"One of the other Earthmen has just instructed me to get lost and switched his unit off," ZORAC said. "I could only do that by taking the Shapieron away into space, and I'm sure he didn't mean that. What did he mean?"
Hunt grinned to himself while he lay back on his bunk and contemplated the ceiling. He had been back aboard Jupiter Fivefor several hours and was experimenting further with his Ganymean communications kit. "It's an Earth saying," he replied. "It doesn't mean what the words mean literally. It's what people sometimes say when they're not interested in listening. Probably he was tired and needed to sleep. But be careful with it. It conveys irritation and is a little insulting."
"I see. Okay. Is there a word or phrase for a saying that doesn't mean what it says literally?"
Hunt sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily. "I suppose we'd call it a figure of speech," he said.
"But speech is formed from words, not figures. Or have I missed something?"
"No, you're right. That's just another saying."
"A figure of speech is a figure of speech, then. Right?"
"Yes, ZORAC," Hunt told the machine. "And I'm getting tired too. Could we save questions about English until I'm ready for them again? There are questions I'd still like to ask you."
"Otherwise you'll instruct me to get lost and switch your unit off?"
"Okay. What are your questions?"
Hunt hoisted his shoulders up against the end of the bunk and clasped his hands behind his head. "I'm interested in the star that your ship came from. You said it had several planets?"
"You came from one of those planets?"
"Did all the Ganymeans go to live on that planet a long time ago?"
"No. Just a few went there in three ships, to test a scientific idea. They did not go there to live."
"When you went there, where did you travel from?"
Hunt's incredulity was mounting. The thing he had been beginning to suspect for some time was really true. "How long ago was it when you left that star?" he asked, his voice catching as he formed the words.
"Approximately twenty-five million Earth years ago," ZORAC informed him.
For a long time, Hunt said nothing but just lay there, struggling to grasp the enormity of what he had just learned. He didn't imagine for one moment that this could represent a normal Ganymean life span and guessed it had to be a result of relativistic time dilation. But to produce and effect of such magnitude, the ship must have sustained a phenomenal velocity for an incredible length of time. What could have induced Ganymeans to journey the vast distance that this implied? What significance could their expedition have had, since nothing they achieved at their destination could have affected their civilization in any way?
"How far away was this star?" he asked.
"The distance that light would travel in nine point three Earth years," ZORAC answered.
This was getting crazy. At the speed that would have been necessary to produce that kind of dilation, the journey should have taken no time at all-astronomically speaking.
"Did the Ganymeans know that they would return after twenty-five million years?" Hunt asked, determined to get to the bottom of it.
"When they left the star, they knew. But when they left Minerva to go to the star, they did not know. They had no reason to believe that the journey back would take any longer."
"How long did it take them to get there?"
"Measured from the Sun, twelve point one years."
"And the journey back took twenty-five million?"
"Yes. They circled the Solar System many times."
"Why didn't they just slow down?"
"They could not?"
ZORAC seemed to hesitate for a moment. "The machines could not be operated. The points that destroy all things and moved in circles could not be stopped. The space-time joining bendings could not be unbent."
"I don't understand that," Hunt said, frowning.
"I can't explain better without asking more questions about English," ZORAC warned him.
"Okay, leave it for now." Hunt recalled the speculations about the propulsion system of the wrecked Ganymean ship found at Pithead, which dated from about the same period. Motion was believed to have been produced not by reactive thrust, but by an artificially distorted localized zone of space-time into which the vessel "fell" continuously. Such a principle could conceivably produce the kind of sustained acceleration needed for the Shapieron to have reached the speeds implied by ZORAC's account. He would discuss it further with the other scientists tomorrow, he decided.
"Do you remember that time?" he asked casually. "Twenty-five million years ago, when your ship left Minerva."
"By Earth time," ZORAC pointed out. "It has been less than twenty years by the Shapieron's time. Yes, I remember all things."
"What was the place on Minerva like, that you departed from? Can you describe it?"
"I can show a picture of it," ZORAC offered. "Please observe the screen."
Intrigued, Hunt reached out to pick up the Ganymean wrist unit from the bedside locker. The screen came alive with a scene that drew an involuntary whistle of amazement. He was looking down at the Shapieron, or at least, a ship indistinguishable from it, but this wasn't the scarred, pitted hulk that he had been in a few hours before; it was a gleaming tower of mirror silver standing proudly on its tail in a vast space of strange constructions interconnected and fused into a contiguous synthetic landscape. Two other ships stood on either side, just as grand but somewhat smaller. The air above the spaceport-for that was what the picture suggested-was filled with flying vehicles, moving in well-defined lanes like processions of disciplined skywalking ants. Behind it all, soaring up for what must have been miles to dominate the skyline, was the city. Tier upon tier, level upon level, the skyscrapers, terraces, ramps, and flying bridges clung together in a fantastic composite that seemed to leap upward in bounds that defied gravity, with parts that seemed to float detached like ivory islands in the sky. Only knowledge transcending Man's could have conceived and realized such a feat.
"That is the Shapieron before it left Minerva," ZORAC said. "The other two ships that traveled with it are there too.
"Did the Ganymeans like their home? Do they wish they could go back?" Hunt asked.
"Yes, very much. When they left the star to return, they knew the journey would take a long time. They expected their home to have changed. But they did not expect to find it no longer existing. They are very sad." Hunt had already seen enough to know this. Before he could speak again, ZORAC asked, "Is it okay if I ask questions that are not about English?"
"What do you want to know?"
"The Ganymeans are very unhappy. They believe that the Earthmen destroyed Minerva. Is this true?"
"No!" Hunt sat up with a start. "No, that's not true! Minerva was destroyed fifty thousand years ago. There were no men on Earth then. We came later."
"Did the Lunarians destroy Minerva?"
"Yes. How much do you know about them?" ZORAC had evidently broached the subject with others that it was talking to.
"Twenty-five million years ago, Ganymeans took types of Earth life to Minerva. In a short time, all Minervan life forms that lived on land died. The life forms from Earth did not die. The Lunarians came from them and looked like Earthmen now. This is all I know."
This told Hunt something that he hadn't realized before. "The Ganymeans hadn't brought any Earth life to Minerva before you left to go to the star?" he checked.
"Do you know if they intended to?"
"If so, I was never told."
Hunt realized with growing excitement that the mystery of what had happened to the Ganymean civilization posed a challenge to both races. Surely their combined knowledge would prove capable of uncovering the answer. He decided it was time to complete the story of the Lunarians for ZORAC's benefit.
"Yes, you're right," he said. "The Lunarians came-we would say 'evolved'--from the Earth life that was left on Minerva after the Ganymeans and other Minervan kinds died out. By fifty thousand years ago, they had become an advanced race, with machines, spaceships, and cities. When they destroyed Minerva, the planet exploded-broke into pieces. The largest piece became Pluto; the remainder still orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter as the Asteroids. I assume you know that, since the Ganymeans have said they found the Solar System changed."
"Yes, I knew that much," ZORAC agreed. "But I still do not know why the Lunarians destroyed Minerva."
"They didn't intend to," Hunt explained. "There was a war on Minerva. We believe the planet's crust was thin and unstable. The weapons used were very powerful. The planet exploded in the process."
"Sorry. Crust? . . . War? . . . Weapon? I don't follow."
"The outside of a planet is cold and hard. That's its crust."
"When many people fight in large groups. That's war."
"Oh, hell. . . . Violent action between one group of people and another group. When they organize themselves to kill."
"The other group of people."
ZORAC gave a distinct impression of being confused-as if it were having difficulty believing its microphone.
"Lunarians organized themselves to kill other Lunarians," it said slowly and carefully, seeming anxious to avoid being misunderstood. "They did this deliberately?" The turn of conversation caught Hunt unprepared. He felt uneasy and a little embarrassed, like a child being insistently cross-examined over some transgression.
"Yes," was all he could manage.
"Why did they wish to do such a thing?" The emotional inflection was there again, registering incredulity.
"They fought because . . . because . . ." Hunt wrestled for an answer. The machine, it seemed, had no comprehension of such matters. What way was there to explain it? "To protect themselves. . . . To protect their group from other groups."
"From other groups who were organized to kill them?"
"Well . . . yes, I guess so."
"Then logically the same question still applies: Why did the other groups wish to do such things?"
"When one group made another group angry . . . or when two groups both wanted the same thing, land maybe . . . sometimes they would fight to decide." It didn't seem adequate but was the best Hunt could do. A short silence ensued. Even ZORAC had to think hard about this one, seemingly.
"Did all Lunarians have brain problems?" it asked finally, having presumably inferred what it considered the most likely answer.
"We believe they were a very violent race," Hunt replied. "At the time they lived, they faced the prospect of extinction-dying out. Minerva was freezing over. They wanted a warmer planet to live on. We think they wanted to go to Earth. But there were few resources and little time. The situation made them afraid and desperate . . . and they fought."
"They killed each other to prevent them from dying out? They destroyed Minerva to protect it from freezing?"
"They didn't intend that," Hunt said again.
"What did they intend?"
"I suppose they intended that the group that was left after the war would get to Earth."
"Why couldn't all groups go? The war must have needed resources that could have been used for better things. All Lunarians could have used their knowledge. They wanted to live, but did everything to make certain that they would not. They had brain problems." The tone of ZORAC's final pronouncement was definite.
"When men feel strong emotions, they don't always do the most logical things," Hunt said.
"Men? . . . Earthmen? . . . Earthmen feel strong emotions that make them fight like the Lunarians did?"
"And Earthmen make wars too?"
"There have been none for a long time."
"Do the Earthmen wish to kill the Ganymeans?"
"No! No! Of course not!" Hunt protested. "There's no reason."
"There can never be a reason. The things you said are not reasons, since they do the opposite of what is wanted. So they are not reasonable. Earthmen must have evolved brain problems from the Lunarians. Very sick."