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´╗┐Title: Doorstep
Author: Laumer, Keith
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 "Doorstep" ***

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



                               DOORSTEP

                            By KEITH LAUMER

                         Illustrated by RITTER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                    Galaxy Magazine February 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                    The general was bucking for his
                    other star--and this miserable
                    contraption bucked right back!


Steadying his elbow on the kitchen table serving as desk, Brigadier
General Straut leveled his binoculars and stared out through the
second-floor window of the farmhouse at the bulky object lying canted
at the edge of the wood lot. He watched the figures moving over and
around the gray mass, then flipped the lever on the field telephone at
his elbow.

"How are your boys doing, Major?"

"General, since that box this morning--"

"I know all about the box, Bill. So does Washington by now. What have
you got that's new?"

"Sir, I haven't got anything to report yet. I have four crews on it,
and she still looks impervious as hell."

"Still getting the sounds from inside?"

"Intermittently, General."

"I'm giving you one more hour, Major. I want that thing cracked."

The general dropped the phone back on its cradle and peeled the
cellophane from a cigar absently. He had moved fast, he reflected,
after the State Police notified him at nine forty-one last night.
He had his men on the spot, the area evacuated of civilians, and
a preliminary report on its way to Washington by midnight. At two
thirty-six, they had discovered the four-inch cube lying on the ground
fifteen feet from the huge object--missile, capsule, bomb--whatever it
was. But now--several hours later--nothing new.

The field phone jangled. Straut grabbed it up.

"General, we've discovered a thin spot up on the top side. All we can
tell so far is that the wall thickness falls off there...."

"All right. Keep after it, Bill."

This was more like it. If Brigadier General Straut could have this
thing wrapped up by the time Washington awoke to the fact that it was
something big--well, he'd been waiting a long time for that second
star. This was his chance, and he would damn well make the most of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked across the field at the thing. It was half in and half out
of the woods, flat-sided, round-ended, featureless. Maybe he should go
over and give it a closer look personally. He might spot something the
others were missing. It might blow them all to kingdom come any second;
but what the hell, he had earned his star on sheer guts in Normandy. He
still had 'em.

He keyed the phone. "I'm coming down, Bill," he told the Major.
On impulse, he strapped a pistol belt on. Not much use against a
house-sized bomb, but the heft of it felt good.

The thing looked bigger than ever as the jeep approached it, bumping
across the muck of the freshly plowed field. From here he could see a
faint line running around, just below the juncture of side and top.
Major Greer hadn't mentioned that. The line was quite obvious; in
fact, it was more of a crack.

With a sound like a baseball smacking the catcher's glove, the crack
opened, the upper half tilted, men sliding--then impossibly it stood
open, vibrating, like the roof of a house suddenly lifted. The driver
gunned the jeep. There were cries, and a ragged shrilling that set
Straut's teeth on edge. The men were running back now, two of them
dragging a third.

Major Greer emerged from behind the object, looked about, ran toward
General Straut shouting. "... a man dead. It snapped; we weren't
expecting it...."

Straut jumped out beside the men, who had stopped now and were looking
back. The underside of the gaping lid was an iridescent black. The
shrill noise sounded thinly across the field. Greer arrived, panting.

"What happened?" Straut snapped.

"I was ... checking over that thin spot, General. The first thing I
knew it was ... coming up under me. I fell; Tate was at the other side.
He held on and it snapped him loose, against a tree. His skull--"

"What the devil's that racket?"

"That's the sound we were getting from inside before, General. There's
something in there, alive--"

"All right, pull yourself together, Major. We're not unprepared. Bring
your half-tracks into position. The tanks will be here soon."

Straut glanced at the men standing about. He would show them what
leadership meant.

"You men keep back," he said. He puffed his cigar calmly as he walked
toward the looming object. The noise stopped suddenly; that was a
relief. There was a faint and curious odor in the air, something like
chlorine ... or seaweed ... or iodine.

There were no marks in the ground surrounding the thing. It had
apparently dropped straight in to its present position. It was heavy,
too--the soft soil was displaced in a mound a foot high all along the
side.

Behind him, Straut heard a yell. He whirled. The men were pointing;
the jeep started up, churned toward him, wheels spinning. He looked
up. Over the edge of the gray wall, six feet above his head, a great
reddish limb, like the claw of a crab, moved, groping.

Straut yanked the .45 from its holster, jacked the action and fired.
Soft matter spattered, and the claw jerked back. The screeching started
up again angrily, then was drowned in the engine roar as the jeep slid
to a stop.

Straut stooped, grabbed up a leaf to which a quivering lump adhered,
jumped into the vehicle as it leaped forward; then a shock and they
were going into a spin and....

       *       *       *       *       *

"Lucky it was soft ground," somebody said. And somebody else asked,
"What about the driver?"

Silence. Straut opened his eyes. "What ... about...."

A stranger was looking down at him, an ordinary-looking fellow of about
thirty-five.

"Easy, now, General Straut. You've had a bad spill. Everything is all
right. I'm Professor Lieberman, from the University."

"The driver," Straut said with an effort.

"He was killed when the jeep went over."

"Went ... over?"

"The creature lashed out with a member resembling a scorpion's stinger.
It struck the jeep and flipped it. You were thrown clear. The driver
jumped and the jeep rolled on him."

Straut pushed himself up.

"Where's Greer?"

"I'm right here, sir." Major Greer stepped up, stood attentively.

"Those tanks here yet?"

"No, sir. I had a call from General Margrave; there's some sort of
holdup. Something about not destroying scientific material. I did get
the mortars over from the base."

Straut got to his feet. The stranger took his arm. "You ought to lie
down, General--"

"Who the hell is going to make me? Greer, get those mortars in place,
spaced between your tracks."

The telephone rang. Straut seized it. "General Straut."

"General Margrave here, Straut. I'm glad you're back on your feet.
There'll be some scientists from the State University coming over.
Cooperate with them. You're going to have to hold things together at
least until I can get another man in there to--"

"Another man? General Margrave, I'm not incapacitated. The situation is
under complete control--"

"It is, is it? I understand you've got still another casualty. What's
happened to your defensive capabilities?"

"That was an accident, sir. The jeep--"

"We'll review that matter at a later date. What I'm calling about is
more important right now. The code men have made some headway on that
box of yours. It's putting out a sort of transmission."

"What kind, sir?"

"Half the message--it's only twenty seconds long, repeated--is in
English. It's a fragment of a recording from a daytime radio program;
one of the network men here identified it. The rest is gibberish.
They're still working over it."

"What--"

"Bryant tells me he thinks there may be some sort of correspondence
between the two parts of the message. I wouldn't know, myself. In my
opinion, it's a threat of some sort."

"I agree, General. An ultimatum."

"Right. Keep your men back at a safe distance from now on. I want no
more casualties."

       *       *       *       *       *

Straut cursed his luck as he hung up the phone. Margrave was ready to
relieve him, after he had exercised every precaution. He had to do
something fast, before this opportunity for promotion slipped out of
his hands.

He looked at Major Greer. "I'm neutralizing this thing once and for
all. There'll be no more men killed."

Lieberman stood up. "General! I must protest any attack against this--"

Straut whirled. "I'm handling this, Professor. I don't know who let
you in here or why--but I'll make the decisions. I'm stopping this
man-killer before it comes out of its nest, maybe gets into that
village beyond the woods. There are four thousand civilians there. It's
my job to protect them." He jerked his head at Greer, strode out of the
room.

Lieberman followed, pleading. "The creature has shown no signs of
aggressiveness, General Straut--"

"With two men dead?"

"You should have kept them back--"

"Oh, it was my fault, was it?" Straut stared at Lieberman with cold
fury. This civilian pushed his way in here, then had the infernal gall
to accuse him, Brigadier General Straut, of causing the death of his
own men. If he had the fellow in uniform for five minutes....

"You're not well, General. That fall--"

"Keep out of my way, Professor," Straut said. He turned and went on
down the stairs. The present foul-up could ruin his career; and now
this egghead interference....

With Greer at his side, Straut moved out to the edge of the field.

"All right, Major. Open up with your .50 calibers."

Greer called a command and a staccato rattle started up. The smell of
cordite and the blue haze of gunsmoke--this was more like it. He was in
command here.

Lieberman came up to Straut. "General, I appeal to you in the name of
science. Hold off a little longer; at least until we learn what the
message is about."

"Get back from the firing line, Professor." Straut turned his back
on the civilian, raised the glasses to observe the effect of the
recoilless rifle. There was a tremendous smack of displaced air, and
a thunderous boom as the explosive shell struck. Straut saw the gray
shape jump, the raised lid waver. Dust rose from about it. There was no
other effect.

"Keep firing, Greer," Straut snapped, almost with a feeling of triumph.
The thing was impervious to artillery; now who was going to say it was
no threat?

"How about the mortars, sir?" Greer said. "We can drop a few rounds
right inside it."

"All right, try that before the lid drops."

And what we'll try next, I don't know, he thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

The mortar fired with a muffled thud. Straut watched tensely. Five
seconds later, the object erupted in a gout of pale pink debris. The
lid rocked, pinkish fluid running down its opalescent surface. A
second burst, and a third. A great fragment of the menacing claw hung
from the branch of a tree a hundred feet from the ship.

Straut grabbed up the phone. "Cease fire!"

Lieberman stared in horror at the carnage.

The telephone rang. Straut picked it up.

"General Straut," he said. His voice was firm. He had put an end to the
threat.

"Straut, we've broken the message," General Margrave said excitedly.
"It's the damnedest thing I ever...."

Straut wanted to interrupt, announce his victory, but Margrave was
droning on.

"... strange sort of reasoning, but there was a certain analogy. In any
event, I'm assured the translation is accurate. Here's how it reads in
English...."

Straut listened. Then he carefully placed the receiver back on the hook.

Lieberman stared at him.

"What did it say?"

Straut cleared his throat. He turned and looked at Lieberman for a long
moment before answering.

"It said, 'Please take good care of my little girl.'"





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