The Project Gutenberg eBook of Ultimatum

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Title: Ultimatum

Author: Roger D. Aycock

Release date: March 5, 2021 [eBook #64702]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at




In a dingy little Indiana hotel room the fate of
three worlds suddenly hung in precarious balance!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1950.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Winant followed the lanky sheriff down the jail corridor past rows of empty, plank-walled cells and drew a sharp breath of relief when they found the last cubicle still tenanted.

"That's Uncle Ivor, all right," Winant said. "Sorry he caused you so much trouble, sheriff, but I'll be glad to pay his fine. What's the charge against him?"

The sheriff rubbed a palm across his drooping mustaches and looked doubtfully at the old man who sat on the edge of the cell bunk, the bald dome of his head cradled dejectedly in his hands.

"You couldn't rightly say there is a charge, mister," he admitted. "Your uncle popped into Ben Stuart's Drop Inn restaurant night before last with a little black box under his arm, naked as a jaybird and talking like a crazy man.

"'I'm a visitor from Mars,' he says. 'Take me to your president, and quick!' Ben thought he was crazy, or drunk, and ran him out with a meat cleaver, and the old duck went down to the Warner Hotel and pulled the same goofy act. Pop Warner called me, and I went down and threw the old coot into the cooler. I knew right off that he was cracked, because I even had to show him how to put on the clothes I brought him. And the wingding he pitched when I took that black box away from him—wow!"

Winant shook his head. "Poor Uncle Ivor," he said commiseratingly. "The last time he got away from us he thought he was Mahatma Ghandi, and tried to buy a bus ticket from Cincinnati to New Delhi, India. I found him, finally, in Evansville, Indiana. It's amazing how he got this far south, but then a mentally-unbalanced person can do surprising things, sometimes."

The sheriff snorted. "Unbalanced, hell," he said. "The old coot's crazy as a bed-bug. Just got in from Mars, he says, and he wants the president of the United States—on the double!"

He unlocked the door and Winant went inside.

"It's all right now, Uncle Ivor," he said gently. The old man raised a wrinkled, leathery face and stared at him uncomprehendingly. "Let's go over to my hotel and get a good meal and a hot bath," Winant urged. "Then we'll go home again. Ready, now?"

A few minutes later in the jail office the sheriff pocketed the bill Winant gave him and handed over a small lacquered metal box that was surprisingly heavy for its size.

"Here's your uncle's radio," he said. "New-fangled model, I reckon. I couldn't make head nor tail of it, so I just left it alone."

Winant lifted the hinged cover and looked inside the box at the neat array of tiny meters and knobs that covered the control panel.

"A wise decision, sheriff," he said dryly. "Wiser, perhaps, than you'll ever know."

The old man stood in the center of Winant's hotel room, the sheriff's ill-fitting denims hanging on his slight frame like the castoff clothing of a scare-crow.

"The box," he said. His voice, after talking for so long, was a hoarse, rasping croak. "Give me the box."

Winant sat in a decrepit wicker chair, holding the box in his lap, his eyes missing no detail of the old man's shrunken figure with its bald dome-like head and wrinkled parchment face.

"I'll give you the box when you tell me something that makes sense," he said. "What you've just told me is nothing but a rehash of the story you told the sheriff—that your name is Yardana and that you are an envoy from Mars, sent to Earth to help scientific authorities develop safe atomic power. Look—I'm a news writer, down here to investigate the rumors of a blue meteorite landing in the hills just north of here and to check up on the comic accounts I read of your appearance. I went to a lot of trouble and some risk to get you out of jail, and I want a reasonable story for my trouble. What about it, now?"

The old man wrung his hands. "Give me the box. Give me the box!"

"Later," Winant promised. "When you give me the real story behind this thing I'll not only give you back your box, I'll give you a lift out of this burg as well."

He looked at the old man sharply. "How could a Martian speak the kind of English you've been using? Why should a Martian look so much like an ordinary human being? It doesn't add up."

"We are of the same root stock," Yardana said. "Intelligent life follows the same evolutionary pattern, no matter where it develops, so long as conditions are the same. As for the language, my people have followed your experiments with electro-magnetics since their beginning. We know every language of Earth intimately, through long study of your radio programs."

Winant laughed. "Maybe the sheriff was right, at that," he said. "It's a goofy story, too fantastic for belief."

He shrugged and handed the old man the black box.

"Here's your toy," he said resignedly. "I guess that's all I'm going to get for my trouble; just enough misinformation for another tongue-in-cheek article for Sunday supplements."

He picked up his brief-case from the floor and laid it on the corner of the writing table at his elbow. "The lift I promised you still goes, if you want it, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow."

The old man took the black box eagerly and threw back the cover. His fingers flickered over the controls with practised familiarity.

"I shall not need your assistance—now," he said. His pale eyes met Winant's triumphantly. "Now that I have the Bubble again I have a means of return to my ship better than any Earthly conveyance could offer. Watch!"

From the black box swelled a pulsing radiance, a misty rose-tinted sphere that grew swiftly until it enveloped Yardana in a six-foot bubble of iridescent light. Through its wavering envelope the old man's face showed taut and purposeful, its pleading replaced by grim determination.

From the black box swelled a pulsing bubble of iridescent light.

"Print your story," he said. "Tell your people about Yardana and his mission. Tell them too that their days are numbered from this minute, for in their savage perversion of natural principles to warlike uses they have forged a menace that threatens the peace of the Solar System and, eventually, of the universe itself."

He moved toward the window, the rosy Bubble glowing about him. Winant turned his chair slightly, watching, but he did not rise.

"My people knew the secrets of the atom," Yardana said, "before your own learned the use of fire. We built great cities and telescopes when your ancestors were troglodytes, living in caves and eating uncooked meat. We expected no dangerous intelligence to arise on your planet for thousands of years as yet, and we paid little attention to your progress until recently, when we learned through your radio broadcasts that you had cracked the atom. We knew then that something was dangerously wrong, and that we must investigate quickly before your sudden wisdom put you upon equal footing with us.

"Today, when you should be only learning to compound gunpowder, we find you applying electromagnetic principles which you cannot possibly understand, and harnessing the atom for the sole purpose of killing greater numbers of your fellow beings. I came here, not to aid your scientists in developing the rudiments of the atomic power they have discovered, but to find the reason behind the sudden freakish intelligence they are displaying. I have discovered that reason—the scientific and political powers of Earth are under the domination and guidance of alien intelligences, entities bent upon developing a race of Earthmen so warlike and so technically proficient in the waging of war that it must endanger our own Martian culture."

Winant sat unmoving, his eyes not leaving the Martian's wrinkled face. The Bubble hissed audibly, its tiny sussuration suddenly loud in the room.

"Therefore I shall recommend in my report that the human race be completely destroyed," Yardana said. "Alone it could not offer a serious threat against us for ages, but led and instructed by these outside intelligences it must soon surpass our own scientific development. And we must destroy you before you learn the secret of space travel, or we shall be too late to save ourselves.

"We fought with the peoples of Venus once in ages past for the same reason, and reduced them to inconsequence if not to extinction, for no sign of intelligent life has been detected upon their world since we blasted it three thousand years ago. When I have made my report the council of Elders will recommend the blasting of Earth, and the solar system will be safe again for our superior Martian civilization—this time forever."

"When you have made your report," Winant said. His smile was edged with a sudden secret amusement. "But suppose these 'alien entities' prevent your return?"

He opened the brief-case on the table and put a hand inside it. The Martian laughed harshly.

"No missile can penetrate a Bubble, you fool," he said contemptuously. "It is impervious to any Earthly weapon."

Winant laughed in turn, his lips pressed back flat against his teeth. The repressed hatred of three thousand years spoke in his voice, added pressure to the thrust of his thumb on the stud of the little silver tube in his hand.

"Of course it is," he said, as the sullen crimson ray from the tube disintegrated Martian, box and Bubble alike in a breath. "That's why I came prepared—with a Venusian weapon!"