One day Uru came to a strange, deserted land in which no building stood but an immensely tall tower.

He approached to within a hundred meters, then paused to stare in admiration. He was startled when, after a few moments, a harsh voice was broadcast to him from a speaker atop the building: “Move off, Outlander, lest we blast you into smithereens!”

“I am unarmed!” Uru cried, displaying his empty hands. “I come in peace only to learn and to bring news of other lands!”
“We require no news, Stranger,” the voice from the tower boomed out, “but if you’re willing to carry warnings to our enemies, approach and ascend!”

Uru wasn’t sure what this business of carrying warnings to enemies might mean, but he saw no harm in learning more. As he stepped forward, however, there was an explosion on a middle floor that sent a shower of glass and smoke into the air. Though he was momentarily startled, this was clearly not any sort of attack directed at him. Looking up and down the facade of the building, he now saw that many windows appeared to have been blown out and blackened in the same way; some had been boarded over and some were still gaping. Lacking any more precise instructions, Uru entered the building and took an elevator to the top floor, where he was greeted with surprising geniality by a quite ordinary-looking gentleman of middle age, who said he could be called Mr. Weathers.

Explaining the initial hostility with which Uru had met, Mr. Weathers said, “I’m sure you know there is no such thing as being too guarded.”

“Actually, there is such a thing as being too guarded,” Uru replied, but Mr. Weathers appeared not to have heard him — indeed appeared not to have paid the least attention.

“Look here,” he said, drawing Uru to a window, “isn’t this magnificent? It is our View.”

And the view was indeed magnificent. The entire continent seemed to be spread out before them.

“From such a commanding height,” Mr. Weathers went on, “our cannons are irresistible against any invading force.”

“And do you face many invading forces?” Uru asked.

“Very few,” the other replied. “Our enemies know what they’re up against here.”

Suddenly the floor trembled beneath them, and a moment later the distant sound of a detonation reached their ears. Uru looked at his host in inquiry.

“Explosives testing,” Mr. Weathers explained.

“You test explosives inside your own building?”

“Certainly. Where else?”

“Well, outside.”

Mr. Weathers gave Uru a condescending smile and shook his head. “If our scientists worked outside, they’d be vulnerable to enemy attack. We wouldn’t dream of exposing them in this way.”

“You could shelter them in another building.”

“Then, obviously, we’d have two buildings to defend instead of just one.”

“Under attack, you could withdraw your scientists to this building.”

“It’s clear you’re a stranger to military thinking,” Mr. Weathers said with another condescending smile. “Once evacuated, the other building would provide the enemy with cover in our own front yard. This would be the case even if we blew it up as we were leaving.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“It’s not merely true, it’s obvious,” he said offensively.

Uru asked if he could see the rest of the building.

“Well,” the other said, “you can see some of it. For security reasons, I can’t show you any more than this of the upper floors, which are occupied by governmental agencies. Residential floors come next, then the floors occupied by re-education centers. All these are restricted, I’m afraid.”

“And who are your re-education centers for?”

“They’re for people who have been subverted by the enemy.”

“The enemy?” Uru looked around in puzzlement, as if he might catch sight of an enemy lurking nearby. “I thought your cannons kept all enemies at bay.”

“All outside enemies, to be sure. But we were infiltrated long ago by agents hostile to our way of life.”
“Why haven’t you expelled these enemy agents?”

Mr. Weathers frowned. “They’re physically indistinguishable from us, and are carefully trained to talk like us, dress like us, and generally act like us.”

“I see,” Uru said as they got into an elevator to descend. “And how do they subvert your citizens?”

“They lead them to believe that our weapons development program is hazardous to their welfare — a transparent ruse, of course.”

“And what does the ruse conceal?”

“It conceals their true motive, which is to render us defenseless against attack.” The elevator door opened on a middle floor — a scene of desolation, a bombed-out landscape of shattered walls and rubble. As Uru gaped at it, a section of ceiling collapsed just a few meters away, choking the air with plaster dust.

Mr. Weathers pressed a button, and the elevator door closed. After being shown two more floors of similar devastation, Uru said, “Don’t you realize that every time you set off a bomb on one of these floors you’re weakening the structure of the entire building?”

The other smiled grimly. “This is of course exactly what the traitors in our midst would have us believe. But we have faith in our tower. It has stood here for hundreds of years as we tested our weapons inside it, and (as you see) never once has it collapsed.”

“That proves nothing,” Uru insisted. “The fact that you can cut one or two strands of a rope without causing it to break doesn’t mean that you can cut dozens. Every single wall you blow out necessarily reduces the integrity of the entire structure, and eventually all the weaknesses you’ve introduced must combine dynamically to bring about its downfall.”

“Since you’re a stranger, you can’t be expected to understand or share the confidence we have in our tower. It’s undeniable that hundreds of walls have been weakened or destroyed. But there are thousands of others that are perfectly sound, and these are the ones that keep us living safely at the top.” When the elevator door opened next, Uru saw that they had reached the ground floor.

“Please don’t imagine that you’ve pulled the wool over our eyes,” Mr. Weathers said. “We didn’t give you a tour of our building because we imagined you to be the simple traveler you pretend to be. We know you’re an enemy spy, and we wanted you to see that your efforts to undermine us have failed. We remain strong and undeterred in our resolve to maintain our defenses.”

“I see,” Uru said again, stepping outside.

“This is also why we didn’t execute you as soon as we had you in our power. We want you to carry to your masters what you observed here today.”

“I’ll certainly do that,” Uru said, adding under his breath: “If I ever come across them.”

Striking off toward the western horizon, he had traveled only a few hundred paces when another test blast from inside the tower made him hunch his shoulders against the expectation of falling debris.