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Vital Ingredient

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"Now watch," Remm said, indicating the native. Macker had been absent, exploring the countryside in the immediate vicinity of their landing place, and had not witnessed the capture of the native, or the tests his two companions made on it.

Macker followed Remm's gaze to where the biped native sat hunched. The creature was bent into an ungainly position, its body crooked at incongruous angles, in such a way as to allow most of its weight to rest on a packing-box at the base of a middle angle. Its stubby feet, on the ends of thin, pipelike legs, rested against the floor of the space ship. Its body was covered, almost entirely, with an artificial skin material of various colors. Some of the colors hurt Macker's eyes. In the few places where the flesh showed through the skin was an unhealthy, pallid white.

Slowly the creature's head swiveled on its short neck until it faced them.

"Those orifices in the upper portion of its skull are evidently organs of sight," Remm said. "It sees that we are quite a distance away. It will probably attempt to escape again."

Slowly—slowly—the native's head rotated away from them in a half-circle until it faced Toolls, working over his instruments on the far side of the room. Then it turned its head back until it faced the door of the ship.

"It is setting itself for flight now," Remm said. "Notice the evidence of strain on its face."

The creature leaned forward and the appendages on the ends of its upper limbs clutched the sides of the box as it propelled its body forward.

It raised its right foot in a slow arc, employing a double-jointed, breaking action of its leg. For a long moment it rested its entire weight on its lumpy right foot, while its momentum carried its body sluggishly forward. Then it repeated the motion with its left leg; then again its right. All the while evidencing great exertion and concentration of effort.

"It is making what it considers a mad dash for freedom," Remm said. "Probably at the ultimate speed of which it is capable. That would be ridiculous except that it's normal for its own environment. This is definitely a slow-motion world."

The creature was a third-way to the door now. Once again its head turned in its slow quarter-circle, to look at them. As it saw that Remm and Macker had not moved it altered the expression on its face.

"It seems to express its emotions through facial contortions," Remm said. "Though I suspect that the sounds it makes with the upper part of its trachea during moments of agitation are also outlets of emotional stress, rather than efforts at communication." He called across the room to Toolls. "What did you find out about its speech?"

"Extremely primitive," Toolls replied. "Incredible as it may appear to us it uses combinations of sounds to form word-symbols. Each word indicates some action, or object; or denotes degree, time, or shades of meaning. Other words are merely connectives. It seems to make little use of inflections, the basis of a rational language. Thoughts which we can project with a few sounds would take it dozens of words to express."

"Just how intelligent is it?" Macker asked.

"Only as intelligent as a high degree of self-preservation instinct would make it."

"Are you certain that it is a member of the dominant species of life on the planet?"

"There's no doubt about it," Toolls replied....