Student Body, p.1F. L. Wallace
Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Robert Cicconetti, and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from the March 1953 issue of Galaxy. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
By F. L. WALLACE
Illustrated by ASHMAN
_When a really infallible scientific bureau makes a drastically serious error, the data must be wrong ... but wrong in what way?_
* * * * *
The first morning that they were fully committed to the planet, theexecutive officer stepped out of the ship. It was not quite dawn.Executive Hafner squinted in the early light; his eyes opened wider,and he promptly went back inside. Three minutes later, he reappearedwith the biologist in tow.
"Last night you said there was nothing dangerous," said the executive."Do you still think it's so?"
Dano Marin stared. "I do." What his voice lacked in conviction, itmade up in embarrassment. He laughed uncertainly.
"This is no laughing matter. I'll talk to you later."
The biologist stood by the ship and watched as the executive walked tothe row of sleeping colonists.
"Mrs. Athyl," said the executive as he stopped beside the sleepingfigure.
She yawned, rubbed her eyes, rolled over, and stood up. The coveringthat should have been there, however, wasn't. Neither was the garmentshe had on when she had gone to sleep. She assumed the conventionalposition of a woman who is astonished to find herself unclad withouther knowledge or consent.
"It's all right, Mrs. Athyl. I'm not a voyeur myself. Still, I thinkyou should get some clothing on." Most of the colonists were awakenow. Executive Hafner turned to them. "If you haven't any suitableclothing in the ship, the commissary will issue you some. Explanationswill be given later."
The colonists scattered. There was no compulsive modesty among them,for it couldn't have survived a year and a half in crowded spaceships.Nevertheless, it was a shock to awaken with no clothing on and notknow who or what had removed it during the night. It was surprise morethan anything else that disconcerted them.
On his way back to the spaceship, Executive Hafner paused. "Any ideasabout it?"
Dano Marin shrugged. "How could I have? The planet is as new to me asit is to you."
"Sure. But you're the biologist."
As the only scientist in a crew of rough-and-ready colonists andbuilders, Marin was going to be called on to answer a lot of questionsthat weren't in his field.
"Nocturnal insects, most likely," he suggested. That was pretty weak,though he knew that in ancient times locusts had stripped fields in amatter of hours. Could they do the same with the clothing of humansand not awaken them? "I'll look into the matter. As soon as I findanything, I'll let you know."
"Good." Hafner nodded and went into the spaceship.
* * * * *
Dano Marin walked to the grove in which the colonists had beensleeping. It had been a mistake to let them bed down there, but at thetime the request had been made, there had seemed no reason not togrant it. After eighteen months in crowded ships everyone naturallywanted fresh air and the rustle of leaves overhead.
Marin looked out through the grove. It was empty now; the colonists,both men and women, had disappeared inside the ship, dressing,probably.
The trees were not tall and the leaves were dark bottle-green.Occasional huge white flowers caught sunlight that made them seemlarger than they were. It wasn't Earth and therefore the treescouldn't be magnolias. But they reminded Marin of magnolia trees andthereafter he always thought of them as that.
The problem of the missing clothing was ironic. Biological Surveynever made a mistake--yet obviously they had. They listed the planetas the most suitable for Man of any so far discovered. Few insects, nodangerous animals, a most equitable climate. They had named it Gladebecause that was the word which fitted best. The whole land massseemed to be one vast and pleasant meadow.
Evidently there were things about the planet that Biological Surveyhad missed.
Marin dropped to his knees and began to look for clues. If insects hadbeen responsible, there ought to be a few dead ones, crushed, perhaps,as the colonists rolled over in their sleep. There were no insects,either live or dead.
He stood up in disappointment and walked slowly through the grove. Itmight be the trees. At night they could exude a vapor which wascapable of dissolving the material from which the clothing had beenmade. Far-fetched, but not impossible. He crumbled a leaf in his handand rubbed it against his sleeve. A pungent smell, but nothinghappened. That didn't disprove the theory, of course.
He looked out through the trees at the blue sun. It was bigger thanSol, but farther away. At Glade, it was about equal to the Sun onEarth.
He almost missed the bright eyes that regarded him from theunderbrush. Almost, but didn't--the domain of biology begins at theedge of the atmosphere; it includes the brush and the small creaturesthat live in it.
He swooped down on it. The creature fled squealing. He ran it down inthe grass outside the grove. It collapsed into quaking flesh as hepicked it up. He talked to it gently and the terror subsided.
It nibbled contentedly on his jacket as he carried it back to theship.
* * * * *
Executive Hafner stared unhappily into the cage. It was anundistinguished animal, small and something like an undevelopedrodent. Its fur was sparse and stringy, unglamorous; it would never bean item in the fur export trade.
"Can we exterminate it?" asked Hafner. "Locally, that is."
"Hardly. It's ecologically basic."
The executive looked blank. Dano Marin added the explanation: "Youknow how Biological Control works. As soon as a planet has beendiscovered that looks suitable, they send out a survey ship loadedwith equipment. The ship flies low over a good part of the planet andthe instruments in the ship record the neural currents of the animalsbelow. The instruments can distinguish the characteristic neuralpatterns of anything that has a brain, including insects.
"Anyway, they have a pretty good idea of the kinds of animals on theplanet and their relative distribution. Naturally, the survey partytakes a few specimens. They have to in order to correlate the patternwith the actual animal, otherwise the neural pattern would be merely ameaningless squiggle on a microfilm.
"The survey shows that this animal is one of only four species ofmammals on the planet. It is also the most numerous."
Hafner grunted. "So if we kill them off here, others will swarm infrom surrounding areas?"
"That's about it. There are probably millions of them on thispeninsula. Of course, if you want to put a barrier across the narrowconnection to the mainland, you might be able to wipe them outlocally."
The executive scowled. A barrier was possible, but it would involvemore work than he cared to expend.
"What do they eat?" he asked truculently.
"A little bit of everything, apparently. Insects, fruits, berries,nuts, succulents, and grain." Dano Marin smiled. "I guess it could becalled an omnivore--now that our clothing is handy, it eats that,too."
Hafner didn't smile. "I thought our clothing was supposed to beverminproof."
Marin shrugged. "It is, on twenty-seven planets. On the twenty-eighth,we meet up with a little fella that has better digestive fluids,that's all."
Hafner looked pained. "Are they likely to bother the crops we plant?"
"Offhand, I would say they aren't. But then I would have said the sameabout our clothing."
Individual dwelling units would have been more appropriate in thecolony at this stage, thought Marin. But it wasn't for him to decide.The executive was a man who regarded a schedule as something to beexceeded.
"The omnivore--" began Marin.
Hafner nodded impatiently. "Work on it," he said, and walked away.
The biologist sighed. The omnivore really was a queer littlecreature, but it was by no means the most important thing on Glade.For instance, why were there so few species of land animals on theplanet? No reptiles, numerous birds, and only four kinds of mammals.
Every comparable planet teemed with a wild variety of life. Glade, inspite of
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