They were vermiform, a pleaiing light and blue in color
Нou would hardly pick Hanley to play hero — to say nothing of saving our Earth from alien invasion — yet Al Hanley, hero or no, did just exactly that!
There was this Hanley, Al Hanley, and you wouldn’t have thought to look at him that he was ever going to amount to much. And if you’d known his life history, up to the time the Darians came you’d never have guessed how thankful you’re going to be — once you’ve read this story—for Al Hanley.
At the time it happened Hanley was drunk. Not that that was anything unusual — he’d been drunk a long time, and it was his ambition to stay that way although it had reached the stage of being a tough job. He had run out of money, then out of friends to borrow from. He had worked his way down his list of acquaintances to the point where he considered himself lucky to average two bits a head on them.
He had reached the sad stage of having to walk miles to see someone he knew slightly so he could try to borrow a buck or a quarter. The long walk would wear off the effects of the last drink — well, not completely but somewhat — so he was in the predicament of Alice when she was with the Red Queen and had to do all the running she could possibly do just to stay in the same place.
And panhandling strangers was out because the cops had been clamping down on it and if Hanley tried that he’d end up spending a drinkless night in Hie hoosegow, which would be very bad indeed. He was at the stage now where twelve hours without a drink would give him the bull horrors, which are to’the D. T.’s as a cyclone is to a zephyr.
D. T.’s are merely hallucinations. If you’re smart you know they’re not there. Sometimes they’re even companionship if you care for that sort of thing. But the bull horrors are the bull horrors. It takes more drinking than most people can manage.to get them and they can come only when a man who’s been drunk for longer than he can remember is suddenly and completely deprived of drink for an extended period, as when he is in jail, say.
The mere thought of them had Hanley shaking. Shaking specifically the hand of an old friend, a bosom companion whom he had seen only a few times in his life and then under not-too-favorable circumstances. The old friend’s name was Kid Eggleston and he was a big but battered ex-pug who had more recently been bouncer in a saloon, where Hanley had met him naturally.
But you needn’t concentrate on remembering either his name or his history because he isn’t going to last very long as far as this story is concerned.
In fact, in exactly one and one-half minutes he is going to scream arid then faint and we shall hear no more of him.
But in passing let me mention that if Kid Eggleston hadn’t screamed and fainted you might not be here now, reading this. You might be strip-mining glanic ore under a green sun at the far edge of the galaxy. You wouldn’t like that at all so remember that it was Hanley who saved—and is still saving-you from it. Don’t be too hard on him. If Three and Nine had taken the Kid things would be very different.
Three and Nine were from the planet Dar, which is the second (and only habitable) planet of the aforementioned green star at the far edge of the galaxy.
Three and Nine were not, of course, their full names. Darians’ names are numbers and Thr^ee’s full name or number was 389,057,792,869,223. Or, at least, that would be its translation into the decimal system.
I’m sure you’ll forgive me for calling him Three as well as for calling his companion Nine and for having them so address each other. They themselves would not forgive me. One Darian always addresses another by his full’ number and any abbreviation is not only discourteous but insulting. However Darians live much longer than we. They can afford the time and I can’t.
At the moment when Hanley was shaking the Kid’s hand Three and Nine were still about a mile away in an upward direction. They, weren’t in an airplane or even in a space-ship (and definitely not in a flying saucer. Sure I know what flying saucers are but ask me,about them some other time. Right now I want to stick to the Darians). They were in a space-time cube.
I suppose I’ll have to explain that. The Darians had discovered — as we may someday discover — that Einstein was right. Matter cannot travel faster than the speed of light without turning into energy. And you wouldn’t want to turn into energy, would you? Neither did the Darians when they started their explorations throughout the galaxy.
So they worked it out that one can travel in effect-faster than the speed of light if one travels through time simultaneously. Through the time-space continuum, that is, rather than through space itself. Their trip from Dar covered a distance of 163,000 light years.
But since they simultanepuslyi traveled back into the past 1,630 centuries the elapsed time to them had been zero for the journey. On their return they had traveled 1,630 centuries into the future and arrived at their starting point in the space-time continuum. You see what I mean, I hope.
Anyway there was this cube, invisible to terrestrials, a mile over Philadelphia (and don’t ask me why they picked Philadelphia — I don’t know why anyone would pick Philadelphia for anything). It had been poised there for four days while Three and Nine had picked up and studied radio broadcasts until they were able to speak and understand the prevailing language.
Not, of course, anything at all about our civilization, such as it is, and our customs, such as they are. Can you imagine trying to picture the life of inhabitants of Earth by listening to a mixture of giveaway contests, soap
operas, Charlie McCarthy and the Lone Ranger?
Not that they really cared what our civilization was as long as it wasn’t highly enough developed to be any threat to them – and they were pretty sure of that by the end of four days. You can’t blame them for getting that impression and anyway it was right.
“Shall we descend?” Three asked Nine.
“Yes,” Nine said to Three. Three curled himself around the controls.
“… sure and I saw you fight,” Hanley was saying. “And you were good. Kid. You must’ve had a bad manager or you’d have hit the top. You had the stuff. How about having a drink with me around the corner?”
“On you or on me, Hanley?”
“Well, at the moment I am a little broke. Kid. But I need a drink. For old times’ sake.”
“You need a drink like I need a hole in my head. You’re drunk now and you’d better sober up before you get the D. T.’s.”
“Got ’em now,” Hanley said. “Think nothing of ’em. Look, there they are coming up behind you.”
Illogically, Kid Eggleston turned and looked. He screamed and fainted. Three and Nine were approaching. Beyond them was the shadowy outline of a monstrous cube twenty feet to a side. The way it was there and yet wasn’t was a bit frightening. That must have been what scared the Kid.
There wasn’t anything frightening about Three and Nine. They were vermiform, about fifteen feet long (if stretched out) and about a foot thick in the middle, tapering at both ends. They were a pleasing light blue in color and had no visible sense organs so you couldn’t tell which end was which — and it didn’t really matter because both ends were exactly alike anyway.
And, although they were coming toward Hanley aind the now recumbent Kid, there wasn’t even a fi-ont end or a back end. They were in the normal coiled position and floating.
“Hi, boys,” Hanley said. “You scared my friend, blast you. And he’d have bought me a drink after he lectured me, for awhile. So you owe me one.”
“Reaction illogical,” Three said to Nine. “So was that of the other specimen. Shall we take both?”
“No. The other one, although larger, is obviously a weakling. And one specimen will be sufficient. Come.”
Hanley took a step backwards. “If you’re going to buy me a drink, okay. Otherwise I want to’know, where?”
“You mean we’re going from here to Dar? Lissen, Massah, Ah ain’t gwine noplace ‘tall ‘thout you-all buy me a drink.”
“Do you understand him?” Nine asked Three. Three wriggled an end negatively. “Shall we take him by force?”
“No need if he’ll come voluntarily. Will you enter the cube voluntarily, creature?”
“Is there a drink in it?”
“Yes. Enter, please.”
Hanley walked to the cube and entered it. Not that he believed it was really there, of course, but what did he have to lose? And when you had the D. T.’s it was best to humor them. The cube was solid, not at all ainorphous or even transparent from the inside. Three coiled around the controls and delicately manipulated delicate mechanisms with both ends.
“We are inlntraspace,” he told Nine.
“I suggest we remain here until we have studied this specimen further and can give a report on whether he is suitable for our purposes.”
“Hey, boys, how about that drink?” Hanley was getting worried. His hands were-beginning to shake and spiders were crawling up and down the length of his spine on the inside.
“He seems to be suffering,” Nine said. “Perhaps from hunger or thirst. What do these creatures drink? Hydrogen peroxide as we do?”
“Most of the surface of their planet seems to be covered with water in which sodium chloride is present. Shall we synthesize some?”
Hanley yelled, “No! Not even water without salt. I want a drink! Whiskey!”
“Shall I analyze his rnetabolism?” Three asked. “With the intrafluoroscope I can do it in a second.” He unwound himself from the controls and went to a strange machine. Lights flashed. Three said, “How strange. His metabolism depends on C2H5OH.”
“Yes, alcohol — at least, basically. With a certain dilution of H2O and. without the sodium chloride present in their seas, as well as exceedingly minor quantities of other ingredient^, it seems to be all that he has consumied for at least an extended period. There is .234% present in his blood stream and in his brain. His.entire metabolism seems to be based on it.”
“Boys,” Hanley begged. “I’m dying for a drink. How’s about laying off thie double-talk and giving me one.”
“Wait, please,” Nine said. “I shall make you what you require. Let me use the verniers on that intrafluoroscope and add the psychometer.” More lights flashed and Nine went into the corner of the cube which was a laboratory. Things happened there and he came back in less than a minute. He carried a beaker containing slightly less than two quarts of clear amber fluid. Hanley sniffed it, then sipped it. He sighed.
“I’m dead,”, he said. “This is usquebaugh, the nectar of the gods. There isn’t any such drink as this.” He drank deeply and it didn’t even burn his throat.
“What is it. Nine?” Three asked.
“A quite complex formula, fitted to his exact needs. It is fifty per-cent alcohol, forty-five per-cent water. The remaining ingredients, however, are considerable in number; they include every vitamin and mineral his system requires, in proper proportion and all tasteless. Then other ingredients in, minute quantities toimprove the taste — by his standards. It would taste horrible to us, even if we could drink either alcohol or water.”
Hanley sighed and drank deeply. He swayed a little. He looked at Three and grinned. “Now I know you aren’t there,” he said.
“What does he mean?” Nine asked Three.
“His thought processes seem completely illogical. I doubt if his species would make suitable slaves. But we’ll make sure, of course. What is your name, creature?”
“What’s in a name, pal?” Hanley asked. “Call me anything. You guys are my bes’ frien’s. You can take me anywhere and jus’ lemme know when we get Dar.”
He drank deeply and lay down on the floor. Strange sounds came from him but neither Three nor Nine could identify them as words. They sounded like “Zzzzzz, glup—Zzzzzz, glup—Zzzzzz, glup.” They tried to prod him awake and failed.
They observed him and made what tests they could. It wasn’t until hours, later that he awoke. He sat up and stared at them. He said, “I don’t believe it. You aren’t here. For Gossake, give me a drink quick.”
They gave him the beaker again — Nine had replenished it and it was full. Hanley drank. He closed his eyes in bliss. He said, “Don’t wake me.”
“But you are awake.”
“Then don’t put me to sleep. Jus’ figured what this is. Ambrosia — stuff the gods drink.”
“Who are the gods?”
“There aren’t any. But this is what they drink. On Olympus.”
Three said, “Thought processes completely illogical.”
Hanley lifted the beaker. He said, “Here is here and Dar is Dar and never the twain shall meet. Here’s to the twain.” He drank.
Three asked, “What is a twain?”
Hanley gave it thought. He said, “A twain is something that wuns on twacks, and you wide on it from here to Dar.”
“What do you know about Dar?”
“Dar ain’t no such things as you are. But here’s to you, boys.” He drank again.
“Too stupid to be trained for anything except simple physical labor,” Three said. “But if he has sufficient stamina for that we can still recommend a raid in force upon this planet. There are probably three or four billion inhabitants. And we can use unskilled laborthree or four billion would help us considerbly.”
“Hooray!”, said Hanley.
“He does not seem to coordinate well,” Three said thoughtfully. “But perhaps his physical strength is considerable. Creature, what shall we call you ?”
“Call me Al, boys.” Hanley was getting to his feet.
“Is that your name or your species? In either case is it the full designation?”
Hanley leaned against the wall. He considered. “Species,” he said. “Stands for — let’s make it Latin.” He made it Latin.
“We wish to test your stamina. Run back and forth from one side of this cube to the other until you become fatigued. Here, I will hold that beaker of your food.”
He took the beaker put of Hanley’s hands, Hanley grabbed for it.- “One more drink. One more li’l drink. Then I’ll run for you. I’ll run for President.”
“Perhaps he needs it,” Three said. “Give it to him. Nine.”
It might be his last for awhile so Hanley took a long one. Then he waved cheerily at the four Darians who seemed to be looking at him. He said, “See you at the races, boys. All of you. An’ bet on me. Win, place an’ show. ‘Nother li’l drink first?”
He had another little drink — really a short one this time — less than two ounces.
“Enough,” Three said. “Now run.”
Hanley took two steps and fell flat on his face. He rolled over on his back and lay there, a blissful smile on his face.
“Incredible!” Three said. “Perhaps he is attempting to fool us. Check him, Nine.”
Nine checked. “Incredible!” he said.
“Indeed incredible after so little exertion but he is completely unconscious — unconscious to the degree of being insensible to pain. And he is not faking. His type is completely useless to Dar. Set the controls and we shall report back. And take him, according to our subsidiary orders, as a specimen for the zoological gardens. He’ll be worth-having there. Physically he is the strangest specimen we have discovered on any of sevieral million planets.”
Three, wrapped himself around the controls and used both ends to manipulate mechanisms. A hundred and sixty-three thousand light years and 1630 centuries passed, cancelling each other out so completely and perfectly that neither time nor distance seemed to have been traversed.
In the capitai city of Dar, which rules thousands of useful planets, and has visited millions, of useless ones — like Earth — Al Hanley occupies a large glass cage in a pliace of honor, as a truly amazing specimen.
There is a pool in the middle of it, from which he drinks often and in which he has been known to bathe. It is filled with a constantly flowing supply of a beverage that is delicious beyond all deliciousness, that is to the best whiskey of Earth as the best whiskey of Earth is to bathtub gin made in a dirty bathtub. Moreover it is fortified — tastelessly — with every vitamin and mineral his metabolism requires.
It causes no hangovers or other unpleasant consequences. It is a drink as delightful to Hanley as the amazing conformation of Hanley is delightful to the frequenters of the zoo, who stare at him in bewilderment and then read the sign on his cage, which leads off in what looks to be Latin with the designation of his species as Al told it to. Three and Nine:
Lives on diet of C2H5OH, slightly fortified
with vitamins and minerals. Occasionally brilliant
but completely illogical. Extent of stamina —
able to take only a few steps without
falling. Utterly without value commercially
but a fascinating specimen of the strangest
form of life yet discovered in the Galaxy
Habitat—Planet 3 of Sun JX6547-HG908.
So strange, in fact, that they have givent him a treatment that makes him practically immortal. And a good thing that is, because he’s so interesting as a zoological specimen that if he ever dies they might come back to Earth for another one. And they might happen to pick up you or me — and you or I, as the case might be, might happen to be sober. And that would be bad for all of us.