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´╗┐Title: Game Preserve
Author: Phillips, Rog
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 "Game Preserve" ***

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



                             GAME PRESERVE

                            BY ROG PHILLIPS

                    _The hunters were necessary, of
                       course--but there was the
                    other side of the picture too._

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



     _The first of the_ morons, _as they were popularly called,
     though they were totally lacking in intelligence, were born in
     1971, eleven years after the Mutual Retaliation phase of the
     big war-that-no-one-started, the majority of them near the big,
     bombed-out cities. By 1973, with the aid of the electron
     microscope, the scientists had learned all about it. Parents and
     offspring were sterilized and the offspring placed in state
     institutions. By 1983 there were too many of them. A new solution
     to the impossible situation was tried, large isolated areas in the
     south where the climate was mild were made into preserves for
     them. In the wilds the_ morons _banded into small herds that
     showed no inclination to roam. By 1985 no more of the_ morons
     _were being born, thanks to the sterilization of all parents
     carrying the contaminated gene. It was thought the problem was
     permanently solved, through perfect cooperation between science,
     the government, and the public. If the contamination had not been
     weeded out of the race one fourth of every generation for all the
     future would have been without any intelligence whatever._

     _But here and there had been natural births, unattended by a
     doctor; and parental love coupled with fear of being sterilized
     and thus denied further parenthood had brought into existence a
     few thousand unsterilized_ morons, _hidden away in attic rooms or
     in basements. And to these parents the Preserves offered the
     logical solution too--drive into the nearest Preserve and turn the
     child loose with its kind. Thus, a new generation came into being
     in the scattered herds, and by 2010 A.D. a new problem had come
     into being. Thanks to impurities in the_ moron _strain or to
     wandering renegades--or both--a few normally intelligent offspring
     were appearing in the herds. There was danger of these
     recontaminating the race, if they left the herds, learned to
     speak, wear clothes...._

     _In 2010 the government attempted a mass sterilization of the
     herds but the herds were too wild by now, and the males too
     dangerous, so the sterilization program was abandoned and a new
     plan substituted. The government Hunters came into being, small
     patrol groups whose job was to pick off the renegades and any
     members of the herds that were intelligent._

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hi-hi-hi!" Big One shouted, and heaved erect with the front end of It.

"Hi-hi-hi," Fat One and the dozen others echoed more mildly, lifting
wherever they could get a hold on It.

It was lifted and borne forward in a half crouching trot.

"Hi-hi hi-hi-hihihi," Elf chanted, running and skipping alongside the
panting men and their massive burden.

It was carried forward through the lush grass for perhaps fifty feet.

"Ah-ah-ah," Big One sighed loudly, slowly letting the front end of It
down until it dug into the soft black soil.

"Ahhh," Fat One and the others sighed, letting go and standing up,
stretching aching back muscles, rubbing cramped hands.

"Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah," Elf sang, running around and in between the
resting men. He came too close to Big One and was sent sprawling by a
quick, good humored push.

Everyone laughed, Big One laughing the loudest. Then Big One lifted Elf
to his feet and patted him on the back affectionately, a broad grin
forming a toothy gap at the top of his bushy black beard.

Elf answered the grin with one of his own, and at that moment his ever
present yearning to grow up to be the biggest and the strongest like
Big One flowed through him with new strength.

Abruptly Big One leaped to the front end of It, shouting "Hi-hi-HI!"

"Hi-hi-hi," the others echoed, scrambling to their places. Once again
It was borne forward for fifty feet--and again and again, across the
broad meadowland.

A vast matting of blackberry brambles came into view off to one side.
Big One veered his course toward it. The going was uphill now, so the
forward surges shortened to forty feet, then thirty. By the time they
reached the blackberries they were wet and glossy with sweat.

It was a healthy patch, loaded with large ripe berries. The men ate
hungrily at first, then more leisurely, pointing to one another's
stained beards and laughing. As they denuded one area they leaped to
It, carried it another ten feet, and started stripping another section,
never getting more than a few feet from It.

Elf picked his blackberries with first one then another of the men.
When his hunger was satisfied he became mischievous, picking a handful
of berries and squashing them against the back or the chest of the
nearest man and running away, laughing. It was dangerous sport, he
knew, because if one of them caught him he would be tossed into the
brambles.

Eventually they all had their fill, and thanks to Elf looked as though
they were oozing blackberry juice from every pore. The sun was in its
mid-afternoon position. In the distance a line of white-barked trees
could be seen--evidence of a stream.

"Hi-hi-hi!" Big One shouted.

The journey toward the trees began. It was mostly downhill, so the
forward spurts were often as much as a hundred feet.

Before they could hear the water they could smell it. They grunted
their delight at the smell, a rich fish odor betokening plenty of food.
Intermingled with this odor was the spicy scent of eucalyptus.

They pushed forward with renewed zeal so that the sweat ran down their
skins, dissolving the berry juices and making rivulets that looked like
purple blood.

When less than a hundred yards from the stream, which was still hidden
beyond the tall grasses and the trees lining its bank, they heard the
sound of voices, high pitched--women's voices. They became uneasy and
nervous. Their surges forward shortened to ten feet, their rest periods
became longer, they searched worriedly for signs of motion through the
trees.

They changed their course to arrive a hundred yards downstream from
the source of the women's voices. Soon they reached the edge of the
tree belt. It was more difficult to carry It through the scatterings
of bushes. Too, they would get part way through the trees and run into
trees too close together to get It past them, and have to back out and
try another place. It took almost two hours to work through the trees
to the bank of the stream.

Only Elf recognized the place they finally broke through as the place
they had left more than two days before. In that respect he knew he
was different, not only from Big One and other grownups, but also all
other Elfs except one, a girl Elf. He had known it as long as he could
remember. He had learned it from many little things. For example, he
had recognized the place when they reached it. Big One and the others
never remembered anything for long. In getting It through the trees
they blundered as they always had, and got through by trial and error
with no memory of past blunderings.

Elf was different in another way, too. He could make more sounds
than the others. Sometimes he would keep a little It with him until
it gave him a feeling of security almost as strong as the big It,
then wander off alone with It and play with making sounds. "Bz-bz.
Walla-walla-walla-rue-rue-la-lo-hi. Da!" and all kinds of sounds. It
excited him to be able to make different sounds and put them together
so that they pleased his hearing, but such sounds made the others avoid
him and look at him from a safe distance, with worried expressions, so
he had learned not to make _different_ sounds within earshot of the
others.

       *       *       *       *       *

The women and Elfs were upstream a hundred yards, where they always
remained. From the way they were milling around and acting alarmed it
was evident to Elf they could no more remember the men having been here
a few days before than the men could remember it themselves. It would
be two or three days before they slowly lost their fear of one another.
It would be the women and their Elfs who would cautiously approach,
holding their portable Its clutched for security, until, finally losing
all fear, they would join into one big group for a while.

Big One and the others carried It right to the water's edge so they
could get into the water without ever being far from It. They shivered
and shouted excitedly as they bathed. Fat One screamed with delight
as he held a squirming fish up for the others to see. He bit into it
with strong white teeth, water dripping from his heavy brown beard.
Renewed hunger possessed him. He gobbled the fish and began searching
for another. He always caught two fish for any other man's one, which
was why he was fat.

Elf himself caught a fish. After eating it he lay on the grassy bank
looking up at the white billowing clouds in the blue sky. The sun was
now near the horizon, half hidden behind a cloud, sending divergent
ramps of light downward. The clouds on the western horizon were slowly
taking on color until red, orange, and green separated into definite
areas. The soft murmur of the stream formed a lazy background to the
excited voices of the men. From upstream, faintly, drifted the woman
and Elf sounds.

Here, close to the ground, the rich earthy smell was stronger than that
of the stream. After a time a slight breeze sprang up, bringing with
it other odors, that of distant pines, the pungent eucalyptus, a musky
animal scent.

Big One and the others were out of the water, finally. Half asleep, Elf
watched them move It up to dry ground. As though that was what the sun
had been waiting for, it sank rapidly below the horizon.

The clouds where the sun had been seemed now to blaze for a time with a
smoldering redness that cooled to black. The stars came out, one by one.

A multitude of snorings erupted into the night. Elf crept among the
sleeping forms until he found Big One, and settled down for the night,
his head against Big One's chest, his right hand resting against the
cool smooth metal of It.

       *       *       *       *       *

Elf awoke with the bright morning sun directly in his eyes. Big One was
gone, already wading in the stream after fish. Some of the others were
with him. A few were still sleeping.

Elf leaped to his feet, paused to stretch elaborately, then splashed
into the stream. As soon as he caught a fish he climbed out onto the
bank and ate it. Then he turned to his search for a little It. There
were many lying around, all exactly alike. He studied several, not
touching some, touching and even nudging others. Since they all looked
alike it was more a matter of _feel_ than any real difference that he
looked for. One and only one seemed to be the It. Elf returned his
attention to it several times.

Finally he picked it up and carried it over to the big It, and hid it
underneath. Big One, with shouts of sheer exuberance, climbed up onto
the bank dripping water. He grinned at Elf.

Elf looked in the direction of the women and other Elfs. Some of them
were wandering in his direction, each carrying an It of some sort, many
of them similar to the one he had chosen.

In sudden alarm at the thought that someone might steal his new It, Elf
rescued it from its hiding place. He tried to hide it behind him when
any of the men looked his way. They scorned an individual It and, as
men, preferred an It too heavy for one person.

As the day advanced, women and Elfs approached nearer, pretending to be
unaware at times that the men were here, at other times openly fleeing
back, overcome by panic.

The men never went farther than twenty feet from the big It. But as the
women came closer the men grew surly toward one another. By noon two of
them were trying to pick a fight with anyone who would stand up to them.

Elf clutched his little It closely and moved cautiously downstream
until he was twenty feet from the big It. Tentatively he went another
few feet--farther than any of the men dared go from the big It.
At first he felt secure, then panic overcame him and he ran back,
dropping the little It. He touched the big It until the panic was gone.
After a while he went to the little It and picked it up. He walked
around, carrying it, until he felt secure with it again. Finally he
went downstream again, twenty feet, twenty-five feet, thirty.... He
felt panic finally, but not overwhelmingly. When it became almost
unendurable he calmly turned around and walked back.

Confidence came to him. An hour later he went downstream until he was
out of sight of the big It and the men. Security seemed to flow warmly
from the little It.

Excitement possessed Elf. He ran here and there, clutching It closely
so as not to drop it and lose it. He felt _free_.

"Bdlboo," he said aloud, experimentally. He liked the sounds.
"Bdlboo--bdlboo--bdlboo." He saw a berry bush ahead and ran to it to
munch on the delicious fruit. "Riddle piddle biddle," he said. It
sounded nice.

He ran on, and after a time he found a soft grassy spot and stretched
out on his back, holding It carelessly in one hand. He looked up and
up, at a layer of clouds going in one direction and another layer above
it going in another direction.

Suddenly he heard voices.

At first he thought the wind must have changed so that it was carrying
the voices of the men to him. He lay there listening. Slowly he
realized these voices were different. They were putting sounds together
like those he made himself.

A sense of wonder possessed him. How could there be anyone besides
himself who could do that?

Unafraid, yet filled with caution, he clutched It closely to his chest
and stole in the direction of the sounds.

After going a hundred yards he saw signs of movement through the trees.
He dropped to the ground and lay still for a moment, then gained
courage to rise cautiously, ready to run. Stooping low, he stole
forward until he could see several moving figures. Darting from tree to
tree he moved closer to them, listening with greater excitement than he
had ever known to the smoothly flowing variety of beautiful sounds they
were making.

This was something new, a sort of game they must be playing. One voice
would make a string of sounds then stop, another would make a string of
different sounds and stop, a third would take it up. They were good at
it, too.

But the closer he got to them the more puzzled he became. They were
shaped somewhat like people, they carried Its, they had hands and faces
like people. That's as far as the similarity went. Their feet were
solid, their arms, legs, and body were not skin at all but strangely
colored and unliving in appearance. Their faces were smooth like
women's, their hair short like babies', their voices deep like men's.

And the Its they carried were unlike any Elf had ever seen. Not only
that, each of them carried more than one.

_That_ was an _idea_! Elf became so excited he almost forgot to keep
hidden. If you had more than one It, then if something happened to one
you would still feel secure!

He resisted the urge to return to the stream and search for another
little It to give him extra security. If he did that he might never
again find these creatures that were so like men and yet so different.
So instead, he filed the idea away to use at the earliest opportunity
and followed the strange creatures, keeping well hidden from them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon Elf could hear the shouts of the men in the distance. From the
behavior of the creatures ahead, they had heard those shouts too. They
changed their direction so as to reach the stream a hundred yards or
more downstream at about the spot where Elf had left. They made no
voice sounds now that Elf could hear. They clutched their strangely
shaped long Its before them tensely as though feeling greater security
that way, their heads turning this way and that as they searched for
any movement ahead.

They moved purposefully. An overwhelming sense of kinship brought tears
to Elf's eyes. These creatures were _his kind_. Their differences
from him were physical and therefore superficial, and even if those
differences were greater it wouldn't have mattered.

He wanted, suddenly, to run to them. But the thought of it sent fear
through him. Also they might run in panic from him if he suddenly
revealed himself.

It would have to be a mutual approach, he felt. He was used to seeing
them now. In due time he would reveal himself for a brief moment to
them. Later he would stay in the open and watch them, making no move to
approach until they got used to him being around. It might take days,
but eventually, he felt sure, he could join them without causing them
to panic.

After all, there had been the time when he absented himself from the
men for three whole days and when he returned they had forgotten him,
and his sudden appearance in their midst had sent even Big One into
spasms of fear. Unable to flee from the security of the big It, and
unable to bear his presence among them without being used to him, they
had all fallen on the ground in a fit. He had had to retreat and wait
until they recovered. Then, slowly, he had let them get used to his
being in sight before approaching again. It had taken two full days to
get to the point where they would accept him once more.

That experience, Elf felt, would be valuable to remember now. He
wouldn't want to plunge these creatures into fits or see them scatter
and run away.

Also, he was too afraid right now to reveal himself even though every
atom of his being called for their companionship.

Suddenly he made another important discovery. Some of the Its these
creatures carried had something like pliable vines attached to them so
they could be hung about the neck! The thought was so staggering that
Elf stopped and examined his It to see if that could be done to it. It
was twice as long as his hand and round one way, tapering to a small
end that opened to the hollow inside. It was too smooth to hold with a
pliable vine unless--He visualized pliable vines woven together to hold
It. He wasn't sure how it could be done, but maybe it could.

He set the idea aside for the future and caught up with the creatures
again, looking at them with a new emotion, awe. The ideas he got just
from watching them were so staggering he was getting dizzy!

Another new thought hit him. He rejected it at once as being too
fantastic. It returned. Leaves are thin and pliable and can be wrapped
around small objects like pebbles. Could it be that these creatures
were really men of some sort, with bodies like men, covered with
something thin like leaves are thin? It was a new and dizzy height in
portable securities, and hardly likely. No. He rejected the idea with
finality and turned his mind to other things.

He knew now where they could reach the stream. He decided to circle
them and get ahead of them. For the next few minutes this occupied his
full attention, leaving no room for crazy thoughts.

He reached the stream and hid behind some bushes where he would have a
quick line of retreat if necessary. He clutched It tightly and waited.
In a few moments he saw the first of the creatures emerge a hundred
feet away. The others soon joined the first. Elf stole forward from
concealment to concealment until he was only fifteen feet from them.
His heart was pounding with a mixture of fear and excitement. His
knuckles were white from clutching It.

The creatures were still carrying on their game of making sounds, but
now in an amazing new way that made them barely audible. Elf listened
to the incredibly varied sounds, enraptured.

"This colony seems to have remained pure."

"You never can tell."

"No, you never can tell. Get out the binoculars and look, Joe."

"Not just yet, Harold. I'm looking to see if I can spot one whose
behavior shows intelligence."

Elf ached to imitate some of the beautiful combinations of sounds. He
wanted to experiment and see if he could make the softly muted voices.
He had an idea how it might be done, not make a noise in your throat
but breathe out and form the sounds with your mouth just like you were
uttering them aloud.

One of the creatures fumbled at an It hanging around his neck. The top
of it hinged back. He reached in and brought out a gleaming It and held
it so that it covered his eyes. He was facing toward the men upstream
and stood up slowly.

"See something, Joe?"

Suddenly Elf was afraid. Was this some kind of magic? He had often
puzzled over the problem of whether things were there when he didn't
look at them. He had experimented, closing his eyes then opening them
suddenly to see if things were still there, and they always were; but
maybe this was magic to make the men not be there. Elf waited, watching
upstream, but Big One and the others did not vanish.

The one called Joe chuckled. "The toy the adult males have would be a
museum piece if it were intact. A 1960 Ford, I think. Only one wheel on
it, right front."

Elf's attention jerked back. One of the creatures was reaching over his
shoulder, lifting on the large It fastened there. The top of the It
pulled back. He reached inside, bringing out something that made Elf
almost exclaim aloud. It was shaped exactly like the little It Elf was
carrying, but it glistened in the sunlight and its interior was filled
with a richly brown fluid.

"Anyone else want a coke?"

"This used to be a picnic area," the one called Joe said, not taking
his eyes from the binoculars. "I can see a lot of pop bottles lying
around in the general area of that wreck of a Ford."

While Elf watched, breathless, the creature reached inside the skin of
his hip and brought out a very small It and did something to the small
end of the hollow It. Putting the very small It back under the skin of
his hip, he put the hollow It to his lips and tilted it. Elf watched
the brown liquid drain out. Here was magic. Such an It--the very one he
carried--could be filled with water from the stream and carried around
to drink any time!

When the It held no more liquid the creature dropped it to the ground.
Elf could not take his eyes from it. He wanted it more than he had ever
wanted anything. They might forget it. Sometimes the women dropped
their Its and forgot them, picking up another one instead, and these
creatures had beardless faces like women. Besides, each of them carried
so many Its that they would feel just as secure without this one.

So many Its! One of the creatures held a flat white It in one hand and
a very slim It shaped like a straight section of a bush stem, pointed
at one end, with which he scratched on the white It at times, leaving
black designs.

"There're fourteen males," the one called Joe whispered. The other
wrote it down.

The way these creatures did things, Elf decided, was very similar to
the way Big One and the other men went at moving the big It. They were
very much like men in their actions, these creatures.

"Eighty-five or six females."

"See any signs of intelligent action yet?"

"No. A couple of the males are fighting. Probably going to be a mating
free-for-all tomorrow or next day. There's one! Just a minute, I want
to make sure. It's a little girl, maybe eight or nine years old. Good
forehead. Her eyes definitely lack that large marble-like quality
of the sub-moron parent species. She's intelligent all right. She's
drawing something in the sand with a stick. Give me your rifle, Bill,
it's got a better telescope sight on it than mine, and I don't want her
to suffer."

That little It, abandoned on the ground. Elf wanted it. One of the
creatures would be sure to pick it up. Elf worried. He would never get
it then. If only the creatures would go, or not notice him. If only--

The creature with the thing over his eyes put it back where he had
gotten it out of the thing hanging from his shoulder. He had taken one
of the long slim things from another of the creatures and placed the
thick end against his shoulder, the small end pointed upstream. The
others were standing, their backs to Elf, all of them looking upstream.
If they would remain that way, maybe he could dart out and get the
little It. In another moment they might lose interest in whatever they
were watching.

Elf darted out from his concealment and grabbed the It off the ground,
and in the same instant an ear shattering sound erupted from the long
slim thing against the creature's shoulder.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Got her!" the creature said.

Paralyzed with fright, Elf stood motionless. One of the creatures
started to turn his way. At the last instant Elf darted back to his
place of concealment. His heart was pounding so loudly he felt sure
they would hear it.

"You sure, Joe?"

"Right through the head. She never knew what happened."

Elf held the new It close to him, ready to run if he were discovered.
He didn't dare look at it yet. It wouldn't notice if he just held it
and felt it without looking at it. It was cold at first, colder than
the water in the stream. Slowly it warmed. He dared to steal a quick
glance at it. It gleamed at him as though possessed of inner life.
A new feeling of security grew within him, greater than he had ever
known. The other It, the one half filled with dried mud, and deeply
scratched from the violent rush of water over it when the stream went
over its banks, lay forgotten at his feet.

"Well, that finishes the survey trip for this time."

Elf paid little attention to the voice whispers now, too wrapped up in
his new feelings.

"Yes, and quite a haul. Twenty-two colonies--three more than ten
years ago. Fourteen of them uncontaminated, seven with only one or two
intelligent offspring to kill, only one colony so contaminated we had
to wipe it out altogether. And one renegade."

"The renegades are growing scarcer every time. Another ten or twenty
years and they'll be extinct."

"Then there won't be any more intelligent offspring in these colonies."

"Let's get going. It'll be dark in another hour or so."

The creatures were hiding some of their Its under their skin, in their
carrying cases. There was a feeling about them of departure. Elf waited
until they were on the move, back the way they had come, then he
followed at a safe distance.

He debated whether to show himself now or wait. The sun was going down
in the sky now. It wouldn't be long until it went down for the night.
Should he wait until in the morning to let them get their first glimpse
of him?

He smiled to himself. He had plenty of time. Tomorrow and tomorrow. He
would never return to Big One and the other men. Men or creatures, he
would join with these new and wonderful creatures. They were _his kind_.

He thought of the girl Elf. They were her kind, too. If he could only
get her to come with him.

On sudden impulse he decided to try. These creatures were going back
the same way they had come. If he ran, and if she came right with him,
they could catch up with the creatures before they went so far they
would lose them.

He turned back, going carefully until he could no longer see the
creatures, then he ran. He headed directly toward the place where the
women and Elfs stayed. They would not be so easily alarmed as the men
because there were so many of them they couldn't remember one another,
and one more or less of the Elfs went unnoticed.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he reached the clearing he slowed to a walk, looking for her.
Ordinarily he didn't have to look much. She would see him and come to
him, smiling in recognition of the fact that he was the only one like
her.

He became a little angry. Was she hiding? Then he saw her. He went to
her. She was on her stomach, motionless as though asleep, but something
was different. There was a hole in one side of her head, and on the
opposite side it was torn open, red and grayish white, with--He knelt
down and touched her. She had the same inert feel to her that others
had had who never again moved.

He studied her head curiously. He had never seen anything like this. He
shook her. She remained limp. He sighed. He knew what would happen now.
It was already happening. The odor was very faint yet, but she would
not move again, and day after day the odor would get stronger. No one
liked it.

He would have to hurry or he would lose the creatures. He turned and
ran, never looking back. Once he started to cry, then stopped in
surprise. Why had he been crying, he wondered. He hadn't hurt himself.

He caught up with the creatures. They were hurrying now, their long
slender Its balanced on one shoulder, the big end resting in the palm
of the hand. They no longer moved cautiously. Shortly it was new
country. Elf had never been this far from the stream. Big One more or
less led the men, and always more or less followed the same route in
cross country trips.

The creatures didn't spend hours stumbling along impossible paths. They
looked ahead of them and selected a way, and took it. Also they didn't
have a heavy It to transport, fifty feet at a time. Elf began to sense
they had a destination in mind. Probably the place they lived.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just ahead was a steep bank, higher than a man, running in a long
line. The creatures climbed the bank and vanished on the other side.
Cautiously Elf followed them, heading toward a large stone with It
qualities at the top of the bank from whose concealment he could see
where they had gone without being seen. He reached it and cautiously
peeked around it. Just below him were the creatures, but what amazed
Elf was the sight of the big It.

It was very much like the big It the men had, except that there were
differences in shape, and instead of one round thing at one corner, it
had one at each corner and rested on them so that it was held off the
ground. It glistened instead of being dull. It had a strange odor that
was quite strong.

The creatures were putting some of their Its into it, two of them had
actually climbed into it--something neither Elf nor the men had ever
dared to do with their own big It.

Elf took his eyes off of it for a moment to marvel at the ground. It
seemed made of stone, but such stone as he had never before seen. It
was an even width with edges going in straight lines that paralleled
the long narrow hill on which he stood, and on the other side was a
similar hill, extending as far as the eye could see.

He returned his attention to the creatures and their big It. The
creatures had all climbed into it now. Possibly they were settling down
for the night, though it was still early for that....

No matter. There was plenty of time. Tomorrow and tomorrow. Elf would
show himself in the morning, then run away. He would come back again
after a while and show himself a little longer, giving them time to get
used to him so they wouldn't panic.

They were playing their game of making voice sounds to one another
again. It seemed their major preoccupation. Elf thought how much fun it
would be to be one of them, making voice sounds to his heart's content.

"I don't see why the government doesn't wipe out the whole lot," one of
them was saying. "It's hopeless to keep them alive. Feeble-mindedness
is dominant in them. They can't be absorbed into the race again, and
any intelligent offspring they get from mating with a renegade would
start a long line of descendents, at least one fourth of whom would be
mindless idiots."

"Well," another of them said, "It's one of those things where there
is no answer. Wipe them out, and next year it would be all the blond
haired people to be wiped out to keep the race of dark haired people
pure, or something. Probably in another hundred years nature will
take care of the problem by wiping them out for us. Meanwhile we game
wardens must make the rounds every two years and weed out any of them
we can find that have intelligence." He looked up the embankment but
did not notice Elf's head, concealed partially by the grass around the
concrete marker. "It's an easy job. Any of them we missed seeing this
time, we'll probably get next time. In the six or eight visits we make
before the intelligent ones can become adults and mate we always find
them."

"What I hate is when they see us, those intelligent ones," a third
voice said. "When they walk right up to us and want to be friends with
us it's too much like plain murder, except that they can't talk, and
only make moronic sounds like 'Bdl-bdl-bdl.' Even so, it gets me when
we kill them." The others laughed.

Suddenly Elf heard a new sound from the big It. It was not a voice
sound, or if it was it was one that Elf felt he could not possibly
match exactly. It was a growling, "RRrrRRrrRRrr." Suddenly it was
replaced by still a different sound, a "p-p-p-p-p" going very rapidly.
Perhaps it was the way these creatures snored. It was not unpleasant.
Elf cocked his head to one side, listening to the sound, smiling. How
exciting it would be when he could join with these creatures! He wanted
to so much.

The big It began to move. In the first brief second Elf could not
believe his senses. How could it move without being carried? But it was
moving, and the creatures didn't seem to be aware of it! Or perhaps
they were too overcome by fear to leap out!

Already the big It was moving faster than a walk, and was moving faster
with every heartbeat. How could they remain unaware of it and not leap
to safety?

Belatedly Elf abandoned caution and leaped down the embankment to
the flat ribbon of rock, shouting. But already the big It was over a
hundred yards away, and moving faster now than birds in flight!

He shouted, but the creatures didn't hear him--or perhaps they were so
overcome with fright that they were frozen. Yes, that must be it.

Elf ran after the big It. If he could only catch up with it he would
gladly join the creatures in their fate. Better to die with them than
to lose them!

He ran and ran, refusing to believe he could never overtake the big It,
even when it disappeared from view, going faster than the wind. He ran
and ran until his legs could lift no more.

Blinded by tears, he tripped and sprawled full length on the wide
ribbon of stone. His nose bled from hitting the hard surface. His knees
were scraped and bleeding. He was unaware of this.

He was aware only that the creatures were gone, to what unimaginable
fate he could not guess, but lost to him, perhaps forever.

Sobs welled up within him, spilled out, shaking his small naked body.
He cried as he hadn't cried since he was a baby.

And the empty Coca Cola bottle clutched forgotten in his hand glistened
with the rays of the setting sun....





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