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The Kenzie Report   By: (1906-1963)

The Kenzie Report by Mark Clifton

First Page:

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction May 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.


By Mark Clifton

Illustrated by Kelly Freas

If this story has a moral, it is: "Leave well enough alone." Just look what happened to Kenzie "mad about ants" MacKenzie, who didn't....

That Kenzie MacKenzie was a mad scientist hardly showed at all. To see him ambling down the street in loose jointed manner, with sandy hair uncombed, blue eyes looking vaguely beyond normal focus, you might think here was a young fellow dreaming over how his gal looked last night. It might never occur to you that he was thinking of ants.

Of course, we fellows in the experimental lab all knew it, but Kenzie wasn't too hard to get along with. In fact, he could usually be counted on to pull us out of a technical hole. We put up with him through a certain fondness, maybe even a little pride. It gave us a harmless subject to talk about when security was too rigid on other things.

Our Department Chief knew it, but Kenzie had solved quite a few knotty electronics problems. The Chief never has been too particular to see credit get back to the guy who earned it. We guessed he figured having Kenzie there was profitable to him. In fact, the little redhead in payroll told me the Chief was drawing quite a few bonus checks.

Personnel probably didn't know about it. Kenzie's papers, buried deep in the files, wouldn't show it; because about the only question they had not asked us was, "Where do you stand on the matter of ants?"

There was an unwritten law in the lab for nobody ever to mention insects, or even elderly female relatives. I guess that was why it wasn't mentioned to the new guy, name of Robert Pringle. This fellow Pringle worked along for a couple weeks and showed us he had the old know how in his fingers. A capable tech, a good joe, and we thought we were lucky to get him.

On this particular morning, it happened that Pringle was working at the bench next to Kenzie. Being a talented tech, like the rest of us, his mind naturally ran along more than one channel at the same time. I expect he was really surprised at the reaction he got when he shouted out to the room at large.

"Hey, fellows," he yelled. "I got little green bugs on my roses. What do you do about it?"

The silence made him look up from his work, and he couldn't help noticing we all stood there with clinched hands and gritted teeth. We were watching Kenzie, who snapped the juice off his soldering iron and pointed the iron at Pringle.

"Those," said Kenzie in a hollow, impressive voice, "are aphis. If you will look closer, Pringle, you will see among them ants. The aphid is to the ant as the dairy cow is to the human. Those ants are aphid herders, carefully tending and milking their flock."

"Here we go again," moaned one of the fellows across the lab.

"The ants are a highly intelligent life form," Kenzie went on. "I would explain it to you in detail, but I am in the middle of a problem at this moment."

"Thank heaven for that," another tech ground out the words.

"Suffice it to say," Kenzie ignored all interruptions, "Man would well occupy himself trying to communicate with them."

The Chief came to the doorway of his little office down at the end of the lab. He looked us all over patiently and knowingly.

"Now give him your syllogism, Kenzie," he said quietly, "so we can all get back to work."

"You may reflect on this, Pringle," Kenzie stated and waved his soldering iron in the air.

"One: Man wants to communicate with intelligent life from other planets or the stars.

"Two: We know from observation the ants communicate with one another.

"Ergo: Before we reach so far as to contact extra terrestrial intelligence, had we not better occupy our time with solving a much simpler communications problem; to wit: communicate with the ants? How can we expect to solve communication with really alien beings from the stars, when we have not learned to communicate with the intelligent beings at our very feet?"

All over the room we sighed heavily with relief... Continue reading book >>

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