The Complete Stories (Page 104)

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Devi-en took his appearance for granted, of course, but was well aware of the difference between the Hurrians and all the other intelligences in the Galaxy. The Hurrians alone were so small; they alone were tailed; they alone were vegetarians-they alone had escaped the inevitable nuclear war that had ruined every other known intelligent species.

He stood on the walled plain that extended for so many miles that the raised and circular rim (which on Hurria would have been called a crater, if it were smaller) was invisible beyond the horizon. Against the southern edge of the rim, where there was always some protection against the direct rays of the Sun, a city had grown. It had begun as a temporary camp, of course, but with the years, women had been brought in, and children had been born in it. Now there were schools and elaborate hydroponics establishments, large water reservoirs, all that went with a city on an airless world.

It was ridiculous! All because one planet had nuclear weapons and would not fight a nuclear war.

The Arch-administrator, who would be arriving soon, would undoubtedly ask, almost at once, the same question that Devi-en had asked himself a wearisome number of times.

Why had there not been a nuclear war?

Devi-en watched the hulking Mauvs preparing the ground now for the landing, smoothing out the unevennesses and laying down the ceramic bed designed to absorb the hyperatomic field-thrusts with minimum discomfort to the passengers within the ship.

Even in their space-suits, the Mauvs seemed to exude power, but it was the power of muscle only. Beyond them was the little figure of a Hurrian giving orders, and the docile Mauvs obeyed. Naturally.

The Mauvian race, of all the large-primate intelligences, paid their fees in the most unusual coin, a quota of themselves, rather than of material goods. It was a surprisingly useful tribute, better than steel, aluminum, or fine drugs in many ways.

Devi-en’s receiver stuttered to life. "The ship is sighted, sir," came the report. "It will be landing within the hour."

"Very good," said Devi-en. "Have my car made ready to take me to the ship as soon as landing is initiated."

He did not feel that it was very good at all.

The Arch-administrator came, flanked by a personal retinue of five Mauvs. They entered the city with him, one on each side, three following. They helped him off with his space-suit, then removed their own.

Their thinly haired bodies, their large, coarse-featured faces, their broad

noses and flat cheekbones were repulsive but not frightening. Though twice the height of the Hurrians and more than twice the breadth, there was a blankness about their eyes, something completely submissive about the way they stood, with their thick-sinewed necks slightly bent, their bulging arms hanging listlessly.

The Arch-administrator dismissed them and they trooped out. He did not really need their protection, of course, but his position required a retinue of five and that was that.

No business was discussed during the meal or during the almost endless ritual of welcome. At a time that might have been more appropriate for sleeping, the Arch-administrator passed small fingers through his tuft of beard and said, "How/much longer must we wait for this planet, Captain?"

He was visibly advancing in age. The hair on his upper arms was grizzled and the tufts at the elbows were almost as white as his beard.

"I cannot say, your Height," said Devi-en humbly. "They have not followed the path."

"That is obvious. The point is, why have they not followed the path? It is clear to the Council that your reports promise more than they deliver. You talk of theories but you give no details. Now we are tired of all this back on Hurria. If you know of anything you have not told us, now is the time to talk of it."

"The matter, your Height, is hard to prove. We have had no experience of spying on a people over such an extended period. Until recently, we weren’t watching for the right things. Each year we kept expecting the nuclear war the year after and it is only in my time as Captain that we have taken to studying the people more intensively. It is at least one benefit of the long waiting time that we have learned some of their principal languages."

"Indeed? Without even landing on their planet?"

Devi-en explained. "A number of radio messages were recorded by those of our ships that penetrated the planetary atmosphere on observation missions, particularly in the early years. I set our linguistics computers to work on them, and for the last year I have been attempting to make sense out of it ail-The Arch-administrator stared. His bearing was such that any outright exclamation of surprise would have been superfluous. "And have you learned anything of interest?"

"I may have, your Height, but what I have worked out is so strange and the underpinning of actual evidence is so uncertain that I dared not speak of it officially in my reports."

The Arch-administrator understood. He said, stiffly, "Would you object to explaining your views unofficially-to me?"

"I would be glad to," said Devi-en at once. "The inhabitants of this planet are, of course, large-primate in nature. And they are competitive."

The other blew out his breath in a kind of relief and passed his tongue quickly over his nose. "I had the queer notion," he muttered, "that they might not be competitive and that that might- But go on, go on."

"They are competitive," Devi-en assured him. "Much more so than one would expect on the average."

"Then why doesn’t everything else follow?"

"Up to a point it does, your Height. After the usual long incubation period, they began to mechanize; and after that, the usual large-primate killings became truly destructive warfare. At the conclusion of the most recent large-scale war, nuclear weapons were developed and the war ended at once."

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