"Because of this disparity your maturity as a race is much in doubt. There are many among the cultures of the stars who would consider your race deviant and deadly. There are a very few who would welcome you to the reaches of space.
"But most desire more information. Thus our visit. We have come to gather data that will determine your--disposition-- "Your race accepts the principle of extermination. You relentlessly seek and kill for commercial or political advantage. You live in mistrust and envy and threat. Yet, as earthlings, you have power. It is not great, but it contains a threat. We wish now to know the extent of that threat.
"Here is the test."
Suddenly an image resolved itself on the gleaming metal of the ship itself.
It was a blueprint.
A hundred cameras focused on it.
"Construct this. It is defective. Correct that which renders it not useful. We shall return in three days for your solution."
"Good God!" exclaimed Harrison. "It's a--sword!"
"A what?" asked Mills.
"A sword--people used to chop each other's heads off with them."
Almost at once the metal giant was seen to move. Quickly it retraced its path across the apron, remained poised on the center of the runway, then disappeared almost instantaneously.
The Intersolar Council weathered the storm. The representative of the colony on Venus was recalled, his political life temporarily ended. A vigilante committee did for a time picket the spaceport. But the tremendous emotional outbursts of the first day gradually gave way to a semblance of order.
Video speakers, some of them with huge followings, still denounced the ISC for permitting the alien to land in the first place. Others clamored for a fleet to pursue the arrogant visitor. And there were many fools who chose to ignore the implications of the strange speech and its implied threat. Some even thought it was a gigantic hoax.
But most men soon came to restore their trust in the scientists of the Intersolar Council.
Harrison cast down the long sheet of morning news that had rolled out of the machine.
"The fools! They'll play politics right up to the last, won't they?"
"What else?" asked Mills. "Playing politics is as good a way as any of avoiding what you can't figure out or solve."
"And yet, what the hell are we doing here?" Harrison mused. "Listen to this."
He picked up a stapled sheaf of papers from his desk.
"'Analysis of word usage indicates a complete knowledge of the English language'--that's brilliant, isn't it? 'The ideational content and general semantic tone of the alien speech indicates a relatively high intelligence.
"'Usage is current, precise....' Bob, the man who wrote that report is one of the finest semantics experts in the solar system. He's the brain that finally broke that ancient Martian ceremonial language they found on the columns."
"Well, mastermind," said Mills. "What will the Engineering report say when you get around to writing it?"
"Engineering report? What are you talking about?"
"You didn't read the memo on your desk then? The one that requested a preliminary report from every department by 2200 today."
"Good God, no," said Harrison snapping up the thin yellow sheet. "What in hell has a sword got to do with Engineering?"
"What's it got to do with Semantics?" mocked Robert Mills.
Construct this. It is defective. Correct that which renders it not useful.
Harrison's eyes burned. He would have to quit pretty soon and dictate the report. There wasn't any use in trying to go beyond a certain point. You got so damned tired you couldn't think straight. You might as well go to bed and rest. Bob Mills had gone long before.
He poured over the blueprint again, striving to concentrate. Why in hell had he not given up altogether? What possible contribution could an engineer make toward the solution of such a problem?
You simply made the thing according to a simple blueprint. You tried out what you got, found out what it was good for, found out then what was keeping it from doing that. You fixed it.
Well, the sword had been constructed. Fantastic effort had been directed into producing a perfect model of the print. Every minute convolution had been followed to an incredible point of perfection. Harrison was willing to bet there was less than a ten thousandths error--even in the handle, where the curves seemed to be more artistic than mechanical.
It is defective.
What was defective about it? Nobody had actually tried the ancient weapon, it was true. You didn't go around chopping people's heads off. But experts on such things had examined the twelve-pound blade and had pronounced it "well balanced"--whatever that meant. It would crack a skull, sever arteries, kill or maim.
What was there to correct? Could you make it maim or kill better? Could you sharpen it so that it would go through thick clothing or fur? Yes. Could you make it a bit heavier so that it might slice a metal shield? Yes, perhaps. All of these things had been half-heartedly suggested. But nobody had yet proposed any kind of qualitative change or been able to suggest any kind of change that would meet the next admonition of the alien: Correct that which renders it not useful.
What actually could be done to a weapon to make it useful? Matter of fact, what was there about the present weapon that made it not useful. Apparently it was useful as hell--useful enough to cut a man's throat, pierce his heart, slice an arm off him....
What were the possible swords; what was the morphology of concept sword?
Harrison picked up a dog-eared report.
There was the rapier, a thin, light, extremely flexible kind of sword (if you considered the word "sword" generic, as the Semantics expert had pointed out). It was good for duels, man-to-man combat, usually on what the ancients had called the "field of honor."
There were all kinds of short swords, dirks, shivs, stilettos, daggers. They were the weapons of stealth men--and sometimes women--used in the night. The assassin's weapon, the glitter in the darkened alley.
There were the machetes. Jungle knives, cane-cutting instruments. The bayonets....
You could go on and on from there, apparently. But what did you get? They were all more or less useful, Harrison supposed. There was nothing more you could do with any kind of sword that was designed for a specific purpose.
Harrison sighed in despair. He had expected vastly more when he had first heard the alien mention "test". He had expected some complex instrument, something new to Terra and her colonies. Something involving complex and perhaps unknown principles of an alien technology. Something appropriate to the strange metal craft that traveled so very fast.
Or perhaps a paradox. A thing that could not be constructed without exploding, like a lattice of U235 of exactly critical size. Or an instrument that must be assembled in an impossible sequence, like a clock with a complete, single-pieced outer shell. Or a part of a thing that could be "corrected" only if the whole thing were visualized, constructed, and tested.
No, the blueprint he held now involved an awareness that must prove beyond mere technology, or at least Terran technology. Maybe it involved an awareness that transcended Terran philosophy as well.
Harrison slapped the pencil down on his desk, rose, put his coat on, and left the office.
"... we are guilty as the angels of the bible were guilty. Pride! That's it, folks, pride. False pride...."
Harrison fringed the intent crowd of people cursing when, frequently, someone carelessly bumped into him in an effort to get nearer the sidewalk preacher.
"We tried to live with the angels above. We wanted to fly like the birds. And then we wanted to fly like the angels...."
Someone near Harrison muttered an "Amen". Harrison wove his way through them wondering where the hundreds of such evangelists had come from so suddenly.
"Ya know, folks, the angels themselves got uppity once. They wanted to be like Gawd himself, they did. Now, it's us."
There was a small flutter of laughter among the crowd. It was very quickly suppressed--so quickly that Harrison gained a new appreciation of the tenor of the crowd.
"That's right, laugh! Laugh at our folly!" continued the thin-faced, bright-eyed man. "It was a sword that the angel used to kick Adam and Eve out of the garden. The sword figures all through the bible, folks. You ought to read the bible. You ought to get to know it. It's all there. All there for you to read...."
By Christ, thought Harrison. Here was an aspect of the concept, sword, he had not considered. Morphological thinking required that all aspects of a concept be explored, all plotted against all others for possible correlation....
No. That was silly. The bible was a beautiful piece of literature and some people believed it inspired. But the great good men who wrote the bible had little scientific knowledge of a sword. They would simply describe the weapon as a modern fiction writer would describe a blaster--without knowing any more about one than that it existed and was a weapon.
Surely the ISC's weapons expert could be trusted to know his swords.
"Go on home," Mills pleaded. "You're shot and you know it. You said yourself this isn't our show."
"You go home, Bob. I'm all right."
"George ... you're acting strange. Strange as hell."
"I'm all right. Leave me alone," snapped Harrison becoming irritable.
Mills watched silently as the haggard man slipped a tablet into his mouth.
"It's all right, Bob," smiled Harrison weakly. "I know how to use Benzedrine."
"You damn fool, you'll wreck yourself...."
But the engineer ignored him. He continued paging his way through the book--the bible, no less. George Harrison and the bible!
Mills was awakened by the telephone. Reaching in the dark for it he answered almost without reaching consciousness.
It was Harrison.
"Bob, listen to me. If an angel were to look at us right now, what would he think?"
"For God's sake!" Mills cried into the instrument. "What's up? You still at the office?"
"Yeah, answer the question."
"Hold on, George. I'll be down and get you. What you been drinking?"
"Bob, would he--she--think much of us? Would the angel figure we were...."
"How the hell would I know?"
"No, Bob, what you should have asked is 'how the hell would he know.'"
In a daze Mills heard the click as the other hung up.
"Mr. Harrison, your assistant is looking for you."
"Yes, I know, Kirk. But will you do it?"
"Mr. Harrison, we only got one of them. If we screw it up it'll take time to make another and today's the day, you know."
"I'll take the blame."
"Mr. Harrison, you look kind of funny. Hadn't I better...."
Harrison was sketching a drawing on a piece of waste paper. He was working in quick rough strokes, copying something from a book.
"They'll blame us both, Mr. Harrison. Anyway, it might hold up somebody who's got a real idea...."
"I have a real idea, Kirk. I'm going to draw it for you."
The metal worker noticed that the book Harrison was copying from was a dictionary, a very old and battered one.
"Here, can you follow what I've drawn?"
The metal worker accepted it reluctantly, giving Harrison an odd, almost patronizing look. "This is crazy."
"Look, Mr. Harrison. We worked a long time together. You...."
Harrison suddenly rose from the chair.
"This is our one chance of beating this thing, no matter how crazy it seems. Will you do the job?"
"You believe you got something, eh," the other said. "You think you have?"
"I have to have."