Jungle in the Sky
Jungle in the Sky
By Milton Lesser
The hunters wanted animals that lived on far Ganymede—
though not as badly as the animals wanted the hunters.
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, May 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The big man looked at home among his trophies.
The big man looked at home among his trophies. Somehow his scowl seemedas fierce as the head of the Venusian swamp-tiger mounted on the wallbehind him, and there was something about his quick-darting eyes whichreminded Steve of a Callistan fire-lizard. The big man might have beenall of them wrapped into one, Steve thought wryly, and there were a lotof trophies.
He was the famous Brody Carmical, and rumor had it he was worth amillion credits for each of the many richly mounted heads.
"So you're fresh out of school with a degree in Extra-terrestrialzoology," Carmical grumbled. "Am I supposed to turn cartwheels?"
Steve cleared his throat. "The Placement Service thought you might havea job—"
"I do, I do. That doesn't mean any young pup who comes along can fillit. Ever been off the Earth, Mr. Stedman?"
"Ever been off the North American continent?"
"But you want to go galavanting around the Solar System in search ofbig game. Tell me—do you think they have a Harvard club on everystinking satellite you'll visit? Do you think you can eat beefsteakand drink martinis in every frontier-world dive? Let me tell you, Mr.Stedman, the answer is no."
"Try me, sir. That's all I ask—try me."
"We're not running a school, Mr. Stedman. Either a man's got it orhe hasn't. You haven't. Come back in ten years. Ship out around theSolar System the hard way, and maybe we can use you then—if you stillremember what you learned about Extra-terrestrial zoology. What inspace ever made you study extra-zoo, anyway?"
"I found it interesting," Steve said lamely.
"Interesting? As a hobby, it's interesting. But as business, it'shard work, a lot of sweat, a lot of danger, squirming around on yoursoft belly in the muck and mud of a dozen worlds, that's what it is.Just how do you think Carmical Enterprises got where they are? Sweatand grief, Mr. Stedman." Carmical yawned hugely and popped a glob ofchocolate into his mouth. His fat lips worked for a moment, then hisAdam's apple bobbed up and down.
Steve got up, paced back and forth in front of the desk. "I won't takeno for an answer, Mr. Carmical."
"Eh? What's that? I could have you thrown out of here."
"You won't," Steve told him calmly. "Maybe I'm just what the doctorordered, but you'll never know until you try me. So—"
"So nothing! I said this isn't a school."
"They tell me the Gordak leaves on a ten-world junket tomorrow. All Iask is this: let me ship along as the zoology man. Then, if you're notsatisfied, you can leave me at your first port-of-call—without pay."
Carmical smiled triumphantly. "You know where we space out for first,Mr. Stedman? Mercury, that's where. I'd love to see a sassy young puplike you set loose on Mercury in one of the Twilight Cities."
"Is it a deal?"
"It sure is, Stedman. It sure is! But I warn you, we'll expectperfection. You'll not have a chance to profit from your own mistakes.You won't have a chance to make mistakes. One slip and you've had it,is that understood?"
"I'm not going, of course," Carmical said, patting his great paunch andsaying with the action that he was too old and too fat for space. "ButI'll hear all about the way you were stranded on Mercury, among a lotof Merkies and—"
Steve smiled grimly, said: "No you won't. Next time you see me will beafter the ten-world junket. Whom do I ask for on the Gordak?"
Carmical dialed for a bromo, watched it fizz in the glass, drank it,belched. "T. J. Moore's in charge," he told Steve. "Old T. J.'s amighty rough taskmaster, Stedman. Don't say you weren't warned."
"Well, I'll hear about how you were stranded on Mercury," Carmicalpredicted.
"You'll see me after the ten-world junket," said Steve, and closed thedoor softly behind him.
Pit-monkeys scurried about the great jet-slagged underside of theGordak, spraying fresh zircalloy in the aft tubes. Spaceport officerswere everywhere in their crisp white uniforms, checking cargo, givingterse directives to the crew of the Gordak, lounging importantly atthe foot of the gangplank.
"Name?" one of them snapped at Steve.
The man flipped through a list of the expedition's members. "Stedman,huh? I don't see—oh, here it is, in pencil at the bottom. Last minuteaddition, huh, Stedman?"
"Something like that," Steve admitted.
"Well, climb aboard."
And then Steve was walking up the gangplank and into the cool metalinterior of the Gordak. His palms were clammy, and he wondered if anyof the crewmen within the ship noticed the sweat beading his forehead.He'd managed to come this far with a surprising degree of objectivity,and only now did reaction set in, causing his heart to beat fiercelyand his limbs to grow weak. That T. J. Moore must have been spawnedin hell, Charlie had said—and now Charlie was dead. Because of T. J.Moore? Indirectly, perhaps, but T. J. Moore was responsible. Or, if youlooked at it on a different level, the cut-throat competition betweenCarmical Enterprises and Barling Brothers Interplanetary was toblame. It didn't matter, not really. Charlie was dead. That alonemattered.
A big man with incredibly broad shoulders, hair the color of flame anda florid face to match it, came stalking down the companionway. Stevesaid, "I wonder if you know where I can find T. J. Moore."
The giant smiled. "You crew or expedition?"
"Expedition," said Steve, extending his hand: "Steve Stedman's my name."
The hand that gripped his was hard and calloused. "I'm Kevin McGann,boy. Sort of a liaison man between the crew and the expedition, onlythey call me the Exec to make everything official. Better take someadvice—don't look for T. J. now. T. J.'s busy doing last minutethings, and T. J. hates to be disturbed. Why don't you wait till afterBrennschluss, when we're out in space?"
"It can't wait. I've got to see that Moore knows I'm aboard and underwhat conditions, because I don't want to be thrown off this ship at thespace-station. If Moore doesn't like the conditions, Mr. Carmical canbe called. But after we blast off it'll be too late."
Kevin McGann shrugged. "It's only advice I gave you, boy. You'll findT. J. down on the third level looking over the cargo holds. Good luck."And McGann took a pipe from his pocket, tamping it full, lighting itand staring with frank, speculative curiosity at Steve. "Stedman, eh?"he mused. "The name's familiar."
"You think about it," said Steve, and made his way toward the thirdlevel. Perhaps some of them aboard the Gordak had known Charlie, andMcGann, being the Exec, must have been around a long time.
The third was the lowest level of the Gordak, or that part ofthe ship nearest the tubes with the exception of the fission-roomitself. Here on the third level were the cages which, in the monthsthat followed, would hold the big game brought within the Gordak.But the word cage, Steve realized, can be misleading. A rectangularenclosure, its wall composed of evenly spaced bars—that's a cage.But the bubble-cages of the Gordak were something else again;precisely as the name implied, they were huge bubbles of plastic,complete with remote-controlled airlocks. You could pump in any kind ofatmosphere, from Jupiter's lethal methane-ammonia mixture to the thin,oxygen-starved air of Mars, and under any desired pressure, too.
And now on the third level a battery of experts was busy checking thebubble-cages for defects, since a leak after some noxious gas hadbeen pumped into one of the bubbles could mean death for everyoneaboard the Gordak. Steve stood there nervously for what seemed a longwhile. He let his gaze rove up and down the third level, but he onlysaw the coverall-clad technicians checking the bubble-cages. KevinMcGann had said he could find Moore here, but unless Moore zipped ona pair of coveralls himself and joined in the work—which certainlyseemed unlikely—then Moore wasn't around.
Someone tapped Steve's shoulder. Startled, he whirled around. A womanstood there, just behind him, staring at him insolently. She was tall,as tall as Steve himself, with her close-cropped blond hair peeking outaround the edges of a black cap. She wore what looked to Steve like aglossy black Martian sand-cape which she let fall straight down behindher so that it almost brushed the floor. Under it, she wore a briefpair of shorts, also black, and a halter. She was muscular in thatlithe, feminine way which had grown so popular in the twenty-secondcentury—the century which had finally seen women come abreast of menin all sporting activities and surpass them in some which requiredspecial grace and lithe-limbed skill.
"I hope you found whatever you're looking for," she said. She spokewith a complete lack of warmth which startled Steve for the second timein a few moments.
She was a beautiful woman, he realized, but she looked so completelyincongruous among the coveralled men that Steve found himself whistlingsoftly. "I never expected to find a girl here," he admitted. "Not onthis expedition."
"What's the matter, are you old fashioned? This is the twenty-secondcentury, the enlightened century, remember? There's nothing a girlcan't do if she sets her mind to it. A recent survey shows thatforty-percent of the homemakers in the U.S.N.A. are men, sixty percentwomen. Okay, it's only logical that some of the remaining forty percentof females have some tough jobs, too."
"I read the books of the feminist movement," Steve assured her. "Butit's going to take a lot to convince me of that. Me and a lot of otherpeople, I suspect."
"Is that so, Mr. Smart-guy? Are you a member of the expedition?"
"Well, anytime you want to hustle down to the gym with me and go a fewrounds, let me know."
"Are you serious?"
"Of course I'm serious."
"Well," Steve said, deciding to change the subject and feeling utterlyridiculous about the whole conversation, "let's forget it. I waslooking for T. J. Moore."
The woman smiled coldly. "That's me. I'm T. J. What do you want?"
"I—uh—what? You're T. J.? You—a girl?"
"Will you please hurry with whatever you want to tell me? I haven't gotall day."
"My name's Stedman." Steve felt his composure returning. The fact thatT. J. Moore was a woman didn't make any difference. But unconsciously,Steve regarded her as a member of the weaker sex, and a large chunkof her fearsome reputation vanished because of it. "I wonder, if Mr.Carmical contacted you—"
"He sure did, Stedman."
"Good, then we can—"
"Maybe you think it's good. I think it stinks. Listen, Stedman, maybeyou think you can pull the wool over my eyes like you did over BrodyCarmical—but you can't. He didn't recognize your name, I did. No kidbrother of Charlie Stedman's going to make trouble for me because hethinks I was responsible for his brother's death."
"I didn't say—"
"You didn't have to say. I can see it in your face. But get thisstraight, Stedman. Your brother died on Ganymede three years ago—ofnatural causes, that is, if you can call some of the local fauna'natural causes'. He worked for Barling Brothers Interplanetary, soI guess the rivalry between them and us didn't help. But no one killedhim."
"I didn't say—"
"Is that all you can say, 'you didn't say?' Try to tell me why you cameaboard the Gordak; go ahead, try."
"I'm an expert in Extra-terrestrial zoology, and you needed one. Mr.Carmical hired me."
"I know that. But I guess I also know a thing or two which BrodyCarmical doesn't. All right, Stedman. You come as far as Mercury. Butone slip, just one slip—"
"Okay, T. J.," Steve said, almost jauntily. "I'll watch my step."
"I'm the Gordak's captain. You'll call me that. Captain—is it clear?"
"No," said Steve, and laughed. The ten-world junket would be a hard,driving, gruelling ordeal come what might, and he wouldn't kowtow to T.J. Moore, male or female, here at the beginning. "No," he said again,forcing the laughter out. "This isn't a military ship, so you won'timpose any arbitrary discipline on me."
The woman laughed too, but it was