First published in Super-Science Fiction (December 1957 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This Science Fiction Short Story is set during the (then present-day) Cold War, postulating an alien race acting as Circling Vultures.
Hurrians, an alien species, have set a small Moon base in secret, and have been waiting for fifteen years, much longer than they ever expected. Captain Devi-en is welcoming an Arch-administrator who is investigating exactly why nuclear war hasn't happened on schedule. A couple of theories are ventured, but they need more information.
They kidnap a random hiker and interrogate him over the course of several days. The human eats poorly and struggles against confinement, which the Hurrians interpret as the natural result of large-primate competitiveness. Frustrated at the confinement, the human berates the Hurrians for their decision to avoid contact with species until they've destroyed themselves in nuclear war instead of working to prevent war.
"The Gentle Vultures" contains examples of:
- Alien Abduction: We see this from the alien perspective as the Hurrians select a human hiker, alone in the wilderness, to kidnap and interrogate.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: Frightened of their more dangerous and competitive cousins, when Hurrians discover a new sentient species, they wait until the race nearly kills itself with nuclear war before making First Contact and rescuing the survivors for a price.
- Antagonist Title: The title is a metaphor that describe the alien Hurrians, who kidnapped the Human protagonist because they're tired of waiting for Humanity to self-destruct.
- Armor-Piercing Question: The hitch hiker asks why the Hurrians don't help prevent the war. This eventually leads to the Hurrians leaving the Solar System.
- Circling Vultures: The Hurrians are waiting... they've been waiting for fifteen years... waiting for World War III to devastate the Earth just like it does for every other species. An abducted human yells at them for waiting around until after the wars so they can pick through the dead planets instead of intervening beforehand.
- Enforced Cold War: The Cold War has been going on for over fifteen years, and the aliens telling this story are confused. Normally, large primates will destroy their world in nuclear war, but Earth has somehow avoided this inevitable end. The Hurrians consider inverting this trope by exploding a nuclear bomb over a populated area to provoke open warfare."it seems they are having a war; not a real war, but a war." — Captain Devi-en
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The aliens have been using interstellar travel for a long time, but no explaination for how their ships work is given, only that they fear humanity learning how to build interstellar ships before they destroy themselves with nuclear war.
- Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: Captain Devi-en receives the most description, aimed mostly at giving a sense of the Hurrian appearance. The other two main characters have even less description and the Hurrian Moon base has absolutely nothing described about its appearance. The story focuses instead on the idea of aliens who wait until nuclear war and then swoop in to fix everything afterwards, for a price.
- Flying Saucer: This story claims the sightings of UFOs after the end of World War II are the result of Hurrian spaceships not being careful enough to maintain their Alien Non-Interference Clause.
- Galactic Superpower: The Hurrians have helped thousands of species recover after destroying their own planets with nuclear weapons and each world pays them tribute afterwards, making them the economic rulers of the galaxy. It is assumed that if humanity manages to create interstellar travel, they will be displaced.
- Humans Advance Swiftly: One of the alien theories on why World War III didn't happen on schedule is that so soon after humans started manufacturing atomic weapons, we built enough that we knew we would destroy ourselves. This theory is based on humanity's rapid development from industrialization to weaponized nuclear fission. The theory is dismissed on the basis that the result should only be an earlier World War III, not a cessation of hostilities.
- Humans Are Special:
- Hurrians are special; they are a race of herbivorous primates that claim to have evolved with the cooperative instinct rather than the competitive instinct. Out of the many thousands of species they have encountered since developing interstellar travel, they've all destroyed themselves with nuclear war.
- Humanity is the first aggressive species the Hurrians encounter that hasn't blown itself up in a nuclear war right after discovering the use of nuclear weaponry. They wait fifteen years in anticipation, confused at the lack of war.
- Humans Are Warriors: All large-primates across the galaxy are competitive and aggressive, including humans. The aliens telling the story are small herbivorous primates, frightened of their more powerful cousins. They realize that if they detonate a nuclear warhead over an inhabited area, humanity will wage the war they've come to expect, but the thought of violence sickens them. It is assumed that humanity will invent Faster-Than-Light Travel and the galaxy will never be the same again.
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: This story takes place from the perspective of aliens observing Earth in anticipation of the Cold War becoming World War III.
- In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Hurrians are used to encountering "competitive" hominids (ape descended), who tend to destroy themselves as soon as they get nuclear weapons. They, however, are "cooperative" hominids (monkey descended). Hurrians wait until the natives inevitably destroy themselves and then help the survivors rebuild their civilization into a subservient cooperative utopia with the violence bred out. They discover Earth just after World War II, and watch as the Cold War delays World War III for more than a decade. They're confused and frightened as humanity refuses to destroy itself.
- Minimalist Cast: Only three characters with dialogue, and an unspecified amount of additional Hurrians and Mauvs, numbering at least five.
- No Name Given:
- The human hiker the Hurrians kidnapped isn't named; they refer to him only as "the wild one".
- The Arch-administrator who has come representing the Council is never addressed by name, only by titles.
- Planet Looters: The alien herbivorous primates maintain an Alien Non-Interference Clause until a species has destroyed itself in nuclear war, then it arrives to repair the damage in exchange for a resource that world has in abundance. They don't even do the looting themselves, making the devastated world pay tribute to the Hurrians. They take everything from slaves to steel, from manganese salts to processed lumber.
- Scavengers Are Scum: The aliens consider unbalancing the Cold War so that one side is ready to devastate the world through nuclear weapons. Then they'll come to "rescue" the survivors. However, when a human that they abduct for information castigates them and compares them to carrion-eaters, they become horrified at the idea of what they're about to do and leave Earth to its own devices.
- Slave Race: The Mauvs are a race of large-primates larger and more powerful than most. Because their world is low in natural resources, the Hurrians take slaves as payment for their efforts in repairing the world the Mauvs devastated in nuclear war.
- Space Base: The Hurrians establish a moon base to help observe Earth and prepare for the inevitable World War III so that they can help clean up afterwards.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The human calls out the Hurrians for only acting after the war happens instead of helping to prevent it.
- World War III: Since the Hurrians first built ships capable of Faster-Than-Light Travel, the races they've encountered have always engaged in a world war with nuclear weapons. They've made it their duty to wait until the end of the war and then "rescue" the survivors.
- Xeno Fiction: This story takes place from the perspective of aliens observing Earth in anticipation of the Cold War becoming World War III.