Uniform of a Man, p.1Dave Dryfoos
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Uniform of a Man
By Dave Dryfoos
Illustrated by Rudolph Palais
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of ScienceFiction March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence thatthe U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: _After rescue, revenge was uppermost in Chet Barfield's mind;the hideous, bestial Agvars had to be taught a lesson they'd neverforget. His rescuers seemed to disagree, however--until Chet learned hislesson too!_]
In the village clearing, under the diffuse red sun of Hedlot, ChetBarfield listened intently. Mostly he heard the villagers, the Agvars,noisy with the disregard for sound that comes of defective hearing.
But above their clamor was another note. No ... Yes! There it wasagain--the swish-roar-scream of a spaceship!
Chet's heart lifted to the altitude of that ship. Rescue! Rescue was athand for him, after three years as a prisoner.
Thought of it momentarily overcame the passivity that years ofstarvation had made his habit. He even forgot himself enough to walkerect a few steps, staring skyward--heavenward!--within cupped hands.
But the dense hardwood chain on his ankle brought him up short. When ittightened, he remembered, and slouched to all fours again, moving withthe gorilla-like gait of the Agvars toward the unshaded post he waschained to.
He'd been observed. Pawfulls of dirt stung his bent and whip-scarredback, and a treble chorus stung his ears and nerves. The village boyswere chanting derisively. Chet had never been able to learn thelanguage, but the tone of voice was unmistakable.
He huddled against the post, knees to chin, hands clasped around hismatted hair, awaiting the inevitable sticks and slops. He heard thechildren's voices fade as they scattered throughout the village ofhaphazard lean-tos in search of especially sickening things to throw.For a few minutes, then, he'd have a breather. But not for long--theywouldn't forget....
No. But the fellows hadn't forgotten him, either. He could stand thisfor a day or two more. A week or a month, even. It didn't matter. Thiswould end--soon.
His turn would come! He'd make these devils suffer as he had suffered.He swore it!
He was glad he'd stayed alive for this. It had been a fight to live, astruggle he'd often thought futile while he made it. Learning to eatwhatever he could get, training himself to breathe the local atmospherein the special rhythm its composition required, accepting degradationstoo cruel for a captive animal, avoiding the resistance that would havebrought merciful murder.... All that, yet it felt strange, now, to be soglad he was alive.
He heard the children returning, and crouched lower. A few clots ofgarbage spattered against the post--teasers, to make him angry, so he'dturn to howl his rage, and offer his face as a target.
Good memories, these little beasts had. It was almost a year since he'dlast done that....
Well, he had a memory, too. And while they pelted him--from fairly closerange, now, with sharp rocks among the wads of filth--he could takerefuge in the memory of those last glorious days on Earth.
* * * * *
Remembrance was itself a change brought by the roaring ship; usually hemoped in a vegetative daze. But now he recalled how he'd looked in thetight white uniform: six feet of well-fed muscle accentuated by thegarment's lines, the blue stars on each lapel just matching his eyes,the peak of his cap harmonizing with the straight line of his jaw.
He remembered how he'd sounded, speaking words of nonchalant and unfeltmodesty in the soft Southern voice the girls had liked so well. He couldhave had his pick of girls. He'd been a picked man himself.
Highly selected--that was the phrase. He was highly selected, Chetreminded himself, shrinking as the children came closer and theirmissiles began to really hurt.
He'd been highly selected since his eighteenth year. At 25 he'd hadseven years of pre-flight training--seven years of indoctrinationspecifically designed to give him self-confidence enough to face thevoid itself without flinching.
Now he flinched from children.... Still, the schooling had worked, heacknowledged--so well that when their ship crashed into this planetHedlot's salty sea, his first reaction had been indignation at theelements.
His second thought had been for his comrades. But they went down withthe ship; he alone had been hurled clear. Learning that, he'd swumresolutely in the direction he knew the shore to be, and made it.
Exhausted, all right--shocked, naked, half-dead really. But quite readyto point out his rank and identity to the first passer-by.
Lucky for him, Chet mused, that he'd had no chance to express his callowarrogance. Shock saved his life--sank him into a stupor, so when theAgvars found him, he was helpless. He knew it was only because it hadseemed perfectly safe that they'd tied him up and brought him to thevillage, instead of killing him then and there.
By the time he'd recovered somewhat from the initial shock andexhaustion, they were used to him, convinced he was harmless if wellchained-up. And they played it safe by giving him nothing but a littlewater--no clothing, no shelter, no food....
They let him live, amused by the thirst that drove him to lap up eachmorning's drenching dew, fascinated by his ravenous appetite for thegarbage they flung at him.
The Agvars--furry, savage half-men, with something of the dog andsomething of the ape and little of the man about them--the Agvars lethim live, Chet realized, for exactly one reason: he made them feelsuperior.
They'd learn now! Even though the children had stopped shrieking andgone away, disgusted at his passivity, no villager's insensitive earscould yet hear the ship.
In their boastfulness, the Agvars had invited other tribes to come andlook at him and poke at him and laugh at him. His presence was knownover the whole planet. He'd be found, no matter where on Hedlot thespaceship landed.
And then would come the showdown!
* * * * *
But the showdown came earlier than he expected, speeded because the shiplanded close by. Chet told himself he should have counted on that kindof accuracy, but he'd underestimated his fellow pilots.
He had himself signalled Earthside, just before the crash, that his shipwas about to land. He'd given his position--described sea and shoreline.They'd find him, if he stayed chained to the post.
But he didn't. Taken unaware by the Agvars who loosed him, Chet wasdocile, happy even--certain they wouldn't hurt him now, but would try tominimize their former cruelty as they turned him over to the spacemen.
When they put new chains on him, around neck and waist, he thought itwas only to make sure he didn't run away before they could deliver himostentatiously to the ship.
A dozen adult males had gathered in the clearing, but that was hardly anunusual event. Even when they all started out, on a winding trail thatdidn't head in the direction of the ship's recent landing-sounds, Chetwas convinced they were just circling some geographic obstacle.
He was interested in the forest of 20-foot mosses and 50-foot evergreenhardwoods pressing densely on each side of the trail. Unconscious whenthey'd carried him from the beach, he'd never been out of the villagesince, had never inspected these woods. And he thought his mates fromEarth would want to know about them.
Chet could easily have outdistanced the clumsy Agvars if not forced toimitate their crouching walk. But he knew from experience that to showoff his erect stance and 18-inch height advantage would make them findsome unpleasant way to put him in his place.
They'd shown him that quite often. He'd show _them_--but later, not justyet. And after show
It had often tortured him, that gauzy, amorphous solar blaze, but nevermore than now. For the sun of Hedlot, when he glanced at it vengefully,proved from its position that he was not being taken to the ship, butaway from it.
* * * * *
Disappointment didn't rouse Chet to a fighting pitch--it caused him tobecome crafty. Slyness and deceit, the indirect weapons of thepowerless, were not attributes schooled into a student space-pilot. Buthe'd learned them tied naked to a sunbaked post. That, too, is aneffective school.
He hung back, faking fatigue. Malingering brought him pokes and jerks,made the Agvars choke him and beat him and harangue him in their sullenmutter of clicks and growls and glottal catches. But some sense ofurgency drove them to give up their fruitless sadism after a while, anddrag him through the trail's blue mud by brute strength, two on
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