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´╗┐Title: Open Invitation
Author: Fyfe, H. B. (Horace Bowne)
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 "Open Invitation" ***

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



                            OPEN INVITATION

                      A Short Story by H. B. FYFE

               The problem was simple--or rather, simply
              stated: Zoya Lar-Tul must keep those nasty,
                   aggressive little _Earthmen_ from
             discovering the location of his home-star....

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                       Planet Stories May 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


As Ullo Dah-Gow waddled into the section communications chamber on
Yaradir, second planet of Zillor, two of his four walking tentacles
stuck slightly on a nearly dry spot.

"Fire and dry sand!" he swore at the technicians. "Can't you two even
keep the footing decently moist?"

Without waiting for an answer, he made his way to the row of shallow
mud tubs before the television screen. The operators aimed eyestalks
at each other. Finally, Yado Nol-Moz, as junior, rose and went to the
wall controls of the conditioner.

The assistant supervisor was relieved to see a thin sheet of water
creep across the floor. He never knew when Yado or Viri Nol-Rin might
choose to ignore him.

_Which comes of old Ahnu loading this section with his nephews_, he
thought bitterly, forgetting that in his own office he already had
a list of his own relatives prepared against the day when he should
succeed to the post of Supervisor of Colonial Scouting for Sector 63.

The slap-slap of tentacles in the corridor announced the arrival of
his superior. Ahnu Nol-Yev entered and lowered his thick body into the
choicest of the mud tubs, which Ullo had prudently left free.

"Now, what's this urgent message?" he demanded, pointing one eyestalk
at Ullo and fixing the other upon the screen above Viri's broad, bony
head.

"A request for orders from scout Zoya Lar-Tul," answered Viri.
"Assigned to ... let me see ... system LL-255-13."

"Did we have any report on that system?" asked Ahnu.

Yado produced the tape of a preliminary report and placed it on the
speaker. The list of facts rolled out: number of planets ... number
with sufficient water for colonization ... number of intelligent
species--one, on third planet ... native nomenclature--star, _Sol_; own
planet, _Earth_; others ... and so on.

"All right," wheezed Ahnu. "I remember now. Get hold
of ... whatsisname ... Zoya!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Viri manipulated his keys and knobs. The brief delay before an
answering image appeared on the screen irritated Ahnu. The loose,
coppery scales around his thick neck glinted with iridescent highlights
as he puffed out his air-sacs.

"Dessication!" he snarled. "We bridge all those light-years with
subspace waves for his benefit, and he can't be alert enough to--Got
him now, Viri?"

The technician snapped the tip of a gripping tentacle in assent.
Another Yaradirian looked out at them from the screen.

This one had obviously been roughing it; his scales were lubricated by
only a minimum film of moisture, and he wore space harness on the lower
part of his body.

_To keep his walking tentacles wet_, Ullo realized. _He hasn't so much
as a drop of water on the floor of that dive!_

"Zoya Lar-Tul!" announced Viri.

"Stated simply," said Ahnu bluntly, "what is your trouble?"

"Stated simply, Great One," answered the scout, "I am in imminent
danger of detection by natives of this system."

Ullo stiffened in his mud tub. He heard the _slurp_ as the Supervisor
splashed more mud upon the oozing floor.

"How is that?" demanded Ahnu, his throat again beginning to expand
majestically.

"I fail to see," replied Zoya, "in what manner I could have avoided
it, Great One. The natives, _Earthmen_ in their own speech, have just
discovered an inefficient form of our own interstellar subspace drive.
They have gone exploring."

_Might have known it_, thought Ullo. _Just when I'm working up to a top
rank, too!_

It sounded bad. Should they be unable to think Zoya out of his
predicament, it might well mean new personnel all around. Ullo's only
satisfaction was that Ahnu's relatives would be discharged before his
own resignation was given him to sign.

Ahnu controlled himself.

"Give me a picture of your situation!" he commanded.

"To begin with, Great One, I chose to study the natives from a
distance, as is usual. I left my subspace ship on the largest satellite
of their sixth planet, which has several other moons and a beautiful
set of rings that--"

"Kindly touch bottom!" Ahnu cut him off. "I am not interested in a
local travelogue!"

"Even so, Great One. With my short-range rocket, I then established
this base on the seventh moon of their fifth planet. Only this moon's
smallness and insignificance has so far prevented by discovery."

They listened to the rest of the story in an uncomfortable silence that
was broken only by an occasional squishing of mud as one or another
stirred uneasily.

Zoya Lar-Tul had observed the _Earthmen_, as well as other bodies in
the system, for a quarter-revolution of his chosen fifth planet. At the
time of his arrival, the natives had reached their own satellite, but
he judged that they would be long in organizing successful flights to
the planets.

"I translated some of their broadcasts and learned that this was their
great current project. Naturally, however, I was unconcerned, and
contented myself with obtaining specimens for my researches by brief,
discreet trips here and there."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ullo snapped his tentacle tip quietly in assent. He remembered from
his history the dreadfully long period of his own race's expansion
throughout the system of Zillor. These _Earthmen_, however, seemed from
Zoya's report to possess certain advantages. Their requirements of air
and water were moderate and more easily stored in a space vessel. If
they _had_ discovered a form of subspace drive, they might be energetic
enough to pop up in the vicinity of Zillor some fine day.

"You will imagine my amazement," continued Zoya, "when I heard one of
their broadcasts announce that a ship had reached their fourth planet,
and another the second--"

Ahnu blew out a long, bubbling breath.

"All this is doubtless interesting," he snorted, "but what is the
immediate emergency?"

The image of Zoya aimed both eyestalks rather deliberately at the
Supervisor.

"They reached and passed this group of satellites," he hissed out. "Do
I make clear my dilemma, Great One?"

He waited while Ahnu's neck swelled dangerously. Just before the
explosion, he continued:

"Should they discover me, they will also find the specimens I have
collected, except the choicer ones stored on my subspace vessel for
transport home. This is what I mean--"

Zoya reached out to touch a button, and the scene changed to what was
evidently the dissecting laboratory of his base. Behind a transparent
bulkhead hung several sorts of carcasses in various stages of
dismemberment. Ullo suspected that the storeroom was simply left at the
temperature of the moon's surface.

"Very well!" exclaimed Ahnu as the scout reappeared. "You seem to be
operating a sort of butcher shop with some of the most ugly specimens
ever seen. What about it?"

Ullo felt sorry for the scout. Even he--indeed, as he saw by the twitch
of their eyestalks, even the technicians--had realized the problem.
Zoya patiently explained, forbearing to mention that his instructions
were laid out by Ahnu.

"If you will refer to descriptions in my preliminary report, Great One,
you will see that certain of the specimens are _Earthmen_ themselves.
Should their explorers discover them, I have reason to believe they
would be resentful. It is my opinion that they are a belligerent race."

Ahnu was silent for a moment.

"Well ... yes ... that is possible," he admitted.

"It would appear," he continued in another moment, "that you must
either abandon your base or dispose of your specimens if, as you say,
the _Earthmen_ have so soon reached your vicinity."

Zoya waited. Ullo stirred in his tub.

"If I may suggest, Great One--?"

"Yes?"

"I believe he should destroy his subspace ship!"

"_What!_"

"I am inclined to agree," Zoya Lar-Tul put in.

       *       *       *       *       *

Amazed, Ahnu waited for Ullo's reasons. Encouraged by such
consideration, the latter went on.

"If these _Earthmen_ are already on their way to the ringed planet,
they will undoubtedly stop first at the largest moon--where Zoya has
left his main ship."

"And will likely discover it there," Ahnu agreed reluctantly.

"And from that point," continued Ullo, "they will discover both our
location in space and the interstellar subspace drive in its finished
form. After that, they can get at _us_!"

"The opposite extreme of my dilemma," confirmed Zoya.

"Silence!" ordered Ahnu. "Let me think!"

All of them--Supervisor, assistant, technicians, and the image on the
screen--considered the situation gloomily. The government of Yaradir
would take a dry view of having to combat an invasion, should one
develop from this. The race of Yaradir, because of their personal
requirements and life conditions, were not as numerous as most of
the races they had found in their explorations. The great distances
between their colonies and the growing number of these were due to the
comparative rarity of the type of planet that suited them.

"Can you reach the ship in your local rocket in time to escape in
it?" asked Ahnu. "After all, subspace ships are costly; if we leave a
deserted base, what can they find out?"

"It is possible," admitted Zoya doubtfully, "but risky."

"What do you mean?"

"They may intercept me on the way, for their ships are faster than my
rocket. They may even catch the big ship before I gain enough speed to
shift into subspace drive."

"For all we know," interrupted Ullo, forgetting his place, "they may be
able to keep up with you even then."

Ahnu bubbled angrily at the idea, but they all were silent for another
unhappy period of cogitation.

"Perhaps," admitted Ahnu in the end, "you will have to destroy the
subspace ship, but only in the last extremity!"

"I could blow it up from space, if I get within range."

"Not so fast; that ship is a major item in the budget!" Ahnu told him
angrily. "The first thing is to try to get aboard unseen and return to
pick up what you can from your base."

"And if these _Earthmen_ are nearby?" Ullo asked.

"Then Zoya must forget the base and escape with the ship, which is the
main thing."

"But if they have already found it?" inquired Zoya.

"All right, all right! _Then_ destroy it! And you had better
start immediately unless you wish to find such action necessary.
Somehow,"--here one eyestalk was deflected rather pointedly toward
Ullo--"somehow, too many mouths always speed up the clocks."

Ullo did a little neck-swelling himself at this example of bias.

_Just because he couldn't get my job for his youngest brother_, he
thought resentfully. _Serve him right if I'd resigned! Where'd he be if
I didn't stick here to push his snout into the obvious every time he
slides over it?_

"Yes," repeated Ahnu, complacent at having found his solution, "that is
what you must do. If anything goes wrong, you can still use your rocket
to return to your base."

"Which I hope," sighed Zoya, "to find undisturbed."

       *       *       *       *       *

At that, Ahnu fell silent. After a tense moment, he heaved himself
around to direct both eyestalks at Ullo.

"Well?" he wheezed. "Have you no suggestions in case he does have to
destroy the subspace ship?"

Ullo twirled one tentacle tip in the mud of his tub until he collected
a sticky blob. This he flipped away with a snap of the tentacle. He
derived a slight satisfaction from the _splat_ against the far wall.

"We must try to preserve _one_ of his collections of information," he
said. "It would entail considerable expense--not to mention time--to
replace Zoya and repeat the scouting."

Ahnu shifted his position irritably. Ullo saw that his reference to
expense had been a shrewd blow. The Supervisor snorted and bubbled, but
finally conceded that much and gestured for Ullo to continue.

"So it would be unfortunate if he should succeed in regaining his big
ship, only to return to his base and find it occupied by exploring
_Earthmen_."

"What do you suggest, then?"

"He should try for _either_ the base or the ship, and arrange to
destroy the other! If he can remain undetected for a short time at the
base, he can dispose of his specimens after forwarding a report on
them. If he gets to the ship safely, why leave behind any clues at all?"

After considerable wheezing and puffing, it was agreed that Zoya should
take a chance on having his base discovered while he was away, but
provide for the eventuality by arranging a bomb that would be set off
by the approach of any strange ship. He admitted that he already had
one, keyed to be safe only after certain signals from his own rocket.
He had only to hook it up.

"If you do have to return," advised Ullo, "clean out your dissecting
room and then make friends with the _Earthmen_. Give them some story of
being cast away, and ask help in building a new ship."

"You mean ... install our kind of drive without their knowing?"

"Exactly!" said Ahnu, taking to the idea. "Then just drop out of sight
some fine day and leave them wondering which way you went."

At this point, Viri made bold to request that Zoya leave the televisor
at the base operating, with a continuous view of the main chamber as
now shown. He began to explain that he wanted to be sure not to lose
contact, but Ahnu had heard enough. He cut Viri short by climbing out
of his mud tub.

"That settles it then," he summed up to Zoya. "If you _are_ forced to
destroy the subspace ship, report from the base when you return and are
ready to contact the natives. Otherwise, report from the ship!"

He waddled out of the communications chamber without ceremony, followed
by Ullo Dah-Gow.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day, the latter was kept busy with the many reports of arid
planets he had to file in order to justify the expenses of exploration.

_He always leaves explaining the budget to me_, he thought.

He did, however, snatch time to put a copy tape of the last installment
of Zoya's preliminary report on the speaker, having felt ill at
ease for not being completely up to date at the previous evening's
conference.

Halfway through a listing of sociological and psychological
observations, Ullo stiffened. He ran the tape through again.

"He'd _better_ get to that ship!" he wheezed to himself. "They sound
like a nest of trouble-makers--resourceful, aggressive, just the sort
to burst into this system some sweet day and tell us Yaradir is _their_
colony!"

He ripped the tape out of the speaker and hurried along a dank corridor
to Ahnu's office, not even pausing at his favorite spots to rub against
the cool, dripping walls. He found his chief relaxing in an adjoining
chamber by submitting to a massage.

"Not now!" complained Ahnu at the first mention of _Earthmen_. "Wait
till we hear from Zoya. I want to enjoy having my scales oiled in
peace!"

Ullo spitefully dropped the tape into a pot of scale-grease on the way
out, but dutifully returned to his work.

Late one night, however, he was reminded of the scout in system
LL-255-13. The emergency buzzer beside his sleeping pool awoke him with
an urgent summons. The number on the screen beside it indicated the
communications chamber now reserved for Zoya Lar-Tul.

Still dripping, Ullo pumped down the corridor, encountering his chief
at the last turn. Ahnu was irritated.

"What can they have spoiled now?" he demanded, as if he suspected Ullo
of having had a tentacle in it. "It was a perfectly simple arrangement!"

"Perhaps something unexpected came up," suggested Ullo.

"What could be unexpected? It was utterly simple!" said Ahnu
explosively. "If he beats them to it, he reports from the ship.
Otherwise he destroys it and goes back to report from his base!"

He slap-slapped irately into their destination, wondering audibly why
he had to come down here and direct people's eyestalks for them.

"Because, Great One," replied Viri Nol-Rin, a trifle more abruptly than
was consistent with proper respect for Ahnu's position, "the televisor
at Zoya's base has gone dead!"

"What? Why? If you can't keep in communication--"

"There _isn't_ any communication," interrupted Viri.

Ullo saw that the operator was deeply disturbed. To
interrupt--_actually interrupt_--Ahnu Nol-Yev! Even if one was his
nephew!

"That is why, if you will remember," Viri went on, "I insisted Zoya
leave his signal in operation. The chance that his base would be
approached by a strange ship sooner than we hoped, and blow up."

"So the bomb went off?" said Ullo.

"It must have. And, by the figures Zoya gave me before he left, he is
long, long overdue at the subspace ship."

"Well, what of it?" demanded Ahnu. "It merely means he will have to
report from the ship when he ... if he ... if _they_ don't--"

He snorted and wheezed into silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ullo traded stares with Viri. Then he looked at Yado, who wore an
equally unhappy expression on his wide visage.

"Are you _sure_ he would have reached the ship before now?" Ahnu
demanded.

"Completely."

The Supervisor swore feelingly, using some of the bleakest and driest
terms Ullo had ever heard. The gist of the diatribe was the delay and
expense.

"Now it may be yaras before we get his data!"

"How do you mean?" asked Ullo.

"It's obvious, isn't it? He must have had to destroy the ship; but
before he got back, some prowling _Earthmen_ set off the charge at
his base. That leaves him with only his rocket. Don't you see what it
means?"

"Perhaps not," said Ullo.

"Why, he'll have to make friends with those _things_ from _Earth_, and
get help building a new ship. Until then, we'll have to classify his
report 'pending.'"

He sloshed watery mud about as he heaved himself from his tub
impatiently. Ullo aimed an eyestalk at each of the technicians,
keeping them silent until Ahnu had waddled indignantly from the room.

"I _knew_ we didn't cover all the alternatives that night!" said Ullo
feelingly. "How could we be so dry inside the skull? How _could_ we?"

"He certainly doesn't like the delay," commented Yado.

"Delay!" snorted Ullo. Then he asked, "Is that what it means to you,
too?"

Viri and Yado fidgeted under his stare.

"I keep wondering if Zoya reached the ship," said Ullo.

They stared at him.

"Say it this way, then: 'If _Zoya_ reached the ship?'"

Viri sighed.

"I suppose we may never find out what really happened," he said.

"I believe I would really rather _not_," Ullo told them, preparing to
leave. "Listen in to a complete copy of the preliminary report Zoya
sent, and you will see what I mean."

His scales were too dry and needed an oiling, he told himself; but he
knew it was more than that which sent the shudder through him. And
there were _billions_ of them!

"What shall we do?" asked Viri.

"I don't know what good it will do," said Ullo, pausing in the doorway,
"but you might make your wills. Personally, I intend to apply for
transfer to some colony lying in the opposite direction from this
_Sol_. Record of us, and a ship to reach us--we might as well have sent
them an invitation!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He remembered their unhappy eyes two yaras later, when the regular
bulletin tapes sent out to the colonies reported Ahnu's dismissal. Ullo
applied for a post at a more distant colony.

After one yara at the new post, the monthly tapes from Yaradir were
interrupted. Everybody complained about the service.

Everybody but Ullo.

He commandeered a subspace ship, and moved on.

But not ... far ... enough....



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