This etext was produced from "Future combinedwith Science Fiction Stories" September 1951. Extensive research did notuncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.
A number of typographical errors found in theoriginal text have been corrected in this version. A list of theseerrors is found at the end of this book.
H. Beam Piper
OF LOST WORLDS
Was this ill-fated expedition the end of a proud, old race—or thebeginning of a new one?
There are strange gaps in our records of the past. We find tracesof man-like things—but, suddenly, man appears, far too muchdeveloped to be the "next step" in a well-linked chain ofevolutionary evidence. Perhaps something like the events of thisstory furnishes the answer to the riddle.
Aboard the ship, there was neither day nor night; the hours slippedgently by, as vistas of star-gemmed blackness slid across thevisiscreens. For the crew, time had some meaning—one watch on duty andtwo off. But for the thousand-odd colonists, the men and women who wereto be the spearhead of migration to a new and friendlier planet, it hadnone. They slept, and played, worked at such tasks as they could invent,and slept again, while the huge ship followed her plotted trajectory.
Kalvar Dard, the army officer who would lead them in their new home, hadas little to do as any of his followers. The ship's officers had all theresponsibility for the voyage, and, for the first time in over fiveyears, he had none at all. He was finding the unaccustomed idleness morewearying than the hectic work of loading the ship before the blastofffrom Doorsha. He went over his landing and security plans again, andfound no probable emergency unprepared for. Dard wandered about theship, talking to groups of his colonists, and found morale even betterthan he had hoped. He spent hours staring into the forward visiscreens,watching the disc of Tareesh, the planet of his destination, grow largerand plainer ahead.
Now, with the voyage almost over, he was in the cargo-hold just aft ofthe Number Seven bulkhead, with six girls to help him, checkingconstruction material which would be needed immediately after landing.The stuff had all been checked two or three times before, but there wasno harm in going over it again. It furnished an occupation to fill inthe time; it gave Kalvar Dard an excuse for surrounding himself withhalf a dozen charming girls, and the girls seemed to enjoy being withhim. There was tall blonde Olva, the electromagnetician; pert littleVarnis, the machinist's helper; Kyna, the surgeon's-aide; dark-hairedAnalea; Dorita, the accountant; plump little Eldra, the armamenttechnician. At the moment, they were all sitting on or around the deskin the corner of the store-room, going over the inventory when they werenot just gabbling.
"Well, how about the rock-drill bitts?" Dorita was asking earnestly,trying to stick to business. "Won't we need them almost as soon as we'reoff?"
"Yes, we'll have to dig temporary magazines for our explosives,small-arms and artillery ammunition, and storage-pits for ourfissionables and radioactives," Kalvar Dard replied. "We'll have to havesafe places for that stuff ready before it can be unloaded; and if werun into hard rock near the surface, we'll have to drill holes forblasting-shots."
"The drilling machinery goes into one of those prefabricated sheds,"Eldra considered. "Will there be room in it for all the bitts, too?"
Kalvar Dard shrugged. "Maybe. If not, we'll cut poles and build racksfor them outside. The bitts are nono-steel; they can be stored in theopen."
"If there are poles to cut," Olva added.
"I'm not worrying about that," Kalvar Dard replied. "We have a prettyfair idea of conditions on Tareesh; our astronomers have been makingtelescopic observations for the past fifteen centuries. There's a prettybig Arctic ice-cap, but it's been receding slowly, with a wide belt ofwhat's believed to be open grassland to the south of it, and a belt ofwhat's assumed to be evergreen forest south of that. We plan to landsomewhere in the northern hemisphere, about the grassland-forest line.And since Tareesh is richer in water that Doorsha, you mustn't think ofgrassland in terms of our wire-grass plains, or forests in terms of ourbrush thickets. The vegetation should be much more luxuriant."
"If there's such a large polar ice-cap, the summers ought to be fairlycool, and the winters cold," Varnis reasoned. "I'd think that would meanfur-bearing animals. Colonel, you'll have to shoot me something with anice soft fur; I like furs."
Kalvar Dard chuckled. "Shoot you nothing, you can shoot your own furs.I've seen your carbine and pistol scores," he began.
There was a sudden suck of air, disturbing the papers on the desk. Theyall turned to see one of the ship's rocket-boat bays open; a young AirForce lieutenant named Seldar Glav, who would be staying on Tareesh withthem to pilot their aircraft, emerged from an open airlock.
"Don't tell me you've been to Tareesh and back in that thing," Olvagreeted him.
Seldar Glav grinned at her. "I could have been, at that; we're onlytwenty or thirty planetary calibers away, now. We ought to be enteringTareeshan atmosphere by the middle of the next watch. I was onlychecking the boats, to make sure they'll be ready to launch.... ColonelKalvar, would you mind stepping over here? There's something I think youshould look at, sir."
Kalvar Dard took one arm from around Analea's waist and lifted the otherfrom Varnis' shoulder, sliding off the desk. He followed Glav into theboat-bay; as they went through the airlock, the cheerfulness left theyoung lieutenant's face.
"I didn't want to say anything in front of the girls, sir," he began,"but I've been checking boats to make sure we can make a quick getaway.Our meteor-security's gone out. The detectors are deader then the FourthDynasty, and the blasters won't synchronize.... Did you hear a bigthump, about a half an hour ago, Colonel?"
"Yes, I thought the ship's labor-crew was shifting heavy equipment inthe hold aft of us. What was it, a meteor-hit?"
"It was. Just aft of Number Ten bulkhead. A meteor about the size of thenose of that rocket-boat."
Kalvar Dard whistled softly. "Great Gods of Power! The detectors must bedead, to pass up anything like that.... Why wasn't a boat-stations callsent out?"
"Captain Vlazil was unwilling to risk starting a panic, sir," the AirForce officer replied. "Really, I'm exceeding my orders in mentioning itto you, but I thought you should know...."
Kalvar Dard swore. "It's a blasted pity Captain Vlazil didn't trythinking! Gold-braided quarter-wit! Maybe his crew might panic, but mypeople wouldn't.... I'm going to call the control-room and have it outwith him. By the Ten Gods...!"
He ran through the airlock and back into the hold, starting toward theintercom-phone beside the desk. Before he could reach it, there wasanother heavy jar, rocking the entire ship. He, and Seldar Glav, who hadfollowed him out of the boat-bay, and the six girls, who had risen onhearing their commander's angry voice, were all tumbled into a heap.Dard surged to his feet, dragging Kyna up along with him; together, theyhelped the others to rise. The ship was suddenly filled with janglingbells, and the red danger-lights on the ceiling were flashing on andoff.
"Attention! Attention!" the voice of some officer in the control-roomblared out of the intercom-speaker. "The ship has just been hit by alarge meteor! All compartments between bulkheads Twelve and Thirteen aresealed off. All persons between bulkheads Twelve and Thirteen, put onoxygen helmets and plug in at the nearest phone connection. Your air isleaking, and you can't get out, but if you put on oxygen equipmentimmediately, you'll be all right. We'll get you out as soon as we can,and in any case, we are only a few hours out of Tareeshan atmosphere.All persons in Compartment Twelve, put on...."
Kalvar Dard was swearing evilly. "That does it! That does it forgood!... Anybody else in this compartment, below the living quarterlevel?"
"No, we're the only ones," Analea told him.
"The people above have their own boats; they can look after themselves.You girls, get in that boat, in there. Glav, you and I'll try to warnthe people above...."
There was another jar, heavier than the one which had preceded it,throwing them all down again. As they rose, a new voice was shoutingover the public-address system:
"Abandon ship! Abandon ship! The converters are backfiring, androcket-fuel is leaking back toward the engine-rooms! An explosion isimminent! Abandon ship, all hands!"
Kalvar Dard and Seldar Glav grabbed the girls and literally threw themthrough the hatch, into the rocket-boat. Dard pushed Glav in ahead ofhim, then jumped in. Before he had picked himself up, two or three ofthe girls were at the hatch, dogging the cover down.
"All right, Glav, blast off!" Dard ordered. "We've got to be at least ahundred miles from this ship when she blows, or we'll blow with her!"
"Don't I know!" Seldar Glav retorted over his shoulder, racing for thecontrols. "Grab hold of something, everybody; I'm going to fire all jetsat once!"
An instant later, while Kalvar Dard and the girls clung to stanchionsand pieces of fixed furniture, the boat shot forward out of its housing.When Dard's head had cleared, it was in free flight.
"How was that?" Glav yelled. "Everybody all right?" He hesitated for amoment. "I think I blacked out for about ten seconds."
Kalvar Dard looked the girls over. Eldra was using a corner of her smockto stanch a nosebleed, and Olva had a bruise over one eye. Otherwise,everybody was in good shape.
"Wonder we didn't all black out, permanently," he said. "Well, put onthe visiscreens, and let's see what's going on outside. Olva, get on theradio and try to see if anybody else got away."
"Set course for Tareesh?" Glav asked. "We haven't fuel enough to make itback to Doorsha."
"I was afraid of that," Dard nodded. "Tareesh it is; northernhemisphere, daylight side. Try to get about the edge of the temperatezone, as near water as you can...."
They were flung off their feet again, this time backward along the boat.As they picked themselves up, Seldar Glav was shaking his head, sadly."That was the ship going up," he said; "the blast must have caught usdead astern."
"All right." Kalvar Dard rubbed a bruised forehead. "Set course forTareesh, then cut out the jets till we're ready to land. And get thescreens on, somebody; I want to see what's happened."
The screens glowed; then full vision came on. The planet on which theywould land loomed huge before them, its north pole toward them, and itssingle satellite on the port side. There was no sign of any rocket-boatin either side screen, and the rear-view screen was a blur of yellowflame from the jets.
"Cut the jets, Glav," Dard repeated. "Didn't you hear me?"
"But I did, sir!" Seldar Glav indicated the firing-panel. Then heglanced at the rear-view screen. "The gods help us! It's yellow flame;the jets are burning out!"
Kalvar Dard had not boasted idly when he had said that his people wouldnot panic. All the girls went white, and one or two gave low cries ofconsternation, but that was all.
"What happens next?" Analea wanted to know. "Do we blow, too?"
"Yes, as soon as the fuel-line burns up to the tanks."
"Can you land on Tareesh before then?" Dard asked.
"I can try. How about the satellite? It's closer."
"It's also airless. Look at it and see for yourself," Kalvar Dardadvised. "Not enough mass to hold an atmosphere."
Glav looked at the army officer with new respect. He had always beeninclined to think of the Frontier Guards as a gang of scientificallyilliterate dirk-and-pistol bravos. He fiddled for a while withinstruments on the panel; an automatic computer figured the distance tothe planet, the boat's velocity, and the time needed for a landing.
"We have a chance, sir," he said. "I think I can set down in aboutthirty minutes; that should give us about ten minutes to get clear ofthe boat, before she blows up."
"All right; get busy, girls," Kalvar Dard said. "Grab everything we'llneed. Arms and ammunition first; all of them you can find. After that,warm clothing, bedding, tools and food."
With that, he jerked open one of the lockers and began pulling outweapons. He buckled on a pistol and dagger, and handed otherweapon-belts to the girls behind him. He found two of the heavybig-game rifles, and several bandoliers of ammunition for them. Hetossed out carbines, and boxes