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Hale Armbuster watched intently as the forty-foot long constrictor glided toward him along the edge of the narrow path. The huge snake looked at him with the calculating gaze of a carnivore moving in on its kill.

Hale glanced up. The big tree-spider had its dropnet nearly spun, and was gazing down at him with cool speculation. And across the grassy strip between the cave and the edge of the ravine, what looked like a rotten stump crept a few inches closer every time he turned the other way.

For the thousandth time, he damned himself for getting into this mess in the first place. He wasn't a colonist, but here he was on a colony planet; and not in a settlement but out in the untouched wilds. He'd never expected to spend his life in a fool trap, but he'd put in a year and a half in this place already. Worse yet, he was beginning to have doubts that he would ever get out of it. For one thing, it looked today as if everything might come to a head at the same moment.

The constrictor now had reached the place where the path widened, so that it could, if it chose, glide behind a tilted boulder and up a steep embankment to disappear into the brush, and come back at him later from his left and rear.

He watched tensely.

The snake chose instead to glide steadily up the path, past the rock, and directly toward him.

He bent, and pulled on a vine that lay near his feet. The vine tightened and came up into the air, and he yanked hard. At the other end of the vine, near the boulder, the trigger stick jerked loose. The boulder tilted forward and slammed down on the middle of the snake. The front end of the snake whipped around to attack the boulder.

Hale breathed a little more easily and glanced around.

The rotted stump was now about a yard closer.

The tree-spider had fished up a number of stones on a long strand hung with sticky globules, and was methodically placing the stones so as to weight the edge of its dropnet.

The front end of the snake was struggling violently to get free of the boulder, but so far was having no success.

Hale selected a spear from the pile near the mouth of the cave, and waited till the tree-spider had its net weighted. Then he walked to one side.

The tree-spider lowered its dropnet, and followed, twirling the net gently on a strand guided by one leg as it sprang from limb to limb to get more directly above him.

Hale glanced up at the spider, then darted aside and back.

The stump bunched itself as he moved to avoid the spider. A set of small eyes rose on stalks to study his movements. Out of the corner of his eye Hale could see the stump tense and start to change its appearance as it braced for the spring.

Hale whirled and slammed his spear into the stump.

The stump bounded up with an explosion of short thick legs that lengthened out to wind around the spear.

The spider was now directly overhead, and dropped its net.

Hale gripped the spear by the end of the shaft, and slammed it up into the dropnet. The stones whipped the net tight around stump and spear. The spider hauled its prize up and spun it around, adding new strands.

Hale, the sweat running into his eyes and blinding him, wiped his arm across his forehead. He drew a deep breath. Then the watchword of the colonists on this planet came to him: "Look out. There's another one around somewhere."

He glanced around.

The giant snake now had its nose under the edge of the boulder, trying to pry it up. The snake's tail end was lying motionless, which seemed to show that its back was broken. The spider was cheerfully hauling the "stump" further up into the tree, along with the spear. Later, Hale would get the spear back, along with more grisly trophies, when the spider cleaned house.

But right now, he felt a prickly uneasiness, and realized it was because he had no weapon in hand. He got his gun, walked back with it, and took another look around. Everything seemed to be in order.

There was a faint clatter of falling bits of stone. Behind him.

He took a flying dive for the nearest tree.

There was a squish sound. A spatter of droplets landed all around him as he hugged the dirt between two big roots of the tree. Where the droplets landed, grass, ferns, and moss turned black and withered away.

Groundrunner, Hale thought. In his mind's eye he could see the low, many-legged body gliding toward him, its tail-section raised up to let fly another blast of poison. Hale held the gun ready, listening for the soft clack of the groundrunner's segments.

From the direction of the cave, came a low, earth-shaking rumble, then a thud like a ton of rock hitting the earth. There was a thin, high-pitched scream, then a violent clacking and thrashing. Blasts of droplets hit ground and tree trunks in all directions, leaving patches of blackened moss and bark. When this passed, he risked a glance.

The groundrunner was in front of the mouth of the cave, its long flat body twisted on itself, its head end pinned under a boulder the size of a space-yacht's power unit.

Behind it, deep inside the cave, there was the glint of big eyes spaced several yards apart.

Hale stepped out from behind the big tree, glanced up, and saw that the tree-spider was intent on sucking the juice out of the imitation stump. For the moment he was safe from that direction. He looked around warily. Nothing seemed to be creeping up on him. Then a swiftly-moving shadow caught his eye, and he looked up again at the tree-spider, to see a flat snakelike form with stiffly-outstretched transparent wings alight gently on a limb, around on the other side of the tree from the spider. A glide cobra. The cobra folded its membranes, moved quietly along the limb, and eased out on the trunk. Clinging to the thick rough bark, it worked its way out above the preoccupied spider, eyed the spider calculatingly, brought forward another length of its body, and poised to strike.

Hale aimed carefully, and shot its head off.

The cobra fell twisting from the tree. The spider jerked, watched the cobra fall, then looked at Hale. Hale couldn't say if the look actually expressed gratitude, but it seemed to.

Hale looked around, saw nothing new, and shifted his position to see if anything else was trying to sneak up on the spider. So long as the spider was overhead, the likelihood was very small that anything else would move in. Thinking of the things that might set up housekeeping in the nearby trees, the spider seemed almost like an old friend. It occurred to Hale that it was probably for the same reason that the monster tunneler had come out and heaved the rock onto the groundrunner. Hale was the tunneler's assurance that giant snakes, grabs, and hooks would not move into the cave.

He looked back at the dead groundrunner uneasily. Somehow, he had to drag that thing to the edge of the ravine and shove it over. Otherwise, its scent would bring nocturnal predators right up to the mouth of the cave. But he couldn't move the groundrunner until he got the boulder off of it. The boulder was too big to move by hand, so he would need tools. The big poles and crowbars, and the jackscrews from some spaceship's emergency tool kit were hidden under a shelving rock close to the deadfall where the forty-foot constrictor was pinned.

This snake was now lying with its bloody head stretched straight out, eying Hale with a look of cold calculation. It was plain to be seen that Hale would not get the tools till the snake died, and the snake was far from dead.

Uneasily, he glanced up, to gauge the height of the sun by the light filtering through the leaves. He saw that he didn't have much time.

He was starting to look away when, high overhead, something glinted. There was a flash of reflected sunlight.

Hale squinted, recognized the thing, and let his breath out in a groan. How could he fight this? Snakes, spiders, hooks, groundrunners, tunnelers—he could fight them or make his peace with them. But this thing overhead was different.

He sprinted to the cave, put the spears out of sight inside, and stayed inside, waiting doggedly. Maybe, just possibly, the fool would go away.


No, he thought. No such luck.

Whir! Whoom! 


The disk-shaped grav-skimmer dropped to hover near the cave. A face that would have been considered intelligent on quite a few civilized planets peered over the edge of the skimmer.

To Hale, as to the hundreds of colonists on this planet, this face looking out over the edge of the skimmer was the living embodiment of full-blown imbecility. That look of breathless curiosity, the darting eyes, the sudden flash and snap as the glittering array of knobs and lenses swung around, all signified an eager desire for things that the people on this planet earnestly wished to be rid of.

The sightseer now spotted the tree-spider.

Hale watched warily. There were various degrees of fools, and no one could predict just what this one might do next. The skimmer was obviously safe from the spider, which was trying to make itself inconspicuous. But that did not prevent the sightseer from slamming the emergency switch for a violent power-lift. The skimmer rose in a burst of speed, straight for a high overhead limb. Just before it hit, some kind of automatic force field, or stepped-up high-power antigravity beam, came into operation, slowed the skimmer and sheared the massive limb completely off the tree.

Hale shut his eyes. He could hear the scream as the big nest in the fork of the high limb plunged for the ground. Three fluffy yellow balls the size of turkeys rolled out. Two lay dead or unconscious, but the third instantly flung back its head. There was a high-pitched trill, that rose rapidly out of Hale's range of hearing.


The skimmer came down again, and before Hale could move, the sightseer leaned out of the ship, spotted Hale, pointed at the tree spider hugging the bark.

"Hey, feller, you're in danger! Look at that giant crab there!"

Hale sucked in a deep breath. There was nothing to do now but try to live through the mess.

The sightseer shouted, "I'll fix him for you!"

He swung around a four-foot long gun with a complex sight almost as big as the gun barrel.

"NO!" shouted Hale. "Leave it alone! Don't—"

A dazzling beam issued from the mouth of the gun. Bits and fragments of the tree-spider's legs fell twitching to the ground. The bark of the tree burst into flame. Where the spider's body had been, there wasn't even smoke.

Hale opened his mouth, then clamped it shut. Now there was no telling what might move in. Tree-rats. Fire hornets. Nests of glide-cobras. Anything.

The sightseer leaned out of the skimmer, grinned widely, and clasped both hands over his head in the boxer's gesture of triumph.

"I fixed that crab for you, didn't I?"

"Yeah," said Hale. He let his breath out slowly and eyed the skimmer. He put the gun inside the cave, reached up, felt along a wide rock shelf, and took down a long supple leathery cord. He went back outside, and studied the skimmer, which had three barlike handles thrust out from its rim. They were, he remembered, used for guiding an idling skimmer from the ground, carrying it with power off, or for strapping large game and trophies to the underside.

The sightseer, scowling at his cool reception, was now looking Hale over from head to foot, noting the leather clothing, beard, and long, roughly trimmed hair. The skimmer rose a little.

"Say, no offense, boy, but are you really civilized?"

Hale pointedly ignored the question, and started for the giant snake, which was lying stretched out, both eyes turned up to watch the skimmer. The skimmer followed right along, its occupant plainly unaware that: 1) the unmoving snake was far from dead; and 2) the crawling and flying things on this planet had a deep and mutual hatred for each other.

When Hale was about as close to the snake as he dared to go, he glanced and gestured to the sightseer. He said in a loud, purposely authoritative voice. "You're in danger here. Go away."

The sightseer said haughtily, "You don't order me, feller. I bought my travel permit, and I go where I feel like."

"Suit yourself. But it's dangerous here." Hale did not speak quite so loudly this time. The sightseer came a little lower, naturally doing exactly the opposite of what Hale told him to do. He was now studying Hale curiously.

"How do you live, feller?"

Hale pointed to the cache of tools, "I keep crowbars and a jack in there. This rock here is a trap—a deadfall. A pole props it up, and a vine runs out so I can jerk the trigger stick and drop the rock when I need to. Then the boulder slams down. See how it works?"

The sightseer had a small microphone thrust out, and was taking everything down in sound as well as on film.

"Real primitive stuff," he said, looking pleased. "You sleep in that cave?"

"That's right. There's a big animal called a tunneler that lives in the back. He doesn't bother me as long as I don't go back too far. There are spears and a couple of guns on a rock shelf near the entrance. There's a pile of furs on that shelf, where it widens out further back. I sleep there."

"Hey, this is good," said the sightseer. "Speak right into the mike, now." He swung the skimmer forward and around, to get a better angle as Hale continued to keep his back partly turned and to talk in a low voice.

Nearby, the giant snake lay tensely still. Its gaze, the eyeballs turned up toward the skimmer, grew intently fixated.

"By the way," said Hale, still turning, "you wouldn't be willing to help me move that rock near the cave, would you? Just so that I can get the groundrunner out of there? It would only take a few minutes."

The sightseer put his camera and microphone away. "Sorry, boy, I'd love to, but I'm in kind of a hurry." True to form, the sightseer wouldn't help.

The monster snake was now looking almost directly up, where the skimmer floated overhead.

Hale readied the loop in his hand.

Wham! The big head of the snake came up in a fluid blur, and hit the skimmer like a battering ram. The impact threw the sightseer out into the air. The skimmer shot up and sidewise, then readjusted downward to its set altitude. Hale gauged the distance, shot the rope out, caught one of the handles, and jerked the skimmer to the side.

The sightseer slammed heavily to the ground. The snake looked on with an air of quiet satisfaction.

Hale kept a wary eye on the snake, got the skimmer well to one side, and hauled himself up. The cutting of the slender slippery strand was painful, but then he grabbed a handle, reached up, took a fresh grip, and levered himself over the edge.

He found himself in a world of unbelievable luxury, surrounded by red leather cushions and softly-glowing control panels. The huge fusion gun rested on a flexible power-assisted mount, so that he needn't exert himself as he loosed overpowering blasts of energy in any direction he chose. A multiple ultrarange 6-V receiver and recorder with built-in library of records awaited his touch on a button. Recessed into the edge of the skimmer beside the 6-V was a Dispenser capable of materializing anything from a bottle of orange pop to a full-size dinner. The interior of the skimmer was softly cushioned and padded, so that the occupant need suffer no discomfort from sharp corners or a hard surface.

Hale recognized all these things as of old, but the sudden contrast between poverty and luxury accentuated both. And the prospect of actually escaping from the hell down below left him almost dizzy.

The rope still trailing out, he guided the skimmer toward the sightseer, who was standing white-faced, half-crouched in a kind of terrified paralysis.

There was a roar and a rush. A shadow passed over the skimmer, and a huge form smashed into the snake; its giant wings thrashed, and its talons sank into the tough flesh back of the snake's head. The snake reared back, twisted its huge head. Its jaws opened and seized a taloned claw.

Clouds of dust and feathers flew out. The sightseer sprinted for the cave.

Hale swung the skimmer closer, and called, "Climb in!"

The sightseer blinked, and abruptly his face cleared. He straightened, to shout peremptorily, "Get out of that skimmer!"

Hale shouted, "I can't lower the skimmer. So long as it's in the air, that bird won't bother us. You knocked its nest down, but it thinks the snake did it. The birds on this planet don't harm each other's young. This skimmer classifies as a bird as long as it's up in the air. Just climb up the rope. Don't argue. It's getting late, and its no fun to be out after dark on this planet."

The sightseer, white-faced with rage, pointed at Hale. "Out, I said." He tapped a small wrist-communicator. "I'll have the Planetary Police here in five minutes. Get out of that skimmer now and I won't prefer charges."

Hale glanced uneasily at the sky. It was starting to get dark. And once it started to get dark here, it got dark fast.

"Look," he said. "Argue about it later. Not now. Climb in. I'll help you."

The sightseer, face white and lips compressed to a thin line, snapped his forefinger up to point at Hale, then down at the ground.


Hale shook his head. "I want a ride to the nearest settlement. You owe me that, at the least, for the damage you've done. Climb in and let's go."

"You don't invite me into my own skimmer, fella. I said, Out and I mean it. Now, get out!"

Hale shook his head in disgust. He glanced around the interior of the skimmer, spotted the little bookcase with its inexpensive novels, and the standard volume titled "Survival."

He tossed out "Survival," untied his rope and dropped it over. He pointed, and shouted, "When you need water, the spring's back there! Watch the tree-rats and the glide-cobras!" He hit the Dispenser's selector buttons, threw down a dozen packets of emergency rations, dropped firelighter, knife and ammunition pouch on the pile of rations, and slammed forward the skimmer's controls.

The sightseer's angry threats of arrest and imprisonment faded into the background.

The skimmer streaked through the trees, rising at a shallow angle as Hale guided it with remembered skill between the huge trunks, and up through a break in the limbs. He punched the destination control to settle into a long straight run for North 2, the nearest settlement.

On the way, he knocked down three huge night-gliders with the fusion gun. Then, having at last gotten over a stretch of open country which was a little safer, it occurred to Hale to turn on the communicator. Before he could speak, a fragment of conversation came out the speaker.

"Hello," snapped the sightseer's angry voice, "is this Planetary Central?"

"Well," murmured a voice with a patient, unhurried drawl, "I suppose you could call it that. What we call it is North 1."

"It doesn't matter to me what you call it. I want a squad of the Planetary Police out here on the double. One of these natives just stole my skimmer!"

"That so?" drawled the voice, sounding vaguely interested. "You mean this happened at a settlement?"

"No, no. Not a settlement. Some kind of one-man hovel out in the sticks. I'll describe the whole thing plainly enough when the Police get here. They can home in on my signal. Now, snap it up."

Hale shook his head, and punched the Dispenser for steak, French fries lightly salted, and a large, chilled, chocolate milkshake. For months he had dreamed of this exact menu, to awaken dry-mouthed. As he pressed the buttons, the Dispenser hummed obediently.

"Well," came the unhurried voice from the communicator, "I sure am sorry. You see, there's no Planetary Police on this planet. If we had them, they couldn't get to you. We got no skimmer except a few private ones. And if we had skimmers, we probably wouldn't use them anyway. Everybody's too busy working. This is a new planet. You sightseers are always telling us how quaint and primitive we are. Well, we are for a fact." After a pause, he added, "You got my sympathy, though."

There was a silence.

The bell on the Dispenser gonged in respectful tones, and the Dispenser produced steak, French fries, and a chilled milkshake.

Hale cast an habitually watchful glance around the moonlit horizon, swerved and blasted a flight of hooks diving in at him. In doing so, he made the mistake of passing over a lake, and had to take violent evasive action to escape the scores of hungry grapples that shot up on jets of phosphorescent spray. Through it all the grav-field held his meal so that not the slightest bit was spilled. He ate, looking warily around.

"B-But," stammered the voice from the communicator, "what will I do? I can't stay here."

There was a jovial chuckle from the communicator. "Oh, I'd stay there if I were you. You got maybe three hundred miles of jungle between you and the nearest settlement. That's nothing in a skimmer. But it's a long way on foot. And you'd be eat up before you got here."

There was a string of violent curses and threats, to which North 1 replied blandly, "Nope. Sorry. Can't do it . . . Sure. Too bad. It's a pity . . . Oh, you got our sympathy all right. We're more scared than you are. We know what you're up against, and you don't. Course, you'll find out, starting any time now."

Hale took a sip of the milkshake, then spotted a small fast bird diving on him. Then another and another. He looked all around, and made out a large dim form coming in from another direction. Decoy bird, he thought. He shot the big one and the small ones dropped at the same instant.


Below, the dimly-lit cabins of North 2 appeared before him. He snapped on the landing-light of the grav-skimmer so that no one would mistake him for a night bird, turned off the communicator, and carefully settled down.

To one side, looking just as he had left it, was his space yacht.

Hale paused to ask the tall brawny settler who came out of a cabin if he would help put the skimmer under cover so it could be used the next day to rescue the sightseer.

"Nope," said the colonist. "I won't. I'd help you, mister, because you lived out there a long while, and here you are, still alive. I can talk your language, and you can talk mine. But I wouldn't touch that sightseer with a twenty-foot stick, and if you're smart, neither will you."


"Well, I'll tell you. You go out there tomorrow morning and rescue him and the odds are that at first he'll fall all over you. Then he'll get back to his space yacht, climb in the Recuperator, and come out the same boob he was when he came down here. He'll think things over and get indignant. He'll report you to the Space Police. He'll report us to the Space Police. He'll charge robbery, assault, attempted murder, piracy, and everything else he can think of. He'll blow up like a volcano. When the dust settles down, we'll all be coated with tar, and that fool will go off in a blaze of righteous indignation. Is it worth it?"

"Hm-m-m," said Hale, thinking it over. After all the time he had spent out there, he was not anxious to spend a new chunk of his life being dragged through law courts, and in and out of jails and prisons.

"And then," said the colonists, "there's another reason."

"What's that?"

"How would you find him? For him to get there in the first place, we had to tell him just the right co-ordinates, so the fool could set his destination control for them and go out there to get some 'real primitive scenes.' We don't aim to tell you or anyone else where the place is till he's been out there long enough to have either been killed or got some sense beat into his head."

"I could follow the signal from his communicator."

"Ten-to-one the fool has lost his temper and smashed it by now."

"Hm-m-m," said Hale. He had slammed his own against the wall of the cave before the first hour was finished. "How long will you leave him out there before you send somebody out?"

"Depends on how long he lasts, how many of these sightseers we get in our hair, and how ugly we feel. After a man's survived a year or so of it out there, we send the sightseers out to him on a regular schedule. In order to last that long, even with all the game there is out there, his viewpoint in that length of time has had to change. Well, the sightseers don't help him, they just bother him. Before long he feels the same way about them that we do, and then he ropes one in and gets out of there. It's the only way to live with them. They waste our time, spoil our work, and sour our disposition. They come out here because they 'want excitement.' Well, we give it to them."

Hale relaxed on the cushioned surface of the skimmer. An odd thought came to him. About eighteen months ago, he had set out in a skimmer just about like this one. He had been impatient, dissatisfied, and in a bad mood. Since then, he had been tricked, trapped, and attacked by beasts of all descriptions.

Now he was back in the same spot he'd been in to start with. But now he felt contented. He mentioned this to the colonist, who nodded, and said, "That's how it works. People come out here because they aren't satisfied. They don't actually know why they come out here, but they sense it. We've got something in great supply, and they need a little of it."

"What's that?" asked Hale.

"Contrast," said the colonist.


The colonist nodded. "It's hard to appreciate anything unless you've got something—or some memory—to contrast it against. A good friend never stands out so well as when everyone else is a traitor. Green doesn't stand out against a green background, but it practically jumps out against a red background. It's the same way with civilization. The new devices and unheard-of luxuries are wasted against an unvaried background of advanced technology and unheard-of luxury. Most of the value of such things goes unappreciated because there's no contrasting background, either real or remembered, to judge them against."

"Then," said Hale, "when some sightseer comes out here, vaguely dissatisfied with everything—"

"We figure," said the colonist, "he needs a contrast. It just isn't humanly possible to really appreciate something smooth unless you've experienced something rough."

Hale smiled. "And so, you—"

The colonist grinned. "And so, we do our best to help. Once a man has been here, he's equipped to put up with years of new devices and civilized luxuries.

"He can appreciate the smooth, because he's really experienced the rough."


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