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The Kindly Invasion

He sat at the solid oak desk where he had sat for forty years, and methodically went through correspondence as the cheers drifted up from the avenue below. His back stayed turned to the window where the confetti and ticker tape fluttered down. Below, in the street, the cheers rose to a wild crescendo, but he looked up only when an urgent tapping sounded on the door.

"Come in."

It was one of the new girls from the office, with several others behind her.

"Oh, Mr. Peabody, could we look out your window?"

He looked at the girls' eager faces, slid a personal letter back into its envelope, and growled crustily, "Go ahead."

The girls were delighted. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Peabody." They rushed to the window as Peabody devoted himself to routine correspondence. Behind him, suppressed gigglings, murmurings, and sighs told him the girls wished to join their screams with those of the crowd below. Under his breath, Peabody growled, "The damn fools."

Down in the avenue, the cries finally began to die away into the distance, and Peabody frowned at the last letter, wrote in the margin, "Tell him, no. Let him get a patent first." He glanced up and cleared his throat, and the girls turned guiltily and left the window, to troop out, saying, "Thank you, Mr. Peabody."

He smiled dryly. "You're welcome. But what did you see?"

"Oh," said one of the girls excitedly, "we saw the envoy's car!"

"And," said another, "we could see him waving!"

"A green arm?" said Peabody, "—or a white or brown one?"

The girls looked thunderstruck.

"Well," said one, "it must have been someone with him. It could even have been the President."

A small, beautifully built girl said urgently, "Didn't you want to see him, Mr. Peabody?"

Peabody's eyes gave a frosty glint. "I'm not interested in interstellar shell games. Or confidence men, human or alien."

The girls looked shocked. The girl who'd asked the question said earnestly, "But the serum, the—"

Peabody waved his neatly trimmed square hand. "All humbug. Never put a hook in the water without bait on it."

"But," cried the girl, "I know the Shaloux would never—they're sincere. Have you watched, on the TV, when they told about—"

"I seldom watch television. I get my news from the papers, where I can take it in at my own pace, and pick out the bones, instead of swallowing it all whole. No, I don't trust the Shaloux. What's their motive? Why do they offer us this 'life-serum'? What do they get out of it?"

The girl blinked at him, plainly incapable of following his line of reasoning, or even of crediting the possibility that anyone could reason that way. She started to speak, but Peabody cut her off.

"No, that's enough." He smiled. "While we chatter on company time, business is going to the dogs."

The girls laughed dutifully, thanked him again, and closed the door gently.

Peabody took out the letter he'd been reading before they came in. He finished his reply, then sent the lot out to be typed, or sent on at once to the company officers who would deal with the problem as directed.

He sat back, put his hands behind his head, and waited. One reply was bound to bring a lightning-fast response.

The phone rang.

Peabody picked it up.


"Mr. Peabody? This is Charles Lathrop. I have your memo on pricing here. I—ah—I realize you like all major company decisions and differences in writing, but the price you want us to set on this new .30 Recoilless Repeating Sharpshooter—" Lathrop hesitated, as if groping for suitable words. "I just want to be certain there's no error. This price—"

Peabody snapped, "What about it?"

"Well, sir, it's—it's pretty fantastic—"

"Don't you think they'll sell at $37.50?"

Lathrop made a kind of desperate gobbling noise.

"Sir, they'd sell like wildfire at a hundred thirty-seven fifty. Sir, this gun uses a completely new principle, and—"

"I'm aware of it."

"No one else can match it. We've got a temporary practical monopoly."

"Good. We can do what we want."

"Yes, sir, and that's exactly why we should charge $137.50. This would rob no one. It would benefit everyone. Here we've got a gun that will punch a hole through eight feet of pine boards, and it's got the kick of a pussycat. A ten-shot magazine, with Lightning Reload Guides, a flat trajectory, minimum maintenance, maximum reliability, tough, rugged, dependable, accurate beyond belief. Sir, the right price for this is $199.95, and that's dirt cheap at the price."

"We're charging $37.50."

* * *

There was a silence. Finally Lathrop said, "Could you tell me why, sir?"

"Are we going to lose money on it?"

"N-No. This way we'll still make a bare profit. But we could make a mint."

"But this way we'll sell more guns."

"Yes, there's no doubt of that."

"And this is quite an effective gun."

"It certainly is."

"And it can take surplus ammunition."

"Yes, but after you use enough of any kind of steel-jacketed ammo—"

"One thing at a time, Lathrop. Now, how popular is this gun going to be?"

"Very popular. But I still don't see why—"

"Won't it be the most popular gun Peabody Arms and Ammunition ever produced?"

"Yes, sir. I have to admit, it certainly will be. We've already been swamped with inquiries. This gun will be a household word for excellence inside a month."

"All right. Now, every man likes to leave some monument behind him. Something to be remembered for."

"But, Mr. Peabody!" Lathrop's voice advertised his astonishment. "All you have to do is take the serum—"

"I'm not anxious to remain my present age for the next thousand years, Lathrop. Moreover, I don't trust the Shaloux."

"But all you have to do is to let them open their minds to you! You'll see that they're kindly, benevolent, loving. All they care about is to help others!"

Peabody looked at the phone as if he smelled rotten fish. He said coldly, "The price of the gun will be $37.50."

There was a sigh of resignation.

"Yes, Mr. Peabody."

Peabody hung up. Now, that was taken care of, and he had a nice plausible reason for his action. Anyone could understand it. No one could confine him to an institution for it. He shoved the phone back, reached into the bottom drawer of his desk, and pulled out the morning edition he'd glanced through on the train. There were the huge headlines staring at him:



Peabody snorted. "Humbug. Silly claptrap." He read on:


New Serum Shipment
100% Inoculation
Is Shaloux Aim

"Sure," growled Peabody. "But why? What's their aim. What do they get out of it?"

He read further:


Open-Mind Conference Held

Peabody slammed down the paper.

"Open-mind! Everybody's supposed to have an 'open mind'. Humbug! Open it far enough, and who knows what will come in? The whole thing's a trap. Leave the door open, to prove you trust everyone. Then the thieves can strip the house and put a knife in you while you sleep."

Cautiously, he began to read the paper, conscious of the article's bias, opening his mind just a little slit at a time to bash the unwelcome ideas over the head as they entered:

Washington — Miliram Diastat, the benevolent (How the devil do they know he's benevolent?) plenipotentiary (Hogwash. He may be just a messenger boy.) of the Shaloux Interstellar (They could come from Mars, for all we know.) Federation, met with the President today, and in solemn rapport (What's "rapport" really mean? Maybe it's hypnotism.) concluded the mind-exchange (Or brainwashing) which is a precondition for entry into (defeat by) the Federation.

Mr. Diastat (Why call him "Mr."? The damned things are neuter.) assured reporters afterward that all had gone well (For the Shalouxs, that is.) in the mind-exchange (brain-washing). He said (It said), raising his (its) hands (extremities of upper tentacles) to heaven (over its head—that is, over the end of the thing with teeth in it.), that our peoples will be joined as one (eaten up) with (by) theirs, in a final ceremony next year. At that time, travel throughout the vast extent (They claim it's vast.) of the Federation will be free to all (Economically impossible.), and Earth's excess-population problem will be solved (Everybody will be killed.), while at the same time (never) personal immortality will have been granted by universal (Humbug. There must be some people with sense enough to keep out.) inoculation with the serum (slow poison).

* * *

Peabody read on, scowling, about the heaven-on-earth that would come about with the wonders of interstellar science, about how everything was to be free, all the work was to be done automatically, and everyone in the Shaloux Federation was invariably happy. He snorted, growled, cursed under his breath. The Shaloux, the paper went on, were loving and kindly, because that was how they were educated to be; and in their Federation, advanced methods of production rendered the satisfaction of every ordinary desire not only possible but practically instantaneous. The abundance of space in the universe cut friction between differing ways to a minimum.

Peabody rejected the whole line of argument, then angrily turned the page, and studied a photograph of Miliram Diastat, the Plenipotentiary of the Shaloux Federation, who was shown "shaking hands" with the President. The paper also showed a view of him head-on, so to speak. The caption compared the plenipotentiary to a "large mint-green teddy bear," but to Peabody the creature looked like a giant cucumber with a lot of teeth in one end, stood generally upright but with a forward tilt, and equipped with two sets of tentacles, top and bottom, and a tail with a barb-like sting ray. Beneath the picture, the paper quoted a speech in which this entity was referred to as "Our Brother from the Stars."

Peabody threw the paper down in disgust.

Grant the possibility, he thought, that all this might be true. After all, nearly anything could be possible. But was it likely? Did it fit in with experience? Did it add up?

He jammed the paper into the waste basket, and sent for one of the new girls.

"Have you," he demanded, "taken the serum?"

Her eyes widened. "Oh, yes, sir. I don't want ever to get a day older."

"What happens if you fall down in the bathtub?"

"Well—" She blushed. "I intend to be careful."

"I mean, accidents could end immortality pretty fast."

"Yes, sir, but I'm sure the Shaloux have some answer."

"You've—ah—'exchanged minds' with them, and that convinces you?"

"Oh, yes, sir. They're perfectly straightforward and well-intentioned. All you have to do is to let them show you. You just open your mind to them."

"There's a machine involved, isn't there?"

"Yes, sir, but that's just because we aren't developed far enough to do it direct. It's just a little machine anyway. It's not much bigger than a hat box."

Peabody shook his head. An atom-bomb was just a comparatively little thing.

This whole business, he told himself, stunk. Aloud, he said, "It's all hogwash."

The girl smiled. "Sir, excuse me. If the experts all believe it—"

"The experts all have open minds."

"But isn't an open mind the best?"

"That depends on who's trying to put what into it."

"But you can't prejudge."

Peabody snorted. "If I see somebody, who would profit by murdering another man, secretively sift a powder into this other man's drink, I'll prejudge him. I may go wrong this way, but not often. What you have to consider is, what's their motive?"

The girl looked at him almost with pity. "Sir, honestly, you really should let them show you their minds. And you should open your mind to them. They could help you, so much."

Peabody instantly closed his mind to that suggestion, and to the girl's almost loving kindly tone.

"I have my weaknesses," he said crustily, "but I hope walking into boobytraps isn't one of them. You talk about these monsters as if they're angels. They don't look angelic to me. The devil with it. Take a letter."

* * *

The next six months passed in what, for Peabody, was equivalent to a siege. Hosts of fantastic ideas clamored at the locked door of his mind, seeking admission. His own brother "exchanged minds," took the serum, saw the light, and tried to convert him. Peabody added another bar to his mental door, and installed bolts at top, bottom, and on the hinge side, just in case. He didn't rest content with having closed the main entrance to his mind. He watched alertly for anything that might have figuratively sneaked in through the cellar window; and when he found it, in the form, say, of a grudging thought that it would be only fair to the Shaloux to try their mind-trading—when he found such a thought, he ruthlessly broke it down to its essentials, rejected the bits and pieces, and held the fort secure. As the press, radio, TV, and ordinary everyday conversation praised the Shaloux and their selfless Federation, the urgent ideas bounced off Peabody like BB-shot off a locked safe.

Meanwhile, the Peabody Miracle-Gun, as the new 30-caliber rifle came to be called, was making a hit on its own. Sales began to skyrocket. Profits crept up sedately. The exasperating rumor spread that the gun was Shaloux-designed, which infuriated the actual designer, but didn't overly trouble Peabody, as it increased sales. Sales, in fact, rapidly climbed to such a point that anti-gun fanatics grew virulent. Peabody pointed to his low profit-margin and bared his teeth in a grin like the Shaloux. The critics pointed to the gun's unprecedented power, range, accuracy, and the murderous effect of the specially shaped Shock bullet when it hit its target. Peabody put hand on heart and pleaded that in the coming age of Federation-inspired universal peace and understanding, no one would even think of using the guns against other humans; the gun would be just a memento of old Earth, and a merciful, quick-and-painless defense against unFederated monsters that might be run into occasionally on new worlds. On this piece of hypocrisy, the criticism foundered and expired.

By now, eleven months had gone by. A fever of expectation began to seize the world. In one more month, Earth would be a Federation member. When half of the last month was gone, a new rumor suddenly exploded into a stated fact: The advanced science of the Shaloux had discovered a new type of universal antigen that would make any human who took the treatment proof against all known human diseases.

Peabody's office staff was amongst the first, locally, to take the treatment, and for two solid weeks they glowed with health as Peabody suffered with a miserable cold.

Peabody's mind stayed closed, but, apparently from inside, the thought was germinated: "Suppose I'm wrong?"

In response, he thought coldly, "It wouldn't be the first time."

"But I could be giving up a lot out of sheer bullheadedness."

"Somebody has got to keep his head, and I won't quit now."

* * *

With the nucleus of an inner revolt threatening to erupt out of hand anytime, Peabody clamped himself under tight control, and devoted himself to stimulating the sale of his gun, an activity which, in flashes of another viewpoint, quickly suppressed, seemed almost childish.

Angrily, he told his errant thoughts, "When I'm convinced a thing like this is genuine, maybe then I'll cut loose from common sense. Not until."

By now, his incredible wrongheaded obstinacy was legendary among his acquaintances. Only a lingering wonder at the success of his gun kept them from kidding him mercilessly.

By now, too, everyone around him, with only rare stubborn exceptions, blazed with apparent health and well-being, while he crept around sniffling, sneezing, and muttering, "Hogwash. It's humbug. All of it. There's a catch somewhere."

On the day before the admission of Earth to the great Shaloux Interstellar Federation, a new announcement rocked the world. Shaloux science had discovered how to reverse the human aging process. This was to be done by reinforcing "cellular memory," reversing "colloid crystallization," and "regenerating" nerve-cell tissue. The means of stimulating all this had been reduced to a few "key compounds" and "pseudo-viruses," that could be packed into a few pills. Anyone who had taken the life-serum, could now take the pills, and be seventeen years old into the indefinite future. Best of all, the whole process would take only a week or so to complete.

Wherever Peabody turned, men and women of all ages were now munching pills, and dutifully feeding them to children, who were thus guaranteed never to get older than seventeen.

The next day, when formal admission to the Federation was to take place, started off normally, thanks to the Shaloux request that through the city and the offices people go as usual to their places of business. But a little after one o'clock, a number of celebration parades began winding their way through the city, and the offices promptly emptied into the streets. Peabody, his back turned to the window, ignored the screams and shouts, and dictated to Miss Burell, a young, somewhat plain, but highly efficient secretary. As the noise from the street below reached its climax, he glanced at her curiously. "Are you sure you don't want to go down there?"

She shook her head. "I don't like screaming crowds. Besides, this whole business reminds me of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. And I don't believe in their life-serum."

"What about their universal cure?"

She looked unconvinced. "It may be just what they say. But it doesn't ring true to me. And this latest thing—the pills that will make everyone seventeen—"

"Certainly," he said, smiling, "you understand that our wise elder brothers and their magnificent science—"

She looked at him as though he were insane—which made his smile grow wider—and said:

"It's awfully odd that we're supposed to eat this latest pill just a little before their big ships come down to carry out the so-called 'ceremony of admission.'"

"But if you've 'exchanged minds' with them under their hypnosis machine, you realize that they're perfectly sincere and benevolent, don't you?"

"I wouldn't let them use that machine on me for a thousand dollars. All this something-for-nothing benevolence of theirs reminds me of a finance company. They'll put cash in my pocket, all right. But then what?" She poised her pencil to take dictation.

Peabody grinned, brought his mind back to the letter, started to speak, and paused.

* * *

From below, the only sound was a low grinding noise, followed by a repeated scraping sound.

He listened, heard a few distant, oddly inflected voices, then a harsh grating noise.

Frowning, he got to his feet, quietly slid the window up, and glanced down into the canyon between the buildings.

Down below, the sidewalks were heaped with motionless figures. In the street, bright-green Shaloux pulled the bunting and gay decorations off their stopped parade floats, to disclose the mud-colored vehicles beneath. With the brightly-colored cloth and paper gone, the first vehicle looked like an armored car, and the others like open amphibious personnel-carriers.

Peabody looked it all over, and nodded sourly.

"Miss Burell, in my coat closet you'll find several of our new rifles, and three big boxes of ammunition. If you'll bring out a rifle, and drag one of the boxes over here—"

She was gone in a flash, came back with one of the guns, and then slid out a large cardboard carton. The rifle fit neatly in Peabody's hands as he raised it, felt the two little pins that showed the gun was loaded and the magazine full, moved the selector lever to semiautomatic, made sure the safety was off, and then paused as there came a tinkle of glass from across the street, where the windows were sealed shut for all-season air conditioning.

A quick glance showed a man one floor down, taking aim with a rifle just like Peabody's.

Pam-pam-pam came the familiar sound, for the first time actually musical to Peabody's ears.

He looked down at the street, raised the gun, made due allowance for his height above the target, and squeezed the trigger.

The gun moved in his hand like a kitten batting lightly at a ball of yarn.

Down below, the control box of an open personnel-carrier erupted in a blaze of sparks.

Peabody adjusted his aim slightly, squeezed the trigger.

A large Shaloux exploded in a green haze of teeth and snakelike arms.

An amplified voice boomed out, "We are your Elder Brothers from the Stars! This is all a mistake! We—"

There was a quiet businesslike pam-pam from across the street, and that took care of the amplified voice.

From somewhere else came the sound of methodical firing. A line of holes stitched their way across the first of the line of Shaloux vehicles, suggesting that someone was trying the effect of the steel-jacketed ammunition.

Peabody sighted on the door of the vehicle, and plugged two Shaloux as they burst out. A third erupted through a trapdoor in the vehicle's roof, went off the top in a flying dive, and got around the corner so fast that there was no time for Peabody to even take aim. Nevertheless, the wall repeatedly exploded in flying fragments just behind the Shaloux as it streaked for cover.

Peabody was vaguely aware that Miss Burell was using one of the other guns to good effect, and that up and down the street, the occasional pam-pam had become an almost continuous murmur, suggesting that a small but definite percentage of humanity felt uneasy when offered the universe on a silver platter. He grinned.

* * *

A shadow slid over the face of the building across the way. Peabody realized this must be some kind of aircraft, stepped back from the window, and abruptly there was a dazzling blaze of light, a clap that shook the building, a clattering of broken glass, and then a long interval of swirling sickness.

When he came to, aching and dizzy, with ringing ears and a cheek that felt like ground meat, he was with a group of other people, being held upright before a large green creature at a curving desk.

It took Peabody a few moments to get used to the sight of Shaloux hurrying past in the corridor outside, Shaloux standing respectfully behind the creature across the desk, and Shaloux entering to bob briefly before the desk, exchange short bursts of gobble, and then back out into the corridor and hurry away.

Peabody could feel his hair prickle and his flesh crawl; but he kept his jaw stiff, and waited patiently. Eventually, some chance might present itself to do the Shaloux some more damage.

In due time, the creature at the desk realized that his captives were conscious, and turned toward them.

Speaking with great care, using a clear understandable pronunciation, the Shaloux said, "I am Miliram, Plenipotentiary of the Interstellar Federation."

Peabody's head throbbed, and he was faintly dizzy, but he paid close attention as the voice went on:

"We Shaloux wish to express our sincere regrets for what has happened. We are very sorry. You see, the molecular composition of the human body is somewhat exceptional, and reacted rather strongly with our life-serum. This whole unfortunate incident, which we deeply regret, has come about because of the unusual allergic response of human tissues. We want you all to understand that we Shaloux meant no harm to you and your people, but were motivated only by the broadest and most humanitarian of reasons. You do understand that, don't you?"

In his mind's eye, Peabody could again see the unconcerned Shaloux ignore the prostate humans, tear the bunting off their vehicles, then grind forward.

Someone said, "Allergic response? You mean all this was accidental?"

The Shaloux didn't hesitate. "Entirely. We are prostrated with grief."

Out of the corner of his eye, Peabody could see the Shaloux briefly hurrying past in the corridor.

The plenipotentiary went on smoothly:

"Brothers of Earth, believe me, we Shaloux love humans."

* * *

The words came out with such sincerity that Peabody almost forgot what he had seen with his own eyes. Around him, there was sickly sympathy. Peabody made a murmur suggestive of a kind of the same noise himself, as soon as he got control of his vocal apparatus.

"Then," said the Shaloux sincerely, "you, like we, all wish to make amends, to wash the misunderstanding away, once and for all?"

"Of course," murmured Peabody, adding to the mumble of agreement.

"You realize," said the Shaloux, "that we wish to make amends for the damage that has unfortunately been done to our human brothers? All the things that we promised will be yours, though it will take a little longer, since we must, first, improve the serum."

The last words "improve the serum" came out with a peculiar emphasis, and it dawned on Peabody that the plenipotentiary must still think that all humans had taken the drugs, but that a certain percentage, for some reason, had been unaffected and would just need stronger medicine. In that case, the Shaloux had no idea what they had accidentally done to the human race.

In a wishy-washy voice, someone near Peabody was saying, "Certainly we must do what we can to spread the word that all this is just a dreadful mistake. But surely, Mr. Plenipotentiary, if you merely tell them—"

"Unfortunately, before our—ah—information and assistance teams can get really near the survivors, who are equipped with truly vicious weapons, your countrymen shoot our—ah—aid men—and prevent us from clearing up the misunderstanding."

There were murmurs of shocked incredulity, even though everyone Peabody could see had a look that didn't quite fit the sound.

"This is terrible," said Peabody, speaking above the murmur, and putting sincerity in his voice. "How can we stop it?"

The plenipotentiary said earnestly, "We thought, perhaps, if their own people told them, they would be more likely to listen, and to accept our sincere apologies."

"Yes," said someone, "that certainly seems very likely."

"And then," said the Shaloux, "perhaps you could have them all gather together in one spot, where we could care for them better, and give assistance to the survivors."

Peabody waited a few seconds till he trusted his voice. At that, he recovered before the rest could find anything to say. He murmured, "Yes, that certainly would be more efficient."

"Exactly." The plenipotentiary added sincerely, "If you people would like to exchange minds with me, to prove—"

Peabody did his best to nip that in the bud. "It isn't at all necessary. What you've said has completely reaffirmed our beliefs about the Shaloux Federation. We are anxious to get started."

The plenipotentiary beamed with what appeared to be satisfaction, murmured a few gobbling noises, and the guards released them.

An hour later, Peabody, Miss Burell, and the others were standing at the base of a hill looking back as the Shaloux aircraft that had brought them there dwindled into the distance.

Miss Burell said unbelievingly, "I never expected to get out of there alive."

Peabody felt as if he might pass out anytime. Still, he was better off than he'd been a little while ago. He cleared his throat. "They out-suckered themselves."

The ex-prisoners were glancing at each other. "Well," said one of them, "we must end this resistance to our wise Brothers from the Stars. Did anyone notice how thin that hull was?"

"Yeah. Half-a-dozen good men, with the Super-V steel-jacketed ammo, in Peabody rifles—"

Miss Burell was looking around blankly, "Didn't anybody fall for that Shaloux?"

Peabody, despite his aches and pains, was starting to feel better.

"Consider," he said, "the Shaloux didn't kill people at random. Instead, they baited a trap, which only attracted certain people. What do you suppose they've done to the human race?"

"You mean, they've carried out something like natural selection, only faster?"

"Exactly. And who do you suppose they've selected as survivors?"

* * *

Back at Shaloux headquarters, Miliram Diastat, the plenipotentiary, was having uneasy second thoughts. The possibility had just occurred to him that conceivably the human survivors had never taken the Shaloux life-serum in the first place, but had successfully resisted that bait. And in that case—

"Queasal," he said to a nearby psychological-warfare officer, "Ah, a question of theory has just occurred to me."

"Yes, sir. You wish to know?"

"Ah-h'm. It is correct, is it not, that our standard Fast Conquest Procedure is based on the victim's desire to get something free?"

"Absolutely, sir. The Prime Bait is based on the invariable, universal SFN-trophic psychological reaction. Offer the victim Something-For-Nothing in a sufficiently alluring form, and you invariably suck in the whole local population, and can clean out one planet after another at very modest expense, without maintaining a burdensome planetary combat-force."

"Yes. Now—ah—as a hypothetical question—if we should ever run into a bunch, some of whom lacked this standard response—then what?"

"It would be a nasty situation, sir. After one of our operations, there is always an abundance of weapons, shelter, stored food, and so on; but, of course, it does the locals no good, because dead locals shoot no guns. But, in the hypothetical situation you mention, the survivors could make use of them, and would be very hard to root out. Worst yet, they would doubtless reproduce, and h'm—the characteristics of a whole race of such people would be frankly unpredic—" He paused. "Of course, this is all purely hypothetical, but as far as I'm concerned, I can tell you I would hate to experience—" He paused again, staring at the door through which the human prisoners had been led out. He swallowed uneasily, producing a characteristic reflex clicking of teeth that did not signify confidence.

The plenipotentiary cleared his breathing ducts, and spoke loudly. "Of course. Well, now we'll want to get ready to exterminate the rest of this present batch." He coughed, wheezed, and glanced back at Monolar Oia, his second-in-command.

"Monolar, my boy," he said, "you know, I've been thinking about your advancement. A successful planetary occupation such as this present one could really help your career." He coughed painfully. "Personally, I've been feeling rather off my feed lately, and if you'd like to take over, why—"

Monolar looked as if he'd been doing some furious thinking, too. Before Diastat could finish his offer, Monolar said piously, "Sir, with me, you come first. This planet is the crowning jewel of your career, sir. I couldn't possibly excuse myself for being selfish about it."

Diastat squinted at the next officer in line, who was staring with foreboding out a porthole at the planet, sucking his teeth, and plainly readying some unctuous reply. There was no hope there.

The plenipotentiary turned from his officers to the large globe that showed an overall view of this planet where things had started out so promisingly. His face showed the hopeful expression of a crook with a nice confidence scheme, in need of exactly one thing to put it over—an eager and trusting sucker.

But as he looked at the globe, the plenipotentiary's expression gradually turned to gloom.

No matter how he approached the problem, there just wasn't a sucker in sight.

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