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´╗┐Title: The Carnivore
Author: MacLean, Katherine, 1925-
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 "The Carnivore" ***

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 the
 carnivore

 By G. A. MORRIS

 Illustrated by BURCHARD


 _Why were they apologetic? It
 wasn't their fault that they
 came to Earth much too late._


The beings stood around my bed in air suits like ski suits, with globes
over their heads like upside-down fishbowls. It was all like a
masquerade, with odd costumes and funny masks.

I know that the masks are their faces, but I argue with them and find I
think as if I am arguing with humans behind the masks. They are people.
I recognize people and whether I am going to like this person or that
person by something in the way they move and how they get excited when
they talk; and I know that I like these people in a motherly sort of
way. You have to feel motherly toward them, I guess.

They all remind me of Ronny, a medical student I knew once. He was small
and round and eager. You had to like him, but you couldn't take him very
seriously. He was a pacifist; he wrote poetry and pulled it out to read
aloud at ill-timed moments; and he stuttered when he talked too fast.

They are like that, all fright and gentleness.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am not the only survivor--they have explained that--but I am the first
they found, and the least damaged, the one they have chosen to represent
the human race to them. They stand around my bed and answer questions,
and are nice to me when I argue with them.

All in a group they look half-way between a delegation of nations and an
ark, one of each, big and small, thick and thin, four arms or wings, all
shapes and colors in fur and skin and feathers.

I can picture them in their UN of the Universe, making speeches in their
different languages, listening patiently without understanding each
other's different problems, boring each other and being too polite to
yawn.

They are polite, so polite I almost feel they are afraid of me, and I
want to reassure them.

But I talk as if I were angry. I can't help it, because if things had
only been a little different ... "Why couldn't you have come sooner? Why
couldn't you have tried to stop it before it happened, or at least come
sooner, afterward...?"

If they had come sooner to where the workers of the Nevada power pile
starved slowly behind their protecting walls of lead--if they had looked
sooner for survivors of the dust with which the nations of the world had
slain each other--George Craig would be alive. He died before they came.
He was my co-worker, and I loved him.

We had gone down together, passing door by door the automatic safeguards
of the plant, which were supposed to protect the people on the outside
from the radioactive danger from the inside--but the danger of a failure
of politics was far more real than the danger of failure in the science
of the power pile, and that had not been calculated by the builders. We
were far underground when the first radioactivity in the air outside had
shut all the heavy, lead-shielded automatic doors between us and the
outside.

We were safe. And we starved there.

"Why didn't you come sooner?" I wonder if they know or guess how I feel.
My questions are not questions, but I have to ask them. He is dead. I
don't mean to reproach them--they look well meaning and kindly--but I
feel as if, somehow, knowing why it happened could make it stop, could
let me turn the clock back and make it happen differently. If I could
have signaled them, so they would have come just a little sooner.

They look at one another, turning their funny-face heads uneasily,
moving back and forth, but no one will answer.

The world is dead.... George is dead, that thin, pathetic creature with
the bones showing through his skin that he was when we sat still at the
last with our hands touching, thinking there were people outside who had
forgotten us, hoping they would remember. We didn't guess that the world
was dead, blanketed in radiating dust outside. Politics had killed it.

These beings around me, they had been watching, seeing what was going to
happen to our world, listening to our radios from their small
settlements on the other planets of the Solar System. They had seen the
doom of war coming. They represented stellar civilizations of great
power and technology, and with populations that would have made ours
seem a small village; they were stronger than we were, and yet they had
done nothing.

"Why didn't you stop us? You could have stopped us."

       *       *       *       *       *

A rabbity one who is closer than the others backs away, gesturing
politely that he is giving room for someone else to speak, but he looks
guilty and will not look at me with his big round eyes. I still feel
weak and dizzy. It is hard to think, but I feel as if they are hiding a
secret.

A doelike one hesitates and comes closer to my bed. "We discussed it ...
we voted...." It talks through a microphone in its helmet with a soft
lisping accent that I think comes from the shape of its mouth. It has a
muzzle and very soft, dainty, long nibbling lips like a deer that
nibbles on twigs and buds.

"We were afraid," adds one who looks like a bear.

"To us the future was very terrible," says one who looks as if it
might have descended from some sort of large bird like a penguin. "So
much-- Your weapons were very terrible."

Now they all talk at once, crowding about my bed, apologizing. "So much
killing. It hurt to know about. But your people didn't seem to mind."

"We were afraid."

"And in your fiction," the doelike one lisped, "I saw plays from your
amusement machines which said that the discovery of beings in space
would save you from war, not because you would let us bring friendship
and teach peace, but because the human race would unite in _hatred_ of
the outsiders. They would forget their hatred of each other only in a
new and more terrible war with us." Its voice breaks in a squeak and it
turns its face away from me.

"You were about to come out into space. We were wondering how to hide!"
That is a quick-talking one, as small as a child. He looks as if he
might have descended from a bat--gray silken fur on his pointed face,
big night-seeing eyes, and big sensitive ears, with a humped shape on
the back of his air suit which might be folded wings. "We were trying to
conceal where we had built, so that humans would not guess we were near
and look for us."

They are ashamed of their fear, for because of it they broke all the
kindly laws of their civilizations, restrained all the pity and
gentleness I see in them, and let us destroy ourselves.

I am beginning to feel more awake and to see more clearly. And I am
beginning to feel sorry for them, for I can see why they are afraid.

They are herbivores. I remember the meaning of shapes. In the paths
of evolution there are grass eaters and berry eaters and root diggers.
Each has its functional shape of face and neck--and its wide,
startled-looking eyes to see and run away from the hunters. In all their
racial history they have never killed to eat. They have been killed and
eaten, or run away, and they evolved to intelligence by selection. Those
lived who succeeded in running away from carnivores like lions, hawks,
and men.

       *       *       *       *       *

I look up, and they turn their eyes and heads in quick embarrassed
motion, not meeting my eye. The rabbity one is nearest and I reach out
to touch him, pleased because I am growing strong enough now to move my
arms. He looks at me and I ask the question: "Are there any
carnivores--flesh eaters--among you?"

He hesitates, moving his lips as if searching for tactful words. "We
have never found any that were civilized. We have frequently found them
in caves and tents fighting each other. Sometimes we find them fighting
each other with the ruins of cities around them, but they are always
savages."

The bearlike one said heavily, "It might be that carnivores evolve more
rapidly and tend toward intelligence more often, for we find radioactive
planets without life, and places like the place you call your asteroid
belt, where a planet should be--but there are only scattered fragments
of planet, pieces that look as if a planet had been blown apart. We
think that usually ..." He looked at me uncertainly, beginning to
fumble his words. "We think ..."

[Illustration]

"Yours is the only carnivorous race we have found that was--civilized,
that had a science and was going to come out into space," the doelike
one interrupted softly. "We were afraid."

They seem to be apologizing.

The rabbity one, who seems to be chosen as the leader in speaking to me,
says, "We will give you anything you want. Anything we are able to give
you."

They mean it. We survivors will be privileged people, with a key to all
the cities, everything free. Their sincerity is wonderful, but puzzling.
Are they trying to atone for the thing they feel was a crime; that they
allowed humanity to murder itself, and lost to the Galaxy the richness
of a race? Is this why they are so generous?

Perhaps then they will help the race to get started again. The records
are not lost. The few survivors can eventually repopulate Earth. Under
the tutelage of these peaceable races, without the stress of division
into nations, we will flower as a race. No children of mine to the
furthest descendant will ever make war again. This much of a lesson we
have learned.

These timid beings do not realize how much humanity has wanted peace.
They do not know how reluctantly we were forced and trapped by old
institutions and warped tangles of politics to which we could see no
answer. We are not naturally savage. We are not savage when approached
as individuals. Perhaps they know this, but are afraid anyhow,
instinctive fear rising up from the blood of their hunted, frightened
forebears.

       *       *       *       *       *

The human race will be a good partner to these races. Even recovering
from starvation as I am, I can feel in myself an energy they do not
have. The savage in me and my race is a creative thing, for in those who
have been educated as I was it is a controlled savagery which attacks
and destroys only problems and obstacles, never people. Any human raised
outside of the political traditions that the race inherited from its
bloodstained childhood would be as friendly and ready for friendship as
I am toward these beings. I could never hurt these pleasant, overgrown
bunnies and squirrels.

"We will do everything we can to make up for ... we will try to help,"
says the bunny, stumbling over the English, but civilized and cordial
and kind.

I sit up suddenly, reaching out impulsively to shake his hand. Suddenly
frightened he leaps back. All of them step back, glancing behind them as
though making sure of the avenue of escape. Their big luminous eyes
widen and glance rapidly from me to the doors, frightened.

They must think I am about to leap out of bed and pounce on them and eat
them. I am about to laugh and reassure them, about to say that all I
want from them is friendship, when I feel a twinge in my abdomen from
the sudden motion. I touch it with one hand under the bedclothes.

There is the scar of an incision there, almost healed. An operation. The
weakness I am recovering from is more than the weakness of starvation.

For only half a second I do not understand; then I see why they looked
ashamed.

They voted the murder of a race.

All the human survivors found have been made sterile. There will be no
more humans after we die.

I am frozen, one hand still extended to grasp the hand of the rabbity
one, my eyes still searching his expression, reassuring words still half
formed.

There will be time for anger or grief later, for now, in this instant, I
can understand. They are probably quite right.

We were carnivores.

I know, because, at this moment of hatred, I could kill them all.

                                                        --G. A. MORRIS



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Galaxy Science Fiction_ October 1953.
    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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