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Operation: Outer Space
by William Fitzgerald Jenkins
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Cochrane heard the clanking of the airlock door.



CHAPTER NINE

He made for the control-room, where the ports offered the highest and widest and best views of everything outside. When he arrived, Babs and Alicia stood together, staring out and down. Bell frantically worked a camera. Jamison gaped at the outer world. Al the pilot made frustrated gestures, not quite daring to leave his controls while there was even an outside chance the ship's landing-fins might find flaws in their support. Jones adjusted something on the new set of controls he had established for the extra Dabney field. Jones was not wholly normal in some ways. He was absorbed in technical matters even more fully than Cochrane in his own commercial enterprises.

Cochrane pushed to a port to see.

The ship had landed in a small glade. There were trees nearby. The trees had extremely long, lanceolate leaves, roughly the shape of grass-blades stretched out even longer. In the gentle breeze that blew outside, they waved extravagantly. There were hills in the distance, and nearby out-croppings of gray rocks. This sky was blue like the sky of Earth. It was, of course, inevitable that any colorless atmosphere with dust-particles suspended in it would establish a blue sky.

Holden was visible below, moving toward a patch of reed-like vegetation rising some seven or eight feet from the rolling soil. He had hopped quickly over the scorched area immediately outside the ship. It was much smaller than that made by the first landing on the other planet, but even so he had probably damaged his footwear to excess. But he now stood a hundred yards from the ship. He made gestures. He seemed to be talking, as if trying to persuade some living creature to show itself.

"We saw them peeping," said Babs breathlessly, coming beside Cochrane. "Once one of them ran from one patch of reeds to another. It looked like a man. There are at least three of them in there—whatever they are!"

"They can't be men," said Cochrane grimly. "They can't!" Johnny Simms was not in sight. "Where's Simms?"

"He has a gun," said Babs. "He was going to get one, anyhow, so he could protect Doctor Holden."

Cochrane glanced straight down. The airlock door was open, and the end of a weapon peered out. Johnny Simms might be in a better position there to protect Holden by gun-fire, but he was assuredly safer, himself. There was no movement anywhere. Holden did not move closer to the reeds. He still seemed to be speaking soothingly to the unseen creatures.

"Why can't there be men here?" asked Babs. "I don't mean actually men, but—manlike creatures? Why couldn't there be rational creatures like us? I know you said so but—"

Cochrane shook his head. He believed implicitly that there could not be men on this planet. On the glacier planet every animal had been separately devised from the creatures of Earth. There were resemblances, explicable as the result of parallel evolution. By analogy, there could not be exactly identical mankind on another world because evolution there would be parallel but not the same. But if there were even a mental equal to men, no matter how unhuman such a creature might appear, if there were a really rational animal anywhere in the cosmos off of Earth, the result would be catastrophic.

"We humans," Cochrane told her, "live by our conceit. We demand more than animality of ourselves because we believe we are more than animals—and we believe we are the only creatures that are! If we came to believe we were not unique, but were simply a cleverer animal, we'd be finished. Every nation has always started to destroy itself every time such an idea spread."

"But we aren't only clever animals!" protested Babs. "We are unique!"

Cochrane glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.

"Quite true."

Holden still stood patiently before the patch of reeds, still seemed to talk, still with his hands outstretched in what men consider the universal sign of peace.

There was a sudden movement at the back of the reed-patch, quite fifty yards from Holden. A thing which did look like a man fled madly for the nearest edge of woodland. It was the size of a man. It had the pinkish-tan color of naked human flesh. It ran with its head down, and it could not be seen too clearly, but it was startlingly manlike in outline. Up in the control-room Bell fairly yipped with excitement and swung his camera. Holden remained oblivious. He still tried to lure something out of concealment. A second creature raced for the woods.

Tiny gray threads appeared in the air between the airlock and the racing thing. Smoke. Johnny Simms was shooting zestfully at the unidentified animal. He was using that tracer ammunition which poor shots and worse sportsmen adopt to make up for bad marksmanship.

The threads of smoke seemed to form a net about the running things. They dodged and zig-zagged frantically. Both of them reached safety.

A third tried it. And now Johnny Simms turned on automatic fire. Bullets spurted from his weapon, trailing threads of smoke so that the trails looked like a stream from a hose. The stream swept through the space occupied by the fugitive. It leaped convulsively and crashed to earth. It kicked blindly.

Cochrane swore. Between the instant of the beginning of the creature's flight and this instant, less than two seconds had passed.

The threads which were smoke-trails drifted away. Then a new thread streaked out. Johnny Simms fired once more at his still-writhing victim. It kicked violently and was still.

Holden turned angrily. There seemed to be shoutings between him and Johnny Simms. Then Holden trudged around the reed-patch. There was no longer any sign of life in the still shape on the ground. But it was normal precaution not to walk into a jungle-like thicket in which unknown, large living things had recently been sighted. Johnny Simms fired again and again from his post in the airlock. The smoke which traced his bullets ranged to the woodland. He shot at imagined targets there. He fired at his previous victim simply because it was something to shoot at. He shot recklessly, foolishly.

Alicia, his wife, touched Jamison on the arm and spoke to him urgently. Jamison followed her reluctantly down the stairs. She would be going to the airlock. Johnny Simms, shooting at the landscape, might shoot Holden. A thread of bullet-smoke passed within feet of Holden's body. He turned and shouted back at the ship.

The inner airlock door clanked open. There was the sound of a shot, and the dead thing was hit again. The bullet had been fired dangerously close to Holden. There were voices below. Johnny Simms bellowed enragedly.

Alicia cried out.

There was silence below, but Cochrane was already plunging toward the stairs. Babs followed closely.

When they rushed down onto the dining-room deck they found Alicia deathly white, but with a flaming red mark on her cheek. They found Johnny Simms roaring with rage, waving the weapon he'd been shooting. Jamison was uneasily in the act of trying to placate him.

"——!" bellowed Johnny Simms. "I came on this ship to hunt! I'm going to hunt! Try and stop me!"

He waved his weapon.

"I paid my money!" he shouted. "I won't take orders from anybody! Nobody can boss me!"

Cochrane said icily:

"I can! Stop being a fool! Put down that gun! You nearly shot Holden! You might still kill somebody. Put it down!"

He walked grimly toward Johnny Simms. Johnny was near the open airlock door. The outer door was open, too. He could not retreat. He edged sidewise. Cochrane changed the direction of his advance. There are people like Johnny Simms everywhere. As a rule they are not classed as unable to tell right from wrong unless they are rich enough to hire a psychiatrist. Yet a variable but always-present percentage of the human race ignores rules of conduct at all times. They are the handicap, the burden, the main hindrance to the maintenance or the progress of civilization. They are not consciously evil. They simply do not bother to act otherwise than as rational animals. The rest of humanity has to defend itself with police, with laws, and sometimes with revolts, though those like Johnny Simms have no motive beyond the indulgence of immediate inclinations. But for that indulgence Johnny would risk any injury to anybody else.

He edged further aside. Cochrane was white with disgusted fury. Johnny Simms went into panic. He raised his weapon, aiming at Cochrane.

"Keep back!" he cried ferociously. "I don't care if I kill you!"

And he did not. It was the stark senselessness which makes juvenile delinquents and Hitlers, and causes thugs and hoodlums and snide lawyers and tricky business men. It was the pure perversity which makes sane men frustrate. It was an example of that infinite stupidity which is crime, but is also only stupidity.

Cochrane saw Babs pulling competently at one of the chairs at one of the tables nearby. He stopped, and Johnny Simms took courage. Cochrane said icily:

"Just what the hell do you think we're here for, anyhow?"

Johnny Simms' eyes were wide and blank, like the eyes of a small boy in a frenzy of destruction, when he has forgotten what he started out to do and has become obsessed with what damage he is doing.

"I'm not going to be pushed around!" cried Johnny Simms, more ferociously still. "From now on I'm going to tell you what to do—"

Babs swung the chair she had slid from its fastenings. It came down with a satisfying "thunk" on Johnny Simms' head. His gun went off. The bullet missed Cochrane by fractions of an inch. He plunged ahead.

Some indefinite time later, Babs was pulling desperately at him. He had Johnny Simms on the floor and was throttling him. Johnny Simms strangled and tore at his fingers.

Sanity came back to Cochrane with the effect of something snapping. He got up. He nodded to Babs and she picked up the gun Johnny Simms had used.

"I think," said Cochrane, breathing hard, "that you're a good sample of everything I dislike. The worst thing you do is make me act like you! If you touch a gun again on this ship, I'll probably kill you. If you get arrogant again, I will beat the living daylights out of you! Get up!"

Johnny Simms got up. He looked thoroughly scared. Then, amazingly, he beamed at Cochrane. He said amiably:

"I forgot. I'm that way. Alicia'll tell you. I don't blame you for getting mad. I'm sorry. But I'm that way!"

He brushed himself off, beaming at Alicia and Jamison and Babs and Cochrane. Cochrane ground his teeth. He went to the airlock and looked down outside.

Holden was bent over the creature Johnny Simms had killed. He straightened up and came back toward the ship. He went faster when the ground grew hot under his feet. He fairly leaped into the landing-sling and started it up.

"Not human," he reported to Cochrane when he slipped from the sling in the airlock. "There's no question about it when you are close. It's more nearly a bird than anything else. It was warm-blooded. It has a beak. There are penguins on Earth that have been mistaken for men.

"I did a show once," said Cochrane coldly, "that had clips of old films of cockfighting in it. There was a kind of gamecock called Cornish Game that was fairly manshaped. If it had been big enough—Pull in the sling and close the lock. We're moving."

He turned away. Babs stood by Alicia, offering a handkerchief for Alicia to put to her cheek. Jamison listened unhappily as Johnny Simms explained brightly that he had always been that way. When he got excited he didn't realize what he was doing. He said almost with pride that he hadn't ever been any other way than that. He didn't really mean to kill anybody, but when he got excited—.

"What happened?" demanded Holden.

"Our little psychopath," said Cochrane in a grating voice, "put on an act. He threatened me with a rifle. He hit Alicia first. Jamison, trace that bullet-hole. See if it got through to the skin of the ship."

He started for the stairs again. Then he was startled by the frozen immobility of Holden. Holden's face was deadly. His hands were clenched. Johnny Simms said with a fine boyish frankness:

"I'm sorry, Cochrane! No hard feelings?"

"Yes," Cochrane snapped. "Hard feelings! I've got them!"

He took Holden's arm. He steered him up the steps. Holden resisted for the fraction of a second, and Cochrane gripped his arm tighter. He got him up to the deck above.

"If I'd been here," said Holden, unsteadily, "I'd have killed him—if he hit Alicia! Psychopath or no psychopath—"

"Shut up," said Cochrane firmly. "He shot at me! And in my small way I'm a psychopath too, Bill. My psychosis is that I don't like his kind of psychosis. I am psychotically devoted to sense and my possibly quaint idea of decency. I am abnormally concerned with the real world—and you'd better come back to it! Look here! I'm pathologically in revolt against such imbecilities as an overcrowded Earth and people being afraid of their jobs and people going crackpot from despair. You don't want me to get cured of that, do you? Then get hold of yourself!"

Bill Holden swallowed. He was still white. But he managed to grimace.

"You're right. Lucky I was outside. You're not a bad psychologist yourself, Jed."

"I'm better," said Cochrane cynically, "at putting on shows with scrap film-tape and dream-stuff. So I'm going to look at the films Bell took as we landed on this planet, and work out some ideas for broadcasts."

He went up another flight, and Holden went with him in a sort of stilly, unnatural calm. Cochrane ran the film-tape through the reversed camera for examination.

Outside, there waved long green tresses of extraordinarily elongated leaves. The patches of reed-like stuff stirred in the breeze. Jamison appeared in the control-room. He began to question Holden hopefully about the ground-cover outside. It was not grass. It was broad-leaved. There would be, Jamison decided happily, an infinitude of under-leaf forms of life. They would most likely be insects, and there would be carnivorous other insects to prey upon them. Some species would find it advantageous to be burrowing insects. There must be other kinds of birds than the giant specimens that looked like men at a distance, too. On the glacier planet there had been few birds but many furry creatures. Possibly the situation was reversed here, though of course it need not be ...

"Hm," said Cochrane when the films were all run through. "Ice-caps and land and seas. Plenty of green vegetation, so presumably the air is normal for humans. Since you're alive, Holden, we can assume it isn't instantly fatal, can't we? The gravity's tolerable—a little on the light side, maybe, compared to the glacier planet."

He was silent, staring at the blank wall of the control-room. He frowned. Suddenly he said:

"Does anybody back on Earth know that Babs and I were castaways?"

"No," said Holden, still very quiet indeed. "Alicia ran the control-board. She told everybody you were too busy to be called to the communicator. It was queer with you away! Jamison and Bell tied themselves in chairs and spliced tape. Johnny, of course"—his voice was very carefully toneless—"wouldn't do anything useful. I was space-sick a lot of the time. But I did help Alicia figure out what to say on the communicator. There must be hundreds of calls backed up for you to take."

"Good!" said Cochrane. "I'll go take some of them. Jones, could we make a flit to somewhere else on this planet?"

Jones said negligently,

"I told you we've got fuel to reach the Milky Way. Where do you want to go?"

"Anywhere," said Cochrane. "The scenery isn't dramatic enough here for a new broadcast. We've got to have some lurid stuff for our next show. Things are shaping up except for the need of just the right scenery to send back to Earth."

"What kind of scenery do you want?"

"Animals preferred," said Cochrane. "Dinosaurs would do. Or buffalo or a reasonable facsimile. What I'd actually like more than anything else would really be a herd of buffalo."

Jamison gasped.

"Buffalo?"

"Meat," said Cochrane in an explanatory tone. "On the hoof. The public-relations job all this has turned into, demands a careful stimulation of all the basic urges. So I want people to think of steaks and chops and roasts. If I could get herds of animals from one horizon to another—."

"Meat-herds coming up," said Jones negligently. "I'll call you."

Cochrane did not believe him. He went down to the communicator again. He prepared to take the calls from Earth that had been backed up behind the emergency demand for an immediate broadcast-show that he'd met while the ship came to its landing. There was an enormous amount of business piled up. And it was slow work handling it. His voice took six seconds to pass through something over two hundred light-years of space in the Dabney field, and then two seconds in normal space from the relay in Lunar City. It was twelve seconds between the time he finished saying something before the first word of the reply reached him. It was very slow communication. He reflected annoyedly that he'd have to ask Jones to make a special Dabney field communication field as strong as was necessary to take care of the situation.

The rockets growled and roared outside. The ship lifted. Johnny Simms came storming up from below.

"My trophy!" he cried indignantly. "I want my trophy!"

Cochrane looked up impatiently from the screen.

"What trophy?"

"The thing I shot!" cried Johnny Simms fiercely. "I want to have it mounted! Nobody else ever killed anything like that! I want it!"

The ship surged upward more strongly. Cochrane said coldly:

"It's too late now. Get out. I'm busy."

He returned his eyes to the screen. Johnny Simms raced for the stairs. A little later Cochrane heard shoutings in the control-room. But he was too busy to inquire.

The ship drifted—with all the queasy sensation of no-weight—and lifted again, and then there was a fairly long period of weightlessness. At such times Holden would be greenish and sick and tormented by space-sickness. Which might be good for him at this particular time. For a long time, it seemed, there were alternating periods of lift and free fall, which in themselves were disturbing. Once the free fall lasted until Cochrane began to feel uneasy. But then the rockets roared once more and boomed loudly as if the ship were leaving the planet altogether.

But Cochrane was talking business. In part he bluffed. In part, quite automatically, he demanded much more than he expected to get, simply because it is the custom in business not to be frank about anything. Whatever he asked, the other man would offer less. So he asked too much, and the other man offered too little, each knowing in advance very nearly on what terms they would finally settle. Considering the cost of beam-phone time to Lunar City, not to mention the extension to the stars, it was absurd, but it was the way business is done.

Presently Cochrane called Babs and Alicia and had them witness a tentative agreement, which had to be ratified by a board of directors of a corporation back on Earth. That board would jump at it, but the stipulation for possible cancellation had to be made. It was mumbo-jumbo. Cochrane felt satisfyingly competent at handling it.

While the formalities were in progress, the ship surged and fell and swayed and surged again. Cochrane said ruefully:

"I hate to ask you to work under conditions like this, Babs."

Babs grinned. He flushed a little.

"I know! When you were working for me I wasn't considerate."

"Who am I working for now?"

"Us," said Cochrane. Then he looked guiltily at Alicia. He felt embarrassment at having said anything in the least sentimental before her. Considering Johnny Simms, it was not too tactful. Her cheek, where it had been red, now showed a distinct bruise. He said: "Sorry, Alicia—about Johnny."

"I got into it myself," said Alicia. "I loved him. He isn't really bad. If you want to know, I think he simply decided years ago that he wouldn't grow up past the age of six. He was a rich man's spoiled little boy. It was fun. So he made a career of it. His family let him. I"—she smiled faintly, "I'm making a career of taking care of him."

"Something can be done even with a six-year-old," growled Cochrane. "Holden—. But he wouldn't be the best one to try."

"He definitely wouldn't be the best one to try," said Alicia very quietly.

Cochrane turned away. She knew how Bill Holden felt. Which might or might not be comforting to him.

The communicator again. The pictures of foot-high furry bipeds on the glacier planet had made a sensation on television. A toy-manufacturer wanted the right to make toys like them. The pictures were copyrighted. Cochrane matter-of-factly made the deal. There would be miniature extra-terrestrial animals on sale in all toy-shops within days. Spaceways, Inc., would collect a royalty on each toy sold.

The rockets boomed, and lessened their noise, and wavered up and down again. Then there was that deliberate, crunching feel of the great landing-fins pressing into soil with all the ship's weight bearing down. The rockets ran on, drumming ever-so-faintly, for a little longer. Then they cut off.

"We're landed again! Let's see where we are!"

They went up to the control-room. Johnny Simms stood against the wall, sulking. He had managed his life very successfully by acting like a spoiled little boy. Now he had lost any idea of saner conduct. At the moment, he looked ridiculous. But Alicia had a bruised cheek and Cochrane could have been killed, and Holden had been in danger because Johnny Simms wanted to and insisted on acting like a rich man's spoiled little boy.

It occurred to Cochrane that Alicia would probably find recompense for her humiliation and pain in the little-boy penitence—exactly as temporary as any other little-boy emotion—when she and Johnny Simms were alone together.

The ship had come down close to the sunset-line of the planet. Away to the west there was the glint of blue sea. Dusk was already descending here. There were smoothly contoured hills in view, and there was a dark patch of forest on one hilltop, and the trees at the woodland's edge had the same drooping, grass-blade-like foliage of the trees first seen. But there were larger and more solid giants among them. The ship had landed on a small plateau, and downhill from it a spring gushed out with such force that the water-surface was rounded by pressure from below. The water overflowed and went down toward the sea.

"I think we're all right," said Al, the pilot. But he stayed in his seat, in case the ship threatened to sway over. Cochrane inspected the outer world.

"Well?"

"We sighted what I think you want," said Jones. He looked dead-pan and yet secretly complacent. "Just watch."

The dusk grew deeper. Colorings appeared in the west. They were very similar to the sunset-colorings on Earth.

"Not many volcanoes here."

The amount of dust was limited, as on Earth. A great star winked into view in the east. It was as bright as Venus seen from Earth. It had a just-perceptible disk. Close to it, infinitely small, there was a speck of light which seemed somehow like a star. Cochrane squinted at it. He thought of the great gas-giant world he'd seen out a port on the way here. It had an attendant moon-world which itself had icecaps and seas and continents. He called Jamison.

"I think that's the planet," agreed Jamison. "We passed close by it. We saw it."

"It had a moon," observed Cochrane. "A big one. It looked like a world itself. What would it be like there?"

"Cooler than this," said Jamison promptly, "because it's farther from the sun. But it might pick up some heat from reflection from its primary's white clouds. It would be a fair world. It has oceans and continents and strings of foam-girt islands. But its sea is strange and dark and restless. Gigantic tides surge in its depths, drawn by the planetary colossus about which it swings. Its animal life—."

"Cut," said Cochrane dryly. "What do you really think? Could it be another inhabitable world for people to move to?"

Jamison looked annoyed at having been cut off.

"Probably," he said more prosaically. "The tides would be monstrous, though."

"Might be used for power," said Cochrane. "We'll see ..."

Then Jones spoke with elaborate casualness:

"Here's something to look at. On the ground."

Cochrane moved to see. The dusk had deepened still more. The smooth, green-covered ground had become a dark olive. Where bare hillsides gave upon the sky, there were dark masses flowing slowly forward. The edges of the hills turned black, and the blackness moved down their nearer slopes. It was not an even front of darkness. There were patches which preceded the others. They did not stay distinct. They merged with the masses which followed them, and other patches separated in their places. All of the darkness moved without haste, with a sort of inexorable deliberation. It moved toward the ship and the valley and the gushing fountain and the stream which flowed from it.

"What on Earth—" began Cochrane.

"You're not on Earth," said Jones chidingly. "Al and I found 'em. You asked for buffalo or a reasonable facsimile. I won't guarantee anything; but we spotted what looked like herds of beasts moving over the green plains inland. We checked, and they seemed to be moving in this direction. Once we dropped down low and Bell got some pictures. When he enlarged them, we decided they'd do. So we lined up where they were all headed for, and here we are. And here they are!"

Cochrane stared with all his eyes. Behind him, he heard Bell fuming to himself as he tried to adjust a camera for close-up pictures in the little remaining light. Babs stood beside Cochrane, staring incredulously.

The darkness was beasts. They blackened the hillsides on three sides of the ship. They came deliberately, leisurely onward. They were literally uncountable. They were as numerous as the buffalo that formerly thronged the western plains of America. In black, shaggy masses, they came toward the spring and its stream. Nearby, their heads could be distinguished. And all of this was perfectly natural.

The cosmos is one thing. Where life exists, its living creatures will fit themselves cunningly into each niche where life can be maintained. On vast green plains there will be animals to graze—and there will be animals to prey on them. So the grazing things will band together in herds for self-defense and reproduction. And where the ground is covered with broad-leaved plants, such plants will shelter innumerable tiny creatures, and some of them will be burrowers. So rain will drain quickly into those burrowings and not make streams. And therefore the drainage will reappear as springs, and the grazing animals will go to those springs to drink. Often, they will gather more densely at nightfall for greater protection from their enemies. They will even often gather at the springs or their overflowing brooks. This will happen anywhere that plains and animals exist, on any planet to the edge of the galaxy, because there are laws for living things as well as stones.

Great dark masses of the beasts moved unhurriedly past the ship. They were roughly the size of cattle—which itself would be determined by the gravity of the planet, setting a maximum favorable size for grazing beasts with an ample food-supply. There were thousands and tens of thousands of them visible in the deepening night. They crowded to the gushing spring and to the stream that flowed from it. They drank. Sometimes groups of them waited patiently until the way to the water was clear.

"Well?" said Jones.

"I think you filled my order," admitted Cochrane.

The night became starlight only, and Cochrane impatiently demanded of Al or somebody that they measure the length of a complete day and night on this planet. The stars would move overhead at such-and-such a rate. So many degrees in so much time. He needed, said Cochrane—as if this order also could be filled—a day-length not more than six hours shorter or longer than an Earth-day.

Jones and Al conferred and prepared to take some sort of reading without any suitable instrument. Cochrane moved restlessly about. He did not notice Johnny Simms. Johnny had stood sullenly in his place, not moving to look out the windows, ostentatiously ignoring everything and everybody. And nobody paid attention! It was not a matter to offend an adult, but it was very shocking indeed to a rich man's son who had been able to make a career of staying emotionally at a six-year-old level.

Cochrane's thoughts were almost feverish. If the day-length here was suitable, all his planning was successful. If it was too long or too short, he had grimly to look further—and Spaceways, Inc., would still not be as completely a success as he wanted. It would have been much simpler to have measured the apparent size of the local sun by any means available, and then simply to have timed the intervals between its touching of the horizon and its complete setting. But Cochrane hadn't thought of it at sunset.

Presently he wandered down to where Babs and Alicia worked in the kitchen to prepare a meal. He tried to help. The atmosphere was much more like that in a small apartment back home than on a space-ship among the stars. This was not in any way such a journey of exploration as the writers of fiction had imagined. Jamison came down presently and offered to prepare some special dish in which he claimed to excel. There was no mention of Johnny Simms. Alicia, elaborately ignoring all that was past, told Jamison that Babs and Cochrane were now an acknowledged romance and actually had plans for marriage immediately the ship returned to Earth. Jamison made the usual inept jests suited to such an occasion.

Presently they called the others to dinner. Jones and Johnny Simms were long behind the others, and Jones' expression was conspicuously dead-pan. Johnny Simms looked sulkily rebellious. His sulking had not attracted attention in the control-room. He had meant to refuse sulkily to come to dinner. But Jones wouldn't trust him—alone in the control-room. Now he sat down, scowling, and ostentatiously refused to eat, despite Alicia's coaxing. He snarled at her.

This, also, was not in the tradition of the behavior of voyagers of space. They dined in the over-large saloon of a ship that had never been meant really to leave the moon. The ship stood upright under strange stars upon a stranger world, and all about it outside there were the resting forms of thousands upon thousands of creatures like cattle. And the dinner-table conversation was partly family-style jests about Babs' and Cochrane's new romantic status, and partly about a television broadcast which had to be ready for a certain number of Earth-hours yet ahead. And nobody paid any attention to Johnny Simms, glowering at the table and refusing to eat.

It was a mistake, probably.

Much, much later, Cochrane and Babs were again in the control-room, and this time they were alone.

"Look!" said Cochrane vexedly. "Do you realize that I haven't kissed you since we got back on the ship? What happened?"

"You!" said Babs indignantly. "You've been thinking about something else every second of the time!"

Cochrane did not think about anything else for several minutes. He began to recall with new tolerance the insane antics of people he had been producing shows about. They had reason—those imaginary people—to act unreasonably.

But presently his mind was working again.

"We've got to make some plans for ourselves," he said. "We can live back on Earth, of course. We've already made a neat sum out of the broadcasts from this trip. But I don't think we'll want to live the way one has to live on Earth, with too many people there. I'd like—."

Somebody came clattering up the stairs from below.

"Johnny?" It was Bell. "Is he up here?"

Cochrane released Babs.

"No. He's not here. Why?"

"He's missing," said Bell apprehensively. "Alicia says he took a gun. A gun's gone, anyhow. He's vanished!"

Cochrane swore under his breath. A fool asserting his dignity with a gun could be a serious matter indeed. He switched on the control-room lights. He was not there. They went down and hunted over the main saloon. He was not there. Then Holden called harshly from the next deck down.

There was Alicia by the inner airlock door. Her face was deathly pale. She had opened the door. The outer door was open too—and it had not been opened since this last landing by anybody else. The landing-sling cables were run out. They swung slowly in the light that fell upon them from the inside of the ship.

A smell came in the opening. It was the smell of beasts. It was a musky, ammoniacal smell, somehow not alien even though it was unfamiliar. There were noises outside in the night. Grunting sounds. Snortings. There were such sounds as a vast concourse of grazing creatures would make in the night-time, when gathered by thousands and myriads for safety and for rest.

"He—went out," said Alicia desperately. "He meant to punish us. He's a spoiled little boy. We weren't nice to him. And—he was afraid of us too! So he ran away to make us sorry!"

Cochrane went to look out of the lock and to call Johnny Simms back. He gazed into absolute blackness on the ground. He felt a queasy giddiness because there was no hand-railing at the outer lock door and he knew the depth of the fall outside. He raged, within himself. Johnny Simms would feel triumphant when he was called. He would require to be pleaded with to return. He would pompously set terms for returning before he was killed....

Cochrane saw a flash of fire and the short streak of a tracer-bullet's patch before it hit something. He heard the report of the gun. He heard a bellow of agony and then a scream of purest terror from Johnny Simms.

Then, from the ground, arose a truly monstrous tumult. Every one of the creatures below raised its voice in a horrible, bleating cry. The volume of sound was numbing—was agonizing in sheer impact. There were stirrings and clickings as of horns clashing against each other.

Another scream from Johnny Simms. He had moved. It appeared that he was running. Cochrane saw more gun-flashes, there were more shots. He clenched his hands and waited for the thunderous vibration that would be all this multitude of animals pounding through the night in blind stampede.

It did not come. There was only that bleating, horrible outcry as all the beasts bellowed of alarm and created this noise to frighten their assailants away.

Twice more there were shots in the night. Johnny Simms fired crazily and screamed in hysterical panic. Each time the shots and screaming were farther away.

There were no portable lights with which to make a search. It was unthinkable to go blundering among the beasts in darkness.

There was nothing to do. Cochrane could only watch and listen helplessly while the strong beast-smell rose to his nostrils, and the innumerable noises of unseen uneasy creatures sounded in his ears.

Inside the ship Alicia wept hopelessly. Babs tried in vain to comfort her.



CHAPTER TEN

The sun rose. Cochrane noted the time, it was fourteen hours since sunset. The local day would be something more than an Earth-day in length. The manner of sunrise was familiar. There was a pale gray light in the sky. It strengthened. Then reddish colors appeared, and changed to gold, and the unnamed stars winked out one after another. Presently the nearer hillsides ceased to be black. There was light everywhere.

Alicia, white and haggard, waited to see what the light would show.

But there was heavy mist everywhere. The hill-crests were clear, and the edge of the visible woodland, and the top half of the ship's shining hull rose clear of curiously-tinted, slowly writhing fog. But everything else seemed submerged in a sea of milk.

But the mist grew thinner as the sun shone on it. Its top writhed to nothingness. All this was wholly commonplace. Even clouds in the sky were of types well-known enough. Which was, when one thought about it, inevitable. This was a Sol-type sun, of the same kind and color as the star which warmed the planet Earth. It had planets, like the sun of men's home world. There was a law—Bode's Law—which specified that planets must float in orbits bearing such-and-such relationships to each other. There must also be a law that planets in those orbits must bear such-and-such relationships of size to each other. There must be a law that winds must blow under ordinary conditions, and clouds form at appointed heights and times. It would be very remarkable if Earth were an exception to natural laws that other worlds obey.

So the strangeness of the morning to those who watched from the ship was more like the strangeness of an alien land on Earth than that of a wholly alien planet.

The lower dawnmist thinned. Gazing down, Cochrane saw dark masses moving slowly past the ship's three metal landing-fins. They were the beasts of the night, moving deliberately from their bed-ground to the vast plains inland. There were bunches of hundreds, and bunches of scores. There were occasional knots of dozens only.

From overhead and through the mist Cochrane could not see individual animals too clearly, but they were heavy beasts and clumsy ones. They moved sluggishly. Their numbers dwindled. He saw groups of no more than four or five. He saw single animals trudging patiently away.

He saw no more at all.

Then the sunlight touched the inland hills. The last of the morning mist dissolved, and there were the dead bodies of two beasts near the base of the ship. Johnny Simms had killed them with his first panicky shots of the night. There was another dead beast a quarter-mile away.

Cochrane gave orders. Jones and Al could not leave the ship. They were needed to get it back to Earth, with full knowledge of how to make other starships. Cochrane tried to leave Babs behind, but she would not stay. Bell had loaded himself with a camera and film-tape besides a weapon, before Cochrane even began his organization. Holden was needed for an extra gun. Alicia, tearless and despairing, would not be left behind. Cochrane turned wryly to Jamison.

"I don't think Johnny was killed," he said. "He'd gotten a long way off before it happened, anyhow. We've got to hunt for him. With beasts like those of last night, there'll naturally be other creatures to prey on them. We might run into anything. If we don't get back, you get to the lawyers I've had representing Spaceways. They'll get rich off the job, but you'll end up rich, too."

"The best bet all around," said Jamison in a low tone, "would be to find him trampled to death."

"I agree," said Cochrane sourly. "But apparently the beasts don't stampede. Maybe they don't even charge, but just form rings to protect their females and young, like musk-oxen. I'm afraid he's alive, but I'm also afraid we'll never find him."

He marshaled his group. Jones had walkie-talkies ready, deftly removed for the purpose from space-suits nobody had used since leaving Lunar City—and Holden took one to keep in touch by. They went down in the sling, two at a time.

Cochrane regarded the two dead animals near the base of the ship. They were roughly the size of cattle, and they were shaggy like buffalo. They had branching, pointed, deadly horns. They had hoofs, single hoofs, not cloven. They were not like any Earth animal. But horns and hoofs will appear in any system of parallel evolution. It would seem even more certain that proteins and amino acids and such compounds as hemoglobin and fat and muscle-tissue should be identical as a matter of chemical inevitability. These creatures had teeth and they were herbivorous. Bell photographed them painstakingly.

"Somehow," said Cochrane, "I think they'd be wholesome food. If we can, we'll empty a freezing-locker and take a carcass for tests."

Holden fingered his rifle unhappily. Alicia said nothing. Babs stayed close beside her. They went on.

They came to another dead animal a quarter-mile away. The ground was full of the scent and the hoofmarks of the departed herd. Bell photographed again. They did not stop. Johnny Simms had been this way, because of the carcass. He wasn't here now.

They topped the next rise in the ground. They saw two other slaughtered creatures. It was wholly evident, now, that these animals did not charge but only stood their ground when alarmed. Johnny Simms had fired blindly when he blundered into their groupings.

The last carcass they saw was barely two hundred yards from the one patch of woodland visible from the ship. Cochrane said with some grimness.

"If his eyes had gotten used to the darkness, he might have seen the forest and tried to get into it to get away from those animals."

And if Johnny Simms had not stopped short instantly he reached the woods and presumable safety, he would be utterly lost by now. There could be nothing less hopeful than the situation of a man lost on a strange planet, not knowing in what direction he had blundered on his first starting out. Even nearby, three directions out of four would be wrong. Farther away, the chance of stumbling on the way back to the ship would be nonexistent.

Alicia saw a human footprint on the trodden muck near the last carcass. It pointed toward the wood.

They reached the wood, and search looked hopeless. Then by purest chance they found a place where Johnny had stumbled and fallen headlong. He'd leaped up and fled crazily. For some fifteen yards they could track him by the trampled dried small growths he'd knocked down in his flight. Then there were no more such growths. All signs of his flight were lost. But they went on.

There were strangenesses everywhere, of which they could realize only a small part because they had been city-dwellers back on Earth. There was one place where trees grew like banyans, and it was utterly impossible to penetrate them. They swerved aside. There was another spot where giant trees like sequoias made a cathedral-like atmosphere, and it seemed an impiety to speak. But Holden reported tonelessly in the walkie-talkie, and assured Jones and Al and Jamison that all so far was well.

They heard a vast commotion of chattering voices, and they hoped that it might be a disturbance of Johnny Simms' causing. But when they reached the place there was dead silence. Only, there were hundreds of tiny nests everywhere. They could not catch a glimpse of a single one of the nests' inhabitants, but they felt that they were peeked at from under leaves and around branches.

Cochrane looked unhappy indeed. In cold blood, he knew that Johnny Simms had left the ship in exactly the sort of resentful bravado with which a spoiled little boy will run away from home to punish his parents. Quite possibly he had intended only to go out into the night and wait near the ship until he was missed. But he'd found himself among the unknown beasts. He'd gone into blind panic. Now he was lost indeed.

But one could not refuse to search for him simply because it was hopeless. Cochrane could not imagine doing any less than continuing to search as long as Alicia had hope. She might hope on indefinitely.

They heard the faint, distant, incisive sound of a shot.

Holden's voice reported it in the walkie-talkie. Cochrane nodded brightly to Alicia and fired a shot in turn. He was relieved. It looked like everything would end in a commonplace fashion. The party from the ship headed toward the source of the other sound.

In half an hour Cochrane was about to fire again. But they heard the hysterical rat-tat-tat of firing. It seemed no nearer, but it could only be Johnny Simms.

Cochrane and Holden fired together for assurance to Johnny. Bell took pictures.

Again they marched toward where the shots had been fired. Again they trudged on for a long time. Seemingly, Johnny had moved away from them as they followed him. They breasted a hill, and there was a breeze with the smell of water in it, and they saw that here the land sloped very gradually toward the sea, and the sea was in view. It was infinitely blue and it reached toward the most alluring of horizons. Between them and the sea there was only low-growing stuff, brownish and sparse. There was sand underfoot—a curious bluish sand. Only here and there did the dry-seeming vegetation grow higher than their heads.

More shots. Between them and the sea. Cochrane and Holden fired again.

"What the devil's the matter with the fool?" demanded Holden irritably. "He knows we're coming! Why doesn't he stand still or come to meet us?"

Cochrane shrugged. That thought was disturbing him too. They pressed forward, and suddenly Holden exclaimed. "That looks like a man! Two men!"

Cochrane caught the barest glimpse of something running about, far ahead. It looked like naked human flesh. It was the size of a man. It vanished. Another popped into view and darted madly out of sight. They did not see the newcomers.

"He shot something like that, back where we first landed," said Cochrane grimly. "We'd better hurry!"

They did hurry. There was a last flurry of shooting. It was automatic fire. It is not wise to shoot on automatic if one's ammunition is limited, Johnny Simms' firearm chattered furiously for part of a second. It stopped short. He couldn't have fired so short a burst. He was out of bullets.

They ran.

When they drew near him, a hooting set up. Things scattered away. Large things. Birds the size of men. They heard Johnny Simms screaming.

They came panting to the very beach, on which foam-tipped waves broke in absolutely normal grandeur. The sand was commonplace save for a slight bluish tint. Johnny Simms was out on the beach, in the open. He was down. He had flung his gun at something and was weaponless. He lay on the sand, shrieking. There were four ungainly, monstrous birds like oversized Cornish Game gamecocks pecking at him. Two ran crazily away at sight of the humans. Two others remained. Then they fled. One of them halted, darted back, and took a last peck at Johnny Simms before it fled again.

Holden fired, and missed. Cochrane ran toward the kicking, shrieking Johnny Simms. But Alicia got there first.

He was a completely pitiable object. His clothing had been almost completely stripped away in the brief time since his last burst of shots. There were wounds on his bare flesh. After all, the beak of a bird as tall as a man is not a weapon to be despised. Johnny Simms would have been pecked to death but for the party from the ship. He had been spotted and harried by a huntingpack of the ostrich-sized creatures at earliest dawn. A cooler-headed man would have stood still and killed some of them, then the rest would either have run away or devoured their slaughtered fellows. But Johnny Simms was not cool-headed. He had made a career of being a rich man's spoiled little boy. Now he'd had a fright great enough and an escape narrow enough to shatter the nerves of a normal man. To Johnny Simms, the effect was catastrophic.

He could not walk, and the distance was too great to carry him. Holden reported by walkie-talkie, and Jones proposed to butcher one of the animals Johnny had killed and put it in a freezer emptied for the purpose, and then lift the ship and land by the sea. It seemed a reasonable proposal. Johnny was surely not seriously wounded.

But that meant time to wait. Alicia sat by her husband, soothing him. Holden moved along the beach, examining the shells that had come ashore. He picked up one shell more glorious in its coloring than any of the pearl-making creatures of Earth. This shell grew neither in the flat spiral nor the cone-shaped form of Earth mollusks. It grew in a doubly-curved spiral, so that the result was an extraordinary, lustrous, complex sphere. Bell fairly danced with excitement as he photographed it with lavish pains to get all the colors just right.

Cochrane and Babs moved along the beach also. It was not possible to be apprehensive. Cochrane talked largely. Presently he was saying with infinite satisfaction:

"The chemical compounds here are bound to be the same! It's a new world, bigger than the glacier planet. Those beasts last night—if they're good food-stuff—will make this a place like the old west, and everybody envies the pioneers! This is a new Earth! Everything's so nearly the same—."

"I never," observed Babs, "heard of blue sand on Earth."

He frowned at her. He stooped and picked up a handful of the beach stuff. It was not blue. The tiny, sea-broken pebbles were ordinary quartz and granite rock. They would have to be. Yet there was a blueness—The blue grains were very much smaller than the white and tan and gray ones. Cochrane looked closely. Then he blew. All the sand blew out of his hand except—at last—one tiny grain. It was white. It glittered greasily. Cochrane moved four paces and wetted his hand in the sea. He tried to wet the sand-grain. It would not wet.

He began to laugh.

"I did a show once," he told Babs, "about the old diamond-mines. Ever hear of them? They used to find diamonds in blue clay which was as hard as rock. Here, blue clay goes out from the land to under the waves. This is a tiny diamond, washed out by the sea! This is the last thing we need!" Then he looked at his watch. "We're due on the air in two hours and a half! Now we've got what we want! Let's go have Holden tell Jones to hurry!"

But Babs complained suddenly,

"Jed! What sort of life am I going to lead with you? Here we are, and—nobody can see us—and you don't even notice!"

Cochrane was penitent. In fact, they had to hurry back down the beach to join the others when the space-ship appeared as a silvery gleam, high in the air, and then came swooping down with fierce flames underneath it to settle a quarter-mile inland.

Bell had a picture of the tiny diamond by the time the ground was cool enough for them to re-enter the ship. The way he photographed it, against a background which had nothing by which its size could be estimated, the little white stone looked like a Kohinoor. It was two transparent pyramids set base to base, and he even got color-flashes from it. And Jamison, forewarned, took pictures from the air of the blue-sand areas. They showed the tint the one tiny diamond explained.

The broadcast was highly successful. It began with a four-minute commercial in which the evils of faulty elimination were discussed with infinite delicacy, and it was clearly proved—to an audience waiting to look beyond the stars—that only Greshham's Intestinal Emollient allowed the body to make full use of vitamins, proteins, and the very newest enzymatic foundation-substances which everybody needed for really perfect health. There followed the approach shots to this planet, shots of the great beast-herds on the plains, views of luxuriant, waving foliage, the tide of shaggy animals as they came at dusk to their drinking-place, and there was an all-too-brief picturing of the blue-tinted soil which the last film-clip of all declared to be diamondiferous.

Cochrane's direction of this show was almost inspired. The views of the animal herd were calculated to make any member of his audience think in simultaneous terms of glamour and adventure—with perfect personal safety, of course!—and of steaks, chops and roasts. The more gifted viewers back on Earth might even envision filets mignon. The infinitesimal diamond with its prismatic glitterings, of course, roused cupidity of another sort.

There were four commercials cut into these alluring views, the last was superimposed upon a view Bell had taken of the sunset-colors. And it might have seemed that the television audience would confuse the charm of the new world as pictured with the product insistently praised. But the public was pretty well toughened up against commercials nowadays. It was not deceived. As usual, it only deceived itself.

But there was no deception about the fact that there was a new and unoccupied planet fit for human habitation. That was true. And the fretting overcrowded cities immediately became places where everybody made happy plans for his neighbor to move there. But the more irritable people would begin to think vaguely that it might be worth going to, for themselves.

The ship took off two hours after the broadcast. Part of that time was taken up with astrogational conferences with astronomers on Earth. Cochrane had this conference taped for the auxiliary broadcast-program in which the audience shared the problems as well as the triumphs of the star-voyagers. Cochrane wanted to get back to Earth. So far as television was concerned, it would be unwise. The ship and its crew would travel indefinitely without a lack of sponsors. But for once, Cochrane agreed entirely with Holden.

"We're heading back," he told Babs, "because if we keep on, people will accept our shows as just another superior kind of escape-entertainment. They'll have the dream quality of 'You Win a Million' and the lottery-shows. They'll be things to dream about but never to think of doing anything about. We're going to make the series disappointingly short, in order to make it more convincingly factual. We won't spin it out for its entertainment-value until it practically loses everything else."

"No," said Babs. She put her hand in his. She'd found it necessary to remind him, now and then.

So the ship started home. And it would not return direct to Earth—or Lunar City—for a very definite reason. Cochrane meant to have all his business affairs neatly wrapped up before landing. They could get another show or two across, and some highly involved contracts could be haggled to completion more smoothly if one of the parties—Spaceways, Inc.—was not available except when it felt like being available. The other parties would be more anxious.

So the astrogation-conference did not deal with a direct return to Earth, but with a small sol-type star not too far out of the direct line. The Pole Star could have been visited, but it was a double star. Cochrane had no abstract scientific curiosity. His approach was strictly that of a man of business. He did the business.

There was, of course, a suitable pause not too far from the second planet—the planet of the shaggy beasts. They put out a plastic balloon with a Dabney field generator inside it. It would float in emptiness indefinitely. The field would hold for not less than twenty years. It would serve as a beacon, a highway, a railroad track through space for other ships planning to visit the third world now available to men. Ultimately, better arrangements could be made.

Jones was already ecstatically designing ground-level Dabney field installations. There would be Dabney fields extending from star to star. Along them, as along pneumatic tubes, ships would travel at unthinkable speeds toward absolutely certain destinations. True, at times they could not be used because of the bulk of planets between starting-points and landing-stations. But with due attention to scheduling, it would be a simple matter indeed to arrange for something close to commuters' service between star-clusters. He explained all this to Cochrane, with Holden listening in.

"Oh, surely!" said Cochrane cynically. "And you'll have tax-payers objecting because you make money. You'll be regulated out of existence. Were you thinking that Spaceways would run this transportation system you're planning, without cutting anybody else in on even the glory of it?"

Jones looked at him, dead-pan. But he was annoyed.

"I want some money," he said. "I thought we could get this thing set up, and then I could get myself a ship and facilities for doing some really original work. I'd like to work something out and not have to sell the publicity-rights to it!"

"I'll arrange it," promised Cochrane. "I've got our lawyers setting up a deal right now. You're going to get as many tricky patents as you can on this field, and assign them all to Spaceways. And Spaceways is going to assign them all to a magnificent Space Development Association, a sort of Chamber of Commerce for all the outer planets, and all the stuffed shirts in creation are going to leap madly to get honorary posts on it. And it will be practically beyond criticism, and it will have the public interest passionately at its heart, and it will be practically beyond interference and it will be as inefficient as hell! And the more inefficient it is, the more it will have to take in to allow for its inefficiency—and for your patents it has to give us a flat cut of its gross! And meanwhile we'll get ours from the planets we've landed on and publicized. We've got customers. We've built up a market for our planets!"

"Eh?" said Jones in frank astonishment.

"We," said Cochrane, "rate as first inhabitants and therefore proprietors and governments of the first two planets ever landed on beyond Earth. When the Moon-colony was formed, there were elaborate laws made to take care of surviving nation prides and so on. Whoever first stays on a planet a full rotation is its proprietor and government—until other inhabitants arrive. Then the government is all of them, but the proprietorship remains with the first. We own two planets. Nice planets. Glamorized planets, too! So I've already made deals for the hotel-concessions on the glacier world."

Holden had listened with increasing uneasiness. Now he said doggedly:

"That's not right, Jed! I don't mind making money, but there are things that are more important! Millions of people back home—hundreds of millions of poor devils—spend their lives scared to death of losing their jobs, not daring to hope for more than bare subsistence! I want to do something for them! People need hope, Jed, simply to be healthy! Maybe I'm a fool, but the human race needs hope more than I need money!"

Cochrane looked patient.

"What would you suggest?"

"I think," said Holden heavily, "that we ought to give what we've got to the world. Let the governments of the world take over and assist emigration. There's not one but will be glad to do it ..."

"Unfortunately," said Cochrane, "you are perfectly right. They would! There have been resettlement projects and such stuff for generations. I'm very much afraid that just what you propose will be done to some degree somewhere or other on other planets as they're turned up. But on the glacier planet there will be hotels. The rich will want to go there to stay, to sight-see, to ride, to hunt, to ski, and to fly in helicopters over volcanoes. The hotels will need to be staffed. There will be guides and foresters and hunters. It will cost too much to bring food from Earth, so farms will be started. It will be cheaper to buy food from independent farmers than to raise it with hired help. So the farmers will be independent. There will have to be stores to supply them with what they need, and tourists with what they don't need but want. From the minute the glacier planet starts up as a tourist resort, there will be jobs for hundreds of people. It won't be long before there are jobs for thousands. There'll be a man-shortage there. Anybody who wants to can go there to work, and if he doesn't go there expecting a certified, psychologically conditioned environment, but just a good job with possible or probable advancement ... That's the environment we humans want! Presently the hotels won't even be tourist hotels. They'll just be the normal hotels that exist everywhere that there are cities and people moving about among them! Then it won't be a tourist-planet, and tourists will be a nuisance. It'll be home for one hell of a lot of people! And they'll have made every bit of it themselves!"

Holden said uncomfortably:

"It'll be slow ..."

"It'll be sure!" snapped Cochrane. "The first settlements in America were failures until the people started to work for themselves! Look at this planet we're leaving! How many people will come to work that silly diamond mine! How many will hunt to supply them with meat? How many will farm to supply the hunters and the miners with other food? And how many others will be along to run stores and manufacture things ..." He made an impatient gesture. "You're thinking of encouraging people to move to the stars to make more room on Earth. You'd get nice passive colonists who'd obediently move because the long-hairs said it was wise and the government paid for it. I'm thinking of colonists who'll fight and quite possibly cheat and lie a little to get jobs where they can take care of their families the way they want to! I want people to move to get what they want in spite of any discouragement anybody throws at them. Now shoo! I'm busy!"

Jones asked mildly:

"At what?"

"The latest proposed deal," said Cochrane impatiently, "is for rights to bore for oil. The uranium concessions are farmed out. Water-power is pending—not for cash, but a cut—and—."

Holden said uneasily:

"There's one other thing, Jed. All your plans and all your scheming could still be blocked if back on Earth they think we might bring plagues back to Earth. Remember Dabney suggested that? And some biologist or other agreed with him?"

Cochrane grinned.

"There's a diamond-mine. There are herds of what people will call cattle. There's food and riches. There's scenery and adventure. There's room to do things! Nobody could keep political office if he tried to keep his constituents from food and cash and adventure—even by proxy when they send expendable Cousin Albert out to see if he can make a living there. We've got to take reasonable precautions against germs, of course. We'll have trouble enforcing them. But we'll manage!"

Al called down from the control-room. The ship was sufficiently aligned, he thought, for their next stopping-place. He wanted Jones to charge the booster-circuit and flash it over. Jones went.

A little later there was the peculiar sensation of a sound that was not a sound, but was felt all through one. The result was not satisfactory. The ship was still in empty space, and the nearest star was still a star. There was a repetition of the booster-jump. Still not too good. Thereafter the ship drove, and jumped, and jumped, and drove.

Jamison came down to where Cochrane conducted business via communicator. He waited. Cochrane said:

"Dammit, I won't agree! I want twelve per cent or I take up another offer!—What?"

The last was to Jamison. Jamison said uneasily:

"We found another planet. About Earth-size. Ice-caps. Clouds. Oceans. Seas. Even rivers! But there's no green on it! It's all bare rocks!"

Cochrane thought concentratedly. Then he said impatiently:

"The whiskered people back home said that life couldn't have gotten started on all the planets suited for it. They said there must be planets where life hasn't reached, though they're perfectly suited for it. Make a landing and try the air with algae like we did on the first planet."

He turned back to the communicator.

"You reason," he snapped to a man on far-away Earth, "that all this is only on paper. But that's the only reason you're getting a chance at it! I'll guarantee that Jones will install drives on ships that meet our requirements of space-worthiness—or government standards, whichever are strictest—for ten per cent of your company stock plus twelve per cent cash of the cost of each ship. Nothing less!"

He heard the rockets make the louder sound that was the symptom of descent against gravity.

The world was lifeless. The ship had landed on bare stone, when Cochrane looked out the control-room ports. There had been trouble finding a flat space on which the three landing-fins would find a suitable foundation. It had taken half an hour of maneuvering to locate such a place and to settle solidly on it. Then the look of things was appalling.

The landing-spot was a naked mass of what seemed to be basalt polygons, similar to the Giants' Causeway of Ireland back on Earth. There was no softness anywhere. The stone which on other planets underlay soil, here showed harshly. There was no soil. There was no microscopic life to nibble at rocks and make soil in which less minute life could live. The nudity of the stones led to glaring colors everywhere. The colors were brilliant as nowhere else but on Earth's moon. There was no vegetation at all.

That was somehow shocking. The ship's company stared and stared, but there could be no comment. There was a vast, dark sea to the left of the landing-place. Inland there were mountains and valleys. But the mountains were not sloped. There were heaps of detritus at the bases of their cliffs, but it was simply detritus. No tiniest patch of lichen grew anywhere. No blade of grass. No moss. No leaf. Nothing.

The air was empty. Nothing flew. There were clouds, to be sure. The sky was even blue, though a darker blue than Earth's, because there was no vegetation to break stone down to dust, or to form dust by its own decay.

The sea was violently active. Great waves flung themselves toward the harsh coastline and beat upon it with insensate violence. They shattered into masses of foam. But the foam broke—too quickly—and left the surging water dark again. Far down the line of foam there were dark clouds, and rain fell in masses, and lightning flashed. But it was a scene of desolation which was somehow more horrible even than the scarred and battered moon of Earth.

Cochrane looked out very carefully. Alicia came to him, a trifle hesitant.

"Johnny's asleep now. He didn't sleep at first, and while we were out of gravity he was unhappy. But he went off to sleep the instant we landed. He needs rest. Could we—just stay landed here until he catches up on sleep?"

Cochrane nodded. Alicia smiled at him and went away. There was still the mark of a bruise on her cheek. She went down to where her husband needed her. Holden said dourly:

"This world's useless. So is her husband."

"Wait till we check the air," said Cochrane absently.

"I've checked it," Holden told him indifferently. "I went in the port and sniffed at the cracked outer door. I didn't die, so I opened the door. There is a smell of stone. That's all. The air's perfectly breathable. The ocean's probably absorbed all soluble gases, and poisonous gases are soluble. If they weren't, they couldn't be poisonous."

"Mmmmmm," said Cochrane thoughtfully.

Jamison came over to him.

"We're not going to stay here, are we?" he asked. "I don't like to look at it. The moon's bad enough, but at least nothing could live there! Anything could live here. But it doesn't! I don't like it!"

"We'll stay here at least while Johnny has a nap. I do want Bell to take all the pictures he can, though. Probably not for broadcast, but for business reasons. I'll need pictures to back up a deal."

Jamison went away. Holden said without interest:

"You'll make no deals with this planet! This is one you can do what you like with! I don't want any part of it!"

Cochrane shrugged.

"Speaking of things you don't want any part of—what about Johnny Simms? Speaking as a psychiatrist, what effect will that business of being in the dark all night and nearly being pecked to death—what will it do to him? Are psychopaths the way they are because they can't face reality, or because they've never had to?"

Holden stared away down the incredible, lifeless coastline at the distant storm. There was darkness under many layers of cloud. The sea foamed and lashed and instantly was free of foam again. Because there were no plankton, no animalcules, no tiny, gluey, organic beings in it to give the water the property of making foam which endured. There was thunder, yonder in the storm, and no ear heard it. Over a vast world there was sunshine which no eyes saw. There was night in which nothing rested, and somewhere dawn was breaking now, and nothing sang.

"Look at that, Jed," said Holden heavily. "There's a reality none of us wants to face! We're all more or less fugitives from what we are afraid is reality. That is real, and it makes me feel small and futile. So I don't like to look at it. Johnny Simms didn't want to face what one does grow up to face. It made him feel futile. So he picked a pleasanter role than realist."

Cochrane nodded.

"But his unrealism of last night put him into a very realistic mess that he couldn't dodge! Will it change him?"

"Probably," said Holden without any expression at all in his voice. "They used to put lunatics in snake-pits. When they were people who'd taken to lunacy for escape from reality, it made them go back to reality to escape from the snakes. Shock-treatments used to be used, later, for the same effect. We're too soft to use either treatment now. But Johnny gave himself the works. The odds are that from now on he will never want to be alone even for an instant, and he will never again quite dare to be angry with anybody or make anybody angry. You choked him and he ran away, and it was bad! So from now on I'd guess that Johnny will be a very well-behaved little boy in a grown man's body." He said very wryly indeed, "Alicia will be very happy, taking care of him."

A moment later he added:

"I look at that set-up the way I look at the landscape yonder."

Cochrane said nothing. Holden liked Alicia. Too much. It would not make any difference at all. After a moment, though, he changed the subject.

"I think this is a pretty good bet, this planet. You think it's no good. I'm going to talk to the chlorella companies. They grow edible yeast in tanks, and chlorella in vats, and they produce an important amount of food. But they have to grow the stuff indoors and they have a ghastly job keeping everything sterile. Here's a place where they can sow chlorella in the oceans! They can grow yeast in lakes, out-of-doors! Suppose they use this world to grow monstrous quantities of unattractive but useful foodstuff—in a way—wild? It will be good return-cargo material for ships taking colonists out to our other planets.—I suppose," he added meditatively, "they'll ship it back in bulk, dried."

Holden blinked. He was jolted out of even his depression.

"Jed!" he said warmly. "Tell that to the world—prove that—and—people will stop being afraid! They won't be afraid of starving before they can get to the stars! Jed—Jed! This is the thing the world needs most of all!"

But Cochrane grimaced.

"Maybe," he admitted it. "But I've tasted the stuff. I think it's foul! Still, if people want it ..."

He went back down to the communicator to contact the chlorella companies of Earth, to find out if there was any special data they would need to pass on the proposal.

* * * * *

And so presently the ship took off for home. It landed on the moon first, and Johnny Simms was loaded into a space-suit and transferred to Lunar City, where he could live without being extradited back to Earth. He wouldn't stay there. Alicia guaranteed that. They'd move to the glacier planet as soon as hotels were built. Maybe some day they'd travel to the planet of the shaggy beasts. Johnny would never be troublesome again. He was pathetically anxious, now, to have people like him, and stay with him, and not under any circumstances be angry with him or shut him away from them. Alicia would now have a full-time occupation keeping people from taking advantage of him.

But the ship went back to Earth. And on Earth Jamison became the leading television personality of all time, describing and extrapolating the delicious dangers and the splendid industrial opportunities of star-travel. Bell was his companion and co-star. Presently Jamison conceded privately to Cochrane that he and Bell would need shortly to take off on another journey of exploration with some other expedition. Neither of them thought to retire, though they were well-off enough. They were stock-holders in the Spaceways company, which guaranteed them a living.

Cochrane put Spaceways, Inc., into full operation. He fought savagely against personal publicity, but he worked himself half to death. He spent hours every day in frenzied haggling, and in the cynical examination of deftly booby-trapped business proposals. His lawyers insisted that he needed an office—he did—and presently he had four secretaries and there developed an entire hierarchy of persons under him. One day his chief secretary told him commiseratingly that somebody had waited two hours past appointment-time to see him.

It was Hopkins, who had not been willing to interrupt his dinner to listen to a protest from Cochrane. Hopkins was still exactly as important as ever. It was only that Cochrane was more so.

It woke Cochrane up. He stormed, to Babs, and ruthlessly cancelled appointments and abandoned or transferred enterprises, and made preparations for a more satisfactory way of life.

They went, in time, to the Spaceways terminal, to take ship for the stars. The terminal was improvised, but it was busy. Already eighteen ships a day went away from there in Dabney fields. Eighteen others arrived. Jones was already off somewhere in a ship built according to his own notions. Officially he was doing research for Spaceways, Inc., but actually nobody told him what to do. He puttered happily with improbable contrivances and sometimes got even more improbable results. Holden was already off of Earth. He was on the planet of the shaggy beasts, acting as consultant on the cases of persons who arrived there and became emotionally disturbed because they could do as they pleased, instead of being forced by economic necessity to do otherwise.

But this day Babs and Cochrane went together into the grand concourse of the Spaceways terminal. There were people everywhere. The hiring-booths of enterprises on the three planets now under development took applications for jobs on those remote worlds, and explained how long one had to contract to work in order to have one's fare paid. Chambers of Commerce representatives were prepared to give technical information to prospective entrepreneurs. There were reservation-desks, and freight-routing desks, and tourist-agency desks ...

"Hmmm," said Cochrane suddenly. "D'you know, I haven't heard of Dabney in months! What happened to him?"

"Dabney?" said Babs. She beamed. Women in the terminal saw the clothes she was wearing. They did not recognize her—Cochrane had kept her off the air—but they envied her. She felt very nice indeed. "Dabney?—Oh, I had to use my own judgment there, Jed. You were so busy! After all, he was scientific consultant to Spaceways. He did pay Jones cold cash for fame-rights. When everything else got so much more important than just the scientific theory, he got in a terrible state. His family consulted Doctor Holden, and we arranged it. He's right down this way!"

She pointed. And there was a splendid plate-glass office built out from the wall of the grand concourse. It was elevated, so that it was charmingly conspicuous. There was a chastely designed but highly visible sign under the stairway leading to it. The sign said; "H. G. Dabney, Scientific Consultant."

Dabney sat at an imposing desk in plain view of all the thousands who had shipped out and the millions who would ship out in time to come. He thought, visibly. Presently he stood up and paced meditatively up and down the office which was as eye-catching as a gold-fish bowl of equal size in the same place. He seemed to see someone down in the concourse. He could have recognized Cochrane, of course. But he did not.

He bowed. He was a great man. Undoubtedly he returned to his wife each evening happily convinced that he had done the world a great favor by permitting it to glimpse him.

Cochrane and Babs went on. Their baggage was taken care of. The departure of a ship for the stars, these days, was much less complicated and vastly more comfortable than it used to be when a mere moon-rocket took off.

When they were in the ship, Babs heaved a sigh of absolute relief.

"Now," she said zestfully, "now you're retired, Jed! You don't have to worry about anything! And so now I'm going to try to make you worry about me—not worry about me, but think about me!"

"Of course," said Cochrane. He regarded her with honest affection. "We'll take a good long vacation. First on the glacier planet. Then we'll build a house somewhere in the hills back of Diamondville ..."

"Jed!" said Babs accusingly.

"There's a fair population there already," said Cochrane, apologetically. "It won't be long before a local television station will be logical. I was just thinking, Babs, that after we get bored with loafing, I could start a program there. Really sound stuff. Not commercial. And of course with the Dabney field it could be piped back to Earth if any sponsor wanted it. I think they would ..."

Presently the ship with Babs and Cochrane among its passengers took off to the stars. It was a perfectly routine flight. After all, star-travel was almost six months old. It wasn't a novelty any longer.

Operation Outer Space was old stuff.

THE END.



* * * * *



Transcriber's notes

The following typos have been corrected. Hyphenation adjusted to reflect the most common usage in the text.

Page Typo Correction 7 expendible expendable 8 calmy calmly 8 Takeoff's Take-off's 9 Takeoff Take-off 10 night-club nightclub 13 business-like businesslike 21 takeoff take-off 25 moonjeep moon-jeep 25 The pyschiatrist The psychiatrist 27 buisinesslike businesslike 33 Appenines Apennines 36 Arcturis Arcturus 37 Why? Why?" 39 tryin trying 40 stockholders stock-holders 41 possiblities possibilities 56 Columbus', Columbus' 57 Three of four Three or four 77 moonrocket moon-rocket 86 epidomologist epidemiologist 89 "Why? "Why?" 91 wrily wryly 93 chlorophyl chlorophyll 95 panic-striken panic-stricken 101 roup croup 109 Cochrone Cochrane 110 behind behind besides 115 wrily wryly 117 'We'd have "We'd have 118 back-ground background 120 sun-light sunlight 120 'We're in a "We're in a 125 virtures virtues 125 normal normal, 129 maintainance maintenance 135 extraterrestrial extra-terrestrial 136 collossus colossus 137 facsimilie facsimile 142 eveywhere everywhere 143 star-ships starships

The following differently hyphenated words have been left as they were, since there was no clearly predominant usage.

air-lock airlock food-stuff foodstuffs ice-caps icecaps moon-dust moondust re-broadcast rebroadcast roof-tops rooftops side-rail siderail space-ship spaceship tree-tops treetops ultra-violet ultraviolet

There are one or more lines of text missing on page 57, marked by [Missing Text]. This was a printer's error.

THE END

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