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´╗┐Title: Cry from a Far Planet
Author: Godwin, Tom, 1915-1980
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cry from a Far Planet" ***

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       *       *       *       *       *

_The problem of separating the friends from the enemies was a major one
in the conquest of space as many a dead spacer could have testified. A
tough job when you could see an alien and judge appearances; far tougher
when they were only whispers on the wind._

       *       *       *       *       *

    _A smile of friendship is a baring of the teeth. So is a snarl of
    menace. It can be fatal to mistake the latter for the former._

    _Harm an alien being only under circumstances of self-defense._


                                 --From _Exploration Ship's Handbook_.

He listened in the silence of the Exploration ship's control room. He
heard nothing but that was what bothered him; an ominous quiet when
there should have been a multitude of sounds from the nearby village
for the viewscreen's audio-pickups to transmit. And it was more than six
hours past the time when the native, Throon, should have come to sit
with him outside the ship as they resumed the laborious attempt to learn
each other's language.

[Illustration: Was the cat native to the planet, or to his imagination?]

The viewscreen was black in the light of the control room, even though
it was high noon outside. The dull red sun was always invisible through
the world's thick atmosphere and to human eyes full day was no more than
a red-tinged darkness.

He switched on the ship's outside floodlights and the viewscreen came to
bright white life, showing the empty glades reaching away between groves
of purple alien trees. He noticed, absently, that the trees seemed to
have changed a little in color since his arrival.

The village was hidden from view by the outer trees but there should
have been some activity in the broad area visible to him. There was
none, not even along the distant segment of what should have been a busy
road. The natives were up to something and he knew, from hard experience
on other alien worlds, that it would be nothing good. It would be
another misunderstanding of some kind and he didn't know enough of their
incomprehensible language to ask them what it was--

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly, as it always came, he felt someone or something standing close
behind him and peering over his shoulder. He dropped his hand to the
blaster he had taken to wearing at all times and whirled.

Nothing was behind him. There never was. The control room was empty,
with no hiding place for anything, and the door was closed, locked by
the remote-control button beside him. There was nothing.

The sensation of being watched faded, as though the watcher had
withdrawn to a greater distance. It was perhaps the hundredth time
within six days that he had felt the sensation. And when he slept at
night something came to nuzzle at his mind; faceless, formless, utterly
alien. For the past three nights he had not let the blaster get beyond
quick reach of his hand, even when in bed.

But whatever it was, it could not be on the ship. He had searched the
ship twice, a methodical compartment-by-compartment search that had
found nothing. It had to be the work of the natives from outside the
ship. Except....

Why, if the natives were telepathic, did the one called Throon go
through the weary pretense of trying to learn a mutually understandable
form of communication?

There was one other explanation, which he could not accept: that he was
following in the footsteps of Will Garret of Ship Nine who had
deliberately gone into a white sun two months after the death of his
twin brother.

He looked at the chair beside his own, Johnny's chair, which would
forever be empty, and his thoughts went back down the old, bitter paths.
The Exploration Board had been wrong when they thought the close bond
between identical twins would make them the ideal two-man crews for the
lonely, lifetime journeys of the Exploration Ships. Identical twins were
too close; when one of them died, the other died in part with him.

They had crossed a thousand light-years of space together, he and
Johnny, when they came to the bleak planet that he would name Johnny's
World. He should never have let Johnny go alone up the slope of the
honey-combed mountain--but Johnny had wanted to take the routine record
photographs of the black, tiger-like beasts which they had called cave
cats and the things had seemed harmless and shy, despite their ferocious

"I'm taking them a sack of food that I think they might like," Johnny
had said. "I want to try to get some good close-up shots of them."

Ten minutes later he heard the distant snarl of Johnny's blaster. He ran
up the mountainside, knowing already that he was too late. He found two
of the cave cats lying where Johnny had killed them. Then he found
Johnny, at the foot of a high cliff. He was dead, his neck broken by the
fall. Scattered all around him from the torn sack was the food he had
wanted to give to the cats.

He buried Johnny the next day, while a cold wind moaned under a
lead-gray sky. He built a monument for him; a little mound of frosty
stones that only the wild animals would ever see--

       *       *       *       *       *

A chime rang, high and clear, and the memories were shattered. The
orange light above the hyperspace communicator was flashing; the signal
that meant the Exploration Board was calling him from Earth.

He flipped the switch and said, "Paul Jameson, Exploration Ship One."

The familiar voice of Brender spoke:

"It's been some time since your preliminary report. Is everything all

"In a way," he answered. "I was going to give you the detailed report

"Give me a brief sketch of it now."

"Except for their short brown fur, the natives are humanoid in
appearance. But there are basic differences. Their body temperature is
cool, like their climate. Their vision range is from just within the
visible red on into the infrared. They'll shade their eyes from the
light of anything as hot as boiling water but they'll look square into
the ship's floodlights and never see them."

"And their knowledge of science?" Brender asked.

"They have a good understanding of it, but along lines entirely
different from what our own were at their stage of development. For
example: they power their machines with chemicals but there is no steam,
heat, or exhaust."

"That's what we want to find--worlds where branches of research unknown
to our science are being explored. How about their language?"

"No progress with it yet." He told Brender of the silence in the village
and added, "Even if Throon should show up I could not ask him what was
wrong. I've learned a few words but they have so many different
definitions that I can't use them."

"I know," Brender said. "Variable and unrelated definitions,
undetectable shades of inflection--and sometimes a language that has no
discernibly separate words. The Singer brothers of Ship Eight ran into
the latter. We've given them up as lost."

"The Singers--dead?" he exclaimed. "Good God--it's been only a month
since the Ramon brothers were killed."

"The circumstances were similar," Brender said. "They always are. There
is no way the Exploration men can tell the natives that they mean them
no harm and the suspicion of the natives grows into dangerous hostility.
The Singers reported the natives on that world to be both suspicious and
possessing powerful weapons. The Singers were proceeding warily, their
own weapons always at hand. But, somehow, the natives caught them
off-guard--their last report was four months ago."

There was a silence, then Brender added, "Their ship was the ninth--and
we had only fifteen."

He did not reply to the implications of Brender's statement. It was
obvious to them all what the end of the Plan would be. What it had to

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been only three years since the fifteen heavily armed Exploration
ships set out to lead the way for Terran expansion across the galaxy; to
answer a cry from far planets, and to find all the worlds that held
intelligent life. That was the ultimate goal of the Plan: to accumulate
and correlate all the diverse knowledge of all the intelligent
life-forms in the galaxy. Among the achievements resulting from that
tremendous mass of data would be a ship's drive faster even than
hyperspace; the Third Level Drive which would bring all the galaxies of
the universe within reach.

And now nine ships were gone out of fifteen and nineteen men out of

"The communication barrier," Brender said. "The damned communication
barrier has been the cause behind the loss of every ship. And there is
nothing we can do about it. We're stymied by it...."

The conversation was terminated shortly afterward and he moved about the
room restlessly, wishing it was time to lift ship again. With Johnny not
there the dark world was like a smothering tomb. He would like to leave
it behind and drive again into the star clouds of the galaxy; drive on
and on into them--

A ghostly echo touched his mind; restless, poignantly yearning. He swung
to face the locked door, knowing there could be nothing behind it. The
first real fear came to him as he did so. The thing was lonely--the
thing that watched him was as lonely as he was....

What else could any of it be but the product of a mind in the first
stage of insanity?

       *       *       *       *       *

The natives came ten minutes later.

The viewscreen showed their chemically-powered vehicle emerge from the
trees and roll swiftly across the glade. Four natives were in it while a
fifth one lay on the floor, apparently badly injured.

The vehicle stopped a short distance in front of the airlock and he
recognized the native on the floor. It was Throon, the one with whom he
had been exchanging language lessons.

They were waiting for him when he emerged from the ship, pistol-like
weapons in their belts and grim accusation in their manner.

Throon was muttering unintelligibly, unconscious. His skin, where not
covered by the brown fur, was abnormal in appearance. He was dying.

The leader of the four indicated Throon and said in a quick, brittle
voice: "_Ko reegar feen no-dran!_"

Only one word was familiar: _Ko_, which meant "you" and "yesterday" and
a great many other things. The question was utterly meaningless to him.

He dropped his hand a little nearer his blaster as the leader spoke
again; a quick succession of unknown words that ended with a harshly
demanding "_kreson!_"

_Kreson_ meant "now," or "very quickly." All the other words were
unfamiliar to him. They waited, the grim menace about them increasing
when he did not answer. He tried in vain to find some way of explaining
to them he was not responsible for Throon's sickness and could not cure

Then he saw the spray of leaves that had caught on the corner of the
vehicle when it came through the farther trees.

They were of a deep purple color. All the trees around the ship were
almost gray by contrast.

Which meant that he _was_ responsible for Throon's condition.

The cold white light of the ship's floodlights, under which he and
Throon had sat for day after day, contained radiations that went through
the violet and far into the ultraviolet. To the animal and vegetable
life of the dark world such radiations were invisibly short and deadly.

Throon was dying of hard-radiation sickness.

It was something he should have foreseen and avoided--and that would not
have happened had he accepted old Throon's pantomimed invitation, in the
beginning, to go with him into the village to work at the language
study. There he would have used a harmless battery lamp for illumination
... but there was no certainty that the natives were not planning to lay
a trap for him in the village and he had refused to go.

It did not matter--there was a complex radiation-neutralizer and
cell-reconstructor in the ship which would return Throon to full, normal
health a few hours after he was placed in its chamber.

He turned to the leader of the four natives and motioned from Throon to
the airlock. "Go--there," he said in the native language.

"_Bron!_" the leader answered. The word meant "No" and there was a
determination in the way he said it that showed he would not move from

At the end of five minutes his attempts to persuade them to take Throon
into the ship had increased their suspicion of his motives to the point
of critical danger. If only he could tell them _why_ he wanted Throon
taken into the ship ... But he could not and would have to take Throon
by first disposing of the four without injuring them. This he could do
by procuring one of the paralyzing needle-guns from the ship.

He took a step toward the ship and spoke the words that to the best of
his knowledge meant: "I come back."

"_Feswin ilt k'la._"

Their reply was to snatch at their weapons in desperate haste, even as
the leader uttered a hoarse word of command. He brought up the blaster
with the quick motion that long training had perfected and their weapons
were only half drawn when his warning came:


       *       *       *       *       *

They froze, but did not release their weapons. He walked backward to the
airlock, his blaster covering them, the tensely waiting manner in which
they watched his progress telling him that the slightest relaxation of
his vigilance would mean his death. He did not let the muzzle of the
blaster waver until he was inside the airlock and the outer door had
slid shut.

He was sure that the natives would be gone when he returned. And he was
sure of another thing: That whatever he had said to them, it was not
what he had thought he was saying.

He saw that the glade was empty when he opened the airlock again. At
the same time a bomb-like missile struck the ship just above the airlock
and exploded with a savage crash. He jabbed the _Close_ button and the
door clicked shut barely in advance of three more missiles which
hammered at its impervious armor.

So that, he thought wearily, is that.

He laid the useless needle-gun aside. The stage was past when he could
hope to use it. He could save Throon only by killing some of the
others--or he could lift ship and leave Throon to die. Either action
would make the natives hate and fear Terrans; a hatred and fear that
would be there to greet all future Terran ships.

That was not the way a race gave birth to peaceful galactic empire, was
not the purpose behind the Plan. But always, wherever the Exploration
men went, they encountered the deadly barrier; the intangible,
unassailable communication barrier. With the weapons an Exploration man
carried in his ship he had the power to destroy a world--but not the
power to ask the simple questions that would prevent fatal

And before another three years had passed the last Exploration man would
die, the last Exploration ship would be lost.

He felt the full force of hopelessness for the first time. When Johnny
had been alive it had been different; Johnny, who had laughed whenever
the outlook was the darkest and said, "_We'll find a way, Paul--_"

The thought broke as suddenly, unexpectedly, he felt that Johnny was
very near. With the feeling came the soft enclosure of a dream-like
peace in which Johnny's death was vague and faraway; only something that
had happened in another dream. He knew, without wondering why, that
Johnny was in the control room.

A part of his mind tried to reject the thought as an illusion. He did
not listen--he did not want to listen. He ran to the ship's elevator,
stumbling like one not fully awake. Johnny was waiting for him in the
control room--alive--alive--

       *       *       *       *       *

He spoke as he stepped into the control room:


Something moved at the control board, black and alien, standing tall as
a man on short hind legs. Yellow eyes blazed in a feline face.

It was a cave cat, like the ones that had killed Johnny.

Realization was a wrenching shock and a terrible disillusionment. Johnny
was not waiting for him--not alive--

He brought up the blaster, the dream-like state gone. The paw of the
cave cat flashed out and struck the ship's master light switch with a
movement faster than his own. The room was instantly, totally, dark.

He fired and pale blue fire lanced across the room, to reveal that the
cave cat was gone. He fired again, quickly and immediately in front of
him. The pale beam revealed only the ripped metal floor.

"_I am not where you think._"

The words spoke clearly in his mind but there was no directional source.
He held his breath, listening for the whisper of padded feet as the cave
cat flashed in for the kill, and made a swift analysis of the situation.

The cave cat was telepathic and highly intelligent and had been on the
ship all the time. It and the others had wanted the ship and had killed
Johnny to reduce opposition to the minimum. He, himself, had been
permitted to live until the cave cat learned from his mind how to
operate the almost-automatic controls. Now, he had served his purpose--

"_You are wrong._"

Again there was no way he could determine the direction from which the
thought came. He listened again, and wondered why it had not waylaid him
at the door.

Its thought came:

"_I had to let you see me or you would not have believed I existed. It
was only here that I could extinguish all lights and have time to speak
before you killed me. I let you think your brother was here...._" There
was a little pause. "_I am sorry. I am sorry. I should have used some
other method of luring you here._"

He swung the blaster toward what seemed to be a faint sound near the
astrogator unit across the room.

"_We did not intend to kill your brother._"

He did not believe it and did not reply.

"_When we made first telepathic contact with him, he jerked up his
blaster and fired. In his mind was the conviction that we had pretended
to be harmless animals so that we could catch him off-guard and kill
him. One of us leaped at him as he fired the second time, to knock the
blaster from his hand. We needed only a few minutes in which to
explain--but he would not trust us that long. There was a misjudgment of
distance and he was knocked off the cliff._"

Again he did not reply.

"_We did not intend to kill your brother_," the thought came, "_but you
do not believe me_."

       *       *       *       *       *

He spoke for the first time. "No, I don't believe you. You are
physically like cats and cats don't misjudge distances. Now, you want
something from me before you try to kill me, too. What is it?"

"_I will have to tell you of my race for you to understand. We call
ourselves the Varn, in so far as it can be translated into a spoken
word, and we are a very old race. In the beginning we did not live in
caves but there came a long period of time, for thousands of years, when
the climate on our world was so violent that we were forced to live in
the caves. It was completely dark there but our sense of smell became
very acute, together with sufficient sensitivity to temperature changes
that we could detect objects in our immediate vicinity. There were
subterranean plants in the caves and food was no problem._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_We had always been slightly telepathic and it was during our long stay
in the caves that our intelligence and telepathic powers became fully
developed. We had only our minds--physical science is not created in
dark caves with clumsy paws._

"_The time finally came when we could leave the caves but it was of
little help to us. There were no resources on our world but earth and
stone and the thin grass of the plains. We wondered about the universe
and we knew the stars were distant suns because one of our own suns
became a star each winter. We studied as best we could but we could see
the stars only as the little wild animals saw them. There was so much we
wanted to learn and by then we were past our zenith and already dying
out. But our environment was a prison from which we could never escape._

"_When your ship arrived we thought we might soon be free. We wanted to
ask you to take some of us with you and arrange for others of your race
to stop by on our world. But you dismissed us as animals, useful only
for making warm fur coats, because we lived in caves and had no science,
no artifacts--nothing. You had the power to destroy us and we did not
know what your reaction would be when you learned we were intelligent
and telepathic. A telepathic race must have a high code of ethics and
never intrude unwanted--but would you have believed that?_"

He did not answer.

"_The death of your brother changed everything. You were going to leave
so soon that there would be no time to learn more about you. I hid on
the ship so I could study you and wait until I could prove to you that
you needed me. Now, I can--Throon is dying and I can give you the proper
words of explanation that will cause the others to bring him into the

"Your real purpose--what is it?" he asked.

"_To show you that men need the Varn. You want to explore the galaxy,
and learn. So do the Varn. You have the ships and we have the telepathic
ability that will end the communication problem. Your race and mine can
succeed only if we go together._"

He searched for the true, and hidden, purpose behind the Varn proposal
and saw what it would have to be.

"The long-range goal--you failed to mention that ... your ultimate aim."

"_I know what you are thinking. How can I prove you wrong--now?_"

There was no way for the Varn to prove him wrong, nor for him to prove
the treachery behind the Varn proposal. The proof would come only with
time, when the Terran-Varn co-operation had transformed Terrans into a
slave race.

The Varn spoke again. "_You refuse to believe I am sincere?_"

"I would be a naive fool to believe you."

"_It will be too late to save Throon unless we act very quickly. I have
told you why I am here. There is nothing more I can do to convince you
but be the first to show trust. When I switch on the lights it will be
within your power to kill me._"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Varn was gambling its life in a game in which he would be gambling
the Plan and his race. It was a game he would end at the first sound of
movement from the astrogator unit across the room....

"_I have been here beside you all the time._"

A furry paw brushed his face, claws flicked gently but grimly reminding
along his throat.

He whirled and fired. He was too late--the Varn had already leaped
silently away and the beam found only the bare floor. Then the lights
came on, glaringly bright after the darkness, and he saw the Varn.

It was standing by the control board, its huge yellow eyes watching him.
He brought the blaster into line with it, his finger on the firing stud.
It waited, not moving or shrinking from what was coming. The translucent
golden eyes looked at him and beyond him, as though they saw something
not in the room. He wondered if it was in contact with its own kind on
Johnny's World and was telling them it had made the gamble for high
stakes, and had lost.

It was not afraid--not asking for mercy....

The killing of it was suddenly an act without savor. It was something he
would do in the immediate future but first he would let it live long
enough to save Throon.

He motioned with the blaster and said, "Lead the way to the airlock."

"_And afterward--you will kill me?_"

"Lead the way," he repeated harshly.

It said no more but went obediently past him and trotted down the
corridor like a great, black dog.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stood in the open airlock, the Varn against the farther wall where he
had ordered it to stand. Throon was in the radiation chamber and he had
held his first intelligible conversation with the natives that day.

The Varn was facing into the red-black gloom outside the lighted
airlock, where the departing natives could be heard crossing the glade.
"_Their thoughts no longer hold fear and suspicion_," it said. "_The
misunderstanding is ended._"

He raised the muzzle of the blaster in his hand. The black head lifted
and the golden eyes looked up at him.

"I made you no promise," he said.

"_I could demand none._"

"I can't stop to take you back to your own world and I can't leave you
alive on this one--with what you've learned from my mind you would have
the natives build the Varn a disintegrator-equipped space fleet equal to
our own ships."

"_We want only to go with you._"

He told it what he wanted it to know before he killed it, wondering why
he should care:

"I would like to believe you are sincere--and you know why I don't dare
to. Trusting a telepathic race would be too dangerous. The Varn would
know everything we knew and only the Varn would be able to communicate
with each new alien race. We would have to believe what the Varn told
us--we would have to trust the Varn to see for us and speak for us and
not deceive us as we went across the galaxy. And then, in the end,
Terrans would no longer be needed except as a subject race. They would
be enslaved.

"We would have laid the groundwork for an empire--the Varn Empire."

There was a silence, in which his words hung like something cold and
invisible between them.

Then the Varn asked, very quietly:

"_Why is the Plan failing?_"

"You already know," he said. "Because of the barrier--the communication
barrier that causes aliens to misunderstand the intentions of
Exploration men and fear them."

"_There is no communication barrier between you and I--yet you fear me
and are going to kill me._"

"I have to kill you. You represent a danger to my race."

"_Isn't that the same reason why aliens kill Exploration men?_"

He did not answer and its thought came, quickly, "_How does an
Exploration man appear to the natives of alien worlds?_"

How did he appear?... He landed on their world in a ship that could
smash it into oblivion; he stepped out of his ship carrying weapons that
could level a city; he represented irresistible power for destruction
and he trusted no one and nothing.

And in return he hoped to find welcome and friendship and

"_There_," the Varn said, "_is your true barrier--your own distrust and
suspicion. You, yourselves, create it on each new world. Now you are
going to erect it between my race and yours by killing me and advising
the Exploration Board to quarantine my world and never let another ship
land there._"

Again there was a silence as he thought of what the Varn had said and
of what it had said earlier: "_We are a very old race...._" There was
wisdom in the Varn's analysis of the cause of the Plan's failure and
with the Varn to vanquish the communication stalemate, the new approach
could be tried. They could go a long way together, men and Varn, a long,
long way....

Or they could create the Varn Empire ... and how could he know which it
would be?

How could anyone know--except the telepathic Varn?

The muzzle of the blaster had dropped and he brought it back up. He
forced the dangerous indecision aside, knowing he would have to kill the
Varn at once or he might weaken again, and said harshly to it:

"The risk is too great. I want to believe you--but all your talk of
trust and good intentions is only talk and my race would be the only one
that had to trust."

He touched the firing stud as the last thought of the Varn came:

"_Let me speak once more._"

He waited, the firing stud cold and metallic under his finger.

"_You are wrong. We have already set the example of faith in you by
asking to go with you. I told you we did not intend to hurt your brother
and I told you we saw the stars only as the little wild animals saw
them. The years in the dark caves--you do not understand--_"

The eyes of the Varn looked into his and beyond him; beautiful,
expressionless, like polished gold.

"_The Varn are blind._"

                                                               THE END

Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Amazing Science Fiction Stories_
    September 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
    the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling
    and typographical errors have been corrected without note.

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