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We have established that both the so-called Centaurians and the so-called Slugs come from planets that orbit the star Alpha Centauri, and that the so-called Delts come from the system of the star Delta Pavonis. The provenance of the other two extraterrestrial races remains unknown. They decline to respond to any questions on the subject, nor have our searches turned up any data that would resolve it.

It is a noteworthy factit cannot be called a coincidencethat the automatic probes dispatched by the Huntsville Group to both of the above stars have lost contact even before they established circumstellar orbits. Analysis indicates a very high probability that these losses were not due to equipment malfunctions or accident. This leaves only one reasonable explanation.



When Giyt gave Rina the package she was a little irritated, a little amused, and a little bit hurt; too. She stood there with her palmtop in one hand and her shoulder bag in the other, just getting ready to go out, looking both startled and disappointed. "But I didn't get those things for us, Shammy!" she said. "I wouldn't try anything like that on you, would I? I know how you feel about them. I ordered them for Lupe."

"Lupe next door?"

"Do you know any other Lupe? She was afraid that when she gets real pregnant, you know, Matya might not be so interested in her anymore."

"Oh." Giyt cast around for something to explain his jumping to a wrong conclusion. "I just didn't know that women went in for this, ah, this dominatrix kind of thing."

"Well, they do," she said firmly. "Anyway, some women do. When I was in the game I had quite a few female clients, you know. It was pretty hard work sometimes, but they were mostly good tippers." She went back to stowing her gear in the bag, and when she spoke again the subject was clearly changed. "I think I'll see if Lupe wants to take a run down to the store and see what came in this time. Do you want to come along?"

Giyt didn't. He said he wished he could, but he had work that he had to do, which was no more than a faint tincture of truth in a solid lie. The main truth was that he did not want to see Lupe just then, because he did not want to find himself speculating on just what it was that she and Matya did in the privacy of their bedroom. Much less on what Rina had had to do, in the old days, to earn those good tips.


The tiny tincture of truth was that he did have a good many things to do, and nowhere near enough time to do them all in.

Giyt had never in his life wished for more hours in a day. He certainly didn't wish for them here, either, because the long Tupelovian day already possessed nearly ten more hours than the Earth norm. That was one of the problems. The daylight hours were easy enough to deal with, especially because they were quite pleasantly interrupted by the after-lunch siesta. It was the night that was disorienting. You went to sleep in the dark and, because you couldn't sleep much more than eight hours at a time, no matter how hard you tried, you woke up in the dark, too.

Still, those four or five hours between wakeup and sunrise were precious. People didn't call each other then, or come to visit. The official workday didn't begin until the explosion of Kalkaboo firecrackers announced the dawn, and so Giyt had those hours for his own.

He used them for uninterrupted work. For trying to read all the reports that no one bothered to read at commission meetings, and then for trying to catch up on all the things he didn't know about Tupelo and his new life.

There were enough of those things to use up a good many of those valuable morning hours—things like learning the planet's geography, identifying the various kinds of work that kept the Earth-human community occupied, trying to figure out the nature of all those bizarre extraterrestrials who had suddenly become his townies. Well, learning everything. All that stuff was in the databanks, of course, but it was still a lot to try to learn in a hurry. And then there was all the new information that kept coming in every day, four times a day, from Lt. Silva Cristl's news-chat programs on the net.

The trouble with the lieutenant's news broadcasts was that almost everything she said raised new questions faster than it answered old ones. Like the late-night roundup when she announced, with almost a wink and nearly a grin, that she and a deputy had arrested four teenagers for being drunk and disorderly on the lakefront beach. Well, fine. The wink and grin were because Silva Cristl liked gossip, no puzzle there. But what was a fire-company officer doing arresting anyone? Giyt had to go back to the datastore to find out that, as the volunteer firemen were the closest the Tupelo humans had to a law-enforcement agency, they were also charged with performing what few police duties were ever necessary.

That made Giyt's eyes go wide. He himself was a volunteer fireman. So that meant that he had power to arrest wrongdoers—a most unusual situation for a man who had for most of his life been more likely to have been the one who was arrested.

Trying to keep all this new information straight was a lot of trouble. The things that Giyt felt he had to do kept getting in the way of the things he wanted to do, and Evesham Giyt wasn't used to that. It wasn't the work he minded. Giyt thrived on work, but the kind of work he thrived on was the heady challenge of matching wits against the best security programs anybody had devised, or solving some tricky problem in the net someone else had given up on.

Of course, there were a few tricky problems waiting for him if he ever got around to them—fixing up those crappy translation programs, for instance, or maybe taking the time to solve the protocols for the Slug and Centaurian and all the other alien communications systems. But that was just another kind of drudgery. Protracted drudgery, too, because any of that would take a lot of time; just writing a conversion program for the net belonging to the Petty-Primes had used up several of those priceless pre-dawn mornings.

Giyt almost longed for the old days in his Bal Harbor slide, when he could daydream or scheme about the conquest of Guatemala or Thailand in as much detail, and for as long, as he liked, with no constraints on his time except the ones he imposed on himself.


Actually, Giyt did manage a little of that daydreaming. It came from his tap into the Petty-Prime system.

The things that Giyt saw when he looked in on the Petty-Primes weren't all that interesting in themselves; in fact, they were almost always either hopelessly confusing or terminally dull. The Petty-Prime local news programs were even less interesting than the humans'. Perhaps the Petty-Primes themselves thought so, too, because most of their transmission time was spent on those interminable soap-opera things or on sports events or on horrible cacophonous music. The dramatic programs he couldn't figure out and the music he couldn't stand at all, but the sports kept him interested for a while. He tried to deduce the rules of the games—the one, for instance, in which two teams of eighteen or twenty Petty-Primes confronted each other in an arena. Each of the players carried a little live reptile the size of a shrew, and when they released them the creatures streaked for the opposite team, which did its best to stomp them into mush. That much was clear, but how the game was scored or who won, Giyt could not tell. Or the other kind of contest in which two Petty-Primes engaged in barehanded combat—but had their work cut out for them if they wanted to do each other any real harm, because they were tied to each other, back to back. Or the one—

Well, they were all pretty weird, but then, Giyt thought, probably the Petty-Primes would feel the same way about, for instance, ice hockey or sumo wrestling. What the Petty-Prime sports events did for Giyt was to give him a feeling for the funny little creatures as real people, with all their own habits and faults and relationships and interests.

That was where the new varieties of daydreams started. Giyt wondered if the Petty-Primes had their own history of wars and invasions and conquests. And then he began to think of how you might go about conquering the world of the Petty-Primes.

Thinking of it purely as an intellectual enterprise, it didn't seem that it would be all that hard to do. There didn't appear to be any large military forces among the Petty-Primes, though to be sure, a sports arena was not the most probable place to look for them. But even if they had combat-ready troops and an arsenal, surely Earth weaponry could take them out in a fair fight.

He considered how you could go about getting Earth forces to a place where that fair fight could happen. The first thing to do, he decided, was to transmit some heavy-duty mass killer weapon through the terminal to wipe out all the Petty-Primes nearby, then a couple of divisions of fast: moving armor to establish a beachhead. What sort of weapons for that first blow? That took some thought. Maybe chemical, maybe biological; you didn't want to use anything nuclear because that would wreck the terminal, too. The best thing of all would be to find something that would kill Petty-Primes but not Earth humans. For that you would need to know a lot about Petty-Prime biochemistry.

It took only a moment to check that out, and he. was pleasantly surprised to find that there was, in fact, a considerable store of such data already in the banks.

Of course, before you could get that sort of operation off the ground you would have to secure your staging base on Tupelo itself. That would involve neutralizing all the other races on the planet, but that should be pretty straightforward: arrest the leaders, evacuate the area around the EPR terminal, bring in the weapons from Earth and the assault troops to follow—

But Tupelo's eetie leaders would probably resist, and that would mean killing. Not just killing creatures on another planet a zillion kilometers away, but murdering actual neighbors. Nonhuman neighbors, sure.

But even theoretically, even in this mind game, did he actually want to kill, say, Mrs. Brownbenttalon and her husband?

It occurred to him that the commanders of some expeditionary force from Earth, assuming anyone on Earth were crazy enough to want to try anything like that, would have no such compunctions: eetie freaks would be just eetie freaks to them. (But that, of course, wasn't going to happen; it was precisely to prevent any such lunatic effort that all six races had to be present to allow transmissions to come in.)

Then it occurred to him that one of those eetie freak races might, just possibly, be crazy enough to want to try to invade Earth in the same way; and then he understood why there had been all those soldiers with their machine guns around the EPR terminal on Earth when he and Rina had come through it to get here.

That made Giyt thoughtful in a different way. It seemed that somebody had been thinking about the prospects of invasions before him. Not just as a daydream, either, but as a real-world possibility.

That was not an enjoyable thought. The human race on Earth had pretty much got over its addiction to wars. Talk, sure. But no action. Nobody had the armaments for real war any more. Like most of his predecessors, the current American president followed the policy of speaking as loudly and offensively as possible, but carrying no stick at all.

But what did this stuff in the files mean? Was the cycle going to start again in space? Maybe right here on Tupelo?

Giyt shook his head at his own folly. Not a chance! That was ridiculous. There were no signs of that sort of pre-battle tension, and even if there were, there just weren't any weapons on the planet to carry out such a scheme.

That was when he heard the rat-a-tat-tat-boom from outside.

That startled him, and it almost felt for a moment as though it was those machine guns firing. It wasn't, though; he realized that at once. It was only the dumb thing the Kalkaboos did with their firecrackers every morning to greet the dawn. But it told him that sunrise had come. His private time was over. Any minute now Rina would be coming in to find out if he wanted pancakes or cereal for breakfast. And he hadn't made a dent in his real work.

He sighed and went back to the dreary business of trying to understand the commission reports. Briefly he wondered if he had made a serious mistake in trading his idyllic life in Bal Harbor for the irksome constraints of this new existence on Tupelo. He couldn't honestly say that he had any good reason to be happier here.

The funny thing was that he actually was happier. Not for himself. For Rina. There was no doubt that the woman was blossoming by the hour here on Tupelo; and how strange it was, Giyt thought wonderingly, that he found himself happy simply because she was.



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