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Misbegotten Missionary

Isaac Asimov

  Misbegotten Missionary

  By Isaac Asimov

  Start Publishing LLC

  Copyright © 2015 by Start Publishing LLC

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  First Start Publishing eBook edition July 2015

  Start Publishing is a registered trademark of Start Publishing LLC

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  ISBN 13: 978-1-68299-745-1

  Misbegotten Missionary

  By Isaac Asimov

  It was a lovable little creature, anxious to help solve the troubles of the world. Moreover, it had the answer! But what man ever takes free advice?


  He had slipped aboard the ship! There had been dozens waiting outside the energy barrier when it had seemed that waiting would do no good. Then the barrier had faltered for a matter of two minutes (which showed the superior-ity of unified organisms over life fragments) and he was across.

  None of the others had been able to move quickly enough to take advantage of the break, but that didn’t matter. All alone, he was enough. No others were necessary.

  And the thought faded out of satisfaction and into loneliness. It was a terribly unhappy and unnatural thing to be parted from all the rest of the unified organism, to be a life fragment oneself. How could these aliens stand being fragments?

  It increased his sympathy for the aliens. Now that he experienced fragmentation himself, he could feel, as though from a distance, the terrible isolation that made them so afraid. It was fear born of that isolation that dictated their actions. What but the insane fear of their condition could have caused them to blast an area, one mile in diameter, into dull-red heat before landing their ship? Even the organized life ten feet deep in the soil had been destroyed in the blast.

  He engaged reception, listening eagerly, letting the alien thought saturate him. He enjoyed the touch of life upon his consciousness. He would have to ration that enjoyment. He must not forget himself.

  But it could do no harm to listen to thoughts. Some of the fragments of life on the ship thought quite clearly, considering that they were such primitive, incomplete creatures. Their thoughts were like tiny bells.

  Roger Oldenn said, “I feel contaminated. You know what I mean? I keep washing my hands and it doesn’t help.”

  Jerry Thorn hated dramatics and didn’t look up. They were still maneuvering in the stratosphere of Saybrook’s Planet and he preferred to watch the panel dials. He said, “No reason to feel contaminated. Nothing happened.”

  “I hope not,” said Oldenn. “At least they had all the field men discard their spacesuits in the air lock for complete disinfection. They had a radiation bath for all men entering from outside. I suppose nothing happened.”

  “Why be nervous, then?”

  “I don’t know. I wish the barrier hadn’t broken down.”

  “Who doesn’t? It was an accident.”

  “I wonder.” Oldenn was vehement. “I was here when it happened. My shift, you know. There was no reason to overload the power line. There was equipment plugged into it that had no damn business near it. None whatsoever.”

  “All right. People are stupid.”

  “Not that stupid. I hung around when the Old Man was checking into the matter. None of them had reasonable excuses. The armor-baking circuits, which were draining off two thousand watts, had been put into the barrier line. They’d been using the second subsidiaries for a week. Why not this time? They couldn’t give any reason.”

  “Can you?”

  Oldenn flushed. “No, I was just wondering if the men had been”—he searched for a word—“hypnotized into it. By those things outside.”

  Thorn’s eyes lifted and met those of the other levelly. “I wouldn’t repeat that to anyone else. The barrier was down only two minutes. If anything had happened, if even a spear of grass had drifted across it would have shown up in our bacteria cultures within half an hour, in the fruit-fly colonies in a matter of days. Before we got back it would show up in the hamsters, the rabbits, maybe the goats. Just get it through your head, Oldenn, that nothing happened. Nothing.”

  Oldenn turned on his heel and left. In leaving, his foot came within two feet of the object in the comer of the room. He did not see it.

  He disengaged his reception centers and let the thoughts flow past him unperceived. These life fragments were not important, in any case, since they were not fitted for the continuation of life. Even as fragments, they were incomplete.

  The other types of fragments now—they were different. He had to be careful of them. The temptation would be great, and he must give no indication, none at all, of his existence on board ship till they landed on their home planet.

  He focused on the other parts of the ship, marveling at the diversity of life. Each item, no matter how small, was sufficient to itself. He forced himself to contemplate this, until the unpleasantness of the thought grated on him and he longed for the normality of home.

  Most of the thoughts he received from the smaller fragments were vague and fleeting, as you would expect. There wasn’t much to be had from them, but that meant their need for completeness was all the greater. It was that which touched him so keenly.

  There was the life fragment which squatted on its haunches and fingered the wire netting that enclosed it. Its thoughts were clear, but limited. Chiefly, they concerned the yellow fruit a companion fragment was eating. It wanted the fruit very deeply. Only the wire netting that separated the fragments prevented its seizing the fruit by force.

  He disengaged reception in a moment of complete revulsion. These fragments competed for food!

  He tried to reach far outward for the peace and harmony of home, but it was already an immense distance away. He could reach only into the nothingness that separated him from sanity.

  He longed at the moment even for the feel of the dead soil between the barrier and the ship. He had crawled over it last night. There had been no life upon it, but it had been the soil of home, and on the other side of the barrier there had still been the comforting feel of the rest of organized life.

  He could remember the moment he had located himself on the surface of the ship, maintaining a desperate suction grip until the air lock opened. He had entered, moving cautiously between the outgoing feet. There had been an inner lock and that had been passed later. Now he lay here, a life fragment himself, inert and unnoticed.

  Cautiously, he engaged reception again at the previous focus. The squatting fragment of life was tugging furiously at the wire netting. It still wanted the other’s food, though it was the less hungry of the two.


  Larsen said, “Don’t feed the damn thing. She isn’t hungry; she’s just sore because Tillie had the nerve to eat before she herself was crammed full. The greedy ape! I wish we were back home and I never had to look another animal in the face again.”

  He scowled at the older female chimpanzee frowningly and the chimp mouthed and chattered back to him in full reciprocation.

  Rizzo said, “Okay, okay. Why hang around here, then? Feeding time is over. Let’s get out.”

  They went past the goat pens, the rabbit hutches, the hamster cages.

  Larsen said bitterly, “You volunteer for an exploration voyage. You’re a hero. They send you off with speeches—and make a zoo keeper out of you.”

  “They give you double pay.”

  “All right, so what? I didn’t sign up just for the money. They said at the original briefing that it was even odds we wouldn’t come back, that we’d end up like Saybrook. I signed up because I wanted to do something important.”

�Just a bloomin’ bloody hero,” said Rizzo.

  “I’m not an animal nurse.”

  Rizzo paused to lift a hamster out of the cage and stroke it. “Hey,” he said, “did you ever think that maybe one of these hamsters has some cute little baby hamsters inside, just getting started?”

  “Wise guy! They’re tested every day.”

  “Sure, sure.” He muzzled the little creature, which vibrated its nose at him. “But just suppose you came down one morning and found them there. New little hamsters looking up at you with soft, green patches of fur where the eyes ought to be.”

  “Shut up, for the love of Mike,” yelled Larsen.

  “Little soft, green patches of shining fur,” said Rizzo, and put the hamster down with a sudden loathing sensation.

  He engaged reception again and varied the focus. There wasn’t a specialized life fragment at home that didn’t have a rough counterpart on ship-board.

  There were the moving runners in various shapes, the moving swimmers, and the moving fliers. Some of the fliers were quite large, with perceptible thoughts; others were small, gauzy-winged creatures. These last transmitted only patterns of sense perception, imperfect patterns at that, and added nothing intelligent of their own.

  There were the non-movers, which, like the non-movers at home, were green and lived on the air, water, and soil. These were a mental blank. They knew only the dim, dim consciousness of light, moisture, and gravity.

  And each fragment, moving and non-moving, had its mockery of life.

  Not yet. Not yet. . . .

  He clamped down hard upon his feelings. Once before, these life fragments had come, and the rest at home had tried to help them—too quickly. It had not worked. This time they must wait.

  If only these fragments did not discover him.

  They had not, so far. They had not noticed him lying in the corner of the pilot room. No one had bent down to pick up and discard him. Earlier, it had meant he could not move. Someone might have turned and stared at the stiff wormlike thing, not quite six inches long. First stare, then shout, and then it would all be over.

  But now, perhaps, he had waited long enough. The takeoff was long past. The controls were locked; the pilot room was empty.

  It did not take him long to find the chink in the armor leading to the recess where some of the wiring was. They were dead wires.

  The front end of his body was a rasp that cut in two a wire of just the right diameter. Then, six inches away, he cut it in two again. He pushed the snipped-off section of the wire ahead of him packing it away neatly and invisibly into a corner of recess. Its outer covering was a brown elastic material and its core was gleaming, ruddy metal. He himself could not reproduce the core, of course, but that was not necessary. It was enough that the pellicle that covered him had been carefully bred to resemble a wire’s surface.

  He returned and grasped the cut sections of the wire before and behind. He tightened against them as his little suction disks came into play. Not even a seam showed.

  They could not find him now. They could look right at him and see only a continuous stretch of wire.

  Unless they looked very closely indeed and noted that, in a certain spot on this wire, there were two tiny patches of soft and shining green fur.

  “It is remarkable,” said Dr. Weiss, “that little green hairs can do so much.”

  Captain Loring poured the brandy carefully. In a sense, this was a celebration. They would be ready for the jump through hyperspace in two hours, and after that, two days would see them back on Earth.

  “You are convinced, then, the green fur is the sense organ?” he asked.

  “It is,” said Weiss. Brandy made him come out in splotches, but he was aware of the need of celebration—quite aware. “The experiments were conducted under difficulties, but they were quite significant.”

  The captain smiled stiffly. “ ‘Under difficulties’ is one way of phrasing it. I would never have taken the chances you did to run them.”

  “Nonsense. We’re all heroes aboard this ship, all volunteers, all great men with trumpet, fife, and fanfare. You took the chance of coming here.”

  “You were the first to go outside the barrier.”

  “No particular risk involved,” Weiss said. “I burned the ground before me as I went, to say nothing of the portable barrier that surrounded me. Nonsense, Captain. Let’s all take our medals when we come back; let’s take them without attempt at gradation. Besides, I’m a male.”

  “But you’re filled with bacteria to here.” The captain’s hand made a quick, cutting gesture three inches above his head. “Which makes you as vulnerable as a female would be.”

  They paused for drinking purposes. “Refill?” asked the captain.

  “No, thanks. I’ve exceeded my quota already.”

  “Then one last for the spaceroad.” He lifted his glass in the general direction of Saybrook’s Planet, no longer visible, its sun only a bright star in the visiplate. “To the little green hairs that gave Saybrook his first lead.”

  Weiss nodded. “A lucky thing. We’ll quarantine the planet, of course.”

  The captain said, “That doesn’t seem drastic enough. Someone might always land by accident someday and not have Saybrook’s insight, or his guts. Suppose he did not blow up his ship, as Saybrook did. Suppose he got back to some inhabited place.”

  The captain was somber. “Do you suppose they might ever develop interstellar travel on their own?”

  “I doubt it. No proof, of course. It’s just that they have such a completely different orientation. Their entire organization of life has made tools unnecessary. As far as we know, even a stone ax doesn’t exist on the planet.”

  “I hope you’re right. Oh, and, Weiss, would you spend some time with Drake?”

  “The Galactic Press fellow?”

  “Yes. Once we get back, the story of Saybrook’s Planet will be released for the public and I don’t think it would be wise to oversensationalize it. I’ve asked Drake to let you consult with him on the story. You’re a biologist and enough of an authority to carry weight with him. Would you oblige?”

  “A pleasure.”

  The captain closed his eyes wearily and shook his head.

  “Headache, Captain?”

  “No. Just thinking of poor Saybrook.”

  He was weary of the ship. Awhile back there had been a queer, momentary sensation, as though he had been turned inside out. It was alarming and he had searched the minds of the keen-thinkers for an explanation. Apparently the ship had leaped across vast stretches of empty space by cutting across something they knew as “hyperspace.” The keen-thinkers were ingenious.

  But—he was weary of the ship. It was such a futile phenomenon. These life fragments were skillful in their constructions, yet it was only a measure of their unhappiness, after all. They strove to find in the control of inanimate matter what they could not find in themselves. In their unconscious yearning for completeness, they built machines and scoured space, seeking, seeking . . .

  These creatures, he knew, could never, in the very nature of things, find that for which they were seeking. At least not until such time as he gave it to them. He quivered a little at the thought.


  These fragments had no concept of it, even. “Completeness” was a poor word.

  In their ignorance they would even fight it. There had been the ship that had come before. The first ship had contained many of the keen-thinking fragments. There had been two varieties, life producers and the sterile ones. (How different this second ship was. The keen-thinkers were all sterile, while the other fragments, the fuzzy-thinkers and the no-thinkers, were all producers of life. It was strange.)

  How gladly that first ship had been welcomed by all the planet! He could remember the first intense shock at the realization that the visitors were fragments and not complete. The shock had give way to pity, and the pity to action. It was not certain how they would fit into the community, but ther
e had been no hesitation. All life was sacred and somehow room would have been made for them—for all of them, from the large keen-thinkers to the little multipliers in the darkness.

  But there had been a miscalculation. They had not correctly analyzed the course of the fragments’ ways of thinking. The keen-thinkers became aware of what had been done and resented it. They were frightened, of course; they did not understand.

  They had developed the barrier first, and then, later, had destroyed themselves, exploding their ships to atoms.

  Poor, foolish fragments.

  This time, at least, it would be different. They would be saved, despite themselves.


  John Drake would not have admitted it in so many words, but he was very proud of his skill on the photo-typer. He had a travel-kit model, which was a six-by-eight, featureless dark plastic slab, with cylindrical bulges on either end to hold the roll of thin paper. It fitted into a brown leather case, equipped with a beltlike contraption that held it closely about the waist and at one hip. The whole thing weighed less than a pound.

  Drake could operate it with either hand. His fingers would flick quickly and easily, placing their light pressure at exact spots on the blank surface, and, soundlessly, words would be written.

  He looked thoughtfully at the beginning of his story, then up at Dr. Weiss. “What do you think, Doc?”

  “It starts well.”

  Drake nodded. “I thought I might as well start with Saybrook himself. They haven’t released his story back home yet. I wish I could have seen Saybrook’s original report. How did he ever get it through, by the way?”

  “As near as I could tell, he spent one last night sending it through the sub-ether. When he was finished, he shorted the motors, and converted the entire ship into a thin cloud of vapor a millionth of a second later. The crew and himself along with it.”

  “What a man! You were in this from the beginning, Doc?”

  “Not from the beginning,” corrected Weiss gently. “Only since the receipt of Saybrook’s report.”

  He could not help thinking back. He had read that report, realizing even then how wonderful the planet must have seemed when Saybrook’s colonizing expedition first reached it. It was practically a duplicate of Earth, with an abounding plant life and a purely vegetarian animal life.