A Rational Weakness
“Destruction is the duty of every man, woman . . .” the loud speaker blared, just before the thrown grenade exploded on the platform, sending the Vice-Admiral in charge of Persuasion back to the ship in a log. And indeed a thirst for destruction, self- or other- wise, seemed a common goad for the masses of pocked-flesh creatures below us; hideous, mutated creatures whose ancestors had seen fit to call themselves “men.”
When we first arrived on this war-torn planet their hostilities had been directed solely toward our ship. But once our anti-gravity screens had proved too much for their feeble weapons, they turned them on each other, themselves, and the decayed world they had inherited from their forefathers so long ago. Every so often we sent a man down like the Vice-Admiral with the expressed purpose of making a deal with them. But, as we anticipated, he would always be killed, and then systematically brought back aboard the ship and re-cloned. This little game proved effective in keeping them from losing the hope that in their self-destruction we, their enemies, might also be destroyed. Our orders were to rid the galaxy of transfigured or corrupt forms of life. If we could do it with a minimum of blood on our hands, we preferred it that way.
“Eat a grapefruit of Sundays,” would be somewhat accurate translation of the message which flowed from the twisted mind of what appeared to be the leader of the mutated population. A least he was the largest, his mutation being limited mainly to his brain. His limbs and body seemed fairly well developed, but his head rested on his huge shoulders like a ping-pong ball, with massive jaws hanging beneath it. “Eat a grapefruit of Sundays,” he repeated. He spoke in faint brain vibrations which could only be discerned from the high amount of radiation in the air with the greatest scrutiny on the part of our communications department.
Being the ship’s head communications analyst, the message found its way through the circuits to me, where it was my duty to analyze it and suggest a proper response. I mulled the statement over in my head for the few seconds allowed a personal evaluation. When this proved fruitless, I fed it into the K-Phonic 5000 computer on board the ship, as is standard procedure in this situation. It seemed to take an uncommonly long time for the machine to make anything out of the message, and I sat before the control board expecting the “non-computable” sign to flash at any moment. But there must have been something in the message which was not quite comprehensible even as nonsense, for the computer soon showed signs of mechanical strain.
Much astonished, I found that turning the machine off was impossible. The computer was so enthralled with the input data that it had recircuited itself around the power switch, and I flipped it back and forth in vain. Meanwhile, the computer was drawing far more than its share of energy from the banks, and soon the “emergency life-support system” lights began to flash. The computer’s usual hum rose to a deafening shrill and I found myself sprawled on the floor, my eyes locked shut my hands tightened against the sides of my head, hopelessly trying to block out the stinging scream.
Before long, almost unconsciously, I felt the ship touch down moderately hard on the surface of the planet. Although at the time I was almost incapable of rational thought, I did realize that the ship must have lost even the power to maintain its altitude and that would surely mean that our anti-gravity unit was no longer operating. We were completely vulnerable to attack, and the K-Phonic 5000 went right on draining energy.
All of a sudden the computer stood very quiet, almost screaming with quiet after its shrilling rampage. I opened my eyes to total darkness; something I had never experienced in twenty-seven years aboard the ship. From this and utter silence I guessed that the ship must be completely drained of energy, but soon I found my guess to be slightly in error. Through the deathly silence ran slow monotonous clicking, the last click being stretched over several moments and resembling a mechanically synthesized death rattle. Flashing my pocket light proved what I suspected. The clicking was the output card being strained out of the computer with its last breath of atomic will power. It had taken the total energy of the ship to produce that tiny slip of paper and, if it was the last thing I did, I had to read what it said.
I rose feebly to my feet, and took only a few steps before the explosion racked the ship and sent me hurling toward unconsciousness. When I awoke, scaly hands were gripping my arms like vises, carrying me away. I turned my head for just an instant to notice the slip of paper laying face up on the pile of debris which had once been my instruments, but I was too far away to read what it said.
“A Rational Weakness,” by Peteso originally published in & other lovely insects ([Forum] 1976, City College of San Francisco).