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Soldiers and Scholars

Goliath and the Beanstalk

Cord was lying on the bunk reading over his orders when he felt the rough foreign weave of the fabric at his back pull tight, and then grow loose again. He glanced up.

"Another correction?"

From the bunk overhead, Dave growled, "Yeah. They're rotten navigators. And I think that locker, for the five thousandth time . . ."

Cord glanced around to see the loose-hinged door of the weapons locker swaying back and forth. He got up and slammed it shut again.

The fabric of the upper bunk creaked as Dave craned around. "One of them got out again."


"In the corner, there." He pointed with a bandaged hand. "I hope it isn't armed."

Cord ducked under a suit of battle armor slung on a cable, its arms and legs pulled out tight by wires stretched from deck and bulkheads. In the corner lay a thing like a gray baseball studded with spikes. Cord rolled it carefully into his hands, and carried it back to the weapons locker.

Dave looked in the other direction.

Cord opened the locker door and put the spike-studded ball back in the grenade hopper. He glanced down at the rack of oddly-shaped guns, grenade-throwers, rocket-projectors, and close-quarter weapons.

One of these close-quarter weapons held his attention. It was about the length of a man's arm, and had a hilt like a sword. Five inches back from the point, the double-edged blade branched to form a circle of steel, sharpened inside and out. Sharp-edged teeth jutted from the flat sides of the circle, their points angled back toward the hilt. Where the blade ran back from the circle to join the hilt, there was a guard formed like a basket of knives.

Dave growled, "Shut the door on that thing, will you? Every time I look at it, it makes me mad."

Cord shut the door. "I have to admit it," he said, "it's a heck of a thing to run into in the dark."

Dave growled out a string of white-hot adjectives and lay back.

Cord sat down with his orders and again began to read.

There was a harsh knock at the door.

"Come in," said Cord absently. He realized he'd spoken Terran, and hastily called to mind the Stath equivalent. He called out, "I won't shoot."

There came a rapid snapping of choppy syllables. "My hands are empty. I have a message. You can trust me."

"Enter safely," said Cord, "and leave unhurt."

The door opened. A lithe slender creature about six-and-a-half feet tall, with a head like a weasel, came in and looked at Cord with bright eyes. "We approach the alien planet, Observers. The attack can be watched from the bridge. A good view. The Van Chief invites you."

"Thank him for us. We will come with empty hands."

"You can trust us. Fear not for your backs." The Stath hesitated, his sharp eyes focused over Cord's head. "You feud?"

Dave growled, "An accident."

"No offense meant. Can I help?"

"No offense. I have only curiosity on my part."

"Curiosity is the sword of the mind. You have but to ask. I will not betray you."

"What," said Dave, "is that sword with the sharp circle in the blade?"

"Pardon? No offense. I only do not understand."

"There is a weapon in the locker there. It has a guard like a handful of daggers. What's it for?" He dropped off the bunk and opened the locker.

"Oh," said the Stath, "that. I plan no treachery. Let me show you."

"We trust you. Go ahead."

The Stath jerked the weapon out of the locker. With one hand back, he held it in the other like a fencer's foil. He jabbed it rapidly back and forth. "Stab," he said. He turned it edgewise. "Split. Chop." He reached out and yanked back. "Teeth catch. Rip. Tear." He raised the blade. "Drop circle over head." His arm made a vicious jerking motion back and forth. "Behead." He returned it to the locker, and grinned like a shark. "You wish to use?"

Cord said hastily, "Many thanks. Regulations forbid it. Besides, we have our own weapons. No offense meant."

"No offense. The beheader is good only for practice to strengthen the wrist. Too clumsy in battle." He bowed and backed toward the door. "We await you at the bridge. Much blood."

"Much blood," said Cord mechanically.

The door closed behind the Stath.

Dave groaned. "Why I ever joined the Reserves, I don't know. Read me the orders again, will you?"

Cord got out the orders and read:

"To Captain, T. S. M. Terra. Effective immediately release following for active duty:

"1. Cordell T. Howard, 166-0-8473, 1st Lieutenant, TSNR;

"2. David R. Bancroff, 167-0-1062, 2nd Lieutenant, TSNR.

"These officers are to report immediately by dispatch spacer to Van Chief Stath Invasion Fleet now approaching 61J14, otherwise known as 'Planet of Peace.' They will act as Official Terran Observers. They are to undergo hypnotic foretreatment on board dispatch spacer, and hypnotic aftertreatment upon return. The following additional information is appended:

"61J14 is a system settled several generations ago by Terran humans. In accord with the religio-scientific precepts of the original founders, 61J14 refuses Federation membership, obligations, or protection. 61J14 rebuffs all offers of arms or assistance from us, and states that its policy is 'brotherhood with all races.' The military strength of 61J14 is regarded as negligible. Its sole exports are foodstuffs and botanical novelties. Its sole scientific personnel are apparently biologists and plant specialists.

"The Stath Confederacy is joined with us as signatory to the Triracial Mutual Nonaggression Pact. They have honored this pact rigidly. They would, therefore, probably refrain from attacking 61J14 if, even at this date, it would unite with us. As 61J14 refuses to do this, we must avoid hostilities, or ourselves violate the Nonaggression Pact.

"You are warned to avoid giving aid or comfort to the inhabitants of 61J14, regardless of your natural sympathies. Your sole function is that of observers."

Cord frowned and shrugged into his jacket. He helped Dave into his jacket. They buckled on the heavy gun belts that made the Stath feel more comfortable around them. Then they made their way to the bridge.

The Stath Van Chief was briskly giving last minute orders and general advice to his subordinates.

"Remember now," he said, "these people are not truly enemies, but more like draft animals to be caught, tamed, and set to use. Keep your men in hand. No blood baths without provocation. The thing to remember is, with these people safely under our control, our food worries are over. See to it that no one gets jittery and starts letting off kapa-bombs right and left. The human appearance of these people is not a sign of danger, as they are not armed. A snapperjaw is not dangerous with its teeth pulled out.

"To summarize: There will be no off-planet bombardment. Initial landings will be made at Points 1, 2, 4, and 7. From these points, attack parties will start out to seize communications centers, power plants and the like. The rest of the planet is not sufficiently developed to be worth the trouble. Once total control is established in these regions, we will arrange for permanent administrative personnel to take over.

"Bear in mind—again, please—these people look like humans, but their leaders are religionists and plant-farmers. No overexcitement. Each one captured means better food in the future. Each one killed is one that can't raise anything for us.

"That's all, gentlemen. Much blood."

The Stath officers all saluted. The Van Chief turned around and saw Cord and Dave. "Ah," he said, brightening, "my hands are empty. It is good to see you."

"You can trust us," said Cord, adhering strictly to ritual. "We thank you for the invitation."

"Your backs are safe here," said the Van Chief, in cordial tones. "We're about to go down. I'm afraid it's a dry bone we have to offer you, though. This planet shows no sign of fight."

"Still, we appreciate the honor of being here. We hope we won't be in the way."

"Ah, never, Terrans. We are bound loyally as allies by treaty. Let your knives and ours ever be stuck in the same enemy. Besides, I've given out all the orders, the rest ought to be just routine."

Cord was momentarily at a loss for something to say. He was grateful to see a Stath subordinate approach the Van Chief.

"Sir, the local Chief is on the visor again. The reception's awful, as usual. I don't know what they're using for a transmitter."

"Hm-m-m. Your pardon, Terrans. I leave pleasure for duty. No offense meant."

"No offense," said Cord mechanically. He watched the Van Chief go to a big screen covered with a flickering jumble of murky blurrings.

A voice spoke clearly. "Heretic, are you there?"

The Stath colored slightly. "Control your tongue, toothless one. You lie before us like penned cattle in fear of slaughter. Cause overmuch trouble and your only value to us is lost. There is nothing left to you then but death."

Vaguely, Cord seemed to make out a face on the jumbled screen. The foggy vision of lips parted.

"Few are those who do not die, sooner or later, Heretic."

The Stath scowled, then looked intent. He remarked, "The purpose of life is to live long, otherwise why should there be fear of death? And you shorten your life gravely if you anger me."

"The length of a vine is not important. It is the fruit that counts. Bear in mind: though the days of a long life are many, they are numbered."

"Can a vine shortened by the sword bear much fruit? Why number your days meaninglessly?"

"A good point, Heretic, a good point. There is meaning. We attack no one. We are friendly to all. We devote ourselves to the cultivation of our planet and of ourselves. We have no antagonism toward you. Therefore you must have none toward us."

"We have no antagonism. Nevertheless, you are going to become part of the Stath Confederacy."

"We thank you. But we decline to join."

"This is not something you have anything to say about."

"But it is. Otherwise, you seek to enslave us."

"Put whatever words to it you want. We need food."

"We will trade with you—"

"Bah! Why bargain for the egg when we can have the bird that makes the eggs?"

"We will give you teaching. We can show you how to raise—"

"Enough of this chatter. I have heard this all before. My ears ache. If you have anything new to add, say it. Otherwise, you can tell the overseer when you report for work tomorrow."

"I have something new to say. I will say it only once. Listen carefully."

"My ears are up."

"Our beliefs are based on what we believe to be correct metaphysical teachings and precise scientific observations. It is one of our beliefs that a person who sets out to do evil causes himself, as a result, great trouble and hurt. This may take a short time or a long time to appear. Cause-and-effect may be plain or obscure. But once the grinding wheels are set in motion, it takes much to avoid them. We hold no evil intent toward you. We are very sorry that you will, if you land here, bring the punishment upon you. But we will not be slaves. Bombard us from space and kill us if you will. We are not afraid. Perhaps we have that coming to us for past sins. But do not land here."

"Is that it?"

"Yes, that's it. There are some here so benighted that they'd let you come down with no warning. But I adhere to the teachings. You are warned."

The fuzzy image vanished from the screen. The Van Chief turned away with a shake of his head.

"Sir," said an officer urgently, "no offense, but it's time to strap in."

Cord and Dave watched the landings on a huge multiple screen, then went with their host to a prefabricated headquarters building that had been rapidly slapped together.

"On most planets," said the Van Chief, "I would stay with the ship till the enemy was clearly hamstrung and helpless. On this planet, they're helpless to start with. I want to get the administrative machinery set up so we can pull most of the troops out as fast as possible. Cattle fatten best when they're left peacefully in pasture." He looked quizzically at Cord. "It is amazing that these people are—no offense—Terrans like you. Tell me, what would happen if we landed like this on Terra?"

"The chances," said Cord, "are that you would have been—no offense—blown to bits before you got within light-years of Terra."

Dave said nervously, "Isn't the air fresh on this planet?"

Cord looked around. He sniffed the air, then drew a deep breath. The air smelled unusually fresh and clean. The sky overhead was a clear, earth-like blue. The ground, as seen from overhead, was divided into large lush squares, with occasional groups of low buildings interspersed at great intervals. The roads through this flat country ran as straight as if drawn with a ruler. The Stath ships came down near major crossroads. The Stath ground-cars were spreading out on these roads in all directions. Light aircraft were being hoisted out of the holds of Stath ships, assembled while woven metal landing strips were staked down, then rolled onto the strips to take off on reconnaissance missions.

The Van Chief was soon surrounded by hurrying officers and message bearers. Cord and Dave had to stand aside, and soon began to feel like surplus baggage. Moreover, they began to realize that they were not really observing anything except hurrying Stath.

The attitude of these Stath subtly began to change. Cord became conscious of furtive measuring glances from some who had formerly been elaborately respectful. Spoken to directly, the Stath were still courteous, but their manner had something tentative about it.

Small numbers of human prisoners were now being brought into camp. The guards prodded them with their guns to hurry them along.

Cord and Dave watched soberly.

When the first of the prisoners were brought in, Cord overheard the remark, "Odd to see a human jump."

Later in the afternoon, a messenger hurried past Cord, stopped, stared, and went on by. Cord heard him say, "It stopped me for a minute to see one wearing guns."

As human prisoners were herded into the camp like cattle, Cord and Dave began to be treated with a courtesy that was over-elaborate. As often as not, the respectful phrases were spoken with a smile and slightly lowered lids.

Toward evening, a pair of husky Stath soldiers, carrying guns and smiling dreamily, strolled up to Cord and Dave. They glanced at each other, then looked at Cord and Dave.

"Take off the guns, and get outside with the rest."

Cord glanced at the Van Chief and the group of silent officers around him. Some of these officers were watching openly. Some pretended to be busy. The Van Chief gave no sign of knowing what was going on.

The soldier near Cord reached out to put one hand behind Cord's neck and jerk him forward. The soldier in front of Dave grabbed Dave by the sleeve.

Cord ducked and stepped back.

Dave whipped his arm up and around, breaking the grip on his arm.

The soldiers raised their guns.

There was an echoing double explosion.

The soldier in front of Cord was sprawled on his back. The other soldier had one hand pressed to his shoulder and a look of disbelief on his face.

Dave shot him right through the head.

Cord turned to face the group of Stath officers. The smoking gun in Cord's hand turned with him.

Most of the officers stood perfectly motionless. One made aimless pawing motions with his hands. The Van Chief pretended not to have heard the two deafening explosions, and went on with his work.

Cord broke the archaic gun open, kept his eyes on the Stath, tossed out the hot empty shell and replaced it with a bullet from his belt. He snapped the gun shut. The click was clearly audible throughout the room. Dave did the same, and still the Stath did not move. The Van Chief continued to be very busy.

Cord smiled and turned to Dave, the gun still pointed in the direction of the Stath.

Cord said, "You know, Dave, I believe those soldiers must have taken us for local inhabitants."

"Probably no offense was meant," said Dave, his gun aimed at the Van Chief's busy profile.

"In that case," said Cord slowly, "I suppose we shouldn't take offense, either."

"No," said Dave reluctantly. "No, I suppose not."

"Well," said Cord, "that does it, then." He shoved the gun back in its holster.

"Yes," said Dave, a little fretfully, "I guess that's all." He hesitated, jammed his gun into the holster, then thoughtfully loosened it a little.

They stood watching the Stath a moment, then turned away together.

A ragged sigh behind them broke the silence in the room.

Until that moment, Cord had acted without being aware of any thought or hesitation at all. Now, between one step and the next, he became conscious of what had just happened. He half-turned, to see the Stath soldier who had reached out for him stretched on his back with his head in a red pool. Cord looked at the base of the soldier's neck, and turned away.

There was a sudden rush of chatter in the room.

Dave said in a low voice, "Did we get that in the hypnotic foretreatment?"

"I don't know. If so, I see why there's an aftertreatment."

The room abruptly fell silent again.

Cord turned around to see a group of strongly-built elderly humans wearing long white cloaks, white trousers, and white sandals, and carrying in their raised right hands highly-polished black staffs about two-and-a-half feet long.

The Van Chief said angrily, "Throw those humans out of here. A subchief can talk to them tomorrow morning."

A crowd of soldiers, bristling with guns, was packed in the doorway. At the words, "Throw those humans out," a number of these soldiers started for Cord and Dave, whose guns instantaneously appeared in their hands. As if by magic, there was a cluster of yelling Stath officers between the two Terran observers and the rushing soldiers. These officers were dancing up and down, shouting, "No, no! Not these! The tame humans!"

The "tame humans" were reaching out with their black staffs, smashing soldiers alongside the neck, in the belly, and in upthrusting jabs to the chin. The wave of rushing soldiers reeled back and broke apart into howling individuals, clutching their heads, stomachs, knees, and groins.

Above the tumult was the regretful voice of one of the elders, saying, "Well, well, it's too late now. We tried to warn them, but they wouldn't listen. So be it. Break the sticks!"

The second wave of soldiers had the black staffs broken over their heads.

There was a puff from one of the staffs like a cloud of spores from a punctured puffball. Clarity of vision vanished in a murky gloom. In an instant of silence, there was a noise like a stream of marbles hitting the floor. Then a sound like a strewn handful of sand.

A choking yellow vapor spread over the room.

The Van Chief's voice, loud and carrying, commanded, "Kill the lot of them!"

There was a reverberating roar and the whistle of flying projectiles. Bright flashes lit up here and there in the darkness.

Cord dove for the floor, crawled to the wall, worked his way along it to the edge of a door frame and pulled himself out and down the steps.

Around him, there was shouting and confusion. A powerful voice roared out over the din:


There was a sort of low, continuous, sprinkling sound, then several voices shouted, "Run for it!"

Cord realized suddenly that all this had been in Terran.

Dave's voice said at his elbow, "Now what the devil do we do?"

"I think we'd better get out of here."

They started inching their way forward.

A thing like a delicate thread looped around Cord's foot. He jerked his foot loose. A slender cord coiled around his ankle. He stumbled forward, caught his balance, yanked his foot free, and strode ahead.

A length of stiff wire caught his foot and threw him headlong onto the ground. He jerked loose, got his legs under him and ran as fast as he could.

He tripped over a cable stretched along the ground, got to his feet, and heard Dave shout, "Cord, look out!"

There was a tearing sound. Something spiraled up his leg.

A vague human form went past Cord like a rocket out of its launcher.

The something around Cord's leg thickened from a hair to a thread to a wire to—

He let out a yell, jerked his leg with all his strength, threw himself forward—

There was a springy yielding of the thing that held him. It thickened and began to tighten. Something looped around his waist.

He sucked in his breath. He jerked, twisted, and strained till the blood pounded in his head and roared in his ears. There was a ripping noise and he staggered backwards. He was free.

He dragged in a breath of air and bolted through the gloom, jerking free of the fine tendrils as they looped around him, stumbling to his feet after every fall over the thick ropy trunks that sprawled along the ground.

At last he became aware that there was plowed ground under his feet. He stood still, breathing hard. There was a faint sound nearby. A hand ran over his face.

A voice said in Terran, "Human. O.K. This way."

Cord walked a little distance, then sank down on the yielding earth. He thought it was the softest bed he'd ever slept on.


He came to to see stars fading overhead.

He felt cold, cramped, and stiff. A stone was digging into his side. He got to his feet.

Dim forms were moving here and there around him.

Cord felt like a mass of bruises from head to foot.

In the distance, a fire was blazing bright. Cord went to it, found it surrounded by men stretched out with their feet to the fire. He warmed himself, got sleepy, lay down, and was shaken awake again in full daylight.

Dave's bruised face confronted him.

"Sorry," said Cord. He eased himself gingerly to his feet. The horizon tipped and swayed around him. "Merciful God," he said.

Dave gripped his arm. The world steadied, and Dave's voice came to him. "You'd better take a look at it, Cord. Words won't do it justice."

Cord took a deep breath and followed Dave.

They came to a sort of green mountain rising abruptly out of the earth. Knots of people were standing around looking at it. Dave and Cord stopped near several men in white.

Cord poked at this "mountain" carefully, glanced around and saw with a start that a wide road ran directly into it and disappeared. He looked around. He could see in the distance another road approaching it, and another.

"Get it?" said Dave. "Remember this spot?"

Cord looked up at the greenery. A morning breeze ruffled the big leaves. Here was a glint of metal, wrapped in massive twining trunks. There was a fist of coiled vines about six feet long, with feet sticking out one end and a weasel-like head sticking out the other.

One of the white-cloaked men nearby remarked, "Well, we've got this to go through again."

"It's a fearful drain on the soil."

"Can't be helped. One thing just leads to another and—"

"Well, that's life. It's a judgment."



"Time to get back to work. We can't stand around all day doing nothing but talk."

Cord and Dave looked at each other. They looked around at the green inviting world. Everything was neat and tidy. There wasn't a menace in it anywhere. The little knots of men were moving away.

Cord and Dave looked at the mountain.

Cord cleared his throat and spoke gently.

"No offense," he said.


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