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Brains Isn't Everything

After an hour inside the gigantic spaceship, Steven P. Winters, US Delegate to the Interstellar Mutual Love Conference, had a few doubts about his host.

Winters, uneasily seated on his perch, peered around the curving bulk of what had introduced itself as "Friendly Hug and Clasp Osher Diomak." As much as anything, Friendly Hug and Clasp Diomak resembled a kind of leather flying saucer equipped around the rim with good-sized octopus tentacles. There was one large round dark eye above the base of each tentacle, with a sort of disklike membrane that evidently served as an ear to one side, and to the other side a similarly-sized slit which opened from time to time to emit reassuring words in a tone of soothing confidence.

As far as Winters could see ahead, around Diomak, there sat other Earth delegates—G. Malik of Russia; Madame Kuo from China; K. Ngusi, an African delegate. Behind Winters was Lord Orban of Britain, and behind Orban was the delegate from France. Each was uneasily seated upon a limb—that is to say, a tentacle—that twisted up at an angle to serve as a backrest, and then reversed itself to pass across the delegates' shoulders and provide a friendly squeeze from time to time.

Several feet from Winters' ear, to the side of the tentacle that was serving as Winters' seat, the slit now opened up.

"Winters, my boy," said a sincere friendly voice, "what I want to bring to you and yours, I repeat, is the choice of fellowship, understanding, long life, health, vigor, vitality, plus—ah—involvement in the—ah—wonderful world of interstellar civilization. Your happiness is my happiness. I realize from what you say that such offers are legendary amongst you—but now, at last, the legend becomes reality. The wonders are all yours to choose from. You have merely to make your choice."

Winters, Orban, Malik, Kuo, Ngusi, and the other delegates adjourned to a "conference room" set aside for them by Diomak. This "conference room" resembled the flight deck of an aircraft carrier adrift in the Pacific on a foggy day. From the misty surface below, twenty-foot lengths of tentacle thrashed into view, and big saucer-shaped bodies, streaming water, broke the surface and then vanished again.

The delegates looked around somberly.

"M'm," said Winters.

Orban peered over the edge. "How do they travel with all this inside?"

"Gravity control," said Malik. "What a technology!"

The French representative sardonically eyed the tentacles erupting from the water.

Malik added dryly, "Although, technology aside, Diomak seems not completely sincere."

Winters grunted his agreement.

Madame Kuo said, "But think what he offers:

"Perfect health.

"Long life.

"Great mental development.

"Universal friendliness.

"Mutual understanding.

"Great vitality... And so on."

Malik nodded. "We can't ignore that."

"Remember," said Lord Orban, "Diomak offers us these marvels as capsules, to be taken once every three weeks."

"Miracle drugs," said Winters, ironically, "to end all miracle drugs.—Nevertheless, all Earth is waiting to find out what we've picked."

"And this," said Madame Kuo, "raises a curious point. Each of us may select one capsule. This means that China, which practically constitutes the entire human race, with only little bumps of others around the outer fringe, may select only one type of capsule—for her whole people."

Lord Orban cleared his throat.

"I should say we need a solid front against this alien and his trinkets."

Malik, eyes narrowed, said, "How will Diomak stop us from trading capsules?"

Winters, groping for some approach that made sense, came again to the same conclusion:

"It seems to me we've got only one choice. Whatever we do with these pills afterward, for now we've got to accept. So the problem is, who takes which kind of pill?"

Lord Orban shook his head. "These capsules could be disastrous."

The discussion went on, traveled in a circle, went around again, and continued until finally even the sequence of the repetitions became monotonous. Winters and Malik wanted an agreement as to who would get which capsules, so as to make trading easier. Madame Kuo became mysteriously noncommittal. Lord Orban argued for an agreement to refuse the pills entirely. K. Ngusi wanted to question Diomak further. The Japanese representative felt that there should be more time for consultation. The German delegate was impatient to do something.

Disgruntled and disunited, the delegates returned to talk to Diomak.

Diomak slid his tentacles around them like a friendly big brother.

"Well, Winters, my boy—did you decide?"

"I—uh—do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions, Mr. Diomak?"

"Call me Osher, Winters. All my friends call me Osher."

"All right... do you mind if I ask you one or two questions, Osher?"

"Not at all, Winters. Go right ahead."

"Well—ahh—you see, there's been a certain amount of—well, mutual distrust, on Earth, and—"

Diomak put in quickly, "That's what we want to get rid of. Exactly, Winters. You are entirely right. I agree with you wholeheartedly."

Winters groped around mentally for the thread of his thought. Before he could find it, Diomak spoke, his voice radiating good fellowship:

"So, that's taken care of, eh, Winters? Now, did you decide what you wanted?"

Winters hesitated, still couldn't remember what he had intended to say, and shrugged. "Yes, it was—"

"No, no, don't tell me. We will make the choices so all can hear. Just sit back, and we will decide, with—ah—witnesses—so everyone can trust everyone else, eh? Ha, ha.—Isn't that right?"

Winters swallowed and sat back. He now had the impression of dealing with some kind of interstellar salesman of stolen cars, with transactions in hashish and opium thrown in on the side.

"Now, dear friends," said Diomak, his multiple voice purring in many tongues, "we are all met here together in free will, no coercion or duress used to freely agree that I, Osher Diomak, will freely give to you, periodically, and without charge, and will deliver to you, also without charge, enough capsules to last two years—of whichever kind each of you publicly agrees on—one kind for the inhabitants of each political group or unit, known as 'nation' or 'country,' as followed:

"USA?" In a low voice, Diomak asked, "What will you have, Winters, my boy?"

Winters was wishing he hadn't known so many languages as to be picked for this job, or had been brought up as a trader in some tricky competitive business. As it was, he had the sensation of knowing something was going on—but what?

"Perfect health," he said.

"Excellent, excellent. Fine. A wise choice, my boy... Russia?"

"Long life."

"Long life, eh? Excellent... and what does China choose?"

"Great mental development."

"Good, good. Splendid choices. Next... Republic of France?"

The French representative stood up.

"France refuses!"


"What you are doing, I do not know. Until I know, I will have nothing to do with this!"

Diomak spoke earnestly, soothingly, persuasively:

"You have your people to think of. Surely, you wouldn't deprive—"

The French delegate turned on his heel and headed for the exit.

Lord Orban stood up. He glanced at Winters. Winters evaded his gaze. Orban leaned over.

"Would you buy bonds from Diomak?"

Winters shuddered. "At the moment, I wouldn't buy chewing gum from him!"

"If now we both walk out—"

"What would they do back home?"

Orban straightened. His voice was cold and clear.

"The United Kingdom declines every part of this proposition."

He strode toward the exit.

There was an uneasy stir in the room.

Diomak clucked regretfully.

The door banged shut behind the British and French representatives.

Winters sighed. It was an impressive exit; but when they got home

Winters stayed where he was.

No one else walked out.

Diomak went down the long list of nations.

Winters braced himself to report to the President.

* * *

The President listened closely, and at the end said, "Did you find out whether these capsules can be traded?"

"No, sir. That was one of two questions I tried to ask. But Diomak got my mind off the subject."

"What was your other question?"

"What is he getting out of this?"

The President nodded.

"It all looks generous. But no living creatures survives on generosity alone."

"All that interstellar brotherhood stuff may be what he's after. But that isn't how he struck me."

The President picked up a closely printed sheet of paper.

"I'm told that, on analyzing this situation, the following appear to be plausible reasons for Diomak's offer:

"1. Drug entrapment—the pills are addicting.

"2. Slow poison—Diomak wants our planet.

"3. Hypnotic drugs—the pills increase suggestibility, and Diomak makes suggestions.

"4. Psychological dependency—the pills work, and we won't want to do without them. Then he'll name his price.

"5. Side effects—the pills' side effects will tie us in knots. Same purpose as 2.

"6. Overeffectiveness—the friendliness drug will make people easy to fool and cheat; the health drug will make people so active they can't stop to think. Same effect as 5.

"7. Fakery—the pills were camouflage. Diomak planted plague by infecting the delegates during his conference.

"8. Anaphylactic shock—the first pills will set up an allergy. Later pills will trigger a violent reaction. Same as 2.

"9. Plague inoculation—the pills contain deadly germs. This has two variants: (a) all pills are infective; (b) to make it harder to detect, only one pill out of ten thousand or so is infective."

Winters shook his head.

"Maybe I should have followed Lord Orban out the door."

"What do you think?"

"For whatever it's worth, I think the capsules will be useful—probably not worth what Diomak claims, but still useful. And I think he aims to make a profit some other way."

"You don't think he aims to finish us?"

"No, sir. I think he aims to get what he wants."

"And he wants?"

Winters shook his head in exasperation.

"I can't imagine what it is that he wants."

* * *

In the next few days, the pills were delivered to each nation's capital, and the US found itself with hundreds of millions of little yellow capsules, packed in six-sided drums with flat tops and bottoms. The delivery was simplicity itself. The fun started with the distribution.

One and only one capsule had to be somehow gotten to each and every individual, out of all the increasingly impatient millions of individuals. And each capsule, offering three weeks of perfect health, obviously could be robbed or stolen.

The government, at least, showed no hesitation. Paratroops controlled the roads leading to the sites where the pills were landed. Armor backed up the paratroops. Marines ringed the site itself. The Treasury Department handled the pills, roughly along the lines of gold bars. The Internal Revenue Service, supposedly best acquainted with who lived where and had how many dependents, mailed out the capsules in special containers. The containers, designed by the CIA, proved to be waterproof, shock-proof, corrosion resistant, heat resistant, child-proof and almost adult-proof. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration, testing random capsules, announced that they contained only a mixture of salt, starch, sugar, gelatin, and baking soda, and could not possibly cure anything—although harmless, they were a fraud.

The government, with an election coming, paid scant attention to this announcement, and kept putting capsules in the mail under the watchful eye of the postal inspectors, with the FBI backing them up.

With the capsules at last distributed, the Internal Revenue Service smilingly offered to pass out extra leftover pills to adults who could prove they had never made out an income tax. One measure of interest in the capsules was the number of people who came forth to accept this offer.

Soon, as capsules were rushed to sick relatives, word came that the hospitals were emptying.

Winters found himself reading the headline:



He skimmed the article, to find that "mental suggestion," "mass hypnosis," and "interstellar chicanery" were ruining medicine:

"Hospital occupancy in this state is down by sixty-nine percent. This is a devastating blow to the hospital industry, and there is no end in sight."

Winters eyed a little plastic box containing a small yellow capsule that he carried around like a good luck charm. What did Diomak want in return for this?

The phone rang.

"Georgi Malik," said the voice on the other end. "Madame Kuo and I would like to see you."

"Fine. At my place?"

"Ah—it's such a nice day—why don't we go for a ride?"

"A taxi?"

"Why not?"

They picked the second taxi after the one Malik was agreeable to, following the one Winters wanted. Madame Kuo had expressed doubts about earlier selections.

"Possibly," said Malik, as they pulled out into traffic, "they are all bugged. Besides, the things are so small now—ah, well—who knows?" He studied Winters alertly. "Your health—pardon me for prying—appears good but not extraordinary."

"I haven't swallowed the thing."


"Are your people living longer?"

"Well—of the people given the actual capsule, there have been no deaths. Some were in severe automobile accidents, and are having a painful recovery. But they are living."

Winters blinked, started to ask a question, and changed his mind. He glanced at Madame Kuo.

She smiled briefly.

"If I seem no more intellectual than before, do not be surprised. I—what is the expression?—'chickened out'."

"You didn't take it either?"

"I look at it now and then. It is an odd shade of blue." She hesitated. "One of my superiors ate his, however, and for entertainment now works out calculus problems in his head."

The taxi slowed for a light. On the sidewalk, a man in his eighties jogged past. A man of forty or so turned handsprings. A policeman, beaming and swinging his club, strode along whistling.

Malik said, "You have heard of the upheavals in Britain and France? Diomak refuses to allow them any capsules of whatever kind."

"Yes," said Winters. "But I thought that was on account of some regulation Diomak is stuck with."

"The result is the same. Ah—did Lord Orban recover from that mob attack?"

"I've heard he's living on a small island in the Caribbean. I couldn't locate it on the map."

Madame Kuo said, "Mr. Malik and I felt we three might—ah—mutually equalize the distribution of the capsules."

Malik nodded. "One of the automobile accident victims happens to be a high official of the Party. Such is his suffering that even euthanasia has—h'm—received consideration. But it didn't work. We would like to restore him to perfect health."

Madame Kuo said, "We have a similar situation—a brilliant theoretician, made more brilliant by the capsule. He is, however, well along in years. But if he could spend his last days in perfect health, there is no predicting what he might accomplish."

Winters nodded. "Why not buy some capsules from a dealer? There seem to be about twenty million Americans who don't trust these pills, and millions of others who want to be sure of a second one when the first wears off. So there's a natural market for them."

Malik looked unenthusiastic. "Those capsules are unreliable."

"Sometimes," said Madame Kuo, "they are good. Our people here used some that were effective. Those shipped home were worthless."

Winters said hesitantly, "There is a rumor that certain capsules from—ah—other countries—have found their way here, and been totally worthless. Though they worked there."

Madame Kuo looked startled. "Could it be?"

"Diomak," said Winters, "may have some way to deactivate them."

"Then," said Malik, "we will have to try bringing the patient to the medicine. Though I cannot conceive how Diomak could do such a thing."

* * *

Several weeks passed, and soon Winters had two little capsules he hadn't taken, then three. Most of his friends were glowing with health, but there were still a mysterious twenty million who refused to take the pills. Yet the only such people Winters knew were the President himself, the Vice-President, all the members of the cabinet, several senators, and—Winters paused. Could there be twenty million distrustful people in the government?

As for himself, Winters had now been debriefed, interviewed, and present at so many hearings that he fell asleep still struggling with questions, and woke up giving answers.

Malik and Madame Kuo appeared to be suffering from the same difficulty.

"What," she said, "is Diomak's motive? What does Diomak receive? Why is he doing it? How am I to say?"

Winters said, "Do the health pills work for your people here?"

They both nodded. "Diomak's motive is the problem."

Winters nodded. "That's my problem, too."

Winters' ears hurt as vigorously healthy interviewers demanded, "Why is Osher Diomak doing this for us?" "Is there an interstellar civilization based on love and generosity?" "Why can't our government be selfless?" and "Does pure generosity rule all the other races in the Universe?"

As the pills accumulated, Winters hoarsely talked his way through "Face the People," and then found he was scheduled for a double-length session of "Meet the Nation."

So far, no one had shown any sign of poisoning, allergy, strange illnesses, unusual suggestibility, drug addiction, or even so much as mild stomach acidity. The only signs even of strain appeared to be amongst doctors—who were leaving for less healthful climates—and travel agents, who were laboring overtime to accommodate the gigantic tourist trade generated by people who wanted capsules other than those their government had officially chosen.

Winters moodily added another pill to his collection, and turned as the phone rang.

There was a meeting at the White House, and Winters was wanted.

* * *

The room, as Winters went in past the guards, had that silence reached when everyone has said everything he has to say, and what everyone has said adds up to something no one present can even so much as get in focus.

The President, at the far end of the crowded table, sat with his chair tilted back, frowning. Around the table, people slumped, leaned on their elbows, vacantly exhaled smoke, massaged their eyelids, massaged their temples, sat back staring at the ceiling, or sat chin on chest staring at the tabletop.

Winters, alarmed, pulled his chair out a little incautiously, and banged the leg of the table.

The President looked up.

"Have a seat, Winters. Maybe you can clear this up."

Everyone at the table glanced dully around.

Winters kept his face expressionless.

"Anything I can do, sir—"

"We have reached an impasse. Around this table sit administrators, whose physicians, biochemists, intelligence experts, military men, physicists, statistical analysts, and computers have been focused on Diomak since he showed up. To make a long story short, every scrap of objective evidence suggests Diomak is being perfectly fair with us. But there is not one of us here who doesn't think we are being manipulated."

Winters, under the weight of watching eyes, spoke carefully. "I think, sir, he could be a trader."

"How does that fit in?"

"Then the evidence of his being fair would be consistent with the idea that he is manipulating things for his own advantage. A trader, in the right circumstances, can give everyone a good deal, including himself. It's all a question of what's scarce in one place and plentiful in another."

The President nodded.

"The trader pays a good price for an item that's cheap there. He brings it here, where it's expensive, and sells it cut-rate. He takes our cheap surplus item in payment, because it is worth more elsewhere."

"Yes, sir."

The President leaned forward.

"But what have we got to offer?"

"I've been thinking about that, sir. Obviously, this free gift is to demonstrate his merchandise. He must be going to offer eventually to buy something from us. Well—what have we got?"

Everyone around the table, as if by some signal, sat up, to listen alertly.

The President said, "This is where we got stuck. What could we offer Diomak? Consider the access to raw materials that space travel must give to Diomak's people. For manufactured goods, consider Diomak's spaceship, and the techniques that implies. So far as intellect is concerned, consider the ease with which he learned our languages. For good measure, do you know that those pills evidently contain tiny 'seed-organisms' that are scarcely more than molecules—and yet, when absorbed through the walls of certain tissues, they build up structures that act almost as factories to turn out things like viruses, but the action of which reinforces certain bodily functions? These 'viruses' are useful. Then there is a mechanism apparently activated by limiting factors involving gravitation, inertia, and the Earth's magnetic field, and that deactivates the capsules. We still don't have that worked out. Now—consider a civilization that can do that—and then you tell me exactly what we can offer them."

Winters nodded. "Yes, sir. But"—he glanced around at the shrewd and knowledgeable eyes focused upon him—"with apologies to present company, sir—brains isn't everything."

"What do you mean?"

"It's the scarce item that's most highly valued. If gold lay around in chunks, but copper were scarce, which would be higher-priced? Since the human race is a—ah—a trifle short in brain power now and then, it follows that learning, degrees, and reputation for brains, get great credit. We assume that, with enough brains, everything else will follow. But suppose you have a place where brains are commonplace, and something else is in short supply? Then what?"

There was a stir in the room.

The President said, "What could they lack?"

Winters shook his head.

"All I can say is, it must be something we take more or less for granted, and don't appreciate the value of."

* * *

It was about two pill-deliveries later when Winters got another call:

"Diomak wants all the original delegates on board his ship. You have to be ready to go by five p.m."

* * *

This time, Diomak was not so cheerful. Some of his tentacles lay stretched out limp. Others were wrapped around his central "head." All his numerous eyes were either shut or half-shut. He had the look of an octopus on Monday, after a little overindulgence on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

When everyone was settled, Diomak made a visible effort to pull himself together.

"Wonderful, wonderful," he said dully. "We are all here, just like before. This time, we have a—a thrilling surprise. A wonderful—ah—heh—friend has come to make sure everything is the way it should be."

Winters glanced around.

Through a doorway across the room stepped an entity vaguely suggestive of a tall stork that had been dipped in India ink, dried off, and provided with a thing like an eight-sided attaché case, a pocket calculator, and a microphone.

Diomak shuddered.

"It is Gentle Corrector Vark, Himself."

Winters strained to get Gentle Corrector Vark in focus. Part of the trouble was that the Gentle Corrector's knees worked in reverse, the lower leg swinging up almost at a right angle on each step. Another problem was the long black bill, which appeared slightly flexible, showed no visible lengthwise opening, but had a great number of regularly spaced perforations. It suddenly dawned on Winters that this "bill" might be some form of filter or gas mask. Winters made a mental note of the possibility, then watched Vark raise the microphone.


A series of complex twanging noises made the air hum and vibrate.

Winters' ears hurt.

Diomak's voice trembled as he translated:

" 'I. Subject: Possible infringement of Regulation Z of the Office For Legal Regulation of the Correction and Controls Department of the Alien Consolidation Administration.'"

Winters leaned over to Diomak's ear membrane.

"Does Gentle Corrector Vark always talk in paragraph headings?"

"Always. They all do."


"They rule as a legal bureaucracy, and it is they who make and interpret the law. They always talk to us in regulations, for our convenience in obeying them."

A light was slowly beginning to dawn on Winters. It was almost blotted out as, across the room, Gentle Corrector Vark spoke again:

"Ssnarrr! Eeeyee—eeeyang—"

Winter's teeth buzzed. His hair tingled at the back of his neck. His eardrums vibrated to selected tones from auto accidents, fire alarms, untuned pianos, and mosquitoes passing overhead at midnight.

Diomak's voice quivered:

"Gentle Corrector Vark states:

" 'II. Classes of Possible Corrective Action

  " 'A. For Infringement

     " '1. Intentional

     " '2. Unintentional

     " '3. Indeterminate

  " 'B. For Non-Infringement

     " '1. With Prejudice

     " '2. Without Prejudice

     " '3. Indeterminate'"

"Gllll ... Snnarrrr!" said Gentle Corrector Vark, as the air hummed, shrieked, and twanged. "Yik—eeeeeyyokk—vakkkkhh!"

Diomak trembled all over.

  " 'C. Applicable Corrections

     " '1. Dismemberment

     " '2. Acid

        " '(a) Dip

        " '(b) Spray

     " '3. Tongs ...'"

There was a tap at Winters' shoulder

Lord Orban, tanned where he wasn't bandaged, growled, "Look there."

A column of more or less stork-like creatures was coming in through a rear door. Each carried a sort of large heavy bat.

Diomak was now translating the various ways in which tongs could be used for corrective purposes.

Winters leaned close to Diomak's ear membrane.

"What's this gang coming in the back door?"

The tip of Diomak's tentacle clutched Winters' ankle.

"Those are Corrective Healers!"

Winters took another look. They were adjusting their clubs as they came. Nozzles thrust out the ends of some. Steel claws slid out of others.

Diomak tremblingly started translating again:

" '... and all alien entities are hereby advised that constructive collusion in violation of Regulation Z requires immediate restitution of all items wrongfully appropriated, without exception.

" 'B. Failure to comply with "A" above, whether voluntary, involuntary, or indeterminate, will mandate application of one or more of the following Corrective Entitlements:

    " '1. Extermination

    " '2. Decimation

    " '3. Compulsory fratricide

    " '4. Exile

    " '5. Sterilization

    " '6. Other

" 'C. Appropriate entitlements shall be determined by the Gentle Correctorship. All decisions will be fine.

" 'D. Manner of—'"

Winters leaned over to Diomak's ear membrane and spoke urgently.

"What's Vark talking about now?

"He's saying you will have to return all the pills."

"What? We've already eaten most of them."

"Those, too."

"How do we accomplish that?"

"It is impossible, but you must do it anyway."


"The Gentle Corrector has spoken."

"Oh, I see. And just what was wrong with our accepting the pills in the first place?"

"Vark hasn't yet announced that anything was wrong. What he would be punishing you for would be obstructing the investigation."

"Because we don't cough up the pills?"

"Certainly. He has ordered you to do it. Not to obey is obstruction."

"Did you know this would happen?"

"I—er—there is no way to tell what they will do next. But they were extending their exploration in this direction, and I thought I should get here first."

Winters cast a glance over his shoulder at the Corrective Healers, who had split into two lines, and were marching along the walls of the room toward the front.

"Didn't you know Vark would tell us to give back the pills?"



"The Gentle Correctors have rules for everything, and the rules can all be interpreted in different ways. Only the Gentle Correctors can decide which way to interpret the rules."

"Well, that fits. And what's a Corrective Healer?"

"One who specializes in quick cures for mental confusion. He is a Pain Expert."

At the head of the room, the Gentle Corrector twanged and buzzed. From the side walls of the big room, the Corrective Healers closed in with tongs, claws, nozzles, and electrodes.

Winters growled, "What's this long cone-shaped thing they all wear on their heads?"

"That is their air-filter. There is little dust or smoke on their home planet, and their air passages are extremely sensitive. As there are many impurities in the air here, they are wearing filters."

Winters snarled, "Tell the other Earth delegates about the filters." A Corrective Healer was coming straight for him, bat outstretched. At this distance, Winters could hear as well as see the snappy spark jumping between the bat's electrodes.

In front of Winters, Malik leaned over to listen to Diomak—then twisted around to observe a Corrective Healer coming at him with outstretched nozzle.

Winters jerked his foot free of Diomak's clinging tentacle, and dove for the nearest set of long slender legs. As he slammed the creature to the floor, Winters got a grip on the air filter and yanked. The cone, which felt like some kind of stiff rubberized fabric, came partly loose.

There was a mind-stopping screech, a gagging, then a sneeze that seemed to jar the room. Then Winters' opponent took a swing. The bat grazed Winters, and the effect was like walking into an electric fence. Winters got a fresh grip, yanked the filter completely loose, and as the creature doubled up in a sneeze, Winters got the bat. He turned it around and tried it on the Corrective Healer, who made a noise like a piano with all the keys hit at once, took a flying jump, collapsed in a heap, then lifted up in a heavier sneeze.

Winters glanced around at his colleagues.

Lord Orban was straightening over an inert heap on the floor. Malik was bent over using the baton like a hammer. Madame Kuo was grappling with a Corrective Healer equipped with a set of steel claws. Winters politely stepped over, yanked the "Healer's" filter loose, and threw him headfirst into the wall.

At the front of the room, Gentle Corrector Vark, eyes wide, hands spread on the bulkhead behind him, had stopped talking.

Diomak was flushing various shades of pink and blue. Winters bent close to make himself heard above the sneezes and screams.

"Vark," said Winters, "doesn't look happy."

"This is unthinkable to him! Only Vark's people are allowed to use force! It is their law!"

"And just how do they enforce that?"

"With hideous threats and tortures!"

"Why let them?"

"They use force!"

Winters frowned.

"Do they have many spaceships?"


"How many warships?"

"Almost a dozen."

"Are these to fight other spaceships, or to bombard planets, or what?"

"They have some of each—those to destroy spaceships and those to bombard planets."

Winters said uneasily, "How long will it take them to get a warship of either kind here?"

"They could have one here in less than a decade."

Winters blinked. "Ten years?"

"Yes. They are almost as fast as light, but we are far from the center."

"I see." Winters straightened. Around the room, the screams were dying down, but the sneezes continued. He said, "Are such ships hard to build?"

"Not," said Diomak, "once you have the engine designs and the proper alloys—both of which I can offer."

"How long do they take to build?"

"Several of your planet's years—when you have the designs."

The great light finished dawning on Winters.

"I see. And what is it you want from us?"

Diomak explained.

At the end, Winters said soberly, "We'll see. That is usually an expensive proposition."

* * *

As Winters, back on Earth, reported what had happened, everyone listened intently.

The President said, "What is it he wants?"

"He wants us to free his home planet. And from what he says, and from what we wrung out of Vark and his crew, we evidently could do it."

"And in return—?"

"In return, he offers us his race's complete technology."

A murmur went around the table. The room filled with smiles. There were even a few administrators to be seen briskly rubbing their hands.

The President said, "So that's what he wants?"

"Yes, sir. A little of Vark goes a long way."

"But this still doesn't make sense! Are Vark and the rest of these overseers ahead of Diomak's people technologically?"

"Diomak said—and Vark didn't dispute it—that his race is ahead of Vark's race. Vark's race is the governing race—that's their specialty."

The President frowned.

"Are they more numerous?"

"No, sir."

"Then—why look for somebody else to do the job? That is what Diomak was doing here, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well—Diomak's people have the technology, they've got the numbers, and they've got the brains. What can anyone else possibly offer that they haven't got already?"

Winters shook his head moodily.

"They've apparently lost or mislaid something."


"Well, sir, we've been lacking in technology, so we rate it above other things. But there's a lack that's worse yet."

The President said impatiently, "What is it?"

Winters shook his head.

"Winston Churchill said it, sir—but I don't remember the exact wording."

"Never mind that. Let's have it."

Winters cleared his throat, and around the crowded table they leaned forward.

Winters repeated slowly:

"Of all the virtues, the father of the others is courage."

The President straightened.

"They're afraid?"

Winters nodded. "And the result sure shows that brains and technology aren't a cure-all. They got stuck with Vark's kind several generations ago, and ever since they've been looking for a way to get rid of them. They've got the technology, they've got the numbers, and they've got the brains, but—"

The President smiled.

"But they aren't belligerent enough."

"No, sir," said Winters, suddenly smiling himself. "But they are good traders. They kept hunting—till they found a place with an oversupply of exactly what they need."

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