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Station Manager Clyde Burgess lowered the sprayer, and resisted the increasingly urgent impulse to breathe. Through the misted lenses of his protective suit, he glanced intently around at the nearly empty racks, lifts, and conveyers of Interstellarcomcorp's Vitalia Depot Number One. Shining brightly in through the large high windows of the warehouse, the morning sun lit up countless squadrons of the intermingled wasps, flies, vrills, grates, snurks, hornets, gnats, shothole beetles and other pests, that drifted and darted through rolling clouds of this latest insecticide.

Burgess looked around at Lew Cassetti, his weirdly masked and suited assistant manager. Cassetti was peering up over a sprayer at the flying, crawling, and hovering pests visible against the ceiling lights.

Burgess tapped Cassetti on the shoulder, and jerked his head toward the door.

Cassetti nodded, and followed Burgess out through the tendrils of vine reaching across the side doorway. Out here, the morning breeze swayed the weeds that filled the vehicle park, and ruffled the leaves of the ivy thickly covering the dozers, grav-wielders, trenchers, and the rest of the shot-holed wreckage of the planet's one large shipment of heavy equipment. The two men tore off caps and face-masks, faced into the breeze, and sniffed lightly.

Noticing none of the head-spinning, sight-graying, hammering-headache sweetness of this latest bug-killer, Burgess breathed deeply. As he breathed, he kept his nostrils dilated, his lips close together, and his tongue warped upward in his mouth, so that none of the innumerable gnats would find clear passage through his mouth down into his lungs.

Beside him, Cassetti stripped off the rest of the protective outer suit, pulled off his sweatshirt, grabbed one of the two buckets nearby, and dipped into a large gray-spotted tub of soapy water. As Burgess, who had gone first into the warehouse, satisfied his need for air, Cassetti scrubbed his hands, face, neck, arms and upper body, then groped blindly for a folded towel by the tub.

Burgess, at last breathing normally, eyes squinted against the nearly level rays of the sun, peeled off the rest of the protective clothing, tossed his sweatshirt near the tub, grabbed the remaining bucket and dipped into the tub.

"Phew," said Cassetti. "Watch out for the soap. It smells like a palace of love, but it stings like acid."

Burgess had just gotten a little of the burning suds in his eyes. Around his head, he could hear a gathering buzz and whine.

"Genuine PDA stuff. It stings us, and attracts the bugs."

There was a flapping sound as Cassetti's groping hand found and unfolded a towel. "What did you think of their newest bug-poison?"

Burgess groped for his towel, located the end of the cloth, and used a corner to wipe the suds from his eyes. "What did I think? As a war gas, maybe it would work. It sure didn't bother any bugs that I could see."

"It reminds me of that other super-kill."

"The green oil?"

"The purple crystals."

Burgess grunted as if he had been hit, and methodically unfolded the towel. He still couldn't get his eyes open, and he felt the towel cautiously before using it, since there was no telling what might have crawled inside for a little nap.

Cassetti was saying, "I thought my lungs would burst in there. You'd think Planetary Development would realize what would happen on this planet to their damned breathing apparatus with its copper fittings. You remember how they sent the crystals?"

"Who could forget it?"

Burgess' memory provided him with a picture of a large black plastic drum with copper plug and pour spout, over which he and the planet's newly arrived branch chemical plant supervisor were bent. On the plastic drum was stuck a big label with skull and crossbones at each corner:





Contents poison to all

Earth-type life-forms!

Avoid contact with skin!

Use in well ventilated area!

Classified insecticide!

Destroy contaminated clothing!

Official use only!

May be absorbed through skin!

Wash repeatedly after use!

In case of contact, seek medical aid at once!





Out the shot-holed plug and down across the label crawled a column of small black things like ten-legged ants. The first four legs of each ant were possessively clutching a flat plate-like violet-black crystal.

Looking closer, the two men discovered another column coming empty-clawed up the back of the drum and going inside through another shot-hole.

The branch plant supervisor straightened up, looking dazed.

"I can't believe my eyes!"

Burgess shrugged.

"It's just standard for the planet. The last time, PDA sent us a green oil we were supposed to set out in pans. It was supposed to be harmless to us, but the mere vapor would kill the bugs right in the air. Just take a look."

Burgess pointed to a shelf under a nearby window, where bugs alighted on the edge of a wide glass dish, then climbed over each other to swim around in a murky green liquid. Before the eyes of the two men, the bugs clambered out the other side of the dish, to vibrate their wings and preen themselves before taking off.

Burgess said, "We've got a little problem here. You see it. I see it. Everyone on the planet sees it. But Planetary Development still doesn't get it. The problem is, the so-called 'insectoids' on this planet are different."

"Different," said the newly arrived manager, his eyes wide and his voice little more than a croak, "in degree only. All insects and insectoids are derived from the same basic parent stock, spread through space in molecuspore form by radiation pressure." He said this as he might have recited a magic formula to ward off evil spirits.

"M'm," said Burgess, looking at the bugs swimming in the insecticide. "Wait till you've been here a little longer."

The flapping noise as Cassetti reversed the towel came dimly to Burgess. An instant later, Cassetti yelled.

Burgess' eyes were still shut, and he was just starting to dry his face and neck. The yell, for an instant, paralyzed him but his mind moved fast to narrow the possibilities:

Grates, mosquitoes, snurks, and gnats wouldn't give cause for a yell like that.

The quality of the sound was somehow wrong for wasps, green-faced hornets, and redstings.

There had been no clack, rattle, or indignant chatter, so it wasn't a prospector bug.

That left scorpion ants and vrills.

If there were scorpion ants around, considering that Cassetti was only eight to ten feet away, Burgess could count on ants all over the ground, and climbing off the weeds, any second now.

Burgess was already jogging in place, hastily wiping off the soap while his feet mashed down the closest of the weeds and vines, and then Cassetti began to swear lividly, and Burgess, relieved, stopped jogging. It must have been a vrill. Scorpion ants produced the same kind of yell, but there was no leisure afterward for swearing.

Burgess could now get his eyes open. He momentarily scattered a cloud of gnats with a swipe of the towel, bent over, picked up his sweatshirt, examined it carefully, and shook loose a pale-green lacy-winged grate.

Cassette exhaled with a hiss.

"That damned vrill must have delivered twenty thousand volts! How do they do it?"

This was one of those questions normally answered only by a grunt or a murmur. Burgess grunted sympathetically, pulled on his shirt, and heard the dull clatter of the customer bell.

Cassetti went on acidly, "Of course, vrills can't do it. PDA said so. 'Insects are no problem on this planet.' —You through with the water?"


They emptied the pails and the tub, then carried the tub, with pails inside, through shoulder-high weeds to the shot-holed cement walk that ran along beside the shot-holed concrete foundation of the warehouse. From under the clapboards of the warehouse, streams of sawdust and bits of wood filtered down, to accumulate in piles along the base of the building.

As Burgess waved off gnats, mosquitoes, and grates, he once again asked himself how he had gotten into this spot. —Why had he picked this planet to settle on?

For a moment, his thoughts went back to the intensely realistic colonization simulator in Space Center XII, where he had breathed the air, felt the gravity, seen the pleasant blue-green sweep of forest, lakes, and plains, enjoyed the warmth of a brilliant sun by day, and the pleasant moonlight by night, while a quiet voice told of a "remarkable similarity to the planet Earth . . . Vitalia is the third planet of a Sol-type sun. It has one moon, which is similar in mass, density, and orbit to Luna . . . The planet's flora is markedly Earth-type . . . Fauna is also analogous to that of Earth, though oddly lacking in certain species. There are no insect-eating birds, while the insects themselves are represented by a thin and sickly population; a few of the species, however, are quite exotic, and might be troublesome if they existed in larger numbers . . . The soil is characterized by great fertility . . . Mineral deposits, however, are anomalous. Save for vast quantities of petroleum, the planet shows few of the usual concentrated ore deposits . . . a surprisingly homogeneous distribution of many elements is to be found over the planet's surface . . . A curious feature, at first believed to indicate the past presence of a sentient technologically skilled race, but which has since been proved statistically insignificant, is the occurrence of 'glass mines,' containing huge quantities of both regular and irregular shapes indistinguishable from plates and masses of manufactured glass. No bodily remains, or other indications of a sentient race, have been found, however . . . Although uranium and other ordinary fission and fusion source materials are rare, the abundant petroleum provides an alternative source of energy, and the planet, situated near a junction of major trade and communications routes, is now being opened both to colonization and to commercial and industrial share-development . . ."

The loud ping-thud of a shot-hole beetle striking the metal tub snapped Burgess back to the present.


There was a second ping-thud. Then they passed the end of the warehouse, and walked slowly and carefully, in order to attract no undue attention from the green-faced hornets inhabiting the huge papery gray nest that bulged out from under the eaves.

They put the tub and pails in the equipment shed, and glanced, frowning, at the motionless gray bumps of the two hard-shelled shot-hole beetles on the tub amongst the smaller gray bumps of the compound used to plug previous shot-holes. It was not impossible to get the shot-hole beetles loose. It was just extremely hard—and likely to involve a spattering with the acids the beetles used to dissolve the metal. They shrugged, shut the equipment shed door, and started for the office, some fifty feet away. This building was topped by a huge sign:





Vines, running wild because of personnel cuts and Burgess' and Cassetti's endless struggle with bugs, twined up this sign, and their tendrils groped for the sky. This visible evidence of neglect usually smote Burgess' conscience, but at the moment he scarcely noticed it. His attention was riveted on a dust-covered motor-scooter leaned against the side of the loading deck beside the office. The rear of this scooter bore a sign:



Cassetti said acidly, "Bad news."

"In person. You missed the last visit."

"What he brought was bad enough. What else did he achieve?"

"He rammed that nest of wood ants at the edge of the loading deck, and there were five thousand ants roaming loose in the office. In a way, that beat the time before, when he spun up a fistful of gravel, peppered that nest of redstings, and was gone when the redstings came out to see who did it."

Burgess and Cassetti had stopped, and now hung back, hoping to avoid any lengthy meeting. They waved their hands and stayed out in the open as the desire to escape the countless bugs was outweighed by the repulsion of the courier's personality.

Burgess glanced at the scooter.

"How does he keep that thing running?"

"Cheap construction," said Cassetti. "I looked it over one time he was in the office. They used steel or plastic tubing instead of copper, and pot metal instead of brass or bronze. Shot-hole beetles don't seem to bother much with iron or steel unless there's a little zinc on it—that is, if they've got better stuff to eat." He glanced around the lot at the mounds of fluttering ivy leaves. From time to time, they could hear the "ZZZzzzz" of a departing shot-hole beetle, and the "zzzzzzzZZZ—ping—thud!" of arriving shot-hole beetles.

Burgess nodded. "And he has only short lengths of tubing to replace. You know, we ought to be able to make equipment that would at least last a little longer."

"Yeah, but how do we make the refineries last? You remember, the idea was to start with fuel oil, then gradually switch over to solar and nuclear power, and meanwhile import manufactured goods in exchange for petroleum-based chemicals. But with bugs that eat metal and take baths in insecticide—"

"I know," said Burgess. "—Watch it. Here he comes."

There was a tinny rattle as the office door came open, and a cord yanked at the shot-holed makeshift bell. Then a heavily swathed figure bolted down the steps, yelled "Messages!" jumped on the scooter, and gave the starter pedal half-a-dozen sharp kicks.

Burgess wet a finger and held it up.

Cassetti looked around searchingly.

Burgess said, "Wind will take the smoke back to the warehouse."

"I can't see anything he can hit. —Except possibly that sign post."

"Let's get inside. That stink of gas and dissolved bug-juice . . ."

A cloud of grey-black smoke filled with incandescent streaks and spots poured out the scooter's tailpipe.


The scooter jolted forward, slowed jerkily, speeded up, then moved so erratically the driver for a moment was over the handlebars. Then the engine suddenly ran evenly again, and the scooter shot ahead, to bang a tall vine-entwined wooden post bearing a sign completely hidden under ivy leaves. The post and its overgrown sign, looming above clouds of rolling black smoke, reeled back, jerkily tilted forward, and then burst in the middle. The upper part toppled in a haze of white powder, carpenter bugs, flourdust beetles, and sawdust. From amongst the leaves of the ivy, there spun out a thing like a small grey basketball done up in unraveling tissue paper.

Burgess grunted. "A nest of redstings! Come on!"

He and Cassetti shot up the steps, shut the door tightly behind them, and stared out the window as the nest hit the ground, and exploded in red and yellow specks.

In the office, for a moment, they could imagine that they heard in the background the smooth whir, the click, and the soft deferent buzz of the scheduling computer, the warehouse indexer, the office communicator, and the other conveniences they'd once been used to. Then the remembered sounds degenerated into the usual noises of flying insects, and wood ants and carpenter bugs at work in their tunnels.

Burgess exhaled, and turned around.

On the sievelike, previously chromed counter that had separated the public from the mysteries of scientific transport, storage, and subspace communication, lay a small stack of papers and envelopes, topped by a yellow slip giving the courier's name, the items delivered, and the time of delivery.

Behind them, as they glanced at the pile of messages, the furious redstings rattled against the windows, then ranged all over the vehicle park, looking for something to sting.

Burgess murmured, "Close."

Cassetti nodded, then they turned back to the messages.

"The last batch," said Cassetti, "had a kindly letter to the effect that she and I wouldn't have made out together, and I should wish her luck with the other guy, along with a mess of service cancellations, customer complaints, price rises, and other kicks in the head. I've got a hunch this is the same."

"Might as well get it over with."

"Watch the ants."

Burgess glanced around. Emerging from a fresh hole in the floor by a chair in the far corner was a black column six or eight ants wide, winding its way across the floor to disappear under the counter. Here and there over the floor, and up and down the walls and across the exposed underside of the roof, could be seen a further scattering of the hurrying pests.

Cassetti nodded at the chair near the hole. "That's where he sits down to check the messages and make out the time-slips. He always gets up like he was going into orbit."

"Hopefully, he took a bootful along with him."

Burgess whacked the messages on the counter to knock any grates or paper weevils loose, handed half to Cassetti, and they walked over to a raised wooden platform whose eight stubby legs rested in eight large glass dishes filled with water. On this platform was a wooden table with a plain wooden chair at each end. Burgess sat down at his end, and Cassetti passed over a folded paper:


Burgess exhaled with a hiss, and tore open an envelope printed "Vitalia Teletran, Inc." He read:

Dear Customer— 
Owing to conditions beyond our control, we have found it impossible to give you the kind of service we know you have every right to insist upon. 
We regret the necessity to close down our facility on this planet, but are compelled by circumstances beyond our control to terminate all our remaining surface transmission services at once. For off-planet transmissions, we will endeavor to continue at least partial service, where possible, for a period of thirty days from date. 
We advise customers with urgent messages to transmit them as soon as possible, as our supply of spare parts is severely limited, and insectization of this facility is proceeding rapidly. 
Faithfully yours, 
G. Bernhardt 
Branch Manager 

The next letter was headed "Bank of Vitalia," and read:

Dear Customer— 
Due to severe insect infestation, our computer records and our printed records have been seriously compromised. Due, however, to a progressive falling off in demand for banking services, we have been able to successfully convert to a system based on leather sacks and stainless steel tokens. Continuing deterioration of the building itself, however, coupled with a large nest of redstings over the door, renders it likely that we will be unable to continue our services. 
We, therefore, in accordance with the appropriate provisions of the Banking Code, enclose herewith either a bank check or a debt notice, depending on the overall state of your accounts with us. Anyone wishing to clear up debt or convert a check to Standard Currency should come to our Temporary Offices at 97 Vitalia Street. 
We wish to point out, however, to any customer who wishes to cash our check, that these Official Checks are good indefinitely, may be cashed, with proper identification, at any correspondent bank on any planet or in any Space Center, and are printed on special locally fabricated insect-repellent paper incorporating ground-up fibers of Vitalian swamp oak. Grubs, shot-hole beetles, slugs, weevils, grates, and paper wasps have not been known to damage these Official Checks. This is not true of the paper form of Standard Currency. 
Very truly yours, 
P. Willard Bayne 

Cassetti tossed over an envelope.

"We got two of this."

Burgess absently folded the Bank of Vitalia check into his wallet, and tore open the envelope Cassetti had tossed across:


"Dear Friend: 

"It is with real regret that we inform you that owing to conditions beyond our control, we are withdrawing our Branch Plant on the planet Vitalia. 

"Owing to loss of records, we are unable to write personally to our customers, but wish to thank those of you whose loyalty—" 


Burgess ripped open the next message:

Employee Memo
Due to further declining demand, our facility on Vitalia remains unprofitable.
Computer projections mandate either a fifty percent cut in personnel or a fifty percent wage reduction.
In accordance with the spirit of our Employee Relations Program, we will be guided in our choice by your input as regards your preference as to these alternatives.
Please mark the enclosed Employee Input Ballot and return it promptly.
—C. D. Mashmaker 

Burgess exhaled, killed a mosquito, waved away some gnats, and glanced out the front window. Between tendrils closing in from all sides, he had a view across two wheel tracks to the other side of Vitalia Street. Over there were the vine-covered local offices of Sampson, Hodge, Brown, Luce and de Pugh—Stocks, Bonds, Mutual Funds, Options, Lotteries & Planetary Wagers and Hedges.

After staring for a moment at what must be an even worse place to work than where he was, Burgess tore open the last envelope.

Dear Sirs: 
Three months ago, I ordered five (5) Black Marvel pullets and two (2) Black Marvel cockerels from the Farmers' Supply Co-Op at Space Center Twelve. 
I have received acknowledgment of my order, and the shipment should be in this week. On account of the notorious conditions at your warehouse, and the way every big outfit on this planet is running for cover, I think I should let you know that I do want this shipment. I will pay the shipping charge in cash money, and if you mishandle this shipment, I will take the loss of time and work out of your skin. I don't mean any offense, and you may not be like the bulk of the lackwits and wingless grates who populate Vitalia Center, but I mean what I say. 
If these birds get in ahead of time, just give them water and keep the bug-killer away from the birds. It won't kill the bugs, and it might kill the birds. 
Sincerely yours, 
Louisa L. Parnell 

Burgess sat back blankly, then read the letter over again.


Cassetti looked up.


"What is a 'Black Marvel pullet'?"

"A what?"

Burgess passed over the letter.

Cassetti read it, and sat back. Finally he shook his head.

"I seem to remember an order to this Co-Op she mentions. I think the order went out by s-gram from our supply ship. I noticed it, because s-grams are a good buy, but we get hardly any s-gram business. —But that's all I know about it."

Burgess shook his head.

"A mere individual wrote that letter. But it's the only thing I've read that doesn't say, one way or another, 'We're licked.'"

"Take a look at this batch."

"I'll trade you."

Burgess sat back, and glanced over what Cassetti passed him. He found a cancelled shipment order, a complaint blaming Burgess and Cassetti personally for insect damage, a notice to Cassetti from Transpatroncorp "to hereby inform you that Transpatroncorp no longer has a future requirement for Electronic Technicians Grades VI through XII on the planet Vitalia," and a wedding announcement originally sent on a chaste white card, transmitted as a message, and reproduced on flimsy yellow message paper.

Across the table, Cassetti groaned.

"Here's one I missed."

Burgess took the sheet of paper, and flattened it on the table:

Evaluations Section
Sector H. Q.
Planetary Development Authority
Space Center XII

to Mr. Clyde Burgess
Station Manager
Planetary Depot One.
Vitalia Center
Vitalia (Novo Sol III)
Sector XII 
Sir: Your lengthy communication regarding insect infestation, insect characteristics and qualities, insect habits, and communal insect clusters (which you refer to as "bug cities") has been received at this facility and forwarded to me by the Chief, Clerical Staff, HQPDASXII. 
As your communication refers to no T-Rating or Equivalency Grade Rating, I assume that you are non-graded: Etymology T(O)EG(O). 
Specialty communications from non-graded personnel are accorded the Status Rating of zero at this facility. Zero-Status communications are not read by the addressee, and are not recorded or filed for future reference. They are routinely scanned by Evaluations Section prior to discard. 
In future, refrain from addressing improper personal communications to Planetary Development Authority HQ S XII personnel. 
Any communication regarding specialized material which originates with non-rated personnel is improper, as it poses the danger of entry to our data files of non-screened materials. 
The name of any person who directs improper communications to this organization is routinely noted, and future communications of whatever character are routinely referred to Evaluations Section. 
The fact that your communication contained a threat against the personnel of this Headquarters facility has been noted, and appropriate details forwarded to the Space Police and other proper authorities, including your present employer. —S. Hamway Schrank, Admin T (XI), Etymology EG(2), Office Executive. 

Burgess sat back, and silently reread the message. He looked up, frowning.

"What is an equivalency grade of two worth?"

Cassetti picked up a short piece of stick, and with a vicious blow flattened a vrill that had just landed on the table. With a growl of satisfaction, he pushed the remains off onto the floor.

"Damned little. It means he took a course in biology in some 'formally recognized educational institution,' and submitted the proper documents to get an equivalency grade credited to him. It's about the next thing to signing your name, 'John Doe, Graduate, Planet of Marshbog Central Kindergarten.'"

"And," said Burgess, looking at the letter, "What is an 'office executive'?"

"A what?"

Burgess waved away the gnats, and shoved the letter across the table. He got up, and pulled out a drawer of the plain steel filing case they'd been forced to rely on since the vrills got into the automatic filer.

"H'm," said Cassetti. "I didn't see that. Frankly, I don't know what it is. But if my knees are supposed to get weak when I read it after his name, for some reason it doesn't work."

Burgess found what he was looking for, brushed off some ants, shut the file, sat down, killed a mosquito, and reread his letter to PDA:

Dear Sector Chief Paley: 
Please excuse my writing directly to you, as many attempts to call attention to the worsening situation on Vitalia (formerly Novo Sol III) by the normal channels have proved futile. 
We are faced on this planet with rapidly increasing numbers of insect pests. These include types resembling gnats (of two sizes), mosquitoes, wasps, hornets, and ants, as well as types which burrow in wood, shot-hole metal, and do incredible damage to solid-state, plastic, crystalloid, or molecularized computer and control devices and communications equipment. The only substance these pests do not appear to damage is glass. 
Not only do we have a disastrous situation here because our equipment is being destroyed, because the chemical insect-control agents sent us do not work, and because these insects appear to have no natural enemies, but also there is a worse danger: 
Space transports have been and are still carrying goods to and from this planet. 
What will happen if the actual insects or their eggs should be carried, for instance, to Space Center XII, and from there to other and possibly very distant planets? As the usual insecticides do not work, there is no apparent defense against infestation. If they should, for instance, infest your offices, they could severely damage the central communications facilities and data banks at the very time that the spread of insect infestation began on other planets, and required fast action. 
I am not an expert on insects, but for what it may be worth, have observed the following:

1) These insects resist all the usual insecticides. Incredible as it may seem, they seek contact with such insecticides and appear invigorated by them. 
2) Their reproductive rate increases enormously in contact with our technology. It is as if the substances present in our technological devices are in some way stimulants to their metabolism. 
3) The insects on this planet show a form of group activity such as I have never previously seen or heard of. On the edge of the largest settlement here, Vitalia Center, there are a number of what people here call "bug cities." Many of us have watched the activities in these places through binoculars. If you will imagine a large well branched tree, containing nests of wood ants, hornets, wasps, and other insects—all close together—with all the different kinds of insect pests from miles around carrying the particular substances that they gather to grooves cut in the tree by wood ants, there to deposit these substances in certain grooves, or holes, apparently in trade for other substances deposited in other grooves or holes, by other insects—if you will visualize such a thing, you will have a fairly accurate start for a picture of these "bug cities." 
To me, it appears that the facts mentioned above show the existence of a situation that has no known precedent, and that warrants urgent consideration, particularly since time may be short. 
Truly yours, 
Clyde Burgess 
Station Manager 

Burgess handed the letter to Cassetti.

"Where do I threaten their personnel?"

Cassetti read the letter through, brushed off sawdust filtering down from overhead, and shrugged.

"Just possibly the guy who answered this can't read."

"Or doesn't think."

Cassetti nodded, eyes narrowed as he weighed the letter in his hand.

"It might be that the best thing now is to forget the whole thing. You can't write to PDA. If you get in touch with the Space Police, they'll think you're a crank. If you try to get in touch with anyone else, who'll believe you? I've thought of sending messages—but through channels or out of channels, you run into this same wall of morons."

Burgess nodded. "Anywhere either of us sends a message, the odds are ten-to-one that they won't believe us."

"Exactly." Cassetti looked relieved. "Those odds are just what I'd say, too. Anyway, they already have the facts. Otherwise, why are all the big organizations pulling out? It's the interpretation of the facts that they don't have. They each see it just as a situation where they should cut their losses."

"Well," said Burgess, "take a look, would you, and see if those Teletran message blanks have been eaten up? Then, just in case a supply ship should come in, I want to get some s-grams ready."

Cassetti stared at him.

"What are you going to do?"

"What can I do? There isn't a thing to do here that I can think of. All we can do is squash gnats and run from redstings. There ought to be experiments using birds, anteaters, and so on, but it needs to be done on a large scale and in a hurry. —So, what can I do? Naturally, I'm going to send a message to every place I can think of, including another one to PDA."

Cassetti shook his head. "You're up against that standard routine. You'll just make yourself look like a crank! And there are ways for disposing of cranks."

"I know it. But will you tell me what future you or I or anyone else is going to have if every planet we try to escape to, these bugs have already gotten there first? —Let's have the message blanks."

It was nearly six weeks later that the Space Force flew in the first twenty crates of insect-eating birds, ranging in size from types smaller than the swallow to a mean-looking monster almost four feet high, with a pointed bill two feet in length, called the banjo-bird. The banjo-bird ate up whole nests of stinging pests at a time, its long narrow seemingly unsuitable bill snapping open and shut so fast it seemed to be run by invisible cogs, while its fine barbed down pierced the wings of insects burrowing in to sting it, broke off at the base, and left the insects spinning on the ground, to be eaten at leisure.

For a time, the air around Vitalia Center was like the aviary at a zoo, as every insect-eating bird that could be collected was thrown into the contest.

Burgess found himself looking around at the half-collapsed buildings, improvised bird-feeders, ranks of bird-houses on poles, and birds building nests over windows, under eaves, and in the shambles of fallen buildings, as the zzzzZZZ-ping-thud of the shot-hole beetle was replaced by the chirr, squawk, warble, banjo-twang, and screech of innumerable birds by day, and the silent flitting of countless bats by night.

In the midst of all this, with an oddly high death-rate amongst the birds, but with the bugs clearly beaten, a personal letter arrived for Burgess, delivered by hand by the captain of the ship that brought it. Burgess read:

Dear Mr. Burgess: 
This letter will serve to notify you of your appointment as regional director for our Interstellarcomcorp/Second District of Sector XII, effective the date of your receipt of this letter, with pay increase back-dated to the beginning of this present year. 
I believe you are already well aware of the accepted explanation for the insect situation on Vitalia. Even Earth, of course, had ruinous insect pests, including types which ate wood, secreted acid, and drilled holes through lead sheathing, but the incredible fit of the Vitalian pests to our technology suggests that they are, in fact, a biological device carefully tailored to destroy the type of technology which we possess, but which we certainly have no patent on. —Others before us may perfectly well have reached the same general type of technology. 
The hypothetical sequence we picture as leading to this present situation is as follows:

1) Two opposed sides once faced each other on Vitalia. One relied primarily upon physical-sciences technology. The other on biological sciences technology. 
2) The biological side developed insects designed to destroy the basis of the physical-science technology—especially the calculation and control devices. Considering how these insects increased in the vicinity of our one small settlement on Vitalia, the effect, given a number of large cities, can be easily imagined. Moreover, some as-yet-unknown aspect of one or more of these pests is poisonous to the birds which eat them. We, of course, can fly in more and more birds. The Vitalian technological civilization was apparently planet-bound and could not do it. 
3) The physical sciences civilization, itself facing destruction, used its own battery of weapons, and evidently destroyed its opponent. 
4) The biodevice—Vitalia's metal, plastic, paper, cement, and ceramic-eating insects—continued until no trace of the technological civilization, even the bones of its founders, was left, except for objects made of glass, which the insects were not equipped to destroy. 
5) After a long delay, during which these insects were a prey to malnutrition and smaller parasites (this we've found, is why the biodevice insects enjoy our insecticide—it destroys their own parasites), at last we appeared. This was the return of happy days for the insects.

I do not need to tell you that these pests, as you warned, represent a serious danger for human civilization. It is not too much to say that your warning probably saved us the loss of large parts of Sector XII, and possibly much more. It is one thing to destroy these pests by a concentrated attack on a small region of a single newly settled planet. It is something else to contend with them simultaneously on hundreds of developed planets and in countless transports. The shot-hole beetle, for instance, has been found to enclose its eggs in various substances, and can produce a metal-sheathed egg about one-half the diameter of a BB shot, which it glues—"welds" might be a better word—to whatever metal surface suits its taste. It has shown a willingness to lay these eggs on metal shipping-drums, and the hulls of transports. 
We have, however, every reason to hope that this infestation can be held to the level of a nuisance nearly everywhere, while we search for an effective insecticide. Obviously, it is more than a nuisance on Vitalia. The planet appears suitable only for agricultural settlement by sects which prefer, anyway, to have little to do with an advanced technology. 
You may be interested to know how your warning became effective. One place outside Vitalia where these insects are no mere nuisance is Space Center XII, although the cause of the trouble was not yet clear to them. Your s-gram to General Wilforce, however, arrived just as Space Force HQ was experiencing baffling malfunctions in their headquarters battle computer. The master crystal was removed, and found to be infested with shock-generating vrills and wireworm vrill larvae. The General attempted to contact PDA headquarters, and was informed that he was out of his field, and that his communication was "improper." 
De-insectization of Space Center XII is now proceeding by sections, under martial law. The luckier sections have such things as chickens to eat up the bugs. The method selected for trial in the PDA section involves the extensive use of such things as spiders, mice, centipedes, and snakes. 
I want again to express my appreciation for your timely warning, and the credit it has given Interstellarcomcorp as the one organization on Vitalia that was not completely asleep on its feet. 
Able G. Cox, Col., I. P. (Ret'd) President 

Burgess, stunned with surprise, handed the letter to Cassetti, who read it through, and looked up wide-eyed.

"For Pete's sake! I expected you to be strung from the rafters, and you get a promotion! But—I still say the odds were ten-to-one against you. You were lucky."

"Yes, but there are two ways to look at odds in a situation like that."

"What do you mean?"

"The first way is to figure the situation is unbeatable. —You've got only about a ten-percent chance, wherever you turn."

"I see that. What's the other way?"

Burgess began to speak, then paused.

Outside the window, a redsting that had somehow survived till now whizzed into view. A big yellow bird exploded from the loading dock after it. The redsting blurred aside in a flash of speed. The bird's long bill was waiting when the redsting got there. The bird snapped up the redsting.

Burgess said, "The other way is to figure that ten times a ten percent chance is a hundred percent chance."

"Yeah, but—" Cassetti suddenly looked intent. "If you kept at it, eventually that ten percent chance was bound to turn up?"

Burgess nodded.

"If you can survive long enough to hit the problem often enough, then, even though the odds are small, they add up in your favor."



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