Missing Link

       Frank Herbert / Science Fiction
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Missing Link
Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht, Markus Brenner andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttp://www.pgdp.net

MISSING LINK

BY FRANK HERBERT

Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding ScienceFiction, Volume LXII No. 6, February 1959. Extensive research did notuncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication wasrenewed.



_The Romantics used to say that the eyes were the windows of the Soul.A good Alien Xenologist might not put it quite so poetically ... but hecan, if he's sharp, read a lot in the look of an eye!_

Illustrated by van Dongen

”We ought to scrape this planet clean of every living thing on it,”muttered Umbo Stetson, section chief of Investigation & Adjustment.

Stetson paced the landing control bridge of his scout cruiser. Hisfootsteps grated on a floor that was the rear wall of the bridge duringflight. But now the ship rested on its tail fins--all four hundredglistening red and black meters of it. The open ports of the bridgelooked out on the jungle roof of Gienah III some one hundred fiftymeters below. A butter yellow sun hung above the horizon, perhaps anhour from setting.

”Clean as an egg!” he barked. He paused in his round of the bridge,glared out the starboard port, spat into the fire-blackened circle thatthe cruiser's jets had burned from the jungle.

The I-A section chief was dark-haired, gangling, with large head and bigfeatures. He stood in his customary slouch, a stance not improved bysacklike patched blue fatigues. Although on this present operation herated the flag of a division admiral, his fatigues carried no insignia.There was a general unkempt, straggling look about him.

Lewis Orne, junior I-A field man with a maiden diploma, stood at theopposite port, studying the jungle horizon. Now and then he glanced atthe bridge control console, the chronometer above it, the big translitemap of their position tilted from the opposite bulkhead. A heavy planetnative, he felt vaguely uneasy on this Gienah III with its gravity ofonly seven-eighths Terran Standard. The surgical scars on his neck wherethe micro-communications equipment had been inserted itched maddeningly.He scratched.

”Hah!” said Stetson. ”Politicians!”

A thin black insect with shell-like wings flew in Orne's port, settledin his close-cropped red hair. Orne pulled the insect gently from hishair, released it. Again it tried to land in his hair. He ducked. Itflew across the bridge, out the port beside Stetson.

There was a thick-muscled, no-fat look to Orne, but something about hisblocky, off-center features suggested a clown.

”I'm getting tired of waiting,” he said.

”_You're_ tired! Hah!”

A breeze rippled the tops of the green ocean below them. Here and there,red and purple flowers jutted from the verdure, bending and nodding likean attentive audience.

”Just look at that blasted jungle!” barked Stetson. ”Them and theirstupid orders!”

A call bell tinkled on the bridge control console. The red light abovethe speaker grid began blinking. Stetson shot an angry glance at it.”Yeah, Hal?”

”O.K., Stet. Orders just came through. We use Plan C. ComGO says tobrief the field man, and jet out of here.”

”Did you ask them about using another field man?”

Orne looked up attentively.

The speaker said: ”Yes. They said we have to use Orne because of therecords on the _Delphinus_.”

”Well then, will they give us more time to brief him?”

”Negative. It's crash priority. ComGO expects to blast the planetanyway.”

Stetson glared at the grid. ”Those fat-headed, lard-bottomed,pig-brained ... POLITICIANS!” He took two deep breaths, subsided. ”O.K.Tell them we'll comply.”

”One more thing, Stet.”

”What now?”

”I've got a confirmed contact.”

Instantly, Stetson was poised on the balls of his feet, alert. ”Where?”

”About ten kilometers out. Section AAB-6.”

”How many?”

”A mob. You want I should count them?”

”No. What're they doing?”

”Making a beeline for us. You better get a move on.”

”O.K. Keep us posted.”

”Right.”

* * * * *

Stetson looked across at his junior field man. ”Orne, if you decide youwant out of this assignment, you just say the word. I'll back you to thehilt.”

”Why should I want out of my first field assignment?”

”Listen, and find out.” Stetson crossed to a tilt-locker behind the bigtranslite map, hauled out a white coverall uniform with gold insignia,tossed it to Orne. ”Get into these while I brief you on the map.”

”But this is an R&R uni--” began Orne.

”Get that uniform on your ugly frame!”

”Yes, sir, Admiral Stetson, sir. Right away, sir. But I thought I wasthrough with old Rediscovery & Reeducation when you drafted me off ofHamal into the I-A ... sir.” He began changing from the I-A blue to theR&R white. Almost as an afterthought, he said: ”... Sir.”

A wolfish grin cracked Stetson's big features. ”I'm soooooo happy youhave the proper attitude of subservience toward authority.”

Orne zipped up the coverall uniform. ”Oh, yes, sir ... sir.”

”O.K., Orne, pay attention.” Stetson gestured at the map with its greensuperimposed grid squares. ”Here we are. Here's that city we flew overon our way down. You'll head for it as soon as we drop you. The place isbig enough that if you hold a course roughly northeast you can't missit. We're--”

Again the call bell rang.

”What is it this time, Hal?” barked Stetson.

”They've changed to Plan H, Stet. New orders cut.”

”Five days?”

”That's all they can give us. ComGO says he can't keep the informationout of High Commissioner Bullone's hands any longer than that.”

”It's five days for sure then.”

”Is this the usual R&R foul-up?” asked Orne.

Stetson nodded. ”Thanks to Bullone and company! We're just one jumpahead of catastrophe, but they still pump the bushwah into the Rah & Rahboys back at dear old Uni-Galacta!”

”You're making light of my revered alma mater,” said Orne. He struck apose. ”We must reunite the lost planets with our centers of culture andindustry, and take up the _glor_-ious onward march of mankind that wasso _bru_-tally--”

”Can it!” snapped Stetson. ”We both know we're going to rediscover oneplanet too many some day. Rim War all over again. But this is adifferent breed of fish. It's not, repeat, _not_ a _re_-discovery.”

Orne sobered. ”Alien?”

”Yes. A-L-I-E-N! A never-before-contacted culture. That language youwere force fed on the way over, that's an alien language. It's notcomplete ... all we have off the _minis_. And we excluded data on thenatives because we've been hoping to dump this project and nobody thewiser.”

”Holy mazoo!”

”Twenty-six days ago an I-A search ship came through here, had a routinemini-sneaker look at the place. When he combed in his net of sneakers tocheck the tapes and films, lo and behold, he had a little stranger.”

”One of _theirs_?”

”No. It was a _mini_ off the _Delphinus Rediscovery_. The _Delphinus_has been unreported for eighteen standard months!”

”Did it crack up here?”

”We don't know. If it did, we haven't been able to spot it. She wassupposed to be way off in the Balandine System by now. But we'vesomething else on our minds. It's the one item that makes me want toblot out this place, and run home with my tail between my legs. We'vea--”

Again the call bell chimed.

”NOW WHAT?” roared Stetson into the speaker.

”I've got a _mini_ over that mob, Stet. They're talking about us. It's adefinite raiding party.”

”What armament?”

”Too gloomy in that jungle to be sure. The infra beam's out on this_mini_. Looks like hard pellet rifles of some kind. Might even be offthe _Delphinus_.”

”Can't you get closer?”

”Wouldn't do any good. No light down there, and they're moving up fast.”

”Keep an eye on them, but don't ignore the other sectors,” said Stetson.

”You think I was born yesterday?” barked the voice from the grid. Thecontact broke off with an angry sound.

* * * * *

”One thing I like about the I-A,” said Stetson. ”It collects
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