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I am looking to identify a story I read in the 1960s or 70s. It was about a scoutship that landed on Earth, prelude to an invasion force. Previous scouts had disappeared without a trace.

The crew members' names were descriptive of their function. I think the protagonist was called Pilot. They are shape-changers. One by one, the crew members defect, taking on forms of Earth creatures that fit their function and personality. Pilot tries desperately to complete the mission. One scene I remember is he assumes human form and walks into a building -- but is unable to blend in, I think because he forgets to form facial features.

He struggles to complete his crew's mission, barricading himself in a room? (perhaps to destroy the planet?) when he sees birds out the window. The people breaking in to stop him see only a large (white?) bird flying out the window, a bit awkward, but quickly gaining control of its wings and soaring away.

Help, please?

marked as duplicate by Jenayah, Meat Trademark, amflare, Buzz, RDFozz Aug 30 '18 at 17:35

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Shape by Robert Sheckley, aka "Keep Your Shape"; available at the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg. Long description from this page:

This is the story of a group of aliens from the planet Glom who have come to earth to take over the planet so they can expand their amount of space and resources. The aliens are creatures from a highly specialized society that regiments specific body shapes for the creatures to maintain according to the jobs they practice. At birth, the Gloms are formless blobs, but are immediately assigned their jobs and shapes in accordance with those of their ancestors. [...]

Pid, so loyal to the government of Gola, is disgusted by these statements and sneaks into the atomic power installation himself. Right before he activates the displacer in the reactor room, he sees a bird fly past the window, and realizes that this animal has a shape that goes above and beyond his wants and needs. Disregarding all that he has just said and accused his friends of, he jumps out of the window and morphs into the shape of a bird, abandoning the assignment he was given, and deciding to live in the shape most desirable to him.

  • Yes! Thank you! The version included in the anthology "Untouched by Human Hands" is the one I'm thinking of. I found this in google books: "...flung himself through the window. The Men raced to the window and stared out. But they were unable to understand what they saw. There was only a great white bird out there, flapping awkwardly but with increasing strength, trying to overtake a flight of birds in the distance." That is exactly the ending I remember! Thank you again. – refugee Apr 3 '16 at 3:44

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