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The anglers of arz, p.1
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       The Anglers of Arz, p.1

           Roger D. Aycock
 
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The Anglers of Arz


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  The Anglers of Arz

  By Roger Dee

  Illustrated by BOB MARTIN

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of ScienceFiction January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidencethat the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _In order to make Izaak Walton's sport complete, there mustbe an angler, a fish, and some bait. All three existed on Arz but therewas a question as to which was which._]

  _There were two pinkish, bipedal fishermen on the tinyislet._]

  The third night of the _Marco Four's_ landfall on the moonless Altarianplanet was a repetition of the two before it, a nine-hour intermissionof drowsy, pastoral peace. Navigator Arthur Farrell--it was his turn tostand watch--was sitting at an open-side port with a magnoscanner ready;but in spite of his vigilance he had not exposed a film when theinevitable pre-dawn rainbow began to shimmer over the eastern ocean.

  Sunrise brought him alert with a jerk, frowning at sight of two pinkish,bipedal Arzian fishermen posted on the tiny coral islet a quarter-mileoffshore, their blank triangular faces turned stolidly toward the beach.

  "They're at it again," Farrell called, and dropped to the mossy turfoutside. "Roll out on the double! I'm going to magnofilm this!"

  Stryker and Gibson came out of their sleeping cubicles reluctantly,belting on the loose shorts which all three wore in the balmy Arzianclimate. Stryker blinked and yawned as he let himself through the port,his fringe of white hair tousled and his naked paunch sweating. Helooked, Farrell thought for the thousandth time, more like a retiredcook than like the veteran commander of a Terran Colonies expedition.

  Gibson followed, stretching his powerfully-muscled body like a wrestlerto throw off the effects of sleep. Gibson was linguist-ethnologist ofthe crew, a blocky man in his early thirties with thick black hair andheavy brows that shaded a square, humorless face.

  "Any sign of the squids yet?" he asked.

  "They won't show up until the dragons come," Farrell said. He adjustedthe light filter of the magnoscanner and scowled at Stryker. "Lee, Iwish you'd let me break up the show this time with a dis-beam. Thisbutchery gets on my nerves."

  Stryker shielded his eyes with his hands against the glare of sun onwater. "You know I can't do that, Arthur. These Arzians may turn out tobe Fifth Order beings or higher, and under Terran Regulations ourtampering with what may be a basic culture-pattern would amount to armedinvasion. We'll have to crack that cackle-and-grunt language of theirsand learn something of their mores before we can interfere."

  Farrell turned an irritable stare on the incurious group of Arziansgathering, nets and fishing spears in hand, at the edge of thesheltering bramble forest.

  "What stumps me is their motivation," he said. "Why do the fools go outto that islet every night, when they must know damned well what willhappen next morning?"

  Gibson answered him with an older problem, his square face puzzled. "Forthat matter, what became of the city I saw when we came in through thestratosphere? It must be a tremendous thing, yet we've searched theentire globe in the scouter and found nothing but water and a scatteringof little islands like this one, all covered with bramble. It wasn't acity these pink fishers could have built, either. The architecture wasbeyond them by a million years."

  * * * * *

  Stryker and Farrell traded baffled looks. The city had become somethingof a fixation with Gibson, and his dogged insistence--coupled with anirritating habit of being right--had worn their patience thin.

  "There never was a city here, Gib," Stryker said. "You dozed off whilewe were making planetfall, that's all."

  Gibson stiffened resentfully, but Farrell's voice cut his protest short."Get set! Here they come!"

  Out of the morning rainbow dropped a swarm of winged lizards, twentyfeet in length and a glistening chlorophyll green in the early light.They stooped like hawks upon the islet offshore, burying the two Arzianfishers instantly under their snapping, threshing bodies. Then aroundthe outcrop the sea boiled whitely, churned to foam by a suddenuprushing of black, octopoid shapes.

  "The squids," Stryker grunted. "Right on schedule. Two seconds too late,as usual, to stop the slaughter."

  A barrage of barbed tentacles lashed out of the foam and drove into themelee of winged lizards. The lizards took the air at once, leavingbehind three of their number who disappeared under the surface likeharpooned seals. No trace remained of the two Arzian natives.

  "A neat example of dog eat dog," Farrell said, snapping off themagnoscanner. "Do any of those beauties look like city-builders, Gib?"

  Chattering pink natives straggled past from the shelter of the thornforest, ignoring the Earthmen, and lined the casting ledges along thebeach to begin their day's fishing.

  "Nothing we've seen yet could have built that city," Gibson saidstubbornly. "But it's here somewhere, and I'm going to find it. Willeither of you be using the scouter today?"

  Stryker threw up his hands. "I've a mountain of data to collate, andArthur is off duty after standing watch last night. Help yourself, butyou won't find anything."

  * * * * *

  The scouter was a speeding dot on the horizon when Farrell crawled intohis sleeping cubicle a short time later, leaving Stryker to mutter overhis litter of notes. Sleep did not come to him at once; a vague sense ofsomething overlooked prodded irritatingly at the back of hisconsciousness, but it was not until drowsiness had finally overtaken himthat the discrepancy assumed definite form.

  He recalled then that on the first day of the _Marco's_ planetfall oneof the pink fishers had fallen from a casting ledge into the water, andhad all but drowned before his fellows pulled him out with extendedspear-shafts. Which meant that the fishers could not swim, else somewould surely have gone in after him.

  And the Marco's crew had explored Arz exhaustively without finding anyslightest trace of boats or of boat landings. The train of associationcompleted itself with automatic logic, almost rousing Farrell out of hisdoze.

  "I'll be damned," he muttered. "No boats, and they don't swim. _Then howthe devil do they get out to that islet?_"

  He fell asleep with the paradox unresolved.

  * * * * *

  Stryker was still humped over his records when Farrell came out of hiscubicle and broke a packaged meal from the food locker. The visicom overthe control board hummed softly, its screen blank on open channel.

  "Gibson found his lost city yet?" Farrell asked, and grinned whenStryker snorted.

  "He's scouring the daylight side now," Stryker said. "Arthur, I'm goingto ground Gib tomorrow, much as I dislike giving him a direct order.He's got that phantom city on the brain, and he lacks the imagination tounderstand how dangerous to our assignment an obsession of that sort canbe."

  Farrell shrugged. "I'd agree with you offhand if it weren't for Gib'sbullheaded habit of being right. I hope he finds it soon, if it's here.I'll probably be standing his watch until he's satisfied."

  Stryker looked relieved. "Would you mind taking it tonight? I'mcompletely bushed after today's logging."

  Farrell waved a hand and took up his magnoscanner. It was dark outsidealready, the close, soft night of a moonless tropical world whose moistatmosphere absorbed even starlight. He dragged a chair to the open portand packed his pipe, settling himself comfortably while Stryker mixed anightcap before turning in.

  Later he remembered that Stryker dissolved a tablet in his glass, but atthe moment it meant nothing. In a matter of minutes the older man's
snoring drifted to him, a sound faintly irritating against the velvetyhush outside.

  Farrell lit his pipe and turned to the inconsistencies he had uncovered.The Arzians did not swim, and without boats....

  It occurred to him then that there had been two of the pink fishers onthe islet each morning, and the coincidence made him sit up suddenly,startled. Why two? Why not three or four, or only one?

  He stepped out through the open lock and paced restlessly up and down onthe springy turf, feeling the ocean breeze soft on his face. Three daysof dull routine logwork had built up a need for physical action thatchafed his temper; he was intrigued and at the same time annoyed by theenigmatic relation that linked the Arzian fishers to the dragons andsquids, and his desire to understand that relation was
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