"What are you doing there, human?"
     "It's a long story."
     "Good, I like long stories.  Sit down and talk.  No--not on me!"
     "Sorry.  Well, it's all because of my uncle, the fabulously
wealthy--"
     "Stop.  What does 'wealthy' mean?"
     "Well, like rich."
     "And 'rich'?"
     "Hm.  Lots of money."
     "What's money?"
     "You want to hear this story or don't you?"
     "Yes, but I'd like to understand it too."
     "Sorry, Rock, I'm afraid I don't understand it all myself."
     "The name is Stone."
     "Okay, Stone.  My uncle, who is a very important man, was supposed
to send me to the Space Academy, but he didn't.  He decided a liberal
education was a better thing.  So he sent me to his old spinster alma
mater to major in nonhuman humanities.  You with me, so far?"
     "No, but understanding is not necessarily an adjunct to
appreciation."
     "That's what I say.  I'll never understand Uncle Sidney, but I
appreciate his outrageous tastes, his magpie instinct and his gross
meddling in other people's affairs.  I appreciate them till I'm sick
to the stomach.  There's nothing else I can do.  He's a carnivorous
old family monument, and fond of having his own way.  Unfortunately,
he also has all the money in the family--so it follows, like a _xxt_
after a _zzn_, that he always _does_ have his own way."
     "This money must be pretty important stuff."
     "Important enough to send me across ten thousand light-years to an
unnamed world, which, incidentally, I've just named Dunghill."
     "The low-flying _zatt_ is a heavy eater, which accounts for its
low flying..."
     "So I've noted.  That _is_ moss though, isn't it?"
     "Yes."
     "Good, then crating will be less of a problem."
     "What's 'crating'?"
     "It means to put something in a box to take it somewhere else."
     "Like moving around?"
     "Yes."
     "What are you planning on crating?"
     "Yourself, Stone."
     "I've never been the rolling sort..."
     "Listen, Stone, my uncle is a rock collector, see?  You are the
only species of intelligent mineral in the galaxy.  You are also the
largest specimen I've spotted so far.  Do you follow me?"
     "Yes, but I don't want to."
     "Why not?  You'd be lord of his rock collection.  Sort of a
one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind, if I may venture an
inappropriate metaphor."
     "Please don't do that, whatever it is.  It sounds awful.  Tell me,
how did your uncle learn of our world?"
     "One of my instructors read about this place in an old space log.
_He_ was an old space log collector.  The log had belonged to a
Captain Fairhill, who landed here several centuries ago and held
lengthy discourses with your people."
     "Good old Foul Weather Fairhill!  How is he these days?  Give him
my regards--"
     "He's dead."
     "What?"
     "Dead.  Kaput.  Blooey.  Gone.  Deeble."
     "Oh my!  When did it happen?  I trust it was an esthetic
occurrence of major import--"
     "I couldn't really say.  But I passed the information on to my
uncle, who decided to collect you.  That's why I'm here--he sent me."
     "Really, as much as I appreciate the compliment, I can't accompany
you.  It's almost deeble time--"
     "I know, I read all about deebling in the Fairhill log before I
showed it to Uncle Sidney.  I tore those pages out.  I want him to be
around when you do it.  Then I can inherit his money and console
myself in all manner of expensive ways for never having gone to the
Space Academy.  First I'll become an alcoholic, then I'll take up
wenching--or maybe I'd better do it the other way around..."
     "But I want to deeble here, among the things I've become attached
to!"
     "This is a crowbar.  I'm going to unattach you."
     "If you try it, I'll deeble right now."
     "You can't.  I measured your mass before we struck up this
conversation.  It will take at least eight months, under Earth
conditions, for you to reach deebling proportions."
     "Okay, I was bluffing.  But have you no compassion?  I've rested
here for centuries, ever since I was a small pebble, as did my fathers
before me.  I've added so carefully to my atom collection, building up
the finest molecular structure in the neighborhood.  And now, to be
snatched away right before deebling time, it's--it's quite unrock of
you."
     "It's not that bad.  I promise you'll collect the finest Earth
atoms available.  You'll go places no other Stone has ever been
before."
     "Small consolation.  I want my friends to see."
     "I'm afraid that's out of the question."
     "You are a very cruel human.  I hope you're around when I deeble."
     "I intend to be far away and on the eve of prodigious debaucheries
when that occurs."

Under Dunghill's sub-E gravitation Stone was easily rolled to the side
of the space sedan, crated, and, with the help of a winch, installed
in the compartment beside the atomic pile.  The fact that it was a
short-jaunt sport model sedan, customized by its owner, who had
removed much of the shielding, was the reason Stone felt a sudden
flush of volcanic drunkenness, rapidly added select items to his
collection and deebled on the spot.
     He mushroomed upwards, then swept in great waves across the plains
of Dunghill.  Several young Stones fell from the dusty heavens wailing
their birth pains across the community band.
     "Gone fission," commented a distant neighbor, above the static,
"and sooner than I expected.  Feel that warm afterglow!"
     "An excellent deeble," agreed another.  "It always pays to be a
cautious collector."

Популярность: 10, Last-modified: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 12:17:42 GMT