"Was that not a trifle rash?" demanded Hennings.
"Intelligence is inclined to think not, sir. The ships were armed only with weapons listed as general knowledge items. The crews were not only trained in prisoner-of-war tactics, but also well supplied with small luxuries. The Polluxian fleet in that system is known to have been in space for several months, so a friendly effect is anticipated."
Hennings considered the condensed report proffered for his perusal. He noted that the Polluxians had been quite gentlemanly about notifying Ursan headquarters of the capture and of the complete lack of casualties. He also saw that while the message was ostensibly directed to the Federation flagship, it had been beamed in such fashion as to be conveniently intercepted at the secret Ursan Federation headquarters on Agohki VII.
"That was a bit rude of them," he commented. "We have never dragged their secrets into the open."
"On the other hand, sir," the commodore suggested, "it may be an almost sophisticated method of permitting us to enjoy our superior finesse."
"I am just as pleased to have the reminder," said Hennings. "It will serve to alert us all the more when we sit down with them over there."
An elegant civilian, a large man with patient, drooping features, stated that nothing had occurred to change the economic situation. Another reported that unofficial channels of information were holding up as well as could be expected. A uniformed officer summarized the battle situation in two more star systems.
"Those are positions we actually desire to hold, are they not?" Hennings asked. "Is action to be taken there?"
"Plans call for local civilian riots at the height of the conference, sir."
"But ... can we lay no groundwork sooner than that? Sometime in the foreseeable future, at least! Take it up with Propaganda, Blauvelt! It seems to me that the briefing mentioned an indigenous race on one of these planets--"
Blauvelt dropped his eyes momentarily, equivalent in that gathering to a blush of intense embarrassment. Hennings coughed apologetically.
"Well, now, I should not pry into arrangements I must later be able to deny convincingly with a clear conscience. I can only plead, my dear Blauvelt, the tenseness of the past several days."
The officer murmured inaudibly, fumbled with his papers, and edged to the rear rank. Someone, at Commodore Miller's fluttering, obtained a vacuum jug of ice water and a glass for the marshal, but Hennings chose instead to produce a long cigar from a pocket concealed beneath his resplendent collection of medals.
"My apologies to all of you," he said thoughtfully. "I fear that any of you who may expect contact with the local population had better see Dr. Ibn Talal about the hypnosis necessary to counteract my little indiscretion. And now--what remains?"
"Nothing but the prisoner exchange, sir," Commodore Miller announced after collecting the eyes of the principal officers.
Hennings got his cigar going. He listened to confirmation of a previous report that a massive exchange of "sick and wounded" prisoners had been accomplished, and learned that the Ursans now suspected that they had accepted unknowingly about as many secret agents as they had sent the Polluxians.
"Oh, well!" he sighed. "As long as the amenities were preserved! We must be as friendly as possible about that sort of thing, or run the risk of antagonizing them."
Seeing that the commodore was tense with impatience, the marshal rose to his feet. An aide deftly received the cigar for disposal, and the party drifted expectantly toward the balcony doors.
From among that part of the staff which would remain to man headquarters, an officer was dispatched to alert the Polluxian honor guard.
One more touch before the die is cast, thought the marshal, as two young officers opened the balcony doors to admit the blare of trumpets.
Cheers rolled successively across the square, rising like distant waves from somewhere beneath the gigantic banner that draped the capitol opposite with fiery letters spelling out "PEACE CONFERENCE."
With a dramatic gesture, Hennings held up the sheaf of reports they had just reviewed. Smiles disappeared in response to his own serious mien.
"So much for the hostilities!" he snapped. He tossed the reports to the officer who would remain in charge. "Now for the actual war!"
Pivoting on his heel, he led them smartly out to the ornate balcony stairway that curved down into the sea of cheering Polluxians.
MASTER OF NONE.
BY NEIL GOBLE.
The advantages of specialization are so obvious that, today, we don't even know how to recognize a competent syncretist!
Freddy the Fish glanced at the folded newspaper beside him on the bench. A little one-column headline caught his eye: MYSTERIOUS SIGNALS FROM OUTER SPACE.
"Probably from Cygnus," he said.
Freddy mashed a peanut, popped the meat into his mouth, and tossed the shell to the curb in front of his bench. He munched and idly watched two sparrows arguing over the discarded delicacy; the victor flitted to the head of a statue, let go a triumphant dropping onto the marble nose, and hopped to a nearby branch.
"Serves him right," Freddy said. He yawned and rubbed the stubble on his chin. Not yet long enough for scissors, he decided. He pulled his feet up on the bench, twisting in an effort to get comfortable. The sun was in his eyes, so he reclaimed the discarded newspaper and spread it over his face. His eyes momentarily focused on MYSTERIOUS SIGNALS FROM OUTER SPACE, right over his nose.
"Sure, Cygnus," he muttered, and closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep.
When he was awakened, it was by an excited hand shaking his shoulder and a panting, "Freddy! Freddy! Lookit the Extra just came out!"
Freddy slowly sat up, ascertained the identity of the intruder and the fact that the sun was setting, and said, "Good evening, Willy. Please stop rattling that paper in my face."
"But just read it, Freddy," Willy shrieked, waving the paper so frantically that Freddy couldn't make out the big black headline. "'Positive contact from another planet,' the guy was yellin'. They put out an Extra so I snitched one from the boy. Read it to me, huh, Freddy? I'm dyin' o' curious."
"So give it here and I'll read it for you. Quit shakin' it or you'll tear it all up," Freddy snorted.
"Read it to me, huh, Freddy," Willy said, handing over the paper. "I don't know no one else that reads so good."
Freddy studied the headline and the first paragraph silently, then whistled lightly and lowered the paper.
"Y'know, Willy," he said, "the last thing I read before I dropped off a while ago was about these signals. But the funny thing is, I'd just assumed they were from Cygnus."
"What's a Cygnus, Freddy?" Willy asked, still pop-eyed. "A smoke? A dame? Or you mean like from Hunger?"
"Cygnus, my boy," Freddy explained patronizingly, "is a constellation within which there are two colliding galaxies. These colliding galaxies produce the most powerful electromagnetic radiations in the universe--an undecillion watts!"
"What's an undecillion?"
"An undecillion is ten raised to the 36th power," Freddy sighed, fearing that he wasn't getting through to Willy.
"No foolin'? What's a watt ... aw, you're pullin' my leg again, Freddy, talkin' riddles. Where'd ya ever learn to talk that way anyhow!"
"Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma. Picked up a little here, a little there," Freddy said, reflecting on his indiscriminate past.
"Aw, cut it out, Freddy! C'mon, read it to me. Betcha can't! Where'd ya say it was from? Cygnus?"
"Not Cygnus. Ganymede." Freddy cleared his throat and rattled the newspaper authoritatively. "Washington: White House sources declared today that intelligent beings on a Jupiter moon have contacted the United States government. While the contents of the message have been made secret, the White House emphasized the message was friendly."
Freddy continued, "The signals, which were intercepted yesterday, were decoded this morning by a team of government scientists and cryptographers who had been at the task all night. While officials were noncommittal about the nature of the message contained in the signals, they declared, 'We are authorized to state that the received message was friendly and appears to represent a sincere attempt by another race of intelligent beings to contact the people of Earth. A reply message is being formulated.' Officials further explained that the possibility of the signal's being a hoax has been thoroughly investigated and that there is no doubt whatsoever that the message is a genuine interspatial communication from intelligent beings on Ganymede. Ganymede is one of twelve moons of the planet Jupiter, and is larger than the planet Mercury."
"Ain't there any more?" Willy whined.
"The rest of it is about how far away Ganymede is, and its relative density and mass and stuff. You wouldn't be interested, Willy."
"Oh. I guess not." Willy helped himself to a peanut. "What's it mean, Freddy?"
"Nothing much, Willy. Just that there's people somewhere besides here on Earth, and they called us on the phone."
"Whadd'ya know about that!" Willy gasped. "I didn't even know they was other people!" He stared with disbelief at the paper.
"I don't suppose anyone knew."
"How d'ya suppose they knew?" Willy asked. "I mean, that we was here, if we didn't know they was there?"
"I've been wondering about that, Willy. You know that last rocket we shot?"
"From Cape Carnival you mean?"
"Yeh. It was supposed to go into orbit around Jupiter. I wouldn't be surprised if maybe it didn't land on Ganymede; the people there could have examined it, figured out where it came from, and then radioed us on the same frequency the rocket transmitter used. Paper doesn't say that, of course, but it's a reasonable hypothesis."
"Freddy, I think you must be a genius or sumpin'."
Freddy smiled and stretched out to sleep again as Willy wandered off, staring blankly at the newspaper.
Carlton Jones, America's Number One personnel specialist, scowled at the pamphlet on his desk.
SECRET, it said in big red letters across the top and bottom. Special Instructions for Operation Space Case, said the smaller letters across the middle of the top sheet.
"Now I ask you, Dwindle," Jones said to his clerkish aide, "where, in this worldful of specialists, am I going to find someone with a well-rounded education? Much less one who'll take a chance on a flier like this?"
"Gosh, Mr. Jones, I just wouldn't know," Dwindle blinked. "Have you tried looking through your files?"
"Have I tried looking through my files," Jones sighed, looking at the ceiling light. "Dwindle, my files include every gainfully employed person in the United States of America and its possessions. Millions of them. One doesn't just browse through the files looking for things."
"Oh," Dwindle said. "I'm kinda new at this specialty," he explained.
"Yes, Dwindle. However," Jones continued, "one does make IBM runouts to find things."
"Hey, that's great!" Dwindle said, brightening. "Why don't you try making an IBM runout?"
"I did, Dwindle. Please let me finish? Our instructions call for finding a person with a well-rounded education. More specifically, a person who is capable of intelligently discussing and explaining some two dozen major 'fields of knowledge.' Plus, of course, at least a passing acquaintance with some one or two hundred minor fields of knowledge.
"So I set Mathematics into the IBM sorter. Mathematics is one of the major fields of knowledge, you see."
"Yeh," Dwindle acknowledged.
"So I took the few million mathematicians' cards which I got--good mathematicians and bad mathematicians, but at least people who can get their decimals in the right place. I set the IBM sorter for Biology, and ran the mathematicians' cards through. So I got several thousand mathematician-biologists."
"That's pretty sharp!" Dwindle exclaimed with a twinkle. "Whoever thought of that!"
"Please, Dwindle," Jones moaned, pressing his palms to his eyes. "Next I sorted according to Geology. Three hundred cards came through. Three hundred people in America who know their math, biology and geology!"
"That doesn't sound like so many to me," Dwindle said hesitantly, as if wondering what there was to get so excited about.
"And of those three hundred, do you know how many understand, even vaguely, Electronics? Twelve. And of those twelve, guess how many have an adequate background in History and Anthropology? Much less an understanding of eighteen other fields?"
"Not very many, I'll bet," Dwindle replied smartly.
"None! Not even one! I tried running the cards through in every order imaginable. We've bred a race of specialists and there's not a truly educated man among us!"
"Say, you know what I bet? Even if you did find a guy who's like what all you said ..."
"Go ahead, Dwindle."
"... I bet he wouldn't even go up there to Ganymede. I sure wouldn't! I'd be scared to death," Dwindle chattered, waving his finger. "How's he gonna get back, even if he gets there O.K.? Couldn't anyone fool me with a bunch of pretty talk; I know the government doesn't have a rocket that could take off again after it got there. Gotta have launching pads and computers and all that stuff. Government ever think about that?"
Jones held his head in anguish. "Dwindle, why don't you be a good boy and run along to the snack bar for a coffee break? And bring me some aspirin when you come back."
Freddy the Fish, Willy and Oscar Fronk were occupying the same bench, a comradeship made necessary by the overpopulation of the park on such a glorious day. Oscar was surveying the passing girls and scouting for worthwhile cigarette stubs. Willy was admiring a hovering beetle's power of flight, and Freddy was reading a discarded copy of Scientific American.
The beetle landed on Willy's sleeve and promptly located a gaping tear in the fabric, through which bare arm showed. Willy raised his other hand menacingly.
"Don't," Freddy barked, causing Willy to jump with enough force to dislodge the beetle.
"Aw, Freddy," Willy whined, "why dintcha lemme kill it? What good's a stupid bug?"
"That would have been a rather unfortunate kill, Willy, by your bare hand on your bare arm. You must learn to be cognizant of our insect friends and insect enemies."
"So what's he, poison or sumpin'?"
"Unpleasant, at least," Freddy said. "That was a blister beetle; smash it on your arm and you'll grow a nice welt. A member of the Meloidae family."