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The frightened planet, p.1
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       The Frightened Planet, p.1

           Sidney Austen
 
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The Frightened Planet


  Produced by Greg Weeks, David J. Cole and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  With a tremendous heave, Karn hurled the giant idol tothe floor]

  The Frightened Planet

  By Sidney Austen

  Karn was only a savage, but he knew a thing or two about the way justice should be meted out--and he did it

  Against the blackness of the early morning sky the huge ball traced anarc of flame. Had Karn been watching the sky he would have seen the ballslow in its descent and then come to a landing some distance ahead ofhim. But he was too busy for that.

  On the back of his neck the short hairs told him that pursuit was stillclose behind. He put on a fresh burst of speed, his bare feet making nosound on the trail he followed. Soon the early breeze would shift andthey would lose his scent.

  Until then he was in danger from the males of Tur's tribe. Tur thecoward, Karn thought. Tur the bully. Tur the leader of the tribe. Turhad never liked Karn. He had liked him even less as he grew intomagnificent Cro-Magnon manhood. Karn represented the challenge that mustcome to every leader sooner or later.

  Then the wind shifted and Karn slowed. They'd give him up now. He wascertain of that. But what to do next? He was all alone, an outcast fromhis tribe. For a full-grown man to find another tribe was impossible.

  Still, he wasn't sorry about the fight. It had been a good one. Tur wasstill in his prime. He'd used his teeth and his feet and every trick heknew. He wasn't quite as strong as Karn, nor as fast, but he'd had theadvantage of experience.

  Only one thing Tur lacked, in common with the other members of thetribe, and it was that which had lost him the fight. He had almost noinventiveness. For Karn's questing mind Tur hated him. He could notunderstand a man who found interest in new situations. And what Turcould not understand he hated.

  So they had fought. For a while Tur held the upper hand. He had metevery rush of Karn's and repulsed it. But Karn had noticed that everyattack from Tur's left was met by a singular twist of the chief's body.

  Once Tur twisted. Twice; a third time; and a fourth time he swungaround. The fifth time Karn was not there. He'd stopped himself inmid-stride, reversed himself and caught Tur off balance. Then steelfingers had fastened on Tur's throat in unshakable tenacity.

  That was when the other males had charged to his rescue. Tur, theyhated. But Karn they hated more. Karn made up his mind quickly. Glatalone he could have torn limb from limb. Waan alone would have fared nobetter. But they and the others together represented for him a quick andcertain death.

  * * * * *

  Then it had been run, run, run. Run with all of them after him. Run intothe forest in the night. Only the giant wolf and the saber-tooth there.But they were not half so deadly as his own blood relatives.

  Now the chase was over. Karn paused, his chest heaving. In a few minuteshis breathing was back to normal. It didn't take this man long torecover. Karn grinned into the darkness. It would take Tur longer. He'dwear those welts on his throat for a while.

  Karn shrugged and sniffed the night air. Better move ahead. No smell ofthe big cats. But there was a nest of wolves off to his right. Theyslept now, but soon they'd be awake. Up ahead there was a strange scent,one he didn't recognize.

  Should he go on or turn aside? Ahead there was a glade where a springbubbled. Small animals came to drink there in the morning. That meantfood and water to a man who needed both. Karn moved ahead, but warily.

  The rising sun found him only a short distance from his objective. Nowthere were mingled sounds as the forest came awake. Early-openingflowers filled the air with fresh sweetness. It was good to be alive.

  Then, through a thin screen of trees, Karn saw the great ball. It almostfilled the glade, reached nearly to the height of the trees. Gleaminggray-green it was, like the eyes of the wolf. The association made Karnpause. He drifted off to one side, picked a likely tree and hauledhimself up into its lower branches.

  Patience Karn had. He sat immobile, watchful. From inside this strangeorb came sounds that were not too faint for Karn's keen hearing. Anhour passed; two hours. Nothing happened. Still he crouched, waiting.

  His patience was rewarded. An opening appeared in the ball. There was apuff of air being released from pressure. A figure stepped through theopening and onto the earth. Another figure followed. What were they?

  They were men! Clad in strange garments that covered them tightly, theywalked upright on two legs. But what puny men!

  Half Karn's size they were, and hairless. Through their skin-tightgarments the bones of their narrow chests were visible. Their delicatefingers hovered at their waists over small sticks. The scent of fear wason them.

  Karn's nose wrinkled in disgust. No danger here. Then a third figurestepped out into the light and Karn's flagging interest reawakened. Thisscent he recognized. This was a woman!

  * * * * *

  She was taller than the men and her garment clung tight to a roundedfigure that brought a gleam to Karn's eyes. This one had hair, thickerthan Karn's own. Her features were more delicate than those of the womenhe had known, but somehow more pleasing.

  He realized that the three were speaking. Their mouths did not move,there was no sound. Yet they spoke. Karn could hear the voices insidehis head. Somehow he understood.

  "What a place to land," the woman said.

  "Couldn't be helped," one of the men replied. "At least it has air. Oncethe tanks are full we'll be on our way again. In a minute or two I'lltest that liquid to see if we can drink it."

  "Must you test everything? It looks all right. And why must we stand soclose to the ship?"

  "Because we don't know what sort of place we've landed in," the secondman said.

  "There's only one way to find out," she told him. "By moving around."

  Her tone was openly contemptuous. Karn found himself agreeing with her.These men were spineless. They must be so to let a woman talk to themlike this. Listen to the way they bickered. Like three women over apiece of meat that had fallen from the cave fire.

  Karn's nose twitched. What was wrong with these people? While theyargued senselessly among themselves their lives hung in the balance.Couldn't they smell the gray wolf that was creeping toward them?

  The three stood almost below Karn and jabbered back and forth. And nottwenty feet away gray-green eyes watched them intently. Karn saw thewolf's haunches lower. In a moment three hundred and fifty pounds ofcarnivore would launch itself upon them.

  Claws would rip their flesh, flashing fangs rend and tear them. Karn wasquite objective as he thought about it. They didn't have a chance.

  A roar split the air. Karn had known it was coming. But the three belowwere taken completely by surprise. Fear rooted them and froze them intoimmobility. Crouching, Karn watched death come hurtling toward them.

  But after all, they _were_ his own kind.

  * * * * *

  Karn met the wolf in mid-leap. No tiger could have made the leap moresurely than he. His plummeting weight landed squarely athwart thebeast's back, breaking short the trajectory of its bound.

  Together they crashed to earth. Karn's legs encircled the wolf's middlewith the strength of a python. Steel fingers found its throat.

  Claws raked at Karn's thighs, slavering fangs sought his hands. Heretaliated in kind. His own teeth were at the wolf's jugular. The animalrolled, taking Karn along with him, but the man would not loose hisgrip.

  Bestial growls rumbled from two chests. Dust-covered and splattered withgore, they fought across the glade. Karn's legs tightened inexorably andthe wolf's growl became an anguished squeal.

/>   It could not shake the thing that clung to its back. Slowly, surely itsribs were forced inward until they cracked. Then jagged ends dug at itslungs, its heart. There was a gush of blood from its nostrils. It laystill.

  Karn spat out the salt sweat that ran into his mouth and wiped it fromhis eyes. Slowly he rose and shook the tension from his leg muscles.Blood dripped from a shallow gash in his thigh but that concerned himlittle. He had suffered worse in the past.

  For the duration of the fight he had forgotten completely the two menand the woman. Now, turning, he saw them watching him. Fear clouded theeyes of the men, but in the woman's gaze he read awed admiration.

  Karn gestured, a motion meant to show peaceful intentions. His move wasmisinterpreted, and as he came toward the three the men reached for thelittle sticks that hung at their waists. Frantically they waved them athim.

  Were they trying to frighten him with those things? Anger flushed Karn'sface
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