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´╗┐Title: The Earthman
Author: Cox, Irving E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Earthman" ***

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                             the earthman

                          BY IRVING COX, JR.

                _The four survivors were sitting ducks
                  surrounded by barbaric savages. And
                 they were doubly handicapped, because
              they knew that one of them was a traitor!_

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, December 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The robot supply ship came every Thursday at seven minutes after noon.
It was an unfortunate hour for the personnel of the Nevada station,
who happened to be in the commissary at lunch. Out of fourteen hundred
assigned to the post, only four escaped--two guards on noon duty in the
watch tower; the Commander's wife, who had skipped lunch and stayed in
her cottage; and Captain Tchassen.

The Captain was on a hill south of the station making a Tri-D shot
of the range of mountains west of the camp. He took his amateur
photography seriously and, like any tourist, he was fascinated by the
rugged scenery; there was nothing comparable to this on any world in
the civilized galaxy. To get the back lighting that he wanted, Tchassen
would cheerfully have given up any number of meals. As a matter of
fact, he wasn't aware that it was noon until he heard the jet blast of
the supply ship as it came in on the transit beam.

Tchassen saw the ship spin out of control as the beam went haywire.
The robot plunged into the heart of the station and the earth shook
in the catastrophic explosion of the nuclear reactor. The commissary,
the communication center, the supply sheds and the row of patrol ships
vanished in the rising, mushroom cloud. Concussion threw Tchassen
violently to the ground. His camera was smashed against a boulder.

The Captain picked himself up unsteadily. He took a capsule from his
belt pouch and swallowed it--a specific against shock and radiation
sickness. In a remarkably short time, Tchassen's mind cleared. He saw
the prisoners pouring through the gap torn in the compound fence and
running for the hills. But that did not alarm him particularly. They
were unarmed and for the moment they represented no real danger.

Tchassen began to run toward the ruined administrative center. He
had to find out if there were any other survivors and he had to make
emergency contact with the occupation base on the coast. He ran with
considerable difficulty. After less than a hundred yards, he was
gasping for breath. He slowed to a walk. He could feel the hammering of
his heart; his throat was dry and ice cold.

To the escaped prisoners, watching from beyond the camp, the
Captain's weakness was unbelievable--for Tchassen, in his twenties,
had a magnificent build. Typical of the occupation army, he wore
the regulation military uniform, knee-high boots and tight-fitting,
silver colored trousers. Above the waist he was naked, except for
the neck-chain which carried the emblem of his rank. His body was
deeply tanned. His hair was a bristling, yellow crown. Yet, despite
his appearance, his sudden exhaustion was very real; Captain Tchassen
had been on Earth only five days and he was still not adjusted to the
atmospheric differences.

As he passed the row of officers' cottages, he fell against a wall,
panting for breath. The flat-roofed buildings were nearly a mile from
the crater of the explosion, yet even here windows had been broken by
concussion. A cold, arid wind whipped past the dwellings; somewhere a
door, torn loose from its frame, was banging back and forth.

Then Tchassen heard a muffled cry. In one of the officer's cottages
he found Tynia. She had been thrown from her bed and the bed was
overturned above her. It was a fortunate accident; the mattress had
protected her from the flying glass.

Tchassen helped her to her feet. She clung to him, trembling. He was
very conscious of her sensuous beauty, as he had been since he first
came to the Nevada station. Tynia was the wife of the commanding
officer: Tchassen kept reminding himself of that, as if it could
somehow build a barrier against her attractiveness. She was strikingly
beautiful--and thirty years younger than her husband. It was common
gossip that she had been flirting with most of the junior officers
assigned to the station. Tchassen was, in fact, a security investigator
sent to probe the potential scandal and recommend a means for heading
it off.

He gave Tynia a shock pill from his pouch. Her hysteria subsided. She
became suddenly modest about the semi-transparent bedgown she was
wearing, and she zipped into a tight coverall, made from the same
silver-hued material as the Captain's trousers. They went outside. She
stood a foot shorter than Tchassen. Her dark hair framed her face in
graceful waves; make-up emphasized the size of her eyes and the lush,
scarlet bow of her lips.

Tynia glanced toward the crater, shielding her face from the noon sun.
"What happened, Captain?"

"The flight beam failed; the supply ship exploded."

"And killed them all." She said it flatly, without feeling--but
Tchassen doubted that she would have mourned the loss of her husband in
any case.

"I'll have to get word through to the coast. We'll need a rescue helio
and--"

"I know how to use the emergency transmitter," Tynia volunteered.
"There may be other survivors, Captain Tchassen; they'll need your
help."

"I don't want to leave you alone, Tynia." It was the first time he
spoke her given name, though the informality was commonplace among the
junior officers on the post. "The prisoners are out of the compound. We
may have trouble."

"Not yet, Captain; they're still unarmed. I'll be all right." She
nodded toward the crater. "We have to make sure there's no one else
alive down there."

       *       *       *       *       *

He left her reluctantly. She went toward the emergency communications
room, buried in a metal-walled pillbox which had been intentionally
located far from the center of the station. Tchassen walked across the
scarred earth in the direction of the crater. None of the important
buildings had survived. Concussion had torn up the fence around the
prison compound, but the cell block, half a mile from the explosion
and built of concrete and steel, was still standing. The watch tower,
beyond the prison building, stood askew on bent metal pillars, but it
was otherwise undamaged.

The Captain knew that at least two guards were on watch duty at all
hours; they might still be alive. He crossed the crater and pulled
himself up the battered stairs to the top of the tower. The door was
jammed. Using a broken piece of railing as a lever, he pried it open.
He found the two guards unconscious, slumped across their observation
console.

He gave them shock capsules, but the men regained consciousness slowly.
While he waited, Tchassen read their identity disks. The Corporal,
Gorin Drein, was a three-year draftee, serving a six month tour of
duty on Earth. He was a fair-haired, blue-eyed boy, probably no more
than twenty years old. Sergeant Briggan was an army career man, in
his fifties and only a few years away from retirement. Yet the only
physical indication of his age was the touch of gray in his bristling
mane of dark hair.

When their erratic breathing steadied and they opened their eyes, the
Captain explained what had happened. Both men were still groggy; the
shock pills inhibited their normal emotional reactions. Neither Briggan
nor Drein had much to say until Tchassen helped them down from the
tower and they stood looking at the hole blasted in the earth.

"The supply rocket," Sergeant Briggan said slowly, "couldn't have done
this; the beam landings are foolproof. The prisoners must have pulled
it off, though I don't see--"

"How?" Tchassen broke in. "The compound fence didn't go down until
after the blast; there was no way any of them could get out."

"Robot ships just don't get off the beam," Corporal Drein declared
stubbornly.

Briggan nodded toward the empty cell block. "It worked out nicely--for
the prisoners. A single explosion wipes out most of us; but the
prisoners are far enough away from the blast center to escape."

"Surely there isn't any danger of revolution," Tchassen asked,
unconsciously mocking the optimism of the security bulletins. "Not any
longer."

Briggan grinned. "You've only been here five days, sir; you don't know
how thoroughly our indoctrination has failed. The Earth people hate us
more than ever."

"Even so, how could one of the prisoners have brought the robot down?"

"By tampering with the beam."

"But that means they had a subversive--that means one of us must be--"

"An Earthman, yes. We encourage them to apply for citizenship. If we
had an Earthman on the post masquerading as an officer, how would we
know it--unless he told us? They're no different from our own people,
Captain."

On the other side of the crater Tynia staggered out of the
communications pillbox. Tchassen saw her waving frantically and he knew
something was wrong--very wrong. He began to run toward her. Briggan
and Drein followed close behind him. Almost immediately the Captain
staggered and gasped for breath; he motioned for the Sergeant and the
Corporal to go on without him.

Briggan waited long enough to say, "So far we've located four
survivors, sir--only four. And one of the four is very probably an
Earthman. The transit beams don't fail of their own accord. It's not a
very nice thing to think about, is it, sir?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The two men left him and Tchassen walked slowly, alone across the
barren land. The wind whispered against his naked chest; it felt
suddenly cold and forbidding. The ragged peaks piled on the western
horizon were no longer simply photogenic curiosities of an alien world,
but symbols of undefined terror.

Why had the supply robot crashed? Why had the prisoners been able to
get away without a casualty? Had it been planned by an officer of
the station? If so, where was he now--with the prisoners, dead in
the commissary, or among the four survivors? The tide of questions
hammered at Tchassen's mind, but he came up with no workable answers.
His real trouble stemmed from the fact that he knew so little about
the Earth people. Their reasoning was beyond rational analysis. They
were physically identical to normal human beings, and it was almost
impossible not to assume that their thinking would be normally human,
too.

When Tchassen reached the communications pillbox, the Sergeant, the
Corporal, and Tynia were inside. In the gloomy half-light he saw
the others silently trying to patch together the broken wires of
the transmitter. It was hopeless; Tchassen saw that at once. Only a
master technician could have made sense out of that jumbled maze. The
other three knew that, too. They stopped when they saw Tchassen and
looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to tell them what to do.
With something of a shock, he realized that he now ranked as station
commander.

"I don't believe the explosion wrecked the transmitter," Tchassen
decided uncertainly.

"It was torn up like this when I first came in," Tynia told him.

"So we couldn't get in touch with the occupation base. Obviously one
of the prisoners did it. They must have had--" The Captain licked his
lips. "They must have had outside help."

"What do we do now?" Tynia's voice was shrill with rising hysteria. "We
can't radio for a rescue ship. How do we get away?"

"It's up to us to find something else."

She moved close to Sergeant Briggan, reaching for his hand. "The Earth
people are outside somewhere, waiting to kill us. We can't escape,
Captain! And you start talking nonsense--"

Very deliberately Tchassen slapped the back of his hand against her
cheek. The pillbox was abruptly very still. She stared at him, her eyes
wide. Slowly she raised her hand and touched the reddening mark on her
face. She shrank against Briggan and the Sergeant put his arm around
her shoulders.

"You didn't have to do that, Captain," he bristled.

"Don't quarrel," Tynia whispered. "Not on my account."

Tchassen's muscles tensed. This was the way Tynia had created
tension on the post; he had seen it happen to her husband. Yet
could he honestly blame her? It wasn't her fault; just the irony of
circumstance. And Tchassen knew that his anger now was primarily envy,
because she had turned to the Sergeant for protection and not to him.

He made himself relax. "Hysteria," he said, "is a luxury none of us can
afford."

"You're right," Tynia answered. "Absolutely right. I was very foolish."

She moved away and Briggan muttered, "Sorry, sir. I didn't think--"

"We must get back to the coast," Tchassen said briskly, "through
territory occupied by the enemy. We can scrape together all the
weapons we'll need and the roads are supposed to be passable. Our only
problem, then, is transportation."

"Maybe we'd better stay here," Tynia suggested.

"Sitting ducks for the Earthmen to attack?"

"You said we have weapons."

"Not enough to hold out indefinitely."

"Sir," Corporal Drein intervened, "there's an old, enemy vehicle in the
prison building. We used it sometimes for field inspections."

"Let's look it over."

Captain Tchassen had seen the instructional films which were made
immediately after the occupation. He could identify the sedan--an
inefficient, petroleum-burning machine, typical of a primitive people
who had just reached the threshhold of the Power Age. The original
beauty of design had long since disappeared. Only one window and the
windshield were unbroken; the body paint was peeling away in spreading
patches of rust; the pneumatic tires were in shreds and the vehicle
moved noisily on bent, metal rims.

They fueled the car with gasoline confiscated long ago and stored in
drums in the prison warehouse; Corporal Drein volunteered to do the
driving. In the officers' cottages they found weapons--a portable heat
beam, half a dozen dispersal rays, and a box of recharge cartridges.
In terms of Tchassen's technology such weapons were minor sidearms,
but they were superior to anything yet produced by the Earth people.
Tchassen was sure he had the power to beat off any attack.

The survivors were handicapped in only one respect: all the food on the
post had been destroyed with the commissary. However, Tchassen did not
consider that a serious problem. He was sure they could reach the coast
by the following morning.

Shortly before three o'clock--nearly two hours after the supply robot
crashed--the survivors left the station. They headed west on a highway
unused since the conquest. Tchassen and Tynia sat together in back. The
Captain kept all the weapons. Briggan's warning couldn't be ignored;
one of the other three might be an Earthman. Unless they faced an
actual emergency, Tchassen did not intend to let any of the others
carry arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sedan lumbered over cracked and crumbling asphalt. The tireless
rims made a nerve-wracking din that prevented all conversation.
Tchassen was unused to any sort of surface transportation. The
civilized galaxy had outgrown it centuries ago; the flight beam, safe
and inexpensive, was universally used. With equal ease the beam could
move a one-man runabout or a cargo freighter over any distance--a
few feet or the light years gapping between planets. Twice Tchassen
revised his estimate of the sedan's speed. At this rate, it would be
twenty-four hours or more before they reached the coast. That made
their shortage of food far more significant.

Through the shattered side window Tchassen scanned the arid soil. It
was remotely possible that they might stumble across a native food
cache, but he couldn't count on that. He wasn't even sure the caches
existed, although the theory was a basic factor in the occupation
policy.

The galactic council of scientists estimated that one-tenth of the
Earth people had never been rounded up and resettled in the prison
compounds; bandit raids increased that number steadily. How the rebels
survived no one knew, for any large scale food production would
have been spotted by the patrols and wiped out. One or two crackpot
theorists said the bandits fed themselves by hunting wild game, but
that was absurd. It was common fact throughout the civilized galaxy
that any culture which evolved as far as the Power Age would, in the
normal process of growth, eliminate all planetary animal life. The
accepted explanation was the food cache theory. According to it, the
Earthmen--sometime after the conquest and before the prison compounds
were set up--had raided their own cities and hidden the packaged food
in remote mountain areas. The supply was decidedly limited. When it was
gone, the rebels faced starvation unless they returned voluntarily to
the compounds.

The Sierra range between the Nevada station and the coast had become a
haven for so many escaped Earthmen that the region was marked "enemy
territory" on the occupation maps. Although Tchassen was aware of that,
he knew he could not assume that, because the four survivors had to
pass through a rebel area, they would discover a cache of food. Far too
many organized expeditions, sent out expressly for that purpose, had
returned empty handed.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the afternoon shadows lengthened and the sedan seemed to be moving
no closer to the snow-capped peaks, the air became colder. Tchassen's
naked chest was studded with gooseflesh. Drein and Briggan were rubbing
their arms to keep warm. Tchassen was accustomed to the controlled
temperatures on the civilized worlds and the comforts of the beam
ships. It hadn't occurred to him that the regular military uniform
might be inadequate.

He felt the subtle pulsing of fear, the crushing loneliness of a
stranger on an alien world. He fingered the barrel of a dispersal
ray, but the weapon gave him no sense of security. He had a terrible
sensation of psychological nakedness. The weapons could drive off
bandits, but what protection did Tchassen have against the unknown
elements of a savage world? We've failed; we have no right to be here:
the words lashed at his mind like an insinuating poison. He could feel
sweat on his face and chest, sweat turning cold in the icy wind.

Now the sedan entered a decaying village nestled close to the
mountains. It was in an amazingly good state of repair--undoubtedly
because it was located so far from the coastal cities that it had
escaped destruction during the invasion. Then, too, the village was too
close to the Nevada compound for the Earth people to have looted it.
Tchassen tapped on Drein's shoulder and ordered him to stop the sedan.

"We need warmer clothing," the Captain explained, "before we start up
the grade."

"I suppose we might pick up something here," Sergeant Briggan conceded.
"This place is called Reno. It was one of the few communities still
intact after the invasion."

"I'm scared," Tynia said. "The prisoners may be hiding here, waiting
for us."

"They have better sense than to face a dispersal ray without any
protection." Tchassen's tone was crisp with an assurance he didn't
feel, but it satisfied her. Drein opened the door and stood on the
sidewalk, waiting for Tchassen to hand out one of the weapons. But
Tchassen couldn't be sure Drein was not an Earthman; nor, on the other
hand, could he ask the Corporal to explore an enemy town unarmed. As a
sort of compromise, Tchassen said,

"We'll stick together; I'll carry all the weapons, Corporal."

It wasn't satisfactory, but both Drein and Briggan were too
well-disciplined to protest. Tchassen felt foolish with six dispersal
rays and a heat beam slung over his shoulders, but he couldn't risk
leaving anything in the sedan, either.

       *       *       *       *       *

The survivors spent a good part of an hour searching the downtown
stores, but Reno had been stripped of native artifacts; the buildings
were empty shells filled with dust. The only chance they had of finding
clothing was to look in the private homes closer to the outskirts. They
went back to the sedan and drove to a residential street. By that time
the sun was setting. Tchassen did not relish the prospect of being
caught in an enemy town after dark, but the search could be speeded up
only if they separated.

For a second time the Captain compromised. He issued dispersal rays
to the others, but insisted that they work in pairs. If one of them
was an enemy, that arrangement would more or less tie his hands.
Tynia volunteered to go with Drein; Tchassen felt a pang of envy and
jealousy, but he had better sense than to use his authority to force
her to come with him.

Tchassen and the Sergeant searched through half a dozen houses before
they found one that had not been looted. Their luck was unbelievable,
for they found shelves of canned food as well as clothing sealed in
plastic bags. From an open window the Captain fired a dispersal ray
toward the sky, a signal prearranged with the others. As the needle
of light arched above the village, Tchassen heard a distant blast of
explosions and Tynia's shrill scream of terror.

"It's a bandit raid!" Briggan cried. He turned to run toward the
street. Tchassen's hand shot out and caught the Sergeant's shoulder.

"Not so fast. I said we'd stay in pairs."

"But Tynia's in trouble! The Earth people are barbarians, sir. They
give no quarter. They--"

"I'm still in command, Sergeant."

Briggan stiffened. "Yes, sir."

The two men walked toward the source of the sound. Tchassen couldn't
allow himself to run, even to help Tynia; the exertion would have been
too much for him. There was another clatter of shots and Tchassen
recognized the gunfire of the primitive Earth weapons. In the darkness
it was vaguely disturbing, but not frightening. Both Tynia and Drein
were armed with dispersal rays; they would have no trouble defending
themselves.

Sudden footsteps pelted toward them. Tynia ran from a dark side street
and threw herself into the Captain's arms. She clung to him, trembling
and panting for breath.

"Where's Drein?" he demanded.

"The Corporal--he took my gun. He tried to kill me!"

"Tynia, do you understand what you're saying? The accusation--"

"You told us to stay together. I did my best. I was going through a
house when I realized suddenly that I was alone. I saw Drein outside; I
thought he was talking to someone. I ran out and--" She bit her lip and
hid her eyes against his shoulder.

In a flat, emotionless voice, Tchassen asked, "Drein was with Earthmen?"

"I don't know! Someone sprang at me and knocked the ray out of my
hands. I saw people--I thought I saw people--in the shadows behind
Corporal Drein. I began to run. I don't want to accuse him of--of
anything, Captain. I can't be sure. If he's an Earthman, we have
to--we have to dispose of him, and I wouldn't want--"

Her voice trailed off in a gasp of terror as they heard a new burst
of gunfire, very close. Tchassen dodged aside, pulling Tynia behind a
tree. Sergeant Briggan fired blindly into the night. His dispersal beam
danced across the face of a frame building and the house exploded into
flame. In the red glare of the fire, Tchassen saw a band of savages,
dressed in animal hides--no that was impossible!--fleeing into the
darkness beyond the village.

Corporal Drein staggered toward them. Blood spilled from a gash torn in
his chest. He saw Tchassen, Tynia and the Sergeant standing together.
Like a man in a daze, he began to raise his dispersal ray.

In Tchassen's mind there was no longer any room for doubt; the truth
was clear. Drein was an Earthman; Drein had betrayed the station; Drein
now intended to kill off the only survivors. The Captain acted with
military decision. He pressed the firing stud of his weapon. Drein
screamed in agony as he died.

Tynia buried her face in her hands. Briggan put his arm around her. In
the flickering light, Tchassen saw the Sergeant grin.

"You didn't have to kill him, Captain," Tynia whispered.

"After what you told me--"

"Don't blame me; I didn't do anything!"

"He was going to fire at us, wasn't he?"

"You don't know that for sure. Maybe he was asking for help!"

Tchassen shrugged; there was no accounting for the emotional
inconsistencies of a woman.

"What did you expect to prove by murdering Drein?" Briggan asked.

"I saved us from--"

"If he was an Earthman, why were the bandits firing at him? Why had
they wounded him?"

"To make it look good," Tchassen replied, no longer really believing
it himself. "They wanted our weapons; they have to use trickery to get
them away from us."

Tchassen slid the weapon out of Drein's lifeless fingers and
half-heartedly searched the street for Tynia's dispersal ray. He didn't
expect to find it. The Earth people had it now. The loss of the weapon
was, in one sense, more serious than the destruction of the Nevada
station. A prison compound could be rebuilt and restaffed. But if the
Earth ever faced the conqueror with equal firepower, Earthmen would
recapture their world--and more.

We've failed; we have no right to be here--the Captain fought a burning
nausea as the fear washed over his mind. What had they accomplished by
the occupation? The Earth was neither enslaved nor destroyed. Hatred
made the natives savages. They would never be content until they had
revenge. They never conceded defeat; they never would. Corporal Drein
seemed to be typical of their fanaticism, and that was why Tchassen had
killed him--that, and the hysterical story Tynia had told. On calmer
reflection, Tchassen knew he had no proof of Drein's disloyalty--which
meant that either Briggan or Tynia could be Earth natives. That
problem was unsolved; the danger was undiminished.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tchassen wasted very little time looking for the weapon Tynia had lost.
After twenty minutes, the three survivors returned to the house where
Tchassen and Briggan had found food and clothing. They packed the
canned goods into the sedan and put on warm coats and jackets. Although
the woolens and the cottons fell to pieces when they touched the cloth,
the synthetic fabrics were still relatively sound, particularly when
they had been sealed in mothproof plastic.

Tchassen took over the driving when they left Reno. For greater warmth,
Tynia and the Sergeant crowded into the front seat beside him. As
they ascended the grade toward the pass, the air turned much colder.
Tchassen's hands felt numb on the wheel and the altitude made his mind
swim in a haze of vague nausea.

There was no moon and the headlights of the sedan had been smashed long
ago. The Captain drove very slowly, concentrating on the curves of the
highway. Three times the machine narrowly missed going over the edge;
the guard rail saved them. Tchassen knew he was risking their lives to
drive at night, but he had no alternative. They would not be really
safe again until they reached the base on the coast, and the Earth
people would try to prevent that. They would try to make sure that no
survivors lived to report what had happened at the Nevada station.

Briggan fished three cans of food out of the back of the car and
blasted them open with his dispersal ray. The can he handed Tchassen
contained a fruit in a heavy, sickly sweet syrup. Tchassen made himself
empty the tin. Tynia had a pinkish meat which she was totally unable to
choke down. The civilized galaxy had been vegetarian for two thousand
years; a clear indication of the savagery of the Earth culture was the
fact that the natives still ate animal flesh. Briggan opened another
can for Tynia. After a brief hesitation, he began to eat the meat
himself.

Tynia gagged and looked away. "I don't see how you can do it, Sergeant."

"We may be on the road longer than we think," he answered. "We can't
afford to waste anything; we aren't likely to find another food cache."

Tchassen glanced at Briggan suspiciously. It was possible that he could
force himself to stomach the meat, if he were starving, but how was
he able to eat it now? An Earthman could do it; yet if Briggan were
a native, wasn't he too clever to give himself away with anything so
trivial?

"Tell me, Captain," Briggan asked, "what chance do we have of getting
through this alive?"

"We're armed; we have transportation; we--"

"And the natives will risk everything to stop us. They have to. This
attack on the Nevada station was the beginning of the revolution. If
they plan the rest of it as carefully, they stand a good chance of
throwing us off the Earth."

"No!" Tynia cried. "Now that they know the civilized galaxy exists,
they'll build space ships and come after us. With our weapons--"

"Plus their fanaticism," Tchassen put in, "the galaxy doesn't stand a
chance."

"But we invaded the Earth to prevent that; we came here to teach them
to live civilized lives."

"How much teaching have we actually done in the compounds?" the
Sergeant demanded. "How many Earth people have listened to us?"

"They're human beings; they have brains like ours. Surely when we have
explained our ways to them logically and sanely--"

"The trouble is," Tchassen said thoughtfully, "it's our logic, not
theirs. If you look at this from the point of view of an Earthman, you
see us as savage invaders of their world."

"Our purpose makes it different."

"We say that, but the Earth people wouldn't understand us."

"It's very strange," Sergeant Briggan said quietly, "that you
understand the Earthman's point of view so well, Captain Tchassen.
Let's see. You've been here--how many days?"

"Five."

"But you set yourself up as an authority on these people."

"Come now, Sergeant. I didn't say that. I'm simply trying to understand
them reasonably."

"To think like an Earthman: that's rather difficult for us to do,
Captain." Briggan paused briefly before he snapped out a rapid
question, "Where were you stationed before you came here, Captain?"

"At security headquarters."

"Assigned to what staff?"

"Well, I was--" Tchassen glanced at Tynia. It would do no good, now,
to explain why he had been assigned to the Nevada post. All that was
finished because the station staff died in the explosion. "I wasn't on
any staff," he said. "I was working on my own."

"That's a pity, sir. You wouldn't remember the name of your commanding
officer, then; I could have checked up on that."

Tynia gasped; only then did Tchassen realize what Briggan's questions
implied. He said coldly, "You're way off the track, Briggan. I'm
the only one of you who couldn't be an Earthman; I haven't become
acclimated yet--that's obvious, isn't it?"

"Of course you're right, sir. It wouldn't be the sort of thing you
could put over by playing a part, would it? Besides, Drein was the
Earthman and you killed him. We've no reason to be suspicious of each
other now, have we?"

There was no way Tchassen could reply. He gritted his teeth and
said nothing. From the expression on Tynia's face, he realized that
Briggan's insinuation had been rather effective. And suppose Briggan
actually believed it himself. Didn't that rule out the Sergeant as an
Earthman?

And it left only Tynia. Tchassen eyed the dark-haired woman on the
seat beside him. What did he really know about her?--only that she
had been married to a station commander; and had flirted outrageously
with other post officers. She may have done it simply because she was
bored; on the other hand, it could have been a deliberate attempt to
create friction--exactly the sort of thing an Earth woman might try
to do. Perhaps she was a native. When Tchassen was given the security
assignment, he hadn't checked into her background; it didn't seem
necessary. He realized suddenly that Tynia was the only witness against
Drein. Because of what she had said, Tchassen had killed the Corporal.
Tynia's hysteria had set the stage for murder.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the sedan climbed higher into the pass, it moved more slowly. The
motor coughed and wheezed; once or twice it seemed ready to stop
altogether. When they reached the summit, the tenuous crescent of a new
moon emerged above the pines. In the pale glow of light, Tchassen saw
that the highway was covered with a treacherous sheet of ice.

The metal rims found no traction. When the machine began to skid, the
Captain found he could neither control it nor stop it. In spite of the
cold, his body was covered with sweat.

At a point four or five miles beyond the summit, they came to a place
where thick trees on both sides of the highway shaded the road so the
sun never reached it. The ice was continuous for a hundred feet or
more, and it was covered with three inches of unmelted snow. The sedan
skidded out of control. Tynia screamed and hid her face in her hands.
Tchassen fought the wheel futilely. The car spun toward the shoulder,
banged against a tree, and slid across the road into a clearing in
front of an abandoned building.

In the sudden silence Tchassen heard nothing but the whisper of icy
wind in the trees. He opened the door and looked at the deserted
building. The roofs of the smaller structures nearby had collapsed
under the pressure of winter snows, but the main building, sheltered by
tall pines, was in good repair.

"We'd be warmer inside," Tchassen suggested. "In the morning after the
sun comes out--"

"Captain!" Briggan broke in. "We must reach the coast!"

"--after the sun comes out, the ice on the road should begin to melt;
the driving will be much easier."

"Don't you realize, sir--these mountains are enemy territory?"

"We're still well-armed, Sergeant."

"We had the rays in Reno, too, but Drein's dead."

"I tell you we'll be safe here. I remember a trick I saw demonstrated
at the school of tactics."

"You security men have the advantage. I'm just an enlisted non-com. I
never went to the military schools and learned any fancy tricks, but I
know I have a duty to reach the coast and report what's happened."

Tynia took Briggan's arm. "The sedan won't run, Sergeant. Surely you
aren't saying we have to walk--"

"It's interesting, isn't it, that the car stopped right here--in front
of a place where it would be so convenient for us to spend the night?"

"What do you mean, Briggan?"

"I wasn't doing the driving, Tynia."

A hard knot of anger exploded in Tchassen's mind, but he held his
temper. It was easier to ignore Briggan than to answer his suspicion.
In a tone that concealed his feelings, the Captain said, "Let me show
you what I saw them do in the demonstration, Sergeant." He slid out of
the sedan. With numb fingers, he opened the firing box of the portable
heat ray and took out one of the two thermal coils. Breaking the seal,
he began to unwind the thin thread of wire.

"We have our own alarm system right here," he explained, trying to
convey more enthusiasm than he really felt. "Nearly a quarter mile of
wire. We'll string it in a circle around this clearing, six inches
above the ground. The natives will never notice it. If they attack
us, they'll snap the wire and set off the thermal reaction. We'll be
surrounded for a second or two in a blazing ring of fire."

"Maybe it'll work, Captain."

       *       *       *       *       *

The two men strung the wire while Tynia lugged the weapons and the
canned goods into the abandoned building. When the Sergeant and
Tchassen went inside, they found that she had started a fire in a
pot-bellied stove. The Captain stood holding his hands over the flames
and gradually he began to feel warm again. He knew that the pillar of
smoke rising from the chimney might invite an attack by the natives,
but there was also a good chance that the smoke would disperse before
it could be spotted.

The warmth of the fire acted like an opiate, but Tchassen realized
he didn't dare risk falling asleep. Tynia or Briggan might be Earth
people, waiting for the chance to finish the job they had begun when
the Nevada station was destroyed. After a brief hesitation, the Captain
took another shock capsule from his belt pouch and choked it down.
The drug would keep him awake, although it was dangerous to take a
second capsule so soon after the first; there were sometimes emotional
side-affects which were unpleasant.

"One of us should stay on guard," Briggan said. "We could take turns at
it, Captain--two hour stints until dawn."

"Good idea, Briggan. I'll stand the first watch."

"I was going to volunteer--"

"No; you're tired; you and Tynia need your sleep."

"You're too considerate of us, Captain." The overtone in Briggan's
voice suggested far more than he actually said. He lay back on his
blankets, but he did not shut his eyes, and he put his dispersal ray
across his belly with his hand on the firing stud. Tchassen stood up,
sliding a weapon over each shoulder.

He went through a connecting hall into a narrow room. A few scattered
dishes, overlooked by the looters, and built-in cooking machines
indicated that this had been a restaurant. The room gave him an
excellent vantage point, for the windows, still unbroken, provided a
broad view of the highway and the clearing in front of the building.

The restaurant was bitterly cold. Tchassen pulled the rough, fibrous
clothing tight around his shoulders, but it felt irritating rather than
warm. He looked out on the ice and the snow and the pines, and he was
acutely conscious of the savage alienness of Earth.

Snow he knew as a scientific curiosity; he had seen it created in
laboratory experiments. Nowhere in the civilized galaxy did it exist
as a natural phenomenon. The teeming billions of people crowding
every world could not survive unless every square inch of soil was
occupied and exploited. Science regimented the temperatures in the
same way that it controlled rainfall. For more than twenty centuries
neither deserts nor Arctic wastes had existed. All animal species had
disappeared. Trees survived only as ornamental growths in city parks.
The Earth was a relic of the past, a barbaric museum piece. The strong,
individualistic genius of its people had evolved in no other society;
and that genius had created a technology which mushroomed far beyond
the capacity to control it. It gave this savage world atomic power
before it had planetary unity.

For that reason, the civilized galaxy had invaded the Earth. They
could do nothing else. The decision had been made long before Tchassen
was born. The galactic council of scientists studied the Earth and
argued the meaning of their observations for a quarter of a century
before they ordered the invasion. War, to the civilized galaxy, was
unthinkable; yet the government had no alternative. For, with even
their primitive form of atomic power, the Earth people could blow their
world to dust. The planet had to be occupied to save the natives from
the consequences of their own folly.

But what does it matter, Tchassen thought bitterly, if our intentions
were noble and unselfish? It's what Earth thinks we meant to do that
counts. And by that standard we've failed. We have no right to be here.

Alone in the cold darkness of the abandoned restaurant, Tchassen
faced the fear gnawing at his soul. The drug he had taken warped his
depression into a crushing weight of melancholy. The occupation of
the Earth had gone wrong--or so it seemed to him--because the council
of scientists misjudged the native mentality. True, these people had
created a brilliant technology, but it didn't follow that they would
comprehend the social forces at work in the civilized galaxy. Their
emotional reactions were at best on an adolescent level; intelligence
alone would not lift them up to maturity. The prisoners in the
compounds learned nothing but hatred; they lived for nothing but
revenge. Vividly Tchassen saw the nightmare of the future: the time
when the savages on the Earth had weapons to match the dispersal ray;
the time when they would be able to build ships that could invade the
civilized galaxy.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Captain paced the dusty floor in front of the serving counter.
Briggan did not come in two hours to take over the watch; and he made
no attempt to call the Sergeant. It was long after midnight, perhaps
less than an hour before dawn, when something outside triggered the
thermal-wire alarm. Simultaneously, as the blaze of white glared
against the restaurant windows, Tynia screamed. Tchassen heard the
explosive blast of a dispersal ray slashing into wood. A split-second
later Tynia burst through the connecting hall and flung herself into
Tchassen's arms.

"They're attacking!" she screamed.

"You saw them? Where?"

"Briggan. At the window. I--I shot him."

His fingers bit into the soft flesh of her arm. "Take it easy, Tynia.
Tell me how it happened."

"I saw him when the alarm went off. He was lifting his dispersal ray,
as if he meant to shoot you. I remembered how he had eaten meat last
night, and I--I thought--" She shuddered. "I knew he was an Earthman.
He was the one who blew up the supply robot; now he wants to kill us."

"You were sure Drein was an Earthman, too."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It's obvious, isn't it?"

"Obvious?" She shrank back against the counter.

He ignored her but kept her within the range of his peripheral vision
while he glanced through the window, trying to locate what had set off
the alarm. The circle of heat had melted all the snow and ice in the
clearing; the trunks of the pines were smoldering and a corner of the
building was beginning to burn.

Tchassen saw a chunk of flesh lying on the road--an animal of some
sort which had blundered into the alarm wire. Then they had not been
attacked by natives. The dead animal made it very clear that wild
beasts still survived on the Earth. No wonder the natives were meat
eaters! And, since they were, that meant they could live indefinitely
in the remote mountain areas. They did not depend upon hidden caches of
food; starvation would never drive them back to the prison compounds.
The occupation policy was based upon a false assumption; more than ever
it was vitally imperative for Tchassen to reach the coast and report
the truth to his superiors.

Tchassen shifted his weapon so that his fingers lay on the firing stud.
Tynia stared at him, her eyes wide with terror. In a tight whisper, she
said,

"Then you--you're the Earthman, Captain!"

He grinned, admiring her skillful use of emotion. If he hadn't known
better, he would have taken her fear for the real thing. Maybe it was;
he couldn't be sure, but the facts seemed to add up to only one answer.
Tynia laid the groundwork for the killing of Corporal Drein; she
herself shot Briggan. And who had been in a better position to tamper
with the landing beam for the supply rocket? Who else had a better
opportunity to destroy the transmitter in the emergency pillbox? Yet,
even in the face of so much evidence, Tchassen gave her the benefit of
the doubt! His reasoning might have been colored by the drug he had
taken.

With the mouth of his weapon, he nudged her toward the hall. "Go back
and pick up the food, Tynia. We're leaving here now."

She clenched her fist over her mouth. "Don't turn me over to them,
Captain. Let me go. I've never done you Earth people any harm."

Magnificent acting! No wonder they had sent her to the Nevada station.
"We're heading for the coast," he explained.

"The sedan wouldn't go last night; it won't now, either."

"We'll push the car back to the highway. The downgrade is steep enough
to make the machine run without power. If that doesn't work, we can
always walk."

"It'll be warmer if we wait until daylight."

"And the natives would be here by that time, too, wouldn't they? The
glare of the thermal explosion was visible for miles."

"I didn't sleep at all last night, Captain. I don't have the energy
to--"

With the dispersal ray, he pushed her along the hall toward the room
where she and Briggan had slept in front of the pot-bellied stove.
Naturally she would try to keep him there, he thought; he didn't need
much more proof of her disloyalty.

Flames from the burning wall lit the room. As they entered, Tynia
screamed and fell back against Tchassen.

"The Sergeant's gone!" she gasped.

"Along with the weapons you left in here."

"Then he--he's the Earthman, Captain; you aren't!"

"You said you'd shot him."

"I fired at him. I saw him fall. I thought he was dead."

Tchassen wanted to believe her, but the husky, deep-throated appeal in
her voice couldn't quite destroy the hard core of his doubt. This could
be an alibi which she could have contrived for herself. She might have
hidden the weapons as well as Briggan's body. If Tchassen believed her,
if he let himself trust her, it would be easier later on for her to
dispose of him.

"Pack up the food, Tynia; I'm going to see if I can start the car."

       *       *       *       *       *

When he went outside, the dawn was brightening the eastern sky. The
snow and ice, melted by the thermal fire, made a slushy sheet of water
in the clearing; it ate at the drifts, sluggishly washing the snow into
the highway.

Tchassen waded through the water toward the sedan. His boots kept him
dry, but the cold penetrated and made his feet numb. Hidden by the
water were tiny, unmelted puddles of ice which made very treacherous
footing. Twice the Captain slipped and nearly went down.

He was twenty feet from the car when he heard the door of the building
bang open behind him. He glanced back, calling Tynia a warning to be
careful of the hidden ice. At the same time she screamed. Tchassen
swung aside instinctively. He slipped and fell. From the back of the
sedan a thread of energy snaked toward him. Tchassen felt the momentary
pain stab at his shoulder; then nothing. He lay flat in the icy water,
fighting the red haze that hung over his mind. If the dispersal ray had
come half an inch closer to his heart, it would have cut the artery and
killed him.

Sergeant Briggan opened the door of the sedan and stood leaning against
it, holding a dispersal ray in his left hand. The Sergeant was badly
wounded. His right arm was an unrecognizable, bleeding pulp; he was too
weak to stand alone. So Tynia had told the truth, Tchassen thought; she
actually had shot him. The Captain felt a surge of relief and hope.
Perhaps he could rely on Tynia, after all. But now it was too late!
The blast from the Sergeant's weapon had paralyzed Tchassen's motor
control; he was helpless.

The Sergeant, obviously, assumed that Tchassen was dead. Ignoring him,
he ordered Tynia to pile the canned food in the back of the sedan. She
moved toward him slowly.

"You're the Earthman," she said dully. "And I thought Captain
Tchassen--"

"The farce is over, Tynia. You and Tchassen made a fine game of it
for a while, but I've been in the service long enough to spot a fake
security officer."

"The Captain and I?" she repeated.

"Do I have to draw you a blueprint? You two are in this together.
You're both natives."

For a moment she seemed to recover her self-assurance. "So that's how
you're going to play it, Sergeant. Just who do you think you'll take in
with such nonsense?"

"I'm through batting words around with you, Tynia. Put the food in the
car. Help me push the machine out to the road."

"Why bother, Sergeant? If you stay right here, the natives will be
along soon enough."

"I'm glad you admit that, Tynia." Briggan laughed sourly. "But it's my
duty to get through to the base--just as it's your duty, I suppose, to
try to stop me."

"Why do you still want to make me believe that, Sergeant? What
difference does it make now?"

Tchassen, paralyzed and unable to speak, suddenly realized the truth.
Each of them feared the other. All four survivors had assumed that one
of the others had to be an Earthman. We put our faith in machines, he
thought; we were too certain that the robot ship couldn't crash simply
because something had gone wrong with the beam. Our real trouble is
we have no faith in ourselves. None of us was an Earthman; the Earth
people had nothing to do with the destruction of the Nevada station.

He wanted desperately to shout that out. After a supreme effort, he was
able to make his lips move a fraction of an inch; and that was all.

Tynia put the canned food in the sedan. Briggan waved her to the back
of the car with his weapon. He held the beam leveled at her while she
pushed the sedan toward the road. The clearing was built on a slight
slant and she had no trouble moving the heavy vehicle. As the wheels
began to turn, Tynia pretended to slip and fall into the slushy water.

Briggan was distracted by the motion of the sedan. Tynia rolled toward
Tchassen and snatched up his dispersal ray. The Sergeant realized what
she intended to do and lifted his weapon awkwardly in his left hand.

No! Stop! Don't be fools! The words sang through Tchassen's mind, but
he could not speak. Briggan and Tynia fired simultaneously. The beam
caught the Sergeant squarely in the face. He died in a blaze of energy.
The sedan rolled into the road and Tynia fell unconscious beside
Tchassen.

He wanted to help her, but he was still not able to move. In another
half hour the paralysis would be gone, but by that time it would be too
late to do anything for Tynia. Furiously he drove his body to respond
and he managed to turn on his side.

The exertion was too much for him. The haze swam in painful waves
across his mind. Just before unconsciousness came, he saw a band of
natives on the edge of the clearing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The swaying motion of the stretcher shook him awake. The Earthmen were
carrying him along a narrow mountain trail, past deep drifts of snow.
His wound, where Briggan's beam had hit him, was neatly bandaged; he
could smell the odor of a disinfectant. It surprised him that the Earth
people knew so much about medicine; but it surprised him more that they
had tried to save his life.

He listened to his captors when they talked. He was able to understand
a few phrases of the native dialect which every man assigned to
the occupation had to learn, but what he had been taught was sadly
inadequate. When one of his stretcher bearers saw that the Captain was
conscious, he spoke to him in the cultured language of the civilized
galaxy. The syntax was awkwardly handled, yet Tchassen was amazed that
the Earthman used it so well.

"Be no fear," the native said. "You get living again."

"Tynia. The girl with me--"

"Wound bad; she dead before we come. We follow from prison and try help
all four you. You fight each other. You have evil weapons. We can save
only you."

"What are you going to do with me?"

"Make you well; send you back."

The answer came as a shock to Tchassen; it was what a civilized people
would have said. But the Earth natives were savages--brilliant,
inventive individualists, but nonetheless social barbarians. It would
have seemed much more logical if the native had said he was keeping
Tchassen for a religious ceremonial sacrifice.

"As soon as my wounds are healed," Tchassen repeated, "you'll let me
go?"

The native ran his hand over the Captain's bandages. "This wound is a
little thing, of no importance." He touched Tchassen's head. "Here is
your real sickness, in the brain. We teach you how to think like a man;
then you go home."

"You're going to teach me? Me? Do you realize, I come from the
civilized galaxy?" Tchassen began to laugh; he wondered if he had been
taken prisoner by a band of madmen.

"We show you how to be human," the native answered blandly. "Not fight
and kill each other, the way you and the others did when the post blow
up. We know meaning for civilization; you have none. It is easy secret.
We learn after the invasion, when our world destroyed. Real civilized
people get along; live in peace; give help to each other. Your people
and ours: we can be brothers here on the Earth, and on your other
worlds, too."

Tchassen's laughter was touched with hysteria. Have we failed? He knew
the answer now: for the captives, the dispossessed men of the Earth,
would become the teachers of the conquerors--and teach them what the
conquerors had come to build on the Earth. No, we have not failed; we
have simply misunderstood the strange genius of the quixotic Earth. The
defeated would one day rise up and conquer the galaxy. Tchassen saw
that clearly, but no longer in fear. He wanted to make their stamina,
their grit, their ability to survive a part of himself. He wanted to
make himself over--as an Earthman.





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