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chapter 1
 The previous case was a Weeper, and he lost. So the Space Zoning Commissioners were damp and irritable before I opened pleadings for my client. I tried not to squelch as I approached the bench. "Not the Flammables again, Mr. Jones?" the fat Commissioner asked nastily, sponging his suit with a sodden handkerchief.
"This was last week, Your Honor."
The thin dark Commissioner stared pointedly at the charred end of the bench nearest the witness seat.
"Indeed it was, Mr. Jones."
The middle Commissioner poised his fingers and looked at the court ceiling; moisture gleamed diamond like on his bald head.
"Now let me see," he intoned. "Correct me if I err, Mr. Jones, but I seem to observe you have a habit of representing somewhat spectacular aliens. Including, in the past six months alone, the Drillers, Whirling Tombs, Fragile Glasses, Erupters, Vibrational Men, Transparent Women—and of course let us not forget the Flammables."
"I assure Your Honor, my present clients will be found to be sober, hardworking, desirable members of the Galactic Community, seeking only to live on their own asteroid in peace under a democratic system, which...."
"Thank you, Mr. Jones. Shall we proceed?"
"And perhaps," added the fat Commissioner, "you may be good enough to leave us with most of our courtroom intact on this occasion."
The thin Commissioner sighed and shuffled his papers.
"You appear, Mr. Jones, to contest a Space Council ruling for the elimination of Asteroid Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty-Two on the grounds, which you allege, that it is a peaceful dwelling of an adult and responsible alien race."
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Then let us see your adult, um, Bugbreeder."
I shuffled uncomfortably and splashed the court stenographer who gave me a dirty look.
"A space tramp's name given in the early days of Space, Your Honor. More properly, my clients are the Selective Culturists of Bacteria and Lesser Life."
The fat Commissioner sniffed.
"Bugbreeders will do," he said. "Produce one."
My client hopped off the table and ran nimbly up to the witness seat. He sat there like a small green snowball with large and pointed ears.
"Happy, happy to be here, I'm sure," he said.
Fortunately he had a hand to raise and looked reasonably humanoid as he was sworn in. The caterpillar and semi-jelly cultures make a less favorable first impression, and at this point the Driller had gone excitedly through the floor.
"You are a representative member of your race?" I asked formally.
"Oh, yus. Much."
"And you reside on Asteroid Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty-Two, the permanent dwelling of your race?"
"Oh, yus. Home."
"And although your home presents certain technical difficulties for interplanetary vehicles on the spacerun to the greater planets, you maintain it should be preserved because of your contribution to the culture of the Galactic Community?" I asked.
"Oh, yus."
"Does he understand a word you're saying, Mr. Jones?" asked the bald Commissioner.
"Oh, yus. Not much," said my client cheerfully.
"Hurrmph," I said, and coughed.
"Perhaps I may assist," suggested the thin Commissioner, with a nasty look at me. "What exactly does your race do?"
"Breed bugs, I'm sure. Am head bacteriophysicist name of Lood. Am good scientist."
"And what exactly do you do with these bugs you raise?"
"Most everything."
"Your Honors," I interrupted. "At this point I propose a few simple demonstrations of what Mr. Lood and his people can do."
"May I inquire if either of my learned brethren know any way in which we can charge Mr. Jones with rebuilding costs, if necessary?" asked the bald Commissioner.
"Your Honors, I assure you...."
"Proceed at your peril, Mr. Jones."
I walked over to the exhibit table and pointed to a row of jars.
"Exhibits A through G, Your Honors. Samples of food and beverages produced by my clients without raw materials and from the expert culture of bacteria."
I held up a jar full of mauve fungus. It was the most attractive example.
"I would hardly call feeding on funguses a sign of a responsible humanoid race, Mr. Jones."
"Perhaps Your Honor will recall the part played by bacteria in making milk, cheese, wine, beer, bread."
The Commissioners looked at each other and nodded reluctantly. So I passed the jars up to them, secure in the knowledge they had been tested by the Alien Foods Bureau. I watched the Commissioners unscrew the lids and taste the contents somewhat hesitantly.
"Not bad," confessed the fat Commissioner eventually.
"Quite palatable."
"Of course we already have honey and similar foodstuffs, Mr. Jones."
"Naturally, Your Honor. But Mr. Lood's race can survive without extraplanetary aid. Provided they have sunshine and water, they can breed their spores and bacteria with no other resources."
"You mean," said the thin Commissioner with a dark leer, "that almost any sunny planet would do for them?"
Somewhere along the line my point seemed to have been swept away, so I added hurriedly:
"I offer this evidence purely to show the high degree of civilization of my clients' culture, as cause why they should not be deprived of their native land."
"Oh, yus," my client agreed.
"Mr. Lood," intoned the bald Commissioner, "to stay on your present asteroid you will have to prove that your race offers something that cannot be found elsewhere in the Galactic Community. Now have these funguses of yours any special medicinal values, for example?"
"Can you cure diseases with them?"
"Oh, no."
"Ah," said the thin and fat Commissioners together. "Proceed, Mr. Jones."
That put Lood somewhere back behind the twentieth-century discoverers of penicillin and the myecins, and even back behind the pioneer Pasteur. Five hundred years back, in fact.
"Yes. Well. Let's see how my clients handle housing, Your Honors. I think you'll find this quite revolutionary. Mr. Lood?"
Lood hopped off the witness seat and trotted up to the long table normally reserved for attorneys. Lately, I have found my professional colleagues strangely reluctant to stay in court when I have a case, so Lood had the entire table to himself.
He pulled a small jar out from under the table and spread a pile of dust on the tabletop. Then he unscrewed the jar and gently poured nothing out of it onto the dust. Nothing visible, that is. But I assumed it was teeming with viruses and such.
"While Mr. Lood gets this started, Your Honors," I said, hoping the viruses or whatever were not fatal to humans, "may I submit the usefulness of fungus foods for space-travel and for pioneers on inhospitable planets?"
"Are we having difficulties with General Food-Concentrates, the Travelers Capsule Combine and the other ten thousand concerns in this line, Mr. Jones?" the bald Commissioner asked quietly.
You can't say I didn't try. I shut up and watched Lood fuss with the dust on the table.
It started moving as if it were bubbling and Lood stood back.
Slowly, the dust on the table formed itself into a brick, a long eight by six by three inch brick. Lood smiled happily.
"And here, Your Honors," I said triumphantly, "here is automatic housing."
"One brick does not make a house, Mr. Jones."
"If Your Honors will just watch...."
The brick slowly elongated and split into two perfect bricks, lying on the table end to end.
"Mass colony action of bacteria," said Lood wisely. "Oh, yus."
The two bricks each split into two further bricks. These divided and multiplied themselves while we watched, out to the end of the table.
"I would like Your Honors to observe the way these bricks overcome natural hazards," I said, getting into my stride.
I pointed to the bricks drooping over the end of the table. A brick fell onto the floor at each end, then built itself up until it joined the line of bricks on the table, forming a perfect arch at each angle. The line on the table was now three bricks high, so I walked round and stood behind the wall.
"You see, Your Honors, suppose I need a house. I merely combine these suitable microbes and dust. And there we are, a house."
I had to stand on tiptoe to finish the sentence because of the mathematics involved. Every brick was doubling and redoubling itself in just under a minute. And the wall was getting quite impressively high.
"Mr. Jones," called one of the Commissioners.
It was not until I tried to walk round the end of the wall that I found I had been out-flanked.
I ran to the nearest wall of the courtroom but the bricks got there first. I heard a rending noise that suggested the other end had gone clean through the opposite wall. As a matter of fact, I saw the astonished face of an attorney entering the main door of the Justice Building as the wall advanced towards him. Then he saw me. He grinned and waved.
I was in no mood to wave back.
"Mr. Lood, Mr. Lood," I yelled. "Can you hear me?"
"Wall too thick, yus," came a muffled answer.
And indeed it was. I had not noticed it, but the wall was expanding sideways as well. I was calculating the approximate thickness when it went up and through the roof of the courtroom.
Fortunately it was a nice sunny day.
However, this was no time to sunbathe and I dashed towards the hole in the courtroom wall, where Lood's wall had gone through.
I just got out before a buttress, coming out the wall at right angles, blocked the gap. I remembered something Lood had said about the automatic creation of full-scale houses on a simple standard plan: two rooms, a toilet and a patio.
Outside, the wall was well on the way towards completing its second simple house. This side of the wall was, that is. I could only assume it was doing something similar on the other side. There was no way of getting round and seeing, except by outstripping the wall in a sprint.
I gathered my breath and dignity and ran very rapidly down the length of the wall, round the far mounting tiers of brick, advancing now on the State Library, and back to where I had left the Commissioners and Mr. Lood.
I was faced by a thicket of patios and arched doorways and low-roofed houses.
"Your Honors, Your Honors," I called hopefully, walking into the maze, in the general direction of what appeared to be an old and ruined war monument. It then occurred to me that this was the outer wall of the courthouse. It stood far off, pointing a stone finger to the sky, as if going down in a sea of brick for the third time.
"Your Honors, Your Honors...."
I met them turning a corner.
Unfortunately, they se............
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