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Chapter II

            The bell rang and Mrs. Shaw rapped her knuckles on the glass top of her desk. "The class will come to order for roll call."
            Pupils wriggled down into comfortable positions in their chairs, and the tail end of a joke floated down the aisle, followed by an appreciative feminine giggle. "Adkins, Anderson, Andrews," she droned. "Why in the world did she have to do that every morning?" he wondered. "It takes so long to run through sixty names---Here," he interrupted himself as "Considine" was called. Finally Zunder answered and the class began.
            "Yesterday," began Mrs. Shaw, "We studied the preliminary events leading to World War II." Whereupon she launched into a detailed recount of that great war. "When did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Mr. Considine?" she asked, thinking that he wasn't studying.
            "December 7, 1941" he answered promptly. Sure, he knew all the answers; he should---he had read the whole book through once before, right after he received it. What was being discussed in class was a rehashing of that which he already knew. He paged idly through the book as Mrs. Shaw enumerated the various islands of importance in the Philippines: Leyte, Corregidor, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guam. He could name other islands important to the United States in the past: Bikini and the incident at Celebes in 1984, but she would think that he would just be showing off.
            He was not a realist; he didn't like the troubled side of life---that is, not normally. But, when something like those awful early spaceships fell apart in space, his imagination was captured, and he dreamed about what he would have done if a space ship that he was riding in happened to come into danger. Why, he thought, I bet I'd act just like that poor boy---what was his name?---oh, yes, Richard Chase. His mind swept back over the years to 1991 when the great space fleets soared through the ether to Mars, Venus, the Moon. His eyes shone as he recalled the event that had placed a person like Dick Chase into a history book for the world to read about.
            One of the very earliest Presidents of the "rocket age," Jacobson, decided, against the better judgment of his advisors, to take one of the very popular trips to the Moon. By some twist of Fate, Dick Chase, an orphan, stowed away in the power chamber of the same ship. Right after the rocket, with its eminent passenger on aboard, left the gravitational pull of the Earth, Dick heard an ominous humming rise above the whirring and crashing of machinery. Making his way over the mazes of tubing, cylinders, and motors, he saw a frightful sight. One of the huge generators that helped drive the ship was vibrating wildly, threatening to tear loose from its moorings and wreck the ship. He scrambled madly over the machinery to the control room door. For a second he feared that no one would hear his poundings above the piercing whine of the engines. Luckily, one of the crew came over to the door to get a drink from the fountain placed next to it. When the crewman saw the little stowaway, his first impulse was to take him to the Captain; but when he heard the tale of terror unleashed that the boy told, he dashed into the labyrinthine intricacies of the power room. They raced together to the central ramp, and without the slightest hesitation, young Dick unerringly led the crewman and the mechanic that breathlessly caught up with them directly to the faulty mechanism. Only after the trouble had been conquered was the real danger realized. If the machine hadn't been repaired when it was, the ship would not have been able to brake itself when it arrived on the Moon. The rocket would have plunged headlong into the Moon at an unstoppable velocity. No one knows how many people on the Moon would have been slaughtered, but the listing of passengers on board the ship showed one hundred and fifty-seven citizens, not counting the President of the Americas and his aides. When the facts were revealed to the President after the ship had been successfully set down at the Port of Copernicus, he demanded that the youthful hero be brought before him. Out of a sense of righteousness the boy was severely reprimanded for stowing away, but, because of the fact that he DID save hundreds of lives, the President kindly asked the boy what he wanted that the President or his influence could do for him. Dick Chase, only fifteen at the time, replied instantly, "To be a spaceman."
            True to his word, the President obtained a free tuition for the boy at one of the most modern astronavigation universities in the hemisphere. From the recent headlines it could be seen that young Dick knew what he wanted. He had been one of the pioneers to set foot on Deimos, the farther of Mars' two moons, and was now actively engaged in the exploration of that tiny planetoid.
            Art took his eyes away from the globe on the ceiling and came mentally back to the classroom. After a few eternal minutes the bell rang, and he bounded out of the hated history class to the cafeteria. Exploratively, he tried a bit of Venusian lettuce. It had a scientific name as long as your arm, but to the students of the school who were lucky enough to afford the rare delicacy it was simply "Venusian lettuce."
            His next class was biology, which intrigued him more than any other that he had signed up for. The class for today was going to be made especially interesting by an exchange teacher that was good enough to come all the way from Venus to lecture about the perplexing problem which faced the Venusian government, and, in a general way, everyone on Earth.
            Mr. Temple was a ruggedly handsome, bronzed individual that completely won over the class to his confidence. He talked with a disarming ease, and by the way he stood and gestured you could tell that you were looking at a man that nothing short of death itself could sway. He was extremely intelligent, as could be gathered from his marvelous command of the English language and his adaptability to the forms of language spoken on Venus and on Earth.
            The class was silent even before the bell sounded, so expectant they were. The instructor glanced over them, seemed to peer into their inner beings and find what way they would receive the information he had to give. He was satisfied at a glance that the class was generally intelligent---not the type to snicker or blush when some delicate subjects were discussed in their presence.
            "I am here," he began, "to tell you the facts of the strange condition existing on Venus. Your city telecasts have made it a thing that is nasty and distasteful to talk about; they have, in fact, hindered its discussion by its inept phrasing." He paused and waited for the excited whispers that were elicited from his preamble to die down. Those who had not known that the exchange teacher would speak in that Biology class did not blush or joke lewdly about the really very serious subject. He was satisfied that the students would listen attentively and get the right slant on the valuable information that he had for them.
            "You all know," he said, warming to the subject, "that the first rocket took off for Venus in the early 1990s. It landed safely and in a matter of months space fleets were rocketing off to the newly available planet. It seemed a good idea to go to Venus---everyone went. The Earth, as you might remember from your history books, was badly overcrowded in the early days of space exploration. People were glad to move, to get more property, more air, even if it was artificial. Trips to Venus became the vogue. Mars was considered old; besides, Venus was nearer to the Sun. Think of the cures that could be effected by the more intense rays. That was the pioneering cry of the world. Soon, in a remarkably short length of time, the Earth's population was thinned considerably---Venus was filled enough to afford neighbors for everyone, no matter where you would go. Bubble settlements were set up in a few weeks. It was beneficial. Ulcers could be eradicated by the direct influence of the stronger solar rays.
            "But, as everything has its good and bad sides, a grave discovery was made. The solar proximity had increased the activation of the thymus gland. I find," he said, smiling, "that I arrived at an opportune time. I see that your instructor was ready to lecture for months on the circulatory system, with special emphasis on the glandular bodies. I shall endeavor to give you a brief background of information on the thymus gland to enable you to have a better understanding of the topic that I shall discuss.
            "The thymus usually consists of two lobes, but they may unite to form a single lobe or may have an intermediate lobe between them. It is situated in the upper chest cavity along the trachea, overlapping the great blood vessels as they leave the heart. Each lobe is composed of several lobules, each of which is composed of an outer cortex, or lymphoid portion, in which a few reticular cells are scattered, and a central medulla, in which the reticulum is coarser and the lymphoid cells fewer in number. The size of the thymus gradually decreases after puberty. Experiments on rats indicate that an internal secretion of the thymus plays a part in the early development of maturity with all its characteristics."
            At the word "characteristics," the class squirmed uneasily. Even though they had not reached teen-age, they were remarkably well informed.
            "It does not," he continued, "cause increase in size, but the rats attain adulthood earlier. It is generally agreed that the thymus is correlated with growth. Recent exploration with immature adults that were mutants from the many atomic explosions found that if the fluid secreted by that gland was injected near the heart, the mutant would rapidly attain physical maturity.
            "That was your background," he said, taking his handkerchief and mopping his moist brow---there was very much of it, Art noticed. "Now for the present problem.
            "At the beginning of Venusian settlements only men and the most necessary women came and dwelled there. The first barriers were disposed of: the building of domed cities, the introduction of air into those cities, the natural heat of the earth of the planet itself cooled by intricate machinery, the elimination or capture of the few breeds of primitive and ferocious animals, the charting of danger areas. The wives and sons and daughters and parents flocked to Venus in an ever-increasing stream of humanity. Colonists to the brilliant planet were strictly examined before they were allowed to make the trip. They wanted to keep the infectious diseases out of the metropolitan areas. The sick were put on special ships that flew to specially constructed ports, from which they were conducted immediately to the hospitals that were waiting for them.
            "From this examination that all of the prospective Venusians had to endure, it could be positively stated that everyone that went there was average or above average in health and physical constitution. Therefore, when strange and unbelievable changes took place on the planet, doctors were rushed to the cities to see if there might be some germ or virus existent on Venus that would cause sickness: although they were sure that such was not the case because the atmosphere and the very soil itself had been proven void of any conceivable sickness carrier. Upon examining the children that were stricken with severe bodily pains, the doctors made the discovery that the age limits that were observed by the unknown disease, if disease it was, was between four and fourteen. Within this decade of years in the children the examining doctors found that each and every child that had once cried over a painful malady was physically, though not mentally, mature.
            "This, quite naturally, greatly shocked the physicians that had been called in on the cases. A furor was heard in the medical centers of the world. Discussions of it appeared on the agendas of every medical meeting on Venus. The space lanes furnished, free of charge, a rocket to bring scientists and physicians to Venus and to send some of the strange mutants back to Earth. After exhaustive research the doctors formulated a theory.
            "Upon bringing young cats, dogs, and mice to Venus, they found that after no great length of time, much, much shorter than usual, the young animals, when placed with others of the opposite sex, immediately reproduced successfully and bountifully. Their life span was not in the least reduced, and their size was not increased. The maturity of the embryo was astonishingly rapid and at the time of birth, the young were perfectly formed and grew to exactly the same size as their more sedate predecessors. The solar proximity must have something to do with the strange premature maturing," the class smiled at this phrase, "and later that was found the case.
            "The abnormal children were put into special institutions where they would go to school, get an education, and perhaps turn out normal after all. This was found not to be the case. The youngsters were discontented with the arrangements made for them because they had to have someone watching them at all times. However close they were observed, very many of them managed to get away. In the early days of those institutions the children were not as scrupulously watched as they should have been. They climbed over the walls and were never seen again. Venus was nowhere near being densely populated at the time when the hybrids were formed; the rapid increase in the census forced the Venusian government to realize that the mutants were escaping. The strange thing about these mutations was the fact that they grew in size in direct proportion to their abilities and appearances."
            Mr. Temple paused and lifted himself with one hand onto the desk behind him. He scooted back a bit and resumed, "There, in a nutshell, is the problem confronting the peoples of Venus. Nothing can be done about it as far as we can see. The mutations, so far as we can tell, cannot be distinguished from any normal, healthy human being. There is simply not enough surplus manpower present on Venus to check each person individually as they enter or leave the cities. It would be a great task to have to file a report with the government listing the characteristics of any baby that is born within the cities. The mutants have set up their own cities and even now are in the process of building new ones; they have, somewhere or someplace, acquired firearms and challenge anyone that happens to venture onto their campsites. As the mutants have only the mentality of a four-year-old mostly, they have no moral qualms as to killing any obnoxious investigator in cold blood.
            "I hope," he said pointedly, "that you now have a new outlook in the matter. It is pitiful the ways the newscasters have been dragging the situation through the mud. Sexual intercourse is a rather touchy subject, even in this enlightened day and age. However," he said, stressing his point, "the poor children are to be pitied. Their morals are practically nonexistent, although they seem to have qualms about the killing of any member of their community. They have no knowledge of marriage or, to any great extent, of sex. However they have a knowledge of the facts of life and they use them abundantly."
            A few smart alecks in the class coughed loudly and a few excited whispers floated across the room.
            "These are the pertinent facts," he said, "the only thing left for wonder is the evident fact that Venus is going to have a severe housing problem in the near future. Certain scarce mineral resources have been sadly depleted by the constant demand for the air manufacturers.
            "We cannot, of course, deny the petitions for the materials for the bubbles under which the cities are built---they are just as human as any of us. No one has as yet succeeded in pacifying the lusts of the mutants, though heaven knows that enough have been shot down for trying. One last word---do not believe any of the wild stories that have been and will, I'm sure, be circulated around, no matter how much truth you think there is to them. The mutants have NOT attacked any of the government settlements and we are sure that they will not want to, as long as they are supplied with the necessities of life. Then, too, they have not molested any of the original settlers. There has been no illegitimacy noticed outside of their cities. In fact, they rarely come out except to labor on the new towns and to receive the food that the government supplies them with.
            "Now," he said, "are there any questions?"
            A small girl rose in the back of the room, whispering to her neighbor. "Mr. Temple," she said slowly, "why doesn't the government stop their food supplies from getting into the town and in that way starve them into submission and get---get what you want from them." She blushed at her boldness and slid back into her seat.
            "These mutants," he explained, "have the mental age of a four- or five-year-old on the average. That must be emphasized. Though they are mature physically, they are definitely NOT mature mentally, as the doctors found when they examined the few original deviations. They cannot be reasoned with, any more than you can reason with your younger brothers or sisters."
            A murmur rippled through the class, and ejaculations of understanding came up to Mr. Temple. "Now you can see what we are up against."
            "Couldn't you lure them into a spaceship by sabotaging their bubble and letting their air escape?" another student asked.
            "I'm afraid you're not the first one to come up with that idea," Mr. Temple said, smiling. "That was brought up at one of the Venusian town meetings and the leader said that the Commission would frown upon such proceedings. You see, we really don't know how many mutants there actually are. Ten thousand were counted a few days ago working on one of their cities; there are a dozen cities going up; there are tens of dozens of cities already existing. You don't realize," he said earnestly, "how fast these people multiply---faster than rabbits. In the few short years they have lived, they have reproduced thousands, hundreds of thousands of times. Not single births, either---they are rare: twins, triplets, quadruplets are the vogue---one of the mutants under our observation mated with another and in three months the female had septuplets---first recorded set in history---why, before their birth their mother looked like a---"
            The bell jangled noisily, interrupting Mr. Temple. He nervously glanced at his watch, hastily dismissed the class, and rushed off to another school to deliver the same lecture.
            Art Considine was strangely silent at the supper table that night. He mechanically studied, and for once in a long time, he went to bed early without being told.
            Later that night, Art gazed out the window at the silent street below him. Raising his eyes, he could see the Wishing Star between the leaves of a tree under his window. He thought of the strange plight of the Venusians. The more he thought about it, the more he wished he could go to Venus---even go to school there. He slept, dreaming of a daring rescue in space that saved the President, only it wasn't Dick Chase whose name was in lights---it was Art Considine's. He smiled broadly in his sleep.