The Complete Stories (Page 250)

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"Yes? After thinking of the foul habits you have been describing, I don’t think I’ll ever bud again. Please get this over with."

"Just a moment, Captain."

But the moments passed and the Captain’s flashes turned slowly to a brooding orange, while Botax’s nearly dimmed out altogether.

Botax finally asked hesitantly, "Pardon me, madam, but when will you bud?"

"When will I what?"

"Bear young?"

"I’ve got a kid."

"I mean bear young now."

"I should say not. I ain’t ready for another kid yet."

"What? What?" demanded the Captain. "What’s she saying?"

"It seems," said Botax, "she does not intend to have young at the moment."

The Captain’s color patch blazed brightly. "Do you know what I think, Investigator? I think you have a sick, perverted mind. Nothing’s happening to these creatures. There is no cooperation between them, and no young to be borne. I think they’re two different species and that you’re playing some kind of foolish game with me."

"But, Captain-" said Botax.

"Don’t but Captain me," said Garm. "I’ve had enough. You’ve upset me, turned my stomach, nauseated me, disgusted me with the whole notion of budding and wasted my time. You’re just looking for headlines and personal glory and I’ll see to it that you don’t get them. Get rid of these creatures now. Give that one its skins back and put them back where you found them. I ought to take the expense of maintaining Time-stasis all this time out of your salary."

"But, Captain-"

"Back, I say. Put them back in the same place and at the same instant of time. I want this planet untouched, and I’ll see to it that it stays untouched." He cast one more furious glance at Botax. "One species, two forms, bosoms, kisses, cooperation, BAH- You are a fool, Investigator, a dolt as well and, most of all, a sick, sick, sick creature."

There was no arguing. Botax, limbs trembling, set about returning the creatures.

They stood there at the elevated station, looking around wildly. It was twilight over them, and the approaching train was just making itself known as a faint rumble in the distance.

Marge said, hesitantly, "Mister, did it really happen?"

Charlie nodded. "I remember it."

Marge said, "We can’t tell anybody."

"Sure not. They’d say we was nuts. Know what I mean?"

"Uh-huh. Well," she edged away.

Charlie said, "Listen. I’m sorry you was embarrassed. It was none of my doing."

"That’s all right. I know." Marge’s eyes considered the wooden platform at her feet. The sound of the train was louder.

"I mean, you know, lady, you wasn’t really bad. In fact, you looked good, but I was kind of embarrassed to say that."

Suddenly, she smiled. "It’s all right."

"You want maybe to have a cup of coffee with me just to relax you? My wife, she’s not really expecting me for a while."

"Oh? Well, Ed’s out of town for the weekend so I got only an empty apartment to go home to. My little boy is visiting at my mother’s." She explained.

"Come on, then. We been kind of introduced."

"I’l] say." She laughed.

The train pulled in, but they turned away, walking down the narrow stairway to the street.

They had a couple of cocktails actually, and then Charlie couldn’t let her go home in the dark alone, so he saw her to her door. Marge was bound to invite him in for a few moments, naturally.

Meanwhile, back in the spaceship, the crushed Botax was making a final effort to prove his case. While Garm prepared the ship for departure Botax hastily set up the tight-beam visiscreen for a last look at his specimens. He focused in on Charlie and Marge in her apartment. His tendril stiffened and he began flashing in a coruscating rainbow of colors. "Captain Garm! Captain! Look what they’re doing now!" But at that very instant the ship winked out of Time-stasis.

The Machine That Won the War

The celebration had a long way to go and even in the silent depths of Multivac’s underground chambers, it hung in the air.

If nothing else, there was the mere fact of isolation and silence. For the first time in a decade, technicians were not scurrying about the vitals of the giant computer, the soft lights did not wink out their erratic patterns, the flow of information in and out had halted.

It would not be halted long, of course, for the needs of peace would be pressing. Yet now, for a day, perhaps for a week, even Multivac might celebrate the great time, and rest.

Lamar Swift took off the military cap he was wearing and looked down the long and empty main corridor of the enormous computer. He sat down rather wearily in one of the technician’s swing-stools, and his uniform, in which he had never been comfortable, took on a heavy and wrinkled appearance.

He said, "I’ll miss it all after a grisly fashion. It’s hard to remember when we weren’t at war with Deneb, and it seems against nature now to be at peace and to look at the stars without anxiety."

The two men with the Executive Director of the Solar Federation were both younger than Swift. Neither was as gray. Neither looked quite as tired.

John Henderson, thin-lipped and finding it hard to control the relief he felt in the midst of triumph, said, "They’re destroyed! They’re destroyed! It’s what I keep saying to myself over and over and I still can’t believe it. We all talked so much, over so many years, about the menace hanging over

Earth and all its worlds, over every human being, and all the time it was true, every word of it. And now we’re alive and it’s the Denebians who are shattered and destroyed. They’ll be no menace now, ever again."

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