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       Pet Farm, p.1

           Roger D. Aycock
 
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Pet Farm


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

  Pet Farm

  By ROGER DEE

  Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionFebruary 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that theU.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _The next worst thing to hell is being shanghaied into theParadise of an alien planet!_]

  They had fled almost to the sheer ambient face of the crater wall whenthe Falakian girl touched Farrell's arm and pointed back through thescented, pearly mists.

  "Someone," she said. Her voice stumbled over the almost forgotten Terranword, but its sound was music.

  "No matter," Farrell answered. "They're too late now."

  He pushed on, happily certain in his warm euphoric glow of mountingexpectancy that what he had done to the ship made him--and his new-foundparadise with him--secure.

  He had almost forgotten who _they_ were; the pale half-memories thatdrifted through his mind touched his consciousness lightly and withouturgency, arousing neither alarm nor interest.

  The dusk grew steadily deeper, but the dimming of vision did not matter.

  Nothing mattered but the fulfillment to come.

  Far above him, the lacy network of bridging, at one time so baffling,arched and vanished in airy grace into the colored mists. To right andleft, other arms of the aerial maze reached out, throwing vaguetraceries from cliff to cliff across the valley floor. Behind him on theplain he could hear the eternally young people playing about theirlittle blue lake, flitting like gay shadows through the tamarisks andcalling to each other in clear elfin voices while they frolicked afterthe fluttering swarms of great, bright-hued moths.

  The crater wall halted him and he stood with the Falakian girl besidehim, looking back through the mists and savoring the sweet, quietmystery of the valley. Motion stirred there; the pair of them laughedlike anticipant children when two wide-winged moths swam into sight andfloated toward them, eyes glowing like veiled emeralds.

  Footsteps followed, disembodied in the dusk.

  "It is only Xavier," a voice said. Its mellow uninflection evoked abriefly disturbing memory of a slight gray figure, jointed yet curiouslyflexible, and a featureless oval of face.

  It came out of the mists and halted a dozen yards away, and he saw thatit spoke into a metallic box slung over one shoulder.

  "He is unharmed," it said. "Directions?"

  Xavier? Directions? From whom?

  Another voice answered from the shoulder-box, bringing a second mentalpicture of a face--square and brown, black-browed and taciturnlyhumorless--that he had known and forgotten.

  Whose, and where?

  "Hold him there, Xav," it said. "Stryker and I are going to try to reachthe ship now."

  The moths floated nearer, humming gently.

  "You're too late," Farrell called. "Go away. Let me wait in peace."

  "If you knew what you're waiting for," a third voice said, "you'd goscreaming mad." It was familiar, recalling vaguely a fat, good-naturedface and ponderous, laughter-shaken paunch. "If you could see the placeas you saw it when we first landed...."

  The disturbing implications of the words forced him reluctantly toremember a little of that first sight of Falak.

  ... The memory was sacrilege, soiling and cheapening the ecstasy of hisanticipation.

  But it _had_ been different.

  * * * * *

  His first day on Falak had left Farrell sick with disgust.

  He had known from the beginning that the planet was small and arid,non-rotating, with a period of revolution about its primary roughlyequal to ten Earth years. The _Marco Four_'s initial sweep ofreconnaissance, spiraling from pole to pole, had supplied furtherinformation without preparing him at all for what the three-manReclamations team was to find later.

  The weed-choked fields and crumbled desolation of Terran slave barrackshad been depressing enough. The inevitable scattering of empty domesabandoned a hundred years before by the Hymenop conquerors had completeda familiar and unpromising pattern, a workaday blueprint that differedfrom previous experience only in one significant detail: There was noshaggy, disoriented remnant of descendants from the original colonists.

  The valley, a mile-wide crater sunk between thousand-foot cliffs,floored with straggling bramble thickets and grass flats pocked withstagnant pools and quaking slime-bogs, had been infinitely worse. Thecryptic three-dimensional maze of bridges spanning the pit had madelanding there a ticklish undertaking. Stryker and Farrell and Gibson,after a conference, had risked the descent only because the valleyoffered a last possible refuge for survivors.

  Their first real hint of what lay ahead of them came when Xavier, theship's mechanical, opened the personnel port against the heat and humidstink of the place.

  "Another damned tropical pesthole," Farrell said, shucking off hiscomfortable shorts and donning booted coveralls for the preliminarysurvey. "The sooner we count heads--assuming there are any left tocount--and get out of here, the better. The long-term Reorientation boyscan have this one and welcome."

  Stryker, characteristically, had laughed at his navigator's promptdisgust. Gibson, equally predictable in his way, had gathered his gearwith precise efficiency, saying nothing.

  "It's a routine soon finished," Stryker said. "There can't be more thana handful of survivors here, and in any case we're not required to domore than gather data from full-scale recolonization. Our main job is toprepare Reorientation if we can for whatever sort of slave-conditioningdeviltry the Hymenops practiced on this particular world."

  Farrell grunted sourly. "You love these repulsive little puzzles, don'tyou?"

  * * * * *

  Stryker grinned at him with good-natured malice. "Why not, Arthur? Youcan play the accordion and sketch for entertainment, and Gib has hisstar-maps and his chess sessions with Xavier. But for a fat old man,rejuvenated four times and nearing his fifth and final, what else isleft except curiosity?"

  He clipped a heat-gun and audicom pack to the belt of his bulgingcoveralls and clumped to the port to look outside. Roiling gray foghovered there, diffusing the hot magenta point of Falak's sun to aliverish glare half-eclipsed by the crater's southern rim. Against thelight, the spidery metal maze of foot-bridging stood out dimly, tracinga random criss-cross pattern that dwindled to invisibility in the mists.

  "That network is a Hymenop experiment of some sort," Stryker said,peering. "It's not only a sample of alien engineering--and a thunderingbig one at that--but an object lesson on the weird workings of alienlogic. If we could figure out what possessed the Bees to build such amaze here--"

  "Then we'd be the first to solve the problem of alien psychology,"Farrell finished acidly, aping the older man's ponderous enthusiasm."Lee, you know we'd have to follow those hive-building fiends all theway to 70 Ophiuchi to find out what makes them tick. And twenty thousandlight-years is a hell of a way to go out of curiosity, not to mention adangerous one."

  "But we'll go there some day," Stryker said positively. "We'll have togo because we can't ever be sure they won't try to repeat their invasionof two hundred years ago."

  He tugged at the owlish tufts of hair over his ears, wrinkling his baldbrow up at the enigmatic maze.

  "We'll never feel safe again until the Bees are wiped out. I wonder ifthey know that. They never understood us, you know, just as we neverunderstood them--they always seemed more interested in experimentingwith slave ecology than in conquest for itself, and they never killedoff their captive cultures when they pulled out for home. I wonder iftheir s
ystem of logic can postulate the idea of a society like ours,which must rule or die."

  "We'd better get on with our survey," Gibson put in mildly, "unless wemean to finish by floodlight. We've only about forty-eight hours leftbefore dark."

  * * * * *

  He moved past Stryker through the port, leaving Farrell to stare blanklyafter him.

  "This is a non-rotating world," Farrell said. "How the devil _can_ itget dark, Lee?"

  Stryker chuckled. "I wondered if you'd see that. It can't, except whenthe planet's axial tilt rolls this latitude into its winter season andsends the sun south of the crater rim. It probably gets dark as pitchhere in the valley, since the fog would trap even diffused light." Tothe patiently waiting mechanical, he said, "The
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