The Complete Stories (Page 108)

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"Vulture," said the Arch-administrator.

"It put our entire mission into such a distorted light. I have not been able to eat properly since, or sleep. In fact, I am afraid I will have to ask to be relieved-"

"Not before we have completed what we have set out to do," said the Arch-administrator firmly. "Do you think I enjoy the picture of-of carrion-eat- You must collect more data."

Devi-en nodded finally. He understood, of course. The Arch-administrator was no more anxious to cause a nuclear war than any Human would be. He was putting off the moment of decision as long as possible.

Devi-en settled himself for one more interview with the wild one. It turned out to be a completely unbearable one, and the last.

The wild one had a bruise across his cheek as though he had been resisting the Mauvs again. In fact, it was certain he had. He had done so numerous times before, and the Mauvs, despite their most earnest attempts to do no harm, could not help but bruise him on occasion. One would expect the wild one to see how intensely they tried not to hurt him and to quiet his behavior as a result. Instead, it was as though the conviction of safety spurred him on to additional resistance.

(These large-primate species were vicious, vicious, thought Devi-en sadly.)

For over an hour, the interview hovered over useless small talk and then the wild one said with sudden belligerence, "How long did you say you things have been here?"

"Fifteen of your years," said Devi-en.

"That figures. The first flying saucers were sighted just after World War II. How much longer before the nuclear war?"

With automatic truth, Devi-en said, "We wish we knew," and stopped suddenly.

The wild one said, "I thought nuclear war was inevitable. Last time you said you overstayed ten years. You expected the war ten years ago, didn’t you?"

Devi-en said, "I can’t discuss this subject."

"No?" The wild one was screaming. "What are you going to do about it? How long will you wait? Why not nudge it a little? Don’t just wait, vulture. Start one."

Devi-en jumped to his feet. "What are you saying?"

"Why else are you waiting, you dirty-" He choked on a completely incomprehensible expletive, then continued, breathlessly, "Isn’t that what vultures do when some poor miserable animal, or man, maybe, is taking too long to die? They can’t wait. They come swirling down and peck out his eyes. They wait till he’s helpless and just hurry him along the last step."

Devi-en ordered him away quickly and retired to his sleeping room, where he was sick for hours. Nor did he sleep then or that night. The word "vulture" screamed in his ears and that final picture danced before his eyes.

Devi-en said firmly, "Your Height, I can speak with the wild one no more. If you need still more data, I cannot help you."

The Arch-administrator looked haggard. "I know. This vulture business- Very difficult to take. Yet you notice the thought didn’t affect him. Large-primates are immune to such things, hardened, calloused. It is part of their way of thinking. Horrible."

"I can get you no more data."

"It’s all right. I understand. -Besides, each additional item only strengthens the preliminary answer; the answer I thought was only provisional; that I hoped earnestly was only provisional." He buried his head in his grizzled arms. "We have a way to start their nuclear war for them."

"Oh? What need be done?"

"It is something very direct, very simple. It is something I could never have thought of. Nor you."

"What is it, your Height?" He felt an anticipatory dread.

"What keeps them at peace now is that neither of two nearly equal sides dares take the responsibility of starting a war. If one side did, however, the other-well, let’s be blunt about it-would retaliate in full."

Devi-en nodded.

The Arch-administrator went on. "If a single nuclear bomb fell on the territory of either of the two sides, the victims would at once assume the other side had launched it. They would feel they could not wait for further attacks. Retaliation in full would follow within hours; the other side would retaliate in its turn. Within weeks it would be over."

"But how do we make one of them drop that first bomb?"

"We don’t, Captain. That is the point. We drop the first bomb ourselves."

"What?" Devi-en swayed.

"That is it. Compute a large-primate’s mind and that answer thrusts itself at you."

"But how can we?"

"We assemble a bomb. That is easy enough. We send it down by ship and drop it over some inhabited locality-"


The Arch-administrator looked away and said uneasily, "The effect is lost otherwise."

"I see," said Devi-en. He was picturing vultures; he couldn’t help it. He visualized them as large, scaled bird (like the small harmless flying creatures on Hurria, but immensely large), with rubber-skinned wings and long razorbills, circling down, pecking at dying eyes.

His hands covered his eyes. He said shakily, "Who will pilot the ship? Who will launch the bomb?"

The Arch-administrator’s voice was no stronger than Devi-en’s. "I don’t know."

"I won’t," said Devi-en. "I can’t. There is no Hurrian who can, at any price."

The Arch-administrator rocked back and forth miserably. "Perhaps the Mauvs could be given orders-"

"Who could give them such orders?"

The Arch-administrator sighed heavily. "I will call the Council. They may have all the data. Perhaps they will suggest something."

So after a little over fifteen years, the Hurrians were dismantling their base on the other side of the Moon.

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