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´╗┐Title: Where the PHPH Pebbles Go
Author: DeFord, Miriam Allen
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 "Where the PHPH Pebbles Go" ***

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                       WHERE THE PHPH PEBBLES GO

                        By MIRIAM ALLEN DeFORD

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Worlds of Tomorrow April 1963
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

                  It was a strange world and a deadly
                  one, the incredible alien planet--

Gral and Hodnuth were playing phph. In case you are not a phph fan, and
haven't ever seen Bliten's classic _Ways of Improving Your Phph Game_,
its essence consists in lobbing pebbles at a target as near the horizon
as your skill permits. After each throw, you fly over to see how far
you went.

It sounds like a simple game, but it has complicated restrictions and
rules, and a good phph player can command any amount of heavy service
from the spectators. Since a lot of the Ground Dwellers are also phph
addicts (they could never become players, of course, being far too
small and light to handle the phph pebbles), this means that a real
champion never has to do any kind of work again, being fed, clothed,
housed and entertained by his admirers, and can devote all his time to
the game.

Gral and Hodnuth, having alternated as champions for many a long
ganath, had it pretty easy. But neither of them was given to lying
back on his laurels and growing soft. This meant that when a match
was announced, Ground Dwellers as well as we Real People came by the
hanthoids from zygils around to watch through viewing-tubes--and
whichever of the two won piled up a lot of bilibs of voluntary service.
(Voluntary service, as most economists admit, is true wealth, since
the pledge is incumbent on the offerer's heirs until it is fully
satisfied, and can likewise be willed by the recipient to _his_ heirs).

Naturally, no phph player is absolutely perfect; if he were, there
would be no contest and nobody would bother to attend a game. Pebbles
fall short, they go awry, and sometimes they are thrown so hard that
they escape altogether from our light gravity and fly into outer space.
At the end of the game period the referee (usually a superannuated
former champion) tots up the score and announces how many times each
player missed the target and by which of these errors he missed it. By
a rather confusing arithmetical computation he then determines which of
them won, and the winner collects his pledges--and the fans collect the
side bets they have been making all through the game.

In this particular game Hodnuth won. But then he won about half the
time, so that wasn't what gave it its importance. The Ground Dwellers,
as everyone knows, are an excitable and volatile race (which is why we
conquered them so easily, with the added advantage of our command of
levitation and our immensely greater size and strength), so just an
ordinary phph game often looks like a riot. When anything out of the
way occurs, such as the appearance of a new young contender to take on
one of the champions, the Ground Dwellers simply go wild. And this time
they practically exploded. I confess that even we Real People were

One of the Thinkers was discovered attending the game.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, when we first arrived here, and cleaned up on the Ground Dwellers
and established them in their proper subservient position, the Thinkers
were our leaders. It was they who had figured out the whole invasion,
had headed the Sixty Hastgunt Flight, and had worked out the tactics
and logistics of the Great Conquest. But once we were settled and
things were going smoothly, they called a last General Meeting and
told us that their part was finished, and that now they were going to
retire to the Far Colony and go on with their Thinking. Since then, if
a problem arises that our own Council can't handle, one of us has to
fly to the Far Colony and obtain the advice of a Thinker. They live
together there with their families (supported of course by all of
us) and spend all their time in study and research. It is one of the
natural advantages of us Real People that we have these specialized
Thinkers to do all our intellectual and cultural tasks and teach us
what we need to know, leaving us others free for the truly satisfying
functions of government and commerce.

Never in all the ganaths since that last General Meeting had a Thinker
been seen among us, and that so august a being should condescend to
attend a mere phph game was unbelievable. Yet there he was--easily
recognizable, naturally, since all Thinkers have long white hair and
long white beards. (Even the female Thinkers--though some heretics say
their beards are artificial.) In fact, that is the way one knows that
a new Thinker has been born. Soon after birth his hair and beard begin
to grow, both white, and as soon as he is weaned we fly him to the Far
Colony to be reared and educated by his own. If a Thinker has a child
who isn't one, they send him back to us.

As soon as the spectators realized that a Thinker was among them, the
excitement reached boiling point. The Ground Dwellers almost went
crazy--for, of all things, the Thinker had seated himself not in the
perches of honor of the Real People, in front, but in the Ground
Dwellers' bleachers. We ourselves noticed all the scrambling and
heaving, and when some of us flew over to investigate we could hardly
believe our eyes.

When I say scrambling and heaving, I don't mean they were mobbing him.
They're much too afraid of us for that, and anyway their reverence for
the Thinkers is positively religious--much more so than ours. After
all the Thinkers are simply specialized members of our own race, and
though we revere them we could scarcely worship them, as the Ground
Dwellers do. No, they were clearing a respectful space all around him,
but then they kept gazing at him in awe, half of them falling on their
knees in his presence. I sneaked a glance at the phph players, and as
I suspected they were looking anything but happy. Phph champions are
pretty vain. They don't care for rival attractions.

One of our party--it was Sephar, who as usual pushed himself
forward--bowed to the Thinker and asked if he wouldn't be more
comfortable among us. But he shook his white head and said no, he could
see better where he was. (I wonder if Thinkers may not have a bit of
vanity too, and if he wasn't enjoying seeing all those poor creatures
prostrate themselves around him!)

"Then will Your Honor join us when the game is over?" persisted Sephar.
"If you would enter my poor pit of a dwelling, it would overwhelm me
with pleasure to have you feast with us."

His poor pit of a dwelling, indeed! I wish you could see the palace he
lived in--the roof-opening is plated with solid nagh!

       *       *       *       *       *

I was just about bursting with indignation, but I should have known you
can trust a Thinker to deflate a fellow like that.

"Thank you, brother," he said mildly, "but I'm here doing some research
and I'll have to fly back right after the game."

Sephar opened his mouth to argue, but by that time I had him by the
wing and I pulled him back--he said rudely, I say firmly. "Do you want
to give us a bad name for presumption, brother?" I whispered. "Don't
interfere with a Thinker when he's Thinking!"

Some of the rest of us nodded agreement, so Sephar shut up. But he had
a nasty gleam in his eye and I braced myself for trouble later. We
bowed and returned to our places. Thanks to Sephar and his performance,
I missed the last throw Gral made, which lost him the contest. But I
heard the moan from the spectators who weren't watching the Thinker
instead, so I knew he'd lobbed a too-high one. It must have been a
humdinger--one of the throws into space. I glanced back as I was flying
away, and the Thinker was standing up and gazing intently after it.
Well, I thought to myself, imagine a Thinker getting worked up over a
phph throw!

The game was over soon after that, and Hodnuth went around collecting
his pledges while Gral was being consoled by his backers. When I got
a chance to look again where the Thinker had been sitting, he had

The one who hadn't disappeared was Sephar. He was waiting for me, just
as I'd expected.

"Not here!" I snarled at him. "Do you want the Ground Dwellers to see
Real People in a brawl?"

So we adjourned to Marnag's courtyard, which was the nearest dueling
place, and it was a nice little fight, and I won. Quite a group
gathered around, and I was pleased to see that several of my friends
were making bets on me. Some of Sephar's sycophants lugged him off
to the hospital to have a fractured wing-tip treated. The rest came
home with me and we spent our winnings on a good dinner with plenty of
mastonyi to wash it down.

Several of us speculated about the Thinker, and we wondered if his
"research" wasn't a fake and if he'd just decided to enjoy a game like
the rest of us.

"After all," Marnag pointed out, "he might be only a boy. You can't
tell with a Thinker. I suppose young Thinkers can be frivolous and
rebellious like our own youngsters."

Nipar, who is something of a wag, yelled: "Hey, listen to Marnag--he's
Thinking! Come on, Marnag, are you really a Thinker in disguise? Let's
see if that green hair of yours is dyed--you could have shaved the

And he poured a pitcher of mastonyi right over Marnag's head to find
out if the color would come off. After that, the party got really
rough, and I don't remember the rest of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

A whole ganath after that, the Thinkers sent one of their messengers
to tell us in the Council that we were summoned to a meeting in the
Far Colony. That doesn't happen often, so we knew something extremely
important must be up. I for one was all of a twitter.

Not one of us connected the summons with that Thinker who had come to
the phph contest between Gral and Hodnuth. That was our stupidity. We
should have guessed it when we found the two champions had been sent
for also. Gral flew next to me on the trip, and of all things, both
he and Hodnuth were carrying with them several phph pebbles which the
Thinkers had ordered them to bring along.

It's hard to tell the Thinkers apart--at least for us who aren't
Thinkers--but I recognized the one who had been at the game. He sat
right by Hledo, who always acts as their spokesman when we consult them
about anything.

"Welcome and thank you for coming so promptly," Hledo began. "Did you
two phph players bring the pebbles?"

Gral and Hodnuth handed over the load, and Hledo passed it on to the
one we knew.

"This is Myrwan," Hledo said, "and he will tell you the urgent thing he
has Thought."

"I became interested a long time ago," Myrwan began in the rather rusty
voice all the Thinkers except Hledo have--they spend most of their time
in study and meditation, and don't talk much among themselves--"in a
question that seems never to have occurred to any of Us.

"Where do phph pebbles go when they are thrown beyond our feeble
gravity and escape into outer space? What becomes of them in the end?
And who, if anyone, collects them, and what conclusions about them and
our world do such persons draw?"

I raised my hand to ask a question, and Myrwan nodded.

"I don't understand." I said politely. (Meaning he was being too
abstruse for any of us, for it is understood that there is no keener
apprehension in the council than my own.) "Is Your Honor implying that
there exist outside our world other intelligences that would be capable
of observing and drawing conclusions from the pebbles?"

"Exactly. I know that the general belief is that it is impossible that
extraplanetary beings can exist, least of all intelligent beings. That
was the belief of my own colleagues until I gave them the results of my
recent Thought. It is the reason We have summoned you here.

"For some time now We have been receiving peculiar radio waves from
outside the world. We have considered them merely manifestations of
random radiation from other planets and stars. But now they have
suddenly become--shall I say rhythmical? Measured? Directional?
They leave the impression that someone, or something, is trying to
communicate with us.

"The astronomers among Us have become more and more concerned. We have
finally been led to the reluctant belief that Our former theories have
been wrong--that this actually is not the only inhabited planet.

"Now, I need not tell you how disastrous it would be for us if that
were true. If there _are_ intelligent beings on other planets, if they
are trying to communicate with us, then the next step would be that
they would try to visit us."

Marnag raised his hand.

"What harm would that do? If such beings exist, and if they could come
here, why couldn't we go there too--wherever it is--and wouldn't that
enrich our lives? Of course I'm not a Thinker--" I had a fleeting
vision of Nipar and the pitcher of mastonyi!--"but I'm a Real Man and I
can see no reason why it would hurt us to find we are not alone in the

"No," said Myrwan dryly. "You are not a Thinker, my friend. We enjoy
here a completely stable civilization. It is the best of all possible
social systems. We do not want it disturbed."

"I see," said Marnag, and several others nodded. I confess that a
heretical idea crossed my mind--that any such disturbance might well
dethrone the Thinkers first of all--but I suppressed it. Myrwan went on:

"And that is where the phph pebbles come in. In the course of my
researches on these previously unknown waves, I began to wonder what,
if anything, had initiated the interest of outsiders in our planet,
assuming that outsiders exist. Certainly we had made no move toward
trying either to reach or to communicate with any putative dwellers on
other planets. There had been no major changes on our planet that could
have enlisted the attention of outside astronomers, even granting that
they have telescopes as powerful as our own.

"Only one thing, so far as I can ascertain, has ever left this planet
for outer space. And that was the phph pebbles.

"We call them pebbles. To beings who might consider us giants--and if
there really are intelligent beings in other worlds they might well
be of an entirely different size from us, though no less dangerous
for all that--they might seem huge meteors. Suppose that, though most
of them would undoubtedly burn up and all of them be considerably
reduced before they struck another planet as meteorites, some of them
at least might still be sufficiently large to be analyzed chemically?
And suppose that where they struck there existed beings capable of
analyzing them?"

       *       *       *       *       *

This was getting a little deep for anybody not a Thinker to take in.
Several Council members raised their hands plaintively and so indicated.

"All right, I'll try to make it plainer," Myrwan said. "Let us pretend
that instead of the little fragments of space debris that fall
harmlessly in the annual meteor showers here, we were pelted with
enormous chunks of matter, perhaps causing major damage to property and
life. Wouldn't We immediately undertake an intensive study to determine
whence they came, and of what, precisely, they consisted?

"And if We found that these residual meteorites contained material
indicating their origin in an inhabited world--still worse, in a world
sufficiently evolved to entail the possibility or probability that its
highest life-forms might be intelligent or even civilized--wouldn't we
take steps at once to investigate? Moreover, wouldn't we be outraged to
the point where our primary object would be to avenge ourselves?

"Of course we would. And so of course would any beings on other
planets, under similar circumstances."

"You mean," Marnag asked, "that if beings came here from space they
would attack us?"

"That too. But even if that were not their reaction, curiosity alone
could be enough to spur them on to exploration."

"But--but what can we do?" quavered old Gantes. He is really growing
too senile to be on the Council much longer.

"We can discourage them. And we can mislead them."


"We can make certain that nothing reaches them in the future which
gives them the least sign that any but the lowest forms of life, if
even those, exist in our world.

"I studied this whole question systematically, as We always do. I came
to the conclusion that only the phph pebbles could possibly betray us.
I attended a phph game to see for myself if a pebble actually could
be thrown with sufficient force to become, as it were, an artificial
meteor. I found that it could. Indeed, I saw Gral make such a throw."

Gral looked stricken. He fell flat on his face, groveling before the

"Oh, Your Reverences," he cried, "I never dreamt--I never--"

"Get up, Gral," Myrwan ordered. "Nobody's blaming you. Nobody expects
anyone but a Thinker to Think."

"We'll make it a rule from now on to hold our shots. We'll bar anyone
from the game forever who lobs a pebble too hard," Hodnuth promised

"Far from it," said Myrwan. "On the contrary, in the future you must
concentrate on supra-gravity shots. Give extra points to anyone who
performs one."

"Why?" several of us murmured, completely bewildered.

"Because I have already analyzed three pebbles I brought back with me
from the game. With the ones you have brought, I shall be able to make
further tests. If they confirm my previous findings, I Think We shall
be able to mislead any potential attackers.

"Every phph pebble henceforth will be doctored. To use any unauthorized
pebble will become a felony. What has happened in the past we can't
change, but there may still be time to save ourselves. From this time
forth there are going to be more 'meteors' shot off our atmosphere than
ever before--and every one of them is going to tell a completely false
story about conditions in their place of origin.

"Of course We _may_ be entirely wrong. These new waves may be due
to purely physical causes. Other planets may all be as devoid of
intelligent life as We have always assumed. But if there is the
faintest possibility--and I feel there is--that we are in danger, it
would be fatal not to take such measures as we can to avert it."

"What's in the pebbles now that could tell anything about us?" Gral
asked. "And if something is, how could you alter it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Myrwan froze up a little. The Thinkers don't like to have us ask
detailed questions. But he realized that Gral was still upset, and
answered kindly.

"It wouldn't mean a lot to you if I told you. But you can understand
this much--chemical analysis of the pebbles I've looked at so far shows
fragments of embedded fossils."

"Of plants, you mean?"

Myrwan smiled.

"Plants don't become fossilized," he said. "In one pebble there was
a microscopic piece of a metal knife. In another there was half of a
fossilized tooth. Ground Dweller relics, true, but human. You must
remember that all the hills around here from which you gather the
pebbles are really million-ganath-old burial places of the Ground
Dwellers. We haven't bothered to dig up most of them because we're so
rich in prehistoric remains, with our immensely old civilization, that
we have all the fossils and ancient artifacts we need.

"But let's imagine an alien civilization a great deal younger than
ours. Let's imagine that in even one of those pebbles--which would be
meteorites to them--even a minute trace of that kind of thing should be
left. What would they Think?--for they would have to have Thinkers too,
to be civilized at all.

"I'll tell you what they'd Think. They'd decide that somewhere out in
space there is a rich, undiscovered planet full of valuable knowledge
and, even better, valuable artifacts. Probably a world with a culture
much more advanced than their own. And they'd try hard to trace the
direction from which those meteorites came, and to calculate the
distance. Then suppose they had some means of transportation in space.

"_That_ may well be what these new radio waves mean. They may be
attempts at communication--if we were foolish enough to respond to
them. We don't dare to take any chances.

"So from now on there are going to be swarms and swarms of those
meteoroids--and every one of them is going to be a real artifact on
its own--a _manufactured_ one, made according to Our specifications,
carrying an unmistakable message. A false one!

"They will be cunningly constructed from forms of matter injurious to
any conceivable variety of life. We'll cover them all. And they'll
be barren of even the most primitive bacteria. They will carry in
themselves a silent warning: 'Approach the planet from which these come
at peril of your instant death ... not matter what kind of being you
are!' That should save us forever."

I'd been wondering why Sephar had kept his big mouth shut all this
time. To my way of feeling, he should never have been with us at
all. He would never have been a Council member if he hadn't been a
multibilibaire. But I'd won a fair fight with him, and officially we
had to be friends, so I hadn't protested when I found he was included
in the summons.

But now the big blowhard had to put his two grocs' worth.

"Your Reverence--Your Honor--" he spluttered. "May I ask a question?"

"Certainly, brother."

"Since players have been lobbing pebbles out into space for thousands
and thousands of ganaths, and as Your Honor says, some of them must
long ago have landed somewhere, who knows what dead give-aways may have
been in any of them?"

"Is that your question?"

"No, I have two. First, why haven't these intelligent beings whose
existence you're presupposing--" I saw Myrwan's face set, and I knew
he'd noted that rude and insulting word, but I managed to conceal my
smile--"why haven't they come here before this? And since they haven't
come, if they're smart enough to figure out our whereabouts why aren't
they also smart enough to realize the difference between the old
pebbles and these new ones, and to know that we're putting something
over on them?"

We sometimes say that though the Thinkers are of course overwhelmingly
our superiors mentally, they lack the emotional control which is the
great characteristic of the rest of us Real People. I wish those
scandalmongers could have seen Myrwan then. His face was as white as
his beard and his wings quivered, but he let Sephar have his say out
and he answered him very quietly.

"As to your first question, brother," (and if anybody ever called me
"brother" in that tone I'd know it was a case of fight or run) "the
only logical reason is that it must be only recently that such beings
have reached a state of culture where they are able to analyze the
pebbles and draw the right conclusions from them.

"And the answer to your second question is that we can only hope. Hope
that all of the pebbles already in their possession are free of--shall
we say, incriminating evidence? All we can guarantee is that all they
find in the future will be. Does that answer you satisfactorily?"

"It will have to," muttered Sephar sullenly. I moved away from him and
was glad to notice that I was not the only one.

"What I have said to you," continued the Thinker calmly, "you may
communicate to any of the Real People you wish. You will naturally
keep it from the Ground Dwellers; there is no reason to agitate them
at present. Time enough for that if we should ever need them as
soldiers--which I devoutly hope we never shall."

"But who will make the artificial pebbles if the Ground Dwellers aren't
to know about them?" asked Marnag. "What about our slogan--'Thought
from the Thinkers, government and administration from the Real People,
technical skill and heavy labor from the Ground Dwellers'?"

"_We_ shall handle that. When you go home, tell Earnig I want to see
him at once. Brief him first. He and his Bureau will see that the job
is done, and the Ground Dwellers needn't be told just what they are
making. They'll be delighted to hear that We are planning a new kind of
phph pebble to increase the interest of the game--they love it whenever
one is batted clear away."

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, all this was last ganath. The new pebbles are in use. So far
nothing has happened--unless you count the fact that, according to
Myrwan, those peculiar radio waves have ceased. Let us hope that if his
whole theory is correct--and Thinkers don't talk about their Thoughts
till they're pretty sure of them--those alien beings have given up,
decided either that they were mistaken and there is no intelligence
here able to communicate, or that they themselves haven't the ability
to interpret our answers.

Sephar? Oh, he isn't around any more. One of the Thinkers is doing some
experiments in Psychological Adjustment. Hledo asked the Council's
recommendation of somebody they could commandeer as a test subject,
according to the Agreement on Thinkers' Privileges, and I got them to
suggest Sephar. He was very nasty about it, but I ignored his underbred
invective. I felt it my duty also respectfully to remind Hledo of
Sephar's past indiscretions, in case they'd forgotten.

Usually when the Thinkers have finished with a subject he's no longer
of much use and they put him in a rest home for the remainder of his
life. So since I've done pretty well for myself lately, I was able to
buy Sephar's home, with its nagh-plated roof-opening, and move into it.

He had a very attractive wife, who of course couldn't go with him
to the Far Colony. It just goes to show that virtue (as one of the
Thinkers once remarked wittily) is its own reward.

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