Traders Risk, p.1Roger D. Aycock
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By ROGER DEE
_Keeping this cargo meant death--to jettison it meant to make flotsam and jetsam of a world!_
Illustrated by MARTIN
The Ciriimian ship was passing in hyperdrive through a classicthree-body system, comprising in this case a fiercely white sun circledby a fainter companion and a single planet that swung in precisebalance, when the Canthorian Zid broke out of its cage in the specimenhold.
Of the ship's social quartet, Chafis One and Two were asleep at themoment, dreaming wistful dreams of conical Ciriimian cities spearing upto a soft and plum-colored sky. The Zid raged into their communal restcell, smashed them down from their gimbaled sleeping perches and, withthe ravening blood-hunger of its kind, devoured them before they couldwake enough to teleport to safety.
Chafis Three and Four, on psi shift in the forward control cubicle,might have fallen as easily if the mental screamings of their fellowshad not warned them in time. As it was, they had barely time to teleportthemselves to the after hold, as far as possible from immediate danger,and to consider the issue while the Zid lunged about the ship in searchof them with malignant cries and a great shrieking of claws on metal.
Their case was the more desperate because the Chafis were professionalfreighters with little experience of emergency. Hauling a Zid fromCanthorian jungles to a Ciriimian zoo was a prosaic enough assignment solong as the cage held, but with the raging brute swiftly smelling themout, they were helpless to catch and restrain it.
When the Zid found them, they had no other course but to teleport backto the control cubicle and wait until the beast should snuff them downagain. The Zid learned quickly, so quickly that it was soon clear thatits physical strength would far outlast their considerable but limitedtelekinetic ability.
Still they possessed their share of owlish Ciriimian logic and hit soonenough upon the one practical course--to jettison the Zid on the nearestworld demonstrably free of intelligent life.
* * * * *
They worked hurriedly, between jumps fore and aft. Chafi Three, whilethey were still in the control cubicle, threw the ship out of hyperdrivewithin scant miles of the neighboring sun's single planet. Chafi Four,on the next jump, scanned the ship's charts and identified the systemthrough which they traveled.
Luck was with them. The system had been catalogued some four Ciriimiangenerations before and tagged: _Planet undeveloped. Tranquil marineintelligences only._
The discovery relieved them greatly for the reason that no Ciriimian,even to save his own feathered skin, would have set down such a monsteras the Zid among rational but vulnerable entities.
The planet was a water world, bare of continents and only sparselysprinkled with minor archipelagoes. The islands suited the Chafis'purpose admirably.
"The Zid does not swim," Chafi Four radiated. "Marooned, it can do noharm to marine intelligences."
"Also," Chafi Three pointed out as they dodged to the control cubicleagain just ahead of the slavering Zid, "we may return later with aCanthorian hunting party and recover our investment."
Closing their perception against the Zid's distracting ragings, they setto work with perfect coordination.
Chafi Three set down the ship on an island that was only one of afreckling chain of similar islands. Chafi Four projected himself firstto the opened port; then, when the Zid charged after him, to theherbivore-cropped sward of tropical setting outside.
The Zid lunged out. Chafi Four teleported inside again. Chafi Threeclosed the port. Together they relaxed their perception shields inrelief--
Unaware in their consternation that they committed the barbarous lapseof vocalizing, they twittered aloud when they realized the extent oftheir error.
Above the far, murmurous whisper of expected marine cerebration thererose an uncoordinated mishmash of thought from at least two strong andrelatively complex intelligences.
"Gas-breathing!" Chafi Four said unbelievingly. "Warm-blooded,land-dwelling, mammalian!"
"A Class Five culture," Chafi agreed shakenly. His aura quivered withthe shock of betrayal. "The catalogue was _wrong_."
Ironically, their problem was more pressing now than before. Unlesschecked, the Zid would rapidly depopulate the island--and, to check it,they must break a prime rule of Galactic protocol in asking the help ofa new and untested species.
But they had no choice. They teleported at once into the presence of thetwo nearby natives--and met with frustration beyond Ciriimianexperience.
* * * * *
Jeff Aubray glimpsed the Ciriimian ship's landing because the morningwas a Oneday, and on Onedays his mission to the island demanded that hebe up and about at sunrise.
For two reasons: On Onedays, through some unfailing miracle of Calaxianseamanship, old Charlie Mack sailed down in his ancient _Island Queen_from the township that represented colonial Terran civilization inProcynian Archipelago 147, bringing supplies and gossip to last Jeffthrough the following Tenday. The _Queen_ would dock at Jeff's littlepier at dawn; she was never late.
Also on Onedays, necessarily before Charlie Mack's visit, Jeff mustassemble his smuggled communicator--kept dismantled and hidden fromsuspicious local eyes--and report to Earth Interests Consulate hisprogress during the cycle just ended. The ungodly hour of transmission,naturally, was set to coincide with the closing of the Consul's fieldoffice halfway around the planet.
So the nacreous glory of Procyon's rising was just tinting the windowsof Jeff's cottage when he aligned and activated his little communicatoron his breakfast table. Its three-inch screen lighted to signal and adour and disappointed Consul Satterfield looked at him. BehindSatterfield, foreshortened to gnomishness by the pickup, lurked Dr.Hermann, Earth Interests' resident zoologist.
"No progress," Jeff reported, "except that the few islanders I've metseem to be accepting me at last. A little more time and they might letme into the Township, where I can learn something. If Homeside--"
"You've had seven Tendays," Satterfield said. "Homeside won't waitlonger, Aubray. They need those calm-crystals too badly."
"They'll use force?" Jeff had considered the possibility, but itsimmediacy appalled him. "Sir, these colonists had been autonomous forover two hundred years, ever since the Fourth War cut them off from us.Will Homeside deny their independence?"
His sense of loss at Satterfield's grim nod stemmed from somethingdeeper than sympathy for the islanders. It found roots in his dailyrambles over the little island granted him by the Township for thepainting he had begun as a blind to his assignment, and in the gossip ofold Charlie Mack and the few others he had met. He had learned toappreciate the easy life of the islands well enough to be dismayed nowby what must happen under EI pressure to old Charlie and his handful ofsun-browned fisherfolk.
* * * * *
Unexpectedly, because Jeff had not considered that it might matter, hewas disturbed by the realization that he wouldn't be seeing Jennifer,old Charlie Mack's red-haired niece, once occupation began. Jennifer,who sailed with her uncle and did a crewman's work as a matter ofcourse, would despise the sight of him.
The Consul's pessimism jolted Jeff back to the moment at hand.
"Homeside will deny their autonomy, Aubray. I've had a warp-beam messagetoday ordering me to move in."
The situation was desperate enough at home, Jeff had to admit. Calaxiancalm-crystals did what no refinement of Terran therapeutics had beenable to manage. They erased the fears of the neurotic and calmed thequiverings of the hypertensive--both in alarming majority in theshattering aftermath of the Fourth War--with no adverse effec
"If the islanders would tell us their source and let us help developit," Satterfield said peevishly, "instead of doling out a handful ofcrystals every Tenday, there wouldn't be any need of action. Homesidefeels they're just letting us have some of the surplus."
"Not likely," Jeff said. "They don't use the crystals themselves."
Old Dr. Hermann put his chin almost on the Consul's shoulder to presenthis wizened face to the scanner.
"Of course they don't," he said. "On an uncomplicated, evensimple-minded world like this, who would need crystals? But maybe theyfear glutting the market or the domination of outside capital coming into develop the source. When
Traders Risk by Roger D. Aycock / Science Fiction have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes