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´╗┐Title: Pet Farm
Author: Aycock, Roger D., 1914-2004
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Pet Farm" ***

                              Pet Farm

                            By ROGER DEE

                    Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had almost forgotten who _they_ were; the pale half-memories that
drifted through his mind touched his consciousness lightly and without
urgency, arousing neither alarm nor interest.

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

Nothing mattered but the fulfillment to come.

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

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

Footsteps followed, disembodied in the dusk.

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

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

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

Xavier? Directions? From whom?

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

Whose, and where?

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

The moths floated nearer, humming gently.

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

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

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

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

But it _had_ been different.

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

The weed-choked fields and crumbled desolation of Terran slave barracks
had been depressing enough. The inevitable scattering of empty domes
abandoned a hundred years before by the Hymenop conquerors had completed
a familiar and unpromising pattern, a workaday blueprint that differed
from previous experience only in one significant detail: There was no
shaggy, disoriented remnant of descendants from the original colonists.

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

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

"Another damned tropical pesthole," Farrell said, shucking off his
comfortable shorts and donning booted coveralls for the preliminary
survey. "The sooner we count heads--assuming there are any left to
count--and get out of here, the better. The long-term Reorientation boys
can have this one and welcome."

Stryker, characteristically, had laughed at his navigator's prompt
disgust. Gibson, equally predictable in his way, had gathered his gear
with precise efficiency, saying nothing.

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

Farrell grunted sourly. "You love these repulsive little puzzles, don't

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

Stryker chuckled. "I wondered if you'd see that. It can't, except when
the planet's axial tilt rolls this latitude into its winter season and
sends the sun south of the crater rim. It probably gets dark as pitch
here in the valley, since the fog would trap even diffused light." To
the patiently waiting mechanical, he said, "The ship is yours, Xav. Call
us if anything turns up."

Farrell followed him reluctantly outside into a miasmic desolation more
depressing than he could have imagined.

A stunted jungle of thorny brambles and tough, waist-high grasses
hampered their passage at first, ripping at coveralls and tangling the
feet until they had beaten their way through it to lower ground. There
they found a dreary expanse of bogland where scummy pools of stagnant
water and festering slime heaved sluggishly with oily bubbles of marsh
gas that burst audibly in the hanging silence. The liverish blaze of
Falakian sun bore down mercilessly from the crater's rim.

They moved on to skirt a small lead-colored lake in the center of the
valley, a stagnant seepage-basin half obscured by floating scum. Its
steaming mudflats were littered with rotting yellowed bones and
supported the first life they had seen, an unpleasant scurrying of small
multipedal crustaceans and water-lizards.

"There can't be any survivors _here_," Farrell said, appalled by the
thought of his kind perpetuating itself in a place like this. "God,
think what the mortality rate would be! They'd die like flies."

"There are bound to be a few," Stryker stated, "even after a hundred
years of slavery and another hundred of abandonment. The human animal,
Arthur, is the most fantastically adaptable--"

He broke off short when they rounded a clump of reeds and stumbled upon
their first Falakian proof of that fantastic adaptability.

       *       *       *       *       *

The young woman squatting on the mudflat at their feet stared back at
them with vacuous light eyes half hidden behind a wild tangle of matted
blonde hair. She was gaunt and filthy, plastered with slime from head to
foot, and in her hands she held the half-eaten body of a larger
crustacean that obviously had died of natural causes and not too
recently, at that.

Farrell turned away, swallowing his disgust. Gibson, unmoved, said with
an aptness bordering--for him--on irony: "Too damned adaptable, Lee.
Sometimes our kind survives when it really shouldn't."

A male child of perhaps four came out of the reeds and stared at them.
He was as gaunt and filthy as the woman, but less vapid of face.
Farrell, watching the slow spark of curiosity bloom in his eyes,
wondered sickly how many years--or how few--must pass before the boy was
reduced to the same stupid bovinity as the mother.

Gibson was right, he thought. The compulsion to survive at any cost
could be a curse instead of an asset. The degeneracy of these poor
devils was a perpetual affront to the race that had put them there.

He was about to say as much when the woman rose and plodded away through
the mud, the child at her heels. It startled him momentarily, when he
followed their course with his eyes, to see that perhaps a hundred
others had gathered to wait incuriously for them in the near distance.
All were as filthy as the first two, but with a grotesque uniformity of
appearance that left him frowning in uneasy speculation until he found
words to identify that similarity.

"They're all _young_," he said. "The oldest can't be more than
twenty--twenty-five at most!"

Stryker scowled, puzzled without sharing Farrell's unease. "You're
right. Where are the older ones?"

"Another of your precious little puzzles," Farrell said sourly. "I hope
you enjoy unraveling it."

"Oh, we'll get to the bottom of it," Stryker said with assurance. "We'll
have to, before we can leave them here."

They made a slow circuit of the lake, and the closer inspection offered
a possible solution to the problem Stryker had posed. Chipped and
weathered as the bones littering the mudflats were, their grisly
shapings were unmistakable.

"I'd say that these are the bones of the older people," Stryker
hazarded, "and that they represent the end result of another of these
religio-economic control compulsions the Hymenops like to condition into
their slaves. Men will go to any lengths to observe a tradition,
especially when its origin is forgotten. If these people were once
conditioned to look on old age as intolerable--"

"If you're trying to say that they kill each other off at maturity,"
Farrell interrupted, "the inference is ridiculous. In a hundred years
they'd have outgrown a custom so hard to enforce. The balance of power
would have rested with the adults, not with the children, and adults are
generally fond of living.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stryker looked to Gibson for support, received none, and found himself
saddled with his own contention. "Economic necessity, then, since the
valley can support only a limited number. Some of the old North American
Indians followed a similar custom, the oldest son throttling the father
when he grew too old to hunt."

"But even there infanticide was more popular than patricide," Farrell
pointed out. "No group would practice decimation from the top down. It's
too difficult to enforce."

Stryker answered him with a quotation from the Colonial Reclamations
Handbook, maliciously taking the pontifical classmaster's tone best
calculated to irritate Farrell.

"Chapter Four, Subsection One, Paragraph Nineteen: _Any custom, fixation
or compulsion accepted as the norm by one group of human beings can be
understood and evaluated by any other group not influenced by the same
ideology, since the basic perceptive abilities of both are necessarily
the same through identical heredity. Evaluation of alien motivations,

"Oh, hell," Farrell cut in wearily. "Let's get back to the ship, shall
we? We'll all feel more like--"

His right foot gave way beneath him without warning, crushing through
the soft ground and throwing him heavily. He sat up at once, and swore
in incredulous anger when he found the ankle swelling rapidly inside his

"Sprained! Damn it all!"

Gibson and Stryker, on their knees beside the broken crust of soil,
ignored him. Gibson took up a broken length of stick and prodded
intently in the cavity, prying out after a moment a glistening two-foot
ellipsoid that struggled feebly on the ground.

"A chrysalid," Stryker said, bending to gauge the damage Farrell's heavy
boot had done. "In a very close pre-eclosion stage. Look, the protective
sheathing has begun to split already."

The thing lay twitching aimlessly, prisoned legs pushing against its
shining transparent integument in an instinctive attempt at premature
freedom. The movement was purely reflexive; its head, huge-eyed and as
large as a man's clenched fist, had been thoroughly crushed under
Farrell's heel.

Oddly, its injury touched Farrell even through the pain of his injured

"It's the first passably handsome thing we've seen in this pesthole," he
said, "and I've maimed it. Finish it off, will you?"

Stryker grunted, feeling the texture of the imprisoning sheath with
curious fingers. "What would it have been _in imago_, Gib? A giant

"A moth," Gibson said tersely. "_Lepidoptera_, anyway."

He stood up and ended the chrysalid's strugglings with a bolt from his
heat-gun before extending a hand to help Farrell up. "I'd like to
examine it closer, but there'll be others. Let's get Arthur out of

       *       *       *       *       *

They went back to the ship by slow stages, pausing now and then while
Gibson gathered a small packet of bone fragments from the mudflats and

"Some of these are older than others," he explained when Stryker
remarked on his selection. "But none are recent. It should help to know
their exact age."

An hour later, they were bathed and dressed, sealed off comfortably in
the ship against the humid heat and stink of the swamp. Farrell lay on a
chart room acceleration couch, resting, while Stryker taped his swollen
ankle. Gibson and Xavier, the one disdaining rest and the other needing
none, used the time to run a test analysis on the bones brought in from
the lakeside.

The results of that analysis were more astonishing than illuminating.

A majority of the fragments had been exposed to climatic action for some
ten years. A smaller lot averaged twenty years; and a few odd chips,
preserved by long burial under alluvial silt, thirty.

"The older natives died at ten-year intervals, then," Stryker said. "And
in considerable numbers; the tribe must have been cut to half strength
each time. But why?" He frowned unhappily, fishing for opinion. "Gib,
can it really be a perversion of religious custom dreamed up by the
Hymenops to keep their slaves under control? A sort of festival of
sacrifice every decade, climaxing in tribal decimation?"

"Maybe they combine godliness with gluttony," Farrell put in, unasked.
"Maybe their orgy runs more to long pig than to piety."

He stood up, wincing at the pain, and was hobbling toward his sleeping
cubicle when Gibson's answer to Stryker's question stopped him with a
cold prickle along his spine.

"We'll know within twenty-four hours," Gibson said. "Since both the
decimations and the winter darkness periods seem to follow the same
cycle, I'd say there's a definite relationship."

       *       *       *       *       *

For once Farrell's cubicle, soundproofed and comfortable, brought him
only a fitful imitation of sleep, an intermittent dozing that wavered
endlessly between nightmare and wakefulness. When he crawled out again,
hours later, he found Xavier waiting for him alone with a thermo-bulb of
hot coffee. Stryker and Gibson, the mechanical said blandly, had seen no
need of waking him, and had gone out alone on a more extensive tour of

The hours dragged interminably. Farrell uncased his beloved accordion,
but could not bear the sound of it; he tried his sketch-book, and could
summon to mind no better subjects than drab miasmic bogs and steaming
mudflats. He discarded the idea of chess with Xavier without even
weighing it--he would not have lasted past the fourth move, and both he
and the mechanical knew it.

He was reduced finally to limping about the ship on his bandaged foot,
searching for some routine task left undone and finding nothing. He even
went so far as to make a below-decks check on the ship's
matter-synthesizer, an indispensable unit designed for the conversion of
waste to any chemical compound, and gave it up in annoyance when he
found that all such operational details were filed with infallible
exactness in Xavier's plastoid head.

The return of Stryker and Gibson only aggravated his impatience. He had
expected them to discover concealed approaches to the maze of bridging
overhead, tunnelings in the cliff-face to hidden caverns complete with
bloodstained altars and caches of sacrificial weapons, or at least some
ominous sign of preparation among the natives. But there was nothing.

"No more than yesterday," Stryker said. Failure had cost him a share of
his congenital good-humor, leaving him restless and uneasy. "There's
nothing to find, Arthur. We've seen it all."

Surprisingly, Gibson disagreed.

"We'll know what we're after when darkness falls," he said. "But that's
a good twelve hours away. In the meantime, there's a possibility that
our missing key is _outside_ the crater, rather than here inside it."

       *       *       *       *       *

They turned on him together, both baffled and apprehensive.

"What do you mean, outside?" Farrell demanded. "There's nothing there
but grassland. We made sure of that at planetfall."

"We mapped four Hymenop domes on reconnaissance," Gibson reminded him.
"But we only examined three to satisfy ourselves that they were empty.
The fourth one--"

Farrell interrupted derisively. "That ancient bogey again? Gib, the
domes are _always_ empty. The Bees pulled out a hundred years ago."

Gibson said nothing, but his black-browed regard made Farrell flush

"Gib is right," Stryker intervened. "You're too young in Colonial
Reclamations to appreciate the difficulty of recognizing an alien logic,
Arthur, let alone the impossibility of outguessing it. I've knocked
about these ecological madhouses for the better part of a century, and
the more I see of Hymenop work, the more convinced I am that we'll never
equate human and Hymenop ideologies. It's like trying to add quantities
of dissimilar objects and expressing the result in a single symbol; it
can't be done, because there's no possible common denominator for
reducing the disparate elements to similarity."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Farrell kept silent, he went on, "Our own reactions, and
consequently our motivations, are based on broad attributes of love,
hate, fear, greed and curiosity. We might empathize with another species
that reacts as we do to those same stimuli--but what if that other
species recognizes only one or two of them, or none at all? What if
their motivations stem from a set of responses entirely different from
any we know?"

"There aren't any," Farrell said promptly. "What do you think they would

"There you have it," Stryker said triumphantly. He chuckled, his
good-nature restored. "We can't imagine what those emotions would be
like because we aren't equipped to understand. Could a race depending
entirely on extra-sensory perception appreciate a Mozart quintet or a
Botticelli altar piece or a performance of _Hamlet_? You know it
couldn't--the esthetic nuances that make those works great would escape
it completely, because the motives that inspired their creation are
based on a set of values entirely foreign to its comprehension.

"There's a digger wasp on Earth whose female singles out a particular
species of tarantula to feed her larvae--and the spider stands patiently
by, held by some compulsion whose nature we can't even guess, while the
wasp digs a grave, paralyzes the spider and shoves it into the hole with
an egg attached. The spider could kill the wasp, and will kill one of
any other species, but it submits to that particular kind without a
flicker of protest. And if we can't understand the mechanics of such a
relationship between reflexive species, then what chance have we of
understanding the logic of an _intelligent_ race of aliens? The results
of its activities can be assessed, but not the motivations behind those

"All right," Farrell conceded. "You and Gib are right, as usual, and I'm
wrong. We'll check that fourth dome."

"You'll stay here with Xav," Stryker said firmly, "while Gib and I
check. You'd only punish yourself, using that foot."

       *       *       *       *       *

After another eight-hour period of waiting, Farrell was nearing the end
of his patience. He tried to rationalize his uneasiness and came finally
to the conclusion that his failing hinged on a matter of conditioning.
He was too accustomed to the stable unity of their team to feel
comfortable without Gibson and Stryker. Isolated from their perpetual
bickering and the pleasant unspoken warmth of their regard, he was
lonesome and tense.

It would have been different, he knew, if either of the others had been
left behind. Stryker had his beloved Reclamations texts and his
microfilm albums of problems solved on other worlds; Gibson had his
complicated galactic charts and his interminable chess bouts with

Farrell gave it up and limped outside, to stand scowling unhappily at
the dreary expanse of swampland. Far down under the reasoning levels of
his consciousness a primal uneasiness nagged at him, whispering in
wordless warning that there was more to his mounting restlessness than
simple impatience. Something inside him was changing, burgeoning in
strange and disturbing growth.

A pale suggestion of movement, wavering and uncertain in the eddying
fog, caught his eye. A moment of puzzled watching told him that it was
the bedraggled young woman they had seen earlier by the lake, and that
she was approaching the ship timorously and under cover.

"But why?" he wondered aloud, recalling her bovine lack of curiosity.
"What the devil can she want here?"

A shadow fell across the valley. Farrell, startled, looked up sharply to
see the last of the Falakian sun's magenta glare vanishing below the
crater's southern rim. A dusky forerunner of darkness settled like a
tangible cloud, softening the drab outlines of bramble thickets and
slime pools. The change that followed was not seen but felt, a swelling
rush of glad arousal like the joy of a child opening its eyes from

To Farrell, the valley seemed to stir, waking in sympathy to his own
restlessness and banishing his unease.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl ran to him through the dusk on quick, light feet, timidity
forgotten, and he saw with a pleasant shock of astonishment that she was
no longer the filthy creature he had first seen by the lakeside. She was
pretty and nubile, eyes and soft mouth smiling together in a childlike
eagerness that made her at once infinitely desirable and untouchably

"Who are you?" he asked shakily.


Her hesitant voice was music, rousing in Farrell a warm and expectant
euphoria that glowed like old wine in his veins.

"Koaele," she said. "Look--"

Behind her, the valley lay wrapped like a minor paradise in soft pearly
mists and luminous shadows, murmurous with the far sound of running
water and the faint chiming of voices that drifted up from the little
blue lake to whisper back in cadenced echo from the fairy maze of
bridging overhead. Over it all, like a deep, sustained cello note, rose
the muted humming of great flame-winged moths dipping and swaying over
bright tropical flowers.

"_Moths?_" he thought. And then, "_Of course._"

The chrysalids under the sod, their eclosion time completed, were coming
into their own--bringing perfection with them. Born in gorgeous
iridescent _imago_, they were beautiful in a way that hurt with the
yearning pain of perfection, the sorrow that imperfection existed at
all--the joy of finally experiencing flawlessness.

An imperative buzzing from the ship behind him made a rude intrusion. A
familiar voice, polite but without inflection, called from an open port:
"Captain Stryker in the scoutboat, requesting answer."

Farrell hesitated. To the girl, who followed him with puzzled, eager
eyes, he begged, "Don't run away, _please_. I'll be back."

In the ship, Stryker's moon-face peered wryly at him from the main
control screen.

"Drew another blank," it said. "You were right after all, Arthur--the
fourth dome was empty. Gib and I are coming in now. We can't risk
staying out longer if we're going to be on hand when the curtain rises
on our little mystery."

"Mystery?" Farrell echoed blankly. Earlier discussions came back slowly,
posing a forgotten problem so ridiculous that he laughed. "We were wrong
about all that. It's wonderful here."

       *       *       *       *       *

Stryker's face on the screen went long with astonishment. "Arthur, have
you lost your mind? _What's wrong there?_"

"Nothing is wrong," Farrell said. "It's _right_." Memory prodded him
again, disturbingly. "Wait--I remember now what it was we came here for.
But we're not going through with it."

He thought of the festival to come, of the young men and girls running
lithe in the dusk, splashing in the lake and calling joyously to each
other across the pale sands. The joyous innocence of their play brought
an appalling realization of what would happen if the fat outsider on the
screen should have his way:

The quiet paradise would be shattered and refashioned in smoky facsimile
of Earth, the happy people herded together and set to work in dusty
fields and whirring factories, multiplying tensions and frustrations as
they multiplied their numbers.

For what? For whom?

"You've got no right to go back and report all this," Farrell said
plaintively. "You'd ruin everything."

The alternative came to him and with it resolution. "But you won't go
back. I'll see to that."

He left the screen and turned on the control panel with fingers that
remembered from long habit the settings required. Stryker's voice
bellowed frantically after him, unheeded, while he fed into the ship's
autopilot a command that would send her plunging skyward bare minutes

Then, ignoring the waiting mechanical's passive stare, he went outside.

The valley beckoned. The elfin laughter of the people by the lake
touched a fey, responsive chord in him that blurred his eyes with
ecstatic tears and sent him running down the slope, the Falakian girl
keeping pace beside him.

Before he reached the lake, he had dismissed from his mind the ship and
the men who had brought it there.

       *       *       *       *       *

But they would not let him forget. The little gray jointed one followed
him through the dancing and the laughter and cornered him finally
against the sheer cliffside. With the chase over, it held him there,
waiting with metal patience in the growing dusk.

The audicom box slung over its shoulder boomed out in Gibson's voice,
the sound a noisy desecration of the scented quiet.

"Don't let him get away, Xav," it said. "We're going to try for the ship

The light dimmed, the soft shadows deepened. The two great-winged moths
floated nearer, humming gently, their eyes glowing luminous and intent
in the near-darkness. Mist currents from their approach brushed
Farrell's face, and he held out his arms in an ecstasy of anticipation
that was a consummation of all human longing.

"_Now_," he whispered.

The moths dipped nearer.

The mechanical sent out a searing beam of orange light that tore the
gloom, blinding him briefly. The humming ceased; when he could see
again, the moths lay scorched and blackened at his feet. Their dead eyes
looked up at him dully, charred and empty; their bright gauzy wings
smoked in ruins of ugly, whiplike ribs.

He flinched when the girl touched his shoulder, pointing. A moth dipped
toward them out of the mists, eyes glowing like round emerald lanterns.
Another followed.

The mechanical flicked out its orange beam and cut them down.

A roar like sustained thunder rose across the valley, shaking the ground
underfoot. A column of white-hot fire tore the night.

"The ship," Farrell said aloud, remembering.

He had a briefly troubled vision of the sleek metal shell lancing up
toward a black void of space powdered with cold star-points whose names
he had forgotten, marooning them all in Paradise.

The audicom boomed in Gibson's voice, though oddly shaken and strained.
"Made it. Is he still safe, Xav?"

"Safe," the mechanical answered tersely. "The natives, too, so far."

"No thanks to _him_," Gibson said. "If you hadn't canceled the blastoff
order he fed into the autopilot...." But after a moment of ragged
silence: "No, that's hardly fair. Those damned moths beat down Lee's
resistance in the few minutes it took us to reach the ship, and nearly
got me as well. Arthur was exposed to their influence from the moment
they started coming out."

Stryker's voice cut in, sounding more shaken than Gibson's. "Stand fast
down there. I'm setting off the first flare now."

       *       *       *       *       *

A silent explosion of light, searing and unendurable, blasted the night.
Farrell cried out and shielded his eyes with his hands, his ecstasy of
anticipation draining out of him like heady wine from a broken urn. Full
memory returned numbingly.

When he opened his eyes again, the Falakian girl had run away. Under the
merciless glare of light, the valley was as he had first seen it--a
nauseous charnel place of bogs and brambles and mudflats littered with
yellowed bones.

In the near distance, a haggard mob of natives cowered like gaping,
witless caricatures of humanity, faces turned from the descending blaze
of the parachute flare. There was no more music or laughter. The great
moths fluttered in silent frenzy, stunned by the flood of light.

"_So that's it_," Farrell thought dully. "_They come out with the winter
darkness to breed and lay their eggs, and they hold over men the same
sort of compulsion that Terran wasps hold over their host tarantulas.
But they're nocturnal. They lose their control in the light._"

Incredulously, he recalled the expectant euphoria that had blinded him,
and he wondered sickly: "_Is that what the spider feels while it watches
its grave being dug?_"

A second flare bloomed far up in the fog, outlining the criss-cross
network of bridging in stark, alien clarity. A smooth minnow-shape
dipped past and below it, weaving skilfully through the maze. The
mechanical's voice box spoke again.

"Give us a guide beam, Xav. We're bringing the _Marco_ down."

The ship settled a dozen yards away, its port open. Farrell, with Xavier
at his heels, went inside hastily, not looking back.

Gibson crouched motionless over his control panel, too intent on his
readings to look up. Beside him, Stryker said urgently: "Hang on. We've
got to get up and set another flare, quickly."

The ship surged upward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hours later, they watched the last of the flares glare below in a
steaming geyser of mud and scum. The ship hovered motionless, its only
sound a busy droning from the engine room where her mass-synthesizer
discharged a deadly cloud of insecticide into the crater.

"There'll be some nasty coughing among the natives for a few days after
this," Gibson said. "But it's better than being food for larvae....
Reorientation will pull them out of that pesthole in a couple of months,
and another decade will see them raising cattle and wheat again outside.
The young adapt fast."

"The young, yes," Stryker agreed uncomfortably. "Personally, I'm getting
too old and fat for this business."

He shuddered, his paunch quaking. Farrell guessed that he was thinking
of what would have happened to them if Gibson had been as susceptible as
they to the overpowering fascination of the moths. A few more chrysalids
to open in the spring, an extra litter of bones to puzzle the next
Reclamations crew....

"That should do it," Gibson said. He shut off the flow of insecticide
and the mass-converter grew silent in the engine room below. "Exit
another Hymenop experiment in bastard synecology."

"I can understand how they might find, or breed, a nocturnal moth with
breeding-season control over human beings," Farrell said. "And how
they'd balance the relationship to a time-cycle that kept the host
species alive, yet never let it reach maturity. But what sort of
principle would give an instinctive species compulsive control over an
intelligent one, Gib? And what did the Bees get out of the arrangement
in the first place?"

Gibson shrugged. "We'll understand the principle when--or if--we learn
how the wasp holds its spider helpless. Until then, we can only guess.
As for identifying the motive that prompted the Hymenops to set up such
a balance, I doubt that we ever will. Could a termite understand why men
build theaters?"

"There's a possible parallel in that," Stryker suggested. "Maybe this
was the Hymenop idea of entertainment. They might have built the bridge
as balconies, where they could see the show."

"It could have been a business venture," Farrell suggested. "Maybe they
raised the moth larvae or pupae for the same reason we raise poultry. A
sort of insectile chicken ranch."

"Or a kennel," Gibson said dryly. "Maybe they bred moths for pets, as we
breed dogs."

Farrell grimaced sickly, revolted by the thought. "A pet farm? God, what
a diet to feed them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Xavier came up from the galley, carrying a tray with three steaming
coffee-bulbs. Farrell, still pondering the problem of balance between
dominant and dominated species, found himself wondering for the
thousandth time what went on in the alert positronic brain behind the
mechanical's featureless face.

"What do you think, Xav?" he demanded. "What sort of motive would you
say prompted the Hymenops to set up such a balance?"

"_Evaluation of alien motivations, conversely_," the mechanical said,
finishing the Reclamations Handbook quotation which Stryker had begun
much earlier, "_is essentially impossible because there can be no common
ground of comprehension_."

It centered the tray neatly on the charting table and stood back in
polite but unmenial deference while they sucked at their coffee-bulbs.

"A greater mystery to me," Xavier went on, "is the congenital
restlessness that drives men from their own comfortable worlds to such
dangers as you have met with here. How can I understand the motivations
of an alien people? I do not even understand those of the race that
built me."

The three men looked at each other blankly, disconcerted by the ancient
problem so unexpectedly posed.

It was Stryker who sheepishly answered it.

"That's nothing for you to worry about, Xav," he said wryly. "Neither do

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Pet Farm" ***

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