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     Keep Your Shape, p.1

       Robert Sheckley / Science Fiction
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Keep Your Shape 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 November 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

KEEP YOUR SHAPE

By ROBERT SHECKLEY

Illustrated by VIDMER

_Only a race as incredibly elastic as the Grom could have a single rule of war:_

* * * * *

Pid the Pilot slowed the ship almost to a standstill, and peeredanxiously at the green planet below.

Even without instruments, there was no mistaking it. Third from itssun, it was the only planet in this system capable of sustaining life.Peacefully it swam beneath its gauze of clouds.

It looked very innocent. And yet, twenty previous Grom expeditions hadset out to prepare this planet for invasion--and vanished utterly,without a word.

Pid hesitated only a moment, before starting irrevocably down. Therewas no point in hovering and worrying. He and his two crewmen were asready now as they would ever be. Their compact Displacers were storedin body pouches, inactive but ready.

Pid wanted to say something to his crew, but wasn't sure how to putit.

The crew waited. Ilg the Radioman had sent the final message to theGrom planet. Ger the Detector read sixteen dials at once, andreported, ”No sign of alien activity.” His body surfaces flowedcarelessly.

* * * * *

Noticing the flow, Pid knew what to say to his crew. Ever since theyhad left Grom, shape-discipline had been disgustingly lax. TheInvasion Chief had warned him; but still, he had to do something aboutit. It was his duty, since lower castes such as Radiomen and Detectorswere notoriously prone to Shapelessness.

”A lot of hopes are resting on this expedition,” he began slowly.”We're a long way from home now.”

Ger the Detector nodded. Ilg the Radioman flowed out of his prescribedshape and molded himself comfortably to a wall.

”However,” Pid said sternly, ”distance is no excuse for promiscuousShapelessness.”

Ilg flowed hastily back into proper Radioman's shape.

”Exotic forms will undoubtedly be called for,” Pid went on. ”And forthat we have a special dispensation. But remember--any shape notassumed strictly in the line of duty is a foul, lawless device of TheShapeless One!”

Ger's body surfaces abruptly stopped flowing.

”That's all,” Pid said, and flowed into his controls. The ship starteddown, so smoothly co-ordinated that Pid felt a glow of pride.

They were good workers, he decided. He just couldn't expect them to beas shape-conscious as a high-caste Pilot. Even the Invasion Chief hadtold him that.

”Pid,” the Invasion Chief had said at their last interview, ”we needthis planet desperately.”

”Yes, sir,” Pid had said, standing at full attention, never quiveringfrom Optimum Pilot's Shape.

”One of you,” the Chief said heavily, ”must get through and set up aDisplacer near an atomic power source. The army will be standing by atthis end, ready to step through.”

”We'll do it, sir,” Pid said.

”This expedition has to succeed,” the Chief said, and his featuresblurred momentarily from sheer fatigue. ”In strictest confidence,there's considerable unrest on Grom. The Miner caste is on strike, forinstance. They want a new digging shape. Say the old one isinefficient.”



Pid looked properly indignant. The Mining Shape had been set down bythe Ancients fifty thousand years ago, together with the rest of thebasic shapes. And now these upstarts wanted to change it!

”That's not all,” the Chief told him. ”We've uncovered a new Cult ofShapelessness. Picked up almost eight thousand Grom, and I don't knowhow many more we missed.”

Pid knew that Shapelessness was a lure of The Shapeless One, thegreatest evil that the Grom mind could conceive of. But why, hewondered, did so many Grom fall for His lures?

* * * * *

The Chief guessed his question. ”Pid,” he said, ”I suppose it'sdifficult for you to understand. Do you enjoy Piloting?”

”Yes, sir,” Pid said simply. _Enjoy_ Piloting! It was his entire life!Without a ship, he was nothing.

”Not all Grom feel that way,” the Chief said. ”I don't understand iteither. All my ancestors have been Invasion Chiefs, back to thebeginning of time. So of course _I_ want to be an Invasion Chief. It'sonly natural, as well as lawful. But the lower castes don't feel thatway.” The Chief shook his body sadly. ”I've told you this for areason. We Grom need more room. This unrest is caused purely bycrowding. All our psychologists say so. Another planet to expand intowill cure everything. So we're counting on you, Pid.”

”Yes, sir,” Pid said, with a glow of pride.

The Chief rose to end the interview. Then he changed his mind and satdown again.

”You'll have to watch your crew,” he said. ”They're loyal, no doubt,but low-caste. And you know the lower castes.”

Pid did indeed.

”Ger, your Detector, is suspected of harboring Alterationisttendencies. He was once fined for assuming a quasi-Hunter shape. Ilghas never had any definite charge brought against him. But I hear thathe remains immobile for suspiciously long periods of time. Possibly,he fancies himself a Thinker.”

”But, sir,” Pid protested. ”If they are even slightly tainted withAlterationism or Shapelessness, why send them on this expedition?”

The Chief hesitated before answering. ”There are plenty of Grom Icould trust,” he said slowly. ”But those two have certain qualities ofresourcefulness and imagination that will be needed on thisexpedition.” He sighed. ”I really don't understand why those qualitiesare usually linked with Shapelessness.”

”Yes, sir,” Pid said.

”Just watch them.”

”Yes, sir,” Pid said again, and saluted, realizing that the interviewwas at an end. In his body pouch he felt the dormant Displacer, readyto transform the enemy's power source into a bridge across space forthe Grom hordes.

”Good luck,” the chief said. ”I'm sure you'll need it.”

* * * * *

The ship dropped silently toward the surface of the enemy planet. Gerthe Detector analyzed the clouds below, and fed data into theCamouflage Unit. The Unit went to work. Soon the ship looked, to alloutward appearances, like a cirrus formation.

Pid allowed the ship to drift slowly toward the surface of the mysteryplanet. He was in Optimum Pilot's Shape now, the most efficient of thefour shapes alloted to the Pilot caste. Blind, deaf and dumb, anextension of his controls, all his attention was directed towardmatching the velocities of the high-flying clouds, staying among them,becoming a part of them.

Ger remained rigidly in one of the two shapes alloted to Detectors. Hefed data into the Camouflage Unit, and the descending ship slowlyaltered into an alto-cumulus.

There was no sign of activity from the enemy planet.

Ilg located an atomic power source, and fed the data to Pid. The Pilotaltered course. He had reached the lowest level of clouds, barely amile above the surface of the planet. Now his ship looked like a fat,fleecy cumulus.

And still there was no sign of alarm. The unknown fate that hadovertaken twenty previous expeditions still had not showed itself.

Dusk crept across the face of the planet as Pid maneuvered near theatomic power installation. He avoided the surrounding homes andhovered over a clump of woods.

Darkness fell, and the green planet's lone moon was veiled in clouds.

One cloud floated lower.

And landed.

”Quick, everyone out!” Pid shouted, detaching himself from the ship'scontrols. He assumed the Pilot's Shape best suited for running, andraced out the hatch. Ger and Ilg hurried after him. They stopped fiftyyards from the ship, and waited.

Inside the ship a little-used circuit closed. There was a silentshudder, and the ship began to melt. Plastic dissolved, metalcrumpled. Soon the ship was a great pile of junk, and still theprocess went on. Big fragments broke into smaller fragments, andsplit, and split again.

Pid felt suddenly helpless, watching his ship scuttle itself. He wasa Pilot, of the Pilot caste. His father had been a Pilot, and hisfather before him, stretching back to the hazy past when the Grom hadfirst constructed ships. He had spent his entire childhood aroundships, his entire manhood flying them.

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