Partobon, ruler of Cyberia, was a great warrior, and being an advocate of
the methods of modern strategy, above all else he prized cybernetics as a
military art. His kingdom swarmed with thinking machines, for Poleander put
them everywhere he could. (...) On the planet cyberbosks of
cybergorse rustled in the wind, cybercalliopes and cyberviols sang - but
besides these civilian devices there were twice as many military, for the
King was most bellicose. (...) There was only this one problem, and it
troubled him greatly, namely, that he had not a single adversary or enemy
and no one in any way wished to invade his land, and thereby provide him
with the opportunity to demonstrate his kingly and terrifying courage. (...)
In the absence of genuine enemies and aggressors the King had his engineers
build artificial ones, and against these he did battle, and always won.
However (...) the subjects murmured when all too many cyberfoes had
destroyed their settlements and towns (...) and the King wearied of the war
games on the planet (...) decided to raise his sights. Now it was cosmic
wars and sallies that he dreamed of.
(...) And so the royal engineers built on the Moon a
splendid computer, which in turn was to create all manner of troops and
self-firing gunnery. The King lost no time in testing the machine's prowess
this way and that; at one point he ordered it - by telegraph - to execute a
volt-vault electrosault: for he wanted to see if it was true, what his
engineers had told him, that that machine could do anything. If can do
anything, he thought, then let it do a flip. However the text of the
telegram underwent a slight distortion and the machine received the order
that it was to execute not an electrosault, but an electrosaur - and this it
carried out as best it could.
Meanwhile the King conducted one more campaign,
liberating some provinces of his realm seized by cyberknechts; he completely
forgot about the order given the computer on the Moon, then suddenly giant
boulders came hurtling down from there. (...) Fuming, he telegraphed the
Moon computer at once, demanding an explanation. It didn't reply however,
for it no longer was: the electrosaur had swallowed it and made it into its
Immediately the King dispatched an entire armed
expedition to the Moon (...) to slay the dragon, but there was only some
flashing, some rumbling, and then no more computer nor expedition; for the
electrodragon wasn't pretend and wasn't pretending (...) and had moreover
the worst of intentions regarding the kingdom and the King. (...)
The King thought and thought, but he saw no
remedy. (...) To send machines was no good, for they would be lost, and to
go himself was no better, for he was afraid. Suddenly the King heard, in the
stillness of the night, the telegraph chattering from his royal bedchamber.
(...) The King jumped up and ran to it, the apparatus meanwhile went
tap-tap, tap-tap, and tapped out this telegram: THE DRAGON SAYS POLEANDER
PARTOBON BETTER CLEAR OUT BECAUSE HE THE DRAGON INTENDS TO OCCUPY THE
The King (...) ran down to the palace vaults,
where stood the strategy machine, old and very wise. (...) He had not as yet
consulted it, since prior to the rise and uprise of the electrodragon they
had argued on the subject of a certain military operation; but now was not
the time to think of that - his throne, his life was at stake!
He plugged it in, and as soon as it warmed up he
"My old computer! My good computer! It's this
way and that, the dragon wishes to deprive me of my throne; to cast me out,
help, speak, how can I defeat it?!"
"Uh-uh," said the computer. "First
you must admit I was right in that previous business, and secondly, I would
have you address me only as Digital Grand Vizier, though you may also say to
me: 'Your Ferromagneticity'!"
"Good, good, I'll name you Grand Vizier, I'll
agree to anything you like, only save me!"
The machine whirred, chirred, hummed, hemmed, then
"It is a simple matter. We build an
electrosaur more powerful than the one located on the Moon. It will defeat
the lunar one, settle its circuitry once and for all and thereby attain the
"Perfect!" replied the King. "And
can you make a blueprint of this dragon?"
"It will be an ultradragon," said the
computer. "And I can make you not only a blueprint, but the thing
itself, which I shall now do, it won't take a minute, King!" And true
to its word, it hissed, it chugged, it whistled and buzzed, assembling
something down within itself, and already an object like a giant claw,
sparking, arcing, was emerging from its side, when the King shouted:
"Old computer! Stop!"
"Is this how you address me? I am the Digital
"Ah, of course," said the King.
"Your Ferromagneticity, the electrodragon you are making will defeat
the other dragon, granted, but it will surely remain in the other's place,
how then are we to get rid of it in turn?!"
"By making yet another, still more
powerful," explained the computer.
"No, no! In that case don't do anything, I
beg you, what good will it be to have more and more terrible dragons on the
Moon when I don't want any there at all?"
"Ah, now that's a different matter," the
computer replied. "Why didn't you say so in the first place? You see
how illogically you express yourself? One moment ... I must think."
It hummed, it huffed, and it said:
"We create a general theory of the slaying of
electrodragons, of which the lunar dragon will be a special case, its
"Well, create such a theory!" said the
"To do this I must first create various
"Certainly not! No thank you!" exclaimed
the King. "A dragon wants to deprive me of my throne, just think what
might happen if you produced a swarm of them!"
"Oh? Well then (...) we will use a strategic
variant of the method of successive approximations. Go and telegraph the
dragon that you will give it the throne on the condition that it perform
three mathematical operations, really quite simple..."
The King went and telegraphed, and the dragon
"Now," said the computer, "here is
the first operation: tell it to divide itself by itself!"
The King did this. The electrosaur divided itself
by itself, but since one electrosaur over one electrosaur is one, it
remained on the Moon and nothing changed.
Is this the best you can do?!" cried the
King, running into the vault with such haste, that his slippers fell off.
(...) "Nothing changed!"
"(...) The operation was to divert
attention," said the computer. "And now tell it to extract its
root!" The King telegraphed to the Moon, and the dragon began to pull,
push, pull, push, until it crackled from the strain, panted, trembled all
over, but suddenly something gave - and it extracted its own root! The King
went back to the computer.
"The dragon (...) extracted the root and
threatens me still!" he shouted from the doorway. "What now, my
old ... I mean, Your Ferromagneticity?!"
"Be of stout heart," it said. "Now
go tell it to subtract itself from itself!"
The King hurried to his royal bedchamber, sent the
telegram, and the dragon began to subtract itself from itself, taking away
its tail first, then legs, then trunk, and finally, when it saw that
something wasn't right, it hesitated, but from its own momentum the
subtracting continued, it took away its head and became zero, in other words
nothing: the electrosaur was no more!
"The electrosaur is no more," cried the
joyful King, bursting into the vault. "Thank you, old computer ... many
thanks ... you have worked hard ... you have earned a rest, so now I will
"Not so fast, my dear," the computer
replied. "I do the job and you want to disconnect me, and you no longer
call me Your Ferromagneticity?! That's not nice, not nice at all! Now I
myself will change into an electrosaur, yes, and drive you from the kingdom,
and most certainly rule better than you, for you always consulted me in all
the more important matters, therefore it was really I who ruled all along,
and not you.
And huffing, puffing, it began to change into an
electrosaur; flaming electroclaws were already protruding from its sides
when the King, breathless with fright, tore the slippers off his feet,
rushed up to it and with the slippers began beating blindly at its tubes!
The computer chugged, choked, and got muddled in its program - instead of
the word "electrosaur" it read "electrosauce," and
before the King's very eyes the computer, wheezing more and more softly,
turned into an enormous, gleaming-golden heap of electrosauce, which, still
sizzling, emitted all its charge in deep-blue sparks, leaving Poleander to
stare dumbstruck at only a great, steaming pool of gravy...
With a sigh the King put on his slippers and
returned to the royal bedchamber. However from that time on he was an
altogether different king: the events he had undergone made his nature less
bellicose, and to the end of his days he engaged exclusively in civilian
cybernetics, and left the military kind strictly alone.