by Frej Wasastjerna


     On the third planet of a star that astronomers of another species, 89 light-years distant and four hundred and twenty thousand years in the future, would call Gliese 67.1, a hunter listened. In the distance, beyond the range where her pack usually ventured, she heard a call that had no words but meant "We have found prey and want help in killing it." She turned in that direction and began running, her six powerful legs carrying her rapidly along a valley, over a ridge and into another valley. As she ran, she called out something that could mean "Follow me," in case other members of her pack were within earshot, and that could also be interpreted as "I'm coming!"

     On her way, she crossed the boundary of her pack's territory. That didn't bother her. She knew that her help would be welcome, and, if she survived the hunt, she would feed well -- and more; the breeding season was here.

     After half an hour or so, she saw what she had expected: a herd of large prey animals, for which her species didn't yet have any words, in a defensive formation. The rear ends of the adults faced outward, with their heads peering out between their eight legs, and their spiked tails waved menacingly, while the young comprised the center of the herd. Surrounding the herd were some members of her own species, most of them scarred or even crippled from previous encounters with this, their main prey. She didn't have words to count them, but it was clear to her that this pack was really too small. It was probably headed for extinction.

     After a while, it became clear that no further reinforcements would be coming. Hunger drove her to initiate the attack. She circled the herd, looking for a suitable place to begin. Guided by long experience in the right tactics, she selected as her target an individual that herself looked strong but was flanked by two weak-looking ones. With a sound not very unlike a bark, she signaled "I attack; follow me." With the pack members following her, she rushed her target. As soon as she was within range of her target's tail, she grabbed for it with her two arms, but her prey had anticipated that move and raised its tail. Then that tail came down in a slash that could have fractured her skull if she hadn't positioned her hands to grab it. One of the spikes cut her right forearm, but she pulled the tail down into her beak and bit down hard, severing the tail. Her prey screamed and ran forward, shoving its way into the center of the herd. She bounded onto its back. Just as she was about to bite off its neck, it threw itself to the right, colliding with one of the juvenile prey animals. She had to jump off, landing on the back of another juvenile, which she promptly decapitated.

     In the meanwhile the pack members had broken into the herd, whose survivors now fled in panic. The predators were left with the carcasses of one adult and one juvenile prey animal.

     They fed well. When sated, they were ready to breed. All of the pack members wanted to merge eggs with her. She was pleased, but she could choose only one. After due consideration, she chose the oldest pack member. While she couldn't have put the thought in words, she dimly realized that somebody who had survived this long with no injuries worse than several scars and a limp had to be canny and skillful. The couple dug a hole in the ground, while other couples dug holes of their own nearby. Then they twined their tails around each other. More or less simultaneously, they extruded unfertilized eggs through their tails. Both eggs emerged into the hole and then merged.

     After a while it was clear that all of the merged eggs had begun to form the tough leathery covering of a fertilized egg, so all the predators began covering the holes with vegetable matter, which would insulate the eggs and warm them with the heat of its decay.


     On the third planet of Sol, a band of bipedal omnivores faced another on the boundary between their territories. The males made threatening faces, yelled and grunted, and waved the branches they used as clubs. If someone had asked them why they did so, and if their vocabulary had been adequate for the task, they might have answered something like: "Are you dumb or what?  Those stinking motherfuckers want to kill us, eat all our food and take our broads!"


     On Gliese 67.1 III, a predator guarding the eggs of the pack noticed a suspicious motion in the heap of decaying vegetable matter. She stuck a hand in there. The hand found a tail, grabbed and pulled. Out came a small animal of an egg-eating species.

     The guard was shocked. This clutch of eggs might have been eaten as a result of a moment of carelessness on her part.

     Any animal that had the temerity to do that, or even to threaten to do it, deserved to be killed, but not to die a quick, clean death. She began to amuse herself by holding the animal in her right hand and the tip of its tail in her left and pulling, all the while keeping a careful lookout for any other dangers threatening the eggs. Agonized squeals told her that the tail of that animal was as sensitive as her own. When she tired of pulling it, she began nipping at it with the corners of her beak. An admiring audience had gathered around her. After a while, she had reduced the tail to tatters, and its possessor was thrashing madly with all eight legs and screaming continuously. Then she invited the audience to eat the legs of the animal. When that was done, she bit off the tail and gutted the animal with a slash of her claws. Then she tossed it far away, to spend the brief remainder of its life in severe pain.


     On Sol III a female biped heard a whimper. She went to investigate. Under a bush she found what her remote descendants would call a wolf cub.It was probably the offspring of the wolf her uncle had killed the day before, when it tried to steal a piece of deer meat.

     Sure, wolves were a confounded nuisance, and sometimes even dangerous, but how this one was so cute! She picked it up. It licked her fingers. That decided her: she had to take care of it!


     One of the six-legged predators looked at the corpse of a small animal she had just killed with a thrown stone. Suppose you threw a stone at a big prey animal?

     No, you couldn't kill a big animal with a stone of this size. But what about a big stone?

     That wouldn't work either. A stone big enough for that would be too heavy for her to throw.

     Suppose she threw a lot of stones, each as big as she could throw?

     That wouldn't kill the prey at once, but might do it if she could find and throw enough stones. In any case, it might injure the prey so that there would be less danger in finally killing it.

     The critical innovation that would transform the Iagyhs, as they would later call themselves, from an endangered species into a flourishing one had been made.


     A young male biped looked at a stick with a pointed end. Suppose you thrust it at the side of a big prey animal, for instance an elk. What would happen?

     If the end would penetrate the skin, it ought to injure the prey, even kill it if you could hit the right spot. Then there would, for once, be enough meat -- and he would be a hero, for bringing home such a lot of it! He would be able to choose among the young women!

     Besides, sticks like that would also be useful against those pesky neighboring bands, wouldn't they? What could kill an elk should be able to do the same to a man. And  once a few of the neighboring bullies were dead, the rest might realize that harassing the Real People was a Bad Idea.

     Clubs, stone axes -- now spears. The development of military technology was well under way.


     As was usually the case, the end of the Tests was an occasion for both jubilation and grief. Jubilation because five adolescents had passed, grief because two had not. Krehydyi had just barely passed everything else but flunked the stone throwing. Kedlyreti had done badly at running, and, more seriously, given answers different from the approved ones in the intellectual part of the Tests. Her answers weren't stupid, but they certainly weren't orthodox.

     In talking things over with the other adults when the time came to assess the performance of the youngsters, Lyerrekete had suggested that maybe unorthodox answers weren't such a bad thing. Maybe new ideas could sometimes be useful. The looks she got suggested that the other members of the pack wondered how she had passed, and if it wouldn't be a good idea to flunk her retroactively.

     "Where would we be if Iagyhs started thinking in unorthodox ways?" Tegahyi had asked. "That would lead to chaos!"

     "In pack Rryatehele they pass adolescents who give original answers, provide those answers are intelligent ones," Lyerrekete  had answered. "That pack seems not to have met with catastrophe yet."

     "Those eccentrics! You just wait! Sooner or later they'll have trouble. Anyway, you know we can't pass everybody. If we do, after a while there will be more of us than the land can support. What do we do then? Do you want packs killing each other over land?"

     Lyerrekete tucked her tail under herself in dismay at the thought. "But let's not kill Krehydyi and Kedlyreti, just eject them from the pack," she said.

     "So Kedlyreti can try to join Rryatehele?" Kililye said. "Don't count on it succeeding, few packs are willing to take the rejects of others. As for going into the wilderness and trying to survive there, few make it. Usually that's just a slower and more cruel method of killing them. But if that's the way you want it, all right."


     "God commands us to attack!" the priest shouted. "We have tolerated the idolators and their false gods for too long! God has turned his face away from us and sent us this drought as punishment for our dilatoriness! Crush the infidels and take their land!"

     He didn't need to mention taking their women and, more importantly in the present famine, their food. That was what the victor in a war to the death always did.

     The war was successful, and the genes of the priest's people became more common at the expense of those of more peaceful peoples. Nonetheless, it wasn't always the aggressors who won. Certainly the mindlessly aggressive did not prosper in the long run.


     Thousands of years later, the priest's descendants argued plausibly that war was a temporary stage in the development of an intelligent species. If it didn't learn to suppress its warlike tendencies soon after it developed nuclear power, it would blow itself back to savagery and pose no threat to other species.

     The argument was reinforced by human history. Two nuclear wars had very nearly annihilated civilization before the Solar Federation was formed.

     Even the skeptics fully agreed that, if and when contact was made with other spacefaring species, it was essential not to risk an interstellar war. That would unleash destruction on an utterly terrifying scale. 


     "As you know, we have, for the first time, encountered an intelligent alien species. The question before us now is what to do about it. The consensus among our experts is that, although this species lacks manipulative organs and thus has no technology, we can't accept the risk that it may one day find a way of becoming a threat to us. Therefore several alternative programs for exterminating it have been prepared. The task before the Conclave is now to decide if it should be exterminated and, if so, how."

     Kihyidili Rahangyi Hyukydya's words came as no surprise to Ryekengi Rryatehele Lyihide. She wasn't fully convinced of the wisdom of exterminating a harmless species, however.

     In fact, why should only Iagyhs have rights?

     She knew better than to voice that thought. On the few occasions she had done so in private, she had encountered only blank incomprehension.

     When her turn to speak came, she did suggest leaving the aliens alive to study them. The whistles of derision that met her suggestion were wordless, but she could provide the words herself: "That Rryatehele addlebrain again!" She had heard them often enough.

     When the proposal to exterminate the aliens was put to the vote, it passed with 1021 votes in favor, 3 abstentions and none against. Ryekengi was surprised that there were as many as three abstentions. Did she actually have two sympathizers in the Conclave?

     Only the details remained to decide. With no serious opposition, the ruling body of the Iagyhs, a species that didn't even have the concept of war, had decided to exterminate another intelligent species. This was to be only the first of many such occasions.