You Are Your Story - Oos Oos Vromikos

His tall form bent in gangly disarray, Dr.Horice Gantrig – philosopher, ornithologist, and leader of Beholders International – peered out over the podium at his spellbound audience. He was pleased to see that there was a good turnout. Probably over 300 people, he estimated, were gathered in the Barbaros High School gymnasium.

"I know many of you here for the first time,” he said. “so I would like to take this opportunity to describe once again that moment which is the pinnacle of my career, and of my life: the moment when I first laid eyes upon Oos Oos Vromikos."

A titter of ecstatic groans and sighs rippled through the audience.

"It was an afternoon about ten months ago. I was seeking the nesting area of the red-crested warbler. I suspected that it might make nests in the high rocky ridges that presently – and unfortunately – divide this island into two hostile kingdoms.

"Tired, hot and discouraged, for I had not spotted so much as a feather of the warbler, I stumbled into a rocky clearing near Ham's Hill. This, as you know, is the highest point on the island. It was 3:33.

"Suddenly I saw before me not the Red-crested Warbler, but a pair of birds who were somewhat akin to geese in their size and shape, but of such staggering beauty that I was jolted at once into a kind of trance. I stood with my mind unhinged, and my body motionless – unable to even guess what species of bird I might be looking at. A delight building toward a crescendo of ecstasy emerged from my depths as I watched the exquisite play of light on the multi-colored feathers of both birds. The male, in brilliant hues of orange and purple and yellow, strutted across the clearing, with wings and tail feathers raised, obviously in a courtship display. The female, no less magnificent, but with a beauty that was more subtle in its muted tints, preened her wing feathers with a self-containment that was both demure and a little vain.

"This vision, coming to me as though from another dimension, was as brief as it was startling. The male, having completed one pass by the female, turned to strut by her again. In turning , he saw me. Emitting a most unmelodious honk, he stumbled over his own feet and fell. Picking himself up, he began running through the clearing in an ungainly manner until he achieved sufficient speed to take off. He just barely missed entangling himself in the limbs of a tree as he reached the edge of the clearing.

"The female turned and viewed me with alarm. She emitted two shrill honks and then released from her bowels the most massive and malodorous bird dropping I have ever seen. Nor was her manner of relieving herself notable for its refinement. As she ran off toward the woods, it was apparent to me that she had considerably soiled both her tail feathers and her legs.

"I made no effort to follow the female into the underbrush. I did not wish to alarm her further for fear of causing her some injury.”

Dr. Gantrig paused briefly to allow the impact of his description to have its full effect on his audience, and then proceeded in a quieter and more reflective tone of voice.

"Brief though this moment was, it was the turning point of my life. Always before, of course, I had noticed beautiful things. But, I felt that things were real and that beauty was only a vague emotional response I sometimes had. Now I know that beauty is the only reality, and that things are more or less real to the degree that they are embodiments of this beauty. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I was changed totally in an instant. I changed from a cold and dispassionate scientist to a poet and a lover of beauty.

"As I gradually regained my capacity for thought and movement, I ventured forward to the place where the female bird had left her droppings. The stench was unspeakable, and the appearance hardly more pleasing. In the large mass of yellow and white goo, I could clearly make out the forms and identities of many half digested insects, reptiles, and small rodents. Apparently, the digestive tract of Oos Oos Vromikos is quite inefficient and it must eat enormous quantities of small animals to survive.

"As I studied the dropping, I noticed that the ooze in which all the particles were embedded was beginning to congeal. Within less than twenty minutes it solid. I picked up a piece , and found it to be as hard as granite. It was only then that it dawned on me then that this might be a living example of Oos Oos Vromikos – a bird that all experts in the field assumed was extinct."

Dr. Gantrig ceased speaking at this point, but he maintained his vigil at the podium, peering intensely out at the audience. For several minutes no one spoke. It was understood that the silence was a kind of homage to Dr. Gantrig's moving description of his first encounter with Oos Oos Vromikos.

Dr. Gantrig finally brought the audience back to the prosaic world of the high school gymnasium by inquiring, "Are there any questions?"

When no questions were immediately forthcoming, he went on to explain that, "there are many remarkable facts about Oos Oos Vromikos, but many rumors and myths as well. Perhaps you would like this chance to ask about anything that you have heard that you wondered about."

"Don't be shy," one of the dignitaries sitting up on the stage behind Dr. Gantrig admonished the crowd. "The doctor is anxious that you all have a clear and factual understanding of the bird that is responsible for our association"

"Thank you, Alice," the doctor said.

A scattering of hands went up. A large woman in the front row wanted to know whether there was any truth in the idea that Oos Oos Vromikos was cannibalistic.

"Not at all," Dr. Gantrig assured her. "There were rumors that the bird was threatened with extinction because the female ate the male after mating, as preying mantises are prone to do. However this is definitely not true of Oos Oss Vromikos.

"So far as we can tell, the major flaw that threatens this species with extinction is its bowel habits. It's fecal matter is kept soft in a highly volatile solvent that dries quickly upon hitting the air, allowing it to turn incredibly hard in a very short period of time. This would not be of crucial importance except for one additional fact: neither the male nor the female, who share the egg sitting responsibilities, seem to have enough brains to move out of the nest before they defecate. This leads not only to ruining their eggs but to their own demise as well for they become trapped in their own nests.

"This was known about Oos Oos Vromikos long before I ever found a living example. In fact, most of the fossil evidence we possess about this ancient species was in the form of plaster of paris like models of the birds eggs, formed by the fecal matter that was deposited in the nests. The legs of one of the parents were generally found still embedded in this material.

"These fossil records told a sad story indeed. I suppose the message to us is that any bird that is so stupid as to foul its own nest may not be fit for survival. How the two I saw survived, I don't know. All I can do is assume that by random chance their ancestors never happened to have to relieve themselves while egg sitting."

"Do you think these are the last ones on the earth?" asked a young man.

"I believe them to be so, though I can't prove that," Dr. Gantrig answered.

An older, professional looking man asked whether there was any possibility that Oos Oos Vromikos was a dinosaur---specifically more akin to a flying lizard like the pterodactyl than to modern birds.

"Oos Oos Vromikos is a very ancient species---almost as old as the great dinosaurs," Dr. Gantrig explained. "But, it is clearly a bird, not a reptile. There seems to be only one characteristic that it might share with dinosaurs and that is, I'm afraid, that it doesn't appear to be very intelligent."

"Does the bird need to get a running start to get off the ground?" a youngish looking woman wished to know. Dr. Gantrig said he thought it did.

Several other questions were asked and a lively discussion followed during the next forty-five minutes. Finally, Alice Green, who had previously instructed the audience not to be shy, stood up and announced their allotted time was drawing to a close. "Perhaps," she suggested to Dr. Gantrig, "you could tell our friends here something about the purposes of the Beholder Society."

"I would be happy to, Alice," he consented. "The aim of the society is simple. We believe the beholding of Oos Oos Vromikos to be uplifting. We believe that such a pure vision of beauty is needed to lead humanity on to its higher possibilities. Our purpose, therefore, is twofold: one, we want to encourage people to go and behold the bird and to share their experiences with others. Two, we want to protect the bird from those who would exploit it for mercenary reasons."

"Thank you," said Alice. "If anybody would like to join, there are application blanks on the table in the back of the auditorium. And, now we have time for just one last question. Yes. The lady in the blue jacket."

"What is the single most striking thing about Oos Oos Vromikos according to your experience?" asked the lady in the blue jacket.

Dr. Gantrig looked a little embarrassed, as though he didn't really wish to answer this question. After fidgeting and staring at his podium for a moment, he finally said, very slowly, "The most remarkable thing to me is the stark contrast between the incredible beauty of the bird and the disgusting stupidity of its bowel habits. I have, I must confess, no idea what to make of this."

 *****

Perched beside his father on a great mound of old tires in the Barbaros dump, Christopher contemplated to view. The town of Micropolis arranged in neat rows that curved around Sandy Bay, spread out below him. The early morning sun was drenching the rocky ledges of the hills behind him in a reddish glow. Beyond those hills and ledges, occupying the other end of the island, was the land of Xenos. It seemed peculiar to Christopher that such a small island, barely twenty-six miles in length and twelve miles wide, should be divided into two hostile kingdoms.

Pomdetare was one of the most beautiful places on the earth, and Christopher loved it. Every facet of the land, from the rocky outcroppings to the smooth sandy beaches, concealed delights and wonders that Christopher never tired of exploring. This morning, however, he was unresponsive even to the glory of the brilliant sunrise.

"Dad, why did Mama leave us?" he asked.

For a few moments there was no reply. Finally, Max Green looked down at his son. "Didn't she explain that?" he asked. "She told me she was going to explain it to you." In spite of his determination not to let his son get "caught in the middle", his tone of voice betrayed both irritation and judgement against his wife, who had so recently left him to go live with Dr. Horace Gantrig.

"She said something about how we couldn't all help each other grow any more. I didn't really understand it. I didn’t stop growing did I"

"I should hope not. You're only eight years old. You'll keep on growing for a long time."

"I'm almost nine", Christopher reminded him.

"Right. I haven't forgotten. But anyhow, your mama didn't mean you'd stop growing physically. She meant emotionally and spiritually."

"Oh."

They were silent for a few minutes while they watched a rat run from the pile of garbage toward the "white goods" as Max described the old refrigerators and appliances which were all piled in an area together. Everything in his dump had its place.

"Do you know what that means?" Max asked his son.

"What?"

"That thing about growing emotionally and spiritually."

"No"

"Well, it means like your mother didn't believe we could make each other happy anymore."

"I thought we were happy," Christopher said.

"So did I," Max confessed. "Though I guess I always knew your mother was discontented about something."

"What does 'discontented' mean?"

"It means 'unhappy'."

"Did we make Mama unhappy."

"I don't think so. It certainly wasn't your fault if she was unhappy, and I don't think it was mine."

"She told me it wasn't my fault."

"That’s good. What did you say to that."

"I said that I didn't think it was my fault. I just didn't want her to leave... because... because... we're a family."

"Good answer," Max said.

Max sat silently for a few minutes, with his arms across his chest, while Christopher threw some rocks half-heartedly in the general direction of where the rat had disappeared into the pile of white goods.

Finally Christopher initiated the conversation again with a question. "What’s an affair?"

"That’s when a man or a woman makes love to someone that they're not married to," Max answered.

"Didn't Mama love you?"

"I thought she did. I guess I really don't know."

"Ever since Dr. Gantrig came along, everything's been going wrong. First Mama leaves to go live with him. Then everybody started saying we are going to have a war about who gets that stupid bird he found – that ooz, ooz Dromikos or whatever it is."

"Oos Oos Vromokos."

"Yeh, that. That bird that's supposed to be so pretty."

Max could see that his son was trying to hold back tears. "Come here," he said. He pulled Christopher over to him, arranged him on his lap, and put his arms around him. "I wish I could make it all right for you," he said.

"I thought this was going to be such a good summer and now everything's going wrong," Christopher blurted out, and clinging to his father, he surrendered his effort at control and began to cry.

For several minutes, Max held his son, gently rocking him until the sobbing quieted down.

Finally, Christopher looked up at his father. "I think Dr. Gantrig and his bird both stink."

"Its not the bird's fault," observed Max.

"But it does stink," insisted Christopher. "It poops on its own eggs and that a pretty stinky thing to do." Christopher studied his father's face a moment to discern whether his slightly vulgar allusion to the bowel habits of Oos Oos Vromikos would be accepted.

Max smiled. "Yes, that's a pretty stinky thing to do," he admitted.

Christopher giggled, and taking a childish pleasure in the matter, pushed it a bit further. "Pooping on your own eggs, and on your own feet---now That’s really gross, I think. Eeeeeuuuu!! Gross!!"

"Eeeeuuuu," echoed max with the appropriate tone of disgust.

And Dr. Gantrig looks like a bird himself---like a big ostrich. Did you ever notice that? asked Christopher.

"Now that you mention it, he does look sort of like an ostrich with his long spindly legs and his beaked nose," agreed Max.

"I wonder if he poops on his feet just like Oos Oos," Christopher giggled, and he began laughing a little uncontrollably. There was a frantic almost hysterical quality about his laughing ---and it was infectious.

"That's not a very respectful thing to say," Max remonstrated with half-hearted sternness.

"But you're laughing too," Christopher observed.

"I said it wasn't respectful," his father said. "I didn't say it wasn't funny."

Looking down at the tear streaked face of his son and seeing him trying to laugh off some of his hurt, Max felt a great surge of affection rise within him. He kissed Christopher on his forehead and hugged him tightly.

Christopher snuggled against his father, and after a few more short spells of giggling in appreciation of his own humor, he gradually became quiet.

As they sat together Max observed the dump. To his left near the "white goods" was a pile of scrap iron, waiting to be recycled. Below him was a heap of tree limbs, old lumber and other wooden things waiting to be burned. To his right was the garbage pit in which the bulk of the miscellaneous garbage and trash was pilling up, waiting for burial. It was not a bad dump. Certainly Max worked hard to keep it orderly. Being the chief sanitation engineer of Barbaros, and the sole employee in the sanitation department, he took a professional interest in the subject. He had strong convictions about the importance of proper garbage disposal. As he often pointed out, if Barbaros and Xenos could work together on a joint plan, a considerably more adequate plan of garbage disposal could be arranged, but political squabbles always prevented that. In general Max found that his views carried very little weight with the town leaders. So he did the best he could with what he had.

People would soon be hauling in garbage. "I’ve got to get busy," he said finally. The two of them rose, climbed down the mountain of tires, and started back to the shed up on the hill. On one side of the shed was a small bulldozer and on the other , a truck. This was Max's "office" and his machinery.

"By the way, Christopher, I found you a little job so you can make some money for your summer activities," Max informed his son as they trudged up the shop toward the office.

"Wow! Really?" exclaimed Christopher. "What is it?"

"The defense Department needs someone two hours every morning to empty their trash baskets, do a little cleaning and run some errands. They will pay you $4.00 a day. You could make $20.00 a week at that."

"Wow, That’s great. When do I start?"

"Go over this morning at 9:00 and talk with Colonel Longaire. See, I've written his name on this paper here so you won't forget."

"OK. With twenty dollars a week, I can buy a canteen, a tent, fishing things and all the camping stuff I've wanted. Can I camp out sometime this summer by myself?"

"We'll see." The idea made Max a little nervous, but he was glad that Christopher was showing enthusiasm for something. He had been so listless and apathetic for the last several weeks. "Margaret will be expecting you for lunch," he said, changing the subject. "You will finish your work at the defense department every day before noon. Then you must go directly to Margaret's."

Margaret was Christopher’s babysitter. He was very fond of her. She had been his second grade teacher. That was the only year that he had liked school. Being the wife of the man who ran off with Christopher's mother did put an odd little wrinkle in the situation.

"Will Dr. Gantrig be coming around?" Christopher asked.

"I don't think so. I understand that he's moved all his stuff out of the house and its only her place now."

"O.K. I like Margaret. She's nice."

"That’s what I hear."

"How come she married that stupid Dr. Gantrig?"

"I don't know. Everybody's dumb in some ways I suppose."

 *****

The Defense Department was housed in a temporary Quonset hut that contained six offices, arranged on each side of a long hall, and a larger conference room at the end. This arrangement had been in place for twenty-six years. Because of the growing tensions between Barbaros and Xenos, however, a lot more attention had been devoted recently to beefing up the country's defense system.

Christopher arrived to work in the building every morning at 9:00 and spent about an hour doing the cleaning chores. Then from 10:00 to 11:00 he was to make himself available to run errands. most often his main errand was to get coffee and donuts for the staff to have during their meetings. So far as Christopher could see, the chief function of the five people employed by the defense department was to sit around and have staff meetings. He was sure, however, that at times when he was not around, they did more substantial things.

The regular staff consisted of a general, a minister of special weapons, a minister of finance, a minister of psychological warfare, and a secretary. This left one office free to be used as a supply room.

In addition to the five regular staff members, Barbaros had a volunteer army that functioned very much like a volunteer fire department. If a war broke out, an alarm could be sounded and all the volunteers who weren't doing something more important would come to the defense of their country. During practice alarms, as many as thirty-five soldiers had showed up, ready for battle.

It must not be assumed that because they were unable to support a full time paid army, that the defense attitudes of the regular staff lacked in belligerency or earnestness, nor that these individuals were incapable of hatching plots that were dangerous to themselves and others. Their real level of skill was debated, but none doubted that they were a dangerous crew.

One peculiar thing about them was their tendency to divide the world into two absolutely clear categories in all matters. Opposites didn't slosh around together in a grey area in their world! There were good days and bad days, smart people and stupid people, allies and enemies, upright people and evil people, and , last but not least, children and adults. Any characteristic that one of these opposites had, the other lacked totally. Adults could understand political, economic and military matters. Children, therefore, could not. For this reason, no effort was made to exclude Christopher from any of their staff meetings, even when they were discussing the most secret and sensitive matters.

Its true that at times Christopher could not follow what was being talked about. It was also true that usually the top secret matters concerned speculations about the truth or falsity of various local rumors that, so far as Christopher could see, had no particular relevance to any military matters. Lately, however, staff meetings had taken on a certain order and intensity that had never previously characterized them.

One Wednesday, a week and a half after his beginning work at the Defense Department, Christopher returned with the coffee and donuts just in time for the beginning of a staff meeting that was to have momentous consequences for the citizens of Pomdetare.

Short, stout, and dictatorial, General Harry Stone ordered Christopher to "deposit the supplies on the table," and to take his seat until he was needed for further service. Then peering over his heavy horn-rimmed reading glasses, he boomed, "Well, let's get on with it. Robert, are you ready?"

Robert Worthy, the secretary, waved his pen in the air with a dramatic flourish and announced, "Ready Sir." Robert couldn't type well, spell accurately or take dictation effectively. But General Stone liked his attitude and his "style".

"Very good," said the general. "Mr. Buckmaster, are you ready to give the financial report?"

The Minister of Finance, Marvin Buckmaster, was not one to be hurried, He straightened his impeccably straight tie, brushed an imaginary speck of lint off his very stylish suit, and in his own good time, said "Quite ready, Sir." Then he passed around a report that would have been as impeccable as his tie had it not been for Robert Worthy's general ineptitude in typing up such documents.

"We have here," he announced to the group around the conference table, "a report which contains information of the utmost importance to the people of Barbaros. Therefore I feel we should treat it in the most top secret manner."

There was a general nodding of agreement around the table as people took their first look at the document that Mr. Buckmaster had passed around. One thing that this group tended to agree about was that if a matter was of great importance for the people of Barbaros, they probably should not be told about it.

"As you will observe," Marvin Buckmaster continued, "It is a report on the economic potential of Oos Oos Vromikos."

Christopher perked up. Oos Oos Vromikos was something that interested him.

"You will notice," Mr. Buckmaster was saying, "that the report specifies four areas in which the economic potential of this remarkable bird might be exploited. For the details, you can read the report at your leisure. At this time, I will only mention the four areas in passing. First, there is the tourist trade. Not only will the bird be a tourist attraction to our island, but feathers, beaks, feet, and bits of hardened fecal matter can be sold as souvenirs. Second, the feathers will almost certainly be in great demand in the world fashion market. Third, if the bird proves to be edible at all, it can be sold as a delicacy because it is so rare. And finally, the fourth point is that the peculiar properties of the fecal matter will almost certainly make it an item of intense interest to the chemical industry, and I have no doubt that many uses will be found for it in manufacturing.

"In short, this bird is by far the most significant untapped resource of Barbaros. What oil is to the Middle East, what lumber is to Maine, what sex and violence are to the mass media, this bird is to Barbaros.

Not being able to allow such a fine piece of eloquence to go unapplauded, General Stone declared in a strong voice, "Well said! Well said!" and clapped his hands.

All the other committee members followed suit in vigorously affirming the excellence of the report they had thus far heard.

Marvin Buckmaster smiled an impeccably thin smile and nodded modestly.

"There are, however, two tasks that must be accomplished if we are to fully exploit this resource for our fair land," he continued. "First, we must be able to defeat the Xenos militarily as they may try to claim the right to exploit this commodity for themselves. We must have it as a monopoly. Second, we must be able to get this bird away from Dr. Gantrig and his followers without rousing up too much public outcry. The beholders would try to preserve the bird in its natural state and thus prevent its full economic exploitation."

"An excellent presentation," praised General Stone. "And the conclusion is clear. We must be able to crush Xenos. And now, Colonel Longaire, perhaps you have a report that will speak to that point. Has the model of the secret weapon arrived?

"Yes Sir, yes, Sir. And I am ready for a demonstration," Colonel Longaire answered with an obsequious air. He was a thin, soft man who, whenever he was intimidated, spoke in a whispery voice that grated on General Stone's nerves.

"Don't talk like that," yelled the general.

"Like what?" the colonel asked.

"Just speak up, man. I can hardly hear you."

"Yes, Sir. Certainly, Sir," Colonel Longaire whispered.

He sensed that the general was not pleased with him. But then he seldom was. Continuing with his presentation with a certain dramatic air, he placed a cardboard box about a foot and a half long and a foot wide and tall on the table.

"In this box, we have a model of an instrument that may revolutionize war between small nations. It is promoted by a certain American industry that wishes not to be named. It is specifically for small nations that cannot really afford missiles, sophisticated war planes, tanks and the like, but who still have a need to wage war."

"It sounds like it was made just for us," the general interposed.

Encouraged that he now seemed to be pleasing the general, Colonel Longaire continued with increased confidence.

"Yes," he agreed. "I believe it was. Now, observe."

With a somewhat theatrical gesture, he reached in and extricated from the box a most peculiar looking contraption which he placed ceremoniously upon the table.

"Why that looks like sort of a catapult," the general observed with a puzzled frown.

Colonel Longaire smiled appreciatively at him as he remove from the box a little carton filled with little brown pellets about the size of marbles. Beside this, he placed a pair of tweezers, a little cup of water and an eye dropper.

Christopher was fascinated. If this was, indeed, a catapult, it was certainly the most interesting toy he had ever seen. Suspecting he was about to witness a demonstration of some sort, he pulled his chair up closer to the table. No one interfered with this effort on his part to get a better view. Children couldn't understand secret weapons. Besides, everyone's attention was so riveted on the little war machine that they hardly noticed.

Colonel Longaire pulled the arm of the catapult, for that's what it was, back to a point where it made an angle of about 45 degrees with the table, and hooked it to a little cable. Then he removed one of the pellets with the tweezers and placed it in the cup of the catapult. Finally, he carefully measured out a little water with the eye dropper and added it to the pellet. With the addition of the water, the pellet expanded into a soft mass about the size of the kind of marble that children call a "boulder".

"Now observe," Colonel Longaire commanded. "You see that fly on the wall?" Everybody nodded solemnly. Yes, they all saw the fly. Colonel Longaire then peered through a little telescope that was attached to the catapult and focused it on the fly. Finally, he made a careful adjustment on a knob on the side of the telescope, peered through the telescope once again, and then pulled the little lever. The arm of the catapult snapped forward flinging the pellet across the room with surprising force. To everyone's amazement it hit the fly dead center, killing it instantly, and leaving a splattered splotch of brown on the wall.

"Incredible," declared the general.

"Fantastic," added Dr. Norma Peabody, the minister of psychological warfare.

"Unbelievable," agreed Marvin Buckmaster.

"How...how...how...wow!" chimed in Robert Worthy who was not noted for his facility with words.

General Stone rose and went over to the wall to examine more carefully the miniature scene of carnage. Squinting with his nose about three inches from the wall, he scrutinized the fly and the splotch for some moments. Finally, he scooped off a bit of the brown mass with his finger.

"Interesting," he said. "This looks just like horse shit."

Then sniffing it, he added, "And it smells just like horse shit."

"What’s more," he continued, rolling it between his fingers," it feels just like horse shit."

"Yes Sir," whispered Colonel Longaire. "That’s just what it is."

"What's that you say?" the general demanded. "Speak up now. I can't hear you."

"I said,'yes Sir, That’s just what it is,'"repeated the colonel a fraction more loudly.

"Horse shit?" asked General Stone, staring at the substance he was rolling between his fingers.

"Yes, Sir."

Christopher stifled a giggle. The whole proceeding was delightful to him, but he knew it would never do to laugh out loud.

"Am I to understand that the central aim of this sophisticated new weapon is to catapult our enemies to death with horse shit.?" the general demanded.

"Only in part," Colonel Longaire explained. "The instructions describe this weapons system as having 'three dimensions of effectiveness.' It can kill by direct impact. That's conventional warfare. It is full of germs, especially if one uses manure from diseased horses as ammunition. In terms of germ warfare, it is very versatile. Finally, think how demoralizing it would be to have your country pelted from one end to the other with horse shit. That is referred to in the material they sent us as the 'psychological warfare' dimension."

Dr. Norma Peabody was impressed. "Excellent!" she chortled gleefully. "Such a weapon would totally undermine the enemy's sense of dignity and self-respect. It would break their will to resist. They would be putty in our hands."

General Stone was beginning to be interested. "How does it manage to be so accurate? he asked.

"The thing is outfitted with a lot of special equipment" explained Colonel Longaire. "The telescope has a little range finder that tells you how far away the target is. A small scale in the cup of the catapult weighs the mass of whatever you are going to fling. On the basis of this data, a small commuter calculates exactly what tension is needed on the catapult arm. You adjust it accordingly, and if you aim it in the right direction, as you saw, it hits the target."

Everybody wanted to try it , and in about a half-hour the room was cleared of flies. Without exception, the Barbaros Chiefs of Staff were delighted. Finally, General Stone set Christopher to cleaning the spots off the ceiling and walls and called the meeting back to order. "Now, am I to understand that one of these catapults---a full sized one of course---would be capable of accurately flinging packages of whatever we wished into Xenos," he asked.

"The actual, full sized catapults have an effective range of seventeen miles," Colonel Longaire explained. "Strategically placed, our catapults could bombard any area of Xenos we chose."

"So what would the financial requirements for securing or building these catapults be?" asked Marvin Buckmaster.

"The American Corporation is willing to sell us a started set of twelve catapults," the Colonel answered, "and give us technical assistance to learn how to build our own. At least we could learn how to build the catapult itself. We would have to continue to buy the electronic and technical hardware from them."

"And the cost?" pursued Mr. Buckmaster.

"They offer us very reasonable rates and several affordable payment plans," Colonel Longaire said, pushing a sheet of paper over to the minister of finance. "This paper outlines the costs and alternate ways to pay for them."

Marvin Buckmaster perused the paper in his leisurely manner. The rest of the committee waited patiently for his verdict. "This is indeed a weapons system that Barbaros can afford," he finally affirmed. "I think at last we have found it.!"

The committee emitted a communal sigh of relief at this news. Secretly up to this point, all the members of the committee had been feeling a little inadequate. After all, what is a defense department without a weapons system?

"I am interested to know," said General Stone, addressing Colonel Longaire, "where you came across this excellent weapons system."

"I found it advertised in the Reader's Digest," the Colonel responded.

"The Reader's Digest?"

"Yes, Sir."

"But isn't that a very popular magazine? How do we know that our enemies haven't read the same ad?"

There was a pregnant silence during which the committee members pondered the ramifications of this ominous possibility. Then, as if in answer, a tremendous thud shook the building and there was the sound of shattering glass. For a moment they sat, stunned. A certain field-like odor began to infiltrate the room. Then, responding to an inner sense of panic, the committee members rose and dashed outside, there to find one side of the building fairly coated with cow manure.

"Treachery," screamed Marvin Buckmaster.

"The villains have secured the weapon first and pulled off a sneak attack," observed Dr. Norma Peabody.

"A shameful thing," whispered Colonel Longaire.

Robert Worthy looked at the brow stains on the side of the building and giggled.

Christopher wondered whether he would be paid overtime for cleaning it up.

"This is it, we must declare war!" asserted Marvin Buckmaster. "We must order the catapults immediately."

"Why declare war?" the general demanded. "Let's just wage it!"

 *****

Rattling into town in the bright early morning sun, Max could almost forget his personal troubles and the bad news in the papers. At least for the moment he felt good. "One would hardly notice that we are at war with Xenos," he thought to himself. He still had hopes that maybe the leaders of both countries would come to their senses and call the whole thing off.

Max was on his way to collect the trash from the various town dumpsters and trash barrels around town. On his way to do this task he normally picked up the miscellaneous trash and garbage left in public places. Lately it was also considered to be his job to clean up the messes left by the manure bombs from Xenos---a task that was consuming an ever greater portion of his time. He had worked a fair bit of overtime lately trying to keep up.

Driving down the main street of Micopolis Max noticed one large pile followed by several smaller piles of horse manure littering the curb lane on his side of the street. This was not from the manure bombs that occasionally crashed into the city, but from another source. It was quite the fashion in some of the wealthier circles of Micopolis to take ones horse to town in an affectation of earthiness that generally did not characterize the rider's lifestyle. Max didn't mind. He rather liked horses, affectation or not. But he did wish that the riders would assume some responsibility for the horse droppings. He did see that running around behind the horse to clean up the mess every time the need presented itself would hardly be considered a classy thing for a rider to do. Also, of course, there would be the problem of what to do with the mess. A heavy duty garbage bag hanging from the saddle horn would be practical, but again, not classy.

He pulled the town dump truck over to the side of the road, and, taking a shovel from the side of the truck, went back for the horse manure. As he shoveled it into the back of the truck, he thought about the note he had received from Margaret. She was having trouble with her plants. "She could probably use a little manure," he thought.

Max didn't really know Margaret very well. She had been Christopher's second grade teacher, and his babysitter as well during summers. So he had, on occasion, met her. She seemed pleasant and Christopher was very fond of her. When he got back into his truck, Max took out the note she had sent home to him with Christopher the previous day, and re read it.

 

Dear Mr. Green,

I am very pleased that you are using me to look after Christopher. He is a very charming boy, and a delight to have around. He does seem a little moody lately. I wonder if I could be of more help if you and I had a chance to talk about him a bit sometime.

Also I am having some problems with some plants I have. Christopher tells me that you know a lot about plants. I might be able to use your advise on them. No rush about all this. We could even talk by phone sometime.

Sincerely yours,

Margaret

Having put in quite a number of extra hours at no pay extra pay for the city, Max didn't feel guilty taking an hour or so away from his work, so he turned up the next street and headed for Margaret's house.

He found himself warmly greeted at the door. "Ah, Mr. Green. I's so glad you dropped by. Do come in."

"'Max' will do fine," he corrected her. "There's no need for formality."

"Well, Max then," she agreed leading him into a small, well ordered living room that was perhaps just a bit excessively decorated with plants, pictures and nick-nacks. "You got my note, I presume."

"That’s why I' m here. I understand that you have a plant that's not doing well, and you'd like some help."

"Yes, I do. Christopher tells me you know all about plants."

"He exaggerates, but I do know something about them."

"I appreciate your taking the trouble to come by. It really wasn't necessary. Probably a phone call would have sufficed."

"No problem. Shall we take a look at the plant."

"Several plants, actually. Its these ones, over by the window. As you can see I take pretty good care of my plants and most of them do pretty well," she explained, indicating with a sweep of her arm the various plants scattered around the living room that were thriving. "But those are store-bought plants that came with directions on how to care for them. These ones by the window are wild one. Mostly they are ones that Christopher brought to me. He digs them up sometimes when he is out hiking and exploring in the woods and he brings them to me because he knows I like plants."

A window box was arranged just inside her front window. It contained several plants and flowers, mostly local species. None of the plants looked particularly vigorous but one, the largest plant in the middle, was especially droopy.

"He probably got these plants along that stream that runs down in back of your house," Max observed.

"Why do you think that?"

"That the kind of place that these particular plants grow."

"Does it seem silly to you for me to have a bunch of ordinary plants from the local woods decorating my house?"

I think it's nice," he answered, crushing a bit of the soil between his fingers. "Some of them produce beautiful flowers."

"This is an east window and only gets sun in the morning," Margaret observed. "Do you think that might be the trouble?"

"Nope. There are plants that generally grow in the shaded marshy areas rooted in rotting leaves and trees or in very loamy soil. The problem is with your soil. It's got too much sand and clay in, it and the P.H. factor is almost certainly way off. You are going to have to transplant them if you want them to have a chance to be really vigorous."

"Transplant them?"

""That’s right. Now, let's see. Your box here would probably hold about four buckets of soil. Send Christopher to a place in the woods where there is a lot of rotting vegetation---maybe down near where he dug these up. Tell him to dig up about three buckets of soil there. Mix that with one bucket of dry horse manure and you should be set."

"Sounds great. But, I don't just happen to have a bucket of horse manure on hand."

"I'm going to leave you that. Spread it out in the sun and let it dry out a day or two before using it."

"I guess I can manage that."

"OK. Also, be very gentle when you take the plants out in order to replace the window box soil. Plants have millions of little microscopic roots that tear loose very easily. Transplanting is always something of a risk and a trauma."

"I see."

"Good. I think plants are a lot like people. Like children especially. That’s why I studied them I think. You see every child needs a father---That’s like the sun. And it needs to have roots that burrow into the earth. That’s like the mother. I hope this doesn't sound sexist to you, I never know what is going to should sexist to women anymore. I expect some woman to jump up when I explain my theory and scream in my face "so how come men get to be the sun, can you answer me that. Huh? Huh? Huh?"

"I won't jump up and scream in your face. I think your theory is nice."

"It isn't my theory, really. I got it from Black Elk. He says "the sun is my father and the earth is my mother.' That was his theology---that and how you can learn sacred things from dreams and visions."

"I think I like his theology," Margaret said.

"I hoped you might."

"It seems to me that you have an unusual range of interests for someone in your line of work," Margaret observed. She hoped that the remark didn't sound tactless.

"What better job could their be for a person with a B.A. in philosophy than garbage collection?" Max responded with a smile. "What we do with our garbage is one of the two or three most important issues in the world today. If I were more inclined to a technical field I would go into garbage technology."

Margaret laughed uncertainly. "I can't always tell when you are serious," she commented.

"I'm always partly serious."

"I hope you didn't take offense about my commenting on your line of work. I don't think there is anything wrong with being a garbage collector."

"Thanks. Neither do I. Look, I've got to go now. I'll come back by in a week or two to se how things are going."

"That’s fine...except..."

"Except?"

"Except we didn't discuss your son and his moodiness."

"We didn't?"

"I don't think so."

"Well, I guess he needs the same things your plants do. A little bit of sun, some new soil, and a lot of gentleness. You can't expect a plant to be quite up to snuff with all its little microscopic rootlets torn away. "

"I guess not," she agreed.

"We're all a little that way."

"I suppose we are."

"Enough said for today. I've got to go."

"OK. I appreciate all your help."

"No trouble," he answered. Then as he was leaving he added, "Oh, yes. One more thing. Sing to your plants."

"Sing to them?" she questioned. "Do you really think that sort of thing helps?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "But it's not likely to hurt."

As she watched Max drive off, Margaret thought about her husband, Horace Gantrig. In some ways, Max reminded her of Horace. Yet, he was also very different. She thought about watching Horace drive off the day they decided to separate because she wouldn't buy into his idea about an "open marriage." She realized that that had been only the final step in a long process of leaving.

"But why did he want to leave me?" she muttered out loud, staring absently at her wilting plants.

She sat down in front of her window box. Large splotches of the morning sun were progressing slowly across the window box. Of course, all that stuff about plants and music was almost certainly a lot of superstitious balderdash. But, as Max had said, it couldn't hurt.

Softly, she began singing. "Don't throw your trash in my back yard, my back yard, my back yard. Don't throw your trash in my back yard. my back yards full..."

 *****

The war had been grinding on for three weeks since Barbaros received its mail order catapults. Many people had been injured and several killed on each side by flying manure missiles. The stench was becoming quite disagreeable. It was plain that both sides were beginning to mix chemical wastes from their factories and mills in with the missiles they catapulted at each other. There was hardly a house in either country that was not damaged or at least badly besmirched.

The entire situation was, as the minister of psychological warfare predicted, highly demoralizing. Strangely, though, the ministers of defense were themselves not demoralized. Without exception they threw themselves into their work with high spirited enthusiasm.

On this particular Wednesday afternoon, the entire Defense Department was gathered in a little field a couple of blocks from their Quonset hut. They had come to see a demonstration by Dr. Norma Peabody. This playing field had for about six months now been surrounded by a high board fence. There was speculation that a high level experiment of military significance was housed in this field. The townspeople knew only that it had to do with chickens. They could hear them clucking behind the fence.

Even the defense ministers had only the vaguest notions of what Dr. Peabody was doing inside this playing field where she had spent almost all her time that she was not occupied in staff meetings. They were therefore in a state of pleasant anticipation at the prospect of having a great curiosity satisfied, as they stood just inside the gate surveying the area that was so carefully walled off from prying eyes.

There were, indeed, chickens---a great many of them. In fact, except for a strange looking contraption in the middle of the field, the place looked exactly like a large collection of chicken coops surrounding an ordinary back yard. It was the contraption in the center of the field that dominated everybody's attention. Attached to a platform about four feet high, three feet wide and ten feet long was an amazing assortment of levers, bottles, brushes, pulleys and dishes all intricately connected together. A little ramp led up to the platform. The entire thing looked like something a very intelligent child might have constructed out of a giant erector set and miscellaneous objects that could have been found at the local dump.

From her place near the ramp of this machine, Dr, Peabody called to the group. "Gentlemen. Please come this way and gather around my teaching machine. We are ready for a demonstration."

Christopher tagged along behind the others. He had been brought along in case errands needed to be done. In spite of his growing lack of enthusiasm for the activities of the Defense Department, Christopher was no less curious than the others what this demonstration might reveal.

"Now, Gentlemen," began Dr. Peabody in her most formal tone of voice. "As you are aware, we would long ago have taken Oos Oos Vromikos into captivity despite the protestations of those softbrained idiots who call themselves "beholders", except for one thing: we have not been sure that we would know what to do with it in captivity. The problem, of course, has been its highly dysfunctional defecation habits. It was plain that if we could not control the bird, we might not be able to keep it from killing itself by its own stupidity. It seemed, therefore, prudent to leave the bird in its natural state, watched over by Horace Gantrig who, muddle-headed visionary though he be, is nevertheless, the most knowledgeable person around regarding the bird's habits and needs.

"Viewing this problem with the clear vision of natural science, it soon became clear to me that the essence of the matter was defecation: control the bird's defecation and we control the bird. This insight clarified for me the task to which I had to address myself.

"I have spent the better part of the last six months developing techniques for controlling the defecatory habits of large stupid birds---specifically chickens. This morning I would like to show you the results of my deliberations and my labors."

When she stopped speaking, the group remained motionless in hushed expectance. Having a certain flair for the dramatic, Dr. Peabody allowed the tension and the curiosity to mount for a few moments before proceeding. When she deemed the moment psychologically right, she took a fairly good sized bell off the platform and rang it with a decisive flick of her wrist. All the chickens in the yard stopped in their tracks and though their heads had been hit directly with the bell clapper. Then, as if hypnotized, they came to one end of the platform where they lined up like a class of well-behaved school children waiting for their bus.

Dr. Peabody then pressed a buzzer. The first chicken in line proceeded without hesitation up the ramp and onto the platform. It stationed itself over a little hole in the platform and defecated into a clear plastic tub below. A rather melodious three note chime sounded in response to which the chicken rubbed its rear end on a little piece of paper attached to a post behind the hole. This act triggered the machine to do three more things: by some unseen mechanism the soiled paper was thrown down the hole into the plastic tub and another piece of paper replaced it; a horn honked; and three pellets of food dropped into a dish in front of the chicken. The chicken ate the food, descended down a ramp at the back of the platform, and took its place at the end of the line.

Another ringing of the bell by Dr. Peabody caused the second chicken in line to repeat the entire performance.

They were all dumbfounded. No one was able to speak a word. With jaws hanging open, they witnessed seven more chickens repeat the process without a flaw. At that time, General Stone mustered sufficient composure to utter "Amazing!"

By the time five more chickens had successfully negotiated the teaching machine, Colonel Longaire was able to articulate with some clarity the major practical ramifications of this machine. "Not only will it enable us to control and therefore successfully breed Oos Oos Vromikos, as was Dr. Peabody's original intent," he observed, "but we will be able to collect with great efficiency large amounts of highly potent bird droppings for the war effort!"

"Think of the bombs to be made!" exclaimed General Stone.

"Think of the money to be made!" chimed in Marvin Buckmaster.

"We can call the new bombs 'foul bombs'," added the general. He guffawed loudly. "Get it?" he asked, "fowl bombs."

"I get it," said Colonel Longaire, laughing appreciatively. Marvin Buckmaster laughed with him. Dr, Peabody chuckled politely. Robert Worthy laughed obediently. He didn't get it.

This is just in the nick of time," General Stone said with relief. "We were running out of horse shit."

"Excellent!" agreed Colonel Longaire. "We can draw the Xenos into disarmament negotiations. We can agree with them to put a ban on horse manure as a weapon. I think they still have a lot of it. Then we can start bombing them with chicken droppings. That will be a real shock. Then, before they really have a chance to recover from that, we will be ready with the ultimate weapon---the Oos Oos Vromikos Bomb!!"

Robert Worthy wrote furiously so as to record every inspired idea that emerged from the ongoing discussion.

Christopher watched and listened in silent astonishment. The adult conversation was, to him, almost as amazing as the demonstration he had just witnessed. He wondered whether he would have to be an adult when he grew up.

 *****

Christopher and Margaret were having tea in her breakfast nook. Actually only Margaret was having tea. She had supplied Christopher with a large glass of milk with which to wash down the cookies that they both shared. During the last couple of months, tea time with Margaret had become a regular afternoon event in Christopher's life---one that he found profoundly comforting. He sensed that Margaret enjoyed it as well.

Margaret had decided to transplant the large plant that had been in the central position in the window box in a pot of its own. It now occupied a position of prominence, hanging by means of a macrame pot holder, in the kitchen window at the end of the table. The late afternoon sun peeked through the foliage and cast a delicately shimmering pattern of light and shade on the table between the woman and the boy.

"The main thing they talk about now is how to find new and dirtier things for the catapults," Christopher was saying. He had been keeping Margaret as well as his father up to date regarding all the news he was daily picking up at the defense department.

"Its all so stupid," Margaret snapped. "If they keep this up, they'll convert the whole island into an uninhabitable garbage dump. Why can't the leaders of both sides simply sit down and work out some sort of an agreement that will be in everybody's interest.

"I heard them talking about that during this last week," Christopher said, answering what she had intended only as a rhetorical question. "They all say that we can only talk with the enemy when we are stronger than they are. At least that's what I think they were saying."

"Yes," confirmed Margaret. "They call that 'negotiating from strength.' But what happens if the other side feels the same way?"

Christopher understood that this was what she would ask the Defense committee if she had a chance, and that her irritation was directed at them. He shrugged his shoulders. The ways of adults were still beyond him. Until Margaret had raised the question, he had just assumed that being stronger than your enemy was one of the rules for this game they called "negotiating". It was like the rules for marbles. That's just the was it was done. Nobody questioned it. And just as the aim of marbles was winning more marbles, the aim of negotiating was making the other person do what you wanted---getting the best of him. "I guess if both sides felt they had to be stronger before they could begin, they would never begin. Is that right? he asked.

Margaret continuously found herself somewhat surprised at Christopher's ability to reason. "I didn't really expect you to answer that," she said. "but I think you are right."

They both sat quietly for a couple of minutes. Christopher stared at the little patterns of light on the table and thought about how he might change the subject to something else he wanted to talk about.

"I heard Dad came by and visited you yesterday," he commented casually.

"Yes, he did," Margaret confirmed.

"Did he seem different?"

"I haven't really known him that long. But how do you mean 'different'?"

"Well, grumpy."

"Has your dad seemed pretty grumpy to you lately?"

"Yes. He's been awful grumpy. He's always snapping at me about this or that, and doesn't seem to want anything to do with me."

"I see. How long has he been grumpy?"

Christopher thought about it for a moment and then said, "since Mama left."

"How do you think he felt about her leaving?"

"He told her to."

"But how do you think he felt.?"

"He was pretty mad."

"Anything else?"

"I guess he was sad, too."

"I guess he probably was. Those were the feelings you told me you had about it."

"That’s right."

"So I suppose that's enough to make him pretty grumpy, eh?"

"Yeh, I guess it is. I've been pretty grumpy myself."

"It's a pretty hard time for all of us, you know, what with the war and people leaving and all."

When he looked at her staring into her empty tea cup, Christopher realized she was thinking about her husband, Dr. Gantrig.

"What did you and Dad talk about when he came by?" Christopher asked.

Margaret looked at him and smiled. "Different things. Mostly he just checked in to see how all the plants and growing things are doing. As you can see," she said, indicating the plant in the window by a glance and a slight tossing of her head, "the plants are coming along quite well. Your father knows a lot about that sort of thing, just as you once told me."

"That seems kind of funny," Christopher observed.

"How's that?"

"Well, with the war going on and everybody leaving and everything all crazy, you and him talk about how to care for plants. Like nothing was wrong."

Margaret reflected on Christopher's observation and nodded. "Yes," she said, "but you see, one way or another there's always a war going on. Things are always a little crazy. At least they have been ever since I was born, and I'm a good deal older than you. So if we don't care for our plants during war times and crazy times, we never will."

*****

Max was sitting beside his shed at the dump drinking a cup of coffee and contemplating the day's work when Marvin Buckmaster appeared. He parked his car and walked gingerly, so as not to spoil his impeccable shined shoes, toward Max. Max rose and went out to meet him halfway.

"Can I help you, Sir?" Max asked with the tone of a polished salesperson.

"I am interested in garbage," returned Mr. Buckmaster.

"You have certainly come to the right place," Max assured him.

"I presume you are Max Green, the chief sanitary engineer."

"I am, and I am pleased that you are interested in my garbage. Not many people are., Who might you be, if I may ask?"

"Marvin Buckmaster is the name. I work for the Defense Department. I have had the pleasure of meeting your son, Christopher. He is doing a fine job emptying our wastebaskets and all. He seems to be a very industrious child."

"I'm glad he is doing his work adequately. But what, exactly, might be your interest in the garbage here?"

"Well, as you may know, Mr. Green, garbage is in big demand these days. The Catapult War has changed everything. A year ago you couldn't unload your garbage anywhere. All at once now, garbage is a growth industry. There's big money in garbage, Mr. Green, real big money."

"I don't wish to contribute to the catapult war," Max responded calmly.

"You should understand, Mr. Green, that the Defense Department is willing to pay for garbage."

"It always has been," Max observed.

Marvin Buckmaster ignored this comment and proceeded with his sales pitch. "It is understood that your position will be much more important now. The government is ready to pay twice as much as your present salary to one who would cooperate with us."

"I would gladly accept the raise, but under no circumstances would I cooperate with you," Max said.

"Indeed," Marvin persisted, winding up for the ultimate ploy he came with the intention of offering only if Max proved to be a tough bargainer, "there is even talk that a really cooperative Chief Sanitation Engineer might be made a Minister of Defense. That pays almost eight times what you are making now."

"That’s tempting," admitted Max. "But you don't seem to understand. I'm not trying to bargain for more money. I'm against the war. Totally against it. It stinks, literally and figuratively. I want nothing to do with it. So long as I am Chief Engineer of Sanitation and have anything to say about it, you will have no garbage out of this dump for your catapults.

"We shall see, Mr. Green." Marvin Buckmaster looked at his watch. "I shall return here this afternoon at 3:00 P.M. You have until then to give more careful consideration to the offers I have made. As you reconsider your decision, you should keep in mind that you may not have anything to say about it, anyhow. I shall not be alone when I return.

With this ominous threat, Marvin Buckmaster turned with military decisiveness and carefully picked his was back to his impeccable polished car.

As he watched him drive off, Max thought about the day's work ahead.

 *****

Three o'clock found Max sitting calmly in his chair beside the dump shed. This time he made no effort to rise as Marvin Buckmaster wheeled into the dump yard accompanied by a military escort of three transport vehicles and twenty four soldiers. Considerably more garbage was strewn between the parking area and Max, and it was impossible to negotiate this distance without stepping in it. In places the garbage was ankle deep. Disgruntled by this circumstance, Mr. Buckmaster wasted no time getting right down to business.

"I hope, Mr. Green, that you are ready to tell me that you are prepared to repent of your former obstinacy, and that you plan to fully cooperate with military authorities."

"No, I'm afraid not," Max responded, matter-of-factly.

"Then you should know that I have orders to arrest you and seize your equipment."

"It appears you brought more than enough soldiers to arrest me," Max observed.

"We didn't know what to expect," Marvin explained, a little foolishly. "We thought you might organize some opposition or a demonstration or something."

"Nope. It's just me. It won't be that hard to arrest me, if you choose to. But seizing the equipment may be another matter."

Marvin Buckmaster looked around and noticed that neither the bulldozer not the garbage truck were in evidence. As the three personnel carriers he had with him represented the entire line of vehicles that the Defense Department owned, this was of some concern. "Where's the bulldozer and the dump truck?" he demanded.

"I have hidden them," Max answered, staring down at the two dozen garbage burial sites on the slope below.

"Where?"

"Guess."

Marvin followed Max's eyes down to the garbage burial sites. "You didn't bury them?"

"Only the truck. How could I bury the bulldozer – stick it in a hole and have it cover itself up?"

"So what did you do with the bulldozer?"

"I drove it off the end of the city dock."

"This is outrageous!" Marvin Buckmaster exclaimed, stamping his foot into the half rotted remains of someone's discarded tossed salad. Trying not to show how this disconcerted him, he continued. "Do you realize that you are obstructing the war effort?"

"I certainly hope so," Max responded.

Later that evening Max called Margaret from the city jail and made arrangements for Christopher to stay with her until he got out.

“What are they going to do to you?” Margaret asked.

“They told me that they were going to keep me in jail until the end of the war.”

“I’ll let Christopher know,” Margaret said.

“Yes that will be good. Also let tell him he might as well resign from his job with the military. They will fire him anyhow. ”

“Can we visit?”

“They said that I might have top secret information. So for military security reasons, no visits would be allowed for now.”

“But they allow telephone calls?”

“They are monitored.”

“For what?”

“I am forbidden to talk about garbage.”

“Christopher and I will visit whenever they let us.”

“I’m hoping it won’t be too long,” Max said.

“However long it will be, I will be waiting for you to get out,” Margaret said.

Max thought about this comment. He turned it around in his mind and his soul to taste it’s many possible meanings. “Yes,” he said finally. “I would like that.”

 *****

 Having arrived just after lunch to pick up his final paycheck, Christopher paused at Robert Worthy's office door and deliberated on whether he should knock or wait. He could hear voices beyond the closed door. He felt the defense committee members were already hostile to him just because of what his father did. He didn't relish the idea of arousing their disapproval even further by interrupting a conversation. Besides, something about the intensity of the tones of voice he heard aroused his curiosity.

"It's clear we have to kill him," declared one of the people in the room. He recognized the voice as being General Stone's.

"I don't disagree," responded a woman's voice, easily recognizable as Dr. Peabody's, "but if his death is ever traced to us, it will have a divisive and negative effect in Barbaros. Crazy as he is, Horice Gantrig has a significant following. The question is, can we take the chance.?"

"I think we can do it without any great risk of being discovered," a third party contributed. It was Colonel Longaire. "You see, Dr. Gantrig has a little platform on Ham's hill from which he observes the nesting habits of Oos Oos Vromikos. He believes the female is about to lay an egg, so he is spending almost all his waking hours on this platform. We have taken precise bearings on this platform, and we believe we can pick him off it with a catapulted missile as neatly as a chameleon picks a fly off a leaf with its tongue."

"Probably nobody could even tell which side it was that hit him," General Stone observed.

"In any case," added Colonel Longaire, "it would appear to be just an accidental and random event. With missiles flying every which way, occasionally someone is bound to be hit."

When he heard the voice of Marvin Buckmaster, Christopher realized that the entire Ministry of Defense was gathered, and that they were planning Horice Gantrig's murder. "I like it," affirmed the Minister of Finance. "The plan has a certain elegance."

"It could be accomplished this afternoon, weather permitting," Colonel Longaire said.

That was all Christopher needed to hear. Without making a sound he backed away from the office door.

Horice Gantrig had to be warned. That was plain. It wasn't that Christopher especially liked Dr. Gantrig. In fact, he had reason to dislike him rather intensely. But underneath it all, Christopher realized that, despite the disruption he had caused in his own life, Horice Gantrig was not an entirely despicable or evil man. He could not simply sit back and allow him to be murdered.

Ham's Hill was accessible only on foot. At a brisk pace it would normally take a vigorous person about three hours to negotiate the rough path as it wove its way through the terrain between Barbaros and the peak of Ham's Hill. In a little over two hours, Christopher was already nearing the top of the hill. He was sweaty from the journey, and nearly exhausted, but he was determined to warn Horace Gantrig of the extreme danger he was in, and he sensed that he had very little time.

The woods were littered with trash and garbage---one of the consequences of the catapult war. But Christopher hardly noticed, preoccupied as he was by the urgent task at hand. Slipping on some coffee grounds, he cussed and dropped to one knee on the rocky incline. Without allowing himself the luxury of examining the abrasion he received, he rose and pressed on ahead. He was almost to his destination.

 *****

It was a hot day without the faintest hint of a breeze to deflect a catapult missile from its intended course. With meticulous care Colonel Longaire made the final adjustments on a catapult that was strategically placed to bombard the hill region between the two tiny nation states on Pomdetare Island. This was a defensive measure to discourage the people of Xenos from trying to place their catapults too close to Barbaros. At this moment, however, the catapult was aimed at the precise spot where Horace Gantrig's observation platform was situated on Ham Hill a few yards from the nest of Oos Oos Vromikos. "Now," said Colonel Longaire, "we will raise our aim by one and one half feet so that the missile does not hit the platform itself but will sweep off anybody who might be sitting on it. Can you see Horace Gantrig?" he asked.

General Stone adjusted his telescope. "He's sitting there as still as a stone," he answered.

*****

Horace Gantrig was, indeed, sitting on his observation platform "as still as a stone" as General Stone had observed. He was transfixed. Not twenty minutes before, the female Oos Oos Vromikos had laid an egg. This was a momentous occasion in the history of natural science, and Dr. Gantrig was not unprepared. Sitting beside him on the observation deck were five fire extinguishers filled with warm sudsy water. Dr. Gantrig had experimented carefully and knew that warm sudsy water under moderate pressure would effectively wash any Oos Oos Vromikos' fecal matter out of the nest or off the egg should the bird's primitive bowel habits cause it to endanger its potential offspring by fouling its nest.

*****

A two-hundred pound polyurethane bag of horse manure traced a graceful arc above the tree tops between the catapult and the summit of Ham's Hill. As neatly as a chameleon might pick a fly off a leaf, it lifted Dr. Gentnig off his platform and carried him over the cliffs on the opposite side of the rocky summit, and down into the valley below. As it was accurately described the following day in the Barbaros Times, "He never knew what hit him."

 *****

Christopher, who had just entered the clearing, was horrified to hear a loud slapping noise and then see Dr. Gantrig disappear in a blur over the side of the hill. He realized, of course, that he was too late.

Although in the days to come he would grieve the passing of this eccentric gentleman, he felt very little about Dr. Gantrig at this time. As the initial shock of seeing him disappear subsided slightly, Christopher's attention and concern shifted to the bird sitting in the nest a few yards away. The sound of the bag of horse manure hitting Dr. Gantrig had startled the bird, and in response it had thoroughly befouled its nest. The egg was totally submerged in the bird's liquid excretion.

Christopher knew of Dr. Gantrig's plan with the fire extinguishers because it had been described in an interview with Dr. Gantrig that had appeared in the Barbaros Times the previous day. As he regained his capacity to observe and think, Christopher saw what the female Oos Oos Vromikos had just done, and he grasped the ramifications of this event for the future of the species. Mobilizing his capacity to act, he ran to the observation platform. He scurried up the ladder and grabbed two of the fire extinguishers. Descending quickly he started for the nest, but before he had traversed half the distance between the platform and the ladder, he slowed down to a walk, and then stopped altogether. He knew he could save the bird and its egg. The question was, did he want to?

He put the fire extinguishers down, sat down himself, and thought. During the twenty minutes it took the white liquid in which the female bird sat to harden, Christopher hardly moved. Finally, he stood up and walked over to the now hopelessly entrapped bird, put his arms around it, and began stroking it gently. "Poor bird," he said, "its not your fault." At first the bird seemed agitated by his presence, but as he stroked it gently and spoke to it in a soothing tone of voice, the bird became calm. "Poor bird," Christopher continued. "But the only way I could see to end this silly war is to take away the thing everybody's fighting about. That’s you. I don't blame you. It's not your fault."

Just then Christopher caught a glimpse of a starling splash of colors out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time to see the male Oos Oos Vromikos lift itself off the ground and into the air. In a moment it disappeared behind the tree, but that brief moment of seeing Oos Os Vromikos in flight took his breath away. Christopher could, indeed, understand why people became beholders.

He had read enough about the habits of Oos Oos Vromikos to know that the male was probably off in search of food to bring to his mate. As he thought about the futility of the efforts of the male bird, Christopher began to cry. With tears streaming down his face he hugged the female bird and said, "I'm sorry, poor pretty bird, I'm sorry."

Blissfully unaware of the hopelessness of its situation, the last female of the species Oos Oos Vromikos sat embedded in its own rock hard fecal matter.

"Poor bird," Christopher repeated. "Poor pretty bird."

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