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Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Doyle glanced around from the crest of the natural amphitheater. In the distance, occasional groves of trees were scattered over the rolling grassland. Far off to his right, a dull metallic glint and a flash of dazzling sunlight told of the planetary-classification base near the wide slow-flowing river. Then he winced, and looked down into the big grassy bowl, where some two thousand large-browed tigerlike creatures, heads tilted back, created a shrieking torrent of noise that instantly set Doyle's teeth on edge, gave him chills and a dizzy sensation, and now and then seemed to set up answering vibrations in his very bones.

To Doyle's right, a tall pale man with a pipe in his hand winced at a high-pitched note that seemed to stop the universe, then sucked in a ragged breath, and gestured with the pipe stem.

"To your left, Colonel. See that group watching the machines? It's obvious they're talking. You can see they're talking."

About eighty feet away, a knot of angry felines, upright on their hind legs, with sinuously-twitching tails and glittering eyes, looked down the long outer slope at a fleet of big motionless earth-moving machines. Spread out in a thin line blocking these machines off from the hill were two squads of Doyle's troops, their guns unslung and expressions wary.

As Doyle glanced from the machines to the troops, then back to the cluster of angry felines, one of the tigerlike creatures, his expression that of a man halfway through a string of profanity, balled one forepaw into a fist, and slammed it savagely into the other forepaw. Another feline pointed down the hill at one of the larger machines, his expression thoughtful, as if he were talking about the machine's function. The creatures' mouths were moving, and Doyle, though too far away to hear the words, had to admit that it certainly looked as if they were talking. But that was only one side of the question.

To Doyle's left stood an impatient group in goggles and coveralls, headed by a burly barrel-chested man with a big black cigar jutting from one corner of his mouth, who glanced impatiently at his watch, turned angrily toward Doyle, and suddenly picked up a tripod with a big cone set at an angle on top, and carried it over.

Doyle fought off the effects of the singing, and forced his dazed mind to yield up facts about the antagonistic sets of individuals who crowded the landscape.

The tall pale man gesturing with outthrust pipe was Al Lindell, head of the planetary-classification unit on the planet, which was known as Marshak III. Lindell, acting under Article 12 of Interservice Regulations, had called Doyle on the screen the day before, and angrily demanded that the Space Force intervene to "stop a planetary grab by Nels Krojac, before we get a war out of it."

Doyle had intently studied the face on the screen, to see a somewhat scholarly-looking man who was obviously boiling mad.

"A war?" said Doyle.

"That's right. A planetary war with the inhabitants of Marshak III."

"Who is causing the trouble?"

"Nels Krojac," said Lindell. "He's president of Interstellar Construction Corporation. He's landed a work crew here, before the planet is classified."

"You're calling on me to stop him by force?"

"I am. Under Article 12, I hereby formally request your aid to prevent exploitation of an unclassified and, in my opinion, potentially dangerous planet."

"Just a minute, Mr. Lindell." Doyle looked up. "Major Burke—"

A strongly built officer, standing by a three-dimensional display panel, speaking into a small hand microphone, turned to face Doyle.


"Change squadron course for Marshak III. Maximum squadron acceleration. Condition Three."

"Yes, sir."

Doyle looked back at the screen.

"You say you expect war if the work crew isn't stopped?"

"I do. Experience tells me we're right on the edge of an ugly situation. I can't prove it. I can't even show proof why this planet shouldn't be classified in the A series. The dominant race is a large, obviously powerful and dangerous carnivore. But it has no visible technology or artifacts of any kind. To classify this planet as I think it should be classified, I have to show: a) advanced technological skills; b) complex social organization; c) a highly-developed language. I haven't been able to find so much as a stone ax on the planet, so I can't claim 'technological skills'; their 'social organization' is on about the level of the lion's, so that doesn't count; I know perfectly well that they communicate with each other, so it follows that they've got a highly-developed language—but my linguistic analysis experts insist the creatures only make 'simple repetitive sounds' when I know they're talking. But I'm not allowed to make a subjective judgement. Classification has to be based on objective facts."

"What makes you so sure the animals are dangerous?"

"These creatures—we call them Marcats—Marshak III Cats, that is—these Marcats are built a lot like tigers. You can't see them without knowing they're dangerous. But it goes beyond that. This planet has things on it that make Tyrannosaurus rex look like a lap dog. But they don't bother the Marcats. Nothing bothers the Marcats. If the Marcats feel like going for a stroll through a place thick with carnivorous monsters, why, they go for the stroll. And all the other carnivores come piling out in a hurry."

"What do you think will happen if the construction work isn't stopped?"

"There's going to be a sudden mess of trouble. The one known art form that the Marcats have is what you might call a . . . ah . . . well, 'community singing.' Hundreds of them get together from time to time, and have a . . . a concert, you might call it. The place where the local Marcats have this concert is at a natural amphitheater in low hills not too far from here. The Marcats like this place. In fact, I don't think it would be too much to say it's sacred ground with them. Well, Krojac Construction plans to level this natural amphitheater tomorrow, to start work on a centrally located Administration Complex for a big rest and refit center they're putting up for colonists using the main-trunk transport route that's going to go right past here."

"And you think the Marcats will retaliate?"

"I know they'll retaliate. All hell will break loose. But Krojac and his hired blockheads are so thick in the skull they think the Marcats are just a kind of big pussycat. Krojac figures to grab this planet, run up his big rest and refit complex on the ground and in orbit, and use the planet to get leverage on future out-bound commerce and construction in this sector. He made low bid on the R and R contract, and for his purposes this planet is ideal. The maddening thing about it is, I can't prove a thing. And I've only got one week till the mandatory deadline for planetary classification runs out. If I can't find some way to prove my point, I'll have to classify this planet A-10: 'Physical environment ideal; primitively dangerous biological entities.'"

Doyle said, "Wait a minute. Why can't you classify the planet as you think it should be classified?"

"Because I have to operate according to very strict rules. These rules were set up to eliminate the natural tendency of a planetary classification man to let his sympathies for the local life forms run away with him. There have been cases where human colonists were turned away because the classification team found the local race lovable, or didn't want the idyllic scenery disturbed. So to prevent false classifications, the rules are ironclad."

Doyle frowned. "So all I can do is to hold the crisis off for a week? Then you'll be forced to classify the planet A-10, Krojac Construction will move in, the Marcats will attack the construction teams, and I'll have to attack the Marcats?"

Lindell looked unhappy. "At worst, yes. But I'm still hoping to straighten this out. If I can prove the dominant local species has a highly-developed language, but has no developed technology or social structure, then we have an anomalous situation, which will justify me in classing the planet in the U series. I've sent for PDA's advanced new linguistics computer, the LC-10,000. If the LC-10,000 arrives here in time, I'm sure I can straighten out the whole thing. But I have got to keep Krojac Construction from touching off an explosion before the LC-10,000 gets here."

Doyle scowled. "Let's see if I have this straight. This LC-10,000 is a new linguistics computer?"

"Right. The LC-10,000 is the ultimate authority on language. It contains the sum total of all that humanity has ever learned about language. It knows, in absolute and perfect detail, everything about every known human and nonhuman language in the known universe. Its receptors are capable of picking up the finest and most complex sounds, of whatever loudness or pitch, without exception. And its micropicominiaturized directed-pulse quasi-fibril potential circuits, with their sextillions of switching elements cooled in baths of liquid helium—Well, if it's language, believe me, the LC-10,000 will recognize it in a flash. My troubles are over if I can just get the LC-10,000 here. And I've put the request in the strongest possible terms. But meanwhile, Colonel, I have to keep Krojac from leveling that amphitheater. That's the fuse on the bomb."

Doyle nodded. "I'll get in touch with Interstellar Construction."

Lindell looked worried.

"Look, Colonel, Krojac is a shrewd customer. He may say—"

Doyle shook his head. "It doesn't matter what he says. You've formally requested that he be prevented from starting construction work on an unclassified planet. You're head of the authorized PDA classification unit on the planet. Regulations state that I will enforce your ban on unauthorized activities on the planet. I will, therefore, enforce the ban. That's all there is to it."

Lindell looked relieved, thanked Doyle, and broke the connection.

Doyle got in touch with the headquarters ship of the Interstellar Construction Corporations. This turned out to be a gigantic self-contained globular office-building and nerve-center for Krojac Enterprises, Inc. A series of suavely-assured individuals informed Doyle that Mr. Krojac could not be disturbed at the moment, but that if he wished to request an appointment, it would be duly considered by Mr. Krojac's appointments secretary.

Doyle then sent a formal message warning that any construction or earth-moving work on the planet Marshak III had been banned by duly-constituted authority, and he, Doyle, would enforce the ban, using whatever degree of force was necessary.

The message had hardly gone out when a reply, couched in legal phraseology, with references to authorities of all degrees of obscurity, began to come in. This reply ran to sixty-two single-spaced pages, and neither Doyle nor any of his officers could either understand it as it stood, or break it down into anything they could understand.

Doyle promptly sent a second message, warning in tough language that his first message stood unchanged.

A call shortly came on the communicator, and a long-faced individual with lightly-oiled wavy hair introduced himself as "J. Hale Reagan, special consultant to Mr. Krojac." Holding by his thumb and forefinger two slips of yellow message paper, J. Hale Reagan looked at Doyle with slightly raised eyebrows and an expression around the nostrils as if he smelled rotten fish.

"I'm sorry to say, Mr. Doyle, that these messages of yours are quite unacceptable. I can scarcely believe that a person of your potential rank and attainments would choose to put himself on record in regard to Mr. Krojac in such a fashion."

As Doyle looked on, J. Hale Reagan, against a background of what appeared to be a cocktail party, with a well-known senator just behind his left shoulder, and a Space Force general a little farther back, slowly touched the flame of a cigarette lighter to the two yellow slips of paper, dropped them into an oversized ashtray, and looked pointedly at Doyle.

"I couldn't possibly forward such messages to the captain of this ship, and I most certainly will not waste Mr. Krojac's time with them. I think we'd better just forget all this."

Doyle found himself looking at an empty screen. He was in such a frame of mind that he didn't trust himself to do a thing for a minute-and-a-half.

Then he sent for copies of the two previous messages, and changing the wording just slightly, sent a third message that said the same thing.

Doyle's recently-appointed second-in-command, Major Hanford, had apparently witnessed the call to Doyle from J. Hale Reagan on a separate screen, and now said, frowning, "What will happen if Mr. Krojac and his people just ignore the warning?"

"Then I'll stop them by force."

"But I understand Interstellar Construction alone is worth eighty billions. Krojac is supposed to have friends at the top in Planetary Development Authority, the Space Force, and the Government itself. This business on Marshak must be important for him to be there in person. What will happen if he creates a situation where we have to kill him to stop him?"

"Then we'll kill him."

Hanford blinked. "I don't think it's that simple."

Doyle leaned forward, his expression alert. "What do you mean?"

Hanford hesitated, then said smoothly, "A man like Nels Krojac can do a lot to help or hinder an officer's progress in the service. This is plain realism."

Doyle stared at him. "I could find a better word for it than 'realism.'"

"Of course, what I mean—"

"The most polite word for it would be 'opportunism.' "

Hanford stiffened. "Look here. I must—"

"A more accurate word might be 'cowardice.' "

"Wait a—"

"But I think 'bribery' is probably the best word for it."

Doyle narrowly watched the succession of shades of color pass over Hanford's face. "How is it that you're so well informed about Mr. Krojac's finances, Major?"

"They're a matter of common knowledge."

"Probably they are, among the man's retainers. But how do you know?"

Hanford opened his mouth, and shut it again without saying anything.

Doyle said quietly, "Don't favor me with any more worldly wisdom. Just see to it that you obey orders."

"Yes, sir," said Hanford.

At that moment, the communicator buzzed, and a shrewd-looking individual, who introduced himself as a member of the Krojac Enterprises legal staff, put it to Doyle that on the basis of a careful study of the underlying intent of the relevant regulations, Article 12 could not be invoked.

Doyle disagreed flatly.

At once, a bluff friendly fellow named Root came on the screen and explained, man-to-man, that Interstellar Construction would be "over a barrel" if they couldn't start work the next day. "Nels signed the contract to care for these transient colonists on the clear understanding that the planet's classification would be favorable, and would be completed in good time. But this fellow Lindell is dragging the thing out to the limit, and now we've got definite reason to suspect that he's hooked in with S. and O. Enterprises, and is stringing this out just to make trouble. Why, the average planet would have been classified over eighteen months ago!"

Doyle listened patiently, then pointed to Article 12, which required him to back up Lindell.

Root explained that their legal counsel had found that Article 12 actually didn't apply.

Doyle quoted Article 12 verbatim, and it was obvious that it did apply. Root shrugged and stated that he was no lawyer.

When Doyle got through with Root, two of Interstellar Construction's legal staff came on the screen side-by-side at the same desk, and while one talked, the other studied Doyle's reaction. Speaking alternately, so that neither one actually committed himself, they put across the impression that a high-paying executive job awaited Doyle if he saw reason, while if he didn't, they would bring him to court on the charge that he had been bribed by a competitor. Moreover, any attempt to block Interstellar would fail. If necessary, Nels Krojac himself would lead his men to work, and the Space Force would never dare try to stop such a prominent, highly-placed man. Moreover, the only way to stop Mr. Krojac and his men would be to fire on them, and the Space Force would scarcely fire on unarmed humans.

Doyle stated coldly that it was his duty to enforce Article 12, and he would enforce it.

Another call came in immediately. A former Space Force officer smiled from the screen, and, in the guise of friendly disagreement with Doyle's interpretation of Article 12, got across a clear picture of just how well Nels Krojac could reward a man who got him out of a tough spot. While this was going on, Doyle scribbled a note to his communications officer, who announced, when the next call came in, that Squadron 2337 was now moving into a potential war zone and would henceforth maintain complete communicator silence.

By now, the routine report of the situation to Space Force Headquarters had been routinely acknowledged, and initial plans had been made for what should be a simple routine operation. But by now, Doyle was none too sure there would be anything simple or routine about it.

The next day found Squadron 2337 off Marshak III, where an enormous globular ship followed the movements of the squadron with large fusion guns mounted in multiple turrets. An earlier call to Lindell had brought the information that Interstellar Construction was bringing down heavy earth-moving equipment, and showed no sign of paying the slightest attention to Doyle's warning. When Doyle's communications officer tried to contact the big Interstellar Construction ship, there was no response. About this time, a second ship appeared, orbiting the planet, with its guns swinging around to bear on the squadron.

Doyle, at the command console, briefly studied the screen, then hit a number of communicator studs.

"Gunnery officer: Destroy at once every gun that bears on the squadron. Communications officer: Order those ships to answer our call at once or be attacked as planetary raiders. Vulcan: Sow your heavy implant missiles for convergent attack on the larger of those two ships. Ranger: Sow your heavy implant missiles for parallel attack on the smaller of those two ships. Minotaur: Go down on Marshak III and set up defense of the PDA base against air or surface attack."

As Doyle spoke, before him on the screen, the brilliant lines lanced out, the two attack-ships swung rapidly apart, and the armed transport dipped toward the planet. On the big globular ship, one of the guns glowed white in answer, and abruptly the whole section around that turret flared red, then white, and puffed out in shreds. All over the huge ship, there suddenly were dazzling spots of glowing red.

"Gunnery officer speaking, sir. All turrets bearing on the squadron have been burnt out. Minor resistance from the larger ship only, sir. No damage to the squadron."

"Good work," said Doyle. "If either of those ships turns to present undamaged turrets, destroy the turrets at once."

"Yes, sir."

"Vulcan C.O. speaking, sir. Heavy implant missiles sowed for convergent attack."

"Implant your missiles."

"Yes, sir."

An instant later, the communications officer spoke up. "Sir, we have the captain of the Krojac Empire on the screen."

"Put him on the auxiliary screen."

A small screen to one side flared to life, and a slightly puffy man in a uniform covered with insignia, decorations, and gold braid cried out in mingled anger and disbelief. "Are you insane? Mr. Krojac will—"

From a separate speaker came a clear competent voice. "Vulcan C.O. speaking, sir. Heavy missiles implanted. The central section apparently contains an armored citadel. The rest is el punko junko. Shall we detonate, sir?"

"In ten minutes detonate all implanted missiles unless countermanded."

"Yes, sir. Detonate all implanted missiles in ten minutes unless countermanded."

On the small screen, the captain of the Krojac Empire cried out, "Good God! What are you doing?"

"Your ship has been implanted with heavy missiles, which will be detonated unless I countermand the order."

From a separate speaker came another quiet competent voice:

"Ranger C.O. speaking, sir. Heavy implant missiles sowed for parallel attack."

"Implant your missiles."

"Yes, sir."

On the small screen, the puffy face above the braid-encrusted uniform suddenly vanished. In its place appeared a broad-shouldered man with dark hair, massive chest, and hard blue eyes, wearing a dark dressing gown with a dragon design on the chest. He looked intently at Doyle, then suddenly grinned. "Tough, aren't you?"

Doyle said coldly, "You have a little under eight minutes till the implants detonate."

A clear voice spoke from a separate speaker.

"Ranger C.O. speaking, sir. Heavy missiles implanted. No armor on this ship, sir. Shall we detonate?"

Doyle glanced at a small round clock face where two long thin hands swung steadily around the dial.

"In seven minutes and fifty seconds detonate if not countermanded."

"Yes, sir. Detonate in seven minutes and fifty seconds if not countermanded."

Another voice spoke.

"Communications, sir. We have the captain of the Star Chaser—that's the smallest ship. He wants to surrender his ship at once, sir."

"Good enough. Tell him to disarm his men, assemble them in the entrance corridor, lock his undamaged turrets, and stand by for boarding."

"Yes, sir."

Doyle touched one of the switches on the console.



"Countermand detonation order. Board, secure crew, and seize. That smaller ship has identified itself as the Star Chaser, its captain offers to surrender, and I have accepted. He is to disarm his men, assemble them in the entrance corridor, lock his undamaged turrets, and stand by for boarding."

"Yes, sir. Countermand detonation. Board, secure crew, and seize."

From the auxiliary screen, the hard-eyed attentive face looked out alertly. "You're making a mistake, Colonel. For less than this, I've had guys like you put on the Bemus asteroid census for years."

"You have six minutes and forty seconds until detonation."

"You wouldn't dare detonate."

"Detonation is fully automatic unless countermanded, first by my verbal order, second by action of the missile-officer in immediate command. Countermanding takes time. But there is no question of not daring to detonate. Everything so far has been pure routine, and detonation will be the same."

"You'd be hung from the rafters."

"Visual records will show the menacing attitude of both the Star Chaser and the Krojac Empire, if these are actually the ships' names. Granting this and other circumstances, I am fully justified in regarding either or both ships as planetary raiders or worse. Detonation will blow your ship into vaporized fragments. If there is an armored central citadel capable of surviving the initial explosion—and it is very doubtful that anyone inside will be alive after detonation—that citadel itself will be destroyed at once by concentrated missile and fusion attack. You have five minutes and fifty-six seconds until detonation."

"And suppose I decide to ignore this whole silly business?"

"You will be destroyed."

There was a silence that lasted several seconds as the hard blue eyes looked steadily at Doyle and Doyle looked steadily back.

Then Nels Krojac laughed. His image vanished from the screen, and after a moment the braid-encrusted captain reappeared.

"Mr. Krojac orders me to yield this ship for your inspection, to provide you with any necessary papers or information, and to satisfy any reasonable demand on your part to convince you that we are not planetary raiders. The ship is not surrendered, however; Mr. Krojac is not to be disturbed; and the operation of his business offices is to be disturbed as little as possible, on pain of punitive legal measures."

"I won't accept restraints on examining the ship."

The captain blinked. "Then I'm not authorized to proceed."

Doyle touched a stud on the console.

"Gunnery officer."


"Count off the minutes and half-minutes till detonation of that larger ship."

"Yes, sir. Just a moment, sir. Five minutes until detonation."

The captain of the Krojac Empire said nothing, but the sweat rolled down his face as he stared at Doyle.

The gunnery officer spoke:

"Four minutes and thirty seconds until detonation."

The Krojac Empire's captain thrust out his jaw.

"Four minutes until detonation.

"Three minutes and thirty seconds until detonation.

"Three minutes until detonation.

"Two minutes and thirty seconds until detonation.

"Two minutes until detonation.

"One minute and thirty seconds until detonation.

"One minute until detonation."

Doyle watched the second hand sweep for the last time around the dial. It was now clearly apparent that the Krojac Empire was no raider. When the hand reached "30," Doyle would, therefore, countermand detonation and order a boarding.

At "45" the Krojac Empire's captain moistened his lips. Suddenly he blurted, "I surrender this ship!"

Doyle touched a stud on the console.


"Yes, sir?"

"Countermand detonation."

"Yes, sir. Detonation countermanded, sir."

"Board that larger ship with a fully-armed search party, determine the identity of the ship with certainty, and examine the ship throughout for any sign that it is a planetary raider."

"Yes, sir. Board, determine identity, and search to see if the ship is a planetary raider."

"The captain has surrendered the ship, and you can make any temporary arrangements with him that seem suitable."

"Yes, sir."

On the auxiliary screen, the hard features of Nels Krojac reappeared, to study Doyle coldly. Doyle broke the connection, and glanced at the main screen. The armed transport had disappeared from direct view, but a green symbol showed its approximate location.



"What's your position?"

"We're at twenty thousand seven hundred feet above the planet, sir, dropping toward the PDA classification-unit base. No trouble so far, sir."

"Good. Let me know when you're set up."

"Yes, sir."

Doyle touched another stud on the console.

A voice said promptly, "Communications, sir."

"Get the PDA classification-unit on the screen."

"Yes, sir."

Lindell appeared on the screen. "You got here just in time, Colonel. The work gangs are moving their machinery into place right now."

"You mean there's been no change in Krojac's schedule?"

"Not by a hair."

"I see," said Doyle. "Well, I'll put troops down to stop them."

"Fine. That's a relief."

"Have you had any word on your language-computer?"

Lindell beamed. "Yes. The LC-10,000 will be here tomorrow. So the situation is well in hand. This is really the ultimate linguistics computer, and it will extract the linguistics elements from the welter of noise that has my experts baffled. Our trouble, you see, is that the Marcats produce much sound that is . . . ah . . . somewhat at a tangent to what we're interested in. Their art form of vocal singing, for instance, runs largely in the range of 2,000 to 50,000 cycles. Since an acute human ear can detect loud sounds of roughly 30 to 20,000 cycles, you can see that we have some cause for confusion."

"I can see you have considerable cause for discomfort. But what's confusing about it? Would aliens speak the same way we do?"

Lindell changed expression. "This is quite a technical matter, Colonel."

Doyle was unconvinced, but nodded. "Incidentally, could you send me the survey and evaluation reports on this planet?"

"I'm afraid they're highly technical, and—"

"I'm not talking about the linguistics reports. I'm talking about general reports on how the Marcats live, their planetary distribution, numbers, characteristics, habits, size, weight, and so on. Remember, you've expressed the opinion that we may wind up in a war here."

Lindell's face cleared. "You don't want the linguistics reports?"

"I'm perfectly content to leave that to you."

"All right. I'll see that you get copies of the rest."

The Minotaur shortly set down on the planet, and Doyle had troops sent out at once to stop the work crews. A savage argument followed, in which the earth-moving machines were stopped only when the troops opened fire.

Then the reports on the planet began to come in.

Doyle gradually built up a mental picture of big-browed tigerlike creatures that roamed the planet like lords of creation, lived in dens or burrows lined with dried grass, could be found in nearly any type of terrain on the planet, and everywhere were left strictly unmolested by the monster carnivores that roamed the globe. Pictures showed grown tigerlike Marcats upright on their hind legs, strolling casually along over rolling fields and hills, obviously deep in conversation, as younger Marcats gamboled and played around them on all fours, bounded up trees, and chased rabbit-like creatures that went twenty feet at a bound. Meanwhile huge beasts with teeth like broadswords slunk out of sight, or bolted for the horizon at top speed.

After watching enough of these scenes, Doyle gradually came to the conclusion that Lindell was right. The Marcats were intelligent, did talk, and were more formidable than their teeth and claws suggested. Though how, remained a good question.

One visual record particularly impressed Doyle. It showed a creature like Tyrannosaurus rex that blundered out into the path of a strolling Marcat. The Marcat gave it one hard look, the big carnivore collapsed and lay motionless, apparently dead. Now, did the creature suffer a heart attack at the mere sight of the Marcat, or what did happen? But the closest examination of the scene showed Doyle nothing whatever to answer the question.

Other scenes showed savage fights, between the Marcats themselves; in these fights no Marcat dropped from a hard look. The fight was with fang and claw, and the scene was thick with blood and flying tufts of fur. But then, human beings used weapons against alien attackers that they hesitated to use on each other.

As Doyle wrestled with the problem, to wind up in the same frame of mind as Lindell, word came that the LC-10,000 had arrived, and would carry out its test shortly.

Doyle went down on the planet, found himself deafened by music like harmonizing bandsaws, while a group of angry Marcats glared at the earth-moving machines, and Al Lindell earnestly assured him that the Marcats did talk. Then the burly man with jutting cigar angrily carried over a tripod with cone on top, putting it down so hard that the tripod's pointed feet sank out of sight in the ground.

"There, Colonel. Now, take these earphones, listen to them yourself, and see if you think they talk!"

Doyle looked around, to see coming up the hill behind him a huge glittering ovoid covered with outthrust hornlike devices, and drifting along on antigravs beside a tall individual wearing thick glasses, a long laboratory coat, and the dignity of a high priest.

Doyle winced as the Marcats hit another jarring note, then he put on the earphones, and swung the wide end of the cone toward the coveralled humans. He heard a blast of sizzling profanity, turned the device toward some Marcats, who were obviously deep in conversation, and then stood paralyzed at the sounds that came through the earphones. They were complex sounds, but certain dominant notes stood out:

"Quack-quack, quack-quack, quack-quack."


"Oink, oink, oink, oink, oink."

"Whoo-oo. Who-oo. Who-oo."

The sounds were unvarying, repetitious, with far less expression than two chickens clucking in a henyard. Unless the part that counted was up above the human range of hearing, no one in his right senses could think of it as "conversation." Dumbfounded, Doyle took off the earphones. Now it was obvious that the Marcats were talking. He put the earphones on. Now it was obvious that they weren't talking.

Doyle took the phones off, and looked around.

Down in the natural amphitheater, there came a sudden silence. The Marcats rose, stretched, some leaning forward, tails in the air and claws bunched in the turf, others erect, with big furry forepaws flexed and showing muscles. Then the creatures turned to each other, like theatergoers during an intermission, and began to talk, forearms across each other's shoulders, gesturing occasionally, grinning, prodding each other in the ribs, and waving to mutual acquaintances. The babble was terrific, deafening. But to Doyle's newly-educated ear, it had a monotonous, meaningless sound.

He stepped forward, to listen to an animated group in front of him. Their voices came across clearly.

"Erkbat. Erkbat. Erkbat. Erkbat."

"Cluck-cluck. Cluck-cluck. Cluck-cluck. Cluck-cluck . . ."

"Boomity-boomity-boomity-boomity. Boomity—"

Doyle stepped back. No wonder Lindell hadn't wanted to hand over the records of the language analysis. It wasn't that they were too technical to understand. It was that they were so obvious no one could help but understand.

Just now, not far away to Doyle's right, the impressive glittering bulk of the LC-10,000 made it to the brow of the hill, and its multitude of outthrust horns at once swung around and aimed in various directions into and around the amphitheater. Beside it, Lindell was speaking earnestly to the tall lab-coated official who accompanied the computer.

"Is this," Lindell was saying anxiously, "a sufficient sample?"

"Amply sufficient."

"Ah . . . there's no chance of the computer . . . ah . . . making a mistaken—"

"The LC-10,000 does not make mistakes."

"But if there are very high-pitched sounds—"

"They would be detected."

"There may be signals of some kind—"

"The LC-10,000 is designed to detect sonic signals of whatever character."

"I see. Well then, it ought to be all right."

"The LC-10,000," said the lab-coated figure severely, "is a computer designed by computers for six generations back."

Lindell looked awed. "I hadn't realized that."

Time passed. The horns swung around to new positions.

Finally the technician glanced around. "The ready-light flashed. The analysis is complete."

There was a sound of tearing paper.

"The LC-10,000 finds that there is no language here, at whatever frequency or on whatever level. The LC-10,000 has analyzed the totality of vocal sounds, and these are 'simple repetitive syllables.' That is all."

"But—Good God, man!" cried Lindell. "Look at them yourself!"

"That is a purely subjective attitude. I certainly will not take part in any display of childish anthropomorphism."

The impressive bulk of the LC-10,000 turned ponderously to aim itself down the hill.

Lindell said, "If you'll just try again—"

The LC-10,000 specialist spoke pityingly. "Try to compose yourself, Dr. Lindell. Really, your attitude is irrational. The LC-10,000 is the ultimate authority on language. You have put the question, and the LC-10,000 has answered it. Now let's try to be scientific about this. Total vocal analysis reveals no meaningful patterns capable of conveying intelligence, except . . . let's see here . . . this means—Each of these creatures, during the test period, made its own specific sound. Conceivably, if the creatures couldn't recognize each other by sight, this could convey the identity of the individual speaking. But believe me, it conveys nothing else. Now then, if there were the slightest indication of really meaningful vocal exchange, I would be only too glad to track it down for you. But there is none whatever. If you are so firmly convinced that these creatures have a language, let me suggest that you look for it in the area of visual or tactile signals—"

"We've already tried that," said Lindell moodily.

"Then I'm sorry. Our schedule is crowded. Good day."

The LC-10,000 moved off down the hill, and Lindell turned dazedly to look at the Marcats. Not twenty feet from where Lindell stood, one Marcat banged another on the back as both grinned. The lips of a third Marcat moved, and the other two at once turned to him, then looked simultaneously across the amphitheater at something on the other side. Their lips moved briefly, and all three started off together.

Doyle watched the scene in exasperation. Obviously the Marcats were talking. But every time the matter came down to factual details, they weren't talking.

To Doyle's left, an exasperated voice said, "How about it? We're going to flatten this place now or the end of the week, one or the other." The way he said it, Doyle got a clear mental picture of the amphitheater converted into a smooth flat mass of fresh dirt.

For a moment, there was a peculiar sense of strain in the air, as if the fabric of things momentarily threatened to come apart.

Doyle glanced along the top of the slope, and there, some eighty feet away, the Marcats who'd been watching the earth-moving machines were now looking at him intently. Doyle looked absently back, asking himself how these creatures conveyed information, and why on earth they should make the simple repetitive noise the LC-10,000 referred to. Why should they want to identify themselves, unless they had something to say?

Suddenly Doyle caught his breath. He walked toward the Marcats, who watched him come with what obviously were puzzled frowns, looks of faint uneasiness, and hints and suggestions of belligerent self-assertion and even menace. Doyle picked the most dominant-appearing Marcat and looked him in the eye. The Marcat seemed surprised, but looked back steadily.

Doyle cleared his throat, forced down his feeling of foolishness, and spoke in a monotonous repetitive tone. "Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle . . ."

The Marcat blinked. "Akran, akran, akran, akran, akran, akran, akran, akran . . ."

Lindell walked over to speak to Doyle, then glanced from Doyle to the Marcat in astonishment.

Doyle formed a clear mental picture of the creature in front of him extending his right paw, and holding this picture in mind, Doyle went on, "Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle. . . ."

For a long moment, nothing happened, then the Marcat slowly stretched out his right paw. And Doyle had a fuzzy mental picture of a human being stretching his arms overhead.

Doyle stretched his arms overhead.

The Marcat beamed in delight, and immediately reached out as if to bang Doyle on the back. Doyle moved fast to stay out of the hospital. Quickly, Doyle formed a mental picture of an inert uniformed figure being helped away by other humans.

The Marcat winced, and Doyle had a mental picture of a dejected tigerlike figure with its head in its paws.

Doyle now created a mental picture of the huge tyrannosaurus-like creature he had seen in the visual records. Next he pictured a Marcat. Straining his powers of visualization to the limit, he pictured the Marcat looking up at the tyrannosaur, which suddenly dropped. Doyle repeated this over and over again.

The group of Marcats watched with interest as the one directly in front of Doyle ran his paw along the back of his neck, eyed the sky, looked down the hill, and spotted a rabbit-like creature, that suddenly dropped flat and lay motionless. In Doyle's mind, there formed a picture of the animal's head, then of a brain, then of a net of interconnected nerve cells that changed color and texture. At the same time, he had a mental picture of a tree limb with, at first, one bird sitting on, then two birds, then a flock of birds sitting on it. At the same moment that he saw the nerve cells change color and texture, he also saw the tree limb break. The mental picture faded out, and the reiterated murmur of "Akran, akran" stopped a moment later.

Doyle nodded. The Marcat seemed to understand this gesture. Then his face took on an angry look, and as he began to speak, Doyle got a clear mental picture of the Marcats' amphitheater flattened into a mass of compacted dirt. The Marcat waited with an angry questioning look.

Doyle shook his head, and painstakingly pictured the earth-moving machinery going off the planet. He concentrated so hard on this that he forgot for a moment to repeat his name, but this didn't seem to trouble the Marcat. It beamed, turned to the others, and there was one chaotic moment of babble, then the lot of them were banging each other on the back.

Lindell, watching with a look of desperation, burst out, "Doyle, what in space is going on here? I can see you talking to them. But all you say is 'Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, Doyle.' What is this, anyway?"

"I wouldn't claim to have the last word on it, but it looks to me as if you've got a bunch of visual telepaths here."

Lindell looked at them.

"But . . . in that case . . . why do they use their voices at all?"

"Because there's one thing a telepath needs to know as much as anyone else."

"What do you mean?"

"He needs to know who's talking. And how is he going to know that just by seeing a picture form in his mind?"

"Then all that repetitious chatter is just—recognition signals! Good Lord! No wonder we couldn't figure it out!" Lindell paused as a new aspect occurred to him. He looked at Doyle in amazement. "But if they're visual telepaths, and you were able to communicate with them . . . then you—"

Doyle shook his head. "That doesn't make me much of a telepath. It just means they're powerful enough to put an image in my mind, and sensitive enough to detect what I'm trying to get across, once they realize—from my repeating my recognition signal—what I'm trying to do."

Lindell nodded. "Yes, I see. And now we've got a way to get across to them, we can rig up a test to prove objectively that they communicate. Then I can classify this planet the way it should be classified."

Doyle, worn out, went back to his ship, congratulating himself that he wouldn't have to fight a war with telepathic entities that could kill at an unspecified range by overloading a man's brain circuits.

He was starting to feel like himself again when a call came in from Nels Krojac. Krojac's expression was a little hard to decipher. There was anger in it, plus triumph, and something else that was hard to place.

"Say, Doyle," said Krojac. "I've got a little problem."

"What?" said Doyle warily.

"Lindell got the situation across to the cats down there, and they put it to him that having the R and R center here is O.K., so long as they pick the spot. But first, I was supposed to 'talk' to them myself. Well, they gave me a pretty hard looking over, and I got kind of a funny feeling in the head. And . . . ah . . . this contract I made out. It's got a couple of jokers in it. Now every time I start to plan when to spring the trap, the room goes black, I get a ringing in my ears, my hands and feet go numb, and I get a funny swimming sensation. Do you figure this means what I think it might mean?"

"I know one thing. If I were you, I'd spring no legal surprises on them."

"Yeah. Well—How far do you suppose this effect reaches out?"

"You have the unique opportunity to find the answer to that, yourself."

Krojac nodded thoughtfully. "O.K. Thanks, Doyle. If you ever get sick of traveling third class in the Space Force, drop around. I can always use a man with brains and guts. Forty thousand to start."

"Thanks," said Doyle. "If I ever get sacked, I'll think of it."

Krojac grinned and broke the connection.

A little later, Lindell was on the screen.

"I wanted to thank you, Colonel. I was so surprised earlier that I didn't even think to thank you. But now, there's one other thing about this that leaves me dumbfounded."

"What's that?"

"How could you find such a difficult, out-of-the-way answer to this when everyone else failed, including all my experts, and even the LC-10,000 itself—the greatest and most infallible expert in the entire field?"

Doyle laughed. "I had an unseen advantage, Dr. Lindell."

Lindell blinked. "What was that?"

"Everyone else was an expert-in-the-field. But the answer wasn't in the field. And that's a situation where a rank amateur has all the advantage. He can look outside the field, where the answer is."


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