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´╗┐Title: Vital Ingredient
Author: De Vet, Charles V. (Charles Vincent), 1911-1997
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Vital Ingredient" ***

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    _It is man's most precious possession--no living thing can exist
    without it. But when they gave it to Orville, it killed him. For the
    answer, read 1/M._


        Vital
      Ingredient

 By Charles V. De Vet


"Now watch," Remm said, indicating the native. Macker had been absent,
exploring the countryside in the immediate vicinity of their landing
place, and had not witnessed the capture of the native, or the tests his
two companions made on it.

Macker followed Remm's gaze to where the biped native sat hunched. The
creature was bent into an ungainly position, its body crooked at
incongruous angles, in such a way as to allow most of its weight to rest
on a packing-box at the base of a middle angle. Its stubby feet, on the
ends of thin, pipelike legs, rested against the floor of the space ship.
Its body was covered, almost entirely, with an artificial skin material
of various colors. Some of the colors hurt Macker's eyes. In the few
places where the flesh showed through the skin was an unhealthy, pallid
white.

Slowly the creature's head swiveled on its short neck until it faced
them.

"Those orifices in the upper portion of its skull are evidently organs
of sight," Remm said. "It sees that we are quite a distance away. It
will probably attempt to escape again."

Slowly--slowly--the native's head rotated away from them in a
half-circle until it faced Toolls, working over his instruments on the
far side of the room. Then it turned its head back until it faced the
door of the ship.

"It is setting itself for flight now," Remm said. "Notice the evidence
of strain on its face."

The creature leaned forward and the appendages on the ends of its upper
limbs clutched the sides of the box as it propelled its body forward.

It raised its right foot in a slow arc, employing a double-jointed,
breaking action of its leg. For a long moment it rested its entire
weight on its lumpy right foot, while its momentum carried its body
sluggishly forward. Then it repeated the motion with its left leg; then
again its right. All the while evidencing great exertion and
concentration of effort.

"It is making what it considers a mad dash for freedom," Remm said.
"Probably at the ultimate speed of which it is capable. That would be
ridiculous except that it's normal for its own environment. This is
definitely a slow-motion world."

The creature was a third-way to the door now. Once again its head turned
in its slow quarter-circle, to look at them. As it saw that Remm and
Macker had not moved it altered the expression on its face.

"It seems to express its emotions through facial contortions," Remm
said. "Though I suspect that the sounds it makes with the upper part of
its trachea during moments of agitation are also outlets of emotional
stress, rather than efforts at communication." He called across the room
to Toolls. "What did you find out about its speech?"

"Extremely primitive," Toolls replied. "Incredible as it may appear to
us it uses combinations of sounds to form word-symbols. Each word
indicates some action, or object; or denotes degree, time, or shades of
meaning. Other words are merely connectives. It seems to make little use
of inflections, the basis of a rational language. Thoughts which we can
project with a few sounds would take it dozens of words to express."

"Just how intelligent is it?" Macker asked.

"Only as intelligent as a high degree of self-preservation instinct
would make it."

"Are you certain that it is a member of the dominant species of life on
the planet?"

"There's no doubt about it," Toolls replied. "I've made very careful
observations."

"This attempt at escape is a pretty good example of its intelligence,"
Remm said. "This is the sixth time it has tried to escape--in exactly
the same way. As soon as it sees that we are farther away from it than
it is from the door, it makes its dash."

       *       *       *       *       *

The creature was one step away from the space ship's open portal now and
bringing its foot up to cross the threshold. Remm walked over and lifted
it off the floor.

"Its legs are still moving in a running motion," Macker said. "Doesn't
it realize yet that you've picked it up?"

[Illustration: _It was an arm to be proud of--but what good was it?_]

"Its nervous system and reflexes are evidently as slow as its motor
muscles," Remm replied. "There has not been time for the sensation of my
picking it up to reach the brain, and for the brain to send back its
message to the legs to stop their running motion."

"How heavy is it?" Macker asked.

"Only a few ounces," Remm replied. "But that's logical considering that
this is a 'light' planet. If we took it back to our own 'heavy' world,
gravity would crush it to a light film of the liquid which comprises the
greater part of its substance."

Remm set the creature down on the box in its former queerly contorted
position. Toolls had left his instruments and strolled over beside them
to observe the native.

"One of its appendages seems bent at a peculiar angle," Macker said.

"I noticed that," Remm answered. "I think that I may have broken the
bone in several places when I first captured it. I was not aware then of
how fragile it was. But now that you mention it, I should be able to use
that injury to give you a good illustration of the interplay of
emotional expressions on its face. Observe now as I touch it."

Remm reached over and touched--very lightly--the broken portion of the
native's appendage. The muscles of the creature's face pulled its
flaccid flesh into distorted positions, bunching some and stretching
others. "It is very probably registering pain," Remm said.

Suddenly the starch seemed to leave the native's body and it slowly
slumped across the packing-box.

"Why is it doing that, Toolls?" Remm asked.

Toolls concentrated for a minute, absorbing the feelings and thought
pulsations emanating from the creature. "The conscious plane of its mind
has blanked out," he said. "I presume the pain you caused by touching
its wounded member resulted in a breakdown of its nervous system. The
only thought waves I receive now are disjointed impressions and pictures
following no rational series. However, I'm certain that it will be only
temporary."

"Don't you think that in justice to the creature we should repair its
wound before we free it?" Macker asked.

"I had intended to have it done," Remm replied. "You shouldn't have any
trouble fixing it, should you, Toolls?"

"No," Toolls answered. "I may as well attend to it right now." He rolled
the portable _converter_ over beside the creature and carefully laid its
arm in the "pan." The _converter_ automatically set its gauges and
instruments of calculation, and gave its click of "ready."

Toolls fed a short length of _basic_ into the machine and it began its
work. The native was still unconscious.

The bone of the wounded arm slowly evaporated, beginning with the wrist
joint. The evaporated portion was instantly replaced by the
manufactured bone of the _converter_. At the same time it repaired all
ruptured blood vessels and damaged ligaments and muscles.

"It was not possible, of course, for me to replace the bone with another
of the same composition as its own," Toolls said, after the machine had
completed its work. "But I gave it one of our 'heavy' ones. There will
be no force on this planet powerful enough to break it again."

       *       *       *       *       *

The native's first evidence of a return to consciousness was a faint
fluttering of the lids that covered its organs of vision. The lids
opened and it looked up at them.

"Its eyesight is as slow as its muscular reactions," Remm said. "Watch."
Remm raised his hand and waved it slowly in front of the native's face.
The eyes of the native, moving in odd, jerking movements, followed the
hand's progress. Remm raised the hand--speeding its action slightly--and
the eyesight faltered and lost it. The native's eyes rolled wildly until
once again they located the hand.

Remm took three steps forward. The native's eyes were unable to follow
his change of position. Its gaze wandered about the room, until again
its settled on Remm's waiting figure.

"Can you imagine anything being so slow," Remm said, "and still ..."
Suddenly Macker interrupted. "Something is wrong. It is trying to get
up, but it can't." The native was registering signs of distress, kicking
its legs and twisting its body into new positions of contortion.

"I see what the trouble is," Toolls said. "It's unable to lift the
appendage with the new bone in. I never thought of that before but its
'light' muscles aren't strong enough to lift the limb. We've got the
poor creature pinned to the box by the weight of its own arm."

"We can't do that to it," Remm said. "Isn't there any way you can give
it a lighter bone?"

"None that wouldn't take a retooling of the _converter_," Toolls said.
"I'm not certain that I could do it, and even if I could, we don't have
the time to spare. I could give it stronger muscles in the arm, but that
may throw off the metabolism of the whole body. If it did, the result
would be fatal. I'd hate to chance it."

"I have an idea," Macker said. By the inflections of his tones the
others knew that some incongruity of the situation had aroused Macker's
sense of humor. "Why don't we give the creature an entirely new body? We
could replace the flesh and viscera, as well as the cartilaginous
structure, with our own type substance. It would probably be an
indestructible being as far as its own world is concerned. And it would
be as powerful as their mightiest machines. We'd leave behind us a
superman that could change the course of this world's history. You could
do it, couldn't you, Toolls?"

"Quite simply."

"Our policy has always been not to interfere in anyway with the races we
study," Remm protested.

"But our policy has also been never to harm any of them, if at all
possible to avoid it," Macker insisted. "In common justice you have to
complete the job Toolls began on the arm, or you're condemning this poor
thing to death."

"But do we have the right to loose such an unpredictable factor as it
would be among them?" Remm asked. "After all, our purpose is exploration
and observation, not playing the parts of gods to the primitives we
encounter."

"True, that is the rule which we have always followed in the past,"
Macker agreed, "but it is in no way a requirement. We are empowered to
use our judgment in all circumstances. And in this particular instance I
believe I can convince you that the course I suggest is the more just
one." He turned to Toolls. "Just what stage of cultural development
would you say this creature's race has attained?"

"It still retains more of an animal-like adaptation to its surroundings
than an intellectual one," Toolls replied. "Its civilization is divided
into various sized units of cooperation which it calls governments. Each
unit vies with the others for a greater share of its world's goods. That
same rivalry is carried down to the individual within the unit. Each
strives for acquisition against his neighbor.

"Further they retain many of their tribal instincts, such as
gregariousness, emotional rather than intellectual propagation, and
worship of the mightiest fighter. This last, however, is manifested by
reverence for individuals attaining position of authority, or acquiring
large amounts of their medium of exchange, rather than by physical
superiority."

"That's what I mean," Macker said. "Our policy in the past has been to
avoid tampering, only because of the fear of bringing harm. If we
created a super being among them, to act as a controlling and
harmonizing force, we'd hasten their development by thousands of years.
We'd be granting them the greatest possible boon!"

"I don't know," Remm said, obviously swayed by Macker's logic. "I'm
still hesitant about introducing a being into their midst whose thought
processes would be so subtle and superior to their own. How do you feel
about it, Toolls?"

"What would they have to lose?" Toolls asked with his penchant for
striking the core of an argument.

"The right or wrong of such moral and philosophical considerations has
always been a delicate thing to decide," Remm acquiesced reluctantly.
"Go ahead if you think it is the right thing to do."

       *       *       *       *       *

"All finished?" Macker asked.

"That depends on how much you want me to do," Toolls replied. "I've
substituted our 'heavy' substances for his entire body structure,
including the brain--at the same time transferring his former memory and
habit impressions. That was necessary if he is to be able to care for
himself. Also I brought his muscular reaction time up to our norm, and
speeded his reflexes."

"Have you implanted any techniques which he did not possess before, such
as far-seeing, or mental insight?" Macker asked.

"No," Toolls said. "That is what I want your advice about. Just how much
should I reveal about ourselves and our background? Or should he be left
without any knowledge of us?"

"Well ..." Now that the others had deferred to Macker's arguments, he
had lost much of his certainty. "Perhaps we should at least let him know
who we are, and what we have done. That would save him much alarm and
perplexity when it comes time to reorient himself. On the other hand,
perhaps we should go even farther and implant the knowledge of some of
our sciences. Then he could do a better job of advancing his people. But
maybe I'm wrong. What do you think about it, Remm?"

"My personal opinion," Remm said, "is that we can't give him much of our
science, because it would be like giving a baby a high explosive to play
with. His race is much too primitive to handle it wisely. Either he, or
someone to whom he imparts what we teach him, would be certain to bring
catastrophe to his world. And if we let him learn less, but still
remember his contact with us, in time his race would very likely come to
regard us as gods. I would hesitate to drag in any metaphysical
confusion to add to the uncertainties you are already engendering. My
advice would be to wipe his mind of all memory of us. Let him explain
his new found invincibility to himself in his own way."

Macker had no criticism to offer to this suggestion. "Does he retain any
of his immunity to this world's malignant germs?" he asked.

"They are too impotent to represent any hazard to his present body
mechanism," Toolls replied. "If and when he dies, it will not be from
disease."

"He will be subject to the deterioration of old age, the same as we are,
won't he?" Macker asked.

"Of course," Toolls said, "but that's the only thing that will be able
to bring him down. He cannot be harmed by any force this 'light' world
can produce; he is impervious to sickness; and he will live
indefinitely."

"Indefinitely?"

"As his world reckons time. Their normal life span is less than a
hundred years. Ours is over five thousand. He will probably live
approximately twice that long, because he will be subjected to less
stress and strain, living as he does on a world of lighter elements."

"Then we have truly made a superman," Macker's tones inflected
satisfaction. "I wish we were returning this way in a thousand years or
so. I'd like to see the monumental changes he will effect."

"We may at that," Remm said, "or others of our people will. He will
probably be a living legend by then. I'd like to hear what his race has
to say about him. Do they have names with which to differentiate
individuals?"

"Yes," Toolls said. "This one has a family designation of Pollnow, and
a member designation of Orville."

"It will be necessary for us to leave in exactly ten minutes," Remm
reminded them. "Our next stopping place--the red star--will reach its
nearest conjunction with this planet by the time we meet it out in
space."

"Then we will have time to do nothing more for him before we go," Macker
said. "But as far as I can see we've forgotten nothing, have we,
Toolls?"

"Nothing," Toolls answered. "No--we forgot nothing."

       *       *       *       *       *

But Toolls was wrong. They had forgotten one thing. A minor detail,
relatively....

On Toolls' world his race, in the course of its evolution, had adjusted
itself to its own particular environment. Logically, the final result
was that they evolved into beings best able to survive in that
environment. As such their food--a "heavy," highly concentrated
food--was ideally suited to supply the needs of their "heavy,"
tremendously avid organisms.

Orville Pollnow had no such food available. His body--no larger than
before--had an Earth mass of one hundred and eighty thousand pounds. One
hundred and eighty thousand pounds--the weight of twelve hundred average
sized men--of fiercely burning, intense virility. Even continuous
eating--of his own world's food--could not supply the demands of that
body.

Twenty-four hours after the aliens left, Pollnow was dead--of
starvation.


THE END



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _If Worlds of Science Fiction_ July
    1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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