_The slovenly wub might well have said: Many men
talk like philosophers and live like fools._
They had almost finished with the loading. Outside stood the Optus, his arms folded, his face sunk in gloom. Captain Franco walked leisurely down the gangplank, grinning.
“What’s the matter?” he said. “You’re getting paid for all this.”
The Optus said nothing. He turned away, collecting his robes. The Captain put his boot on the hem of the robe.
“Just a minute. Don’t go off. I’m not finished.”
“Oh?” The Optus turned with dignity. “I am going back to the village.” He looked toward the animals and birds being driven up the gangplank into the spaceship. “I must organize new hunts.”
Franco lit a cigarette. “Why not? You people can go out into the veldt and track it all down again. But when we run out halfway between Mars and Earth--”
The Optus went off, wordless. Franco joined the first mate at the bottom of the gangplank.
“How’s it coming?” he said. He looked at his watch. “We got a good bargain here.”
The mate glanced at him sourly. “How do you explain that?”
“What’s the matter with you? We need it more than they do.”
“I’ll see you later, Captain.” The mate threaded his way up the plank, between the long-legged Martian go-birds, into the ship. Franco watched him disappear. He was just starting up after him, up the plank toward the port, when he saw it.
“My God!” He stood staring, his hands on his hips. Peterson was walking along the path, his face red, leading it by a string.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” he said, tugging at the string. Franco walked toward him.
“What is it?”
The wub stood sagging, its great body settling slowly. It was sitting down, its eyes half shut. A few flies buzzed about its flank, and it switched its tail.
It sat. There was silence.
“It’s a wub,” Peterson said. “I got it from a native for fifty cents. He said it was a very unusual animal. Very respected.”
“This?” Franco poked the great sloping side of the wub. “It’s a pig! A huge dirty pig!”
“Yes sir, it’s a pig. The natives call it a wub.”
“A huge pig. It must weigh four hundred pounds.” Franco grabbed a tuft of the rough hair. The wub gasped. Its eyes opened, small and moist. Then its great mouth twitched.
A tear rolled down the wub’s cheek and splashed on the floor.
“Maybe it’s good to eat,” Peterson said nervously.
“We’ll soon find out,” Franco said.
The wub survived the take-off, sound asleep in the hold of the ship. When they were out in space and everything was running smoothly, Captain Franco bade his men fetch the wub upstairs so that he might perceive what manner of beast it was.
The wub grunted and wheezed, squeezing up the passageway.
“Come on,” Jones grated, pulling at the rope. The wub twisted, rubbing its skin off on the smooth chrome walls. It burst into the ante-room, tumbling down in a heap. The men leaped up.
“Good Lord,” French said. “What is it?”
“Peterson says it’s a wub,” Jones said. “It belongs to him.” He kicked at the wub. The wub stood up unsteadily, panting.
“What’s the matter with it?” French came over. “Is it going to be sick?”
They watched. The wub rolled its eyes mournfully. It gazed around at the men.
“I think it’s thirsty,” Peterson said. He went to get some water. French shook his head.
“No wonder we had so much trouble taking off. I had to reset all my ballast calculations.”
Peterson came back with the water. The wub began to lap gratefully, splashing the men.
Captain Franco appeared at the door.
“Let’s have a look at it.” He advanced, squinting critically. “You got this for fifty cents?”
“Yes, sir,” Peterson said. “It eats almost anything. I fed it on grain and it liked that. And then potatoes, and mash, and scraps from the table, and milk. It seems to enjoy eating. After it eats it lies down and goes to sleep.”
“I see,” Captain Franco said. “Now, as to its taste. That’s the real question. I doubt if there’s much point in fattening it up any more. It seems fat enough to me already. Where’s the cook? I want him here. I want to find out--”
The wub stopped lapping and looked up at the Captain.
“Really, Captain,” the wub said. “I suggest we talk of other matters.”
The room was silent.
“What was that?” Franco said. “Just now.”
“The wub, sir,” Peterson said. “It spoke.”
They all looked at the wub.
“What did it say? What did it say?”
“It suggested we talk about other things.”
Franco walked toward the wub. He went all around it, examining it from every side. Then he came back over and stood with the men.
“I wonder if there’s a native inside it,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe we should open it up and have a look.”
“Oh, goodness!” the wub cried. “Is that all you people can think of, killing and cutting?”
Franco clenched his fists. “Come out of there! Whoever you are, come out!”
Nothing stirred. The men stood together, their faces blank, staring at the wub. The wub swished its tail. It belched suddenly.
“I beg your pardon,” the wub said.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in there,” Jones said in a low voice. They all looked at each other.
The cook came in.
“You wanted me, Captain?” he said. “What’s this thing?”
“This is a wub,” Franco said. “It’s to be eaten. Will you measure it and figure out--”
“I think we should have a talk,” the wub said. “I’d like to discuss this with you, Captain, if I might. I can see that you and I do not agree on some basic issues.”
The Captain took a long time to answer. The wub waited good-naturedly, licking the water from its jowls.
“Come into my office,” the Captain said at last. He turned and walked out of the room. The wub rose and padded after him. The men watched it go out. They heard it climbing the stairs.
“I wonder what the outcome will be,” the cook said. “Well, I’ll be in the kitchen. Let me know as soon as you hear.”
“Sure,” Jones said. “Sure.”
The wub eased itself down in the corner with a sigh. “You must forgive me,” it said. “I’m afraid I’m addicted to various forms of relaxation. When one is as large as I--”
The Captain nodded impatiently. He sat down at his desk and folded his hands.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s get started. You’re a wub? Is that correct?”
The wub shrugged. “I suppose so. That’s what they call us, the natives, I mean. We have our own term.”
“And you speak English? You’ve been in contact with Earthmen before?”
“Then how do you do it?”
“Speak English? Am I speaking English? I’m not conscious of speaking anything in particular. I examined your mind--”
“I studied the contents, especially the semantic warehouse, as I refer to it--”
“I see,” the Captain said. “Telepathy. Of course.”
“We are a very old race,” the wub said. “Very old and very ponderous. It is difficult for us to move around. You can appreciate that anything so slow and heavy would be at the mercy of more agile forms of life. There was no use in our relying on physical defenses. How could we win? Too heavy to run, too soft to fight, too good-natured to hunt for game--”
“How do you live?”
“Plants. Vegetables. We can eat almost anything. We’re very catholic. Tolerant, eclectic, catholic. We live and let live. That’s how we’ve gotten along.”
The wub eyed the Captain.
.... There is more of this story ...