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The huddlers, p.1
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       The Huddlers, p.1

           William Campbell Gault
 
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The Huddlers


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  The Huddlers

  By William Campbell Gault

  Illustrated by Ernie Barth

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of ScienceFiction May 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence thatthe U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _He was a reporter from Venus with an assignment on Earth. Hegot his story but, against orders, he fell in love--and therein liesthis story._]

  That's what _we_ always called them, where I come from, huddlers.Damnedest thing to see from any distance, the way they huddle. They hadone place, encrusting the shore line for miles on one of the land bodiesthey called the Eastern Seaboard. A coagulation in this crust containedeight million of the creatures, _eight million_.

  They called it New York, and it was bigger than most of the others, buttypical. It wasn't bad enough living side by side; the things builtmounds and lived one above the other. Apartments they called them. Whatmonstrosities they were.

  We couldn't figure this huddling, at first.

  All our attention since Akers' first penetration into space had beendirected another way in the galaxy, and though I'll grant you unifiedand universal concentration may be considered unwise in some areas, it'sbeen our greatest strength. It's brought us rather rapidly to the front,I'm sure you'll agree, and we're not the oldest planet, by a damnedsight.

  Well, by the time we got to the huddlers, Akers was dead and Murten wasjust an old man with vacant eyes. Jars was handling the Department,though you might say Deering ran it, being closer to most of the gang.Jars was always so cold; nobody ever got to know him really well.

  They divided on the huddling. Fear, Jars said, and love, Deering said,but who could say for sure?

  As Deering said to me, "What could they fear? They've got everythingthey need, everything but knowledge and their better specimens aregetting closer to that, every day."

  In the laboratory, Deering said this, and how did we know old Jars wasin a corner, breaking down a spirigel?

  "They fear each other," Jars said, as though it was an officialannouncement, as though any fact is permanent. "And they fear nature.It's the most fear ridden colony of bipeds a sane mind could imagine."

  Deering looked at me, and winked.

  Jars went back to the spirigel.

  Deering said, "Love, love, love. All they sing about, all they writeabout, all they talk about, love, love, love."

  Jars was just tracing a _z_ line on the spirigel and he put down hislegort at that. "Rather superficial thinking, from a scientist," he saidquietly. "Surface manifestations to be considered as indicative. Oraland verbal camouflage to be accepted as valid. Deering, old thing,please--"

  Deering shrugged. "So I am--what do they call it, a Pollyanna. Isn'tthat a pretty word? So, I'm a Pollyanna."

  "I rather think that describes you partially," Jars said, "and with thisparticular planet we're discussing, it can be a dangerous attitude."

  "So?" Deering said, nudging me. "And could I ask why?"

  "Ask it."

  "I ask."

  "You've recorded the state of their development. They have, among otherthings, achieved nuclear fission."

  "So? In the fourth grade we are teaching nuclear fission."

  "We are a scientific people. They haven't been, until very, veryrecently. You have noted, I hope, their first extensive use of this newdiscovery?"

  "Hero--Helo--" Deering shrugged. "My memory."

  "Hiroshima," Jars supplied. "Love--, my friend?"

  "I have noted it," Deering said. "We spoke, a while ago, of surfacemanifestations."

  "We shall continue to. You have witnessed the mechanical excellence oftheir machines, in some ways beyond ours, because of their greaterelement wealth. You have noted the increased concentration of theirbetter minds, their scientific minds. How long do you think it will be,friend, before they are ready for us?"

  "Ready, ready--? In what way, ready?"

  "The only way they know, the only thing they seem to have timefor--ready for war."

  "War--," Deering said, and sighed. "Oh, Jars, they will be beyond war,certainly, before they are cognizant of us. They are no tribe ofincompetents; they grow each day."

  "They--?" Jars' smile was cynical. "Their scientists grow. Are theirscientists in command, sir?"

  That "sir" had been unnecessary; Jars was the senior mind, here. Deeringdidn't miss it, and he flushed.

  Jars said softly, "I apologize. It was not a thing to say. I have spenttoo much time in the study of these--monsters."

  They had gone to school, together, those two, and the bond was there andthe respect, but they were different, mentally, and each knew it.

  "You have a sharp tongue," Deering said, "but a sharper mind. I believeI can stand it." He smiled. "Love, fear, hate--what does it matter tous, except as phenomena?"

  "It matters to us, believe me, please. It concerns us very much, Arn."

  When Jars got to first names, he was emotionally wrought. I looked athim in surprise. And so did Deering. We weren't ever going to warm up tohim, but he was our best mind and there wasn't a man in the departmentwho didn't appreciate that.

  We stared at him, and he sat down on the high bench near the Malingconverters. He looked old and he was tired, we could see. "Evil," hesaid quietly. "Fear, hate, evil--which of the three is the father andwhich are the sons? I suppose fear is the father."

  "I'd always thought so," Deering said, "though my education was almostcompletely confined to the technical. I'm rather skimpy on thehumanities."

  "And I," Jars said, and now looked at me. "But not you, Werig."

  "I don't know them, sir," I said. "Surface manifestations, as we've saidbefore today. It would need a closer study. Their huddling is whatintrigues me the most."

  One of the rare smiles came to Jars' lined face as he looked at Deering."Huddling, the lad says. If you don't say it, I won't, Arn."

  Deering smiled in return. "We'll change the routine, this time; you say'love' and I'll say 'fear'. But seriously, Jars, you fearthese--people?"

  "I fear them," Jars said. "Scientifically, perhaps, they are tyros, butmechanically they are not. They have discovered forces and developedmachines which they do not understand, and yet, have achieved efficiencywith them. I fear any monster that powerful even though it is blind."

  "And you think there is a possibility of their becoming--aware of uswithin any determinable time?"

  "I do. You will remember how quickly the Algreans developed, once theyachieved unity? You will remember how quickly they became a threat?"

  "Yes," Deering said quietly, "and I have been trying a long time toforget what we did to that planetoid."

  "It was necessary for survival," Jars said simply. "I think, by anystandards, we would be the ones chosen to survive."

  Deering's smile was cynical. "At least, by _our_ standards. We had acloser communication with them. About the huddlers, we know only what weconvert from their stronger video broadcasts. It is a device they seemto use more for entertainment than for information."

  Jars nodded, and stood up. "And love is their major entertainment,perhaps. Love and war. But we gabble. I had a plan in mind, a plan toput before the assembly."

  * * * * *

  He had a plan, all right, and I was part of it. The humanities had beenno major with me, but they didn't want a scholar, they wanted areporter, anyway. Or perhaps I could be called a recorder.

  Jars talked and the assembly listened. They always do, when Jars talks.

  And I was their boy, and went into a concentrated and
complete briefing.They put me under the lucidate and poured it to me, night and day, allthe information we had on the huddlers and all the theories based onthat information.

  They put me into a space sphere, and said "good luck" and do our peopleproud, young man. Oh, yes. And don't fall in love. Oh, no. They'd pickme up, again, when they got a signal. They didn't expect to wait toolong for that, I guess, at the time.

  The sphere was a relic of the Algrean business, and Algrea hadn't beenthis much of a trip. But Mechanics said it would do, and it did.

  I
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