Of course if Man is to survive, he must be adaptable,
as any life form must. But that's not enough; he must
adapt faster than the competing forms. And on new
planets, that can be tricky....
Illustrated by Krenkel
he faxgram read: REPORT
MA IS INSTANTER
GRAVIS. The news obelisk just
off the express strip
outside Mega Angeles' Galactic Survey
Building was flashing: ONE OF
OUR STAR SHIPS IS MISSING!
Going up in the lift, I recalled
what I had seen once scrawled upon
the bulkhead of a GS trainer: Space
is kind to those who respect her. And
underneath, in different handwriting:
Fear is the word, my boy.
The look given me by the only
other passenger, a husky youngster in
GS gray, when I punched Interstel's
level, didn't help. It was on the tip of
my tongue to retaliate: Yes, and I'd
turn in my own mother if she were a
star chaser and I caught her doing
something stupid. But I let it ride;
obviously, it was a general-principles
reaction; he couldn't have known the
particulars of my last assignment:
the seldom kind that had given Interstel
The lumer over the main entrance
glowed: INTERSTELLAR SECURITY,
SPECIAL SERVICES BRANCH,
GALACTIC SURVEY, NORTH
At the end of the long corridor between
offices was a door labeled:
CHIEF SPECIAL AGENT.
Gravis hadn't changed a bit in the
thirty-six hours since I'd last seen
him: a large, rumpled man who
showed every year of the twenty
he'd spent in Interstel.
"It's a nasty job, Ivy."
"Always has been," I said, completing
the little interchange that
had been reiterated so often that it
had become almost a shibboleth.
I took advantage of his momentary
silence. I'd had an hour during
the air-taxi hop from Xanadu, the resort
two hundred miles off the coast
of California, to prepare my bitter
statement. Words come fluently
when an earned leave has been pulled
peremptorily out from beneath you;
a leave that still had twenty-nine
days to go. But I was brief; the news
flasher had canceled much of the
bite of my anger; it took me something
under one hundred and twenty
seconds, including repetition of certain
words and phrases.
Gravis lived up to his name; he
didn't bat an eye. He handed me a
thin folder; three of its sheets were
facsimile extrapolations of probot reports;
the fourth was an evaluation-and-assignment
draft; all were from
Galactic Survey Headquarters, NAF,
in Montreal. The top three were
identical, excepting probot serial
numbers and departure and arrival
times. GSS 231 had been located in
its command orbit above a planet
that had not yet been officially named
but was well within the explored
limits of the space sector assigned
NAFGS by the interfederational
body, had been monitored by three
robot probes—described as being in
optimum mechanical condition—on
three distinctly separate occasions,
and all devices that could be interrogated
from outside had triggered
safe and secure. But no human contact
had been accomplished. The
fourth sheet—which bore the calligraphy
on its upper right corner: Attention
Callum—assumed that the
crew of 231, a survey team and con
alternate, had met with an accident
or series of accidents of undetermined
origin and extent in the
course of carrying out the duty described
as follow-up exploration on
the Earth-type planet, herein and
heretofore designated Epsilon-Terra,
and must therefore be considered—
"The news is—" I started to say.
"Pure delirium," Gravis interrupted.
"Haven't you read Paragraph Six?
We know exactly where the ship is
because it's exactly where it should
be. It's the crew that's missing."
Paragraph Seven concluded: We
therefore recommend that an agent
of experience be dispatched soonest
to the designated star system.
"Experienced or expendable?" I
"Ivy, after ten years in Interstel,
you should know that experience and
expendability are synonymous."
Inside the GS section of the Lunar
Complex, I had the occasion to think
Words like instanter and soonest
seldom match their literal meaning
when applied to the physical transport
of human beings, but in my job—I
hadn't even had time to get my
I stepped off the glide strip in
front of the ramp marked OUTGOING
PERSONNEL, handed the
efficient looking redhead my Q-chit
and ID, and said: "Priority one."
"Quarantine, O.K.," she checked,
smiling. "Feeling antiseptic?"
I had to admit, privately, that I
did not. As applied to her, the term:
coveralls, regulation, gray was strictly
a euphemism. Perhaps it was the
combination of low gravity and controlled
conditions that made Lunatics
of female persuasion blossom so
anatomically. Or maybe she was a
plant, a deliberate psych experiment
to put outbound starmen in a particular
frame of mind.
She flashed my identification on
the screen, took a long look, and became
coldly efficient. Callum, Ivor
Vincent. Age: 40. Height: 5′8″.
Weight: 142. Hair: brown. Eyes:
green. Rank: Special Agent, Interstel.
"You look much older, Mr.
She consulted her assignment list.
I snapped the identoflake back in
its bracelet, picked up my jump bag
and briefing kit, and headed up the
ramp, feeling more eyes than the
redhead's. The anonymity of a GS
working uniform hadn't lasted very
By the time I was able to capture
enough breath to make coherent
sounds, the shuttler was already approaching
parking orbit. The pilot
had used maximum grav boost, and
the trip must have crowded the record.
"That wasn't exactly SOP, was it?"
"Priority one, sir," the youngster
replied, showing teeth wolfishly.
I was still trying to think up an
adequate rebuttal when I came out
of the air lock and into the ship. Then
I felt better. P 1 means, among other
things, first available transportation—but
this giant was the newest type,
crammed to the buffers with the results
of science's latest efforts to make
star voyageurs as safe as express-strip
commuters inside a Terran
dome. Even the vibrations of the
great Gatch-Spitzer-Melnikov generators,
building toward maximum output,
had been dampened to a level
more imaginary than tangible. Internal
gravity was momentarily in
operation, as an additional blessing;
and, walking down the blue-lit corridor
toward Astrogation, I could feel
the occasional, metallic, thermal
thump that meant the IP drive was
hot and critical.
I got a second lift when I saw
who was bending over the robopilot
console: Antonio Moya, Mexico
City's gift to Galactic Survey some
thirty-five years earlier; a café-con-leche
type with shrewd eyes, nervous
hands, silver-streaked hair that
showed a defiance of geriatric injections,
a slight, wiry body that couldn't
have gone more than one hundred
and twenty pounds at 1.0 gee,
and probably the best Master Spaceman
extant. Only discipline kept the
grin off my face. But he was on the
horn, getting traffic clearance, so I
The others were unknowns, the
sort characterized by old spacers as
"pretty boy, recruitment ad types,"
but they looked competent; I figured
a medic and a spread of ratings;
counting Moya, a basic GS unit. I'd
expected both a con crew and a
standby. Either this was the total of
available personnel, or the brass had
decided not to risk more men than
absolutely necessary. If I'd had illusions
about the assignment, they
would have faded at that instant.
It's this way in Interstel: you're
taught to be a loner. You're expected
to have absolute confidence in your
own abilities and complete skepticism
about the talents of others.
You're supposed to be suspicious,
cynical, courageous, and completely
trustworthy. And you're not expected
to have friends. Which, obviously, in
the light of the aforementioned and
part of what is yet to come, could
serve as the definition of redundancy.
You're required to weed out
incompetents wherever you find them
without prejudice, mercy, or feeling.
The standing order is survival, yet
you are expected to lay down your
life gladly if the sacrifice will save
one, pink-cheeked, short-time, assistant
teamer who gives the barest suggestion
that he might some day
grow up to be a man and repay the
thousands of credits squandered upon
his training in that profound hope.
Which, stated another way, has become
the Eleventh Commandment of
special agents: Remember the body
corporeal and keep it inviolate; and,
if the reaction of the rank-and-file of
Galactic Survey to Interstel is used as
criterion, is the best-kept secret in
the explored, physical universe. "The
agent's burden," Gravis calls it.
Moya's jaw dropped when he
caught sight of me—apparently he
had been told only to expect an
agent—but he recovered quickly.
"Hello, Callum," he barked. "I
won't say it's a pleasure. Stow your
gear and strap down."
The claxon sounded stridently,
and the inflectionless voice of the
robopilot said: "Sixty seconds."
I got into the indicated gee couch
and squirmed around seeking some
measure of comfort. It had been designed
for a much larger man, and I
gritted my teeth in the expectation
of taking a beating.
After a bruising few minutes, we
went weightless, then the servos put
us back on internal gravity, and the
They ignored me studiously; it
wasn't entirely bad manners; there's
plenty to be done in the interval
prior to the first hop, and it isn't all
in just checking co-ordinates and programming
The usual space plan calls for several
accelerations and a lot of distance
between Terra-Luna proximity
and Solar System departure. But
Space Regs are disregarded on Priority
One missions. So, for probably
less than an hour, things were going
to be busy in Astrogation.
I retrieved my kit and looked for an
GS star ships are designed to accommodate
twenty-four men in reasonable
comfort—a figure arrived at
more historically—the sum of experience—than
arbitrarily, as the minimum
number necessary for the adequate
exploration of a new star
It breaks down this way: six men
to a team, four teams maximum; three
for planetary grounding, one for
ship's con; since any given team can
do either task, they are interchangeable,
who gets which depends upon
rotation; three for exploration, then,
because averages spread over several
generations of interstellar capability
bear out the fact that mother primaries
generally possess no more
than three planets that are in the
least amicable to humans.
I was more than cursorily familiar
with the drill. The basic requirement
for Interstel is five years' service
with a survey team. I'd spent nine.
Which is another reason for general
GS enmity: the turncoat syndrome.
That and the fact that prospective
agents are not even considered unless
they rate in the top one per cent
in service qualification and fitness
reports: the jealousy angle. I'd
known Moya from my last regular
duty ship. I'd worked up from assistant
under his tutelage. I'd been
ready for the Team Co-ordinator/Master
Spaceman exams when I'd applied
for transfer. Moya had raged
for hours. But he'd given me a first-rate
recommendation. Call it service
I was just getting a start on the
vid tapes when the cubicle's panel
dilated and Moya stamped in, bristling
like a game cock.
"What's all this about Epsilon-Terra?"
I removed the ear bead and
grinned at him.
"Hello, Tony, you old space dog!
You're looking fine. What happened?
Did they pull you off leave, too?"
He held the acid face until the
panel closed, then he brightened a
little. At least, he didn't refuse my
He stood fists on hips, glaring at
Finally, he growled: "I had hopes
you'd wash out. When I heard you'd
made it, I was plenty disappointed."
He shook his head. "You seem
healthy enough, but I still think it's
a waste of a good spacer." And that,
apparently, was as close as he was
going to come to saying that he was
glad to see me again, because, in the
next breath, he reverted to Starship
"Now, let's have the nexus. All I
know is that I got orders to round up
a short crew, was handed a space
plan with co-ordinates that were
originally filed for GSS 231 a few
months back, with an ultimate destination
of a planet I orbited five years
"You've been there?"
"I just said so, didn't I? Don't they
teach you vacuum cops to listen?"
I gave him the background.
He nodded soberly a couple of
times, but his only comment was:
"I heard rumors." Then he said:
"That's all I've got time for now. We
make our first jump shortly. That'll
take us to where 231 went on GSM.
From there on out, we follow her
"Until we locate and grapple,
Tony, then we start making our own
"I don't doubt that."
Moya moved to leave, paused, said
over his shoulder: "What's this about
old Ben Stuart being cashiered for
His back stiffened and his hands
clenched. He turned to face me again.
"I went through the Academy with
Ben. How about doing me a favor?
For old times sake. Tell me who it
was that put the finger on him. Just
give me a name. I might spot it sometime
on a register."
I figured there was no sense prolonging
"O.K. Ivor Vincent Callum."
Moya's face blanched; he took a
backward step and uttered something
under his breath that sounded
like the Spanish equivalent of—
He turned abruptly, opened the
panel, and stalked out.
Somehow I expected him to come
back and ask for details, but he didn't
I won't dwell on the trip. Any
schoolboy who watches tridee space
operas can quote chapter and verse
and use phrases like "paraspace hops"
and "rip-psyche phenomenon" as
trippingly as "Hey, Joey, let's play
swap-strip!" Citizens from Venus and
Mars, vacationing on Terra, speak
knowingly, too, whenever they can
bring themselves to cease complaining
about the gravity, crowded conditions,
and regimentation, and can
squelch the bragging about how well
they're doing on good old whatever.
But don't let them kid you. GSM
drive is restricted to interstellar
transport. Colonists from the nearer
systems are picked people, stiff-backed
pioneers, who don't sob to
come "home" every time their particular
planet completes a circuit around
its primary; and, when they do return,
they're generally too busy lobbying
for essentials to bother telling
tall tales. So, comparatively few people
are really familiar with star
ships and the ins and outs of paraspace.
Ask a starman, you won't have
any trouble recognizing one, even in
mufti; or, better yet, get a spool labeled:
"THE CONQUEST OF
PARASPACE: A History of the Origins
and Early Application of Star
Drive." It's old, but good, and it was
written especially for laymen.
I'll say this: it took about a week.
Sure paraspace hops are, to all intents
and purposes, instantaneous,
but there is a limit to the capacity of
the GSM drive, and regulations restrict
the jumps to a toleration well
within that capacity. We might have
made it sooner had we not been
bound to follow 231's space plan—but
not much. Once a plan has been
filed, only an emergency can justify
deviation. So, if you'll pardon the
expression, let's just say that interstellar
distances are astronomical.
Every time we came back into objective
space—and I'd managed to recapture
my soul—I applied myself to
I got little from Moya, and not
because of enmity. Even after refreshing
his memory, he couldn't offer
much. Although he had been master
of the ship that had first remarked
E-T, he hadn't set foot upon its surface.
The planet was comparatively undistinguished.
It was about the size of Melna-Terra,
had an atmosphere with a good
balance of nitrogen and oxygen, plus
carbon dioxide, argon, et cetera, was
mostly surface water, yet offered polar
ice caps and a reasonable land area,
as taken in the aggregate, although
present in the form of scattered, insular
masses. The largest of these,
about half the size of Terra's Australia,
was a comfortable number of
degrees above the equator and had
been selected as representative for
detailed examination. Briefly: standard
terrain—a balance between
mountains, desert, and plain; flora,
varied; fauna, primitive—plenty of
insect life, enough to keep an entomologist
occupied for years, but not
much for specialists in the other
branches of zoölogy; warm-blooded
creatures comparatively rare; and, according
to the original survey team,
nothing bacterial that had overburdened
Doc Yakamura's polyvalent
vaccine; the kind of planet that
pleased Galactic Survey because it
looked promising for future colonization,
come the day and the need.
"The type that skeptics like me
view with grave suspicion," I told
Moya. "Like saints, women of unblemished
reputation, heroes, politicians—"
"And all Interstel agents," Tony
In the interim, since the divulgence
of my part in the Stuart affair, Moya
had thawed somewhat. After all, he
and I had been friends at one time,
and the present situation held no
brief for head-on, personality clashes.
The phrase "all in the same boat"
applies with particular meaning to
spacers. Tony undoubtably figured
that 231 might have been his ship.
He even went so far as to express an
interest in seeing E-T from the
"I work alone, Tony," I said. "But
thanks for the offer. Tell you what:
I'll strike a compromise. If I get into
serious trouble, it'll be you I shout
for. All right?"
Moya scowled. "Probably a wild
goose chase anyway."
But he said it without enthusiasm.
It reads like this: regs require
that messenger vehicles be returned
to the Solar System on their miniature
equivalents of paraspace drive,
periodically, with complete information
as to conditions encountered,
work in progress, et cetera. None had
been received from 231. There's a
joke—not at all funny, I'll admit—that
concerns itself with just this situation.
It ends with the opening lines
of the GS Memorial Service.
The last skull work I did was to
familiarize myself with the personal
dossiers of each of 231's crew, paying
particular attention to psych reports.
It's a part of my job that I've never
liked. But I recognize the necessity.
The crew seemed fairly typical.
The average was relatively inexperienced,
the sort you'd expect on the
type of assignment that was often
used as advanced training. I managed
to single out several possibles—men
who might crack, depending
upon the gravity of the situation. The
captain-designate wasn't one of them;
nor was the survey-team co-ordinator.
GSS 231 was on station—big and
reflective and innocently ominous,
held methodically by robopilot in an
orbit that matched exactly the rotation
of Epsilon-Terra—precisely over
the largest land mass.
Moya conned us in like a dream,
paralleled, rectified, grappled, and
I showed up in Astrogation in a
full-pressure suit, carrying the helmet.
The crew gawked, and somebody
"You think it's silly, do you?"
"Better flush your side as soon as I
get clear," I advised.
Moya nodded, lowered and secured
the helmet, checked lines, and
An hour later, I still didn't feel
silly. I had the helmet open now. I
sat in front of the communications
Moya responded as if he had been
waiting with his finger on the stud.
I didn't have to specify taping; all
star ship radio traffic is automatically
"Level O.K.?" I asked.
"Yes, man; what's the story?"
"Inner lock and all compartments:
air pressure, density, temperature,
and purity optimum; all intrinsic
gear optimum; three shuttler berths
vacant; hold shows standard environmental
equipment for one team gone;
messenger racks full, no programming
apparent; absolutely no sign of
"I got it; have you checked the
"Who's doing this, you or me?"
I figured they could edit Moya's
The log was strictly routine—space
plan had been followed exactly;
arrival had been on schedule;
survey team had been dispatched
with minimum delay, had reported
grounding and camp establishment
without incident, had relayed particulars
of commencement of operation—until
the last entry. It was eerie
listening to the emotionless voice of
231's skipper: "Sub-entry one. Date:
same. Time: 2205 Zulu. No contact
with base camp. Surface front negates
visual. Am holding dispatch of
M 1. Will wait until next scheduled
report time before action."
There was no sub-entry two.
I broke the recorder seal, reversed
and played back the comm tapes.
There wasn't much. Distance obviates
any talky-talky from ship to base
once the Solar System has been
cleared. What I learned was simply a
substantiation of what I'd already
surmised. I cut off when I heard a
familiar voice say: "250 from 231."
Moya helped me strip off the pressure
suit. No matter what the physio
manuals say, there's room for improvement.
Nothing beats your own
He trailed me into the gear compartment.
I returned the suit to its clips and
began sorting through the welter of
what the well-dressed spacer wears
for a bug rig somewhere near my
size. The tag is not completely adequate.
It's a light-weight outfit, with
intrinsic filters and auds, designed
to be worn under conditions that involve
the suspected presence of dangerous
bacteria or harmful gases. Its
efficacy does not extend beyond the
limits of reasonable atmosphere.
"Now don't start jumping to conclusions,"
I told Moya. "All I know is
that whatever happened happened
quickly and down below."
From the weapons' chest, I selected
a little W&R 50 and the biggest clip
I could find. "Fifties" aren't much
for range, but they are unconditionally
guaranteed to make a creature the
size of a Triceratops think twice before
heading in your direction again,
and, once you strap one on, you
never feel the weight. That's why,
even though they are officially obsolete,
you can generally find a brace
in most star ship arsenals.
"Remind me to report the maintenance
gang of this hunk for stocking
"You would, too," Moya said.
On the way back to the lock, I told
"Let's save time by not making a
duplicate recording. I'll transmit additional
information and intent going
down. There's one shuttler left
in 231, so I'll use it. If I find I need
something that isn't in the shuttler,
I'll fetch myself. Under no circumstances
are you or any of your boys
to leave this ship without my say-so."
"What happens if—?"
"You've had thirty years of deep
space, Tony; am I supposed to tell
you your job? Go by the book. Either
launch another messenger and sit
tight for instructions, or get out and
risk a board inquiry, depending."
"You can rot down there for all of
"Thanks a pile. Make certain your
crew understands. I wouldn't want
any of them getting their pretty hands
But I didn't feel so cocky going
down. I hadn't the least idea of what
to expect. Sure, I'd gleaned something
from the comm tapes: the unsuccessful
attempts to contact the survey
team at base camp; the happy-go-lucky
report from the kid sent in shuttler
II to investigate, saying that the
camp was deserted but everything
looked fine, just fine; the unsuccessful
attempts to recontact him; and then
a blank except for my own voice.
Apparently, the skipper had followed
with the rest of the con crew. I
could even guess why he had failed
to make additional entries in the log,
or not transmitted from the camp in
lieu thereof. He figured it was something
he could work out himself,
and he didn't want anything on record
to show that he had broken regulations.
He wanted to keep the errors
of personnel under his command—and
his own—in the family. He figured,
after the situation was resolved,
that he could make cover entries and
nobody's slate would be soiled.
The camp was at the edge of a
plain marked "Hesitation" on the
I plucked a scrap of verse out of my
On the Plains of Hesitation
Bleach the bones of countless millions
Who, when victory was dawning
Sat down to rest
And resting, died.
I wondered how prophetic that was
going to be.
I grounded within yards of the
other three shuttlers. They were
parked neatly parallel. Their orderliness
made my scalp prickle, and I was
sweating long before I got into the
bug suit, squeezed out of the tiny
lock, and set foot on Epsilon-Terra.
The sky was blue, naked except for
a tracing of tenuous clouds.
I could see neither of the star
I wonder if you can imagine how
it feels to be on a planet so far
away from the Solar System that the
term "trillions of miles" is totally inadequate?
If you can grasp even a
bit of it, then add the complication
of a small but insistent voice inside
your head that keeps telling you that
no matter where or how far you go,
Let's just say it gives your sweat an
odor and your mouth a taste and
makes you want to look over your
shoulder all the time.
I walked the hundred yards to the
white plastidome, avoiding the few
bulbous plants and tussocks of short
yellow grass that dotted the dry
Through the aud cells of the suit's
hood, I could hear the light buzzing
of insects that served only to heighten
the overbearing quiet of the area.
The port was closed. Inside, everything
was correct, except for the little
dirt brought in on boot soles during
erection and subsequent goings and
There was a packet of nutratabs,
lying open on an empty crate that had
been pressed into service as a table.
Some one had fortified himself before
trekking off into the nearby bush.
There was much equipment still
sealed in cartons. Bunks were made
up. Tucked under the blanket of one
was a little book with stylus attached.
All pages were blank except the first.
The entry read: "TC in a sweat to get
going. Rain potential. No rest for the
weary. This seems to be a nice spot
though. Am kind of eager myself to
take a look at some of the vegetation
hereabouts. Have several ideas along
the lines of Thompson's prelim research
concerning extraction of—"
I replaced it under the blanket. I
was ready to give odds that each of
the previous finders had done the
same: the kid that had arrived in shuttler
II, and probably 231's skipper;
and each from the same motive—He'll
be back; after all, a diary is
a personal thing.
I went back outside, shut the port,
and made a complete circuit of the
camp. I looked into each of the three
shuttlers. I found nothing that could
offer the least positive clue to the
fate of the twelve men from 231.
I returned to shuttler IV, beamed
Moya, and filled him in, forcing myself
to be cheery.
"How's everything upstairs?"
"Right now we're having a little
zero-gee drill; keeps the boys alert."
"Good idea. Now here's my plan:
I've got ten hours of daylight left,
so I'm heading out into the bush.
Figure departure in five minutes.
Weather has obscured signs, but I
don't think I can go wrong by following
my nose and taking the shortest
route. I'm traveling light, just the
bug rig, the W&R, belt kit, and a
minicomm. I'm going to set up this
transceiver to record and transmit on
command-response. I suggest you interrogate
every hour on the hour
from now on. Catchum?"
I broke off, made the necessary adjustments,
strapped the minicomm
on my wrist, and exited the shuttler.
The antiseptic air that I drew into
my lungs was beginning to seem inadequate,
I felt slippery all over, and
there was a cottony taste in my
I made it to the start of the bush in
fifteen minutes. Don't be misled into
picturing jungle. There was a variety
of vegetation, including trees,
but none of it was what you'd call
heavy going. Beyond somewhere was
a stream, significant enough to be
noted on the chart as "First Water."
And several miles from the camp
was the start of a series of rolling
hills. Blue in the distance was a chain
of mountains—"The Guardians."
The over-all impression was of peaceful,
The original survey team had
made its camp in the relative frankness
of the plain, then, after preliminary
tests, had moved to higher
ground, specifically, the lee side of
one of the nearer hills.
They had cleared an area, using
heat sweepers to destroy encroaching
vegetation, and R-F beams to
disenchant the local insect population.
Insects there were: a regular cacophony
of buzzings, chirpings and
monotonous mutterings. By the time
I'd reached the bank of the stream,
I'd lost track of individual varieties.
The stream was a bare trickle; the
bed was spongy and dotted with tall,
spare plants that resembled horse
tails; I negotiated the fifty feet to the
opposite bank without difficulty.
I threaded through a thicket and
came out into a brief expanse of savannah.
There I found the first evidence of
the fate of 231's people.
It was a small object, oval, flattened,
the color of old ivory.
Although I hadn't been walking
along with my head under my arm,
it took me a moment to tumble to
what I'd discovered.
Then my hair tried to stand on end.
I rid myself of it and used the minicomm
for the first time.
Speaking to a recorder was altogether
too impersonal for what I had
"I've just found a patella; a human
knee-cap. I'm about a hundred
feet beyond the far bank of the stream
in almost a straight line from the
camp. I'm in grass about two feet
tall. I'm casting about now, looking—Hold
it. Yes, it's scraps of a gray
uniform. More remains. Here's a
femur; here's a radius-ulna. The bones
are clean, scattered. Evidence of
scavengers. No chance for a P-M
on this one."
I got out the chart from its case
on the suit's belt, x'd the location,
and went on, feeling more lonely all
It wasn't that I was unconversant
with the physical evidence of death.
I've marked corpses on planets you've
probably never heard of—corpses resulting
from disaster, unavoidable accident,
stupid error, and even murder.
What I've learned is that you
never get used to coming face to
face with human death, even when
its manifestation is the inscrutable
vacancy of bare bones.
You can put this down, too, and
think what you want about incongruity:
I was angry; angry with the
spacer that had got himself catapulted
into eternity so far from home; angry
with myself for having assumed
before leaving the Interstel office in
Mega Angeles that this is what I
would find; angry because the assumption
had done nothing to prepare
me for the reality. No space
padre would have admired what I
said inside the bug suit's hood—nor
the refinements that grew more bitter
with each new discovery.
Within three hours, I'd accounted
for all twelve of 231's missing crew.
The search had led to and beyond
the hillside where the original
team had made its second and permanent
camp. In one place, I found
enough to separate four skeletons of
men who had fallen within a few
feet of each other. The rest were
randomly located. There was a small
plant growing up through the hole
in the left half of a pelvis. Somehow
it looked obscene, and I had to fight
the impulse to tear it out. But it was
simply one of many, struggling for
survival, that I'd seen growing here
and there throughout the area: a species
that seemed to bear a familial
kinship to those that sprinkled the
There was equipment: field kits,
a minilab, a couple of blasters, each
showing full charge.
Cause of death: that was the
"So far I'm stumped," I said into
the minicomm. "I've retrieved a few
scraps of uniform bearing stains.
Maybe analysis can discover something.
The tapes say that E-T's birds
and mammals are comparatively rare,
but comparative doesn't mean much
in the light of what I've seen. So far,
though, everything I can come up
with seems totally inadequate. Bacterial
invasion, animal attack, insect
incursion—none were problems with
the first survey gang, so why should
they be now? Rule out gas poisoning
or allied concomitants; the suit tab
shows white. Speaking of that—I'm
peeling now. Keep your fingers
The air was warm and still, heavy
with the ubiquitous smells and sounds
I was in the approximate area of
the first team's camp. As per custom,
they had struck the plastidome, dismantled
the scanners, power panels,
and other reusable equipment, and
destroyed the debris of occupancy.
The clearing had repaired itself. But
for the slight concavities on the hilltop
that marked shuttler settlings,
there was little to indicate their previous
I sat down and waited.
The suicide complex has never
been a part of my psyche, but there
are times when you have to place
yourself in jeopardy; it's occupational,
and I've got the gray hair, worry
lines, and scars to prove it.
I waited for three long hours.
The sweat dampness of my uniform
evaporated only to be replaced
by the stains of new perspiration. I
sucked in great gulps of E-T's air
and found it consistently comfortable
in my lungs. Insects came, investigated,
and retreated, mostly because
of urging. I was not approached by
anything larger than a line of creatures
the size of Vici-Terran milatants,
and I was able to avoid them
by evasive action. As far as I could
determine, I wasn't invaded by anything
microscopic or sub-microscopic
either, because at the end of the
three hours, I felt nothing beyond
the personal infirmities that I'd
brought with me.
The definite decline of E-T's sun
forced me to give up.
The walk back to the plain wasn't
entirely fruitless; I found something
that I'd overlooked previously: the
scattered remains of a small vertebrate.
Many of the bones were missing.
"What happened to you?" I mused.
"Did you come for a meal and got
killed by a larger animal? Or were
you caught in the same disaster
There was no way to tell.
What was it about Epsilon-Terra
that could accept one survey team
for months of occupancy—occupancy
that had involved detailed examination
of the region within miles of the
plain and the hillside, and cursory
examination of thousands of square
miles of the rest of the insular mass
by air, including touchdowns at key
points for short stays—and that five
years later could entice, enmesh, and
destroy the entire complement of a
modern star ship, indiscriminately,
within a matter of hours?
It was late afternoon when I
reached the camp.
I was tired, dirty, thirsty, hungry,
and thoroughly frustrated.
I drank from a previously unopened
water bowser and wolfed
Then I stumbled over to the shuttler,
secured the recorder and interrogation
setup, raised the star ship,
and brought Moya up to date.
"I'm going to move this vehicle to
the hillside and spend the night
there. I figure I'd better give E-T a
full twenty-six hour rotation interval
to come up with something before
the next step. Tomorrow, I'm going to
need a man down here to witness the
location and disposition of the corpses.
You know the drill. It's your decision
whether they should be identified
singly, if possible, and secured
for removal to Terra, or whether they
should be interred here, commonly.
My recommendation is to make a film
record and plant them, but I'm too
tired to argue. One thing more: whoever
you send—if he gives me any
lip, I'll cut him down like a small
tree. There's been enough mistakes
made here already."
I spent the night in the shuttler.
Call it an atavistic response to the unknowns
It was a restless interval between
dusk and dawn.
Occasionally, I illuminated the hillside
and surrounding area. A couple
of times, I glimpsed the eye reflections
of small animals. They seemed
to possess the shyness of most nocturnal
creatures. But I couldn't help wondering—
Morning dawned gloomily; there
was a light mist hanging over the
streambed, and much of the sky was
turgid with clouds.
I gave the star ship the go-ahead
and specified dispatch because of the
Moya mentioned plastibags, a
filmer, and a porto-digger. His decision
was obvious. I figured it wise
but had the uncomfortable picture of
a GS representative trying to explain
the reasons to bereaved relatives.
I spent a few moments going over
meteorological details. As I recalled
from the tapes, this was the rainy
season. Judging from the look of the
area, it could use precipitation.
Things were growing, but the stream
was mostly dry, and the plain seemed
parched. Apparently the mountains
blocked much of it.
Sitting on hands has never been
my delight, so I exited the shuttler
and went down the hill for another
Insects buzzed noisily; the air
seemed heavy and oppressive; but
nothing had changed—there was no
evidence of the creatures I'd seen
during the night.
It took about an hour for the shuttler
from 250 to show.
In the interval, several things happened.
The first was a perceptive darkening
of the sky, followed by a light,
preliminary shower. I'd anticipated
that, and was considering heading
back for the bug suit when the second
I'm not going to offer excuses.
From the advantage of retrospection,
you can say what you want about
slipshod detective work. The point
remains that I'd covered the area
more than cursorily and had not encountered
anything specifically dangerous.
The timing was pure luck.
The shuttler penetrated the overcast
about ten miles off target, located,
and started its approach.
And something bit me on the leg.
I pulled up my pant's leg immediately,
hoping to catch the culprit, but
saw nothing save a thin red line
about an inch long. It looked more a
scratch than an insect bite. But I
hadn't brushed against anything.
The shuttler grounded on the hilltop,
and I headed up.
Perhaps it was exertion that speeded
There was no pain, only a local
Before I'd traveled ten yards, my
leg from the knee almost to the ankle
felt prickly asleep.
I paused and looked. There was no
swelling, no other discoloration.
I heard a raspy voice from the hilltop.
"Are you going to give me some
help, or do I have to haul all this gear
Despite the leg, I didn't know
whether to laugh or explode.
Moya was rattling around in an
outsized bug suit and carrying the
biggest Moril blaster contained in a
star ship's arsenal that could still be
"What in condemned space are you
doing here?" I shouted.
I was ready to give it to him right
off the top of the regs about the relationship
between ship's master and
agents-on-assignment and the responsibilities
of command, but the
leg chose that moment to fail. Until
then, I hadn't really been worried.
I fell forward against the pitch of the
slope, caught myself with my arms,
and rolled over on my back. I hit my
left thigh with my fist and felt absolutely
nothing. Massage didn't help.
I heard Moya panting down the
brow of the hill.
"Keep away!" I shouted. "Get back
to the ship!"
Moya bent over me; he had opened
the hood of the bug suit, and his face
"What's the trouble, Callum?"
"Can't you take orders?"
He shook his head. I pointed to the
leg. He looked swiftly at the broken
"How does it feel?"
"That's the trouble; it doesn't."
He grabbed my arm, put it over
his shoulder, and got me on my feet.
We made good time, considering.
"Too bad you're such a shrimp," I
"I can take you on any time."
Shuttler IV was closest, parked on a
shelf fifty yards below the top of the
hill, but Moya was heading to miss it.
"I programmed for auto, just in
case, and the generators are up to
power. We waste time to save time.
That way I can give you some help
on the ascent."
The generator part was fine; the
It started to rain again, just before
we reached 250's shuttler.
I put my face up to it.
Moya got me through the lock and
onto an acceleration couch. Then he
headed for the panel. I was beginning
to feel a desperate weakness,
but my head was still clear.
"Wait a minute," I said. "What's
your gee tolerance?"
"So strap me and raise this couch
to vertical. Then override the auto
and take us up fast."
"Listen," I said. "This feels like a
neuro-toxin. Remember snake-bite
aid? Well, the numbness is up to
my groin now. No place for a
tourniquet. And nothing here for
It was strange going up. I blacked
out almost immediately, but Moya
took it flat and apparently stayed
alert all the way.
"Space!" I managed to gasp finally.
"Any more of that sort of thing and
I'd have ended up stupid."
Then there was utter confusion.
I came to full awareness under the
luminescence of the infirmary's overhead.
I was naked on the padding of
the table. I could see a respirator off
to my right, and a suction octopus
near it. The medic was just stowing
an auto-heart. But for a different
tingling in my leg and an all-is-lost
sensation south of my diaphragm, I
felt reasonably sound.
The medic approached. I hadn't
gotten a very good impression of the
lean, blond youngster on the trip out,
but now he seemed Hippocrates,
Luke, Lister, Salk, O'Grady, and Yakamura
all rolled into one.
He weakened it by asking the
"How do you feel?"
I elbowed up for a look at the leg.
There was a series of little welts the
length of it, masked by forceheal.
"Where did you learn your trade?"
I asked. "In a production expediter's
"It took more than three hours,
Mr. Callum. Suction, flushing, full
transfusion. You've got some good
blood in you now."
I lay back and let him talk.
"There'll be nerve damage, probably.
Regeneration should take care
of most of it, but you might need
transplants. You were lucky. First,
that whatever nipped you barely
broke the skin. Second, that the skipper
was there to help. And third,
that you had the sense to block the
spread of the toxin by gee forces."
"Yeah. Remind me to thank Moya—immediately
after I write him up
for leaving his station."
The medic looked pleased.
"Well, now, the way I got it—and
I believe the recorder will bear me
out—is that you requested a witness.
You left it up to the skipper to make
He cleared his throat.
"And, by the way, Moya said he'd
look in on you after a bit. The thing
to do now is rest."
I sat up again.
"Where're my clothes?"
The kid commenced noises of disapproval.
"Damnation! I'm not going anywhere.
I just want to look over that
Came the dawn.
"What'd you say Moya was doing?"
"Oh, I expect he's busy up forward."
The trouble was that he looked me
straight in the eye. It takes practice
to lie convincingly. And the Space
Academy doesn't list the Art of Prevarication
among its curricula.
"That misbegotten little son of an
Aztec! He went back down, didn't
I tried to jackknife off the table.
The medic flexed his muscles and
said: "I can't take the responsibility—"
"When are you people going to
get it through your stubborn heads
that the responsibility for this whole
shebang is mine and mine alone?"
Two more of the crew showed up.
Under other circumstances, I might
have enjoyed tangling with them. I
know tricks that even the inventors of
"All right," I gasped. "But give me
the dope. He's not alone, is he? Are
you in contact?"
It developed that Moya had returned
to the site of the disaster immediately
upon learning that I was
out of danger. He'd taken a crewman.
He was also equipped with my
chart of the area complete with locales
of the remains. The last word
had been that the two had grounded
and that the weather front was dissipating.
He'd been gone about two
"They both had bug suits," the
"Great," I said. "Just splendid.
Suppose there's a creature down there
that can go through plastic like—"
For the first time the three lost
their smug expressions.
"We destroyed your clothes," the
medic said sheepishly. "We figured—"
I railed at them for a couple of
minutes, but it was mostly unfair.
Moya's decision could be justified,
They rustled up a uniform and
helped me to Astrogation. The remaining
crewman was at the comm.
The freeze was beginning to wear
off, and my leg burned.
I alternated between berating myself
and trying to think up an adequate
explanation for the possible
death or injury of two men ostensibly
under my control.
After several hours of sweat-agony,
Moya's voice came over the horn.
He sounded tired.
"We've done it. You'll be happy to
know that we gave them an official
I could picture the little Mexican,
standing beside the long mound,
head bowed, with the Specter probably
staring over his shoulder, going
methodically through the complete
Memorial Service, ending with: And
the whole galaxy is the sepulcher of
"It's not much of a place, but the
sun is shining now. Expect us shortly."
"Are you sure you're all right?"
I was propped on my elbows on
the bunk in my cubicle, nursing the
jangle in my leg. Maybe it was that—but
I was as confused as a mouse
in a psych maze.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Moya said.
"And you wore the suits all the
"Affirmative. If you'd done the
The medic showed with lab analyses.
"There wasn't much of that stuff in
you," he said. "And I can't break it
down. Too complex. You used the
cobra venom analogy—Well, this
makes that look as simple as mother's
He held up the stained pieces of
uniform. Moya had kept his wits about
"A combination of weather, soil,
et cetera," the medic said. "Completely
"About the toxin," I said. "Given
time, could you work up an antivenin?"
"Probably. But I'd need plenty.
Both time and toxin." He looked at
me. "Oh, I see what you're getting
at." He became professionally parochial.
"In other words—" I said.
He snapped his fingers.
"You know how it hit you."
The confusion persisted, so I allowed
the medic to use a pressure
Hours later, I felt better—physically.
On the vid screen, the magnified
surface of the insular mass seemed almost
to beckon. Sireni, I thought.
Little remained of the weather
front. Over the area of the plain and
the rolling hills were meager wisps
of clouds. Darkness again was creeping
across the face of E-T.
"That storm didn't amount to
much," Moya said.
Storm, I thought. Rain.
"I know what I'd do," Moya continued.
"I'd radiate and have done with
The medic dissented on clinical-curiosity
"I can't reconcile things yet," I
said. "But let's assume that it was a
tragedy of errors. Let's say that what
hit me, killed them. But what was
it? Where did it come from? And
why? No, I'll have to go down again.
It's my burden to find all the answers."
Moya growled: "There's a time for
I caught the rest of the crew staring
at me; their expressions were a
Back at the same old stand, open
for business, looking at the pitiful
alteration, feeling lonely, feeling vulnerable,
too, despite the bug suit,
Moya's parting blast still burning in
He'd ferried me down to the hilltop
in the long shadows of early
morning. I'd had to order him to return
to the star ship. I stood now beside
the communal mound. Moya
had said, pointing down the hill,
anger making him illogical: "These
are the people you sold out when
you transferred to Interstel. They
could have used your kind of brains.
Post-mortems aren't going to help
It was simple, wasn't it?
Something on E-T was a killer:
quick and deadly.
If it got any sort of clean shot at
Something visible. Something big
enough to make a mark. And not
static, like a thorn. A ground crawler?
My pant's legs had been tucked securely
into my boot tops. A flier? It
would have to be strong enough to
pierce a GS uniform and make an
entrance into flesh. Or to leave a
scratch from a glancing blow. And I
hadn't seen anything.
But only a recent problem.
And restricted to the area beyond
And terribly innocent. Innocent
enough to be overlooked until it was
I thought and came up with a
brainful of nothing.
Strong enough to pierce two thicknesses
of cloth—It must have gone
entirely through, although the overzealousness
of the crew had removed
any possibility of proof.
How about the bug suit?
Assume the plastic was protection
Wouldn't the wearer notice a
blow? Or hear something?
I'd felt but not heard.
But then the rain had been falling.
No insect had hit me forcibly before—
Moya and his helper had noticed
A few meager drops of rain, sibilantly
soaking into the eager soil of
Whoever first mouthed that bit
about cursing being the audible manifestation
of a mediocre mind completely
missed the point.
There's something infinitely comforting
in the crackle and sweep and
roll of heartfelt invective.
I left the site of the common grave
and made it back to the hillside and
shuttler IV as fast as discretion and
terrain and my game leg would allow.
"I am thinking," Moya grumbled
over the comm. "If these details are
so important, why—?"
"Don't blame Interstel," I said.
"The tapes were put together by GS
"Well, whoever. They should have
included more information."
"Thompson," I prodded.
"Sure, sure, I remember him. Big,
awkward, slow-moving—always babbling
"But anything particular? Something
that he wanted to extract
"Well, let's see—He brought back
lots of sample specimens, but there
was one that he played with all the
way home. It was an insectivorous or
carnivorous species, as I recall—"
"That produced a chemical he
thought might prove useful if it
could be extracted and concentrated
or synthesized—Now, hold on. Are
"Why not? And why didn't you
mention this sooner?"
"For the simple reason—What
got you off on this tangent?"
"Rain. The kid's diary said 'rain potential.'
The captain's log mentioned
a surface weather front. And it rained
just before I was hit."
"I fail to see the connection. But
think about this: It rained on the
survey team I ferried here, too—not
often, but more than once or twice—and
nothing happened to them."
That was the trouble with firing
off at half thrust.
But there was still this nagging
conviction: rain plus vegetation
I could picture Moya and the crew
speculating that I'd taken complete
leave of my senses.
But sometimes you have to play
the game blindly—"by the seat of
your pressure suit," as the pioneers
I went to the shuttler's locker, located
a canteen in a survival kit, filled
it and left the ship.
I started where I'd found the largest
collection of remains.
Moya's memory had failed to particularize
the plant, but I had enough
evidence to negate indiscriminate
I felt supremely foolish—for a
My thoughts began to focus, and I
recalled the little plant that had
grown up through the hole in the
Casting about, I located adult specimens.
They seemed to fit the requirements.
Again it struck me that
they bore a familial kinship to a variety
that occurred on the plain.
I couldn't place the difference.
Finally I selected one about two
It was bulbous, thick skinned, terminating
in broad members that were
clustered to form a rough funnel.
Their inner surfaces were coated with
a glutinous substance. The main body
of the plant was studded with warty
projections about the size of walnut
halves. And just below the terminal
funnel was a corona of tapering
members like leaves beneath a bizarre
blossom. They ended in sharp
points, bore flimsy surface bristles,
and seemed to serve as protection for
I prodded the green-and-yellow
mottled skin of the thing. It was
tough, resistant, almost pneumatic—
I had this sudden, strong feeling.
About ten feet away was a tree
with dull-reddish, overlapping bark
segments on its trunk. There was a
branch close enough to the ground to
be reached if my leg would support
the necessary spring. I tested the leg
for leap and the branch for support.
I uncapped the canteen and sprinkled
the remaining water over the
plant, making sure that some reached
both the funnel and the corona.
Seconds later, perched monkey-see,
monkey-do on the branch, I lost
any lingering feeling of foolishness.
I sat there for quite a while, sickened.
I thought about the crew of
231, and the other pieces of the puzzle.
One of them had to be arrogance—the
natural arrogance of picked
people that leads to a belief in corporeal
immortality: Nothing can happen
to me; you, maybe, but not me.
Even though I knew exactly what to
expect, it was impossible not to jerk
back involuntarily with the others.
We were in the star ship, clustered
around a bell jar. The jar contained a
small specimen of the killer that I'd
dug up gingerly and brought back
I'd introduced water into the jar,
and the first reaction had just taken
"Watch closely," I cautioned.
Again it happened—innocently at
first and then too swiftly for the eye
to follow. One of the little protuberances
seemed to swell slightly—Ping.
Something struck the wall of the bell
jar hard enough to evoke a clear,
sharp, resonant note.
"I don't know the exact range of a
mature specimen," I said, grimly,
"but I saw leaves shake a good twenty
"A seed," one of the crewmen
breathed. "Nothing but a tiny, insignificant
Moya shook his head.
"A deadly missile, son, wearing or
containing a virulent poison. And
people used to blather about curare."
I began to draw concentric arcs on
"I kept fetching water and testing
and retreating all the way back to the
plain. Pretty soon there's not going to
be any place safe within miles of
where these mutants can take root.
Near the plain's camp, they're still innocuous—the
original species. The
propagation response is triggered by
rain, all right, but the seeds just pop
out, and, of course, the poison is undoubtedly
weak—a bother only to
"But they weren't a problem—"
"Time," I said. "Five years. Look
here on the chart. I figured this to be
the center: the first team's permanent
camp on the hill. Now what happened
there? Heaters to destroy immediate
vegetation, and Radio-Frequency
beams to kill insects and their
larvae over a wider area. R-F—don't
you see? Cells react to certain portions
of the radio spectrum. Some are
destroyed, depending upon intensity.
Some behave strangely—the 'marching
protozoa,' the 'dancing amoeba.'
In others, chromosomal aberrations
occur, resulting in mutations. Remember
the experiments with yeasts,
garlic, grains? The growth of some
microorganisms is stimulated by R-F
"Then these glorified flytraps got
mad at what was happening to their
innards and decided to fight even
harder for survival?"
"You're anthropomorphizing," I
told Moya, "but that's the way I see it.
They just responded along already established
I paused and noted the expressions
on the faces of the crew. Maybe it
was that, and maybe it was the fact
that my leg hadn't held up very well
under the beating I'd given it. And
maybe it was twelve good men—Anyway,
I spent the next half hour
pulling no punches. When I'd finished,
Interstel had regained its reputation.
nor veteran—likes to hear dead comrades
characterized as "stupid." But I
figured the crew would remember.
Moya seemed unfazed, as if he'd
paid scant attention to my speech; he
rubbed his chin reflectively.
"The bug suits—"
"Were they any protection? At
long range, probably. But up close—"
Moya apparently could think of
nothing more to say.
We radiated the danger area, left
231 for a pick-up team, and headed
Moya walked with me from Quarantine
to the Terra Ramp. The leg
still wasn't right.
"Did you mention me kindly in
"Of course not," I told him.
He chuckled and put his hand on
"About Ben Stuart—"
"It's a nasty job," I said.
"Did he rate getting cashiered?"
"He did, Tony."
"Well, take care of yourself, Ivy."
The redhead again was on duty at
the outbound desk. She ignored me.
It was night, and there was a heavy
fog. Standing alone on the open
promenade outside the dome, I was
grateful that I couldn't see the sky—and
the ominous stars that were not
so far away.
A couple of months later, I heard
that Epsilon-Terra had received its
official name: Atri-Terra. Atri from
attrition. I've wondered ever since
whether GS based the choice upon
the secular or the theological definition.
Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Analog November
1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.