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Mission Of Ignorance

Second Lieutenant Jack Smith, at attention before the weird-looking entities, asked himself why he had to represent Earth at this second visit of the Galactics. Their first visit, marked by a jovial presentation of gifts, had been handled by the highest officials on Earth.

Across the legless table that hung before them with no visible support, the Galactic Emissaries appeared to be pondering the same question. The one seated directly before Smith, more or less human in appearance, and acting as a spokesman, made a throat-clearing noise. His voice was extremely cold.

"Excuse me if I seem repetitious. Did you say you were a messenger from the Earth representative? Or are you some kind of functionary attached to his staff?"

"I am the Earth representative."

"I find that difficult to understand."

Smith was inclined to agree, but there was no use dwelling on that. He considered his scant but explicit instructions, and said, "I have written authorization to that effect."

"I suggest you show it."

"I will show you my authorization, if you show me yours."

The asininity of this was clear to Smith, who didn't know two words in any Galactic tongue. But—He had his orders.

The Galactic spokesman stared at him a moment, then acquired a peculiar inward-turned expression, as if he were trying to remember a long-forgotten name. At the same time, the Emissary's lips moved very slightly, and Smith had the eerie sensation that the Emissary was talking to someone inside of his head. The Emissary looked sharply at Smith, turned away, and called over his shoulder. From behind one of the curved gray screens, that blocked Smith's view of whatever was in back of the Galactics, came a respectful low-voiced reply.

The spokesman put his hand behind the screen, then placed on the floating table a thing that looked like a small book, followed by what appeared to be a strip of cellophane tape, then a child's block with rounded corners and edges, two dominoes of varying colors and designs, and several pieces of thick paper covered with symbols suggestive of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Emissary turned toward Smith, and made a slight bow. He spoke ironically:

"Here is our authorization. Please feel free to satisfy yourself that everything is in order."

Smith took a brief look at the things. "I'm prepared to take your word for it." He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, selected the first of three long envelopes, took from it a crisp white sheet of paper, checked to be sure it was his authorization, and handed it over. As he stood waiting, Smith was again struck by the farcicality of giving a second lieutenant the job of representing the planet. There must be some reason for it. But what? And why hadn't it at least been explained to him before he was sent here?

Meanwhile, the Galactic, on looking over the authorization, frowned in irritation, and turned it around.

Smith, faintly puzzled at this error, said politely, "You've got it upside down."

The Emissary changed expression, swung around in his seat, called to someone behind the screen, and handed the paper back out of sight. He turned back toward Smith with a cold stare, then sat looking once more like someone intently trying to remember a forgotten name.

Smith studied the Galactic's face. At first, his lips seemed to be moving, very slightly. Then the motion vanished. The Galactic glanced sharply at Smith.

From behind the screen came a click and a snap, then a puzzled voice.

The Galactic reached back, dropped the paper before him on the desk, and looked flatly at Smith.

"What language is this?"


"You lie."

Smith stiffened, then remembered he was supposed to be a diplomat.

"You are mistaken."

The Galactic held out the paper.

"Suppose you read this to us."

Smith turned the paper around, and read:

"To whoever it may concern: This is to certify that Jack Smith, Second Lieutenant, E. S. C. F., is duly, officially and in accord with all relevant usages and requirements, appointed Representative of the Special Governing Council of Earth, for the purpose of meeting, consulting with, and carrying out any necessary preliminary negotiations with, the entities known as Galactic Emissaries ..."

Smith read through to the end, lowered the paper, and directly opposite him, the spokesman for the Galactic Emissaries was looking at him with a distracted expression.

Exasperatedly, Smith asked himself, Now what? Why that look? It was a simple matter of reading what was written, wasn't it?

The Emissary leaned forward. "May I see that paper again?" After looking at it, he folded it vertically down the center, so only one side was visible at a time.

"Please read the left side, half-line by half-line, from top to bottom; then turn the paper over and read the other half-lines, on the right side."

Frowning, Smith began to read. This, he decided, must be a check, to make sure he actually was reading. If, for instance, he had spoken from memory, he would now have the problem of mentally dividing the remembered words into as many groups as there were lines of words on the paper, then dividing each group of words roughly in half, and then calling off all the left halves in order, followed by all the right halves. Happily, since he was reading it, his only problem was an occasional word or phrase cut apart by the fold in the paper.

When Smith finished, a low voice spoke from behind the screen.

The Emissary looked at Smith wonderingly.

"This, then is written in some form of ... ah ... official cipher-script?"

Smith looked blank. Apparently someone hidden behind the screen had checked, and found that he'd read the authorization correctly. Nevertheless, the Galactic Emissary seemed almost as much in the dark as Smith himself. Smith looked at him wonderingly.

"It's just standard shorthand."

The Emissary jumped as if someone had touched him with a hot wire.



Smith looked around in amazement.

This harmless comment had created the same effect as a sackful of snakes turned loose at a garden party.

When the clack and jabber finally died down, the renewed quiet was again broken as all the pale-green strands crowning the head of one of the Galactics rose up on end and vibrated with a shriek. Meanwhile, the spokesman was saying anxiously to Smith, "This ... shorthand ... is it just taught to a few men selected for the ... ah ... diplomatic corps, or is it taught widely?"

Smith stared at him. "It's taught widely. Why not?"

The Emissary didn't answer, but turned to talk earnestly to several of the others. When eventually this came to an end, he looked back at Smith.

"Our computer didn't recognize this ... ah ... shorthand. This document, then, is written in a formerly obscure form of shorthand?"

Smith thought it over. It was just standard everyday shorthand. But wait a minute now. It was sometimes called "Burdeenite Fastwrite." And the Burdeenites hadn't come into existence till after that first visit of the Galactics.

"Not obscure, but fairly new," said Smith. "New, that is, since your previous visit."

This created a scene like chickens in a henyard when a rat runs through.

Frowning in perplexity, Smith reminded himself of the size of the huge Galactic ship, and how it hung easily clear of the ground, its huge mass supported on nothingness. The power represented by this ship was self-evident. Yet, the Galactics themselves were thrown into confusion by a few scratches on paper. Why?

The spokesman was suddenly silent, his head oddly tilted. Then he spoke very firmly to the others, and faced Smith.

"If this paper is in a script unknown to us, how are we supposed to read it? And if we cannot read it, how do we know what you have said is true?"

And, thought Smith, considering that the Galactics wouldn't be able to read it, why had his superiors sent him with it in the first place? He shrugged and thought over his instructions: "If they refuse to accept your authorization, open the second long envelope, and take out Sheet One."

Smith felt in his pocket, and drew out the second long envelope. He got out Sheet One, unfolded it, and found that it was the same authorization, but in ordinary print. He handed it to the spokesman of the Galactics.

Why, he exasperatedly demanded of himself, hadn't he just been given that paper to hand over, to begin with?

The spokesman looked up.

"This authorization for Lieutenant Jack Smith appears to be in order. However, we have no proof that you are Lieutenant Jack Smith. Kindly let us see your identification."

Smith perfunctorily slid up the curving zipper on the left sleeve of his battle jacket, undid the button of his left uniform cuff, and turned the sleeve back to reveal, apparently either tattooed or indelibly stamped, a blue-outlined oblong on the inside of his left forearm, bearing the name "Jack Smith" and several groups of smaller letters and numbers.

There was a stunned silence.

The spokesman sat back, and said dazedly, "I see."

Smith, baffled, rolled down his shirt sleeve, buttoned it, and ran the zipper back down the sleeve of his battle jacket.

He was gradually coming to feel as if he were serving as a stand-in in some kind of alien poker game, laying down cards passed to him by the real player, who was out of sight. It was supposed to be just a friendly little game, but actually everyone in it was out for blood, and every play had implications that he couldn't fathom.

Around him, the gigantic ship clicked and murmured, while the Emissaries, as if they had just been dealt some unexpected and formidable rebuff, sat around in a daze. Finally they roused themselves, exchanged brief low-voiced comments, and glanced almost fearfully at Smith. The spokesman finally drew a deep breath.

"Ah ... On mature consideration, Lieutenant Smith, we feel that, while you evidently are the Earth representative, still, out of respect to your own highly-esteemed planet, we feel that someone of higher rank and greater experience should be sent here, to deal with the weighty problems that may arise."

Smith nodded agreeably. That certainly was what he thought. However, his instructions on this particular point were perfectly simple. He reached in his pocket, reopened the second long envelope, and got out Sheet Two.

Sheet Two proved to be folded around a somewhat smaller envelope, with unequivocal instructions written on the face. Smith read the instructions; then, feeling foolish, he opened the envelope, shook out a little plastic bag, and stuck it temporarily in a side pocket. He unfolded a long sheet of thick paper adorned with seals, crests, silver and gold ribbons, official stamps, and illegible signatures over imposing titles. There were also three blank spaces for him to sign, so resting the paper on top of the envelopes, he got out a pen and scrawled his name in the blank spaces. He then handed the paper to the Emissary, put the envelope away, and methodically got out the little plastic bag.

The Emissary, meanwhile, stared at the paper.

Smith tore the end off the plastic bag, shook out a kind of bronze X, a glittering silver circle, and a crown-shaped pin set with tiny rubies and diamonds. One by one he pinned these emblems onto his uniform jacket, then dropped his gold bars into the plastic bag, and put it away. He was still the same person, but no one in any of Earth's armies would have known it.

The Emissary looked up from the paper.

"So, this document, when signed, gives you the temporary rank of Field Marshal, Member of the Special Governing Council of Earth, and Prince Imperial of the Royal and Imperial House of Mogg?"

"That's what it says," said Smith. He was unenthusiastically aware that he had just experienced the first half of the most meteoric rise and fall in Earth history. The paper specified that his rank lasted while he was on the Galactic ship—and was revoked as soon as he set foot on Earth again.

"Why," asked the Emissary, "didn't they send someone of this rank in the first place?"

"I don't know."

"Why, if they were going to give you this rank, didn't they give it to you before you came on board?"

"I don't know that either."

The Emissary showed a glint of frustrated peevishness.

"Why, exactly, did they send you?"

Smith said irritatedly, "Don't expect me to read their minds."

This, after it was out, had a hint of an insubordinate tone that Smith wasn't happy about. It also seemed to stun the Galactics.

Yet again, Smith was treated to the sight of a collection of alien entities, with few familiar features to judge by, somehow projecting an appearance of disordered stupefaction. And the spokesman once more looked as if he were earnestly trying to remember a forgotten name.

Finally, down the table, an entity that resembled a set of joints of bamboo, of various lengths and diameters, topped by a kind of flattened giant clamshell, bestirred itself, opened the clamshell a crack, and emitted a series of grating squeaking noises.

The spokesman seemed to receive some message from this, cleared his throat, and said something over his shoulder.

After a moment, there was a murmured reply.

The Emissary turned to Smith.

"I don't believe we have heard before of the Royal and Imperial House of Mogg."

Smith doggedly got out the third envelope. As the Galactics watched anxiously, he drew out a large folded sheet of paper marked "Env. 3, Sheet 2, and read aloud the first sentence:

"The House of Mogg is one of the many startling results of the precedent-shattering first visit of the Galactic Emissaries."

Smith paused, and glanced at them, wondering if this simple comment would have an effect.

The Emissaries showed a variety of expressions, which ranged from resignation to faint hope.

Second Lieutenant Smith read on:

"The House of Mogg, closely allied to the Burdeenite and certain other faiths, controls roughly one-fourth of the land surface of the Earth, and possibly one-tenth of its populace. It is headed by a monarch whose actual name is unknown, the name 'Mogg' having been adopted in the early days when the Burdeenite faith and allied political movements were outlawed.

"The main distinguishing characteristic of the House of Mogg is its unalterable opposition to the use, within its own territories, of the remarkable gifts presented by the Galactic Emissaries during their First or Preliminary Visitation.

"These gifts, by the widespread and unselfish use of which the fitness of Earth to join the Greater Galactic Community is to be decided during the Second or Determining Visitation, include:

"1) The marbus plant. This plant is pest-free, and hardy in all but the most extreme polar regions. All parts of it are tasty and nutritious. It is prolific and fast-growing, requires little care, and may be grown in a variety of forms, depending on cultural practices. The effect of the marbus plant, properly used, is to enormously increase food production, thus offering the total elimination of famine at the present population level.

"2) The drug popularly known as 'Superpill.' A minute quantity of this drug, taken orally, permits family planning, with no known side effects, for up to two years at one dosage. The effect of this drug is to permit easy stabilization of the population at current levels.

"3) The 'condensed-circuit' computer. This device, based on the 'polyphase crystal,' provides an unprecedented number of switching elements per unit volume, at extremely low power-drain. The computer is composed to two basic parts, the 'crystal' and the 'control.' The crystals were grown originally from seed crystals provided by the Galactics, in baths prepared according to their instructions. The controls are manufactured according to the Galactic patterns. The precise mechanism by which the condensed-circuit computer operates is, for Earth scientists, still a matter of conjecture, although it has been suggested that the control, by a very rapid three-dimensional scanning process, alternately determines, and detects, certain finely-balanced fundamental properties of the individual atoms of the polyphase crystal. The practical effect of this very compact low-drain computer has been to obsolete all former computer technology, enormously accelerate already-existing trends in industrial and transportation control, and revolutionize many phases of human activity, including education. With the aid of a pocket-sized, relatively inexpensive computer, a child of eight can now easily perform abstruse calculations far beyond the skill of the professional mathematician of pre-Visitation days. Dates and events of history are readily available from the computer, as are chemical and physical facts in enormous abundance. By proper use of the computer, numerous relationships between seemingly isolated facts can readily be discovered. Hence the new computer has come to be a tool of thought comparable to the old-time 'slide rule,' but on a far greater scale, and, for this reason, much present-day education is actually training in the skillful use of the condensed-circuit computer.

"To all of these developments, the House of Mogg, and the Burdeenite and allied faiths, are unalterably opposed. In their territory, former types of computers and control devices are in use, and undergoing continuous and rapid development; old-style Earth plants provide food; and the 'superpill' is banned on pain of death.

"The Burdeenite territories have highly irregular borders, and many are seemingly-indefensible enclaves. But they are not molested. Following the original secession of the Burdeenites, the Governing Council strove to compel obedience by force, and strengthened its human combat forces with newly-developed unmanned combat-machines controlled by their own internal computers, and programmed to track down and destroy armed rebel forces. The Burdeenites argued that they themselves were fighting for the cause of humanity against 'alien-inspired devices,' and refused to fire on human troops unless seriously attacked. The combat machines, not yet perfected, malfunctioned, and committed a series of incredible atrocities against both sides, with the result that the human combat forces went over to the Burdeenites en masse. The Governing Council, fearful to commit its remaining troops, agreed to a prolonged truce, during which it rapidly developed improved combat-machines.

"During this truce, however, large numbers of engineers, scientists, and technicians, disliking the trend of events, joined the House of Mogg. They were at once put to work in the industrial and research facilities under Burdeenite control. The cause of what happened next is a state secret of the House of Mogg, but the outer facts are clear enough.

"The Governing Council, determined to bring the Burdeenite regions back under control, worked to create formidable forces of improved and thoroughly tested types of combat-machines. The Burdeenites labored to multiply and strengthen their fortifications, and to create a unified industrial whole of many of the regions under their control. Both sides were apparently successful.

"The Governing Council then delivered an ultimatum, on the rejection of which the Council attacked, using tremendous concentrations of combat-machines in the effort to achieve a quick and decisive victory. The result was a smashing success of the Burdeenites on all decisive fronts, the combat machines being somehow destroyed in enormous numbers. In the resulting sudden peace, the Burdeenites exacted only modest territorial gains, insisting instead on their religious, intellectual and political freedom. This peace has proved durable.

"The Burdeenite territories offer numerous perplexing features to the outsider. One is the incredible depth and strength of the fortifications, the works often completely concealed by remarkable skill in camouflage. These fortifications, though formidable beyond belief to the outsider, and stocked with enormous quantities of food and other supplies, never satisfy the Burdeenites, who labor constantly to further strengthen and improve them, though no enemy is in sight.

"Another baffling feature is the paradox, frequently seen in Burdeenite territory, of advanced research and development carried out along lines already eclipsed by the Galactic gifts. A related feature is 'backsearch'—research to uncover past methods and devices, already eclipsed by Earth's own progress; such discoveries are greeted with as much rejoicing as completely new facts, methods, and devices; the Burdeenites do not necessarily place even the most antique device, for instance, in a museum, but study its principle, and often improve the device along the lines it would naturally have followed if new methods had not displaced it. Peculiarly enough, some of these antique devices have been improved to such an extent that they have returned to daily use even outside Burdeenite territory. The achievement of such a feat is always cause for a patent of nobility in the House of Mogg.

"These eccentricities have proved valuable to the Burdeenites, in that an enormous trade in novelties has sprung up. The Burdeenite 'Never-smoke Catalytic Long-Burning Efficiency Lamp,' for instance, is an extremely popular item, because of its intriguing design, and also because of its surprising effectiveness as a portable emergency light source. Numerous Burdeenite invented games, such as 'Bash,' 'Guerrilla,' and the ever-popular, 'Invasion From Outer Space,' enliven interests dulled by excessive leisure. A peculiar feature of this last named game is that it has grown into a cult, and its devotees actually stock many of those goods and devices that might be useful in an actual 'invasion from outer space.'

"To the Burdeenites and their curious ways must also be credited the development of Fastwrite, the standard shorthand now taught in grade school, which for many uses has displaced the somewhat cumbersome computerized Voice-print based on Galactic technology.

"Government in the Burdeenite territories rests largely with the House of Mogg. As nearly as an outsider can comprehend, the House is a nonheredity monarchy and aristocracy, with a minimum of laws. One oddity is that property taxes increase when property value is permitted to decline. Another is that the Chamber of Confusion, or Legislature, is permitted to put only a certain fixed number of laws on the books. Beyond that number, a previous law must be revoked, or somehow consolidated with others, for each new law added. No new or changed law can become effective until it passes examination by the Board of Dunces, a seven-member panel whose function is not to pass on the fitness of the law, but on its comprehensibility; the Board of Dunces is made up entirely of men with no legal training.

"The House of Mogg, and the Burdeenites, represent a curious development in Earth history. While incomprehensible by ordinary standards, their influence, despite the amusing eccentricity of their ways, cannot be denied."

Smith finished the paper, turned it over, folded it up, slid it into its envelope, and put it away. Then he looked up.

The Galactic Emissaries were sitting there like so many vegetables.

Finally, the spokesman forced himself to sit straight behind his floating table. He drew a deep breath, and looked Smith in the eye.

"Inform the Governing Council, and the House of Mogg, that we will recommend to the Central Executive that, in due time, Earth be admitted to the Great Galactic Community as a Full Member. Please express our regrets that we cannot stay longer on this occasion; but urgent matters have been reported to us, and we must leave at once."

* * *

Smith repeated the whole thing in the Council Chamber, answered questions of the Governing Council of Earth, and of high representatives of the House of Mogg, and finally found himself drained dry of information. By this time, he felt thoroughly worn out, fed up, and exasperated.

The chairman of the Council looked around, and said thoughtfully, "I believe that answers our questions."

The Leading Crown Prince of the House of Mogg thought a moment, and nodded. "It covers what we wanted to know."

Smith said, in as polite a voice as he could manage, "Sir, could you tell me whether I will ever find out what actually happened?"

"Why," said the chairman of the Governing Council, "haven't you worked that out by now?"

"No one has bothered to tell me about it, sir."

"You were there, weren't you?"

"I was a kind of ignorant bystander, I suppose. I spent a good part of my time wondering why someone qualified hadn't been sent."

"You were qualified, or we wouldn't have sent you."

"Sir, I didn't know the first thing about the situation!"

"That was one of your chief qualifications."

Smith blinked. Why would they send someone who knew nothing? Abruptly he thought again of the Galactic Emissary's odd habit of sitting with his head to one side, occasionally moving his lips very slightly, as if he were talking to someone out of sight.

The chairman said, "Those people ran rings around the Earth representatives the first time they were here. The amazing part of it was, the better informed our representative was, the better the Galactics looked. On thinking it all over afterward, it dawned on us that, impossible as it seemed, this would make sense if they were telepathic, or if they had a device that served the same purpose.

"Moreover," said the chairman, "while we couldn't be sure what their setup was, they insisted that custom and ceremonial required them to do important business at a particular floating desk on their ship, so it seemed likely that the telepathy was carried out by the aid of a good deal of equipment that they preferred not to move, and that was located somewhere near that desk.

"Now then, what were we to do? Apparently, the more capable our representative, the more the Galactics would learn. How could we deal with them, granted they had this advantage? The only way we could see was to send someone who was levelheaded and self-controlled, but who knew practically nothing whatever about what was taking place." He smiled at Smith's expression. "Of course, you were, in effect, a puppet. But that was what we had to have to deal with them on an equal basis. We weren't quite sure of their purpose, and it would have been unwise to reveal our hand."

"But, sir," said Smith, "why did nearly every piece of information jolt them? What should such advanced races care about our shorthand, our identification stamps, and the House of Mogg's refusal to accept their gifts? Granted, the Galactics might choose not to accept us into their organization. But... I got the impression some sort of fight was going on, and, without knowing what I was doing I was somehow delivering heavy blows."

"You were."

"But how?"

The chairman leaned forward.

"These benevolent Galactics, with their marvelous gifts, weren't here to uplift us, and welcome us lovingly into their Great Galactic Community. They were here, plainly and simply, to conquer us."

Smith felt as if the ground had shifted under his feet.

"But, sir—to conquer people, do you give them gifts that actually make them better off? That increase their ability and strength?"

"Yes," said the chairman dryly, "if you're slick enough. If you can read minds and see which poison your opponent thinks would be beneficial to him. If you're technologically advanced, and have had enough practice, so that it's simply a matter of varying your standard procedure to fit the victim."

The chairman turned, and nodded to a Burdeenite wearing sword, pistol, and some kind of translucent chain mail. The Burdeenite crossed the room, and took away a screen before a table set against the wall. This revealed a large crystal lying on the table, a cage of mice beside the crystal, and, in a tub beside the table, a marbus plant, with its spray of slender green leaves, out of the center of which grew a tall leafy stalk covered with buds and small pink flowers. The Burdeenite returned to his seat.

The chairman looked at Smith. "Thanks to the so-called 'condensed-circuit computer,' of which such crystals as that on the table are the heart, we now have a remarkably complex civilization based on extremely precise timing. Our air travel, for instance, is as complicated as a series of split-second ballet maneuvers, changing and interlocking without letup. Chaos would follow the slightest misjudgment. Everything rests on the computers that control the system."

The Burdeenite coolly raised a thing like a small radar antenna, and briefly aimed it at the crystal.

There was a singing note, followed by a sound like a tossed handful of sand.

In the crystal's place was a pile of tiny grains.

The chairman said, "Without the crystal, the condensed-circuit-computer is useless, and without the condensed-circuit computer, our Galactic-based technology would collapse. But that is only part of the story. Near the remains of the crystal, you see a cage. You'll notice that it's divided in half by a vertical partition. On the left side, we have mice treated with the Galactics' ultimate birth-control Superpill. On the right side, we have mice that are not treated."

As the chairman stopped speaking, the Burdeenite leaned forward and tossed a small capsule that smashed on the floor halfway across the room.

The mice in the right half of the cage continued to hop leisurely from food dish to water dish, to and from a box in the corner where they popped out of sight.

The mice in the left side of the cage began frenziedly to mate.

The chairman said, "Observe that, provided the active agent of the so-called Superpill is already in the system, this effect is created by a minute concentration of another substance in the air. The larger the mass of the animal, for a given concentration, the less dramatic the immediate effect. But the ultimate result is the same—a drastic increase of the birth rate to far above normal."

As the chairman stopped talking, the Burdeenite calmly raised a small jeweled atomizer, aimed it across the room, and squeezed the bulb.

Smith, momentarily dazed, stared at the shattered crystal and the two halves of the mouse cage. In each case, the change had been made so easily. Then he turned, to glance at the atomizer.

From behind him came a sound like a loose coil of rope tossed on the floor.

Smith whirled.

The tall stalk of the marbus plant lay outstretched, so flat it almost looked as it had been painted on the floor. Around the ring of the tub, the slender leaves hung straight and limp.

"Just suppose," said the chairman, "that you were in charge of a great spaceship—perhaps belonging to a great Galactic organization (never mind about it being a benevolent organization) and let's just suppose your job was to subvert Earth and make it obedient to that great Galactic organization—what could be nicer than to get Earth totally dependent on certain technological developments that you could withdraw at will? At a mere snap of your fingers, Earth's whole technological civilization could collapse, to leave, for practical purposes, a planetful of ignorant savages with no relevant skills, whose reproduction rate could be altered at will, and, if you chose, whose main food supply could also be wiped out with a snap of your fingers. Think how cooperative such people would be once they saw what you could do. Suppose that, having delivered the necessaries to bring about this situation and having seen the fools rushing to their own destruction, you then went away to take care of other business and returned when your calculations showed the situation would be ripe.

"Then," said the chairman, "suppose you summoned to your ship the Earth representative, planning perhaps to give him the same little demonstration we have just given here, and suppose you discovered: first, that a mere second lieutenant had been sent to deal with you; next, that in your absence, instead of dependence on computerized voice typers, a new, completely nontechnological system of rapid writing had been developed; third, that a completely nontechnological uncomputerized system of identification had come into use; fourth, that one-quarter of the Earth's land surface was in the hands of a sect which, for religious motives, rejected the gifts, and in their place was developing Earth's own technology at a fever pitch; fifth, that the sect was armed to the teeth, dug in, stocked for a long fight, seasoned in battle, and so situated that you couldn't count on striking at the nonmembers without hitting the members of the sect, or vice versa, and, sixth, to top it all off, suppose you had no way to judge whether this was all the bad news, or whether this was just the tip of the iceberg showing above the water, with a lot more underneath? If you had been in that situation, would it have jarred you?"

Smith gave a low, involuntary whistle.

The chairman smiled.

"Any further questions?"

"Just one, sir, if I won't be taking too much time."

"Go ahead. Ask what you want."

"Well—are the Galactics beat? Considering, that is, their technology, and the fact that part of the Earth, and a large part, is dependent on their gifts?"

"It depends on what you mean by 'beat.' If they wanted to destroy the whole planet, who knows? But short of that, they're confronted by a situation that offers, so far as we can see, no sure solution for them at all. Different races, and different animals, have different systems of conquest. Tigers spring on their victims from concealment, spiders ensnare them, foxes trick them, wolves run them down. Each selects the particular game suitable for its purposes. The Galactics' system apparently is to find races in a certain stage of technological development, conceivably by detecting incidental electrical signs, and then offer them a free ride on a technological flying carpet. Once the victim steps on the flying carpet, they jerk the rug out from under his feet. Who knows what equipment it takes to find the victims and tailor this technique to suit them? Maybe that ship of theirs is equipped with things we've never conceived of—and has very little actual armament. But even if it's heavily armed, and they could kill a lot of humans, how does that help them?

"If an elephant turns up at a water hole, a big cat can attack the elephant; it will hurt the elephant, all right, but what does the cat get out of it? Just some unwanted excitement, some sore muscles, and the possibility of getting flattened into a rug. There are not many calories in war for its own sake. When an oversize bumblebee gets in the web of an efficient spider, the spider cuts it loose. Better to get the thing out of there so something can get in. No fox in its right mind is going to sink its teeth into a bear. A sensible predator attacks creatures it can hope to digest, without the risk of being finished off in the attempt.

"Now that we're on guard, if the Galactics want to conquer us, I think they can only hope to do it after a long struggle, requiring endurance, discipline, and courage—and not just the advantage of their technology. And yet, a technology like theirs will tend to relieve them of much of the need to use those other traits. And, for lack of some means of exercising them, traits tend to disappear."

The chairman shook his head. "No, I imagine the Galactics—or that bunch of them, anyway—have found their specialized confidence technique too profitable to get themselves entangled in a profitless unpredictable situation calling for traits they aren't particularly strong in anyway."

Smith thought back to the Galactics' reaction. There had been some trace of endurance, discipline, and courage in evidence—but not much.

He glanced across at the Burdeenites, and was struck by the evident cross-grained tenacious independent quality of those who would pit seemingly antique methods against the newest of the modern, and win.

Looking at those faces, Smith could suddenly see things from the predator's viewpoint:

When the victim manifests those qualities—better hunt up another victim.

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