This story is reprinted courtesy of Project Gutenberg. View the source text.
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy, July, 1955
Henig was sent to obtain a soil sample of
the planet. It was a routine assignment, but not
necessarily the only method for discovering an—
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By Irving Cox, Jr.
Three of the hairless bipeds stood in front of the frame building talking. Concealed by the brush beyond the road, Henig studied them carefully. These were the dominant species on this primitive world, unspeakably grotesque things. The pale, white skinned animals had a culture of sorts—their language, their buildings, their wheeled vehicles testified to that—but an animal society was very different from the rational civilization Henig knew.
He was naked and he carried no weapons. That was the logic of the computers. But Henig was a Fleet Lieutenant, not one of the scientists. He put his faith in arms rather than computer logic. Stripped of his weapons, he lost a fundamental part of himself. The computers had said he would be safe, but too many things could go wrong. Too many factors might have been left out of the observer data submitted to the machines.
Henig inched cautiously toward the three white things standing near the wooden structure. The telecommunicator, which the surgeons had planted in his skull, caught the sound of alien voices and made a conceptual translation in terms Henig understood. He could have used the same device to communicate directly with the alien minds, but the Scientist-General had warned him against that.
“The hairless bipeds,” he told Henig, “are only an animal species. They have no civilization. Make no mistake about that, Lieutenant.”
“And if we decide we need their planet, sir—”
“We’ll set up reservations for them, so they can’t interfere with our operation.”
“They won’t have weapons to match ours,” Henig suggested hopefully.
“If you go in uniform, Lieutenant, even these witless things would recognize you as an alien. It would be foolish to let them know we exist, until we have the final report on your physical survey.”
“Sir, are we actually sure—”
“You’re questioning the computer logic?” The Scientist-General was very amused.
“Not that, sir. It’s just—you see, I’m a solider, and I don’t understand these things.”
“You’ll have to take our conclusion on faith, Lieutenant. You’re the only individual of your particular species aboard, and it would be absurd for us to wait for the center to send out a scientist with your physical qualifications. This planet is too insignificant for us to waste that much time on the survey. The chemistry of the atmosphere and the pressure of gravity approximate what you’re accustomed to on your home world, Lieutenant Henig. And the co-incidence of your appearance is the best disguise you could have.”
“Sir, isn’t it true that sometimes on these primitive worlds, the animal species war against each other? Wouldn’t I be likely to get involved?”
“The computers say no. And we can’t argue against mechanical logic, can we, Lieutenant?”
Naturally the scientists relied on their data, Henig thought bitterly; but they weren’t making the observation—they weren’t standing naked and unarmed on an alien world. The miniature recorders sent down by the ship were only machines, after all, without a logical sense of judgment. The Lieutenant had experienced alien worlds before. Facts were all very well, but the unpredictable quality of emotion was something else again. How could a recorder make note of that? How could feeling be measured or tabulated by the computers?
The Lieutenant lay in the brush listening to the talk of the three hairless aliens. It was surprisingly trivial, the sort of thing he might have heard on his home world: the rising price of food in the city; the cost of fuel for their wheeled vehicles; obscure references to politics; an amusing remark about the female of the species. The similarity to what he knew gave Henig confidence.
He slid out of his hiding place and moved toward the three bipeds. This was the ultimate test. If the computers had been right, the Lieutenant would pass them unnoticed.
He was nearly across the road when the alien things saw him. They fell silent and backed away from him. He saw terror in their faces a split-second before one of them—a female—began to scream. The second male turned and fled into the trees. The other drew out a cylindrical tube which was a weapon. Henig tried to read the emotion in their minds, but the only comprehensible thought the telecommunicator picked up was a paralyzing horror.
Henig sprang at the hairless biped who had the weapon, clawing the ugly, white face. The female screamed again and beat at him with her forepaws. The weapon exploded as the male went down, his face a torn, beaten pulp. Henig felt the hot pain of the metal pellet lodged in the flesh of his shoulder. In panic he fled beyond the frame building.
And the Scientist-General had said he would be safe—without weapons, without the protection of his uniform! The logic of civilization didn’t apply on a primitive world of animal emotions.
Henig expected pursuit, but he heard no footsteps behind him. He stopped running and crept back toward the wooden building. The pain of his shoulder wound spread numbly into the rest of his body. His nerves seethed with nausea. Blood oozed from the torn flesh, congealing on his naked chest.
He saw the female bend over the animal which had tried to kill him. Her mate, Henig guessed. Logically she should have fled, since Henig was still nearby; even a primitive would have been aware of the danger. But she seemed more concerned for the male. She wiped the blood from his face tenderly and began to drag him toward a four-wheeled vehicle, which stood idle inside the frame building.
The Lieutenant admired her courage. To risk herself so futilely in order to help another of her species: entirely illogical—no civilized being would be so foolish—yet heroic and noble. Henig hated himself for what he had to do. Yet he had no alternative. He couldn’t let either of them escape to give the alarm.
He sprang at the female. She screamed once as he clawed her throat. The blood pulsed through the wound, and she died quickly. Henig was glad he could finish it so mercifully, with so little pain. He took a rock and beat in the skull of the male.
The Lieutenant stood beside the frame building, blood dripping from his hands, and looked across the road toward the brush-covered hillside where he had hidden his landing shuttle. It was safe, protected by a refraction field which made the metal tube visually transparent.
Henig had to make a decision, but pain pounding in his wounded shoulder made logical thinking difficult. He could return to the ship now and try to make the scientists understand that the computers had been wrong; his physical appearance was not disguise enough on this unknown world. Or he could complete his survey. With luck, that would be finished before dawn. The test area was relatively close to the hills where he had brought down his shuttle.
Yet he knew he had no real choice. His experience with the three hairless bipeds—granting that the scientists accepted all of it at face value—was not data enough to outweigh the facts which the mechanical observers had previously fed to the computers. This would be considered an isolated episode, not a basis for a hypothetical generalization. The computer logic would strip Henig of his rank and brand him a coward. He had worked too hard for his Lieutenancy to give it up so easily; he had to go through with his assignment.
He hid the bodies of the two animals he had killed behind the frame building. The third one, which had escaped, might spread the alarm, but Henig had no way of preventing that; it was a risk he had to take.
He examined the four-wheeled vehicle which was inside the building. It was a relatively primitive mechanism powered by an internal combustion engine. The fact that the native vehicle was one Henig could drive more than counterbalanced the potential risk from the white-faced animal which had escaped. With any luck, he could have his survey done in half the time he had estimated.
The fuel from the alien vehicle gave Henig part of the answer he needed. The mechanical observers had already used it for fuel, it must have been here in recoverable quantities. The Lieutenant needed only to take one sample from the test area for the scientists to determine whether or not the oil was worth the expense of exploiting the planet.
Henig fingered the dash, looking for the ignition. The lettered symbols over the various dials meant nothing to him, since his telecommunicator was capable only of translating spoken words. The Lieutenant turned one dial and sound blared out at him. Music of a sort: this primitive, animal culture had been clever enough to discover a process for radio transmission.
For a second time the Lieutenant found himself unconsciously admiring the hairless bipeds. As inventions go, the internal combustion engine and radio were relatively insignificant. Yet this animal world had developed its technology without outside help and that suggested a brilliant science. Henig’s empire had a vastly superior technology, but the scientists drew upon the ingenuity and inventive skill of a hundred united worlds and they had the tool of the logic computers.
Far more characteristic of a primitive world was the ignition lock. An animal society, trapped by uncontrolled emotion, would have no mutual trust. Their machines would have to be locked against theft. That was the emotional environment Henig had expected.
But then he thought of the female who had stuck by her mate, when it meant her own death. One jarring note, one violation of the predictable pattern: the more he considered it, the more it disturbed him. Was it typical of the way they all behaved?
The Lieutenant began to envy the illogic that made such affection possible. He thought of the mates he had been assigned from time to time by the psychological services. None of them, in a similar situation, would have tried to help him. Personal heroics were not a part of the computer civilization. He was suddenly conscious of the loneliness and the emptiness of scientific logic. These people—these pale, white-faced animals—had something better.
And that thought was heresy. In haste Henig broke the ignition lock and twisted the loose wires together so he could start the motor. The seat was designed for the bipeds, and it was most uncomfortable for him to drive the car. Fortunately he had only a short distance to go. The oil field selected for the test area was in the foothills, on the outskirts of the city.
The traffic was heavier as he approached the field, but it was nearly dark by that time and no one seemed to notice the Lieutenant slumped low behind the wheel of the stolen vehicle. Had the computers been right, he wondered? Did he resemble an animal species which lived at peace among the aliens? In that case, what accounted for the reaction of the three hairless things when they first saw him?
He had left the radio going, listening to the weird discord of the savage music. Sometimes a voice sang the melody and his telecommunicator gave him a conceptual analysis of the words. All the lyrics revolved around one theme: personal affection. Love was apparently the dominant trend of this culture. According to their music, they died for it, sighed for it, cried for it; no sacrifice was too great if it were made in the name of love.
Henig saw nothing trite in the wording. His logical mind limited his understanding to a strictly literal translation. He knew that an animal society was built upon emotion, but he had never before come across a primitive world where the focal point was love. Hate, greed, ambition, conflict, envy: those were typical and normal. The emphasis upon affection put this world in a special category.
The white-faced bipeds had discovered a bond stronger than all the logic of the empire. Because he was logical, the Lieutenant had to admit that to himself. If the empire came to exploit the oil resources, it would destroy something magnificent.
But Henig wasn’t sure. He had too little specific data: the courage of one female, the chanted songs of a radio program. And, of course, the lonely isolation of the logical life he lived. But to throw that in as a factor was to argue emotionally—on an animal level—himself.
As he turned down a side road into the oil field, the program of music ended and Henig heard a brief news summary. It was predominantly a report of a developing war. Now that made sense. That was the sort of emotional behavior Henig expected from an animal world. But how could they sing love chants while they simultaneously prepared to slaughter each other?
At the end of the broadcast the newscaster mentioned the discovery of two brutally mutilated bodies behind a mountain garage. “An alleged eye-witness is held by the police. He claims to have seen a strange animal approach the victims shortly before the murder.” The announcer repeated a very accurate description of Henig—which, he said, tallied with no species known to zoology.
To Henig that statement was incomprehensible. The computers couldn’t be that wrong. They were objective, logical machines, processing the information submitted by the mechanical observers. The computers said Henig resembled a native species. That much had to be true. The conclusion that he would be able to pass unnoticed on the alien planet might be faulty for lack of emotional data. But the newscaster claimed no such species existed!
The Lieutenant hid his vehicle in a copse of trees close to the deserted side road. He slid off the seat, glad to escape the cramped position behind the wheel. As he walked toward the oil field, his wound began to pain him again. With his tongue he worked the small capsule loose from the back of his mouth—the only place where he could conceal it, since the computers had decreed that he come naked to this world.
He stooped beside a sump and watched the black earth filter slowly through the membrane into the capsule. In his own mind Henig had no doubt that the petroleum resources here were economically worth exploitation. He thought, for a moment, of the brutal occupation by the empire fleet—the slaughter and the destruction, before the survivors could be herded into prison reservations.
The killing and the burning of their primitive cities didn’t disturb him. The aliens were animals. Because of their biological evolution, they would never achieve a higher social level. They were eternally tied to emotion, and a logical civilization was beyond their mentality. To wipe them out meant no more to Henig than the extermination of a germ colony or a nest of vermin.
Still the particular emotion dominating these bipeds was unique. It was worth preserving—if that emotion actually existed; if he were reading the data correctly. The Lieutenant still didn’t know; he still couldn’t make up his mind.
The test earth seeped slowly into the capsule. Henig raised his eyes and studied the field. It was dark and the skeletal shafts of the oil derricks were silhouetted against the glow of the city lights. The hairless bipeds had developed the field extensively. Two or three generations ago, Henig thought enviously, the planet must have been enormously rich in oil if, after so much native exploitation, it was still worth an empire invasion.
Two galactic millennia had passed since the empire had reached that same period in technological growth, depleting the petroleum resources of a hundred worlds. The empire had to have oil. Not for fuel—atomic energy had been harnessed long ago—but for lubrication. All the scientists, all the logical computers which governed the empire, had never come up with a satisfactory substitute.
The sample capsule was full. Henig stood up, sealing the vial again at the back of his mouth. And as he turned toward the road, he saw one of the aliens watching him. Behind the biped a pipe was burning gas exhausted from the field. The flame lit the animal face and Henig saw the crushing weight of terror.
The animal turned and ran, blowing on a whistle which was suspended around its neck. Henig sprang after him and caught the white thing with a blow that split the fragile neck bone. But one blast on the alarm whistle had been enough. Henig saw other animals pouring out of the low-roofed, stone building nestled among the oil derricks. Bright lights blazed up, sweeping the field with a deadly glare.
Henig ran toward the trees where he had hidden his vehicle. He saw the lights of other cars on the side road, and he heard the nervous scream of sirens. He swung aside, running in the direction of the suburban cottages in the foothills. Unless he found another vehicle unguarded, he had to return to the shuttle on foot; and that would give the aliens too much time to spread the alarm.
As he crossed the main highway, he saw two bipeds walking together, arm in arm. The female began to scream. Henig had to silence her. He sprang for her throat; without his customary weapons, that was the only self-defense he had. The male should have turned and fled, since he was not armed. That was sensible and that was logical.
But once more the Lieutenant tangled with the unique emotional reactions of this planet. The male held his ground and tried to protect the female. Henig’s first slash missed her throat and she fought back, too. The male’s forepaw, doubled into a hammer-shape, struck Henig’s wounded shoulder, and blood oozed down his naked chest again.
A nausea of pain sapped Henig’s strength. He staggered toward the shadows beyond the road. If the two aliens came after him now, he was lost; he was too weak to defend himself. He collapsed, panting and retching.
But he heard no footsteps. When he was able, he looked back toward the road. He saw the male holding the female in his arms and mopping blood from the gash Henig had torn in her cheek.
These inexplicable aliens and their affection for each other! It defied all logic and reason. Their behavior was absurd; yet somehow sublime, too. From the arid emptiness of his logical mind, Henig, for a moment, had a vision of something great: a new world which fused the intellect of the computer civilization and the warmth of this animal emotion. These ugly, white-faced animals had a resource far more valuable than petroleum to export to the empire.
Then he heard the sirens coming closer and he began to run. He saw a brightly lighted street, where bipeds crowded the walks. He turned in panic down a dark alley. The sirens were behind him. He saw savages at both ends of the alley, and he pushed his way blindly into a dark warehouse.
He fell across a pile of sacks filled with a soft, grainy substance. A narrow shaft of moonlight made a sharp angle on the floor. He tried to examine his wound in the light. It was still bleeding; the skin was puffy and inflamed. A kind of dull haze crowded the periphery of his mind. The Lieutenant knew the symptoms; he had been wounded twice before when the fleet occupied primitive worlds. He would be all right when he reached the shuttle. He had an emergency kit there and he could sterilize the wound.
He heard footsteps and muffled voices in the alley. He shrank closer to the sacks; unconsciously he clawed a rent in the cloth and the grain spilled out, making a tiny pyramid in the moonlight.
There was a scurrying of tiny feet, a shrill squeal, and a rodent came from the darkness to nibble at the food. It was the smallest rat Henig had even seen, no larger than his hand. Instinctively his mouth began to water. The rat would make a tasty delicate morsel, and it was a long time since he had eaten. But before he could pounce on it, another animal shot out of the shadows and caught the rat in its claws.
Then Henig knew the truth. He knew why the computers had been wrong and he knew what data the mechanical observers had failed to transmit. For the small animal, which was torturing the rat with its forepaws, was a physical duplicate of himself—in miniature. No wonder the radio newscaster had said this world had no zoological species like Henig’s! It was a question of relative size and the error might have amused him—if he had been safely back aboard the exploration ship.
Henig was aware of minor physical differences. The small, green-eyed miniature of himself did not walk erect. Its bare feet had not yet evolved the necessary alteration in joint structure. And its claws were still only cutting tools, incapable of more delicate manipulation. Tentatively Henig used the telecommunicator to explore the animal mind; he found no indication of a cerebral cortex.
But the animal apparently felt the transmission, for it arched its back and every hair on its body stood on end. It dropped the rat and swung toward Henig, hissing and spitting into the darkness. The Lieutenant grinned and purred; this little creature was like a newborn child, lying in the family nest. It was the first familiar thing he had found on this alien world of hairless bipeds.
But his purring frightened the animal. It dropped its rat and fled, screaming. The sound brought the feet running back to the alley door. Henig heard the pounding fists beating upon the wooden panels. He clawed his way to the top of the pile of sacks, where he saw a window. As he broke it open, the door gave and the hairless animals tumbled into the darkness.
A weapon flashed and a metal pellet split the wood close to Henig’s head. He leaped through the window. The jar, when he landed, sent pain spiraling through his body. He staggered along a dark street. Behind him he heard footsteps and hysterical voices. He couldn’t outrun them; he knew that. When he saw a garden gate, he pushed it open. He fell exhausted into a bed of blooming flowers. He didn’t quite lose consciousness. He heard the animals when they ran past the garden gate.
In the sullen silence he began to breathe more easily. The terrified pounding of his heart slowed. He tried to push himself to his feet, and he found that his arm below the shoulder wound was paralyzed with pain.
He turned on his back—and rolled against the legs of a female who stood above him, looking straight ahead toward the street. He waited for her to scream and call the others. Instead she said, in a whisper,
“Poor thing! You’re hurt.”
Henig’s mind soared with hope. Was it possible that the love these animals felt for each other could be extended to include himself?
She knelt beside him, gently feeling his wound with her hairless fingers. Her head was still erect. She did not look at him. He winced when she touched him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll have to put something on it for you.”
She went very slowly to a dilapidated garden shed. She moved by shuffling her feet along the gravel walk, occasionally reaching out to brush her hands against the larger shrubs growing beside the path. When she returned she poured a liquid over Henig’s wound. The new pain was like fire, but he knew she had used a primitive remedy to burn out the infection. There was no doubt in his mind after that. While some of her species searched the streets for him and tried to kill him, she was ready to give him help.
Although the Scientist-General had warned Henig against it, he decided to use the telecommunicator. If she would help him, he had a chance of getting back to his shuttle. It was the only way he could escape. He took one risk in using the device: the female might become aware of every concept in Henig’s mind. But that was a small risk. Only an intellectual equal, with the heightened perceptions of the computer civilization, would read the full context of his communication.
“I need help,” he conveyed to her. “I have a place of safety in the mountains; will you take me to it?”
With a sudden, indrawn breath—like the hissing of a small child—the female stiffened beside him. Had he frightened her? He tried to explore her mind, but her cerebral pattern was amazingly complex. He couldn’t evaluate the interlocked emotion—shock, sorrow, a sympathetic loneliness, and finally understanding. How much of his thinking—how much of himself—she had seen, he did not know. Her rational logic was subordinate to the emotion. Her most surprising reaction was pity.
Pity for him because of the computer civilization that had shaped his mind!
“Of course you must go back,” she said. So she had dredged that much out of his mind during the brief openness of the telecommunication. “And you—you have found a resource that your unfortunate people need.”
The petroleum? Did she understand about that, too? Then why would she help him escape, since it meant the invasion and destruction of her world?
She told him she would persuade her brother to drive his truck up the mountain road. She had learned from the telecommunication where Henig wanted to stop. “You’ll be hidden in back. Open the door and slip out when we stop. It won’t be far to your shuttle.” So she had understood that, too. Henig realized he had grossly underestimated the mental abilities of these emotional animals.
Very gently she put a salve and a bandage on his wound. She helped him into a small, panel truck which was sheltered in a frame building open to the street. Before she closed the door she handed him a package of nut meats.
“This will help you—with your other problem. Give them to your scientists. We call these nuts peanuts. They make an excellent oil. You may have the soil on one of your worlds to grow them for yourselves; if not, we might be able to produce the oil for you.”
She closed the door. Henig felt a tight constriction in his throat. This hairless female had read every thought in his mind; there was no question of that. And she was letting him go home unharmed; she was helping him escape. To Henig this was the final demonstration of the emotion of her species, the quality of love that the computer civilization had never found.
He would not let her world be invaded and exploited. The oil resources were not that important. Very carefully he removed the sample capsule from his mouth and emptied it. With his unhurt arm he clawed loose dirt together from the floor of the truck and pushed it through the membrane. When the scientists analyzed that sample, they would leave her world in peace.
The motor hummed and the truck began to move. In the darkness Henig opened the package of peanuts and crushed one between his teeth. As a food it was very unpalatable. Perhaps the hairless bipeds enjoyed it—from her mind the telecommunicator had picked up the fact that they looked upon it as a food—but nothing like this was of any value to the empire. The various species in the computer civilization were not vegetable eaters.
Henig was sure the nut was not a source of oil. The female, of course, had underestimated his mentality, just as he had misjudged hers. The purpose of her gift was forlornly obvious. She wanted to buy off the invasion she had read in his mind, and presumably the nutmeat was their favorite food which they produced in quantity. The Lieutenant grinned over her emotional foolishness.
Her world needed no subterfuge to protect it. The bipeds had something better—they would be safe. Henig would make sure of that.
After a time the truck came to a stop. Henig opened the rear door and dropped to the road. He recognized the garage where he had killed the two aliens that afternoon. He knew where he was.
The Lieutenant leaned for a moment against the open truck door, adjusting to the new pain in his wound. In the front of the vehicle he saw the girl and her brother. A pale light from the dash fell on their faces. Henig saw the girl’s eyes for the first time, and he realized suddenly that she was blind!
No wonder she had helped him, then. She hadn’t known he was an alien. That accounted, too, for her quick understanding of his telecommunication; sightlessness had heightened her other perceptions.
The radio in the truck was on. The girl and her brother were listening to a newscast reporting the diplomatic maneuvers of something referred to as the cold war. Impatiently the blind female snapped off the broadcast.
Henig heard her say softly, “Have you ever wondered, Fred, what another race might think of us?”
“They’d call us fools, I suppose. We have the ability to build so much, but instead we’re using our science to destroy ourselves.”
“But you know, Fred, I don’t think that would seem important to an outsider. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be aware of the conflict. Simply because we’re human beings, Fred, we have something far more significant. We have it because men and women have to live together, because—”
“Love?” Her brother laughed. “We take that for granted.”
“It’s a pity we can’t see ourselves—just once—as strangers might. We would be able to understand our own greatness, then.”
But Henig didn’t know that, for he wasn’t conscious of how much of a change the impact of love had made in himself. He was thinking about the last mate the psychological services had assigned him. He wanted to see her again. He wanted to see her litter of young, hissing and purring in the family nest. It was the first time in his life he had felt the need to go back, and the feeling was a factor no computer could measure. He would have clawed the throat of any scientist who told him such thinking was illogical, for Henig had found what he considered to be the higher logic of emotion.
Silently Henig scurried through the forest toward his shuttle, carrying with him a useless sample of dust fastened at the back of his mouth—and an idea that would one day overthrow his computer civilization. An emotion marked for export, from an anthropoid world.
The exportable commodity of man.