"WHAT is it?" Patricia Blake demanded eagerly.
"Whatís what?" Eric Blake murmured.
"What did you bring? I know you brought me something!" Her bosom rose and fell excitedly under her mesh blouse. "You brought me a present. I can tell!"
"Honey, I went to Ganymede for Terran Metals, not to find you curios. Now let me unpack my things. Bradshaw says I have to report to his office early tomorrow. He says I better report some good ore deposits."
Pat snatched up a small box, heaped with all the other luggage the robot porter had deposited at the door. "Is it jewelry? No, itís too big for jewelry." She began to tear the cord from the box with her sharp fingernails.
Eric frowned uneasily. "Donít be disappointed, honey. Itís sort of strange. Not what you expect." He watched apprehensively. "Donít get mad at me. Iíll explain all about it."
Patís mouth fell open. She turned pale. She dropped the box on the table, eyes wide with horror. "Good Lord! What is it?"
Eric twisted nervously. "I got a good buy on it, honey. You canít usually pick one of them up. The Ganymedeans donít like to sell them, and Ió"
"What is it?"
"Itís a god," Eric muttered. "A minor Ganymedean deity. I got it practically at cost."
Pat gazed down at the box with fear and growing disgust. "That? Thatís aóa god?"
In the box was a small, motionless figure, perhaps ten inches high. It was old, terribly old. Its tiny clawlike hands were pressed against its scaly breast. Its insect face was twisted in a scowl of anger Ė mixed with cynical lust. Instead of legs it rested on a tangle of tentacles. The lower portion of its face dissolved in a complex beak, mandibles of some hard substance. There was an odor to it, as of manure and stale beer. It appeared to be bisexual.
Eric had thoughtfully put a little water dish and some straw in the box. He had punched air holes in the lid and crumbled up newspaper fragments.
"You mean itís an idol." Pat regained her poise slowly. "An idol of a deity."
"No." Eric shook his head stubbornly. "This is a genuine deity. Thereís a warranty, or something."
"Is it Ė dead?"
"Not at all."
"Then why doesnít it move?"
"You have to arouse it." The bottom of the figureís belly cupped outward in a hollow bowl. Eric tapped the bowl. "Place an offering here and it comes to life. Iíll show you."
Pat retreated. "No thanks."
"Come on! Itís interesting to talk to. Its name is Ė" He glanced at some writing on the box. "Its name is Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo. We talked most of the way back from Ganymede. It was glad of the opportunity. And I learned quite a few things about gods."
Eric searched his pockets and brought out the remains of a ham sandwich. He wadded up a bit of the ham and stuffed it into the protruding belly-cup of the god.
"Iím going in the other room," Pat said.
"Stick around." Eric caught her arm. "It only takes a second. It begins to digest right away."
The belly-cup quivered. The godís scaly flesh rippled. Presently the cup filled with a sluggish dark-colored substance. The ham began to dissolve.
Pat snorted in disgust. "Doesnít it even use its mouth?"
"Not for eating. Only for talking. Itís a lot different from usual life-forms."
The tiny eye of the god was focused on them now. A single, unwinking orb of icy malevolence. The mandibles twitched.
"Greetings," the god said.
"Hi." Eric nudged Pat forward. "This is my wife. Mrs. Blake. Patricia."
"How do you do," the god grated.
Pat gave a squeal of dismay. "It talks English."
The god turned to Eric in disgust. "You were right. She is stupid."
Eric colored. "Gods can do anything they want, honey. Theyíre omnipotent."
The god nodded. "That is so. This is Terra, I presume."
"Yes. How does it look?"
"As I expected. I have already heard reports. Certain reports about Terra."
"Eric, are you sure itís safe?" Pat whispered uneasily. "I donít like its looks. And thereís something about the way it talks." Her bosom quivered nervously.
"Donít worry, honey," Eric said carelessly. "Itís a nice god. I checked before I left Ganymede."
"Iím benevolent," the god explained matter-of-factly. "My capacity has been that of Weather Deity to the Ganymedean aborigines. I have produced rain and allied phenomena when the occasion demanded."
"But thatís all in the past," Eric added.
"Correct. I have been a Weather Deity for ten thousand years. There is a limit to even a godís patience. I craved new surroundings." A peculiar gleam flickered across the loathsome face. "That is why I arranged to be sold and brought to Terra."
"You see," Eric said, "the Ganymedeans didnít want to sell it. But it whipped up a thunderstorm and they sort of had to. Thatís partly why it was so cheap."
"Your husband made a good purchase," the god said. Its single eye roved around curiously. "This is your dwelling? You eat and sleep here?"
"Thatís right," Eric said. "Pat and I both Ė"
The front door chimed. "Thomas Matson stands on the threshold," the door stated. "He wishes admission."
"Golly," Eric said. "Good old Tom. Iíll go let him in."
Pat indicated the god. "Hadnít you better Ė"
"Oh, no. I want Tom to see it." Eric stepped to the door and opened it.
"Hello," Tom said, striding in. "Hi, Pat. Nice day." He and Eric shook hands. "The Lab has been wondering when youíd get back. Old Bradshaw is leaping up and down to hear your report." Matsonís bean-pole body bent forward in sudden interest. "Say, whatís in the box?"
"Thatís my god," Eric said modestly.
"Really? But God is an unscientific concept."
"This is a different god. I didnít invent it. I bought it. On Ganymede. Itís a Ganymedean Weather Deity."
"Say something," Pat said to the god. "So heíll believe your owner."
"Letís debate my existence," the god said sneeringly. "You take the negative. Agreed?"
Matson grinned. "What is this, Eric? A little robot? Sort of hideous looking."
"Honest, itís a god. On the way it did a couple of miracles for me. Not big miracles, of course, but enough to convince me."
"Hearsay," Matson said. But he was interested. "Pass a miracle, god. Iím all ears."
"I am not a vulgar showpiece," the god growled.
"Donít get it angry," Eric cautioned. "Thereís no limit to its powers, once aroused."
"How does a god come into being?" Tom asked. "Does a god create itself? If itís dependent on something prior then there must be a more ultimate order of being which Ė"
"Gods," the tiny figure stated, "are inhabitants of a higher level, a greater plane of reality. A more advanced dimension. There are a number of planes of existence. Dimensional continuums, arranged in a hierarchy. Mine is one above yours."
"What are you doing here?"
"Occasionally being pass from one dimensional continuum to another. When they pass from a superior continuum to an inferior Ė as I have done Ė they are worshipped as gods."
Tom was disappointed. "Youíre not a god at all. Youíre just a life-form of slightly different dimensional order thatís changed phase and entered our vector."
The little figure glowered. "You make it sound simple. Actually, such a transformation requires great cunning and is seldom done. I came here because a member of my race, a certain malodorous Nar Dolk, committed a heinous crime and escaped into this continuum. Our law obliged me to follow in hot pursuit. In the process this flotsam, this spawn of dampness, escaped and assumed some disguise or other. I continually search, but he has not yet been apprehended." The small god broke of suddenly. "Your curiosity is idle. It annoys me."
Tom turned his back on the god. "Pretty weak stuff. We do more down at Terran Metals Lab than this character ever Ė"
The air cracked, ozone flashing. Tom Matson shrieked. Invisible hands lifted him bodily and propelled him to the door. The door swung open and Matson sailed down the walk, tumbling in a heap among the rose bushes, arms and legs flailing wildly.
"Help!" Matson yelled, struggling to get up.
"Oh, dear," Pat gasped.
"Golly." Eric shot a glance at the tiny figure. "You did that?"
"Help him," Pat urged, white-faced. "I think heís hurt. He looks funny."
Eric hurried outside and helped Matson to his feet. "You OK? Itís your own fault. I told you if you kept annoying it something might happen."
Matsonís face was ablaze with rage. "No little pipsqueak god is going to treat me like this!" He pushed Eric aside, heading back for the house. "Iíll take it down to the Lab and pop it in a bottle of formaldehyde. Iíll dissect it and skin it and hang it up on the wall. Iíll have the first specimen of a god known to Ė"
A ball of light glowed around Matson. The ball enveloped him, settling in place around his lean body so that he looked like the filament in an incandescent light.
"What the hell!" Matson muttered. Suddenly he jerked. His body faded. He began to shrink. With a faint whoosh he diminished rapidly. Smaller and smaller he dwindled. His body shuddered, altering strangely.
The light winked out. Sitting on the walk was a small green toad.
"See?" Eric said wildly. "I told you to keep quiet! Now look what itís done!"
The toad hopped feebly toward the house. At the porch it sagged into immobility, defeated by the steps. It uttered a pathetic, hopeless chug.
Patís voice rose in a wail of anguish. "Oh, Eric! Look what itís done! Poor Tom!"
"His own fault," Eric said. "He deserves it." But he was beginning to get nervous. "Look here," he said to the god. "Thatís not a very nice thing to do to a grown man. Whatíll his wife and kids think?"
"Whatíll Mr. Bradshaw think?" Pat cried. "He canít go to work like that!"
"True," Eric admitted. He appealed to the god. "I think heís learned his lesson. How about turning him back? OK?"
"You just better undo him!" Pat shrieked, clenching her small fists. "If you donít undo him youíll have Terran Metals after you. Even a god canít stand up to Horace Bradshaw."
"Better change him back," Eric said.
"Itíll do him good," the god said. "Iíll leave him that way for a couple of centuries Ė"
"Centuries!" Pat exploded. "Why, you little blob of slime!" She advanced ominously toward the box, shaking with wrath. "See here! You turn him back or Iíll take you out of your box and drop you into the garbage disposal unit!"
"Make her be still," the god said to Eric.
"Calm down, Pat," Eric implored.
"I will not calm down! Who does it think it is? A present? How dare you bring this moldy bit of refuse into our house? Is this your idea of aó"
Her voice ceased abruptly.
Eric turned apprehensively. Pat stood rigid, her mouth open, a word still on her lips. She did not move. She was white all over. A solid gray-white that made cold chills leap up Ericís spine. "Good Lord," he said.
"I turned her to stone," the god explained. "She made too much noise." It yawned. "Now, I think Iíll retire. Iím a little tired, after my trip."
"I canít believe it," Eric Blake said. He shook his head numbly. "My best friend a toad. My wife turned to stone."
"Itís true," the god said. "We deal out justice according to how people act. They both got what they deserved."
"Canócan she hear me?"
Eric went over to the statue. "Pat," he begged imploringly. "Please donít be mad. It isnít my fault." He gripped her ice-cold shoulders. "Donít blame me! I didnít do it." The granite was hard and smooth under his fingers. Pat stared blankly ahead.
"Terran Metals indeed," the god grumbled sourly. Its single eye studied Eric intently. "Who is this Horace Bradshaw? Some local deity, perhaps?"
"Horace Bradshaw owns Terran Metals," Eric said gloomily. He sat down and shakily lit a cigarette. "Heís about the biggest man on Terra. Terran Metals owns half the planets in the system."
"Kingdoms of this world do not interest me," the god said noncommittally, subsiding and shutting its eye. "I will retire now. I wish to contemplate certain matters. You may wake me later if you wish. We can converse on theological subjects, as we did on the ship coming here."
"Theological subjects," Eric said bitterly. "My wife a stone block and it want to talk about religion."
But the god had already withdrawn, retired into itself.
"A lot you care," Eric muttered. Anger flickered in him. "This is the thanks I get for taking you off Ganymede. Ruin my household and my social life. Fine god you are!"
Eric concentrated desperately. Maybe when the god awoke it would be in a better mood. Maybe he could persuade it to turn Matson and Pat back to their usual forms. Faint hope stirred. He could appeal to the godís better side. After it had rested and slept for a few hoursÖ.
If nobody came looking for Matson.
The toad sat disconsolately on the walk, drooping with misery. Eric leaned toward it. "Hey, Matson!"
The toad looked slowly up.
"Donít worry, old man. Iíll get it to turn you back. Itís a cinch." The toad didnít stir. "A lead-pipe cinch," Eric repeated nervously.
The toad drooped a little more. Eric looked at his watch. It was late afternoon, almost four. Tomís shift at Terran began in half an hour. Sweat came out on his forehead. If the god went on sleeping and didnít wake up in half an houró"
A buzz. The vidphone.
Ericís heart sank. He hurried over and clicked the screen on, steeling himself. Horace Bradshawís sharp, dignified features faded into focus. His keen glance bored into Eric, penetrating his depths.
"Blake," he grunted. ĎBack from Ganymede, I see."
"Yes, sir." Ericís mind raced frantically. He moved in front of the screen, cutting off Bradshawís view of the room. "Iím just starting to unpack."
"Forget that and get over here! Weíre waiting to hear your report."
"Right now? Gosh, Mr. Bradshaw. Give me a chance to get my things away." He fought desperately for time. "Iíll be over tomorrow morning bright and early."
"Is Matson there with you?"
Eric swallowed. "Yes, sir. Butó"
"Put him on. I want to talk to him."
"Heóhe canít talk to you right now, sir."
"What? Why not?"
"Heís in no shape toóthat is, heó"
Bradshaw snarled impatiently. "Then bring him along with you. And he better be sober when he gets here. Iíll see you at my office in ten minutes." He broke the circuit. The screen faded abruptly.
Eric sank wearily down in a chair. His mind reeled. Ten minutes! He shook his head, stunned.
The toad hopped a little, stirring on the walk. It emitted a faint, despondent sound.
Eric got heavily to his feet. "I guess we have to face the music," he murmured. He bent down and picked up the toad, putting it gingerly in his coat pocket. "I guess you heard. That was Bradshaw. Weíre going down to the lab."
The toad stirred uneasily.
"I wonder what Bradshaw is going to say when he sees you."
Eric kissed his wifeís cold granite cheek. "Good bye, honey." He moved
numbly down the walk to the street. A moment later he hailed a robot cab
and entered it. "I have a feeling this is going to be hard to explain."
The cab zipped off down the street. "Hard as hell to explain."
Horace Bradshaw stared in dumbfounded amazement. He removed his steel-rimmed glasses and wiped them slowly. He fitted them back on his hard, hawklike face and peered down. The toad rested silently in the center of the immense mahogany desk.
Bradshaw pointed shakily at the toad. "Thisóthis is Thomas Matson?"
"Yes, sir," Eric said.
Bradshaw blinked in wonder. "Matson! What in the world has happened to you?"
"Heís a toad," Eric explained.
"So I see. Incredible." Bradshaw pressed a stud on his desk. "Send in Jennings from the Biology Lab," he ordered. "A toad." He poked the toad with his pencil. "Is it really you, Matson?"
The toad chugged.
"Good Lord." Bradshaw sat back, wiping his forehead. His grim expression faded into sympathetic concern. He shook his head sadly. "I canít believe it. Some kind of bacterial blight, I suppose. Matson was always experimenting on himself. He took his work seriously. A brave man. A good worker. He did much for Terran Metals. Too bad he had to end this way. Weíll extend a full pension to him, of course."
Jennings entered the office. "You wanted me, sir?"
"Come in." Bradshaw beckoned him impatiently in. "We have a problem for your department. You know Eric Blake here."
"And Thomas Matson." Bradshaw indicated the toad. "From the Nonferrous Lab."
"I know Matson," Jennings said slowly. "That is, I know a Matson from Nonferrous. But I donít recallóthat is, he was taller than this. Almost six feet."
"This is him," Eric said gloomily. "Heís a toad now."
"What happened?" Jenningsí scientific curiosity was aroused. "Whatís the lowdown?"
"Itís a long story," Eric said evasively.
"Canít you tell it?" Jennings scrutinized the toad professionally. "Looks like a regular type of toad. Youíre sure this is Tom Matson? Come clean, Blake. You must know more than youíre telling!"
Bradshaw studied Eric intently. "Yes, what did happen, Blake? You have a strange, shifty look. Are you responsible for this?" Bradshaw half rode from his chair, his grim face bleak. "See here. If itís your fault one of my best men has been incapacitated for further workó"
"Take it easy," Eric protested, his mind racing frantically. He patted the toad nervously. "Matson is perfectly safeóas long as nobody steps on him. We can rig up some sort of protective shield and an automatic communication system thatíll enable him to spell out words. He can continue his work. With a few adjustments here and there everything should speed along perfectly."
"Answer me!" Bradshaw roared. "Are you responsible for this? Is this your doing?"
Eric squirmed helplessly. "In a way, I suppose. Not exactly. Not directly." His voice wavered. "But I guess youíd say if it hadnít been for me . . ."
Bradshawís face set in a rigid mask of rage. "Blake, youíre fired." He yanked a heap of forms from his desk dispenser. "Get out of here and never come back. And get your hand off that toad. It belongs to Terran Metals." He shoved a paper across the desk. "Hereís your paycheck. And donít bother looking for work elsewhere. Iím listing you on the inter-system blacklist. Good day."
"But, Mr. Bradshawó"
"Donít plead." Bradshaw waved his hand. Just go. Jennings, get your biology staff busy at once. This problem must be licked. I want you to rearrange this toad back to its original shape. Matson is a vital part of Terran Metals. Thereís work to be done, work only Matson can do. We canít have this sort of thing holding up our research."
"Mr. Bradshaw," Eric begged desperately. "Please listen. I want to see Tom back as he was. But thereís only one way we can get him back his original shape. Weó"
Bradshawís eyes were cold with hostility. "You still here, Blake? Must I call the guards and have you dismembered? Iím giving you one minute to be off Company land. Understand?"
Eric nodded miserably. "I understand." He turned and shuffled unhappily toward the door. "So long, Jennings. So long, Tom. Iíll be home if you want me, Mr. Bradshaw."
"Sorcerer," Bradshaw snapped. "Good riddance."
"What would you do," Eric asked the robot cabdriver, "if you wife had turned to stone, your best friend were a toad, and you had lost your job?"
"Robots have no wives," the driver said. "They are nonsexual. Robots have no friends, either. They are incapable of emotional relationships."
"Can robots be fired?"
"Sometimes." The robot drew his cab up before Ericís modest six-room bungalow. "But consider. Robots are frequently melted down and new robots made from the remains. Recall Ibsenís Peer Gynt, the section concerning the Button Molder. The lines clearly anticipate in symbolic form the trauma of robots to come."
"Yeah." The door opened and Eric got out. "I guess we all have our problems."
"Robots have worse problems than anybody." The door shut
and the cab zipped off, back down the hill.
Worse? Eric entered his home slowly, the front door automatically opening for him.
"Welcome, Mr. Blake," the door greeted him.
"I suppose Patís still here."
"Mrs. Blake is here, but she is in a cataleptic state, or some similar condition."
"Sheís been turned to stone." Eric kissed the cold lips of the statue gloomily. "Hi, honey."
He got some meat out of the refrigerator and crumbled it into the belly-cup of the god. Presently digestive fluid rose and covered the food. In a short time the single eye of the god opened, blinked a few times, and focused on Eric.
"Have a good sleep?" Eric inquired icily.
"I wasnít asleep. My mind was turned toward matters of cosmic import. I detect a hostile quality in your voice. Has something unfavorable occurred?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. I just lost my job, on top of everything else."
"Lost your job? Interesting. What else do you refer to?"
Eric exploded in rage. "Youíve messed up my whole life, damn you!" He jabbed at the silent, unmoving figure of his wife. "Look! My wife! Turned to granite. And my best friend, a toad."
Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo yawned. "So?"
"Why? What did I ever do to you? Why do you treat me this way? Look at all Iíve done for you. I only brought you here to Terra. Fed you. Fixed you up a box with straw and water and newspapers. Thatís all."
"True. You did bring me to Terra." Again an odd gleam flickered across the godís dark face. "All right, Iíll restore your wife."
"You will?" Pathetic joy surged through Eric. Tears came to his eyes. He was too relieved to ask any questions. "Gosh, I sure would appreciate it!"
The god concentrated. "Stand out of the way. Itís easier to distort the molecular arrangement of a body than to restore the original configuration. I hope I can get it exactly as it was." It made a faint motion.
Around Patís silent figure the air stirred. The pale granite shuddered. Slowly, color seeped back into her features. She gasped sharply, her dark eyes flashing with fear. Color filled her arms, shoulders, breasts, spreading through her trim body. She cried out, tottering unsteadily. "Eric!"
Eric caught her, hugging her tight. "Gosh, honey. Iím sure glad youíre all right." He crushed her against him, feeling her heart thump with terror. He kissed her soft lips again and again. "Welcome back."
Pat pulled abruptly away. "That little snake. That miserable particle of waste. Wait until I get my hands on it." She advanced toward the god, eyes blazing. "Listen, you. Whatís the idea? How dare you!"
"See?" the god said. "They never change."
Eric pulled his wife back. "You better shut up or youíll be granite again. Understand?"
Pat caught the urgent rasp in his voice. She subsided reluctantly. "All right, Eric. I give up."
"Listen," Eric said to the god. "How about Tom? How about restoring him?"
"The toad. Where is he?"
"In the Biology Lab. Jennings and his staff are working on him."
The god considered. "I donít like the sound of that. The Biology Lab? Where is that? How far away?"
"Terran Metals. Main Building." Eric was impatient. "Maybe five miles. How about it? Maybe if you restore him Bradshaw will give me my job back. You owe it to me. Set things back the way they were."
"You canít! Why the hell not?"
"I thought gods were omnipotent," Pat sniffed petulantly.
"I can do anythingóat short range. The Terran Metals Biology Lab is too far. Five miles is beyond my limit. I can distort molecular arrangements within a limited circle only."
Eric was incredulous. "What? You mean you canít turn Tom back?"
"Thatís the way it is. You shouldnít have taken him out of the house. Gods are subject to natural law just as you are. Our laws are different, but they are still laws."
"I see," Eric murmured. "You should have said."
"As far as your job goes, donít worry about that. Here, Iíll create some gold." The god made a motion with his scaly hands. A section of curtain flashed suddenly yellow and crashed to the floor with a metallic tinkle. "Solid gold. That ought to keep you for a few days."
"Weíre no longer on the gold standard."
"Well, whatever you need. I can do anything."
"Except turn Tom back into a human being," Pat said. "Fine god you are."
"Shut up, Pat," Eric muttered, deep in thought.
"If there were some way I could be closer to him," the god said cautiously. "If he were within range. . ."
"Bradshaw will never let him go. And I canít set foot around there. The guards will tear me to bits."
"How about some platinum?" The god made a pass and a section of the wall glowed white. "Solid platinum. A simple change in atomic weight. Will that help?"
"No!" Eric paced back and forth. "Weíve got to get that toad away from Bradshaw. If we can get him back hereó"
"I have an idea," the god said.
"Perhaps you could get me in there. Perhaps if I could get onto the Company grounds, within range of the Biology Lab. . ."
"Itís worth a try," Pat said, putting her hand on Ericís shoulder. "After all, Tomís your best friend. Itís a shame to treat him this way. Itísóitís un-Terran."
Eric grabbed his coat. "Itís settled. Iíll drive as close as I can to the Company grounds. I ought to be able to get near enough before the guards catch sight of me toó"
A crash. The front door collapsed abruptly in a heap of ash. Teams of robot police surged into the room, blastguns ready.
"All right," Jennings said. "Thatís him." He strode quickly into the house. "Get him. And get that thing in the box."
"Jennings!" Eric swallowed in alarm. "What the hell is this?"
Jenningsí lip curled. "Cut out the pretense, Blake. Youíre not fooling me." He tapped a small metal case under his arm. "The toad revealed all. So youíve got a non-Terrestrial in this house, have you?" He laughed coldly. "Thereís a law against bringing non-Terrans to Earth. Youíre under arrest, Blake. Youíll probably get life."
"Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo!" Eric Blake squeaked. "Donít forsake me at a time like this!"
"Iím coming," the god grunted. It heaved violently. "Howís this?"
The robot police jerked as a torrent of force erupted from the box. Abruptly they disappeared, winking out of existence. Where they had stood a horde of mechanical mice milled aimlessly, spilling frantically through the doorway, out into the yard.
Jenningsí face showed astonishment and then panic. He retreated, waving his blaster menacingly. "See here, Blake. Donít think you can scare me. Weíve got this house surrounded."
A bolt of force hit him in the stomach. The bolt lifted him and shook him like a rag doll. His blaster skidded from his fingers, falling to the floor. Jennings groped for it desperately. The blaster turned into a spider and crawled rapidly off, out of his reach.
"Set him down," Eric urged.
"All right." The god released Jennings. He crashed to the floor, stunned and frightened. He scrambled wildly to his feet and ran from the house, down the path to the sidewalk.
"Oh, dear," Pat said.
"What is it?"
Pulled up in a circle around the house was a solid line of atomic cannon. Their snouts gleamed wickedly in the late afternoon sunlight. Groups of robot police stood around each cannon, awaiting alertly for instructions.
Eric groaned. "Weíre sunk. One blast and weíre finished."
"Do something!" Pat gasped. She prodded the box. "Enchant them. Donít just sit there."
"They are out of range," the god replied. "As I explained, my power is limited by distance."
"You in there!" a voice came, magnified by a hundred loudspeakers. "Come out with your hands up. Or we open fire!"
"Bradshaw," Eric groaned. "Heís out there. Weíre trapped. You sure you canít do something?"
"Sorry," the god said. "I can put up a shield against the cannon." It concentrated. Outside the house a dull surface formed, a globe rapidly hardening around them.
"All right," Bradshawís magnified voice came, muffled by the shield. "You asked for it."
The first shell hit. Eric found himself lying on the floor, his ears ringing, everything going around and around. Pat lay beside him, dazed and frightened. The house was a shambles. Walls, chairs, furniture, all was in ruins.
"Fine shield," Pat gasped.
"The concussion," the god protested. Its box lay in the corner on its side. "The shield stops the shells, but the concussionó"
A second shell struck. A wall of pressure rolled over Eric, stunning him. He skidded, tossed by a violent wind, crashing against heaps of debris that had been his house.
"We canít last," Pat said faintly. "Tell them to stop, Eric. Please!"
"Your wife is right," the godís calm voice came, from its overturned box. "Surrender, Eric. Give yourself up."
"I guess I better." Eric pulled himself up on his knees. "But golly, I donít want to spend the rest of my life in prison. I knew I was breaking the law when I smuggled that damn thing in here, but I never thoughtó"
A third shell hit. Eric tumbled down, his chin smacking the floor. Plaster and rubble rained down on him, choking and blinding him. He fought his way up, grabbing hold of a jutting beam.
"Stop!" he shouted.
There was sudden silence.
"Are you willing to surrender?" the magnified voice boomed.
"Surrender," the god murmured.
Ericís mind raced desperately. "IóI have a deal. A compromise." He thought fast, his brain in high gear. "I have a proposal."
There was a long pause. "Whatís the proposal?"
Eric stepped warily through the rubble to the edge of the shield. The shield was almost gone. Only a shimmering haze remained, through which the circle of atomic cannon was visible, the cannon and the robot police.
"Matson," Eric gasped. "The toad. Weíll make the following deal. Weíll restore Matson to his original shape. Weíll return the non-Terrestrial to Ganymede. In return, you waive prosecution and I get my job back."
"Absurd! My labs can easily restore Matson without your help."
"Oh yeah? Ask Matson. Heíll tell you. If you donít agree, Matson will be a toad for the next two hundred yearsóat least!"
A long silence followed. Eric could see the figures moving back and forth, conferring behind the guns.
"All right," Bradshawís voice came at last. "We agree. Drop the shield and come forward. Iíll send Jennings with the toad. No tricks, Blake!"
"No tricks." Eric sagged with relief. "Come along," he said to the god, picking up the dented box. "Drop the shield and letís get this over with. Those cannon make me nervous."
The god relaxed. The shieldówhat was left of itówavered and faded, blinking off.
"Here I come." Eric advanced warily, the box in his hands. "Whereís Matson?"
Jennings came toward him. "I have him." His curiosity overcame his suspicion. "This ought to be interesting. We should make a close study of all extra-dimensional life. Apparently they possess a science much in advance of our own."
Jennings squatted down, placing the small green toad carefully on the grass.
"There he is," Eric said to his god.
"Is this close enough?" Pat asked icily.
"This is sufficient," the god said. "This is exactly right." It turned its single eye on the toad and made a few brief motions with its scaly claws.
A shimmer hovered over the toad. Extra-dimensional forces were at work, fingering and plucking at the toad molecules. Abruptly the toad twitched. For a second it shuddered, an insistent vibration lapped over it. Thenó"
Matson ballooned into existence, the familiar bean-pole figure, towering over Eric and Jennings and Pat.
"Lord," Matson breathed shakily. He got out his handkerchief and wiped his face. "Iím glad thatís over. Wouldnít want to go through that again."
Jennings retreated hurriedly toward the circle of cannon. Matson turned and headed after him. Eric and his wife and the god were suddenly alone in the center of the lawn.
"Hey!" Eric demanded, cold alarm plucking at him. "Whatís this? What the hellís going on?"
"Sorry, Blake," Bradshawís voice came. It was essential to restore Matson. But we canít alter the law. The law is above any man, even me. Youíre under arrest."
Robot police swarmed forward, grimly surrounding Eric and Pat. "You skunk," Eric choked, struggling feebly.
Bradshaw came out from behind the cannon, hands in his pockets, grinning calmly. "Sorry, Blake. You should be out of jail in ten or fifteen years, though. Your job will be waiting for youóI promise. As for this extra-dimensional being, Iím quite interested in seeing it. Iíve heard of such things." He peered toward the box. "Iím happy to take charge of it. Our labs will perform experiments and tests on it which will. . ."
Bradshawís words died. His face turned a sickly hue. His mouth opened and closed, but no sounds came.
From the box came a swelling, frenzied buzz of rage. "Nar Dolk! I knew Iíd find you!"
Bradshaw retreated, trembling violently. "Why, of all persons, Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo! What are you doing on Terra?" He stumbled, half falling. "How did you, that is, after so long, how couldó"
Then Bradshaw was running, scattering robot police in all directions, rushing wildly past the atomic cannon.
"Nar Dolk!" the god screamed, swelling with fury. "Scourge of the Seven Temples! Flotsam of space! I knew you were on this miserable planet! Come back and take your punishment!"
The god burst upward, flashing into the air. It raced past Eric and Pat, growing as it flew. A sickening, nauseous wind, warm and damp, lapped at their faces, as the god gained speed.
BradshawóNar Dolkóran frantically. And as he ran, he changed. Immense wings sprouted from him. Great leathery wings, beating the air in frantic haste. His body oozed and altered. Tentacles replaced legs. Scaly claws replaced arms. Gray hide rippled as he flew up, wings flapping noisily.
Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo struck. For a brief moment the two locked together, twisting and rolling in the air, wings and claws raking and flapping.
Then Nar Dolk broke away, fluttering up. A blazing flash, a pop, and he was gone.
For a moment Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo hovered in the air. The scaly head turned, the single eye glancing back and down at Eric and Pat. It nodded briefly. Then, with a curious shimmy, it vanished.
The sky was empty except for a few feathers and the dull stench of burning scales.
Eric was the first to speak. "Well," he said. "So thatís why it wanted to come to Terra. I guess I was sort of exploited." He grinned sheepishly. "The first Terran ever to be exploited."
Matson gawked, still peering up. "Theyíre gone. Both of them. Back to their own dimension, I guess."
A robot policeman plucked at Jenningsí sleeves. "Shall we arrest anyone, sir? With Mr. Bradshaw gone you are next in charge."
Jennings glanced at Eric and Pat. "I suppose not. The evidence has departed. It seems somewhat silly, anyhow." He shook his head. "Bradshaw. Imagine! And we worked for him for years. Damn strange business."
Eric put his arm around his wife. He pulled her against him, hugging her tight. "Iím sorry, honey," he said softly.
"Your present. Itís gone. I guess Iíll have to get you something else."
Pat laughed, pressing against him. "Thatís all right, Iíll let you in on a secret."
Pat kissed him, her lips warm against his cheek. "As a
matter of factóIím just as glad."