“You wanted me, Captain?” he said. “What’s this thing?”
“This is a wub,” Franco said. “It’s to be eaten. Will you measure it and figure out –”
“I think we should have a talk,” the wub said. “I’d like to discuss this with you, Captain, if I might. I can see that you and I do not agree on some basic issues.”
The Captain took a long time to answer. The wub waited good-naturedly, licking the water from its jowls.
“Come into my office,” the Captain said at last. He turned and walked out of the room. The wub rose and padded after him. The men watched it go out. They heard it climbing the stairs.
“I wonder what the outcome will be,” the cook said. “Well, I’ll be in the kitchen. Let me know as soon as you hear.”
“Sure,” Jones said. “Sure.”
The wub eased itself down in the corner with a sigh. “You must forgive me,” it said. “I’m afraid I’m addicted to various forms of relaxation. When one is as large as I –”
The Captain nodded impatiently. He sat down at his desk and folded his hands.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s get started. You’re a wub? Is that correct?”
The wub shrugged. “I suppose so. That’s what they call us, the natives, I mean. We have our own term.”
“And you speak English? You’ve been in contact with Earthmen before?”
“Then how do you do it?”
“Speak English? Am I speaking English? I’m not conscious of speaking anything in particular. I examined your mind –”
“I studied the contents, especially the semantic warehouse, as I refer to it –”
“I see,” the Captain said. “Telepathy. Of course.”
“We are a very old race,” the wub said. “Very old and very ponderous. It is difficult for us to move around. You can appreciate anything so slow and heavy would be at the mercy of more agile forms of life. There was no use in our relying on physical defenses. How could we win? Too heavy to run, too soft to fight, too good-natured to hunt for game –”
“How do you live?”
“Plants. Vegetables. We can eat almost anything. We’re very catholic. Tolerant, eclectic, catholic. We live and let live. That’s how we’ve gotten along.”
The wub eyed the Captain.
“And that’s why I so violently objected to this business about having me boiled. I could see the image in your mind — most of me in the frozen food locker, some of me in the kettle, a bit for your pet cat –”
“So you read minds?” the Captain said. “How interesting. Anything else? I mean, what else can you do along those lines?”
“A few odds and ends,” the wub said absently, staring around the room. “A nice apartment you have here, Captain. You keep it quite neat. I respect life-forms that are tidy. Some Martian birds are quite tidy. They throw things out of their nests and sweep them –”
“Indeed.” The Captain nodded. “But to get back to the problem. . .”
“Quite so. You spoke of dining on me. The taste, I am told, is good. A little fatty, but tender. But how can any lasting contact be established between your people and mine if you resort to such barbaric attitudes? Eat me? Rather you should discuss questions with me, philosophy, the arts –”
The Captain stood up. “Philosophy. It might interest you to know that we will be hard put to find something to eat for the next month. An unfortunate spoilage –”
“I know.” The wub nodded. “But wouldn’t it be more in accord with your principles of democracy if we all drew straws, or something along that line? After all, democracy is to protect the minority from just such infringements. Now, if each of us casts one vote –”
The Captain walked to the door.
“Nuts to you,” he said. He opened the door. He opened his mouth.
He stood frozen, his mouth wide, his eyes staring, his fingers still on the knob.
The wub watched him. Presently it padded out of the room, edging past the Captain. It went down the hall, deep in meditation.
The room was quiet.
“So you see,” the wub said, “we have a common myth. Your mind contains many familiar myth symbols. Ishtar, Odysseus –”
Peterson sat silently, staring at the floor. He shifted in his chair.
“Go on,” he said. “Please go on.”
“I find in your Odysseus a figure common to the mythology of most self-conscious races. As I interpret it, Odysseus wanders as an individual aware of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation.”
“But Odysseus returns to his home.” Peterson looked out the port window, at the stars, endless stars, burning intently in the empty universe. “Finally he goes home.”
“As must all creatures. The moment of separation is a temporary period, a brief journey of the soul. It begins, it ends. The wanderer returns to land and race. . . .”
The door opened. The wub stopped, turning its great head. Captain Franco came into the room, the men behind him. They hesitated at the door.
“Are you all right?” French said.
“Do you mean me?” Peterson said, surprised. “Why me?”
Franco lowered his gun. “Come over here,” he said to Peterson. “Get up and come here.”
There was silence.
“Go ahead,” the wub said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Peterson stood up. “What for?”
“It’s an order.”
Peterson walked to the door. French caught his arm.
“What’s going on?” Peterson wrenched loose. “What’s the matter with you?”
Captain Franco moved toward the wub. The wub looked up from where it lay in the corner, pressed against the wall.
“It is interesting,” the wub said, “that you are obsessed with the idea of eating me. I wonder why.”
“Get up,” Franco said.
“If you wish.” The wub rose, grunting. “Be patient. It is difficult for me.” It stood, gasping, its tongue lolling foolishly.
“Shoot it now,” French said.
“For God’s sake!” Peterson exclaimed. Jones turned to him quickly, his eyes gray with fear.
“You didn’t see him — like a statue, standing there, his mouth open. If we hadn’t come down, he’d still be there.”
“Who? The Captain?” Peterson stared around. “But he’s all right now.”
They looked at the wub, standing in the middle of the room, its great chest rising and falling.
“Come on,” Franco said. “Out of the way.”
The men pulled aside toward the door.
“You are quite afraid, aren’t you?” the wub said. “Have I done anything to you? I am against the idea of hurting. All I have done is try to protect myself. Can you expect me to rush eagerly to my death? I am a sensible being like yourselves. I was curious to see your ship, learn about you. I suggested to the native –”
The gun jerked.
“See,” Franco said. “I thought so.”
The wub settled down, panting. It put its paws out, pulling its tail around it.
“It is very warm,” the wub said. “I understand that we are close to the jets. Atomic power. You have done many wonderful things with it — technically. Apparently your scientific hierarchy is not equipped to solve moral, ethical –”
Franco turned to the men, crowding behind him, wide-eyed, silent.
“I’ll do it. You can watch.”
French nodded. “Try to hit the brain. It’s no good for eating. Don’t hit the chest. If the rib cage shatters, we’ll have to pick bones out.”
“Listen,” Peterson said, licking his lips. “Has it done anything? What harm has it done? I’m asking you. And anyhow, it’s still mine. You have no right to shoot it. It doesn’t belong to you.”
Franco raised his gun.
“I’m going out,” Jones said, his face white and sick. “I don’t want to see it.”
“Me, too,” French said. The men straggled out, murmuring. Peterson lingered at the door.
“It was talking to me about myths,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
He went outside.
Franco walked toward the wub. The wub looked up slowly. It swallowed.
“A very foolish thing,” it said. “I am sorry that you want to do it. There was a parable that your Saviour related –”
It stopped, staring at the gun.
“Can you look me in the eye and do it?” the wub said. “Can you do that?”
The Captain gazed down. “I can look you in the eye,” he said. “Back on the farm we had hogs, dirty razorback hogs. I can do it.”
Staring down at the wub, into the gleaming, moist eyes, he pressed the trigger.
The taste was excellent.
They sat glumly around the table, some of them hardly eating at all. The only one who seemed to be enjoying himself was Captain Franco.
“More?” he said, looking around. “More? And some wine, perhaps.”
“Not me,” French said. “I think I’ll go back to the chart room.”
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