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´╗┐Title: The Birds of Lorrane
Author: Doede, Bill
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 "The Birds of Lorrane" ***

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



                         THE BIRDS OF LORRANE

                             By BILL DOEDE

                         Illustrated by BURNS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine August 1963.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                Intelligent birds! They knew a dead-end
                     planet when they visited one!


Ingomar Bjorgson knew he was going to die.

He turned his back on his useless ship and went inside the bubble house
that had been his home for ninety-nine days. Methodically he donned his
all-weather clothes, his environment suit. He did not want to die in
this place. Here was food and refrigeration for the days, warmth and
comfort for the nights. He could not bring himself to put a gun to his
head, or end it by any other direct, willful act. But out there in the
desert, away from man-made helps for survival ... there a man could get
himself into circumstances where nature took care of it.

That was his reason for being here on this lonely planet, in the first
place--the promise of finding intelligent life. For intelligence was
rare in the universe, after all. A lone adventurer, a year before,
forced down on this planet by a cosmic storm, had waited a week here
for the storm to subside, then had landed on Earth with the feverish
news of intelligent life. Ingomar Bjorgson had come to investigate.

Birds, yet.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were only two. Two birds with minds like the edge of a razor,
living alone on this planet that was one hundred per cent desert.

He took one last look around the bubble, then walked out, leaving the
door open. From ten feet away he watched the sand already blowing in
through the doorway, and he felt very lonely and small. He knew that
his death, like his life, would never be marked anywhere with any
degree of permanence.

He walked. There was no hurry, so he walked slowly, stopping
occasionally to turn and stare at the tracks his feet had scuffed in
the sand, watching sand drift into them. He smiled wryly. The universe
was so eager to be rid of him--as if he were a disease.

He looked up again, studying the whole sky. But there was no movement
of wings, no silver streak of a ship coming to pick him up. Only one
spot marred the desert's domain--the tiny bright reflection of the
burning sun on the now distant bubble.

The birds had promised him. They had been so sure of themselves.

When he knew that the fierce sun and wind would kill him before he
could get back to the bubble, he started removing his all-weather
clothes. He flung them aside like a dancer. Coat to the left, trousers
to the right. The hot wind threw the trousers back against his face. He
tore them off with a curse. Shirt to the left. He kept the shoes on,
out of respect for his feet. Then he trudged on, wondering vaguely how
a half dressed man, dying on his feet, could make the same marks in the
sand as a fully clothed, comfortable one.

He stumbled on an outcropping of rock. He fell. He picked himself up
again. It would be quick, after all. The sun was in league with the
rest of the universe. He would die soon.

He fell again.

He had found the planet of Lorrane easily. The adventurer's charts were
accurate. It was a dry, barren place, an old, worn-out world where only
wind and sand moved, where mountains shoved their eroded peaks into
the impotent sky. But Ingomar found, upon emerging from his ship, that
there was another movement. Two black dots appeared far away in the sky
and rapidly grew larger. He had been told that the planet was populated
by an intelligent form of bird life. Two were approaching now.

He smiled to himself. "Imagine that," he said to himself, "A smart
bird. How should you meet a smart bird? Should you shake hands?"

The birds alighted in the sand before him. They eyed him with bright,
intelligent eyes. They were quite large, standing at least two feet
tall. Their gray feathers lay smooth and straight, immaculately cared
for. Ingomar cast around in his mind for something to say, or some sign
to make that indicated friendship.

Then one of the birds looked at the other and said, "This one is
larger."

"Much," the other replied.

Ingomar was astonished. "You can talk?" he asked, "In English?"

"Certainly. Didn't the first man tell how he instructed us?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Ingomar said, confused. "But I didn't remem ...
that is.... Well, I didn't believe it."

The birds eyed each other again. "I like him," one said. "If there's
anything I hate, it's a completely honest person."

The other gave him a vicious peck on his back. "Shut up!" it said, "Do
you want him to think we condone dishonesty?"

"Of course not," the other retorted hotly, "I just meant that,
considering social protocol, it is sometimes kind to tell a very small
lie."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ingomar was speechless. He looked back at his ship, standing tall and
straight, ready to blast itself into the sky again. He glanced around
at the lonely landscape. Finally he said, "It is difficult to see a
difference between you two. Do you have names that I might be able to
use?"

"Oh, yes. We beg your pardon. How uncivil of us. Our name, translated
into your tongue, is Pisces."

"The fish?"

"Well," they said, "from our home planet the constellation does not
look like a fish."

"Oh. Well, are both of you named Pisces? Oh, I see. That is your
species. I am called Man; you are called Pisces."

"Of course not," they said, "You were right the first time. Pisces is
our name. You can say, 'Pisces, get me that ship.' And we would do so."

"How can both of you have the same name? Are you actually one
intelligence? And see that you keep your hands ... I mean, see that you
leave my ship alone."

One said, "We wouldn't think of touching your ship." The other said,
"No, we are two separate entities."

Ingomar passed a hand over his face, thinking. The two very
Earth-looking birds stood quietly before him, their feet buried in the
sand so that it looked like their legs were two stilts shoved into the
ground. At last he said, "Well, I know what we'll do. I will call you
Pisces I," he pointed to the bird on his left, "and your companion
Pisces II."

The identical birds glanced at each other, then leapt into the air.
They circled high above his head. They swooped low. They engaged in
marvelous aerial gymnastics wonderful to see. Ingomar made notes in his
book concerning their agility. Finally they came to rest before him
again, so suddenly that he stepped backward quickly, frightened.

"Now," they said, "which one of us is Pisces I and which is Pisces II?"

Puzzled, Ingomar studied them carefully. The one with the quick temper
might show this characteristic in some way. He pointed to the bird on
his right. "You," he said, "are Pisces I."

They laughed. It was a verbal sound only. No expression showed in their
eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

"All right," Ingomar said, after some thought. "I can fix that." He
entered his ship and rummaged around in his clothes locker, then
emerged with a brilliant red ribbon of plastic. "I'll tie this to your
leg. That way I'll know that you are Pisces I. If you promise not to
move it from one to the other."

"We promise."

He stooped over to tie the plastic on the leg of the one he thought was
Pisces I, and was almost caught in the sudden flurry of slashing beaks
and raking claws, like a mating fight in an aviary.

"_I_ am Pisces I," one screamed, administering a resounding peck on the
other's back.

"No, you're not. I am." This one leapt into the air and landed on the
other's back. He raked vicious, long talons across the well-groomed
feathers. "I am more intelligent than you. _I_ should be Pisces I."

From a safe ten feet away, Ingomar threw the ribbon at them. "Stop it!"
he yelled.

They obeyed instantly, and stood quietly side by side facing him.
Ingomar drew his hand gun and pointed it at them. "Now stop your
fighting, or I'll blow you to kingdom come."

"Fine," they said. "Anything to get off this miserable planet. How far
is it?"

Ingomar smiled, in spite of his anger. "It's an expression. It means I
will destroy you."

One of the birds quickly picked up the plastic ribbon and carried it
to the other, and dropped it near the leg. Then both took it in their
beaks and together they tied it around the leg. It was done so quickly
that Ingomar stood there aghast, surprised into immobility. He had
never before seen birds tie knots.

"It would not be wise to destroy us," Pisces I said. "We can help you."

"How?"

"You need help," Pisces II said. "A storm is coming."

"A cosmic storm?" Ingomar asked. "I'm not worried about that. I'll stay
here until it moves on."

Pisces I shook his head. "A planetary storm."

"When?"

"Sometime tonight."

"Okay," Ingomar said. "Thanks. I'll stay inside."

"It's not so easy as that. You must blast off and put your ship in
orbit for the night."

"Why? Do you know how much fuel it takes to get into orbit? I have none
to spare."

Pisces II scratched in the sand with his claws, thinking. Then he said,
"Only one alternative exists. If you remain, the storm will wreck your
ship. Take us aboard now, and blast off for your home planet. To stay
here means death."

Ingomar snorted and turned back toward his ship. He thought, "Take
them aboard my ship? Not in a million years." He saw their plan, now.
They wanted to get into his ship. Then, by some means he could not now
foresee, they would take the ship away from him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was so shaken by this conclusion that he quickly retreated to
safety, closing the airlock. The birds stayed outside. They were
arguing between themselves. He could tell by the gesticulations they
made with their heads. Once Pisces I attacked Pisces II viciously,
raking him mercilessly with sharp talons. Pisces II fought back
ferociously. They rolled over and over in the sand. Ingomar threw a
switch that gave him communication outside the ship, and yelled at them.

They stopped fighting at once. He said, "Have you two lost your minds?"

Pisces II laughed. "Now how could one lose his mind? It goes with him
everywhere."

"All right," Ingomar said. "I meant, have you become insane?"

"Of course not," Pisces I said. "We are peaceful entities. We
intentionally developed this argument to break the monotony of life
here."

"Is it so bad as that?"

"It is terrible. Will you take us aboard?"

Ingomar did not answer, but switched the communicator off and busied
himself with recording his observations. He took advantage of their
continued presence and took photographs.

Finally, after several hours, they leapt into the air and flew away
toward the distant mountains. Ingomar was sorry to see them leave, and
more than once checked his instruments for signs of a coming storm in
case they were right. But nothing outside had changed.

After they had left he opened the ship and stepped outside, taking
readings with instruments to record the character of the planet. He
trudged through the eternally drifting sand, looking for some sign of
life. No plants, insects, animals anywhere. Only the fine, mobile sand,
occasionally an outcropping of rock not yet eroded away. And the heat!
Ingomar was forced to turn the controls of his environment suit almost
all the way up to keep comfortable. Then, when the sun receded behind
the ghostly barren mountains, the cold came creeping in. Ingomar turned
his controls in the other direction, while walking back to his ship. He
was afraid he would not keep the cold outside.

The landscape, with the sun's absence, was dark and fearful. Shadows
moved in the wind, shadows of drifting sand that took on the
shapes of monsters lurking in the darkness. Ingomar was not one to
frighten easily, but the night took on such ominous sighs and moans
and movements that his imagination began to magnify them beyond
recognition. When he finally saw the ship loom up before him he ran,
stumbling toward it. He fumbled in the darkness for the control knob
to open the lock and found it at last. He leapt inside, accompanied by
a cold blast of wind and sand, and stood there panting, hearing his
heart pound in his ears.

The night was long and lonely. He was too far from civilization for
his radio equipment to bring the comfort of familiar sounds. He tried
to read, but found concentration impossible. He thought of the birds,
wondering where they were now, how they kept from freezing to death at
night. He rewrote his notes, adding remembered facts and impressions.
Finally he decided sleep was the most painless way of spending the
night, and swallowed a small capsule designed to induce total sleep for
at least six hours.

       *       *       *       *       *

He awoke the next morning standing on his head.

The bed, horizontal the night before, was now vertical. The whole room
was vertical. Panic swept over him like a wave of burning fire. He
scrambled to the airlock. It opened grotesquely.

The ship, which last night had stood so proudly, now lay on its side.
And in his drugged sleep he had not known when it fell. For Ingomar,
the bottom dropped out of everything, and his heart dropped with it.
There was no resetting of a ship once it had fallen. This took special
equipment. Ingomar Bjorgson was a doomed man, and he knew it.

While he stood outside in the morning sun, staring at the horrible
spectacle before him, the two birds alighted, one on each side.

"Why didn't you listen to us?" Pisces I said in an accusing tone.

"Yes," Pisces II echoed angrily. "You make me sick, thinking you're
so smart, coming down here in your big ship and strutting around like
you think you're a God, or something. Now, how big do you feel? Do you
realize that this is our first opportunity to leave this planet? I've a
good notion to peck your stupid eyes out right here and now."

"Leave him be," Pisces I said. "He may not be so bright, but I think
he would have taken us with him, after he got used to us and saw how
harmless we are."

Pisces II leapt at him, almost knocking Ingomar off his feet. "Shut up!
I've a good notion to peck your eyes out, too."

"Oh, stop it!" Ingomar said wearily. "We're all doomed to spend the
rest of our lives here. How was I to know that the storm would be so
bad? My instruments gave no indication whatever."

"Actually, it was our fault," Pisces II said, more calmly. "We failed
to mention the nature of the storm. We thought you knew. It was a
magnetic storm. A shifting of magnetic currents surrounding the planet.
We had no idea that you would think of the weather."

They walked with him around the fallen ship. It was not injured, that
much Ingomar could see. The soft bed of sand had cushioned its fall. If
it could only be righted! Ingomar knew it was impossible.

"It is pointed toward that knoll out there. See? Suppose we all got
inside and blasted off. We would slide along and maybe when we reached
the knoll we'd have enough speed to keep on going in a straight line
until we could point her nose upward."

Ingomar shook his head, but he appreciated the suggestion. It indicated
that they were willing to try anything. He knew their motives were not
entirely philanthropic, but he liked them more for it, anyway.

He said, "There is only one way out, and that is for someone to come in
and get us."

"Well," Pisces II said, "What are you waiting for? Call them."

"I can't. We are too far out for communication."

The two gray birds eyed one another in disbelief. Pisces I scratched
his breast impolitely. Then he said, "Are you telling us that you have
come this far from your own solar system, knowing that you could not
call for help, if necessary?"

Ingomar nodded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pisces II snorted through his beak, and scratched in the sand.
"Stupidity," he said. "There is no other word for it."

"Yes, there is," Pisces I answered, somewhat sharply. "In fact, there
are several possible words. Bravery. Desperation. Actually I think
it is a combination of both. I am sure that you are aware how rare
intelligent life is in the universe. When you heard of us, you rushed
out here at once. I would call it bravery to go beyond the sound of the
voices of your kind. You are desperate because you are lonely in an
almost empty universe."

"We must help him," said Pisces II.

"Of course. But first let's make him comfortable. It will be a long
wait."

"Thank you," Ingomar said, moved by their sympathy. "But you cannot
help. Or do you have a way to send messages?"

"Yes, in a way," Pisces II said, "You see...."

Pisces I lifted a huge wing and knocked Pisces II in the sand. He
turned to Ingomar. "Do you promise to take us with you, if we should
succeed in getting help?"

Ingomar did not think it over. "Yes," he said.

"Then we will do it. But first we must make you comfortable. Do you
have equipment for shelter, besides the ship?"

"Yes, there is the bubble. It can be expanded to become a house."

"Get it," Pisces II said.

Ingomar did. He dragged it outside and began to unfold it, in
preparation for inflation. But Pisces II stopped him. "Not here," he
said. "It will be a long time. Our calculation is that it will take at
least forty-five days to get help. The trip from your planet alone is
at least forty days. You will not wish to stare at your toppled ship
for so long. I suggest we go beyond the first knoll."

Pisces I laughed and said to Ingomar, "For once he is using his brain.
We will carry it."

He grasped the bubble in his claws, flapped his enormous wings and
sailed off. Soon he returned, and among the three of them all his food
and books and any equipment he might need was carried over the knoll
out of sight of the wrecked ship.

"We will not return," they said, "until the rescue ship arrives. So
make yourself comfortable. Do not stray too far from the ship. This is
the most miserable planet in the universe. Give us plenty of time. We
know we can summon help, but we do not know how long it will take. We
may need as many as seventy-five days."

Ingomar settled down to wait.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fierce, burning sun had turned Ingomar's face and naked arms into
fried areas of intense pain, but he regained consciousness when he felt
the coolness of the ointment. It penetrated deep down, under the burned
skin, into flesh and muscle, soothing injured cells.

He opened his eyes. He moved his head. The eyes were burned and
bloodshot, but he could see a ship standing a hundred feet away. It was
not sleek and long, pointing its needle nose at the sky, though. It was
round, dull white, like a giant egg laid by a giant bird.

Bird? Ingomar chuckled, senses returning, thinking through his pain of
Pisces I or Pisces II laying an egg. Then he laughed aloud.

He stopped, quite abruptly, and looked again. The egg was still there,
but it was not an egg. It was actually a ship and the airlock was open
and Pisces II was backing out, dragging a sort of stretcher on wheels.

"It's a ... a ... ship!" he exclaimed, tears running down his cheeks,
over the ointment. "Whose ship is it?"

"Ours," said Pisces I.

"Yours?" Ingomar said, after a long pause while the pain raged over
his skin. He tried to sit up, and Pisces I got behind him and pushed,
nudging him upright. "Where did you get it?"

"Oh," Pisces II interrupted. "We had it all the time."

"Shut up!" Pisces I yelled. "He asked me."

"Hold your tongue," Pisces II retorted hotly, "or I'll take off and
leave you here. I've had enough of you in the past century to last a
lifetime."

Pisces I said to Ingomar, "Pay no attention to that peasant." He helped
Pisces II push the stretcher next to Ingomar. Then he pushed a lever
and the stretcher reduced itself to ground height. It was too short
for Ingomar's body, having been designed for the body of a bird. "He's
right, though," Pisces I continued, giving the stretcher a kick because
it wasn't long enough. "We had the ship all along. It was despicable of
us to deceive you, but our ship was defective, and we needed yours for
parts."

Ingomar shook his head. "There was no magnetic storm?"

Pisces II nodded his head. "Oh, yes, there was a storm. But not a
natural phenomenon, I'm sorry to say. Too bad. The natural storms are
much more beautiful."

"And you had the bubble set up away from the ship so I wouldn't see
you steal the parts?"

They hung their heads. "Despicable," they said. "A rotten thing to do."

Ingomar was too ill for anger. "Let me understand this," he said. "You
ruined my ship to get parts for yours. Why? Why not just take my ship?"

"Too slow," Pisces II said. He took the container of ointment in his
beak and set it beside Ingomar's hand. "Here, you can rub it on by
yourself now. Get busy."

Pisces I said, "By your standards our planet is a terrible distance
away. Your ship would take too long. Hurry, now. We've got to take you
to ... what do you call it, Earth? What an odd name! We're in sort of a
hurry to get home, as you might imagine."

Ingomar hurried. With the help of the mysterious, healing ointment he
was soon able to get up and make his way to the ship.

"One more question," he said. "Your ship was defective and you set down
here and you've been here for a long time, and you're a long way from
home. What were you doing so far from home, in the first place?"

"What do you suppose?" said Pisces I irritably. "We were looking for
intelligent life. Get a move on, now. If we don't waste too much time
on this Earth, we may still find some!"





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