The world that couldnt b.., p.1
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       The World That Couldn't Be, p.1

           Clifford D. Simak
 
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The World That Couldnt Be


  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  The World That Couldn't Be

  By CLIFFORD D. SIMAK

  Illustrated by GAUGHAN

  _Like every farmer on every planet, Duncan had to hunt down anything that damaged his crops--even though he was aware this was--_

  * * * * *

  The tracks went up one row and down another, and in those rows the_vua_ plants had been sheared off an inch or two above the ground. Theraider had been methodical; it had not wandered about haphazardly, buthad done an efficient job of harvesting the first ten rows on the westside of the field. Then, having eaten its fill, it had angled off intothe bush--and that had not been long ago, for the soil still trickleddown into the great pug marks, sunk deep into the finely cultivatedloam.

  Somewhere a sawmill bird was whirring through a log, and down in oneof the thorn-choked ravines, a choir of chatterers was clickingthrough a ghastly morning song. It was going to be a scorcher of aday. Already the smell of desiccated dust was rising from the groundand the glare of the newly risen sun was dancing off the bright leavesof the hula-trees, making it appear as if the bush were filled with amillion flashing mirrors.

  Gavin Duncan hauled a red bandanna from his pocket and mopped hisface.

  "No, mister," pleaded Zikkara, the native foreman of the farm. "Youcannot do it, mister. You do not hunt a Cytha."

  "The hell I don't," said Duncan, but he spoke in English and not thenative tongue.

  He stared out across the bush, a flat expanse of sun-cured grassinterspersed with thickets of hula-scrub and thorn and occasionalgroves of trees, criss-crossed by treacherous ravines and spotted withinfrequent waterholes.

  It would be murderous out there, he told himself, but it shouldn'ttake too long. The beast probably would lay up shortly after itspre-dawn feeding and he'd overhaul it in an hour or two. But if hefailed to overhaul it, then he must keep on.

  "Dangerous," Zikkara pointed out. "No one hunts the Cytha."

  "I do," Duncan said, speaking now in the native language. "I huntanything that damages my crop. A few nights more of this and therewould be nothing left."

  * * * * *

  Jamming the bandanna back into his pocket, he tilted his hat loweracross his eyes against the sun.

  "It might be a long chase, mister. It is the _skun_ season now. If youwere caught out there...."

  "Now listen," Duncan told it sharply. "Before I came, you'd feast oneday, then starve for days on end; but now you eat each day. And youlike the doctoring. Before, when you got sick, you died. Now you getsick, I doctor you, and you live. You like staying in one place,instead of wandering all around."

  "Mister, we like all this," said Zikkara, "but we do not hunt theCytha."

  "If we do not hunt the Cytha, we lose all this," Duncan pointed out."If I don't make a crop, I'm licked. I'll have to go away. Then whathappens to you?"

  "We will grow the corn ourselves."

  "That's a laugh," said Duncan, "and you know it is. If I didn't kickyour backsides all day long, you wouldn't do a lick of work. If Ileave, you go back to the bush. Now let's go and get that Cytha."

  "But it is such a little one, mister! It is such a young one! It isscarcely worth the trouble. It would be a shame to kill it."

  Probably just slightly smaller than a horse, thought Duncan, watchingthe native closely.

  It's scared, he told himself. It's scared dry and spitless.

  "Besides, it must have been most hungry. Surely, mister, even a Cythahas the right to eat."

  "Not from my crop," said Duncan savagely. "You know why we grow the_vua_, don't you? You know it is great medicine. The berries that itgrows cures those who are sick inside their heads. My people need thatmedicine--need it very badly. And what is more, out there--" he swepthis arm toward the sky--"out there they pay very much for it."

  "But, mister...."

  "I tell you this," said Duncan gently, "you either dig me up abush-runner to do the tracking for me or you can all get out, the kitand caboodle of you. I can get other tribes to work the farm."

  "No, mister!" Zikkara screamed in desperation.

  "You have your choice," Duncan told it coldly.

  * * * * *

  He plodded back across the field toward the house. Not much of a houseas yet. Not a great deal better than a native shack. But someday itwould be, he told himself. Let him sell a crop or two and he'd build ahouse that would really be a house. It would have a bar and swimmingpool and a garden filled with flowers, and at last, after years ofwandering, he'd have a home and broad acres and everyone, not just onelousy tribe, would call him mister.

  Gavin Duncan, planter, he said to himself, and liked the sound of it.Planter on the planet Layard. But not if the Cytha came back nightafter night and ate the _vua_ plants.

  He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Zikkara was racing for thenative village.

  Called their bluff, Duncan informed himself with satisfaction.

  He came out of the field and walked across the yard, heading for thehouse. One of Shotwell's shirts was hanging on the clothes-line, limpin the breathless morning.

  Damn the man, thought Duncan. Out here mucking around with thosestupid natives, always asking questions, always under foot. Although,to be fair about it, that was Shotwell's job. That was what theSociology people had sent him out to do.

  Duncan came up to the shack, pushed the door open and entered.Shotwell, stripped to the waist, was at the wash bench.

  Breakfast was cooking on the stove, with an elderly native acting ascook.

  Duncan strode across the room and took down the heavy rifle from itspeg. He slapped the action open, slapped it shut again.

  Shotwell reached for a towel.

  "What's going on?" he asked.

  "Cytha got into the field."

  "Cytha?"

  "A kind of animal," said Duncan. "It ate ten rows of _vua_."

  "Big? Little? What are its characteristics?"

  The native began putting breakfast on the table. Duncan walked to thetable, laid the rifle across one corner of it and sat down. He poureda brackish liquid out of a big stew pan into their cups.

  God, he thought, what I would give for a cup of coffee.

  * * * * *

  Shotwell pulled up his chair. "You didn't answer me. What is a Cythalike?"

  "I wouldn't know," said Duncan.

  "Don't know? But you're going after it, looks like, and how can youhunt it if you don't know--"

  "Track it. The thing tied to the other end of the trail is sure to bethe Cytha. Well find out what it's like once we catch up to it."

  "We?"

  "The natives will send up someone to do the tracking for me. Some ofthem are better than a dog."

  "Look, Gavin. I've put you to a lot of trouble and you've been decentwith me. If I can be any help, I would like to go."

  "Two make better time than three. And we have to catch this Cytha fastor it might settle down to an endurance contest."

  "All right, then. Tell me about the Cytha."

  Duncan poured porridge gruel into his bowl, handed the pan toShotwell. "It's a sort of special thing. The natives are scared todeath of it. You hear a lot of stories about it. Said to beunkillable. It's always capitali
zed, always a proper noun. It has beenreported at different times from widely scattered places."

  "No one's ever bagged one?"

  "Not that I ever heard of." Duncan patted the rifle. "Let me get abead on it."

  He started eating, spooning the porridge into his mouth, munching onthe stale corn bread left from the night before. He drank some of thebrackish beverage and shuddered.

  "Some day," he said, "I'm going to scrape together enough money to buya pound of coffee. You'd think--"

  "It's the freight rates," Shotwell said. "I'll send you a pound when Igo back."

  "Not at the price they'd charge to ship it out," said
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