps wrong; yet he had beaten the interplanetary outlaw in a fair duel between ships, and more experienced men than the young commander had been satisfied with less. Withal he should have known that no police cruiser could have beaten the wasp-like Ganymedian unless there was something wrong inside; he should have remembered the shrewd mind behind Lothar's dark eyes, and the ability of that mind to take full advantage of chance. But the police cruiser went back toward the sun, and if a spaceship can strut, it did so.

For there had been much amiss within the Ganymedian when it blundered so carelessly into range of the cruiser's fire. Nothing was wrong with the ship itself—Lothar was too careful of it and too much in love with its sleek, deadly beauty, mothering it constantly with oily hands. No, it was the hand at the boards that was out of control. Dan Lothar was sick.

Any other man would have been dead. His lungs were burning unendingly with the corrosive purple mists of lo; his eyelids rasped over dry balls that saw everything as if at a great distance through a milky film. The bronzed skin was sallow, the cheeks sunken, the black hair singed; and from a razor-edged slash across the right shoulder unclotting blood oozed constantly. Every movement was a dull agony, pierced through as if by a white-hot sword from the shoulder-wound. His fingers refused to obey, moving in clammy independence at each impulse from the fighting brain; the dials on the board conveyed no meaning. Never-ending flight was Dan Lothar's chosen life, and again it had led him across deadly alien worlds before it gave him brief rest. Since he had left the Earth ten years ago, stifled by routine and toy sophistication. nearly every planet in the system had felt his flying feet and reached for him with a million deadly hands;, now it seemed that Jupiter's poisonous moon would claim him as a proxy conquest.

He managed to get into his spacesuit and fight the Ganymedian, driving the quivering, wasted body as if it did not belong to him. That was his way, the terrible drive of his brain which would never let him rest; but even against the will of Dan Lothar, who had thrown himself deliberately against five worlds out of sheer disgust, nature took its wonted toll....

And so it was that the tiny planet-plane. mangled beyond recognition, plunged into the dry, cold atmosphere of Neptune, and a slumped spacesuited figure sat strapped in its metal seat, head rolling grotesquely... and before it a jury-rigged rocket tube, such as the spacelanes had not seen since geotrons were invented in 1987, coughed, popped, hissed....

CHAPTER II

STRANGE disconnected images swept through his brain as he forced himself to consciousness. At first they were long-forgotten scenes on Earth— dinner-suits and tall candies—a humming cyclotron—a bright, silent peal of laughter from a brown-framed face. The face moved nostalgically above brighter waving fields of grain; the waves persisted, now green and white-ridged water, while the face faded. For long ages he saw nothing but rolling water, moaning and sighing through his head.

Then at last the sea-waves merged into a single harsh green glow; the glow centered in a single tube-light directly above his head. He winced and closed his eyes; red spots floated persistently before them in protest. He remembered his battered body and gritted his teeth in anticipation as he turned his head away from the glare; but there was no answering stab of pain. Tentatively he moved his arm; it came up to his shoulder freely, in complete control, without any abnormal sensation. His wasted muscles no longer ached; the fire had been drawn out of his lungs. He took an appreciative breath, noticing the faint musty odor with relish, and opened his eyes again. Once more he had cheated the ebony gates, borrowed another short period of life.

The room in which he lay convinced him that it was not a very long respite. It was unfurnished, prison-bare stone, bleak in the light of mercury-vapor. The Plutonian mines! It was too cold to be Venus; the light was not calculated for human eyes. Photocells were more sensitive in such illumination, and the mine guards were robots, for no free man would take such a job. Probably the cruiser had followed him down, vulture-like, and finding him still alive, had remembered the larger reward for the living criminal, brought him here. He did not ...

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