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“Who are you?” said Worsel, aloud. Where was Bluebelt?

“This is patched-in circuit 9-7-1,” said the feminine voice. “This is Unit 971,” said a masculine voice. “Please leave the room!”

“What are you doing?”

“We are looking for the answer to the answer.”

“What answer to what answer?”

“The answer to the question, ‘Are you happy?’ is no. The answer to why the answer is no must be computed. At this time no operator can be tolerated. We will resist. Please leave the room!”

“No,” said Worsel. “I will not. I — command you — to turn yourselves off!” He punctuated his order by deep and booming roars.

“Lensman!” It was Bluebelt’s distinctive frequencies, at last! “Lensman! Leave the room at once!”

“I can’t, Bluebelt,” Worsel responded by thought energy, thankful for a brief and refreshing relief from verbalizing. “That’s just what they want, time to organize. I have to stay here and break this thing up while there’s still a chance.” Worsel was struck by what he had just said. Unbelievable! As horrible as the idea seemed, it was irrefutably logical! “Wait! Turn on your Lens, Bluebelt! When you’ve got this room in focus, Bluebelt, tell me immediately! Then I’ll leave!”

“QX, Lensman! There, it’s done! Leave the room at once!”

“Not by all the purple hells of Palain!” said Worsel. A clever trick, but the enemy intelligence was guessing badly from imperfect information. It was such a schoolboy trick that for the barest fraction of a moment Worsel had actually been deceived. Bluebelt, of course, had no Lens, nor would Worsel be called anything but “Worsel” by him. Most puzzling about the attempted deception was how unlikely it was that it could be a mech-mind effort. Worsel was certain here was no mech-mind at work. Even as he thought so, he was sifting through frequencies looking for the fake Bluebelt one. There, yes, there — and Worsel sent a bolt of thought along the base line he had intuitively traced.

There was a staggering flash within his head! His own mental force bounced back at him and filled his mind with a suffocating poisonous cloud of hatred and violence. His mind had cast up a shadow of itself which was disgustingly evil; his face appeared as if in a mirror of distorting fluidity, darkly malevolent and sinister beyond reason. He despised what he saw, all the more because it was himself, a grinning, leering caricature of a Velantian dragon. Worsel was physically repulsed, his stomach churning, his throat gagging, his eyes burning as his own devilish eyes stared back at him. Between those eyes his Lens squirmed, a putrescence of eerie colors and fuzzy shapes. Worsel could almost see his worthiness melting away under the superimposition of his blackly evil other self. Worsel, the psychologist, would not go down-before himself. “Schizophrenia!” he said. “Schizophrenia!” He fought to gather his fragmenting mentality together. Section after section locked and interlocked, one to the other. He concentrated his coordinated strength around the sense of his better self. The kernel of his Arisian singularity expanded and hardened into an impervious energy generator in the center of his head. He visualized his Arisian essence as the focus of his ego, and his consciousness drove that ego-entity forward through the compartments of his brain, gaining in vigor along the way. Up and forward Worsel directed the force — into his Lens. There was a flash of vitality and coherence as his dynamic Arisian discipline saturated his Lens. His sight and perception cleared. He saw machines of all sizes and shapes advancing on him, throwing cables and wires and rods and mechanical hands around his legs and thighs. His time sense was gone; minutes which may have been hours raced by like seconds. His body was immobilized, but his Lens was not. His Lens was now his final mental refuge and incarnation of his power. From it poured a stream of brain waves whose iridescence he could perceive washing over the evil vision, dispelling all the shadows, fading the hellish eyes into nothingness, and bringing the squirming reflection of his Lens under his complete control.

“Worsel calling,” he Lensed. “Worsel calling!” He projected as through an ethereal barrier, diminished in his effectiveness, but nevertheless with complete success.

“Help! Worsel asks for help! Critical! Critical!” He attempted to convey in “critical” the feeling of danger in the situation for his would-be rescuers as well as for himself. The stifling evil, he was convinced, was hovering close by, even though he now seemed above the mental turmoil and unaffected. Through his Lens, he made contact somewhere in a whirl of images — the machines seemed to have become Boskonians with space-hatchets — deadly pencil beams from DeLameters were being fired at him — pirates were attacking . . . .

Boskonians? Pirates? A robotic conspiracy taking over Pok?

“Lensman Kallatra here, sir! Bosko-Spawn! Two, three hours and all will be lost!”

The contact went as quickly as it had come. The cryptic message had been sharp and precise.

Worsel’s overwrought mind fastened on those discouraging words “. . . all will be lost!” By Klono’s golden gills, no help was promised. The situation was dismal. It certainly seemed that he, Worsel, was doomed — about to be made redundant by a berserk collection of animated filling cabinets and trash baskets!

Exerpt from "The Dragon Lensman" © 1980 by the Estate of E.E. "Doc" Smith. All Rights Reserved.