"Unless he had a pretty effective defense," the psychiatrist finished unhappily.
Cercy walked across the room and looked at the video panel. The Ambassador's suite was very special. It had been hurriedly constructed two days after he had landed and delivered his message. The suite was steel and lead lined, filled with video and movie cameras, recorders, and a variety of other things.
It was the last word in elaborate death cells.
In the screen, Cercy could see the Ambassador sitting at a table. He was typing on a little portable the Government had given him.
"Hey, Harrison!" Cercy called. "Might as well go ahead with Plan Two."
Harrison came out of a side room where he had been examining the circuits leading to the Ambassador's suite. Methodically he checked his pressure gauges, set the controls and looked at Cercy. "Now?" he asked.
"Now." Cercy watched the screen. The Ambassador was still typing.
Suddenly, as Harrison sent home the switch, the room was engulfed in flames. Fire blasted out of concealed holes in the walls, poured from the ceiling and floor.
In a moment, the room was like the inside of a blast furnace.
Cercy let it burn for two minutes, then motioned Harrison to cut the switch. They stared at the roasted room.
They were looking, hopefully, for a charred corpse.
But the Ambassador reappeared beside his desk, looking ruefully at the charred typewriter. He was completely unsinged.
"Could you get me another typewriter?" he asked, looking directly at one of the hidden projectors. "I'm setting down a philosophy for you ungrateful wretches."
He seated himself in the wreckage of an armchair. In a moment, he was apparently asleep.
"All right, everyone grab a seat," Cercy said. "Time for a council of war."
Malley straddled a chair backward. Harrison lighted a pipe as he sat down, slowly puffing it into life.
"Now, then," Cercy said. "The Government has dropped this squarely in our laps. We have to kill the Ambassador--obviously. I've been put in charge." Cercy grinned with regret. "Probably because no one higher up wants the responsibility of failure. And I've selected you three as my staff. We can have anything we want, any assistance or advice we need. All right. Any ideas?"
"How about Plan Three?" Harrison asked.
"We'll get to that," Cercy said. "But I don't believe it's going to work."
"I don't either," Darrig agreed. "We don't even know the nature of his defense."
"That's the first order of business. Malley, take all our data so far, and get someone to feed it into the Derichman Analyzer. You know the stuff we want. What properties has X, if X can do thus and thus?"
"Right," Malley said. He left, muttering something about the ascendancy of the physical sciences.
"Harrison," Cercy asked, "is Plan Three set up?"
"Give it a try."
While Harrison was making his last adjustments, Cercy watched Darrig. The plump little physicist was staring thoughtfully into space, muttering to himself. Cercy hoped he would come up with something. He was expecting great things of Darrig.
Knowing the impossibility of working with great numbers of people, Cercy had picked his staff with care. Quality was what he wanted.
With that in mind, he had chosen Harrison first. The stocky, sour-faced engineer had a reputation for being able to build anything, given half an idea of how it worked.
Cercy had selected Malley, the psychiatrist, because he wasn't sure that killing the Ambassador was going to be a purely physical problem.
Darrig was a mathematical physicist, but his restless, curious mind had come up with some interesting theories in other fields. He was the only one of the four who was really interested in the Ambassador as an intellectual problem.
"He's like Metal Old Man," Darrig said finally.
"Haven't you ever heard the story of Metal Old Man? Well, he was a monster covered with black metal armor. He was met by Monster-Slayer, an Apache culture hero. Monster-Slayer, after many attempts, finally killed Metal Old Man."
"How did he do it?"
"Shot him in the armpit. He didn't have any armor there."
"Fine," Cercy grinned. "Ask our Ambassador to raise his arm."
"All set!" Harrison called.
In the Ambassador's room, an invisible spray of gamma rays silently began to flood the room with deadly radiation.
But there was no Ambassador to receive them.
"That's enough," Cercy said, after a while. "That would kill a herd of elephants."
But the Ambassador stayed invisible for five hours, until some of the radioactivity had abated. Then he appeared again.
"I'm still waiting for that typewriter," he said.
"Here's the Analyzer's report." Malley handed Cercy a sheaf of papers. "This is the final formulation, boiled down."
Cercy read it aloud: "The simplest defense against any and all weapons, is to become each particular weapon."
"Great," Harrison said. "What does it mean?"
"It means," Darrig explained, "that when we attack the Ambassador with fire, he turns into fire. Shoot at him, and he turns into a bullet--until the menace is gone, and then he changes back again." He took the papers out of Cercy's hand and riffled through them.
"Hmm. Wonder if there's any historical parallel? Don't suppose so." He raised his head. "Although this isn't conclusive, it seems logical enough. Any other defense would involve recognition of the weapon first, then an appraisal, then a countermove predicated on the potentialities of the weapon. The Ambassador's defense would be a lot faster and safer. He wouldn't have to recognize the weapon. I suppose his body simply identifies, in some way, with the menace at hand."
"Did the Analyzer say there was any way of breaking this defense?" Cercy asked.
"The Analyzer stated definitely that there was no way, if the premise were true," Malley answered gloomily.
"We can discard that judgment," Darrig said. "The machine is limited."
"But we still haven't got any way of stopping him," Malley pointed out. "And he's still broadcasting that beam."
Cercy thought for a moment. "Call in every expert you can find. We're going to throw the book at the Ambassador. I know," he said, looking at Darrig's dubious expression, "but we have to try."
During the next few days, every combination and permutation of death was thrown at the Ambassador. He was showered with weapons, ranging from Stone-Age axes to modern high-powered rifles, peppered with hand grenades, drowned in acid, suffocated in poison gas.
He kept shrugging his shoulders philosophically, and continued to work on the new typewriter they had given him.
Bacteria was piped in, first the known germ diseases, then mutated species.
The diplomat didn't even sneeze.
He was showered with electricity, radiation, wooden weapons, iron weapons, copper weapons, brass weapons, uranium weapons--anything and everything, just to cover all possibilities.
He didn't suffer a scratch, but his room looked as though a bar-room brawl had been going on in it continually for fifty years.
Malley was working on an idea of his own, as was Darrig. The physicist interrupted himself long enough to remind Cercy of the Baldur myth. Baldur had been showered with every kind of weapon and remained unscathed, because everything on Earth had promised to love him. Everything, except the mistletoe. When a little twig of it was shot at him, he died.
Cercy turned away impatiently, but had an order of mistletoe sent up, just in case.
It was, at least, no less effective than the explosive shells or the bow and arrow. It did nothing except lend an oddly festive air to the battered room.
After a week of this, they moved the unprotesting Ambassador into a newer, bigger, stronger death cell. They were unable to venture into his old one because of the radioactivity and micro-organisms.
The Ambassador went back to work at his typewriter. All his previous attempts had been burned, torn or eaten away.
"Let's go talk to him," Darrig suggested, after another day had passed. Cercy agreed. For the moment, they were out of ideas.
"Come right in, gentlemen," the Ambassador said, so cheerfully that Cercy felt sick. "I'm sorry I can't offer you anything. Through an oversight, I haven't been given any food or water for about ten days. Not that it matters, of course."
"Glad to hear it," Cercy said. The Ambassador hardly looked as if he had been facing all the violence Earth had to offer. On the contrary, Cercy and his men looked as though they had been under bombardment.
"You've got quite a defense there," Malley said conversationally.
"Glad you like it."
"Would you mind telling us how it works?" Darrig asked innocently.
"Don't you know?"
"We think so. You become what is attacking you. Is that right?"
"Certainly," the Ambassador said. "You see, I have no secrets from you."
"Is there anything we can give you," Cercy asked, "to get you to turn off that signal?"
"Sure," Cercy said. "Anything you--?"
"Nothing," the Ambassador replied.
"Look, be reasonable," Harrison said. "You don't want to cause a war, do you? Earth is united now. We're arming--"
"Atom bombs," Malley answered him. "Hydrogen bombs. We're--"
"Drop one on me," the Ambassador said. "It wouldn't kill me. What makes you think it will have any effect on my people?"
The four men were silent. Somehow, they hadn't thought of that.
"A people's ability to make war," the Ambassador stated, "is a measure of the status of their civilization. Stage one is the use of simple physical extensions. Stage two is control at the molecular level. You are on the threshold of stage three, although still far from mastery of atomic and subatomic forces." He smiled ingratiatingly. "My people are reaching the limits of stage five."
"What would that be?" Darrig asked.
"You'll find out," the Ambassador said. "But perhaps you've wondered if my powers are typical? I don't mind telling you that they're not. In order for me to do my job and nothing more, I have certain built-in restrictions, making me capable only of passive action."
"Why?" Darrig asked.
"For obvious reasons. If I were to take positive action in a moment of anger, I might destroy your entire planet."
"Do you expect us to believe that?" Cercy asked.
"Why not? Is it so hard to understand? Can't you believe that there are forces you know nothing about? And there is another reason for my passiveness. Certainly by this time you've deduced it?"
"To break our spirit, I suppose," Cercy said.
"Exactly. My telling you won't make any difference, either. The pattern is always the same. An Ambassador lands and delivers his message to a high-spirited, wild young race like yours. There is frenzied resistance against him, spasmodic attempts to kill him. After all these fail, the people are usually quite crestfallen. When the colonization team arrives, their indoctrination goes along just that much faster." He paused, then said, "Most planets are more interested in the philosophy I have to offer. I assure you, it will make the transition far easier."
He held out a sheaf of typewritten pages. "Won't you at least look through it?"
Darrig accepted the papers and put them in his pocket. "When I get time."
"I suggest you give it a try," the Ambassador said. "You must be near the crisis point now. Why not give it up?"