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´╗┐Title: Bolden's Pets
Author: Wallace, F. L. (Floyd L.), 1915-2004
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 "Bolden's Pets" ***

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



Transcriber's Note: This e-text was produced from Galaxy Science
Fiction, October, 1955. Extensive research did not reveal any
evidence that the U. S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



Bolden's Pets



By F. L. WALLACE



Illustrated by DIEHL



_The price of life was a life for a life--which was all the reward the
victim looked for!_



His hands were shaking as he exhibited the gifts. If he were on Earth,
he would be certain it was the flu; in the Centaurus system, kranken.
But this was Van Daamas, so Lee Bolden couldn't say what he had. Man
hadn't been here long enough to investigate the diseases with any degree
of thoroughness. There were always different hazards to overcome as new
planets were settled.

But whatever infection he had, Bolden was not greatly concerned as he
counted out the gifts. He had felt the onset of illness perhaps an hour
before. When he got back to the settlement he'd be taken care of. That
was half a day's flight from here. The base was equipped with the best
medical facilities that had been devised.

He stacked up the gifts to make an impressive show: five pairs of radar
goggles, seven high-velocity carbines, seven boxes of ammunition. This
was the natives' own rule and was never to be disregarded--it had to be
an odd number of gifts.

The Van Daamas native gazed impassively at the heap. He carried a rather
strange bow and a quiver was strapped to his thigh. With one exception,
the arrows were brightly colored, mostly red and yellow. Bolden supposed
this was for easy recovery in case the shot missed. But there was always
one arrow that was stained dark blue. Bolden had observed this
before--no native was ever without that one somber-looking arrow.

The man of Van Daamas stood there and the thin robe that was no
protection against the elements rippled slightly in the chill current of
air that flowed down the mountainside. "I will go talk with the others,"
he said in English.

"Go talk," said Bolden, trying not to shiver. He replied in native
speech, but a few words exhausted his knowledge and he had to revert to
his own language. "Take the gifts with you. They are yours, no matter
what you decide."

The native nodded and reached for a pair of goggles. He tried them on,
looking out over fog and mist-shrouded slopes. These people of Van
Daamas needed radar less than any race Bolden knew of. Living by
preference in mountains, they had developed a keenness of vision that
enabled them to see through the perpetual fog and mist far better than
any Earthman. Paradoxically it was the goggles they appreciated most.
Extending their sight seemed more precious to them than powerful
carbines.

The native shoved the goggles up on his forehead, smiling with pleasure.
Noticing that Bolden was shivering, he took his hands and examined them.
"Hands sick?" he queried.

"A little," said Bolden. "I'll be all right in the morning."

The native gathered up the gifts. "Go talk," he repeated as he went
away.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Lee Bolden sat in the copter and waited. He didn't know how much
influence this native had with his people. He had come to negotiate, but
this might have been because he understood English somewhat better than
the others.

A council of the natives would make the decision about working for the
Earthmen's settlement. If they approved of the gifts, they probably
would. There was nothing to do now but wait--and shiver. His hands were
getting numb and his feet weren't much better.

Presently the native came out of the fog carrying a rectangular wicker
basket. Bolden was depressed when he saw it. One gift in return for
goggles, carbines, ammunition. The rate of exchange was not favorable.
Neither would the reply be.

The man set the basket down and waited for Bolden to speak. "The people
have talked?" asked Bolden.

"We have talked to come," said the native, holding out his fingers. "In
five or seven days, we come."

It was a surprise, a pleasant one. Did one wicker basket equal so many
fine products of superlative technology? Apparently it did. The natives
had different values. To them, one pair of goggles was worth more than
three carbines, a package of needles easily the equivalent of a box of
ammunition.

"It's good you will come. I will leave at once to tell them at the
settlement," said Bolden. There was something moving in the basket, but
the weave was close and he couldn't see through it.

"Stay," the man advised. "A storm blows through the mountains."

"I will fly around the storm," said Bolden.

If he hadn't been sick he might have accepted the offer. But he had to
get back to the settlement for treatment. On a strange planet you never
could tell what might develop from a seemingly minor ailment. Besides
he'd already been gone two days searching for this tribe in the
interminable fog that hung over the mountains. Those waiting at the base
would want him back as soon as he could get there.

"Fly far around," said the man. "It is a big storm." He took up the
basket and held it level with the cabin, opening the top. An animal
squirmed out and disappeared inside.

Bolden looked askance at the eyes that glowed in the dim interior. He
hadn't seen clearly what the creature was and he didn't like the idea of
having it loose in the cabin, particularly if he had to fly through a
storm. The man should have left it in the basket. But the basket plus
the animal would have been two gifts--and the natives never considered
anything in even numbers.

"It will not hurt," said the man. "A gentle pet."

                     *      *      *      *      *

As far as he knew, there were no pets and very few domesticated animals.
Bolden snapped on the cabin light. It was one of those mysterious
creatures every tribe kept in cages near the outskirts of their camps.
What they did with them no one knew and the natives either found it
impossible to explain or did not care to do so.

It seemed unlikely that the creatures were used for food and certainly
they were not work animals. And in spite of what this man said, they
were not pets either. No Earthman had ever seen a native touch them nor
had the creatures ever been seen wandering at large in the camp. And
until now, none had been permitted to pass into Earth's possession. The
scientists at the settlement would regard this acquisition with delight.

"Touch it," said the native.

Bolden held out his trembling hand and the animal came to him with alert
and friendly yellow eyes. It was about the size of a rather small dog,
but it didn't look much like one. It resembled more closely a tiny
slender bear with a glossy and shaggy cinnamon coat. Bolden ran his
hands through the clean-smelling fur and the touch warmed his fingers.
The animal squirmed and licked his fingers.

"It has got your taste," said the native. "Be all right now. It is
yours." He turned and walked into the mist.

Bolden got in and started the motors while the animal climbed into the
seat beside him. It was a friendly thing and he couldn't understand why
the natives always kept it caged.

He headed straight up, looking for a way over the mountains to avoid the
impending storm. Fog made it difficult to tell where the peaks were and
he had to drop lower, following meandering valleys. He flew as swiftly
as limited visibility would allow, but he hadn't gone far when the storm
broke. He tried to go over the top of it, but this storm seemed to have
no top. The region was incompletely mapped and even radar wasn't much
help in the tremendous electrical display that raged around the ship.

His arms ached as he clung to the controls. His hands weren't actually
cold, they were numb. His legs were leaden. The creature crept closer to
him and he had to nudge it away. Momentarily the distraction cleared his
head. He couldn't put it off any longer. He had to land and wait out the
storm--if he could find a place to land.

Flexing his hands until he worked some feeling into them, he inched the
ship lower. A canyon wall loomed at one side and he had to veer away and
keep on looking.

Eventually he found his refuge--a narrow valley where the force of the
winds was not extreme--and he set the land anchor. Unless something
drastic happened, it would hold.

                     *      *      *      *      *

He made the seat into a bed, decided he was too tired to eat, and went
directly to sleep. When he awakened, the storm was still raging and the
little animal was snoozing by his side.

He felt well enough to eat. The native hadn't explained what the animal
should be fed, but it accepted everything Bolden offered. Apparently it
was as omnivorous as Man. Before lying down again, he made the other
seat into a bed, although it didn't seem to matter. The creature
preferred being as close to him as it could get and he didn't object.
The warmth was comforting.

Alternately dozing and waking he waited out the storm. It lasted a day
and a half. Finally the sun was shining. This was two days since he had
first fallen ill, four days after leaving the settlement.

Bolden felt much improved. His hands were nearly normal and his vision
wasn't blurred. He looked at the little animal curled in his lap, gazing
up at him with solemn yellow eyes. If he gave it encouragement it would
probably be crawling all over him. However, he couldn't have it frisking
around while he was flying. "Come, Pet," he said--there wasn't anything
else to call it--"you're going places."

Picking it up, half-carrying and half-dragging it, he took it to the
rear of the compartment, improvising a narrow cage back there. He was
satisfied it would hold. He should have done this in the beginning. Of
course he hadn't felt like it then and he hadn't had the time--and
anyway the native would have resented such treatment of a gift. Probably
it was best he had waited.

His pet didn't like confinement. It whined softly for a while. The noise
stopped when the motors roared. Bolden headed straight up, until he was
high enough to establish communication over the peaks. He made a brief
report about the natives' agreement and his own illness, then he started
home.

He flew at top speed for ten hours. He satisfied his hunger by nibbling
concentrated rations from time to time. The animal whined occasionally,
but Bolden had learned to identify the sounds it made. It was neither
hungry nor thirsty. It merely wanted to be near him. And all he wanted
was to reach the base.

The raw sprawling settlement looked good as he sat the copter down.
Mechanics came running from the hangars. They opened the door and he
stepped out.

And fell on his face. There was no feeling in his hands and none in his
legs. He hadn't recovered.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Doctor Kessler peered at him through the microscreen. It gave his face a
narrow insubstantial appearance. The microscreen was a hemispherical
force field enclosing his head. It originated in a tubular circlet that
snapped around his throat at the top of the decontagion suit. The field
killed all microlife that passed through it or came in contact with it.
The decontagion suit was non-porous and impermeable, covering completely
the rest of his body. The material was thinner over his hands and
thicker at the soles.

Bolden took in the details at a glance. "Is it serious?" he asked, his
voice cracking with the effort.

"Merely a precaution," said the doctor hollowly. The microscreen
distorted sound as well as sight. "Merely a precaution. We know what it
is, but we're not sure of the best way to treat it."

Bolden grunted to himself. The microscreen and decontagion suit were
strong precautions.

The doctor wheeled a small machine from the wall and placed Bolden's
hand in a narrow trough that held it steady. The eyepiece slid into the
microscreen and, starting at the finger tips, Kessler examined the arm,
traveling slowly upward. At last he stopped. "Is this where feeling
ends?"

"I think so. Touch it. Yeah. It's dead below there."

"Good. Then we've got it pegged. It's the Bubble Death."

Bolden showed concern and the doctor laughed. "Don't worry. It's called
that because of the way it looks through the X-ray microscope. It's true
that it killed the scouting expedition that discovered the planet, but
it won't get you."

"They had antibiotics. Neobiotics, too."

"Sure. But they had only a few standard kinds. Their knowledge was more
limited and they lacked the equipment we now have."

The doctor made it sound comforting. But Bolden wasn't comforted. Not
just yet.

"Sit up and take a look," said Kessler, bending the eyepiece around so
Bolden could use it. "The dark filamented lines are nerves. See what
surrounds them?"

Bolden watched as the doctor adjusted the focus for him. Each filament
was covered with countless tiny spheres that isolated and insulated the
nerve from contact. That's why he couldn't feel anything. The spherical
microbes did look like bubbles. As yet they didn't seem to have attacked
the nerves directly.

While he watched, the doctor swiveled out another eyepiece for his own
use and turned a knob on the side of the machine. From the lens next to
his arm an almost invisible needle slid out and entered his flesh.
Bolden could see it come into the field of view. It didn't hurt. Slowly
it approached the dark branching filament, never quite touching it.

The needle was hollow and as Kessler squeezed the knob it sucked in the
spheres. The needle extended a snout which crept along the nerve,
vacuuming in microbes as it moved. When a section had been cleansed, the
snout was retracted. Bolden could feel the needle then.

                     *      *      *      *      *

When the doctor finished, he laid Bolden's hand back at his side and
wheeled the machine to the wall, extracting a small capsule which he
dropped into a slot that led to the outside. He came back and sat down.

"Is that what you're going to do?" asked Bolden. "Scrape them off?"

"Hardly. There are too many nerves. If we had ten machines and enough
people to operate them, we might check the advance in one arm. That's
all." The doctor leaned back in the chair. "No. I was collecting a few
more samples. We're trying to find out what the microbes react to."

"_More_ samples? Then you must have taken others."

"Certainly. We put you out for a while to let you rest." The chair came
down on four legs. "You've got a mild case. Either that or you have a
strong natural immunity. It's now been three days since you reported the
first symptoms and it isn't very advanced. It killed the entire scouting
expedition in less time than that."

Bolden looked at the ceiling. Eventually they'd find a cure. But would
he be alive that long?

"I suspect what you're thinking," said the doctor. "Don't overlook our
special equipment. We already have specimens in the sonic accelerator.
We've been able to speed up the life processes of the microbes about ten
times. Before the day is over we'll know which of our anti and
neobiotics they like the least. Tough little things so far--unbelievably
tough--but you can be sure we'll smack them."

His mind was active, but outwardly Bolden was quiescent as the doctor
continued his explanation.

The disease attacked the superficial nervous system, beginning with the
extremities. The bodies of the crew of the scouting expedition had been
in an advanced state of decomposition when the medical rescue team
reached them and the microbes were no longer active. Nevertheless it was
a reasonable supposition that death had come shortly after the invading
bacteria had reached the brain. Until then, though nerves were the route
along which the microbes traveled, no irreparable damage had been done.

                     *      *      *      *      *

This much was good news. Either he would recover completely or he would
die. He would not be crippled permanently. Another factor in his favor
was the sonic accelerator. By finding the natural resonance of the
one-celled creature and gradually increasing the tempo of the sound
field, the doctor could grow and test ten generations in the laboratory
while one generation was breeding in the body. Bolden was the first
patient actually being observed with the disease, but the time element
wasn't as bad as he had thought.

"That's where you are," concluded Kessler. "Now, among other things,
we've got to find where you've been."

"The ship has an automatic log," said Bolden. "It indicates every place
I landed."

"True, but our grid coordinates are not exact. It will be a few years
before we're able to look at a log and locate within ten feet of where a
ship has been." The doctor spread out a large photomap. There were
several marks on it. He fastened a stereoscope viewer over Bolden's eyes
and handed him a pencil. "Can you use this?"

"I think so." His fingers were stiff and he couldn't feel, but he could
mark with the pencil. Kessler moved the map nearer and the terrain
sprang up in detail. In some cases, he could see it more clearly than
when he had been there, because on the map there was no fog. Bolden made
a few corrections and the doctor took the map away and removed the
viewer.

"We'll have to stay away from these places until we get a cure. Did you
notice anything peculiar in any of the places you went?"

"It was all mountainous country."

"Which probably means that we're safe on the plain. Were there any
animals?"

"Nothing that came close. Birds maybe."

"More likely it was an insect. Well, we'll worry about the host and how
it is transmitted. Try not to be upset. You're as safe as you would be
on Earth."

"Yeah," said Bolden. "Where's the pet?"

The doctor laughed. "You did very well on that one. The biologists have
been curious about the animal since the day they saw one in a native
camp."

"They can _look_ at it as much as they want," said Bolden. "Nothing
more on this one, though. It's a personal gift."

"You're sure it's personal?"

"The native said it was."

The doctor sighed. "I'll tell them. They won't like it, but we can't
argue with the natives if we want their cooperation."

Bolden smiled. The animal was safe for at least six months. He could
understand the biologists' curiosity, but there was enough to keep them
curious for a long time on a new planet. And it was his. In a remarkably
short time, he had become attached to it. It was one of those rare
things that Man happened across occasionally--about once in every five
planets. Useless, completely useless, the creature had one virtue. It
liked Man and Man liked it. It was a pet. "Okay," he said. "But you
didn't tell me where it is."

The doctor shrugged, but the gesture was lost in the shapeless
decontagion suit. "Do you think we're letting it run in the streets?
It's in the next room, under observation."

The doctor was more concerned than he was letting on. The hospital was
small and animals were never kept in it. "It's not the carrier. I was
sick before it was given to me."

"You had something, we know that much, but was it this? Even granting
that you're right, it was in contact with you and may now be infected."

"I think life on this planet isn't bothered by the disease. The natives
have been every place I went and none of them seemed to have it."

"Didn't they?" said the doctor, going to the door. "Maybe. It's too
early to say." He reeled a cord out of the wall and plugged it into the
decontagion suit. He spread his legs and held his arms away from his
sides. In an instant, the suit glowed white hot. Only for an instant,
and it was insulated inside. Even so it must be uncomfortable--and the
process would be repeated outside. The doctor wasn't taking any chances.
"Try to sleep," he said. "Ring if there's a change in your
condition--even if you think it's insignificant."

"I'll ring," said Bolden. In a short time he fell asleep. It was easy to
sleep.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The nurse entered as quietly as she could in the decontagion outfit. It
awakened Bolden. It was evening. He had slept most of the day. "Which
one are you?" he asked. "The pretty one?"

"All nurses are pretty if you get well. Here. Swallow this."

It was Peggy. He looked doubtfully at what she held out. "All of it?"

"Certainly. You get it down and I'll see that it comes back up. The
string won't hurt you."

She passed a small instrument over his body, reading the dial she held
in the other hand. The information, he knew, was being recorded
elsewhere on a master chart. Apparently the instrument measured neural
currents and hence indirectly the progress of the disease. Already they
had evolved new diagnostic techniques. He wished they'd made the same
advance in treatment.

After expertly reeling out the instrument he had swallowed, the nurse
read it and deposited it in a receptacle in the wall. She brought a tray
and told him to eat. He wanted to question her, but she was insistent
about it so he ate. Allowance had been made for his partial paralysis.
The food was liquid. It was probably nutritious, but he didn't care for
the taste.

She took the tray away and came back and sat beside him. "Now we can
talk," she said.

"What's going on?" he said bluntly. "When do I start getting shots?
Nothing's been done for me so far."

"I don't know what the doctor's working out for you. I'm just the
nurse."

"Don't try to tell me that," he said. "You're a doctor yourself. In a
pinch you could take Kessler's place."

"And I get my share of pinches," she said brightly. "Okay, so I'm a
doctor, but only on Earth. Until I complete my off-planet internship
here, I'm not allowed to practice."

"You know as much about Van Daamas as anyone does."

"That may be," she said. "Now don't be alarmed, but the truth ought to
be obvious. None of our anti or neobiotics or combinations of them have
a positive effect. We're looking for something new."

It should have been obvious; he had been hoping against that, though. He
looked at the shapeless figure sitting beside him and remembered Peggy
as she usually looked. He wondered if they were any longer concerned
with him as an individual. They must be working mainly to keep the
disease from spreading. "What are my chances?"

"Better than you think. We're looking for an additive that will make the
biotics effective."

                     *      *      *      *      *

He hadn't thought of that, though it was often used, particularly on
newly settled planets. He had heard of a virus infection common to
Centaurus that could be completely controlled by a shot of neobiotics
plus aspirin, though separately neither was of any value. But the
discovery of what substance should be added to what antibiotic was
largely one of trial and error. That took time and there wasn't much
time. "What else?" he said.

"That's about it. We're not trying to make you believe this isn't
serious. But don't forget we're working ten times as fast as the disease
can multiply. We expect a break any moment." She got up. "Want a
sedative for the night?"

"I've got a sedative inside me. Looks like it will be permanent."

"That's what I like about you, you're so cheerful," she said, leaning
over and clipping something around his throat. "In case you're
wondering, we're going to be busy tonight checking the microbe. We can
put someone in with you, but we thought you'd rather have all of us
working on it."

"Sure," he said.

"This is a body monitor. If you want anything just call and we'll be
here within minutes."

"Thanks," he said. "I won't panic tonight."

She plugged in the decontagion uniform, flashed it on and then left the
room. After she was gone, the body monitor no longer seemed reassuring.
It was going to take something positive to pull him through.

They were going to work through the night, but did they actually hope
for success. What had Peggy said? None of the anti or neobiotics had a
positive reaction. Unknowingly she had let it slip. The reaction was
negative; the bubble microbes actually grew faster in the medium that
was supposed to stop them. It happened occasionally on strange planets.
It was his bad luck that it was happening to him.

He pushed the thoughts out of his mind and tried to sleep. He did for a
time. When he awakened he thought, at first, it was his arms that had
aroused him. They seemed to be on fire, deep inside. To a limited
extent, he still had control. He could move them though there was no
surface sensation. Interior nerves had not been greatly affected until
now. But outside the infection had crept up. It was no longer just above
the wrists. It had reached his elbows and passed beyond. A few inches
below his shoulder he could feel nothing. The illness was accelerating.
If they had ever thought of amputation, it was too late, now.

                     *      *      *      *      *

He resisted an impulse to cry out. A nurse would come and sit beside
him, but he would be taking her from work that might save his life. The
infection would reach his shoulders and move across his chest and back.
It would travel up his throat and he wouldn't be able to move his lips.
It would paralyze his eyelids so that he couldn't blink. Maybe it would
blind him, too. And then it would find ingress to his brain.

The result would be a metabolic explosion. Swiftly each bodily function
would stop altogether or race wildly as the central nervous system was
invaded, one regulatory center after the other blanking out. His body
would be aflame or it would smolder and flicker out. Death might be
spectacular or it could come very quietly.

That was one reason he didn't call the nurse.

The other was the noise.

It was a low sound, half purr, half a coaxing growl. It was the animal
the native had given him, confined in the next room. Bolden was not sure
why he did what he did next. Instinct or reason may have governed his
actions. But instinct and reason are divisive concepts that cannot apply
to the human mind, which is actually indivisible.

He got out of bed. Unable to stand, he rolled to the floor. He couldn't
crawl very well because his hands wouldn't support his weight so he
crept along on his knees and elbows. It didn't hurt. Nothing hurt except
the fire in his bones. He reached the door and straightened up on his
knees. He raised his hand to the handle, but couldn't grasp it. After
several trials, he abandoned the attempt and hooked his chin on the
handle, pulling it down. The door opened and he was in the next room.
The animal was whining louder now that he was near. Yellow eyes glowed
at him from the corner. He crept to the cage.

It was latched. The animal shivered eagerly, pressing against the side,
striving to reach him. His hands were numb and he couldn't work the
latch. The animal licked his fingers.

It was easier after that. He couldn't feel what he was doing, but
somehow he managed to unlatch it. The door swung open and the animal
bounded out, knocking him to the floor.

He didn't mind at all because now he was sure he was right. The natives
had given him the animal for a purpose. Their own existence was meager,
near the edge of extinction. They could not afford to keep something
that wasn't useful. And this creature was useful. Tiny blue sparks
crackled from the fur as it rubbed against him in the darkness. It was
not whining. It rumbled and purred as it licked his hands and arms and
rolled against his legs.

After a while he was strong enough to crawl back to bed, leaning against
the animal for support. He lifted himself up and fell across the bed in
exhaustion. Blood didn't circulate well in his crippled body. The animal
bounded up and tried to melt itself into his body. He couldn't push it
away if he wanted. He didn't want to. He stirred and got himself into a
more comfortable position. He wasn't going to die.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In the morning, Bolden was awake long before the doctor came in.
Kessler's face was haggard and the smile was something he assumed solely
for the patient's benefit. If he could have seen what the expression
looked like after filtering through the microscreen, he would have
abandoned it. "I see you're holding your own," he said with hollow
cheerfulness. "We're doing quite well ourselves."

"I'll bet," said Bolden. "Maybe you've got to the point where one of the
antibiotics doesn't actually stimulate the growth of the microbes?"

"I was afraid you'd find it out," sighed the doctor. "We can't keep
everything from you."

"You could have given me a shot of plasma and said it was a powerful new
drug."

"That idea went out of medical treatment a couple of hundred years ago,"
said the doctor. "You'd feel worse when you failed to show improvement.
Settling a planet isn't easy and the dangers aren't imaginary. You've
got to be able to face facts as they come."

He peered uncertainly at Bolden. The microscreen distorted his vision,
too. "We're making progress though it may not seem so to you. When a
mixture of a calcium salt plus two antihistamines is added to a certain
neobiotic, the result is that the microbe grows no faster than it
should. Switching the ingredients here and there--maybe it ought to be a
potassium salt--and the first thing you know we'll have it stopped
cold."

"I doubt the effectiveness of those results," said Bolden. "In fact, I
think you're on the wrong track. Try investigating the effects of neural
induction."

"What are you talking about?" said the doctor, coming closer and
glancing suspiciously at the lump beside Bolden. "Do you feel dizzy? Is
there anything else unusual that you notice?"

"Don't shout at the patient." Bolden waggled his finger reprovingly. He
was proud of the finger. He couldn't feel what he was doing, but he had
control over it. "You, Kessler, should face the fact that a doctor can
learn from a patient what the patient learned from the natives."

But Kessler didn't hear what he said. He was looking at the upraised
hand. "You're moving almost normally," he said. "Your own immunity
factor is controlling the disease."

"Sure. I've got an immunity factor," said Bolden. "The same one the
natives have. Only it's not inside my body." He rested his hand on the
animal beneath the covers. It never wanted to leave him. It wouldn't
have to.

"I can set your mind at rest on one thing, Doctor. Natives are
susceptible to the disease, too. That's why they were able to recognize
I had it. They gave me the cure and told me what it was, but I was
unable to see it until it was nearly too late. Here it is." He turned
back the covers and the exposed animal sleeping peacefully on his legs
which raised its head and licked his fingers. He felt that.

                     *      *      *      *      *

After an explanation the doctor tempered his disapproval. It was an
unsanitary practice, but he had to admit that the patient was much
improved. Kessler verified the state of Bolden's health by extensive use
of the X-ray microscope. Reluctantly he wheeled the machine to the wall
and covered it up.

"The infection is definitely receding," he said. "There are previously
infected areas in which I find it difficult to locate a single microbe.
What I can't understand is how it's done. According to you, the animal
doesn't break the skin with its tongue and therefore nothing is released
into the bloodstream. All that seems necessary is that the animal be
near you." He shook his head behind the microscreen. "I don't think much
of the electrical analogy you used."

"I said the first thing I thought of. I don't know if that's the way it
works, but it seems to me like a pretty fair guess."

"The microbes _do_ cluster around nerves," said the doctor. "We know
that neural activity is partly electrical. If the level of that activity
can be increased, the bacteria might be killed by ionic dissociation."
He glanced speculatively at Bolden and the animal. "Perhaps you do
borrow nervous energy from the animal. We might also find it possible to
control the disease with an electrical current."

"Don't try to find out on me," said Bolden. "I've been an experimental
specimen long enough. Take somebody who's healthy. I'll stick with the
natives' method."

"I wasn't thinking of experiments in your condition. You're still not
out of danger." Nevertheless he showed his real opinion when he left the
room. He failed to plug in and flash the decontagion suit.

Bolden smiled at the doctor's omission and ran his hand through the fur.
He was going to get well.

                     *      *      *      *      *

But his progress was somewhat slower than he'd anticipated though it
seemed to satisfy the doctor who went on with his experiments. The
offending bacteria could be killed electrically. But the current was
dangerously large and there was no practical way to apply the treatment
to humans. The animal was the only effective method.

Kessler discovered the microbe required an intermediate host. A tick or
a mosquito seemed indicated. It would take a protracted search of the
mountains to determine just what insect was the carrier. In any event
the elaborate sanitary precautions were unnecessary. Microscreens came
down and decontagion suits were no longer worn. Bolden could not pass
the disease on to anyone else.

Neither could the animal. It seemed wholly without parasites. It was
clean and affectionate, warm to the touch. Bolden was fortunate that
there was such a simple cure for the most dreaded disease on Van Daamas.

It was several days before he was ready to leave the small hospital at
the edge of the settlement. At first he sat up in bed and then he was
allowed to walk across the room. As his activity increased, the animal
became more and more content to lie on the bed and follow him with its
eyes. It no longer frisked about as it had in the beginning. As Bolden
told the nurse, it was becoming housebroken.

The time came when the doctor failed to find a single microbe. Bolden's
newly returned strength and the sensitivity of his skin where before
there had been numbness confirmed the diagnosis. He was well. Peggy came
to walk him home. It was pleasant to have her near.

"I see you're ready," she said, laughing at his eagerness.

"Except for one thing," he said. "Come, Pet." The animal raised its head
from the bed where it slept.

"Pet?" she said quizzically. "You ought to give it a name. You've had it
long enough to decide on something."

"Pet's a name," he said. "What can I call it? Doc? Hero?"

She made a face. "I can't say I care for either choice, although it did
save your life."

"Yes, but that's an attribute it can't help. The important thing is that
if you listed what you expect of a pet you'd find it in this creature.
Docile, gentle, lively at times; all it wants is to be near you, to have
you touch it. And it's very clean."

"All right, call it Pet if you want," said Peggy. "Come on, Pet."

It paid no attention to her. It came when Bolden called, getting slowly
off the bed. It stayed as close as it could get to Bolden. He was still
weak so they didn't walk fast and, at first, the animal was able to keep
up.

                     *      *      *      *      *

It was almost noon when they went out. The sun was brilliant and Van
Daamas seemed a wonderful place to be alive in. Yes, with death behind
him, it was a very wonderful place. Bolden chatted gaily with Peggy. She
was fine company.

And then Bolden saw the native who had given him the animal. Five to
seven days, and he had arrived on time. The rest of the tribe must be
elsewhere in the settlement. Bolden smiled in recognition while the man
was still at some distance. For an answer the native shifted the bow in
his hand and glanced behind the couple, in the direction of the
hospital.

The movement with the bow might have been menacing, but Bolden ignored
that gesture. It was the sense that something was missing that caused
him to look down. The animal was not at his side. He turned around.

The creature was struggling in the dust. It got to its feet and wobbled
toward him, staggering crazily as it tried to reach him. It spun around,
saw him, and came on again. The tongue lolled out and it whined once.
Then the native shot it through the heart, pinning it to the ground. The
short tail thumped and then it died.

Bolden couldn't move. Peggy clutched his arm. The native walked over to
the animal and looked down. He was silent for a moment. "Die anyway
soon," he said to Bolden. "Burned out inside."

He bent over. The bright yellow eyes had faded to nothingness in the
sunlight. "Gave you its health," said the man of Van Daamas respectfully
as he broke off the protruding arrow.

It was a dark blue arrow.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Now every settlement on the planet has Bolden's pets. They have been
given a more scientific name, but nobody remembers what it is. The
animals are kept in pens, exactly as is done by the natives, on one side
of town, not too near any habitation.

For a while, there was talk that it was unscientific to use the animal.
It was thought that an electrical treatment could be developed to
replace it. Perhaps this was true. But settling a planet is a big task.
As long as one method works there isn't time for research. And it
works--the percentage of recovery is as high as in other common
ailments.

But in any case the animal can never become a pet, though it may be in
the small but bright spark of consciousness that is all the little
yellow-eyed creature wants. The quality that makes it so valuable is the
final disqualification. Strength can be a weakness. Its nervous system
is too powerful for a man in good health, upsetting the delicate balance
of the human body in a variety of unusual ways. How the energy-transfer
takes place has never been determined exactly, but it does occur.

It is only when he is stricken with the Bubble Death and needs
additional energy to drive the invading microbes from the tissue around
his nerves that the patient is allowed to have one of Bolden's pets.

In the end, it is the animal that dies. As the natives knew, it is
kindness to kill it quickly.

It is highly regarded and respectfully spoken of. Children play as close
as they can get, but are kept well away from the pens by a high, sturdy
fence. Adults walk by and nod kindly to it.

Bolden never goes there nor will he speak of it. His friends say he's
unhappy about being the first Earthman to discover the usefulness of the
little animal. They are right. It is a distinction he doesn't care for.
He still has the blue arrow. There are local craftsmen who can mend it,
but he has refused their services. He wants to keep it as it is.

--F. L. WALLACE





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