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Damon Knight

Here's a wry and mordant reminder that it's always dangerous to be complacent and over-confident, no matter how overwhelmingly superior your technology may be. . . .

A multi-talented professional whose career as writer, editor, critic, and anthologist spans almost fifty years, Damon Knight has long been a major shaping force in the development of modern science fiction. He wrote the first important book of SF criticism, In Search of Wonder, and won a Hugo Award for it. He was the founder of the Science Fiction Writers of America, cofounder of the prestigious Milford Writer's Conference, and, with his wife, writer Kate Wilhelm, is still deeply involved in the operation of the Clarion workshop for new young writers, which was modeled after the Milford Conference. He was the editor of Orbit, the longest running original anthology series in the history of American science fiction, and has also produced important works of genre history such as The Futurians and Turning Points, as well as dozens of significant reprint anthologies. Knight has also been highly influential as a writer, and may well be one of the finest short story writers ever to work in the genre. His books include the novels A for Anything, The Other Foot, Hell's Pavement, The Man in the Tree, CV, and A Reasonable World, and the collections Rule Golden and Other Stories, Turning on, Far Out, The Best of Damon Knight, and the recent One Side Laughing. His most recent book is the novel Why Do Birds. Knight lives with his family in Eugene, Oregon.

The ship came down out of a blue sky to land in a New Jersey meadow. It sank squashily into the turf. It was about a mile long, colored an iridescent blue-green, like the shell of a beetle.

A door opened, and a thin, stick-bodied man came out to sniff the cool air. The sky overhead was full of fluffy cumulus clouds and criss-crossing contrails. Across the river, the tall buildings of Greater New York were picturesquely gilded by the early sun.

A dun-colored Army copter came into view, circling the ship at a cautious distance. The thin man saw it, blinked at it without interest, and looked away.

The river was smooth and silvery in the sunlight. After a long time, the sound of bullhorns came blaring distantly across the marshes. Then there was a clanking and a roaring, and two Army tanks pulled into sight, followed by two more. They deployed to either side, and slewed around with their 90-mm. guns pointing at the ship.

The alien watched them calmly. More helicopters appeared, circling and hovering. After a while a gray-painted destroyer steamed slowly into view up the river.

More tanks arrived. There was a ring of them around the spaceship, rumbling and smelling of Diesel oil. Finally a staff car pulled up, and three perspiring general officers got out of it.

From his low platform the alien looked down with a patient expression. His voice carried clearly. "Good morning," he said. "This is a ship of the Galactic Federation. We come in peace. Your guns will not fire; please take them away. Now, then. I shall tell you what I am going to do. The Federation wishes to establish a cultural and educational organization upon your continent; and for your land and your co-operation, we will pay you generously. Here, catch these." He raised his arm, and a cloud of glittery objects came toward them.

One of the officers, white-faced, tugged at the pistol in his belt holster; but the objects dropped harmlessly in and around the car. The senior officer picked one up. It was insubstantial to the touch, more like a soap bubble than anything else.

Then it tingled suddenly in his palm. He sat down, glassy-eyed.

The other two shook him. "Frank! Frank!"

His eyes slowly cleared; he looked from one to the other. "Are you still here?" he said faintly, and then: "My God!"

"Frank, what was it? Did it knock you out?"

The senior officer looked down at the glittery thing in his hand. It felt now like nothing in particular—just a piece of plastic, perhaps. There was no more tingle. The zip was gone out of it.

"It was . . . happiness," he said.

The rest of the objects glittered and gleamed in the rank grass around the car. "Go on," called the alien encouragingly, "take all you want. Tell your superiors, tell your friends. Come one, come all! We bring happiness!"

Within half a day, the word was out. Work stopped in New York offices; by ferry and tube, people poured across the river. The governor flew in from Trenton and was closeted with the aliens for half an hour, after which he emerged with a dazed and disbelieving look on his face, wearing a shoulder bag full of the glittering little capsules.

The crowd, muddy to the knees, milled around the ship. Every hour the thin alien appeared and tossed out another handful of capsules. There were shouts and screams; the crowd clotted briefly where the capsules fell, then spread apart again like filings released from a magnet.

Dull, used-up capsules littered the grass. Everywhere you saw the dazed expression, the transported look of a man who had had one.

Some few of the capsules got carried home to wives and children. The word continued to spread. No one could describe the effect of the capsules satisfactorily. It lasted only a few seconds, yet seemed to take a long time. It left them satiated and shaken. It was not pleasure of any specific kind, they said; it was happiness, and they wanted more.

Expropriation measures passed the state and national legislatures with blinding speed. There was furious debate elsewhere, but nobody who had had one of the capsules was in any doubt that he was getting a bargain. And the kicker was "What else can we do?"

The aliens, it appeared, wanted five hundred acres of level ground to put up certain buildings and other structures. Their explanations to the press and public were infrequent and offhand in tone; some people found them unsatisfactory. When asked why the aliens had chosen a site so near heavily populated centers, rather than wasteland which would have been plentiful elsewhere, the spokesman replied (he was either the same stick-thin man who had appeared first, or one just like him), "But then who would build us our buildings?"

New York, it seemed, represented a source of native labor to the aliens.

The pay would be generous: three capsules a day a man.

When the aliens announced they were hiring, half the population of Greater New York tried to get over onto the Jersey flats. Three quarters of the population of Hoboken, Jersey City, Hackensack and Paterson was already there.

In the queues that eventually formed out of the confusion, the mayor of New York City was seen alongside an upstate senator and two visiting film stars.

Each person, as he reached the head of the line, was handed a light metal or plastic rod, five feet long, with a curved handle and a splayed tip. The lucky workers were then herded out onto the designated acreage. Some of it was marshland, some was a scraggly part of the New Jersey Parks System, some was improved land. The buildings on the site—a few homes, some factories and warehouses—had all been evacuated but not torn down. The workers with their rods were lined up at one edge of this territory, facing the opposite side.

"When the command 'Go' is heard," said the alien's voice clearly, "you will all proceed directly forward at a slow walking pace, swinging your sticks from side to side."

The voice stopped. Apparently that was going to be all.

In the middle of the line, young Ted Cooley looked at his neighbor, Eli Baker. They both worked in the same pharmaceuticals house and had come out together to try their luck. Cooley was twenty-five, blond and brawny; Baker, about the same age, was slight and dark. Their eyes met, and Baker shrugged, as if to say, Don't ask me.

It was a clear, cool day. The long line of men and women stood waiting in the sunlight.

"Go!" said the alien's voice.

The line began to move. Cooley stepped forward and waggled his stick hesitantly. There was no feeling of movement in the stick, but he saw a line of darkness spring out on the ground ahead of him. He paused instinctively, thinking that the stick must be squirting oil or some other liquid.

Up and down the line, other people were stopping, too. He looked more closely and saw that the ground was not wet at all. It was simply pressed down flat—dirt, stones, weeds, everything all at once—to form one hard, dark surface.

"Keep going," said the alien's voice.

Several people threw down their sticks and walked away. Others moved forward cautiously. Seeing that nothing happened to them when they stepped on the dark strip, Cooley moved forward also. The dark ground was solid and firm underfoot. As he moved forward, swinging the stick, the dark area spread; and, looking closely now, he could see the uneven ground leap downward and darken as the stick swept over it.

"Get in rhythm," called the voice. "Leave no space between one man's work and the next."

The line moved forward, a little raggedly at first, then faster as they got the hang of it. The dark, hard strip, running the whole length of the area, widened as they moved. It was as if everything under the business end of the stick were instantly compressed and smoothed down. Looking closely, you could see the traces of anything that had been there before, like the patterns in marbled linoleum: stones, sticks, grass and weeds.

"How the heck does it work?" said Baker, awed.

"Search me," said Cooley. In his hands, the tube felt light and empty, like the aluminum shaft of a tank vacuum cleaner. He didn't see how it could possibly have any mechanism inside. There were no controls; he hadn't turned anything on to make it operate.

A few yards ahead, there was a stone wall, overgrown with weeds. "What's going to happen when we come to that?" Baker asked, pointing.

"Search me." Cooley felt bewildered; he walked mechanically forward, swinging the stick.

The wall grew nearer. When they were within a few paces of it, a rabbit burst suddenly out of cover. It darted one way, then the other, hind legs pumping hard. Confused by the advancing line, it leaped for the space between Baker and Cooley.

"Look out!" shouted Cooley instinctively. Baker's swinging stick went directly over the rabbit.

Nothing happened. The rabbit kept on going. Cooley and a few others turned to watch it: it bounded away across the level strip and disappeared into the tall grass on the other side.

Baker and Cooley looked at each other. "Selective," said Cooley through dry lips. "Listen, if I—" He shortened his grip on the stick, moving the splayed end toward himself.

"Better not," said Baker nervously.

"Just to see—" Cooley slowly brought the stick nearer, slowly thrust the tip of one shoe under it.

Nothing happened. He moved the stick nearer. Bolder, he ran it over his leg, his other foot. Nothing. "Selective!" he repeated. "But how?"

The weeds were dried vegetable fiber. The stick compressed them without hesitation, stamped them down flat like everything else. His trousers were dried vegetable fiber, part of them, anyhow—cotton. His socks, his shoelaces—how did the stick know the difference?

They kept on going. When they came to the stone wall, Cooley waved his stick at it. A section of the wall slumped, as if a giant had taken a bite out of it. He waved it again. The rest of the wall fell.

Somebody laughed hysterically. The line was advancing. The wall was just a lighter stripe in the smooth floor over which they walked.

The sun crept higher. Behind the line of men and women stretched a level, gleaming floor. "Listen," said Cooley nervously to Baker, "how bad do you want those happiness gadgets?"

Baker looked at him curiously. "I don't know. What do you mean?"

Cooley moistened his lips. "I'm thinking. We get the gadgets, we use them up—"

"Or sell them," Baker interrupted.

"Or sell them, but then, either way, they're gone. Suppose we walked off with these." He hefted his stick. "If we could find out what makes it do what it does—"

"Are you kidding?" said Baker. His dark face was flushed; beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He waved his stick. "You know what this is? A shovel. An idiot stick."

"How's that?" said Cooley.

"A shovel," Baker told him patiently, "is a stick with some dirt on one end and an idiot on the other. Old joke. Didn't you ever do any common labor?"

"No," said Cooley.

"Well, you're doing some now. This thing that looks so wonderful to us—that's just a shovel, to them. An idiot stick. And we're the idiots."

"I don't like that," said Cooley.

"Who likes it?" Baker demanded. "But there isn't a thing you can do about it. Do your work, take your pay, and that's all. Don't kid yourself we can ever get the bulge on them; we haven't got what it takes."

Cooley thought hard about it, and he was one of the fifty-odd people who walked off the site with Galactic tools that day. The Galactics made no complaint. When daylight failed, they called in the first crew and sent another out under floating lights. The work went on, around the clock. The tools were stolen at a steady rate; the Galactics handed out more indifferently.

The site became level and smooth; the surface was glassy-hard, almost too slick to walk on. The next thing the aliens did was to set up a tall pole on a tripod in the middle of the site. Most of the floating lights went out and drifted away. In the dusk, a network of fluorescent lines appeared on the glassy surface. It looked like the ground plan for a huge building. Some of the pale lines went a little askew because of minor irregularities in the surface, but the Galactics did not seem to mind. They called in part of the crew and made some adjustment in each man's stick. A narrow tab, something like the clip in an automatic, came out of the butt; a different one went in.

So equipped, the reduced crew was sent back onto the site and scattered along the diagram, one man every two hundred yards or so. They were instructed to walk backward along the lines, drawing their sticks after them.

There was some confusion. The tools now worked only on contact, and instead of flattening the surface down, they made it bulge up, like suddenly rising dough, to form a foot-high ridge. The ridge was pale in color and felt porous and hard to the touch, like styrene foam.

A few men were called in and had still another set of control tabs put into their sticks. Wherever somebody had jumped, or twitched, and made a ridge where it didn't belong, these men wiped it out like wiping chalk with a wet sponge: the expanded material shrank again and became part of the dark surface.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew, finishing the first set of lines, was walking along beside them, making the ridges twice as wide. They repeated this process until each ridge was nearly a yard across. Then they stepped up on top of the ridges and began again, making a second foot-high bulge on top of the first.

The building was going up. It was irregularly shaped, a little like an arrowhead, with an outer shell composed of many small compartments. The interior was left unpartitioned, a single area more than half a mile across.

When the shell was up ten feet, the aliens had connecting doorways cut between all the small chambers. A stick, looking no different from the others, was tossed into each chamber from the wall above. Where it landed, clear liquid immediately began to gush. The liquid rose, covered the stick, and kept on rising. It rose until it reached the level of the walls, and then stopped. A few minutes later, it was cold to the touch. In half an hour, it was frozen solid.

The control tabs were changed again, and a crew began walking across the frozen surface, forming another layer of the hard, dark, glassy substance. Afterward, more doorways were cut in the outer shell, and the liquid drained off toward the river. The sticks that had been dropped into the chambers were recovered. Each had left a slight irregularity in the floor, which was smoothed out.

The second story went up in the same way. Walking backward along the high walls, a good many people fell off. Others quit. The aliens hired more, and the construction went on.

Hardly anybody except a few high government officials got to see the inside of the alien spaceship; but the Galactics themselves became familiar sights in the towns and cities of the eastern seaboard. They walked the streets in inquisitive, faintly supercilious pairs, looking at everything, occasionally stopping to aim little fist-size machines which might or might not have been cameras.

Some of them fraternized with the populace, asking many earnest questions about local laws and customs. Some bought vast quantities of potatoes, playing cards, Cadillacs, junk jewelry, carpets, confetti, nylons and other goods, paying, as usual, with the happiness capsules. They ate local foods with interest and drank heroically without getting drunk, or even tipsy. Skin-tight clothes cut in imitation of the Galactics' bottle-green uniform began to appear on the market. There were Galactic dolls and Galactic spaceship toys.

Legislatures everywhere were relaxed and amiable. Wherever the Galactics had trouble, or sensed it coming, they smoothed the way with more of the happiness capsules. Prices were beginning to be marked not only in "$" and "¢," but in "Hc," for "Hapcap." Business was booming.

In the laboratories of the Bureau of Standards in Washington there was a concerted program—one of many—to discover the secrets of the Galactic all-purpose tool. Specimens had been measured, X-rayed and cut apart. The material, whatever it was, seemed to have been formed in one piece. It was light, chemically inert and fairly strong. The hollow inside was irregularly curved, according to no discernible principle.

There were only two parts—the tool proper and the control tab which fitted into a slot in the handle. With the tab in, the tool functioned. It did work, while the dials of every test instrument calmly reported that no energy was being released. With the tab out, nothing happened at all.

The tabs for various functions could be distinguished by color; otherwise, in shape and dimensions, they seemed identical.

The first—and last—breakthrough came when the tabs were examined by X-ray microscopy. The substance, which had seemed amorphous, was found to have a crystalline structure, permanently stressed in patterns which differed consistently between tabs that produced different functions.

By an elaborate series of test heatings, compressions and deformations, Dr. Crawford Reed succeeded in altering the stress pattern of a type "A" tab to approximately that of a type "C" tab.

When the tab was inserted in a tool, the laboratory went up in an explosion that demolished buildings within a radius of three city blocks.

The explosion was recorded by instruments in the giant spaceship. When he saw the record, the bored officer on duty smiled.

One of the aliens, who said his name was Pendrath go Pendrath, showed up frequently in the pleasant little town of Riverdale, New Jersey. He poked his nose into church bazaars, Little League baseball games, soda fountains, summer camps, chamber of commerce meetings. At first he gathered crowds wherever he went; then the natives, and even the tourists, got used to him.

Three nights after the rough shell of the building was finished, a young Star-Ledger reporter named Al Jenkins found him in the back of a bar, maudlin drunk.

Pendrath looked up as Jenkins slid into the booth next to him. "Ah, my friend," he said blurrily, "how I regret your poor planet."

"You don't like our planet?" said Jenkins.

"No, it is a nice little planet. Extremely picturesque. Pardon me." Pendrath sipped from the glass he was holding. He blinked, and straightened up slightly.

"You must understand, that is Galactic progress," he said. "It cannot be helped. We all must go someday."

Jenkins looked at him critically. "You've been having quite a few of those, haven't you?" he said. "I thought you people were immune to alcohol, or something."

"No, it is the aps—as—aspirin," said the alien. He produced a small bottle, and solemnly shook a tablet out into his palm. "Your liquors gave me a headache, and so I took an apsirin—aspirin—and your aspirin is wonderful." He looked lugubrious. "To think, no more aspirin. No more church bazaar. No more baseball."

"Why, what's going to happen to them?"

Pendrath spread his fingers and made an expressive fizzing noise with his mouth. "Blooie," he said.

Jenkins said incredulously, "You're going to blow up the world?"

The alien nodded sadly. "Soon our building will be finished. Then we will put in the big machines, and drill, drill." He made twisting motions downward with one hand. "We will drill to the core. Then we will drop the transformer and close up the shaft. Then we will go away. Then the poor little planet will go—" he made the fizzing noise again—"Blooie."

Jenkins' fists were clenched. "But why? Why would you do a thing like that?"

"For dust," Pendrath explained. "Your little planet will all be dust. No big pieces left—nothing bigger than this." He pinched his thumb and forefinger together, squinting, to show how tiny. "We are making defenses for the Galaxy. This sector is too open. We will make a little screen of dust here. If there is dust, a ship cannot go very fast. The dust slows it down. Some places, there is already dust. Other places, we will make it. It is the only way to protect ourselves from invasion."

"Invasion by whom?"

Pendrath shrugged. "Who can tell? We have to look ahead."

Jenkins' hands began to shake. He took a dog-eared notebook out of his pocket, thumbing it open automatically; he looked at it and put it back. His hands didn't want to do anything but make fists. He said thickly, "You lousy—" and swung a left to Pendrath's beaky face.

The blow never landed. His fist slowed down and stopped; strain as hard as he would, he couldn't push it any farther.

"No, no," said Pendrath, smiling sadly. "No use. I regret very much."

Jenkins' heart was thumping. "Why us?" he burst out angrily. "If you had to have dust, why couldn't you take one of the other planets? Jupiter, Venus—any of them—why pick the one we live on?"

Pendrath blinked at him. "But on your other planets no one lives," he said. "Who, then, would do the work for us?" He popped another tablet into his mouth. "And besides," he said, "remember that this dust will make a blanket around your sun. It will make the planets very cold. You see, I have thought of all these things. And then suppose we went to some other sun, and did not come here at all. It would be just the same. You would make big spaceships, and we would have to come and finish you anyway. This way, it will be very quick—you will not feel a thing."

Jenkins had lost his hat. He fumbled on the floor for it. "We'll stop you," he said, red-faced over the tabletop. "You'll be sorry you ever opened your mouth to me, mister. I'll spread this from here to Belfast."

"You are going to tell?" the alien asked, in dull surprise.

"You bet your sweet life I'm going to tell!"

Pendrath nodded owlishly. "It does not matter now. The work is nearly done. You cannot stop us, my poor friend."

The story broke the following day, when the installation of the complex system of girders and braces in the interior of the building had already been finished. A hatch in the side of the ship was open, and under the aliens' direction, crews were carrying out a steady stream of machine parts to be assembled inside the building.

There were a thousand and one pieces of different sizes and shapes: gigantic torus sections, tubes, cylinders, globes; twisted pipes, jigsaw-puzzle pieces. The material was not metal, but the same light substance the tools were made of.

Some of the tools were serving as grip-sticks: they clung like magnets to the machine parts, and to nothing else. Some, applied to massive pieces of equipment, made them extraordinarily slippery, so that it was easy to slide them across the site and into the building. Others were used in assembling: drawn along the join between two pieces, they made the two flow together into one.

The story did not reach the day shift at all. The second and third shifts turned up a little under strength; the aliens hired enough people from the crowd of curiosity-seekers to make up the difference.

At his regular press conference, the alien spokesman, Mr. Revash go Ren, said, "Mr. Jenkins' story is a malicious fabrication. The machines you mention will provide pleasant heating, air conditioning, Galactic standard gravitation, and other necessary services for the clerical workers in our offices. We are accustomed to have many conveniences of this kind, and that is why we cannot live or work in buildings suitable for you."

Hersch of the Times demanded, "Why does that take a half-mile area, when your office space is only a thin ring around the outside of the building?"

Revash smiled. "Why do you take a whole cellar to heat your buildings?" he asked. "One of your savages would say that a fire of sticks and a hole in the ceiling are sufficient."

Hersch had no answer to that; nevertheless, belief in the story spread. By the end of the week, half a dozen newspapers were thumping the drum for a crusade. A Congressional investigating committee was appointed. More workers quit. When the labor supply slackened, the aliens doubled the pay, and got more applicants than there were jobs. Riots broke out on the Jersey side of the tubes. There were picket lines, fulminations from the pulpit, attempts at sabotage. The work went on just the same.

"The whole problem is psychological," said Baker. "We know what kind of people they are—it sticks out all over them—they're decadent. That's their weak point; that's where we've got to hit them. They've got the perfect machines, but they don't know how to use them. Not only that, they don't want to; it would soil their lily-white hands. So they come here, and they get us to do their dirty work, even though it means an extra risk."

"That doesn't sound so decadent to me," said Cooley argumentatively. It was past midnight, and they were still sitting in Baker's living room over a case of beer, hashing it all out. Cooley's face was flushed, and his voice a little loud. "Take an archaeological expedition, say—I don't know, maybe to Mesopotamia or somewhere. Do they drag along a lot of pick and shovel men? They do not; they take the shovels, maybe, but they hire native labor on the spot. That isn't decadence, that's efficiency."

"All right, but if we had to, we could get out there and pick up a shovel. They can't. It just wouldn't occur to them. They're overrefined, Ted; they've got to the point where the machines have to be perfect, or they couldn't stay alive. That's dangerous; that's where we've got to hit them."

"I don't see it. Wars are won with weapons."

"So what are we supposed to do, hit them with atom bombs that don't go off, or guns that don't shoot?"

Cooley put down his stein and reached for the tool that lay on the floor. It had rolled the last time he put it down. He said, "Damn," and reached farther. He picked it up, the same "idiot stick" he had stolen from the Galactic site the first day.

"I'm betting on this," he said. "You know and I know they're working on it, day and night. I'm betting they'll crack it. This is a weapon, boy—a Galactic weapon. If we just get that—"

"Go ahead, wish for the moon," said Baker bitterly. "What you're talking about happens to be impossible. We can change the stress patterns in the control tabs, yes. We can even duplicate the formative conditions, probably, and get as many tabs as you want with the same pattern. But it's all empirical, Ted, just blind chance. We don't know why such and such a stress pattern makes the tool do a certain thing, and until we know that, all we can do is vary it at random."


"So there are millions of wrong patterns for every right one. There's the patterns that make things explode, like in Washington; there're the ones that boil the experimenter alive or freeze him solid, or bury him in a big lump of solid lead. There're the radioactive ones, the corrosive ones—and for every wrong guess, we lose at least one man."

"Remote control?" said Cooley.

"First figure out what makes the tools operate when somebody's holding them, and stop when they let go."

Cooley drank, frowning.

"And remember," said Baker, "there's just about one choice that would do us any good against the Galactics. One pattern, out of millions. No. It won't be technology that licks them; it'll be guts."

He was right; but he was wrong.

Al Jenkins was in the Star-Ledger city room, gloomily reading a wire story about denunciations of the aliens issued by governors of eight states. "What good is that?" he said, tossing it back onto the city editor's desk. "Look at it."

Through the window, they could see the top of the alien building shining in the distance. Tiny figures were crawling over the domed roof. The aliens had inflated a hemispherical membrane, and now the workers were going over it with the tools, forming a solid layer.

The dome was almost finished. Work on the interior of the building had stopped two days before.

"He knew what he was talking about," said Jenkins. "We couldn't stop them. We had three weeks to do it in, but we just couldn't get together that fast."

Cigarette ash was spilling down the front of his shirt. He scrubbed at it absently, turned, and walked out of the office. The editor watched him go without saying anything.

One morning in July, two months after the aliens' landing, a ragged mob armed with Galactic tools appeared near the spaceship. Similar mobs had formed several times during the last few nights. When a native grew desperate, he lost what little intelligence he had.

The officer in charge, standing in the open doorway, looked them over disdainfully as they approached. There was no need for any defensive measures; they would try to club him with the tools, fail, and go away.

The native in the lead, a big, burly male, raised his tool like a pitchfork. The Galactic watched him with amusement. The next instant, he was dead, turned into bloody mush on the floor of the airlock.

The mob poured into the ship. Inside, the green-lit hallways were as dim and vast as a cathedral. Bored Galactics looked out of doorways. Their bland expressions changed to gapes of horror. Some ran; some hid. The tools cut them down.

The long corridors echoed to the rattle of running feet, to shouts of excitement and triumph, screams of dismay. The mob swept into every room; it was over in fifteen minutes.

The victors stopped, panting and sweaty, looking around them with the beginnings of wonder. The high-ceilinged rooms were hung with gleaming gold-and-green tapestries; the desks were carved crystal. Music breathed from somewhere, soothing and quiet.

A tray of food was steaming on a table. A transparent chart had been pulled out of a wall. Under each was a pulpy red smear, a puddle of disorganized tissue.

Baker and Cooley looked up and recognized each other. "Guts," said Baker wryly,

"Technology," said Cooley. "They underrated us; so did you." He raised the tool he held, careful not to touch the butt. "Ten thousand tries, I hear—and ten thousand dead men. All right, have it your way. I call that guts, too." He lifted his head, staring off into the distance, trying to imagine the hundreds of research stations, hidden in remote areas, with their daily, ghastly toll of human life. "Ten thousand," he said.

Baker was shaking with reaction. "We were lucky; it might have been a million. . . ." He tried to laugh. "Have to find a new name for this now—no more idiot stick."

Cooley glanced at the floor. "It depends," he said grimly, "which end of the stick the idiot's on."

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