Second Variety, p.1Philip K. Dick
Produced by Greg Weeks, Barbara Tozier and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from Space Science Fiction May 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
BY PHILIP K. DICK
ILLUSTRATED BY EBEL
The claws were bad enough in the first place--nasty, crawling little death-robots. But when they began to imitate their creators, it was time for the human race to make peace--if it could!
The Russian soldier made his way nervously up the ragged side of thehill, holding his gun ready. He glanced around him, licking his drylips, his face set. From time to time he reached up a gloved hand andwiped perspiration from his neck, pushing down his coat collar.
Eric turned to Corporal Leone. "Want him? Or can I have him?" Headjusted the view sight so the Russian's features squarely filled theglass, the lines cutting across his hard, somber features.
Leone considered. The Russian was close, moving rapidly, almostrunning. "Don't fire. Wait." Leone tensed. "I don't think we'reneeded."
The Russian increased his pace, kicking ash and piles of debris out ofhis way. He reached the top of the hill and stopped, panting, staringaround him. The sky was overcast, drifting clouds of gray particles.Bare trunks of trees jutted up occasionally; the ground was level andbare, rubble-strewn, with the ruins of buildings standing out here andthere like yellowing skulls.
The Russian was uneasy. He knew something was wrong. He started downthe hill. Now he was only a few paces from the bunker. Eric wasgetting fidgety. He played with his pistol, glancing at Leone.
"Don't worry," Leone said. "He won't get here. They'll take care ofhim."
"Are you sure? He's got damn far."
"They hang around close to the bunker. He's getting into the bad part.Get set!"
The Russian began to hurry, sliding down the hill, his boots sinkinginto the heaps of gray ash, trying to keep his gun up. He stopped fora moment, lifting his fieldglasses to his face.
"He's looking right at us," Eric said.
* * * * *
The Russian came on. They could see his eyes, like two blue stones.His mouth was open a little. He needed a shave; his chin was stubbled.On one bony cheek was a square of tape, showing blue at the edge. Afungoid spot. His coat was muddy and torn. One glove was missing. Ashe ran his belt counter bounced up and down against him.
Leone touched Eric's arm. "Here one comes."
Across the ground something small and metallic came, flashing in thedull sunlight of mid-day. A metal sphere. It raced up the hill afterthe Russian, its treads flying. It was small, one of the baby ones.Its claws were out, two razor projections spinning in a blur of whitesteel. The Russian heard it. He turned instantly, firing. The spheredissolved into particles. But already a second had emerged and wasfollowing the first. The Russian fired again.
A third sphere leaped up the Russian's leg, clicking and whirring. Itjumped to the shoulder. The spinning blades disappeared into theRussian's throat.
Eric relaxed. "Well, that's that. God, those damn things give me thecreeps. Sometimes I think we were better off before."
"If we hadn't invented them, they would have." Leone lit a cigaretteshakily. "I wonder why a Russian would come all this way alone. Ididn't see anyone covering him."
Lt. Scott came slipping up the tunnel, into the bunker. "Whathappened? Something entered the screen."
Eric brought the view screen around. Scott peered into it. Now therewere numerous metal spheres crawling over the prostrate body, dullmetal globes clicking and whirring, sawing up the Russian into smallparts to be carried away.
"What a lot of claws," Scott murmured.
"They come like flies. Not much game for them any more."
Scott pushed the sight away, disgusted. "Like flies. I wonder why hewas out there. They know we have claws all around."
A larger robot had joined the smaller spheres. It was directingoperations, a long blunt tube with projecting eyepieces. There was notmuch left of the soldier. What remained was being brought down thehillside by the host of claws.
"Sir," Leone said. "If it's all right, I'd like to go out there andtake a look at him."
"Maybe he came with something."
Scott considered. He shrugged. "All right. But be careful."
"I have my tab." Leone patted the metal band at his wrist. "I'll beout of bounds."
* * * * *
He picked up his rifle and stepped carefully up to the mouth of thebunker, making his way between blocks of concrete and steel prongs,twisted and bent. The air was cold at the top. He crossed over theground toward the remains of the soldier, striding across the softash. A wind blew around him, swirling gray particles up in his face.He squinted and pushed on.
The claws retreated as he came close, some of them stiffening intoimmobility. He touched his tab. The Ivan would have given somethingfor that! Short hard radiation emitted from the tab neutralized theclaws, put them out of commission. Even the big robot with its twowaving eyestalks retreated respectfully as he approached.
He bent down over the remains of the soldier. The gloved hand wasclosed tightly. There was something in it. Leone pried the fingersapart. A sealed container, aluminum. Still shiny.
He put it in his pocket and made his way back to the bunker. Behindhim the claws came back to life, moving into operation again. Theprocession resumed, metal spheres moving through the gray ash withtheir loads. He could hear their treads scrabbling against the ground.He shuddered.
Scott watched intently as he brought the shiny tube out of his pocket."He had that?"
"In his hand." Leone unscrewed the top. "Maybe you should look at it,sir."
Scott took it. He emptied the contents out in the palm of his hand. Asmall piece of silk paper, carefully folded. He sat down by the lightand unfolded it.
"What's it say, sir?" Eric said. Several officers came up the tunnel.Major Hendricks appeared.
"Major," Scott said. "Look at this."
Hendricks read the slip. "This just come?"
"A single runner. Just now."
"Where is he?" Hendricks asked sharply.
"The claws got him."
Major Hendricks grunted. "Here." He passed it to his companions. "Ithink this is what we've been waiting for. They certainly took theirtime about it."
"So they want to talk terms," Scott said. "Are we going along withthem?"
"That's not for us to decide." Hendricks sat down. "Where's thecommunications officer? I want the Moon Base."
Leone pondered as the communications officer raised the outsideantenna cautiously, scanning the sky above the bunker for any sign ofa watching Russian ship.
"Sir," Scott said to Hendricks. "It's sure strange they suddenly camearound. We've been using the claws for almost a year. Now all of asudden they start to fold."
"Maybe claws have been getting down in their bunkers."
"One of the big ones, the kind with stalks, got into an Ivan bunkerlast week," Eric said. "It got a whole platoon of them before they gottheir lid shut."
"How do you know?"
"A buddy told me. The thing came back with--with remains."
"Moon Base, sir," the communications officer said.
On the screen the face of the lunar monitor appeared. His crispuniform contrasted to the uniforms in the bunker. And he was cleanshaven. "Moon Base."
"This is forward command L-Whistle. On Terra. Let me have GeneralThompson."
The monitor faded. Presently General Thompson's heavy features cameinto f
"Our claws got a single Russian runner with a message. We don't knowwhether to act on it--there have been tricks like this in the past."
"What's the message?"
"The Russians want us to send a single officer on policy level over totheir lines. For a conference. They don't state the nature of theconference. They say that matters of--" He consulted the slip."--Matters of grave urgency make it advisable that discussion beopened between a representative of the UN forces and themselves."
He held the message up to the screen for the general to scan.Thompson's eyes moved.
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