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       The Hero, p.1

           Elaine Wilber
 
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The Hero


  Produced by Frank van Drogen, Greg Weeks, and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net.

  THE HERO

  BY ELAINE WILBER

  _Willy was undoubtedly a hero. The difficulty lies in deciding which side he was on...._

  __Illustrated by Paul Orban__]

  Two months after the landing, Ship UXB-69311 was rigged out with mostthings needed to make life bearable, if not interesting, for the crew.Perched on the manicured, blue-green sod of the planet Engraham, itsinner parts were transformed and refitted for the many months of theExploration. No effort and no flight of imagination had been spared tomake the ship resemble more a country club than a barracks. With thepermission of Colonel Mondrain, the crew's bunkroom had been completelyrearranged, and a segment thereof made into a quietly elegant bar. Plansfor this eventual rejuvenation had been fomenting throughout the verytiresome and very monotonous journey.

  When they first landed, the natives fled, and thus it was easy toliberate furnishings from the adjacent village. When the inhabitantsreturned, after the purposes of the visiting Earthman were acknowledgedto be harmless, they proved to be too courteous to carp about a fewmissing articles.

  The chairs, of a very advanced design and most comfortable, were made ofa light and durable metal alloy thus far unknown to Earth. The bar(which was probably not its purpose on Engraham, no one knew or caredwhat its function had been) was of a design so futuristic that it wouldhave turned a modern artist mad. The utensils, also liberated, wereunbelievably delicate, yet strong and easy to wash. At first, since theEarth had not intended the Exploration to resemble the type thatTexas-stationed servicemen like to run in Matamoros, there was nothingto drink in the utensils. But hardly six weeks had passed before thefirst hero of the Exploration, a man named O'Connors, discovered apalatable fruit growing on nearby bushes. By means of a system ofimprovised pipes (also liberated) it was no time at all before tastybeverages, somewhat strident but quite effective, were being run off andconsumed in quantities. The machine known as O'Connors Joy-Juicer wasconcealed behind the bar, and all that was ever seen on the bar whenColonel Mondrain or the Doctors were around was an innocuous fruitjuice.

  The Earth Command had stocked the ship with reading material, most of itof a disgustingly educational nature, in photostatic cards: and thesecond hero of the Exploration was a man named Kosalowsky, whodiscovered in the psychology sections the works of Freud andKrafft-Ebing. After this discovery, a few interesting discussions arose.

  After these changes had been made, there was very little to do.

  The Earth Command had assumed that the natives of Engraham would resentthe Explorations (most planets did), and so had sent along the crew ofthirty men for protection. All had labored mightily to become part ofthis special crew, chosen for endurance and known war-like qualities.For once they got back to Earth, all were slated to be mustered out ofservice immediately, decorated to the ears, and awarded full, life-timepensions. Many already had contracts to appear on television and oneman, Blunt, hinted at a long term Hollywood contract.

  But once they got there, there was little to do after all. A guard wasposted; instruments were checked; and, although the necessity seemedslight, the ship was kept primed for instantaneous emergency take-off.On the day corresponding to Earth's Saturday, the ship was G. I.'d fromstem to stern. The maintenance crew made sure that no parts deterioratedor got liberated by enterprising natives. But the natives were not aninventive race. It was discovered by the Doctors (Anker, Frank, Pelhamand Flandeau) that the natives literally did not know how to steal. Theywere backward. Dr. Flandeau, who was making great strides with thelanguage, reported that there was some evidence that the Engrahamiteshad once possessed this skill, along with murder, mayhem, bad faith, andpolitics, but had lost it, through a deterioration of the species.

  Thus, once the ship had been transformed into a place worthy of humandwelling, and the beverage question had been solved, and utter,imbecilic boredom circumvented by the timely discoveries of Freud andKrafft-Ebing, the men found time hanging heavily on their hands; and themore the doctors discovered about the Engrahamites, the more dismal thesituation became. The doctors, growing more and more fascinated by theirtasks, left the ship bright and early each day, returning aroundnightfall to reduce their growing stacks of data to points of Earthlyrelevance. The Colonel was also out most of the time. He paid manysocial calls on the natives, who, being courteous, received him, and wasoften returned at night in a chauffeured native Hop-Hop. Life in thebunkroom became a sullen round of poker, reading of Krafft-Ebing, andgab: and Earth currency changed hands daily in the never-ending crapgame.

  For there was one great lack in their lives. This lack, and theinability to do anything about it, absorbed many hours of conversation.At first, complaints only occurred at intervals; but as weeks passed,the lamentations became so fervent, so constant, and so heart-rending,that Dr. Flandeau observed to Dr. Frank that more stirring passages hadnot been made since the Jeremiad. For Dr. Flandeau, although aging, wasin his off hours a poet, and a Frenchman always.

  Dr. Frank said, "Yes, well, poor bastards."

  At first, nostalgically, the crew harked back to happier times on Earth.Soon not one young lady of their collective acquaintance had escaped themost minute analysis. They were young men--the oldest, Blunt, was onlytwenty-six--and several of them had married young, greatly limitingtheir activities so that even their cumulative memories could not lastforever. After several weeks, repetition began to set in. Once allsuccesses had been lovingly remembered, down to the last, exquisitedetail, they began recalling their failures. The master strategist, theunofficial referee of these seminars, was Dick Blunt.

  "Now where you went wrong there," he would tell a fledgling reportingcomplete zero with a YWCA resident, "was in making her feel that youwere interested. Your line with a girl like that should be one ofcharity. Pure charity. You impress on her that you're doing her aterrific favor. You offer to bring to her dull life romance, adventure,tenderness."

  "I couldn't even get my hands on her," complained the reproved failure,Herbert Banks.

  "I've always found that type the easiest ones of all," Blunt saidindifferently. "Dull, of course."

  The testiness, the self-pity, the shortness of temper and the near-riotsover stolen packages of cigarettes, were not improved after the Doctors,having surveyed the situation thoroughly, decided that it would do noharm to let the men of the crew go out on Liberty.

  Fraternizing with natives was, of course, strictly forbidden. They werenot to drink off premises. (Nor on, for that matter.) They were exhortednot to steal, not to engage in fights.

  Still, they could walk around, take pictures of the strange pink housesand the dazzling cities. They could watch a covey of children swim inthe municipal pools. They could look at the fountains, the so-called"miraculous fountains of Engraham", or climb the strange, glassymountains. The natives, although shy of them, were most polite, and somesmiled enchantingly--especially the women.

  ----

  This was the worst rub of all: there were women, and they were gorgeous.A little smaller than most Earth women, with bright eyes, and high,arched eyebrows, looking forever as if they had heard the most pricelessjoke. Their faces conformed to the most rigid standards of Caucasianbeauty. Their legs, so delicate, so tapering, so fantastically small ofankle, were breath-taking. Their clothes, which would have driven aParisian designer to suicide, were draped carelessly over the mostexquisite figures. True, they were a little deficient in one department,and this was explained, before they were granted liberty, by Dr.Flandeau. The women of Engraham, he said, did not bear children.

  This announcement was not received with special gloom, for until then,none of the crew
had seen an Engrahamite woman. But Willy Lanham, adark-haired, skinny boy from Tennessee, asked, unhappily, "Don't theyeven go in for games or nothin'?"

  Flandeau understood instantly. He shook his head sadly. "I should thinknot. It has been a long time since they have observed the normalfunctions. The women are mainly for decoration, although it is said thatsome are also created for brains. They are a most strange people."

  After this--granted these agonizing liberties, and able to see thatwhich was biologically unattainable--the crew became so demoralized thatnot even Kosalowsky's discovery of the works of Wilhelm Reik relievedthe deep gloom.

  However, they had reckoned without the superior genius of Dick Blunt.Blunt received Flandeau's news as unhappily as the others, and, like therest, was made miserable by the sight of the glorious damozels. But hewas a reasonable man and he put his reasoning powers to work. Soon healone was cheerful. He went around with the absorbed,
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