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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CUBS OF THE WOLF *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at

It may be that there is a weapon that, from the
viewpoint of the one it's used on, is worse than
lethal. You might say that death multiplies you by
zero; what would multiplication by minus one do?

Illustrated by Rogers

In the spring the cherry blossoms are heavy in the air over the campus of Solarian Institute of Science and Humanities. On a small slope that rims the park area, Cameron Wilder lay on his back squinting through the cloud of pink-white petals to the sky beyond. Beside him, Joyce Farquhar drew her jacket closer with an irritated gesture. It was still too cold to be sitting on the grass, but Cameron didn't seem to notice it—or anything else, Joyce thought.

"If you don't submit a subject for your thesis now," she said, "you'll take another full six months getting your doctorate. Sometimes I think you don't really want it!"

Cameron stirred. He shifted his squinting gaze from the sky to Joyce and finally sat up. But he was staring ahead through the trees again as he took his pipe from his pocket and began filling it slowly.

"I don't want it if it's not going to mean anything after I get it," he said belligerently. "I'm not going to do an investigation of some silly subject like The Transience of Venusian Immigrants in Relation to the Martian Polar Ice Cap Cycle. Solarian sociologists are the butt of enough ridicule now. Do something like that and for the rest of your life you get knocking of the knees whenever anybody inquires about the specialty you worked in and threatens to read your thesis."

"Nobody's asking you to do anything you don't want to. But you picked the field of sociology to work in. Now I don't see why you have to act such a purist that it takes months to find a research project for your degree. Pick something—anything!—I don't care what it is. But if you don't get a degree and an appointment out of the next session I don't think we'll ever get married—not ever."

Cameron removed his pipe from his mouth with a precise grip and considered it intently as it cupped in his hands. "I'm glad you mentioned marriage," he said. "I was just about to speak of it myself."

"Well, don't!" said Joyce. "After three years—Three years!"

He turned to face her and smiled for the first time. He liked to lead her along occasionally just to watch her explode, but he was not always sure when he had gone too far. Joyce had a mind like a snapping, random matching calculator while he operated more on a slow, carefully shaping analogue basis, knowing things were never quite what they seemed but trying to get as close an approximation of the true picture as possible.

"Will you marry me now?" he said.

The question did not seem to startle her. "No degree, no appointment—and no chance of getting one—we couldn't even get a license. I hope you aren't suggesting we try to get along without one, or on a forgery!"

Cameron shook his head. "No, darling, this is a perfectly bona fide proposal, complete with license, appointment, the works—what do you say?"

"I say this spring sun is too much for you." She touched the dark mass of his hair, warmed by the sun's rays, and put her head on his shoulder. She started to cry. "Don't tease me like that, Cameron. It seems like we've been waiting forever—and there's still forever ahead of us. You can't do anything you want to—"

Cameron put his arms about her, not caring if the whole Institute faculty leaned out the windows to watch. "That's why you should appreciate being about to marry such a resourceful fellow," he said more gently. And now he dropped all banter. "I've been thinking about how long it's been, too. That's why I decided to try to kill a couple of sparrows with one pebble."

Joyce sat up. "You aren't serious—?"

Cameron sucked on his pipe once more. "Ever hear of the Markovian Nucleus?" he said thoughtfully.

Joyce slowly nodded her head. "Oh, I think I've heard the name mentioned," she murmured, "but nothing more than that."

"I've asked for that as my research project."

"But that's clear out of the galaxy—in Transpace!"

"Yes, and obviously out of bounds for the ordinary graduate researcher. But because of the scholarship record I've been able to rack up here I took a chance on applying to the Corning Foundation for a grant. And they decided to take a chance on me after considerable and not entirely painless investigation. That's why you were followed around like a suspected Disloyalist for a month. My application included a provision for you to go along as my wife. Professor Fothergill notified me this morning that the grant had been awarded."

"Cam—" Joyce's voice was brittle now. "You aren't fooling me?"

He gathered her in his arms again. "You think I would fool about something like that, darling? In a week you'll be Mrs. C. Wilder, and as soon as school is out, on your way to the Markovian Nucleus. And besides, it took me almost as much work preparing the research prospectus as the average guy spends on his whole project!"

Sometimes Joyce Farquhar wished Cameron were a good deal different than he was. But then he wouldn't have been Cameron, and she wouldn't want to marry him, she supposed. And somehow, while he fell behind on the mid-stretch, he always managed to come in at the end with the rest of the field. Or just a little bit ahead of it.

Or a good deal ahead of it. As now. It took her a few moments to realize the magnitude of the coup he had actually pulled off. For weeks she had been depressed because he refused to use some trivial, breeze research to get his degree. He could have started it as much as a year ago, and they could have been married now if he'd set himself up a real cinch.

But now they were getting married anyway—and Cameron was getting the kind of research deal that would satisfy his frantic desire for integrity in a world where it counted for little, and his wish to contribute something genuine to the sociological understanding of sentient creatures.

Their marriage, as was customary, would be a cut and dried affair. A call to the license bureau, receipt of formal sanction in the mail—she supposed Cameron had already made application—and a little party with a few of their closest friends on the campus. She wished she had lived in the days when getting married was much easier to do, and something to make a fuss about.

She stirred and sat up, loosening the jacket as the sun came from behind a puff of cloud. "You could have told me about this a long time ago, couldn't you?" she said accusingly.

Cameron nodded. "I could have. But I didn't want to get false hopes aroused. I didn't have much hope the deal would actually go through, myself. I think Fothergill is pretty much responsible for it."

"Transpace—" Joyce said dreamily. "Tell me about the Markovian Nucleus. Why is it important enough for a big research study, anyway?"

"It's a case of a leopard who changed his spots," said Cameron. "And nobody knows how or why. The full title of the project is A Study of the Metamorphosis of the Markovian Nucleus."

"What happened? How are they any different from the way they used to be?"

"A hundred and fifty years ago the Markovians were the meanest, nastiest, orneriest specimens in the entire Council of Galactic Associates. The groups of worlds in one corner of their galaxy, which make up the Nucleus, controlled a military force that outweighed anything the Council could possibly bring to bear against them.

"With complete disregard of any scheme of interplanetary rules or order they harassed and attacked peaceful shipping and inoffensive cultures throughout a wide territory. They were something demanding the Council's military action. But the Council lacked the strength.

"For years the Council dragged on, debating and threatening ineffectively. But nothing was ever done. And then, so gradually it was hardly noticed, the harassments began to die down. The warlike posturing was abandoned by the Markovians. Within a period of about seventy or eighty years there was a complete about-face. They wound up as good Indians, peaceful, coöperative and intelligent members of the Council."

"Didn't anybody ever find out why?" asked Joyce.

"No. Nobody wanted to find out. In the early years the worlds of the Council were hiding behind their collective hands hoping with all their might that the threat might go away if they kept their eyes closed long enough. And by some miracle of all miracles, when they parted their fingers for a scared glimpse, the threat had disappeared.

"When they could breathe a little more easily it seemed a foolish thing to bring out this old skeleton from the closet again, so a perpetual state of hush was established. Finally, the whole thing was practically forgotten except for a short paragraph in an occasional history text. But no politician or historian has ever dared publicly to question the mysterious why of the Markovian's about-face."

"Sociologists should have done it long ago," said Joyce.

"There was always the political pressure, of course," said Cameron. "But the real reason was simply our preoccupation with making bibliographies of each others' papers. It's going to take a lot of leg work, something in which our formal courses don't give us any basic training. Fothergill understands that—it's why he pushed me so hard with the Foundation. And Riley up there is capable of seeing it, too.

"I showed him that here was a complex of at least a hundred and ten major planets, inhabited by a fairly homogenous, civilized people, speaking from a technological point of view at least. And almost overnight some force changed the entire cultural posture. I made him see that identification of that force is of no small interest to us right now. If it operated once, it could operate again—and would its results be as happy a second time?

"Riley got the Foundation to kick through enough for you and me to make a start. A preliminary survey is about all it will amount to, actually, but if we show evidence of something tangible I'll get my degree, you'll get your basic certification—and we'll both return in charge of a full-scale inquiry with a staff big enough to really dig into things next year.

"Now—about this matter of marriage which you didn't want me to speak of—"

"Keep talking, Cam—you're doing wonderfully!"

They got married at once, even though there were several weeks of school which had to be finished before they could leave. Among their friends on the campus there were a good many whispered remarks about the insanity of Joyce and Cameron in planning such a fantastic excursion, but Joyce was certain there was as much envy as criticism in the eyes of her associates. It might be true when they asserted that every conceivable sociological factor or combination of factors could be found and analyzed right here in the Solar System, but a husband who could finagle a way to combine a honeymoon trip halfway across space with his graduate research thesis was a rare specimen. Joyce played her advantage for all it was worth.

Two weeks before departure time, however, Cameron was called to the office of Professor Fothergill. As he entered he found a third man present, wearing a uniform he recognized at once as belonging to the Council Secretariat.

"I'll wait outside," he said abruptly as Fothergill turned. "I got your message and came right over. I didn't know—"

"Sit down," said Fothergill. "Cameron, this is Mr. Ebbing, whose position you no doubt recognize. Mr. Ebbing, Mr. Wilder."

The men shook hands and took seats across from each other. Fothergill sat between them at the polished table. "The Council, it seems, has developed an interest in your proposed research among the Markovians," he said. "I'll let Mr. Ebbing tell you about it."

Cameron felt a sinking anticipation within him as he turned to the secretary. Surely the Council wasn't going to actively oppose the investigation after so long a time!

The secretary coughed and shuffled the papers he drew from his case. "It's not actually the Council's interest," he said, and Cameron was immediately relieved. "But I have been asked by the Markovian Nucleus, through their representative, to suggest that they would like to save you the long and unnecessary trip. He offers to co-operate to the fullest degree by causing all necessary materials to be transferred to your site of study right here. He feels that this is the least they can do since so much interest appears to exist in the Nucleus."

Cameron stared at the secretary, trying to discern what the man's own attitude might be, but Ebbing gave no sign of playing it any way but straight.

"It sounds like a polite invitation to stay home and mind our own business," said Cameron finally. "They don't want company."

The secretary's expression changed to acknowledgment of the correct appraisal. "They don't want any investigation into the Metamorphosis of the Markovian Nucleus. There is no such thing. It is entirely a myth."

"Says the Markovians—!"

Ebbing nodded. "Says the Markovians. Other worlds, both within and without the Council have persisted in spreading tales and rumors about the Markovians for a long time. They don't like it. They are willing to co-operate in having a correct analysis of their culture published, but they don't want any more of these infamous rumors circulated."

"Then why aren't they willing to promote such an investigation? This would be their big chance—if their ridiculous position were true!"

"They are willing. I've told you the representative has offered to send you all needed material showing the status of their culture."

Cameron looked at the secretary for a long time before speaking again. "What's your

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