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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE PRINCESS AND THE PHYSICIST *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
The Princess and the Physicist


Illustrated by KOSSIN

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction June 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Elected a god, Zen the Omnipotent longed
for supernatural powers—for he was also
Zen the All-Put-Upon, a galactic sucker!

Zen the Terrible lay quiescent in the secret retreat which housed his corporeal being, all the aspects of his personality wallowing in the luxury of a day off. How glad he was that he'd had the forethought to stipulate a weekly holiday for himself when first this godhood had been thrust upon him, hundreds of centuries before. He'd accepted the perquisites of divinity with pleasure then. It was some little time before he discovered its drawbacks, and by then it was too late; he had become the established church.

All the aspects of his personality rested ... save one, that is. And that one, stretching out an impalpable tendril of curiosity, brought back to his total consciousness the news that a spaceship from Earth had arrived when no ship from Earth was due.

So what? the total consciousness asked lazily of itself. Probably they have a large out-of-season order for hajench. My hajench going to provide salad bowls for barbarians!

When, twenty years previously, the Earthmen had come back to their colony on Uxen after a lapse of thousands of years, Zen had been hopeful that they would take some of the Divine Work off his hands. After all, since it was they who had originally established the colony, it should be their responsibility. But it seemed that all humans, not merely the Uxenach, were irresponsible. The Earthmen were interested only in trade and tribute. They even refused to believe in the existence of Zen, an attitude which he found extremely irritating to his ego.

True, Uxen prospered commercially to a mild extent after their return, for the local ceramics that had been developed in the long interval found wide acceptance throughout the Galaxy, particularly the low bowls which had hitherto been used only for burning incense before Zen the Formidable.

Now every two-bit planet offered hajench in its gift shops.

Culturally, though, Uxen had degenerated under the new Earth administration. No more criminals were thrown to the skwitch. Xwoosh lost its interest when new laws prohibited the ancient custom of executing the losing side after each game.

There was no tourist trade, for the planet was too far from the rest of the Galaxy. The commercial spaceships came only once every three months and left the same day. The two destroyers that "guarded" the planet arrived at rare intervals for fueling or repairs, but the crew never had anything to do with the Uxenach. Local ordinance forbade the maidens of Uxen to speak to the outlanders, and the outlanders were not interested in any of the other native products.

But the last commercial spaceship had departed less than three weeks before on its regular run, and this was not one of the guard ships.

Zen reluctantly conceded to himself that he would have to investigate this situation further, if he wanted to retain his reputation for omniscience. Sometimes, in an occasional moment of self-doubt, he wondered if he weren't too much of a perfectionist, but then he rejected the thought as self-sacrilege.

Zen dutifully intensified the beam of awareness and returned it to the audience chamber where the two strange Earthmen who had come on the ship were being ushered into the presence of the king by none other than Guj, the venerable prime minister himself.

"Gentlemen," Guj beamed, his long white beard vibrating in an excess of hospitality, "His Gracious Majesty will be delighted to receive you at once."

And crossing his wrists in the secular xa, he led the way to where Uxlu the Fifteenth was seated in full regalia upon his imposing golden, gem-encrusted throne.

Uxlu himself, Zen admitted grudgingly, was an imposing sight to anyone who didn't know the old yio. The years—for he was a scant decade younger than Guj—had merely lent dignity to his handsome features, and he was still tall and upright.

"Welcome, Earthlings, to Uxen," King Uxlu said in the sonorous tones of the practiced public speaker. "If there is aught we can do to advance your comfort whilst you sojourn on our little planet, you have but to speak."

He did not, Zen noted with approval, rashly promise that requests would necessarily be granted. Which was fine, because the god well knew who the carrier out of requests would be—Zen the Almighty, the All-Powerful, the All-Put-Upon....

"Thank you, Your Majesty," the older of the two scientists said. "We merely seek a retired spot in which to conduct our researches."

"Researches, eh?" the king repeated with warm interest. "Are you perhaps scientists?"

"Yes, Your Majesty." Every one of Zen's perceptors quivered expectantly. Earth science was banned on Uxen, with the result that its acquisition had become the golden dream of every Uxena, including, of course, their god.

The older scientist gave a stiff bow. "I am an anthropologist. My name is Kendrick, Professor Alpheus Kendrick. My assistant, Dr. Peter Hammond—" he indicated the tall young man with him—"is a physicist."

The king and the prime minister conferred together in whispers. Zen wished he could join them, but he couldn't materialize on that plane without incense, and he preferred his subjects not to know that he could be invisibly present, especially on his day off. Of course, his Immaterial Omnipresence was a part of the accepted dogma, but there is a big difference between accepting a concept on a basis of faith or of proven fact.

"Curious researches," the king said, emerging from the conference, "that require both physics and anthropology."

"Yes," said Kendrick. "They are rather involved at that." Peter Hammond shuffled his feet.

"Perhaps some of our technicians might be of assistance to you," the king suggested. "They may not have your science, but they are very adept with their hands...."

"Our researches are rather limited in scope," Kendrick assured him. "We can do everything needful quite adequately ourselves. All we need is a place in which to do it."

"You shall have our own second-best palace," the king said graciously. "It has both hot and cold water laid on, as well as central heating."

"We've brought along our own collapsible laboratory-dwelling," Kendrick explained. "We just want a spot to set it up."

Uxlu sighed. "The royal parks are at your disposal. You will undoubtedly require servants?"

"We have a robot, thanks."

"A robot is a mechanical man who does all our housework," Hammond, more courteous than his superior, explained. Zen wondered how he could ever have felt a moment's uneasiness concerning these wonderful strangers.

"Zen will be interested to hear of this," the prime minister said cannily. He and the king nodded at one another.

"Who did you say?" Kendrick asked eagerly.

"Zen the Terrible," the king repeated, "Zen the All-Powerful, Zen the Encyclopedic. Surely you have heard of him?" he asked in some surprise. "He's Uxen's own particular, personal and private god, exclusive to our planet."

"Yes, yes, of course I've heard about him," Kendrick said, trembling with hardly repressed excitement.

What a correct attitude! Zen thought. One rarely finds such religious respect among foreigners.

"In fact, I've heard a great deal about him and I should like to know even more!" Kendrick spoke almost reverently.

"He is an extremely interesting divinity," the king replied complacently. "And if your robot cannot teleport or requires a hand with the heavy work, do not hesitate to call on Zen the Accommodating. We'll detail a priest to summon—"

"The robot manages very well all by itself, thank you," Kendrick said quickly.

In his hideaway, the material body of Zen breathed a vast multiple sigh of relief. He was getting to like these Earthmen more and more by the minute.

"Might I inquire," the king asked, "into the nature of your researches?"

"An investigation of the prevalent nuclear ritual beliefs on Uxen in relation to the over-all matrix of social culture, and we really must get along and see to the unloading of the ship. Good-by, Your Majesty ... Your Excellency." And Kendrick dragged his protesting aide off.

"If only," said the king, "I were still an absolute monarch, I would teach these Earthlings some manners." His face grew wistful. "Well I remember how my father would have those who crossed him torn apart by wild skwitch."

"If you did have the Earthlings torn apart by wild skwitch, Sire," Guj pointed out, "then you would certainly never be able to obtain any information from them."

Uxlu sighed. "I would merely have them torn apart a little—just enough so that they would answer a few civil questions." He sighed again. "And, supposing they did happen to—er—pass on, in the process, think of the tremendous lift to my ego. But nobody thinks of the king's ego any more these days."

No, things were not what they had been since the time the planet had been retrieved by the Earthlings. They had not communicated with Uxen for so many hundreds of years, they had explained, because, after a more than ordinarily disastrous war, they had lost the secret of space travel for centuries.

Now, wanting to make amends for those long years of neglect, they immediately provided that the Earth language and the Earth income tax become mandatory upon Uxen. The language was taught by recordings. Since the Uxenach were a highly intelligent people, they had all learned it quickly and forgotten most of their native tongue except for a few untranslatable concepts.

"Must be a new secret atomic weapon they're working on," Uxlu decided. "Why else should they come to such a remote corner of the Galaxy? And you will recall that the older one—Kendrick—said something about nuclear beliefs. If only we could discover what it is, secure it for ourselves, perhaps we could defeat the Earthmen, drive them away—" he sighed for the third time that morning—"and rule the planet ourselves."

Just then the crown princess Iximi entered the throne room. Iximi really lived up to her title of Most Fair and Exalted, for centuries of selective breeding under which the kings of Uxen had seized the loveliest women of the planet for their wives had resulted in an outstanding pulchritude. Her hair was as golden as the ripe fruit that bent the boughs of the iolo tree, and her eyes were bluer than the uriz stones on the belt girdling her slender waist. Reproductions of the famous portrait of her which hung in the great hall of the palace were very popular on calendars.

"My father grieves," she observed, making the secular xa. "Pray tell your unworthy daughter what sorrow racks your noble bosom."

"Uxen is a backwash," her father mourned. "A planet forgotten, while the rest of the Galaxy goes by. Our ego has reached its nadir."

"Why did you let yourself be conquered?" the princess retorted scornfully. "Ah, had I been old enough to speak then, matters would be very different today!" Although she seemed too beautiful to be endowed with brains, Iximi had been graduated from the Royal University with high honors.

Zen the Erudite was particularly fond of her, for she had been his best student in Advanced Theology. She was, moreover, an ardent patriot and leader of the underground Moolai (free) Uxen movement, with which Zen was more or less in sympathy, since he felt Uxen belonged to him and not to the Earthlings. After all, he had been there first.

"Let ourselves be conquered!" Her father's voice rose to a squeak. "Let ourselves! Nobody asked us—we were conquered."

"True, but we could at least have essayed our strength against the conquerors instead of capitulating like yioch. We could have fought to the last man!"

"A woman is always ready to fight to the last man," Guj commented.

"Did you hear that, ancient and revered parent! He called me, a princess of the blood, a—a woman!"

"We are all equal before Zen," Guj said sententiously, making the high xa.

"Praise Zen," Uxlu and Iximi chanted perfunctorily, bowing low.

Iximi, still angry, ordered Guj—who was also high priest—to start services. Kindling the incense in the hajen, he began the chant.

Of course it was his holiday, but Zen couldn't resist the appeal of the incense. Besides he was there anyway, so it was really no trouble, no trouble, he thought, greedily sniffing the delicious aroma, at all. He materialized a head with seven nostrils so that he was able to inhale the incense in one delectable gulp. Then, "No prayers answered on Thursday," he said, and disappeared. That would show them!

"Drat Zen and his days off!" The princess was in a fury.

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