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Dave Morgan squinted out the doorway of the communications shack at the plowed field baking in the midday sun. Dave glanced past a row of log cabins to a big tracked machine that sat near the edge of the thick intertwining forest. Beside the machine, a knot of men waved their hands around their heads, slapped, scratched, and scrubbed their shirts against their chests. Around them, over them, and on either side, long thick stalks arched out from the forest and dipped in toward the bare soil of the clearing.

On the ground near the men lay a long jointed metal arm with a buzz saw blade on a shaft at its end. Dave noted that this arm sat in the same spot as yesterday, the day before, and the day before that.

A dull clang, and the screech of a rusty nut turning on its stud, carried across the clearing.

Behind Dave, inside the communications shack, Al Weber slapped and growled. "How are they coming on the dozer?"

"Slow as mud."

"They got the arm bolted on yet?"

"They haven't touched the arm."

Weber swore and slapped again.

A droning whine drifted past Dave's ear, and there was a faint breeze on the back of his neck. He gave the gnat time to get settled, then slapped.

Weber said angrily, "That forest will walk right in and take root again if they don't hurry with the dozer."

"Sure," said Dave, "but it's hard to work when you're getting eaten alive." He scowled as a gray blur drifted over the line of cabins and faded toward the dozer.

The men there suddenly slapped, scratched, and waved their hands with a more desperate vigor.

"Funny," said Weber ironically. "We generally get our work done." He slapped, there was a crash, and Weber let out a bellow of sizzling profanity. Before he was through, he damned the men who found the planet, the advisors that led him, Dave, and the others, to it, and their present leader who consistently failed to untangle the mess.

Dave heard this as a familiar background noise, like the spatter and splash of rain streaming through the roof, or the grating creak of beetles shot-holing the beams. He made vague sympathetic noises, and squinted to look up at the glare of the sky. He thought he saw a tiny dot overhead.

Weber was silent a moment, then said, "I don't know if this will work or not. But it's that or crank the generator, and that would mean one of us couldn't do anything during transmission but heave up and down on the plunger."

Dave glanced around. Stacked in a pile near Weber were a number of flat squares about a yard on an edge. Weber said, "We might as well put them back on the roof now. Then we'll know if it was just an accident, or not."

Dave squinted up at the sky. He could see the dot clearly now. "We'd better wait a while."

"Why? Lunch time?"

"Yes, and not only for us, either."

Weber grunted. He came over and peered up, then squeezed his eyes shut, looked away, and tried again. "Right you are."

The dot was growing to a black ball.

Dave took out a whistle on a cord around his neck. He drew a deep breath.

In the field, two of the men were on top of the dozer. Several others were starting toward the long jointed arm.

Dave put the whistle to his lips and blew hard.

His ears hurt.

The two men on top of the dozer jumped over the side.

The men headed for the arm, spun around and streaked for the dozer.

They all dove under it.

A bristle of gun-barrels poked out from underneath.

Dave stepped back and slammed the door shut. Weber heaved a wooden bar across it. Dave grabbed a heavy pole, thrust one end into a notch in an overhead beam, and jammed the other end against the bottom of the door. Weber jammed a second pole against the top of the door. Weber snatched up a long, thin-barreled gun. Dave grabbed an ax leaning against the wall.

Outside, someone yelled.

There was a whistling shriek and a booming clap, as of huge leathery wings, abruptly filled with air. The door jumped as if struck with a club. It jumped, and jumped again. The pole at the top clattered down.

Light rapping sounds pattered on the door. There was a high-pitched scream close by.

The door jolted. The hinge at the top wrenched loose. The bar bent back. One of its brackets snapped off. The bar fell down. The door jerked inward. The bottom hinge squealed.

Weber flattened against the wall beside the door.

Dave stepped toward the hinge side of the door.

A set of big claws slid around the top of the door and jerked it inward.

Dave swung his ax and chopped off the claws.

A light rapping sound tapped on the door. Something whizzed past the leaning top of the door and stuck in the wall inside the cabin.

Weber thrust his gun around the edge of the door and pulled the trigger. He pulled the trigger again and again.

Dave raised his ax.

There was a scream outside. A blast of dirt and pebbles flew in. A scrambling noise dwindled fast into the distance, followed by the spaced flap of big wings, then an intense silence.

Dave and Weber glanced at each other soberly.

Weber took a deep breath, unsnapped a lever that fit tightly against the barrel of his gun, and worked it up and down. The lever moved a rod that thrust down into the stock of the gun. There was a sound like the sucking, pumping noise of an air compressor.

Dave glanced at the lever, started to turn away, then looked back sharply. For an instant, his gaze grew glazed and distant. He blinked, then turned away frowning. He got a pair of needle-nose pliers and dropped the chopped-off claws in an empty parts box.

Weber took down the pole still braced against the bottom of the door, and pulled the door open. The other side was studded with darts. Outside, the men were streaming back from the dozer, carrying their guns, and waving their free hands in front of their faces. Their faces were set, and their eyes slitted.

"Time to eat," said Weber.

"Yeah," said Dave.

They started for the cook shack.

Dave walked in the cook's end of the cabin, and tossed the claws in the fire.

The cook whistled. "He get you?"

"No, he just got hold of the door. How's Abe coming?"

"Out of his head part of the time. But his arm's going down."

Dave nodded, and walked around a split-log partition into a room with a long rough table. On the far end of the table, near an open door, were set a number of compartmented trays with food and steaming mugs on them. The air in this room danced with tiny black specks.

Dave shut his mouth, closed one eye, and squinted out of the other. A gnat promptly got in it. Gnats landed all over him. They crawled down his neck and up his wrists. He began to itch all over. He picked up a tray, carried it in one hand and his gun in the other, dodged around someone coming in, and walked outside along the line of cabins. He kept close to the cabins in case he should have to jump inside in a hurry. He kept his mind firmly on the simple business of walking to the doorway just ahead, and tried to ignore the hordes of biting crawling gnats.

There was the shrill blast of a whistle.

Dave stepped in through the doorway, and put the tray on a bench.

There was a whistling noise that shot closer fast.

A man dove headlong through the doorway. A shadow spread fast over the ground behind him. Dave realized there would be no time to shut the door, and jerked up his gun. He blinked, but the gnats were in his eyes and half-blinded him. There was a booming clap. The doorway went black.

Dave fired at the blackness.

There was an excited squeak-squeak-squeak, a clatter, and a hoarse human cry.

The blackness was gone. There was a whoosh! and a blur of huge wings outside. Dave fired without effect. He saw a black form in the air just off the ground, then a smaller form higher up, then yet a smaller one still higher, then it vanished beyond the trees at the end of the clearing.

Dave put his gun down, and for several moments did nothing but kill gnats.

Outside, someone said in a flat voice, "It got him. Damn it, it got him."

Dave now saw that his tray was upside down on the dirt floor, the food spread out in a long smear and the drink nothing but a blot in the dirt. Dave salvaged a half-box of dry D-rations, ate them, and was still hungry.

He picked up the tray, went to the door, glanced overhead, and started for the cookshack. On the way, he passed little groups of men, their eyes looking sidewise toward the last cabin in the row.

Someone said, "It wasn't him that should have been killed."

Dave put the tray in the cookshack, got some more darts for his gun, and pumped the lever of the gun. As he worked, he thought bitterly of the gap between theory and practice. In theory, this gun was ideal. Its light, reusable enzyme-tipped darts, fired by simple air pressure, would, he had been told, set off an irreversible reaction in the blood stream of the animal struck by the darts. The hunter need merely recoat the tip of the dart to use it again. Only small light containers of enzyme need be shipped in.

But in practice, the slightest breeze blew the darts away from the birds. The shock effect was nil. The darts glanced off the leathery skin unless they hit at just the right angle, and then the enzyme never troubled the creature's blood. The net result, Dave told himself, angrily, was that what an antique .45 caliber revolver would have settled in one blast, was never really ever ended by any number of the tricky darts.

Dave finished pumping the gun, went back outside, and automatically glanced overhead.

Someone said, "No need to worry now. It's full now."

Dave looked around. Nearly everyone had a sullen waiting look. The only movement seemed to be an automatic brushing at gnats.

A man with an expression of ingrained resentment said, "The bird got him because he never had a chance. Just like we don't have a chance. Not a chance in the world."

The men looked intent.

The man went on. "But just a few light-years from here, they're flying home in their big helicars right now."

It occurred to Dave that nothing good was likely to come out of this. He listened alertly.

"Yeah," said the man. "They've got their big helicars, all of them. They'll all float down, right on the beam, smooth and easy, and land right outside their apartments. No danger for them. No trouble. The dome will slide down easy over the landing shelf. They'll go in. It's cool inside. They'll go in and mix a cool drink . . ."

Dave glanced around. Everyone was listening.

" . . . Then they snap on the trideo and stretch out on the smooth soft sofa. The girl loosens her jacket. The man— But we left all that. We left it. We—"

Dave looked up at the clear hot sky, and raised his hand to shade his eyes. He squinted, saw nothing, but looked anyway. He glanced down, blinked hard, and looked up again.

The voice stopped.

Dave glanced around.

Everyone was squinting at the sky except the man who had been talking. He was looking hard at Dave.

"Go on," said Dave. "Don't stop there. What happens next?"

The man's eyes narrowed.

"Go on," said Dave impatiently. "The girl was loosening her jacket. The man was coming across the room at her. Then what?"

Someone snickered.

The bitter-faced man glanced around. He said, "We'll never see a woman again. We—"

"That's right," said Dave. "The ship will bring the women in ten months. But the forest will grow up around us and the gnats will carry us off for souvenirs while we wait for you to tell us what happened after the girl—"

"Yeah," said a new voice. "What happened to the girl?"

Plainly anxious to forget all about the girl, the man snapped, "They went out to the synchrotherm and put on a steak. That's something else we'll never see again. Steak. We'll never—"

"Were you talking to the hunting party?" said Dave. "I didn't know they were back yet."

Someone else said, in a tone of surprise, "They might bring back meat, at that."

The mention of this possible good fortune seemed too much for the bitter-faced man to bear. He burst out angrily, "We'll never see a helicar again, never fly, never see another woman, never eat a steak—"

The men now turned to glance at each other. One of them said roughly, "Go eat some darts if you're hungry. We got troubles enough without all that croaking."

There was a growl of agreement, and a string of sarcastic comments:

"Say, boy, if you want to fly, go stand out in the middle of the field and wait. Maybe the bird will take you for a ride."

"No, no. The guy is really suffering, fellows. Let's take up a collection."

"If he's suffering that much, maybe we ought to ease his pain."

"Not till I hear what happened to the girl."

"Yeah, what about the girl?"

There was a burst of laughter. Several of the men grinned and spat on the ground.

The bitter-faced man looked directly at Dave and said, "You won't live. The bird will take you next."

Dave saw the leader of the colony, a strongly-built man named Daniels, watching from the doorway of the last cabin in line. Daniels beckoned to Dave.

Dave stood still a moment, then brushed some gnats away from his face, glanced up at the sky, and went down to Daniels' cabin.

It took Dave a moment to see in the comparative gloom of the cabin.

Daniels, looking at him thoughtfully, said, "Thanks."

"What for?"

"In the spot we're in, a trouble-maker is a luxury. I was about to go out there and ram his teeth down his throat. You turned it into a joke. That's a better way to end it."

"I doubt it's ended."

"Ended for today. If we get from one day to the next, that's something. Each little advantage may give us room to get a little more." He glared out the door. "At least, if it weren't for these gnats, it would work that way."

Dave suddenly thought of the idea that had occurred to him as he saw Weber work the lever of the dart gun.

Daniels gave a heavy sigh. "Well, we didn't have to come out here. We made the choice, so we take the risk." He glanced at Dave. "How's Weber coming?"

"He wants to try the plates again."

"O.K. Any time he wants to. But tell him to just try a few at first." Daniels hesitated. "Tell Weber I appreciate the job he's doing. Patching those plates isn't easy."

Dave nodded. "Will you want me this afternoon?"

"No. Stay with Weber. And keep an eye on the sky for me. With all those gnats out in the field, we're lucky if we can see to raise a hammer." Daniels smiled. "And thanks again."

"That's O.K.," said Dave. He started to leave, then hesitated.

Daniels said, "What is it?"

Dave shrugged, "I've got an idea."

"God knows," said Daniels fervently, "we could use an idea. What is it?"

"When I was about fourteen," said Dave, "I helped my grandfather move a heavy rock. We each had a big crowbar. He'd lift and hold, and I'd slide my crowbar in and lift a little further, and hold while he slid his crowbar further in and lifted it, and then the rock would roll over. When we got through, he said, 'Boy, if you have a long enough lever, and a place to rest it, and a place to press against, you can move most anything. A great man said that once. You remember it.' It came back to me this morning when I saw Weber pump the lever on his gun."

Daniels listened closely.

Dave said, "About the same time, I remembered seeing a swarm of gnats drift over the cabins, ignore the cook, ignore Weber and me, and join the swarm of gnats around you and the men out in the field."

"They're worse out in the field. You and Weber and the cook were inside."

"After you came back to eat, I was inside the cookshack and they did everything but fly off with me."

Daniels frowned. "That's true. What's your idea?"

"I think the gnats, as a regular routine, gang up in one big swarm. Maybe they regularly prey on some kind of large animal, harass it to death, then feed on the carcass."

Daniels waved his hand in front of his face. "There are always a few around, wherever you go."

"Scouts," said Dave. "The main horde stays with the victim till he drops. At least, it looks like it to me. And if so—"

"I didn't think of that," said Daniels. "Earth gnats are a little more flexible, and I've just been assuming these are the same." He thought a moment. "But if they do stick together like that, maybe we can pry them loose enough so we can fix that dozer."

"That's what I was thinking."

"Come on," said Daniels. "Let's try it."


Dave, Daniels, and the rest of the men—save only Weber, who was putting his plates on the communications shack roof—started out in a group across the field. The gnats swarmed all over them. Lips pressed shut, eyes squinted, waving their hands in front of their faces, the men headed for the dozer.

When they got there, Daniels and a man with arms like a blacksmith stayed by the dozer. The rest trudged on with the gnats whining around them, and the big drooping shoots from the forest dangling in their faces.

When they reached the end of the field, two burly men stepped into the intertwining tangle of the forest. The rest of the men made a quarter-turn and stumbled across the end of the field, slapping fiercely.

When they reached the opposite side of the field, two more men slid into the forest. The tormented remainder, Dave included, turned in the opposite direction and shambled back across the field.

From the direction of the dozer came the scrape of metal, then:


For the next few minutes, the air resounded with the sounds of hard heavy work.

The men halted and devoted themselves to mere existence in the middle of a horde of gnats.

Time passed.

There was a whine that drowned out the whine of the gnats, followed by the grinding buzz of a saw cutting through wood.

A voice spoke from a short distance away.

"Relief for Dave Morgan and Jack O'Neill."

Dave started across the field. Someone said, "Daniels wants to see you. He's over at the cabins."

Dave stopped to get rid of the gnats that crawled over him from head to foot. When he got through, he discovered that he was still waving one hand automatically. He stopped, and glanced all around carefully.

He was free of them. Only an occasional gnat whined past.

A great weight seemed to lift, leaving him light-headed.

He took a glance overhead, then looked around. The dozer was working its way steadily down the field. The air resounded with the whine-buzz-whine-buzz of the saw cutting off the big shoots, and the chop and clatter as men cut them into lengths and tossed them in heaps.

Dave started for the cabins.

Daniels was looking at the communications shack with an expression of deep thought on his face. When Dave came up to him, he grinned. "It worked. It seems like a miracle."

"It sure does," said Dave, who had phantom images of innumerable gnats flitting around his head.

"I wonder," said Daniels. "How far can we carry this? If there are ten men on one side of the field, and one by one they walk over to the other side, at what point will the gnats go over, too?"

"That's a good question. We could try it and see."

Daniels nodded. "It seems to me there's some kind of pattern emerging here. While we were out on the field, Weber got some of his solar plates up on the roof. One of those crows, starlings, or whatever passes for them on this planet flew past, looked, flew back, and took a flying dive at the plates. Pretty soon the air was full of them. They practically tore the plates to pieces."

Dave scowled. "First there was one? Then a whole bunch of them?"

"First one went over, flew back, took a closer look, and dove on the plate. Next, three or four flew in from various directions. Pretty soon, they were coming in from all points of the compass."

Dave looked away, scowling.

Daniels said, "Funny, isn't it?"

"Yeah," said Dave. "The gnats fly together in clouds. The trees twine together and send shoots in together from all sides at once. The birds attack in a group. This is a regular planet of together-ness."

"Don't forget the big bird."

"There don't seem to be too many of them yet," said Dave. "But for all we know, there's a hundred others flapping in from thousands of miles away."

"God forbid," said Daniels, alarmed.

Dave scowled and thought for a while. Finally, he said, "There's an advantage to concentrating all available force on your prey or your enemy, but the creatures on this planet seem to do it by reflex action. That's not so good. It's predictable. Did Weber have any idea why they dove on the plates?"

"He thought maybe they saw faint reflected images in the plates, and the images didn't act right, so the birds attacked."

"Makes sense," said Dave dryly. "Obviously, the birds in this place are conformists. The images don't react like other birds. Ergo, tear them to pieces. Hm-m-m."

"Well," said Daniels, "it doesn't help us much. The plates have to be exposed to light, or they won't store any energy. But if they are exposed to light, some bird will fly past and see his image. Bang! And before we can get out there, the plates will be in shreds. Of course, if we had something we could pull over them in a hurry—"

Dave grinned faintly.

Daniels scowled. "What are you thinking of?"

"Does the cook have any pans?"

"Pans? What do we want with pans?"

"Never mind. Let's go see."

They went toward the cookshack, glanced uneasily overhead, then went inside.

Dave came out grinning, and yelled across to Weber in the communications shack.

Weber looked out and stared at him as if he were crazy.

Daniels came out of the cookshack and bawled out orders.

Weber shrugged, went into the communications shack, came out with a three-foot square plate, put a rough ladder against the roof, and started up.

Daniels helped boost Dave up onto the roof of the cookshack, and Dave put a big bright pan flat on the roof, then shoved one prong of a meat fork through a hole in the pan's rim and into the wood of the roof.

Dave climbed down off the roof and waited.

Overhead, there was a squawk.

A small black streak dropped down near the dishpan, and flew around inspecting it from all angles. There was a loud indignant squawk. Suddenly the bird landed a peck on the shiny pan. Where the bird's bill hit, could be seen the darting visual image of the reflection of the bill. The bird immediately shot around to the other side of the pan and tried to take the reflection by surprise.

The reflection was not fooled, and got there just as fast as the bird did.

There was a mighty clatter as the bird attacked the image.

More birds flew over, stared, dropped down, squawked, and dove for the pan.

The sky grew thick with birds flying in from all directions. The space around the pan erupted with flying feathers. There was a deafening clatter and squawk. Birds with their beaks open and their eyes shut rolled down the roof and fell off onto the ground.

Dave glanced around at Weber on the roof of the communications shack. Weber was bent forward with his eyes wide, his arms dangling, and his jaw hanging open. The big square plate lay on the roof beside him, but the birds were rushing past without the slightest notice.

Daniels choked, and burst out laughing. He shouted at the birds, "Get that nonconformist! Tear him to shreds! You may be a little beat-up yourselves at the end, but—Rip into him! Peck him! Kick him! Bite him! Yank his feathers out!" He turned to Dave. "Which side are you betting on?"

But now Dave was staring at the growing heap of upended birds piling up under the roof, with fresh squadrons rushing to the slaughter overhead. Suddenly he was reminded of a runaway nuclear pile. He turned around, and sprinted to the communications shack, got the pole used to brace the door, ran back to the cookshack and knocked the pan off the roof.

The birds rolled off in a big knot which broke into several struggling heaps.

"Get that pan out of here," said Dave. He kicked the swarms of fighting birds apart.

Daniels tossed the pan into the cookshack and helped kick apart the heaps of birds.

Dave finished pulling apart a little knot of diehards with their beaks in each other's feathers.

"A little more of this," he said, "might upset the balance of nature. Who knows what these birds may eat and keep in check?"

Daniels nodded.

The birds now straggled around and flew up in little groups to roost on the ridges of the cabins. They ran their beaks through their ruffled feathers, and sat on one foot to scratch at the sides of their heads. Then several of them looked fixedly out toward the field. The whole flock, save for those still heaped on the ground, took off for the field in a cloud. This cloud of birds headed for the end of the field where the men stood doggedly waving their hands around their heads. The birds swirled and dove above the men.

Daniels said, "They're eating the gnats! We've solved it!"

The cook came out of the cookshack with a cloth bag in one hand, and a sharp knife in the other. He tested the knife with his thumb as he headed for the heaps of birds.

Daniels grinned. "Yes, sir, we've got it. Look at that. Meat."

The cook put down his knife and shoveled birds into the bag with both hands.

Dave frowned, and picked up the pole he'd taken from the communications shack.

"I don't know," he said, scowling. "It seems to me that in all the uproar we've lost track of something."

"Nonsense. Listen, without the gnats bothering us— Oh, I know, life may not be perfect. But this means, we've licked the big problems, so—"

The loud blast of a whistle cut across the field.

Dave saw Weber streak for the communications shack. Dave glanced swiftly up, then sprinted after him. He helped shove the door shut, then thrust the pole in a notch in the overhead beam, and jammed the other end of it against the bottom of the door.

Weber picked up the wooden bar, and dropped it in place. One end caught in its bracket, and the other end swung past the broken bracket, so the bar fell on the floor.

"My God," said Weber. "I forgot."

"I thought you did," said Dave. He jammed another pole in place to brace the top of the door, then picked up his ax. He looked at the door. The hinge side leaned slightly in at the top. "If that thing hits the door, he'll get in. The guns will only sting him. Is there another ax in here?"

"I think so. I'll look."

While Weber looked, Dave could hear a whistling shriek that grew rapidly louder. He stepped to the wall on the hinge side of the door, and raised his ax. There was a loud clap. The door jumped inward. The top pole fell down. The door jumped again. There was a scream from the hinge and it leaned in.

Dave flattened against the wall.

The door sagged as a big set of claws shoved it in.

There was a flapping noise and the bend of a thick leathery wing shoved in the door.

Dave raised his ax a little higher.

Weber cried out, "I can't find one!"

Dave glanced quickly at the overhead beams to see if he had room enough.

A huge recurved beak on a long neck shot in the doorway, straight for Weber.

Dave swung the ax. He hit the long neck, stepped out and swung at the place where neck joined leathery shoulder. The huge wings jerked forward. A big set of claws reached up. Dave chopped savagely at the neck. He chopped again and again, through tendons, gristle and bone. He chopped till the sweat ran in his eyes and his arms couldn't lift the ax.

The whole huge mass of leather leaned over and sagged backwards. Dave turned around, breathing hard, leaned against the doorframe and wiped the sweat out of his eyes. He saw Weber with one arm and both legs wrapped around the long neck just back of the head. In Weber's free hand was a knife. The knife was sunk to the hilt in one of the creature's big eyes. As Dave watched, the huge beak opened, the neck twitched, then the beak half-closed and lay still.

Outside, Dave could hear the sound of running feet. Someone looked in, and sucked his breath in sharply.

A familiar voice cried out in the distance. "I told you. One-by-one it will take us. We don't have a chance. Not a chance."

"Ah, shut up," said someone else. "They killed it."

Dave straightened up, still breathing hard, and looked around.

The inside of the cabin looked like a backwoods slaughterhouse after a busy day.

Daniels looked in, an expression of awe on his face. He said apologetically, "Maybe my victory proclamation was a little premature. I completely forgot about these things."

Dave said, "It just occurred to me . . . while I was chopping through that thing . . . why couldn't we have a deadfall? They always try to get in the place where they see us go in. Put a heavy rock in a frame over the door. Jerk out the pins that hold it just as they break down the door. Meat for dinner."

"Hm-m-m," said Daniels.

A new voice said, "We could even bait them down on purpose. Why not? I'm getting sick of waiting for these things to grab us. Why not decoy them in?"

The cook said, "Let me through. Watch the knife, please."

A familiar bitter voice remarked, "All the same, by the time the women get here, there'll be nothing waiting for them but a pile of bones, that's all. Nothing but—"

There was a solid crunching sound.

In the quiet that followed, the men gathered around to watch the cook, a big knife in his hand, bend over to study the bird.

Ten months later, in early spring, a ship came down with a cargo of supplies and highly nervous women. The crew of the ship looked out, squinted, looked away, blinked their eyes, looked back hard, and stared.

Big piles of firewood were already stacked amongst solid, weather-bleached cabins. From the side, fresh wood grew conveniently in toward the clearing, where it was apparently cut off by a man on a dozer.

Around the edge of the clearing sat a number of giant cages with huge sullen-looking birds peering out between thick wooden bars. A man dressed like a chef ignored the ship to thoughtfully probe the ribs of one of these birds with a long stick.

Flights of smaller birds wheeled and dove overhead.

The crewmen scowled down and the colonists looked up impatiently.

"Where," said one of the crewmen in a low voice to another, "are the graves?"

"I don't know. I only see one."

"Well, they just don't get through the first winter without losing around fifty per cent. It never fails."

"We'll ask them. But we'd better hurry and unload. We don't have much time on this schedule."

"Let's go, then. I'm curious."

The colonists, however, acted for some reason as if they were more interested in greeting their women than in chatting with the crewmen.

The crew blasted off in a bad frame of mind. The colonists, they growled, could at least have told them a little more than one word.

"What does it mean?" the crewmen demanded.



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