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´╗┐Title: Stopover Planet
Author: Gilbert, Robert E., 1924-1993
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 "Stopover Planet" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration]


              STOPOVER PLANET

                   _By
             Robert E. Gilbert_


     Early morning deliveries were part of
 the Honeychile Bakery Service. But on this
 particular morning the service was reversed!


At 2:34 a.m., Patrolman Louis Whedbee left the Zip Cab station. With
arch supports squeaking and night stick swinging, Whedbee walked east to
the call box at the corner of Sullivan and Cherokee. The traffic signal
suspended above the intersection blinked a cautionary amber. Not a car
moved on the silent streets.

Whedbee reached for the box. Then he swore softly and stepped off the
curb. "Pardon me," he said, for he believed that a policeman should be
courteous at all times, even when arresting a school zone speedster.
This, however, was not a speedster. It seemed to be a huge man standing
on top of a truck and cutting down the stop light. "What's going on
here?" Whedbee asked.

HONEYCHILE BAKERY was advertised on the side of the truck.
Instinctively, Whedbee jammed his whistle in his mouth when he realized
that the man on the truck wore something like a suit of long underwear
made of improbable black fur sprinkled with tiny red spots.

"What are you doing to the stop light?" Whedbee demanded.

The amber light quit blinking without the expected electrical display.
Sinuous as beheaded snakes, the wires and cables supporting the traffic
signal fell into the street. The unusual man pocketed his cutting
tool--a long thin tube--and lowered the stop light to the truck. He
looked at Whedbee. The corner street lamp reacted upon his eyes like a
flashlight thrown on a tomcat in an alley. The eyes gleamed green.

Whedbee's whistle arced to the end of the chain and clanked against his
metal buttons. A block away on Center Street, a heavy truck roared
through the business section. The bell of a switch engine tolled near
the freight depot, and a small dog barked suddenly at the obscured sky.

"I am promoting you to captain. You will replace Hanks, whom I am
demoting," the figure on the truck announced.

"Chief Grindstaff?" Whedbee wondered.

The chief of police glared down at the patrolman. He hooked a bright
metal globe to the stop light, lifted it in one hand, and jumped,
landing lightly on the pavement. "Put this in the mobile unit," he said.
"The truck, I evil."

"Huh? Sure, chief," Whedbee said. He tucked his night stick under his
arm and prepared to accept a heavy load. Tensed muscles almost felled
him when the signal proved to weigh not more than one pound.

Chief Grindstaff opened the doors in the rear of the truck, releasing a
faint odor of stale bread. The truck was empty. Whedbee deposited the
almost weightless burden. The chief looked him in the eye. "I am
promoting you to captain," he repeated. "You will replace Hanks, whom I
am demoting."

"Thanks, chief!" Whedbee exalted. "You know Hanks didn't treat me fair
that time I--"

"Yes, I know all about that," the chief interposed. "Go bring the
postage box and place it in the truck."

"The which? Oh, you mean the mailbox!" Whedbee walked across the street
to the square green box with the rounded metal top. Another of the
globes had been attached to the mailbox, and the legs had been burned
loose from the concrete sidewalk. Confidently, Whedbee lifted the light
object, carried it to the truck, and deposited it inside.

"Bleachers there," said Chief Grindstaff.

"What you say, chief?"

"Stands there. No, stand there."

Patrolman Whedbee stood by the back of the truck. Chief Grindstaff
placed a device like an atomizer under Whedbee's nose and released the
spray.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Betsy Tapp awoke after not more than one hour of fitful sleep. The
door to the garage apartment shook under the tattoo of a heavy fist.
Miss Tapp's heart thudded somewhere inside her thirty-eight-inch bosom.
She lay rigid in darkness penetrated only by the glimmer of a distant
street light.

The knocking ceased. Boards creaked on the platform outside the door. A
face appeared at the window, a face in complete shadow except for two
eyes that glowed with greenish light.

Miss Tapp, unaware of the disarray of her nightgown, sat upright. The
alarm clock on the floor by the bed clacked in the stillness. The tap in
the kitchen cubicle dripped. Timbers, contracting in the cool of early
morning, popped faintly.

"I need to marry you," the face said. "I was wrong tonight. Forgive me."

"Fred?" Miss Tapp gasped in sudden joy.

"Open the portal," Fred said.

Wrenching metal curlers from her permanently waved hair, Miss Tapp
bounded to the door. She released the catch and threw herself at the
figure on the landing. Fred purred, "I want to marry you. I was wrong
tonight. Forgive me."

"Oh, Fred," Miss Tapp sighed. "I knew you'd come back! You just had too
much to drink! I forgive you, Fred! We'll--"

"Yes. Bring your rayon crepe with tall tucking."

"What, Fred?"

"Bring your garb, your clothing. Hurry."

Miss Tapp skillfully fought a blush. "Oh, Fred! I'm sorry. I'll be
dressed in a minute!"

Fred slowly stated, "I want to marry you. I was wrong tonight. Forgive
me." He walked into the apartment and rapidly gathered and rolled
together the dress and undergarments scattered on and about the chair.
He stuffed the spike-heeled shoes into pockets of his black fur suit and
lifted Miss Tapp in his arms.

"We're eloping!" Miss Tapp sighed as Fred carried her down the outside
stairs. A _Honeychile Bakery_ truck, with rear doors open, waited in the
driveway. Fred tossed the roll of clothing and the slippers into the
truck, and swiftly sprayed Miss Tapp.

       *       *       *       *       *

An unearthly glow permeated the bedroom and cast the black shadows of
heavy furniture against the faded papered walls. Within the glow, two
dots of green flickered. The Reverend Enos Shackelford dropped on
creaking knees and bowed his grizzled head.

A voice said, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Arise and follow
me."

"Lord," said Reverend Shackelford, "I have served thee faithfully all
the days of my life. Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
Remember also--"

"Yes. Well done, good and faithful servant. Arise and follow me."

Shackelford stood on tottering old legs. His nightshirt hung below his
knees. Horrified shock blanched his lined face. "Blasphemer!" he cried.
"False prophet! Get thee behind me, Satan!"

The glow danced and faded. A towering black shape pointed a bent rod.
The rod hissed. The Reverend Shackelford staggered against a small
table, dragging it with him to the floor. He lay still with one gnarled
old hand on a large golden-edged book that had fallen from the table.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You're fired," the man in the dream said over and over.

Calvin C. Kear rolled off the half-bed, struck the floor, and awoke.
"First time I've fallen out of bed in years," he groaned. His shaking
hand fumbled with the switch and succeeded in turning on the lamp.

Mrs. Calvin C. Kear sprawled on her back in the other bed and snored.
"You and your fifteen-thousand-dollar house," Kear muttered. He combed
his thinning hair with his fingers. "You and your sterling silver. You
and your chosen pattern. Your service for eight. How far do you think
fifty-four dollars a week will go with 12-gauge shells three and a
quarter a box?"

Green eyes glittered beside the frilly dressing table. The man standing
there said, "I'm not igniting you. I'm giving you a bonus for your fine
work. Enough currency to pay the loan on this house. You'll be making
two hundred per week. This fall, I'll take you hunting at my place in
the country."

"Boss?" Kear mumbled. "I mean, Mr. Darmond?"

"Put on your clothing," the boss said. "I'll show you your new office.
You may have a secretary, also. I'm not firing you. I'm giving you a
bonus."

Kear sat gasping on the floor. "That's great, boss!" he exclaimed. "I
thought I did an extra special job on the plastics mill design. It'll
mean a lot to the company. We--"

"Yes. Dress quickly."

Kear threw off his pajamas and started stuffing arms and legs into his
clothes. Mrs. Kear opened her eyes and squeaked like a dying rabbit.

The bent rod in the boss's hand hissed, and Mrs. Kear stopped squeaking.

With tie flapping, shirt unbuttoned, shoes unlaced, Kear followed the
boss through the living room and down the flagstone walk to the street.
The boss opened the doors of the _Honeychile Bakery_ truck and said, "In
here."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Jane Huprich dropped her mop. Her varicose legs trotted across the
wet lobby of the Jordon Building, and her flabby fat arms reached for
the tall man with bright eyes who stood near the elevators. "It's me,
Mom," the man cried.

"Matt!" Mrs. Huprich cried. "Matt, baby!"

"I got a full pardon, Mom," Matt said, stroking her tangled white hair.
"Right from the ruling state official. You won't have to scrub floors
anymore! I'm going straight, Mom. I'm a good mechanic now. They learned
me a lot in the enclosure. Come on. I got a used truck outside, I bought
cheap."

Mrs. Huprich and son walked through the oddly twisted doors of the
Jordon Building and into the gray twilight that awaited dawn. The
_Honeychile Bakery_ truck waited too.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gary Abston peddled his bicycle against the flow of cars carrying
day-shift workers through the half-light. He whirled into Walnut Street,
twisted a fresh copy of the _Morning Herald_ into a fiendishly clever
knot, and hurled it in the general direction of a front porch that
flashed past on his right. Never slowing, Gary threw the next paper
entirely across the street. He chuckled as it cleared a picket fence.
"Bang, bang!" he blurted. His red shirt, with a picture of a mounted
cowboy on the back, ballooned in the early morning breeze.

"Whoa!" Gary roared. He stopped, held the bicycle upright with one foot
on the pavement. A tall, lanky, slightly bowlegged man with squinting
luminous green eyes stood on the sidewalk. Gary looked at the man. The
newspapers fluttered to the parkway. The bicycle clattered in the
street.

"Howdy, partner!" the tall man said. "The rustlers are headin' for the
plateau! We'll take the short gash and head 'em off at the canyon!"

"Ramrod Jones?" Gary chirped.

"Here's the truck I haul Quizz-kid, the I.Q. Horse, in! Let's get after
the rustlers!" Jones said.

"Gee, I've seen all your pictures, Ramrod," Gary said. "_Silver City
Raiders_, _Rustlers of Silver City_, _Silver City Rustlers_--"

The great cowboy lifted the newsboy into the _Honeychile_ truck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pink and rose clouds drifted through a brightening sky as the
_Honeychile Bakery_ truck careened along a narrow road badly in need of
rock and grading. From the road, the truck rattled into a rutted track
through dewy woods and skidded swaying to a stop at the side of a long,
low, grassy hill.

The tall creature dressed in black, red-spotted fur stepped from the
cab. An opening appeared in the hillside. Four machines--dull metal eggs
balancing on single tractor treads--rolled silently through the opening.
Jointed steel arms darted from recesses in the eggs. One machine opened
the truck doors.

The creature walked up a ramp inside the hill and entered a shimmering
metallic compartment.

"Greetings, Eo. I have returned."

Eo, who wore a suit of white fur, hummed, "None too soon, Za. We
miscalculated dawn. What success?"

"An excellent group," Za said. He stretched and reclined on a
transparent slab. "The servants are unloading the vehicle. I captured a
young male, a mature male, an aged male, some sort of official or
guardian male, a mature female, and an aged female."

"Let's view them," Eo said. "You can rest after we're away."

The tall creatures entered a second compartment furnished with a large
table upon which the silent machines deposited inanimate bodies.
"Extraordinary!" said Eo, staring at Miss Betsy Tapp. "These things have
reached a peak of mammalian development!"

"Her correct garments are in this bundle," Za explained. "The servants
are bringing the properties now. I secured a signaling device and a box
used in an extremely primitive system of communication. Also, I brought
the quaint muscle-powered vehicle ridden by the young male. The
photographs should be sufficient for other details."

"Any difficulty?" Eo asked as the machines dumped Patrolman Whedbee on
the table.

"The language was the greatest obstacle," Za said. "The same word has
many different meanings, or many different words have the same meaning.
Rather crude."

"Did you use bait, or force?"

"Bait," Za said. "It's much simpler. This is a completely selfish,
egocentric breed. Most of them have one thing in mind which they want
solely for themselves. Their sending power is weak, but that one selfish
desire is powerful enough to be received. I merely dangled it before
their minds, and they were hooked." He tapped the foot of Calvin C.
Kear. "I killed this one's female companion. She awoke and screamed. The
males and females pair off and live together for years. Strange custom!
Breeding seems to be only one reason for the mutual bondage."

Za pointed to Mrs. Jane Huprich. "The old female may be an exception to
the selfishness. I couldn't decide whether she most wanted to be
relieved of cleaning floors by primitive methods, or wanted her male
offspring to be released from some structure where he had been secured
for reasons I couldn't determine."

The machines deposited the Reverend Enos Shackelford and then lined up
in a precise row. "This thing is dead!" Eo buzzed.

Za shook his head. "That was the only genuine exception. He confused me
till I forgot his proper clothing, but some can be devised from the
other samples. He seems to have been a witch-doctor. His mind was
cluttered with myths and superstitions from an ancient text. I don't
understand him, Eo, and wish I had time to study the phenomena. He was
different from the others. He believed in something and considered
himself lowly and humble. The minds of the others were in constant
confusion. They believed, actually, in nothing. Somehow, he saw me, Eo.
I was forced to kill him."

"No harm done," Eo decided. He faced the machines and said, "Destroy the
vehicle, draw in the camouflage net, prepare for take-off." The
machines rolled from the compartment, and the two creatures followed.

"Seal it," Eo said. "I'll plasticize them when we're in space. Fine
work, Za. I can see the plaque now: 'Mounted by Eo, Collected by Za.
Typical Street Corner on Planet _Earth_, Star _Sol_.' The directors will
surely give the group a prominent place in the Galactic Museum of
Natural History!"

"Yes," Za agreed, glancing back at the Reverend Enos Shackelford. "This
planet was a fortunate stopover."


_The End_



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Imagination Stories of Science and
    Fantasy_ August 1953. 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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