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´╗┐Title: Survival Type
Author: Bone, J.F.
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 "Survival Type" ***

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                             SURVIVAL TYPE

                             By J. F. BONE

                       Illustrated by KIRBERGER

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



              Score one or one million was not enough for
            the human race. It had to be all or nothing ...
               with one man doing every bit of scoring!


Arthur Lanceford slapped futilely at the sith buzzing hungrily around
his head. The outsized eight-legged parody of a mosquito did a neat
half roll and zoomed out of range, hanging motionless on vibrating
wings a few feet away.

A raindrop staggered it momentarily, and for a fleeting second,
Lanceford had the insane hope that the arthropod would fall out of
control into the mud. If it did, that would be the end of it, for
Niobian mud was as sticky as flypaper. But the sith righted itself
inches short of disaster, buzzed angrily and retreated to the shelter
of a nearby broadleaf, where it executed another half roll and hung
upside down, watching its intended meal with avid anticipation.

Lanceford eyed the insect distastefully as he explored his jacket for
repellent and applied the smelly stuff liberally to his face and neck.
It wouldn't do much good. In an hour, his sweat would remove whatever
the rain missed--but for that time, it should discourage the sith. As
far as permanent discouraging went, the repellent was useless. Once
one of those eight-legged horrors checked you off, there were only two
possible endings to the affair--either you were bitten or you killed
the critter.

It was as simple as that.

He had hoped that he would be fast enough to get the sith before it got
him. He had been bitten once already and the memory of those paralyzed
three minutes while the bloodsucker fed was enough to last him for
a lifetime. He readjusted his helmet, tucking its fringe of netting
beneath his collar. The netting, he reflected gloomily, was like its
owner--much the worse for wear. However, this trek would be over in
another week and he would be able to spend the next six months at a
comfortable desk job at the Base, while some other poor devil did the
chores of field work.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked down the rain-swept trail winding through the jungle.
Niobe--a perfect name for this wet little world. The Bureau of
Extraterrestrial Exploration couldn't have picked a better, but the
funny thing about it was that they hadn't picked it in the first place.
Niobe was the native word for Earth, or perhaps "the world" would be
a more accurate definition. It was a coincidence, of course, but the
planet and its mythological Greek namesake had much in common.

Niobe, like Niobe, was all tears--a world of rain falling endlessly
from an impenetrable overcast, fat wet drops that formed a grieving
background sound that never ceased, sobbing with soft mournful noises
on the rubbery broadleaves, crying with obese splashes into forest
pools, blubbering with loud, dismal persistence on the sounding
board of his helmet. And on the ground, the raindrops mixed with the
loesslike soil of the trail to form a gluey mud that clung in huge
pasty balls to his boots.

Everywhere there was water, running in rivulets of tear-streaks down
the round cheeks of the gently sloping land--rivulets that merged and
blended into broad shallow rivers that wound their mourners' courses
to the sea. Trekking on Niobe was an amphibious operation unless
one stayed in the highlands--a perpetual series of fords and river
crossings.

And it was hot, a seasonless, unchanging, humid heat that made a
protection suit an instrument of torture that slowly boiled its wearer
in his own sweat. But the suit was necessary, for exposed human flesh
was irresistible temptation to Niobe's bloodsucking insects. Many of
these were no worse than those of Earth, but a half dozen species were
deadly. The first bite sensitized. The second killed--anaphylactic
shock, the medics called it. And the sith was one of the deadly species.

Lanceford shrugged fatalistically. Uncomfortable as a protection suit
was, it was better to boil in it than die without it.

He looked at Kron squatting beside the trail and envied him. It was
too bad that Earthmen weren't as naturally repellent to insects as
the dominant native life. Like all Niobians, the native guide wore no
clothing--ideal garb for a climate like this. His white, hairless hide,
with its faint sheen of oil, was beautifully water-repellent.

Kron, Lanceford reflected, was a good example of the manner in which
Nature adapts the humanoid form for survival on different worlds.
Like the dominant species on every intelligent planet in the explored
galaxy, he was an erect, bipedal, mammalian being with hands that
possessed an opposable thumb. Insofar as that general description went,
Kron resembled humanity--but there were differences.

       *       *       *       *       *

Squatting, the peculiar shape of Kron's torso and the odd flexibility
of his limbs were not apparent. One had the tendency to overlook the
narrow-shouldered, cylindrical body and the elongated tarsal and carpal
bones that gave his limbs four major articulations rather than the
human three, and to concentrate upon the utterly alien head.

It jutted forward from his short, thick neck, a long-snouted, vaguely
doglike head with tiny ears lying close against the hairless,
dome-shaped cranium. Slitlike nostrils, equipped with sphincter
muscles like those of a terrestrial seal, argued an originally aquatic
environment, and the large intelligent eyes set forward in the skull to
give binocular vision, together with the sharp white carnassial teeth
and pointed canines, indicated a carnivorous ancestry. But the modern
Niobians, although excellent swimmers, were land dwellers and ate
anything.

Lanceford couldn't repress an involuntary shudder at some of the
things they apparently enjoyed. Tastes differed--enormously so between
Earthmen and Niobians.

There was no doubt that the native was intelligent, yet he, like the
rest of his race, was a technological moron. It was strange that a race
which had a well-developed philosophy and an amazing comprehension of
semantics could be so backward in mechanics. Even the simpler of the
BEE's mechanisms left the natives confused. It was possible that they
could learn about machinery, but Lanceford was certain that it would
take a good many years before the first native mechanic would set up a
machine shop on this planet.

Lanceford finished tucking the last fold of face net under his collar,
and as he did so, Kron stood up, rising to his five-foot height
with a curious flexible grace. Standing, he looked something like a
double-jointed alabaster Anubis--wearing swim fins. His broad, webbed
feet rested easily on the surface of the mud, their large area giving
him flotation that Lanceford envied. As a result, his head was nearly
level with that of the human, although there was better than a foot
difference in their heights.

Lanceford looked at Kron inquiringly. "You have a place in mind where
we can sleep tonight?"

"Sure, Boss. We'll be coming to hunthouse soon. We go now?"

"Lead on," Lanceford said, groaning silently to himself--another
hunthouse with its darkness and its smells. He shrugged. He could
hardly expect anything else up here in the highlands. Oh, well, he'd
managed to last through the others and this one could be no worse. At
that, even an airless room full of natives was preferable to spending
a night outside. And the sith wouldn't follow them. It didn't like
airless rooms filled with natives.

He sighed wearily as he followed Kron along the dim path through the
broadleaf jungle. Night was coming, and with darkness, someone upstairs
turned on every faucet and the sheets of rain that fell during the day
changed abruptly into a deluge. Even the semi-aquatic natives didn't
like to get caught away from shelter during the night.

The three moved onward, immersed in a drumming wilderness of rain--the
Niobian sliding easily over the surface of the mud, the Earthman
plowing painfully through it, and the sith flitting from the shelter of
one broadleaf to the next, waiting for a chance to feed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The trail widened abruptly, opening upon one of the small clearings
that dotted the rain-forest jungle. In the center of the clearing,
dimly visible through the rain and thickening darkness, loomed the
squat thatch-roofed bulk of a hunthouse, a place of shelter for the
members of the hunters' guild who provided fresh meat for the Niobian
villages. Lanceford sighed a mingled breath of relief and unpleasant
anticipation.

As he stepped out into the clearing, the sith darted from cover,
heading like a winged bullet for Lanceford's neck. But the man was
not taken by surprise. Pivoting quickly, he caught the iridescent
blur of the bloodsucker's wings. He swung his arm in a mighty slap.
The high-pitched buzz and Lanceford's gloved hand met simultaneously
at his right ear. The buzz stopped abruptly. Lanceford shook his head
and the sith fell to the ground, satisfactorily swatted. Lanceford
grinned--score one for the human race.

He was still grinning as he pushed aside the fiber screen closing the
low doorway of the hunthouse and crawled inside. It took a moment for
his eyes to become accustomed to the gloom within, but his nose told
him even before his eyes that the house was occupied. The natives, he
thought wryly, must be born with no sense of smell, otherwise they'd
perish from sheer propinquity. One could never honestly say that
familiarity with the odor of a Niobian bred contempt--nausea was the
right word.

The interior was typical, a dark rectangle of windowless limestone
walls enclosing a packed-dirt floor and lined with a single deck of
wooden sleeping platforms. Steeply angled rafters of peeled logs
intersected at a knife-sharp ridge pierced with a circular smokehole
above the firepit in the center of the room. Transverse rows of
smaller poles lashed to the rafters supported the thick broadleaf
thatch that furnished protection from the rain and sanctuary for
uncounted thousands of insects.

A fire flickered ruddily in the pit, hissing as occasional drops of
rain fell into its heart from the smokehole, giving forth a dim light
together with clouds of smoke and steam that rose upward through
the tangled mass of greasy cobwebs filling the upper reaches of the
rafters. Some of the smoke found its way through the smokehole, but
most of it hung in an acrid undulating layer some six feet above the
floor.

The glow outlined the squatting figures of a dozen or so natives
clustered around the pit, watching the slowly rotating carcass of a
small deerlike rodent called a sorat, which was broiling on a spit
above the flames. Kron was already in the ring, talking earnestly to
one of the hunters--a fellow-tribesman, judging from the tattoo on his
chest.

To a Niobian, the scene was ordinary, but to Lanceford it could have
been lifted bodily from the inferno. He had seen it before, but the
effect lost nothing by repetition. There was a distinctly hellish
quality to it--to the reds and blacks of the flickering fire and the
shadows. He wouldn't have been particularly surprised if Satan himself
appeared in the center of the firepit complete with horns, hoofs and
tail. A hunthouse, despite its innocuousness, looked like the southeast
corner of Hades.

       *       *       *       *       *

Clustered around the fire, the hunters turned to look at him curiously
and, after a single eye-filling stare, turned back again. Niobians
were almost painfully polite. Although Earthmen were still enough of a
curiosity to draw attention, one searching look was all their customs
allowed. Thereafter, they minded their own business. In some ways,
Lanceford reflected, native customs had undeniable merit.

Presently Kron rose from his place beside the fire and pointed out two
empty sleeping platforms where they would spend the night. Lanceford
chose one and sank wearily to its resilient surface. Despite its crude
construction, a Niobian sleeping platform was comfortable. He removed
his pack, pulled off his mud-encrusted boots and lay back with a grunt
of relaxation. After a day like this, it was good to get off his feet.
Weariness flowed over him.

He awoke to the gentle pressure of Kron's hand squeezing his own. "The
food is cooked," the Niobian said, "and you are welcomed to share it."

Lanceford nodded, his stomach crawling with unpleasant anticipation.
A native meal was something he would prefer to avoid. His digestive
system could handle the unsavory mess, but his taste buds shrank from
the forthcoming assault. What the natives classed as a delicate and
elusive flavor was sheer torture to an Earthman.

Possibly there was some connection between their inefficient olfactory
apparatus and their odd ideas of flavor, but whatever the physical
explanation might be, it didn't affect the fact that eating native
food was an ordeal. Yet he couldn't refuse. That would be discourteous
and offensive, and one simply didn't offend the natives. The BEE was
explicit about that. Courtesy was a watchword on Niobe.

He took a place by the fire, watching with concealed distaste as one
of the hunters reached into the boiling vat beside the firepit with a
pair of wooden tongs and drew forth the native conception of a hors
d'oeuvre. They called it vorkum--a boiled sorat paunch stuffed with a
number of odorous ingredients. It looked almost as bad as it smelled.

The hunter laid the paunch on a wooden trencher, scraped the greenish
scum from its surface and sliced it open. The odor poured out, a
gagging essence of decaying vegetables, rotten eggs and overripe
cheese.

Lanceford's eyes watered, his stomach tautened convulsively, but the
Niobians eyed the reeking semi-solid eagerly. No meal on Niobe was
considered worthy of the name unless a generous helping of vorkum
started it off.

       *       *       *       *       *

An entree like that could ruin the most rugged human appetite, but
when it was the forerunner of a main dish of highly spiced barbecue,
vorkum assumed the general properties of an emetic. Lanceford grimly
controlled the nausea and tactfully declined the greasy handful which
Kron offered. The Niobian never seemed to learn. At every meal they had
eaten during their past month of travel on Niobe, Kron had persistently
offered him samples of the mess. With equal persistence, he had
refused. After all, there were limits.

But polite convention required that he eat something, so he took a
small portion of the barbecued meat and dutifully finished it. The
hunters eyed him curiously, apparently wondering how an entity who
could assimilate relatively untasty sorat should refuse the far greater
delicacy of vorkum. But it was a known fact that the ways of Earthmen
were strange and unaccountable.

The hunters didn't protest when he retired to his sleeping platform and
the more acceptable concentrates from his pack. His hunger satisfied,
he lay back on the resilient vines and fell into a sleep of exhaustion.
It had been a hard day.

Lanceford's dreams were unpleasant. Nightmare was the usual penalty of
sitting in on a Niobian meal and this one was worse than usual. Huge
siths, reeking of vorkum, pursued him as he ran naked and defenseless
across a swampy landscape that stretched interminably ahead. The
clinging mud reduced his speed to a painful crawl as he frantically
beat off the attacks of the blood-suckers.

The climax was horror. One of the siths slipped through his frantically
beating hands and bit him on the face. The shocking pain of the bite
wakened him, a cry of terror and anguish still on his lips.

He looked around wildly. He was still in the hunthouse. It was just a
dream.

He chuckled shakily. These nightmares sometimes were too real for
comfort. He was drenched with sweat, which was not unusual, but there
was a dull ache in his head and the hot tense pain that encompassed the
right side of his face had not been there when he had fallen asleep.

He touched his face with a tentative finger, exploring the hot
puffiness and the enormously swollen ear with a gentle touch. It was
where he had struck the sith, but surely he couldn't have hit that hard.

He gasped, a soft breath of dismay, as realization dawned. He had
smashed the sith hard enough to squeeze some of the insect's corrosive
body juices through his face net--and they had touched his skin! That
wouldn't normally have been bad, but the sith bite he had suffered
a week ago had sensitized him. He was developing an anaphylactic
reaction--a severe one, judging from the swelling.

That was the trouble with exploration; one occasionally forgot that a
world was alien. Occasionally danger tended to recede into a background
of familiarity--he had smashed the sith before it had bitten him, so
therefore it couldn't hurt him. He grimaced painfully, the movement
bringing another twinge to his swollen face. He should have known
better.

He swore mildly as he opened his Aid Kit and extracted a sterile hypo.
The super-antihistamine developed by the Bureau was an unpredictable
sort of thing. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. He removed
the screw cap that sealed the needle and injected the contents of the
syringe into his arm. He hoped that this was one of the times the drug
worked. If it wasn't, he reflected grimly, he wouldn't be long for this
world.

He sighed and lay back. There wasn't anything more to do now. All he
could do was wait and see if the anti-allergen worked.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bureau of Extraterrestrial Exploration had discovered Niobe barely
three years ago, yet already the planet was famous not only for its
peculiar climate, but also for the number of men who had died upon its
watery surface. Knowledge of this planet was bought with life, grim
payment to decrease the lag between discovery and the day men could
live and work on Niobe without having to hide beneath domes or behind
protection suits. Lanceford never questioned the necessity or the
inevitable price that must be paid. Like every other BEE agent, he knew
that Niobe was crash priority--a world that _had_ to be understood in
minimum time.

For Niobe was a made to order herbarium for a swampland plant called
viscaya. The plant was originally native to Algon IV, but had been
spread to practically every suitable growth center in the Galaxy.
It was the source of a complex of alkaloids known as gerontin, and
gerontin had the property of tripling or quadrupling the normal life
span of mammals.

It was obvious that viscayaculture should have a tremendous
distribution throughout the Confederation worlds. But unfortunately the
right conditions existed in very few places in the explored galaxy.
Despite the fact that most life is based on carbon, oxygen and water,
there is still very little free water in the Galaxy. Most planets of
the Confederation are semi-arid, with the outstanding exceptions of
Terra and Lyrane. But these two worlds were the seats of human and
humanoid power for so long that all of their swampland had been drained
and reclaimed centuries ago.

And it was doubly unfortunate that gerontin so far defied synthesis.
According to some eminent chemists, the alkaloid would probably
continue to do so until some facet of the Confederation reached a Class
VIII culture level. Considering that Terra and Lyrane, the two highest
cultures, were only Class VII, and that Class level steps took several
thousands of years to make, a policy of waiting for synthesis was not
worth considering.

The result was that nobody was happy until Niobe was discovered.
The price of illicit gerontin was astronomical and most of the
Confederation's supply of the drug was strictly rationed to those whom
the government thought most valuable to the Confederation as a whole.
Of course, the Confederation officialdom was included, which caused
considerable grumbling. In the nick of time, Niobe appeared upon the
scene, and Niobe had environment in abundance!

The wheels of the Confederation began to turn. The BEE was given a
blank check and spurred on by a government which, in turn, was being
spurred on by the people who composed it. The exploration of Niobe
proceeded at all possible speed. With so many considerations weighed
against them, what did a few lives matter? For the sake of the billions
of humanoids in the Confederation, their sacrifice was worthwhile
even if only a few days or hours were saved between discovery and
exploitation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanceford groaned as a violent pain shot through his head. The
anti-allergin apparently wasn't going to work, for it should have had
some effect by now. He shrugged mentally--it was the chance one took in
this business. But he couldn't say that he hadn't been warned. Even old
Sims had told him, called him a unit in the BEE's shortcut trial and
error scheme--an error, it looked like now.

Seemed rather silly--a Class VII civilization using techniques that
were old during the Dark Ages before the Atomic Revolution, sending
foot parties to explore a world in the chance that they might discover
something that the search mechs missed--anything that would shorten the
lag time. It was incomprehensible, but neither Sims nor the BEE would
do a thing like this without reason. And whatever it was, he wasn't
going to worry about it. In fact, there wasn't much time left to worry.
The reaction was observably and painfully worse.

It was important that the news of his death and the specimens he had
collected get back to Base Alpha. They might have value in this complex
game Alvord Sims was playing with men, machines and Niobe. But Base
Alpha was a good hundred miles away and, in his present condition, he
couldn't walk a hundred feet.

For a moment, he considered setting up the powerful little transmitter
he carried in his pack, but his first abortive motion convinced him it
was useless. The blinding agony that swept through him at the slightest
movement left no doubt that he would never finish the business of
setting up the antenna, let alone send a message.

It was a crime that handie-talkies couldn't be used here on Niobe, but
their range, limited at best, was practically nonexistent on a planet
that literally seemed to be one entire "dead spot." A fixed-frequency
job broadcasting on a directional beam was about the only thing that
could cover distance, and that required a little technical know-how to
set up the antenna and focus it on Base Alpha. There would be no help
from Kron. Despite his intelligence, the native could no more assemble
a directional antenna than spread pink wings and fly.

There was only one thing to do--get a note off to Sims, if he could
still write, and ask Kron to deliver the note and his pack to the Base.

He fumbled with his jacket, and with some pain produced a stylus and a
pad. But it was difficult to write. Painful, too. Better get Kron over
here while he could still talk and tell him what he wanted.

The stylus slipped from numb fingers as Lanceford called hoarsely,
"Kron! Come here! I need you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Kron looked down compassionately at the swollen features of the
Earthman. He had seen the kef effect before, among the young of his
people who were incautious or inexperienced, but he had never seen it
among the aliens. Surprisingly, the effects were the same--the livid
swellings, the gasping breath, the pain. Strange how these foreigners
reacted like his own people.

He scratched his head and pulled thoughtfully at one of his short ears.
It was his duty to help Lanceford, but how could he? The Earthman
had denied his help for weeks, and Niobians simply didn't disregard
another's wishes. Kron scowled, the action lending a ferocious cast to
his doglike face. Tolerance was a custom hallowed by ages of practice.
It went to extremes--even with life at stake, a person's wishes and
beliefs must be respected.

Kron buried his long-snouted head in his hands, a gesture that held in
it all the frustration which filled him.

The human was apparently resolved to die. He had told Kron his last
wishes, which didn't include a request for help, but merely to get
his pack back to the others in their glass dome. It was astonishing
that such an obviously intelligent species should have so little
flexibility. They didn't understand the first principles of adaptation.
Always and forever, they held to their own ways, trying with insensate
stubbornness to mold nature to their will--and when nature overcome
their artificial defenses, they died, stubborn, unregenerate,
inflexible to the end. They were odd, these humans--odd and a little
frightening.

Lanceford breathed wheezily. The swelling had invaded the inner
tissues of his throat and was beginning to compress his windpipe. It
was uncomfortable, like inhaling liquid fire, and then there was the
constant desire to cough and the physical inability to do so.

"Dirty luck," he whispered. "Only a week more and I'd have had it
made--the longest trek a man's made on this benighted planet."

Kron nodded, but then belatedly realized that the human was muttering
to himself. He listened. There might be something important in these
dying murmurings, something that might explain their reasons for being
here and their strange driving haste that cared nothing for life.

"It's hard to die so far from one's people, but I guess that can't be
helped. Old Sims gave me the score. Like he said, a man doesn't have
much choice of where he dies in the BEE."

"You don't want to die!" Kron exploded.

"Of course not," Lanceford said with weak surprise. He hadn't dreamed
that Kron was nearby. This might well destroy the Imperturbable
Earthman myth that the BEE had fostered.

"Not even if it is in accord with your customs and rituals?"

"What customs?"

"Your clothing, your eating habits, your ointments--are these not part
of your living plan?"

Despite the pain that tore at his throat, Lanceford managed a chuckle.
This was ridiculous. "Hell, no! Our only design for living is to stay
alive, particularly on jobs like this one. We don't wear these suits
and repellent because we _like_ to. We do it to stay alive. If we
could, we'd go around nearly as naked as you do."

"Do you mind if I help you?" Kron asked diffidently. "I think I can
cure you." He leaned forward anxiously to get the man's reply.

"I'd take a helping hand from the devil himself, if it would do any
good."

Kron's eyes were brilliant. He hummed softly under his breath, the
Niobian equivalent of laughter. "And all the time we thought--" he
began, and then broke off abruptly. Already too much time was wasted
without losing any more in meditating upon the ironies of life.

He turned toward the firepit, searched for a moment among the stones,
nodded with satisfaction and returned to where Lanceford lay. The
hunthouse was deserted save for himself and the Earthman. With
characteristic Niobian delicacy, the hunters had left, preferring to
endure the night rain than be present when the alien died. Kron was
thankful that they were gone, for what he was about to do would shock
their conservative souls.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanceford was dimly conscious of Kron prying his swollen jaws apart
and forcing something wet and slippery down his throat. He swallowed,
the act a tearing pain to the edematous membranes of his gullet, but
the stuff slid down, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. The act
triggered another wave of pain that left him weak and gasping. He
couldn't take much more of this. It wouldn't be long now before the
swelling invaded his lungs to such a degree that he would strangle. It
wasn't a pleasant way to die.

And then, quite suddenly, the pain eased. A creeping numbness spread
like a warm black blanket over his outraged nervous system. The stuff
Kron had given him apparently had some anesthetic properties. He felt
dimly grateful, even though the primitive native nostrum would probably
do no good other than to ease the pain.

The blackness went just far enough to paralyze the superficial areas of
his nervous system. It stopped the pain and left him unable to move,
but the deeper pathways of thought and reason remained untouched. He
was conscious, although no external sensation intruded on his thoughts.
He couldn't see Kron--the muscles that moved his eyes were as paralyzed
as the other muscles of his body and the native was outside his field
of vision--but somehow he knew exactly what the Niobian was doing. He
was washing mucus from his hands in a bowl of water standing beside the
fire pit _and he was wondering wryly whether forced feeding was on the
list of human tabus_!

Lanceford's mind froze, locked in a peculiar contact that was more
than awareness. The sensation was indescribable. It was like looking
through an open door into the living room of a stranger's house.

He was aware of the incredible complexity and richness of Kron's
thoughts, of oddly sardonic laughter, of pity and regret that such a
little thing as understanding should cause death and suffering through
its lack, of bewildered admiration for the grim persistence of the
alien Earthmen, mixed with a wondering curiosity about what kept them
here--what the true reasons were for their death-defying persistence
and stubbornness--of an ironic native paraphrase for the Terran saying,
"Every man to his own taste," and a profound speculation upon what
fruits might occur from true understanding between his own race and the
aliens.

It was a strangely jumbled kaleidoscopic flash that burned across the
explorer's isolated mind, a flash that passed almost as soon as it had
come, as though an invisible door had closed upon it.

But one thing in that briefly shocking contact stood out with great
clarity. The Niobians were as eager as the BEE to establish a true
contact, a true understanding, for the message was there, plain
in Kron's mind that he was thinking not only for himself but for
a consensus of his people, a decision arrived at as a result of
discussion and thought--a decision of which every Niobian was aware and
with which most Niobians agreed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The magnitude of that thought and its implications staggered
Lanceford's imagination.

After two years of exploration and contact with the dominant race
of this planet, the BEE still knew literally nothing about the sort
of people with whom they were dealing. This instantaneous, neural
contact proved that. Equated against the information dished out in
Basic Training, it merely emphasized the fact that the BEE was grossly
ignorant.

Anthropological Intelligence had a lot to account for--the job they'd
done so far could have been performed by low-grade morons. In wishing
to avoid the possibility of giving offense, in hiding behind a wall of
courtesy and convention, there had been no contact worthy of the name.
Yet here was the possibility of a rapport that could be closer than any
which existed between any races in the Galaxy.

Lanceford groaned with silent frustration. To learn this when he was
dying was the bitterest of ironies. In any other circumstances, the
flash of insight could be parlayed into a key which might unlock the
entire problem of Niobian relationships.

Bitterly he fought against the curtain of unconsciousness that closed
down on him, trying by sheer will to stay awake, to make some move that
could be interpreted, to leave some clue to what he had learned.

It was useless. The darkness closed in, inexorable and irresistible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Arthur Lanceford opened his eyes, surprised that he was still alive.
The pain was gone from his face and the swelling had subsided. He
grinned with relief--his luck had held out.

And then the relief vanished in a wave of elation. He held the key.
He knew the basics for mutual understanding. And he would be alive to
deliver them to the specialists who could make them operate.

He chuckled. Whatever the cure was--the BEE drug, Kron's treatment,
whatever it was, it didn't matter. The important thing was that he was
going to live.

He wondered whether that flash of insight just before unconsciousness
had been real or a figment of delirium. It could have been either, but
Lanceford clung to the belief that the contact was genuine. There was
far too much revealed in that sudden flash that was entirely alien to
his normal patterns of thought.

He wondered what had triggered that burst of awareness. The BEE drug,
the stuff Kron had given him, the poison of the sith and the histamines
floating around in his system--it could have been any one of a number
of things, or maybe a complex of various factors that had interacted to
make him super-receptive for an instant of time.

It was something that would have to be reported and studied with the
meticulous care which the BEE gave to any facet of experience that was
out of the ordinary. A solution might possibly be found, or the whole
thing might wind up as one of those dead ends that were so numerous in
Exploration work. But that was out of his field and, in consequence,
out of his hands. His specialty wasn't parapsychological research.

Kron was standing beside his bed, long doglike face impassive, looking
at him with pleased satisfaction. Behind him, a group of natives were
clustered around the cooking fire. It was as if no time had passed
since the allergy struck--but Lanceford knew differently. Still, the
lost time didn't matter. The bright joy that he was going to live
transcended such unimportant things.

"Looks like you won't have to bury me after all," Lanceford said
happily.

He stretched his arms over his head. He felt wonderful. His body was
cool and comfortably free of the hot confinement of the protection
suit. He did a slow horrified doubletake as he realized that he was
lying on the sleeping platform practically naked--a tempting hors
d'oeuvre for the thousand and one species of Niobe's biting insects.

"Where's my suit?" he half shouted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kron smiled. "You don't need it, friend Lanceford. If you will notice,
you are not bitten. Nor will you be."

"Why not?"

Kron didn't answer. It wasn't the proper time, and the euphoria that he
and the Earthman were enjoying was too pleasant to shatter.

Lanceford didn't press the matter. Apparently Kron knew what he was
talking about. Lanceford had been watching one particularly vicious
species of biting fly hover above his body. The insect would approach,
ready to enjoy a mandible full of human epidermis, but, about six
inches from his body, would slow down and come to a stop, hanging
frustrated in midair. Finally the fly gave up and flew off into the
darkness of the rafters. Lanceford hoped that one of the spiders would
get it--but he was convinced. Whatever happened to him while he was
unconscious had made him as insect-repellent as the Niobians.

The smell of cooking came from the firepit and, incredibly, it smelled
good.

Lanceford looked startledly at Kron. "I'm hungry."

"An excellent sign," Kron replied. "You are nearly cured. Soon you will
be able to finish this trek."

"Incidentally," Lanceford said, "for the first time since I have been
out on this showerbath world of yours, you're cooking something that
smells fit to eat. I think I'd like to try it."

Kron's eyebrows rose and he hummed softly under his breath. This was
something entirely unexpected--an added delight, like the flavor of
komal in a sorat stew. He savored it slowly, enjoying its implications.

"What is it?" Lanceford persisted.

"A dish called akef," Kron said. The name was as good as any and
certainly described the effect well enough.

       *       *       *       *       *

The last hundred miles had been a breeze. Lanceford stood at the
edge of the clearing, looking across the planed-off landscape to the
shimmering hemispherical bulk of Base Alpha, glistening like a giant
cabochon jewel under Niobe's dark sky. Without the protection suit to
slow him down and hamper his movements, what would have been a week's
trip had been shortened to four days.

In a few minutes, he would be back among his own kind--and he wasn't
sure whether he was glad or sorry. Of course, there was a certain
satisfaction in bringing back a first-class discovery--perhaps the
greatest in the short history of Niobian exploration--but there was a
stigma attached to the way it had been found. It wouldn't be easy to
confess that it had practically been forced upon him, but it would have
to be done. It would have been much nicer to have found the answer by
using his head. There would have been some really deserved prestige in
that.

       *       *       *       *       *

He sighed and turned to Kron. "Farewell, friend," he said soberly, "and
thanks."

"We are even," Kron replied. "You saved my life from a roka and I saved
yours from the sith. The scales are balanced."

Lanceford blinked. He had forgotten that incident where he had shot the
big catlike animal shortly after the 'copter had dropped them for the
start of their journey back to Base. Apparently it was after Kron--or
at least the native had thought so. Lanceford grinned ruefully. Score
another point for blind luck.

"But, Kron, it's not that easy. You have given me a secret of your
people and I shall have to tell it to mine."

"I expected that you would. Besides, it is no secret. Even our children
know its composition and how to make it. We have never held it from
you. You simply wouldn't accept it. But it is about time, friend
Lanceford, that your race began learning something of Niobe if they
wish to remain here--and it is about time that we began learning
something about you. I think that there will be some rather marked
changes in the future. And in that regard, I leave you with the
question of whether a civilization should be judged entirely upon its
apparent technological achievements."

"I--" Lanceford began.

"You have learned how we avoid the insects," Kron continued,
maneuvering past the abortive interruption, "and perhaps someday you
will know the full answer to my question. But in the meantime, you and
your kind will be free to move through our world, to learn our ways,
and to teach us yours. It should be a fair exchange."

"Thanks to akef," Lanceford said fervently, "we should be able to do
just that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kron smiled. "You have used the drug enough to have overcome the mental
block that prevented you from naming it before. The word I coined from
your own language of science is no longer necessary."

"I suppose not, but it's pleasanter to think of it that way."

"You Earthmen! Sometimes I wonder how you ever managed to achieve a
civilization with your strange attitudes toward unpleasant facts." Kron
smiled broadly, relishing the memory of his deception and Lanceford's
shocked awakening to the truth. "I hope," he continued, "that you
have forgiven my little deceit and the destruction of your protective
clothing."

"Of course. How could I do otherwise? It's so nice to be rid of that
sweatbox that I'd forgive anything." Lanceford frowned. "But there's
one thing that puzzles me. How did you disguise the stuff?"

"I didn't," Kron replied cryptically. "You did." He turned away and,
with characteristic Niobian abruptness, walked off into the jungle. His
job was done and natives were never ones to dally with leavetaking,
although their greetings were invariably ceremonious.

Lanceford watched until the native was out of sight and then walked
slowly across the clearing toward the dome. He had learned a lot these
past few days, enough to make him realize that his basic training had
been so inadequate as to be almost criminal. It was lacking in many of
the essentials for survival and, moreover, was slanted entirely wrong
from a psychological point of view.

Sure, it was good enough to enable a man to get along, but it seemed to
be particularly designed to deny the fact that the natives obviously
possessed a first-rate culture of their own. It didn't say so directly,
but the implications were there. And that was wrong. The natives
possessed a civilization that was probably quite as high as the one
Terra possessed. It was simply oriented differently. One thing was
certain--the Confederation wasn't going to expropriate or exploit
_this_ planet without the natives' consent. It would be suicide if they
tried.

He grinned. Actually there would be no reason for such action. It
was always easier to deal with advanced races than to try to conquer
or educate primitive ones. Kron had the right idea--understanding,
exchange, appreciation--Confederation culture for Niobian. It would
make a good and productive synthesis.

Still grinning, Lanceford opened the airlock and stepped inside,
ignoring the pop-eyed guard who eyed his shorts and sandals with an
expression of incredulous disbelief.

       *       *       *       *       *

Alvord Sims, Regional Director, Niobe Division BEE, looked up from his
desk and smiled. The smile became a nose-wrinkling grimace as Lanceford
swung the pack from his shoulders and set it carefully on the floor.

"Glad to see that you made it, Lanceford," Sims said. "But what's that
awful smell? You should have done something about it. You stink like a
native."

"All the baths in the world won't help, sir," Lanceford said woodenly.

He was tired of the stares and the sniffs he had encountered since he
had entered the base. In his present condition, a fellow-human smelled
as bad to him as he did to them, but he didn't complain about it and he
saw no reason why they should. Humanity should apply more courtesy and
consideration to members of their own species.

"It's inside me," he explained. "My metabolism's changed. And
incidentally, sir, you don't smell so sweet yourself."

Sims sputtered for a moment and then shrugged. "Perhaps not,"
he admitted. "One can't help sweating in this climate even with
air-conditioning."

"It's the change inside me," Lanceford said. "I suppose it'll wear off
in time, once I've been on a normal diet. But I didn't think that was
too important in view of the information I have. I've learned something
vital, something that you should know at once. That's why I'm here."

"That's decent of you," Sims replied, "but an interoffice memo would
have served just as well as a personal visit. My stomach isn't as good
as it once was. Ulcers, you know."

"The executive's disease," Lanceford commented.

Sims nodded. "Well, Arthur, what did you find that was so important?"

"That we've been fools."

Sims sighed. "That's nothing new. We've been fools since the day we
left Earth to try and conquer the stars."

"That's not what I mean, sir. I mean that we've been going at this
Niobe business the wrong way. What we need is to understand the
natives, instead of trying to understand the planet."

"Out of the mouths of babes and probationers--" Sims said with gentle
irony.

"It pays off," Lanceford replied doggedly. "Take my case. I've found
out why the natives are insect-proof!"

"That's a new wrinkle. Can you prove it?"

"Certainly. I came the last hundred miles in shorts."

"What happened to your suit?"

"Kron destroyed it accidentally."

"Accidentally--hah!" Sims snorted. "Niobians never do things
accidentally."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanceford looked sharply at the director. The observation carried a
wealth of implications that his sharpened senses were quick to grasp.
"Then you know the natives aren't simple savages, the way we were
taught in Basic Training?"

"Of course! They're a non-technical Class V at the very least--maybe
higher. Somehow they've never oriented their civilization along
mechanical lines, or maybe they tried it once and found it wanting.
But no one in the upper echelons has ever thought they were stupid or
uncivilized."

"Then why--"

"Later," Sims said. "You're entitled to an explanation, but right
now I'd appreciate it if you'd finish your statement. What makes the
natives insect-proof?"

"Vorkum."

"That gunk?"

"That's the repellent."

"In more ways than one," Sims said.

"It's not so bad after you get used to it. It just smells awful at
first."

"That's an understatement, if I ever heard one."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Perhaps the lab can analyze it and find the active principle,"
Lanceford said hopefully.

"If they do, I'll bet it is distilled quintessence of skunk," Sims
replied gloomily. "I'll be willing to bet that our native friends tried
that trick ages ago and gave it up for a bad job. They're pretty fair
biochemists as well as being philosophers."

"Could be," Lanceford said thoughtfully. "I never thought of that."

"You'd better start thinking all the time. These lads are _smart_.
Why do you think we have this complicated rigmarole about native
relations and respect? Man, we're running scared. We don't want to
lose this planet, and anything less than the kid-glove treatment would
be sheer suicide until we learn how far we can go. These natives have
an organization that'd knock your eye out. I didn't believe it myself
until I got the proof. As you learn more about it, you'll understand
what I mean. We're dealing with an ecological _unit_ on this planet!"

"But I thought--"

"That you were here to explore a primitive world?"

"Wasn't that what I was trained for?"

"No. We can do that sort of thing with a couple of geodetic cruisers.
We don't need men trekking through the jungles to assay a world's
physical resources. That business went out of date during the Dark
Ages. There's a better reason than that for these treks."

"Like what?"

"You asked the question. Now answer it," Sims said. "You have enough
data."

Lanceford thought for a moment "I can see one reason," he said slowly.

"Yes?"

"The trek could be a test. It could be used to determine whether or
not the probationer was a survival type--a sort of final examination
before he's turned loose in a responsible job here in the BEE."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sims smiled. "Bull's-eye! It's part of the speedup--a pretty brutal
part, but one that can't be helped if we want to get this planet
in line quickly enough to stop the riot that's brewing in the
Confederation. It's as much for Niobe's good as ours, because the
Confederation wants that gerontin like an alcoholic wants another
drink--and they're not going to wait for normal exploration and
development. That's why the treks. It's a tough course. Failure can and
often does mean death. Usually we can pull a misfit out in time, but
not always. If you live through the trek and we don't have to pull you
out, though, you've proved yourself a survival type--and you're over
the first hurdle.

"Then we check with your guide and anyone you happen to meet en route.
The natives are very cooperative about such things. If you pass their
evaluation, you're ready to join the club. It's been forming ever since
we landed here two years ago, but it's still pretty exclusive. It's the
nucleus of the BEE's mission here, the one that'll get things rolling
with the gerontin plantations. We'll know about you in a few more
minutes after the Cyb Unit gets through processing your data." Sims
grinned at the thunderstruck youngster.

Lanceford nodded glumly. "I'll probably fail. I sure didn't use my
head. I never caught the significance of the trek, I failed to deduce
the reason for the insect-repellent qualities of the natives, and I
missed the implications of their culture until I had almost reached
Base. Those things are obvious. Any analytical brain would have figured
them out."

"They're only obvious when you know what you're looking for," Sims said
gently. "Personally, I think you did an excellent job, considering the
handicaps you have faced. And the discovery of the vorkum was masterly."

Lanceford blushed. "I hate to admit it, but Kron literally shoved the
stuff down my throat."

"I didn't mean the _method_ by which you learned that vorkum was the
stuff we've been searching for," Sims said. "I meant the _results_ you
obtained. Results are what count in this business. Call it luck if you
wish, but there is more to it than that. Some people are just naturally
lucky and those are the sort we need here. They're survival types. A
lot is going to depend on having those so-called lucky people in the
right places when we settle Niobe's status in the Confederation."

He paused as the message tube beside his desk burped a faint hiss of
compressed air and a carrier dropped out into the receiving basket.

"Somehow I think that this is your membership card to the club," he
said. He read it, smiled, and passed the sheet to Lanceford. "And now,
Arthur, before I appoint you as a Niobe Staff member, I'd like to know
one thing."

"What is that, sir?"

"Just why in the name of hell did you bring that pack in here with you?
I've just realized where that smell is coming from!"

"I didn't dare leave it anywhere," Lanceford said. "Someone might have
thrown it down a disposal chute."

"I wouldn't blame them. That's vorkum you have in there, isn't it?"

Lanceford nodded. "Yes, sir. I didn't want to lose it."

"Why not? We can always get more from the natives if we need it."

"I know that, sir. _We_ can, but this is all _I'll_ get for the next
six months, and if I ration myself carefully, it might last that long.
You see, sir, it's mildly habit-forming--like cigarettes--and one gets
accustomed to it. And besides, you really don't know what flavor is
until you've tried vorkum on chocolate."





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