Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Growing Up On Big Muddy
Author: De Vet, Charles V. (Charles Vincent)
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 "Growing Up On Big Muddy" ***

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



              Well, naturally Kaiser would transmit baby
              talk messages to his mother ship! He was--

                        GROWING UP ON BIG MUDDY

                         By CHARLES V. DE VET

                         Illustrated by TURPIN

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                   Galaxy Science Fiction July 1957.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



Kaiser stared at the tape in his hand for a long uncomprehending
minute. How long had the stuff been coming through in this inane baby
talk? And why hadn't he noticed it before? Why had he had to read this
last communication a third time before he recognized anything unusual
about it?

He went over the words again, as though maybe this time they'd read as
they should.

    OO IS SICK, SMOKY. DO TO BEDDY-BY. KEEP UM WARM. WHEN UM FEELS
    BETTER, LET USNS KNOW.

    SS II

Kaiser let himself ease back in the pilot chair and rolled the tape
thoughtfully between his fingers. Overhead and to each side, large
drops of rain thudded softly against the transparent walls of the scout
ship and dripped wearily from the bottom ledge to the ground.

"Damn this climate!" Kaiser muttered irrelevantly. "Doesn't it ever do
anything here except rain?"

His attention returned to the matter at hand. Why the baby talk? And
why was his memory so hazy? How long had he been here? What had he been
doing during that time?

Listlessly he reached for the towel at his elbow and wiped the moisture
from his face and bare shoulders. The air conditioning had gone out
when the scout ship cracked up. He'd have to repair the scout or he
was stuck here for good. He remembered now that he had gone over the
job very carefully and thoroughly, and had found it too big to handle
alone--or without better equipment, at least. Yet there was little or
no chance of his being able to find either here.

Calmly, deliberately, Kaiser collected his thoughts, his memories, and
brought them out where he could look at them:

The mother ship, _Soscites II_, had been on the last leg of its
planet-mapping tour. It had dropped Kaiser in the one remaining scout
ship--the other seven had all been lost one way or another during the
exploring of new worlds--and set itself into a giant orbit about this
planet that Kaiser had named Big Muddy.

The _Soscites II_ had to maintain its constant speed; it had no means
of slowing, except to stop, and no way to start again once it did stop.
Its limited range of maneuverability made it necessary to set up an
orbit that would take it approximately one month, Earth time, to circle
a pinpointed planet. And now its fuel was low.

Kaiser had that one month to repair his scout or be stranded here
forever.

That was all he could remember. Nothing of what he had been doing
recently.

A small shiver passed through his body as he glanced once again at the
tape in his hand. Baby talk....

       *       *       *       *       *

One thing he could find out: how long this had been going on. He
turned to the communicator and unhooked the paper receptacle on its
bottom. It held about a yard and a half of tape, probably his last
several messages--both those sent and those received. He pulled it out
impatiently and began reading.

The first was from himself:

    YOUR SUGGESTIONS NO HELP. HOW AM I GOING TO REPAIR DAMAGE TO SCOUT
    WITHOUT PROPER EQUIPMENT? AND WHERE DO I GET IT? DO YOU THINK I
    FOUND A TOOL SHOP DOWN HERE? FOR GOD'S SAKE, COME UP WITH SOMETHING
    BETTER.

    VISITED SEAL-PEOPLE AGAIN TODAY. STILL HAVE THEIR STINK IN MY NOSE.
    FOUND HUTS ALONG RIVER BANK, SO I GUESS THEY DON'T LIVE IN WATER.
    BUT THEY DO SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME THERE. NO, I HAVE NO WAY OF
    ESTIMATING THEIR INTELLIGENCE. I WOULD JUDGE IT AVERAGES NO HIGHER
    THAN SEVEN-YEAR-OLD HUMAN. THEY DEFINITELY DO TALK TO ONE ANOTHER.
    WILL TRY TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THEM, BUT YOU GET TO WORK FAST ON
    HOW I REPAIR SCOUT.

    SWELLING IN ARM WORSE AND AM DEVELOPING A FEVER. TEMPERATURE 102.7
    AN HOUR AGO.

    SMOKY

The ship must have answered immediately, for the return message time
was six hours later than his own, the minimum interval necessary for
two-way exchange.

    DOING OUR BEST, SMOKY. YOUR IMMEDIATE PROBLEM, AS WE SEE IT, IS TO
    KEEP WELL. WE FED ALL THE INFORMATION YOU GAVE US INTO SAM, BUT YOU
    DIDN'T HAVE MUCH EXCEPT THE STING IN YOUR ARM. AS EXPECTED, ALL
    THAT CAME OUT WAS "DATA INSUFFICIENT." TRY TO GIVE US MORE. ALSO
    DETAIL ALL SYMPTOMS SINCE YOUR LAST REPORT. IN THE MEANTIME, WE'RE
    DOING EVERYTHING WE CAN AT THIS END. GOOD LUCK.

    SS II

Sam, Kaiser knew, was the ship's mechanical diagnostician. His report
followed:

    ARM SWOLLEN. UNABLE TO KEEP DOWN FOOD LAST TWELVE HOURS. ABOUT TWO
    HOURS AGO, ENTIRE BODY TURNED LIVID RED. BRIEF PERIODS OF
    BLANKNESS. THINGS KEEP COMING AND GOING. SICK AS HELL. HURRY.

    SMOKY

The ship's next message read:

    INFECTION QUITE DEFINITE. BUT SOMETHING STRANGE THERE. GIVE US
    ANYTHING MORE YOU HAVE.

    SS II

His own reply perplexed Kaiser:

    LAST LETTER FUNNY. I NOT UNDERSTAND. WHY IS OO SENDING GARBLE TALK?
    DID USNS MAKE UP SECRET MESSAGES?

    SMOKY

The expedition, apparently, was as puzzled as he:

    WHAT'S THE MATTER, SMOKY? THAT LAST MESSAGE WAS IN PLAIN TERRAN. NO
    REASON WHY YOU COULDN'T READ IT. AND WHY THE BABY TALK? IF YOU'RE
    SPOOFING, STOP. GIVE US MORE SYMPTOMS. HOW ARE YOU FEELING NOW?

    SS II

The baby talk was worse on Kaiser's next:

    TWAZY. WHAT FOR OO TENDING TWAZY LETTERS? FINK UM CAN WEAD TWAZY
    LETTERS? SKIN ALL YELLOW NOW. COLD. COLD. CO

The ship's following communication was three hours late. It was the
last on the tape--the one Kaiser had read earlier. Apparently they
decided to humor him.

    OO IS SICK, SMOKY. DO TO BEDDY-BY. KEEP UM WARM. WHEN UM FEELS
    BETTER, LET USNS KNOW.

    SS II

That was not much help. All it told him was that he had been sick.

He felt better now, outside of a muscular weariness, as though
convalescing from a long illness. He put the back of his hand to his
forehead. Cool. No fever anyway.

He glanced at the clock-calendar on the instrument board and back at
the date and time on the tape where he'd started his baby talk. Twenty
hours. He hadn't been out of his head too long. He began punching the
communicator keys while he nibbled at a biscuit.

    SEEM TO BE FULLY RECOVERED. FEELING FINE. ANYTHING NEW FROM SAM?
    AND HOW ABOUT THE DAMAGE TO SCOUT? GIVE ME ANYTHING YOU HAVE ON
    EITHER OR BOTH.

    SMOKY

Kaiser felt suddenly weary. He lay on the scout's bunk and tried
to sleep. Soon he was in that phantasm land between sleep and
wakefulness--he knew he was not sleeping, yet he did dream.

It was the same dream he had had many times before. In it, he was back
home again, the home he had joined the space service to escape. He had
realized soon after his marriage that his wife, Helene, did not love
him. She had married him for the security his pay check provided. And
though it soon became evident that she, too, regretted her bargain,
she would not divorce him. Instead, she had her revenge on him by
persistent nagging, by letting herself grow fat and querulous, and by
caring for their house only in a slovenly way.

Her crippled brother had moved in with them the day they were married.
His mind was as crippled as his body and he took an unhealthy delight
in helping his sister torment Kaiser.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kaiser came wide awake in a cold sweat. The clock showed that only an
hour had passed since he had sent his last message to the ship. Still
five more long hours to wait. He rose and wiped the sweat from his neck
and shoulders and restlessly paced the small corridor of the scout.

After a few minutes, he stopped pacing and peered out into the gloom of
Big Muddy. The rain seemed to have eased off some. Not much more than a
heavy drizzle now.

Kaiser reached impulsively for the slicker he had thrown over a chest
against one wall and put it on, then a pair of hip-high plastic boots
and a plastic hat. He opened the door. The scout had come to rest with
a slight tilt when it crashed, and Kaiser had to sit down and roll
over onto his stomach to ease himself to the ground.

The weather outside was normal for Big Muddy: wet, humid, and warm.

Kaiser sank to his ankles in soft mud before his feet reached solid
ground. He half walked and half slid to the rear of the scout. Beside
the ship, the "octopus" was busily at work. Tentacles and antennae,
extending from the yard-high box of its body, tested and recorded
temperature, atmosphere, soil, and all other pertinent planetary
conditions. The octopus was connected to the ship's communicator and
all its findings were being transmitted to the mother ship for study.

Kaiser observed that it was working well and turned toward a wide,
sluggish river, perhaps two hundred yards from the scout. Once there,
he headed upstream. He could hear the pipings, and now and then a
higher whistling, of the seal-people before he reached a bend and saw
them. As usual, most were swimming in the river.

One old fellow, whose chocolate-brown fur showed a heavy intermixture
of gray, was sitting on the bank of the river just at the bend. Perhaps
a lookout. He pulled himself to his feet as he spied Kaiser and his
toothless, hard-gummed mouth opened and emitted a long whistle that
might have been a greeting--or a warning to the others that a stranger
approached.

The native stood perhaps five feet tall, with the heavy, blubbery
body of a seal, and short, thick arms. Membranes connected the arms
to his body from shoulder-pits to mid-biceps. The arms ended in
three-fingered, thumbless hands. His legs also were short and thick,
with footpads that splayed out at forty-five-degree angles. They gave
his legs the appearance of a split tail. About him hung a rank-fish
smell that made Kaiser's stomach squirm.

The old fellow sounded a cheerful chirp as Kaiser came near. Feeling
slightly ineffectual, Kaiser raised both hands and held them palm
forward. The other chirped again and Kaiser went on toward the main
group.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had stopped their play and eating as Kaiser approached and now
most of them swam in to shore and stood in the water, staring and
piping. They varied in size from small seal-pups to full-grown adults.
Some chewed on bunches of water weed, which they manipulated with their
lips and drew into their mouths.

They had mammalian characteristics, Kaiser had noted before, so it
was not difficult to distinguish the females from the males. The
proportion was roughly fifty-fifty.

Several of the bolder males climbed up beside Kaiser and began pawing
his plastic clothing. Kaiser stood still and tried to keep his
breathing shallow, for their odor was almost more than he could bear.
One native smeared Kaiser's face with an exploring paw and Kaiser
gagged and pushed him roughly away. He was bound by regulations to
display no hostility to newly discovered natives, but he couldn't take
much more of this.

A young female splashed water on two young males who stood near and
they turned with shrill pipings and chased her into the water. The
entire group seemed to lose interest in Kaiser and joined in the chase,
or went back to other diversions of their own. Kaiser's inspectors
followed.

They were a mindless lot, Kaiser observed. The river supplied them with
an easy existence, with food and living space, and apparently they had
few natural enemies.

Kaiser walked away, following the long slow bend of the river, and
came to a collection of perhaps two hundred dwellings built in three
haphazard rows along the river bank. He took time to study their
construction more closely this time.

They were all round domes, little more than the height of a man, built
of blocks that appeared to be mud, packed with river weed and sand. How
they were able to dry these to give them the necessary solidity, Kaiser
did not know. He had found no signs that they knew how to use fire, and
all apparent evidence was against their having it. They then had to
have sunlight. Maybe it rained less during certain seasons.

The domes' construction was based on a series of four arches built in a
circle. When the base covering the periphery had been laid, four others
were built on and between them, and continued in successive tiers until
the top was reached. Each tier thus furnished support for the next
above. No other framework was needed. The final tier formed the roof.
They made sound shelters, but Kaiser had peered into several and found
them dark and dank--and as smelly as the natives themselves.

The few loungers in the village paid little attention to Kaiser and
he wandered through the irregular streets until he became bored and
returned to the scout.

The _Soscites II_ sent little that helped during the next twelve hours
and Kaiser occupied his time trying again to repair the damage to the
scout.

The job appeared maddeningly simply. As the scout had glided in for
a soft landing, its metal bottom had ridden a concealed rock and bent
inward. The bent metal had carried up with it the tube supplying the
fuel pump and flattened it against the motor casing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Opening the tube again would not have been difficult, but first it had
to be freed from under the ship. Kaiser had tried forcing the sheet
metal back into place with a small crowbar--the best leverage he had on
hand--but it resisted his best efforts. He still could think of no way
to do the job, simple as it was, though he gave his concentration to it
the rest of the day.

That evening, Kaiser received information from the _Soscites II_ that
was at least definite:

    SET YOURSELF FOR A SHOCK, SMOKY. SAM FINALLY CAME THROUGH. YOU
    WON'T LIKE WHAT YOU HEAR. AT LEAST NOT AT FIRST. BUT IT COULD BE
    WORSE. YOU HAVE BEEN INVADED BY A SYMBIOTE--SIMILAR TO THE TYPE
    FOUND ON THE SAND WORLD, BARTEL-BLEETHERS. GIVE US A FEW MORE HOURS
    TO WORK WITH SAM AND WE'LL GET YOU ALL THE PARTICULARS HE CAN GIVE
    US. HANG ON NOW!

    SOSCITES II

Kaiser's reply was short and succinct:

    WHAT THE HELL?

    SMOKY

_Soscites II's_ next communication followed within twenty minutes and
was signed by the ship's doctor:

    JUST A FEW WORDS, SMOKY, IN CASE YOU'RE WORRIED. I THOUGHT I'D GET
    THIS OFF WHILE WE'RE WAITING FOR MORE INFORMATION FROM SAM.
    REMEMBER THAT A SYMBIOTE IS NOT A PARASITE. IT WILL NOT HARM YOU,
    EXCEPT INADVERTENTLY. YOUR WELFARE IS AS ESSENTIAL TO IT AS TO YOU.
    ALMOST CERTAINLY, IF YOU DIE, IT WILL DIE WITH YOU. ANY TROUBLE
    YOU'VE HAD SO FAR WAS PROBABLY CAUSED BY THE SYMBIOTE'S DIFFICULTY
    IN ADJUSTING ITSELF TO ITS NEW ENVIRONMENT. IN A WAY, I ENVY YOU.
    MORE LATER, WHEN WE FINISH WITH SAM.

    J. G. ZARWELL

Kaiser did not answer. The news was so startling, so unforeseen, that
his mind refused to accept the actuality. He lay on the scout's bunk
and stared at the ceiling without conscious attention, and with very
little clear thought, for several hours--until the next communication
came in:

    WELL, THIS IS WHAT SAM HAS TO SAY, SMOKY. SYMBIOTE AMICABLE AND
    APPARENTLY SWIFTLY ADAPTABLE. YOUR CHANGING COLOR, DIFFICULTY IN
    EATING AND EVEN BABY TALK WERE THE RESULT OF ITS EFFORTS TO GIVE
    YOU WHAT IT BELIEVED YOU NEEDED OR WANTED.

    CHANGING COLOR: PROTECTIVE CAMOUFLAGE. TROUBLE KEEPING FOOD DOWN:
    IT KEPT YOUR STOMACH EMPTY BECAUSE IT SENSED YOU WERE IN TROUBLE
    AND MIGHT HAVE NEED FOR SHARP REFLEXES, WITH NO EXCESS WEIGHT TO
    CARRY. THE BABY TALK WE AREN'T TOO CERTAIN ABOUT, BUT OUR BEST
    CONCLUSION IS THAT WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD, YOU WERE MOST HAPPY. IT
    WAS TRYING TO GIVE YOU BACK THAT HAPPY STATE OF MIND. OBVIOUSLY IT
    QUICKLY RECOGNIZED THE MISTAKES IT MADE AND CORRECTED THEM.

    SAM CAME UP WITH A FEW MORE IDEAS, BUT WE WANT TO WORK ON THEM A
    BIT BEFORE WE SEND THEM THROUGH. SLEEP ON THIS.

    SS II

       *       *       *       *       *

Kaiser could imagine that most of the crew were not too concerned about
the trouble he was in. He was not the gregarious type and had no close
friends on board. He had hoped to find the solitude he liked best in
space, but he had been disappointed. True, there were fewer people
here, but he was brought into such intimate contact with them that he
would have been more contented living in a crowded city.

His naturally unsociable nature was more irksome to the crew because
he was more intelligent and efficient than they were. He did his work
well and painstakingly and was seldom in error. They would have liked
him better had he been more prone to mistakes. He was certain that they
respected him, but they did not like him. And he returned the dislike.

The suggestion that he get some sleep might not be a bad idea. He
hadn't slept in over eighteen hours, Kaiser realized--and fell
instantly asleep.

The communicator had a message waiting for him when he awoke:

    SAM COULDN'T HELP US MUCH ON THIS PART, BUT AFTER RESEARCH AND MUCH
    DISCUSSION, WE ARRIVED AT THE FOLLOWING TWO CONCLUSIONS.

    FIRST, PHYSICAL PROPERTY OF SYMBIOTE IS EITHER THAT OF A VERY THIN
    LIQUID OR, MORE PROBABLY, A VIRUS FORM WITH SWIFT PROPAGATION
    CHARACTERISTIC. IT UNDOUBTEDLY LIVES IN YOUR BLOOD STREAM AND
    PERMEATES YOUR SYSTEM.

    SECOND, IT SEEMED TO US, AS IT MUST HAVE TO YOU, THAT THE SYMBIOTE
    COULD ONLY KNOW WHAT YOU WANTED BY READING YOUR MIND. HOWEVER, WE
    BELIEVE DIFFERENTLY NOW. WE THINK THAT IT HAS SUCH CLOSE CONTACT
    WITH YOUR GLANDS AND THEIR SECRETIONS, WHICH STIMULATE EMOTION,
    THAT IT CAN GAUGE YOUR FEELINGS EVEN MORE ACCURATELY THAN YOU
    YOURSELF CAN. THUS IT CAN JUDGE YOUR LIKES AND DISLIKES QUITE
    ACCURATELY.

    WE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE YOU TEST OUR THEORY. THERE ARE DOZENS OF
    WAYS. IF YOU ARE STUMPED AND NEED SUGGESTIONS, JUST LET US KNOW.
    WE AWAIT WORD FROM YOU WITH GREAT INTEREST.

    SS II

By now, Kaiser had accepted what had happened to him. His distress and
anxiety were gone and he was impatient to do what he could to establish
better contact with his uninvited tenant. With eager anticipation, he
set to thinking how it could be done. After a few minutes, an idea
occurred to him.

Taking a small scalpel from a medical kit, he made a shallow cut in
his arm, just deep enough to bleed freely. He knew that the pain would
supply the necessary glandular reaction. The cut bled a few slow
drops--and as Kaiser watched, a shiny film formed and the bleeding
stopped.

That checked pretty well with the ship's theory.

Perhaps the symbiote had made his senses more acute. He tried closing
his eyes and fingering several objects in the room. It seemed to him
that he could determine the texture of each better than before, but
the test was inconclusive. Walking to the rear of the scout, he tried
reading the printed words on the instrument panel. Each letter stood
out sharp and clear!

Kaiser wondered if he might not make an immediate, practical use of the
symbiote's apparent desire to help him. Concentrating on the discomfort
of the high humidity and exaggerating his own displeasure with it, he
waited. The result surprised and pleased him.

The temperature within the scout cabin seemed to lower, the moisture
on his body vanished, and he was more comfortable than he had yet been
here.

As a double check, he looked at the ship's thermometer. Temperature
102, humidity 113--just about the same as it had been on earlier
readings.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the next twenty-four hours, Kaiser and the mother ship exchanged
messages at regular six-hour intervals. In between, he worked at
repairing the damaged scout. He had no more success than before.

He tired easily and lay on the cot often to rest. Each time he seemed
to drop off to sleep immediately--and awake at the exact times he
had decided on beforehand. At first, despite the lack of success in
straightening the bent metal of the scout bottom, there had been a
subdued exhilaration in reporting each new discovery concerning the
symbiote, but as time passed, his enthusiasm ebbed. His one really
important problem was how to repair the scout and he was fast becoming
discouraged.

At last Kaiser could bear the futility of his efforts no longer. He
sent out a terse message to the _Soscites II_:

    TAKING SHORT TRIP TO ANOTHER LOCATION ON RIVER. HOPE TO FIND MORE
    INTELLIGENT NATIVES. COULD BE THAT THE SETTLEMENT I FOUND HERE IS
    ANALOGOUS TO TRIBE OF MONKEYS ON EARTH. I KNOW THE CHANCE IS SMALL,
    BUT WHAT HAVE I TO LOSE? I CAN'T FIX SCOUT WITHOUT BETTER TOOLS,
    AND IF MY GUESS IS RIGHT, I MAY BE ABLE TO GET EQUIPMENT. EXPECT TO
    RETURN IN TEN OR TWELVE HOURS. PLEASE KEEP CONTACT WITH SCOUT.

    SMOKY

Kaiser packed a mudsled with tent, portable generator and guard wires,
a spare sidearm and ammunition, and food for two days. He had noticed
that a range of high hills, which caused the bend in the river at
the native settlement, seemed to continue its long curve, and he
wondered if the hills might not turn the river in the shape of a giant
horseshoe. He intended to find out.

Wrapping his equipment in a plastic tarp, Kaiser eased it out the
doorway and tied it on the sled. He hooked a towline to a harness on
his shoulders and began his journey--in the opposite direction from the
first native settlement.

He walked for more than seven hours before he found that his surmise
had been correct. And a second cluster of huts, and seal-people in the
river, greeted his sight. He received a further pleasant surprise. This
group was decidedly more advanced than the first!

They were little different in actual physical appearance; the change
was mainly noticeable in their actions and demeanor. And their odor was
more subdued, less repugnant.

By signs, Kaiser indicated that he came in peace, and they seemed to
understand. A thick-bodied male went solemnly to the river bank and
called to a second, who dived and brought up a mouthful of weed. The
first male took the weed and brought it to Kaiser. This was obviously a
gesture of friendship.

The weed had a white starchy core and looked edible. Kaiser cleaned
part of it with his handkerchief, bit and chewed it.

The weed had a slight iron taste, but was not unpalatable. He swallowed
the mouthful and tried another. He ate most of what had been given him
and waited with some trepidation for a reaction.

       *       *       *       *       *

As dusk fell, Kaiser set up his tent a few hundred yards back from the
native settlement. All apprehension about how his stomach would react
to the river weed had left him. Apparently it could be assimilated by
his digestive system. Lying on his air mattress, he felt thoroughly at
peace with this world.

Once, just before dropping off to sleep, he heard the snuffling noise
of some large animal outside his tent and picked up a pistol, just in
case. However, the first jolt of the guard-wire charge discouraged the
beast and Kaiser heard it shuffle away, making puzzled mewing sounds as
it went.

The next morning, Kaiser left off all his clothes except a pair of
shorts and went swimming in the river. The seal-people were already in
the water when he arrived and were very friendly.

That friendliness nearly resulted in disaster. The natives crowded
around as he swam--they maneuvered with an otter-like proficiency--and
often nudged him with their bodies when they came too close. He had
difficulty keeping afloat and soon turned and started back. As he
neared the river edge, a playful female grabbed him by the ankle and
pulled him under.

Kaiser tried to break her hold, but she evidently thought he was
clowning and wrapped her warm furred arms around him and held him
helpless. They sank deeper.

When his breath threatened to burst from his lungs in a stream of
bubbles, and he still could not free himself, Kaiser brought his knee
up into her stomach and her grip loosened abruptly. He reached the
surface, choking and coughing, and swam blindly toward shore until his
feet hit the river bottom.

As he stood on the bank, getting his breath, the natives were quiet and
seemed to be looking at him reproachfully. He stood for a time, trying
to think of a way to explain the necessity of what he had done, but
there was none. He shrugged helplessly.

There was no longer anything to be gained by staying here--if they
had the tools he needed, he had no way of finding out or asking for
them--and he packed and started back to the scout.

Kaiser's good spirits returned on his return journey. He had enjoyed
the relief from the tedium of spending day after day in the scout, and
now he enjoyed the exercise of pulling the mudsled. Above the waist,
he wore only the harness and the large, soft drops of rain against his
bare skin were pleasant to feel.

When he reached the scout, Kaiser began to unload the sled. The
tarpaulin caught on the edge of a runner and he gave it a tug to free
it. To his amazement, the heavy sled turned completely over, spilling
the equipment to the ground.

Perplexed, Kaiser stooped and began replacing the spilled articles in
the tarp. They felt exceptionally light. He paused again, and suddenly
his eyes widened.

       *       *       *       *       *

Moving quickly to the door of the scout, he shoved his equipment
through and crawled in behind it. He did not consult the communicator,
as he customarily did on entering, but went directly to the warped
place on the floor and picked up the crowbar he had laid there.

Inserting the bar between the metal of the scout bottom and the engine
casing, he lifted. Nothing happened. He rested a minute and tried
again, this time concentrating on his desire to raise the bar. The
metal beneath yielded slightly--but he felt the palms of his hands
bruise against the lever.

Only after he dropped the bar did he realize the force he had exerted.
His hands ached and tingled. His strength must have been increased
tremendously. With his plastic coat wrapped around the lever, he tried
again. The metal of the scout bottom gave slowly--until the fuel pump
hung free!

Kaiser did not repair the tube immediately. He let the solution
rest in his hands, like a package to be opened, the pleasure of its
anticipation to be enjoyed as much as the final act.

He transmitted the news of what he had been able to do and sat down to
read the two messages waiting for him.

The first was quite routine:

    REPORTS FROM THE OCTOPUS INDICATE THAT BIG MUDDY UNDERGOES RADICAL
    WEATHER-CYCLE CHANGES DURING SPRING AND FALL SEASONS, FROM EXTREME
    MOISTURE TO EXTREME ARIDITY. AT HEIGHT OF DRY SEASON, PLANET MUST
    BE COMPLETELY DEVOID OF SURFACE LIQUID.

    TO SURVIVE THESE UNUSUAL EXTREMES, SEAL-PEOPLE WOULD NEED EXTREME
    ADAPTABILITY. THIS VERIFIES OUR EARLIER GUESS THAT NATIVES HAVE
    SYMBIOSIS WITH THE SAME VIRUS FORM THAT INVADED YOU. WITH
    SYMBIOTES' AID, SUCH RADICAL PHYSICAL CHANGE COULD BE POSSIBLE.
    WILL KEEP YOU INFORMED.

    GIVE US ANY NEW INFORMATION YOU MIGHT HAVE ON NATIVES.

    SS II

The second report was not so routine. Kaiser thought he detected a note
of uneasiness in it.

    SUGGEST YOU DEVOTE ALL TIME AND EFFORT TO REPAIR OF SCOUT.
    INFORMATION ON SEAL-PEOPLE ADEQUATE FOR OUR PURPOSES.

    SS II

Kaiser did not answer either communication. His earlier report had
covered all that he had learned lately. He lay on his cot and went to
sleep.

In the morning, another message was waiting:

    VERY PLEASED TO HEAR OF PROGRESS ON REPAIR OF SCOUT. COMPLETE AS
    QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE AND RETURN HERE IMMEDIATELY.

    SS II

       *       *       *       *       *

Kaiser wondered about the abrupt recall. Could the _Soscites II_ be
experiencing some difficulty? He shrugged the thought aside. If they
were, they would have told him. The last notes had had more than just a
suggestion of urgency--there appeared to be a deliberate concealing of
information.

Strangely, the messages indicated need for haste did not prod Kaiser.
He knew now that the job could be done, perhaps in a few hours' time.
And the _Soscites II_ would not complete its orbit of the planet for
two weeks yet.

Without putting on more than the shirt and trousers he had grown used
to wearing, Kaiser went outside and wandered listlessly about the
vicinity of the ship for several hours. When he became hungry, he went
back inside.

Another message came in as he finished eating. This one was from the
captain himself:

    WHY HAVE WE RECEIVED NO VERIFICATION OF LAST INSTRUCTIONS? REPAIR
    SCOUT IMMEDIATELY AND RETURN WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY. THIS IS AN
    ORDER!

    H. A. HESSE, CAPT.

Kaiser pushed the last of his meal--which he had been eating with his
fingers--into his mouth, crumpled the tape, wiped the grease from his
hands with it and dropped it to the floor.

He pondered mildly, as he packed his equipment, why he was disregarding
the captain's message. For some reason, it seemed too trivial for
serious consideration. He placated his slightly uneasy conscience only
to the extent of packing the communicator in with his other equipment.
It was a self-contained unit and he'd be able to receive messages from
the ship on his trip.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tracks of his earlier journey had been erased by the soft rain, and
when Kaiser reached the river, he found that he had not returned to
the village he had visited the day before. However, there were other
seal-people here.

And they were almost human!

The resemblance was still not so much in their physical makeup--that
was little changed from the first he had found--as in their obviously
greater intelligence.

This was mainly noticeable in their facile expressions as they talked.
Kaiser was even certain that he read smiles on their faces when he
slipped on a particularly slick mud patch as he hurried toward them.
Where the members of the first tribes had all looked almost exactly
alike, these had very marked individual characteristics. Also, these
had no odor--only a mild, rather pleasing scent. When they came to meet
him, Kaiser could detect distinct syllabism in their pipings.

Most of the natives returned to the river after the first ten minutes
of curious inspection, but two stayed behind as Kaiser set up his tent.

One was a female.

They made small noises while he went about his work. After a time, he
understood that they were trying to give names to his paraphernalia. He
tried saying "tent" and "wire" and "tarp" as he handled each object,
but their piping voices could not repeat the words. Kaiser amused
himself by trying to imitate their sounds for the articles. He was
fairly successful. He was certain that he could soon learn enough to
carry on a limited conversation.

The male became bored after a time and left, but the girl stayed until
Kaiser finished. She motioned to him then to follow. When they reached
the river bank, he saw that she wanted him to go into the water.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before he had time to decide, Kaiser heard the small bell of the
communicator from the tent behind him. He stood undecided for a moment,
then returned and read the message on the tape:

    STILL ANXIOUSLY AWAITING WORD FROM YOU.

    IN MEANTIME, GIVE VERY CLOSE ATTENTION TO FOLLOWING.

    WE KNOW THAT THE SYMBIOTES MUST BE ABLE TO MAKE RADICAL CHANGES IN
    THE PHYSIOLOGY OF THE SEAL-PEOPLE. THERE IS EVERY PROBABILITY THAT
    YOURS WILL ATTEMPT TO DO THE SAME TO YOU--TO BETTER FIT YOUR BODY
    TO ITS PRESENT ENVIRONMENT.

    THE DANGER, WHICH WE HESITATED TO MENTION UNTIL NOW--WHEN YOU HAVE
    FORCED US BY YOUR OBSTINATE SILENCE--IS THAT IT CAN ALTER YOUR
    MIND ALSO. YOUR REPORT ON SECOND TRIBE OF SEAL-PEOPLE STRONGLY
    INDICATES THAT THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING. THEY WERE PROBABLY NOT
    MORE INTELLIGENT AND HUMANLIKE THAN THE OTHERS. ON THE CONTRARY,
    YOU ARE BECOMING MORE LIKE THEM.

    DANGER ACUTE. RETURN IMMEDIATELY. REPEAT: IMMEDIATELY!

    SS II

Kaiser picked up a large rock and slowly, methodically pounded the
communicator into a flattened jumble of metal and loose parts.

When he finished, he returned to the waiting girl on the river bank.
She pointed at his plastic trousers and made laughing sounds in her
throat. Kaiser returned the laugh and stripped off the trousers. They
ran, still laughing, into the water.

Already the long pink hair that had been growing on his body during the
past week was beginning to turn brown at the roots.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Growing Up On Big Muddy" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home