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Assignment On Pasik


1: Crash Landing

The Snark hit atmosphere screaming, and Stannard grimly set himself to fight it out with the fins. A half hour since he'd used what jets remained in action, and the gyros too, past all sane risk. He had a good approach course now, though—it was a shallow, almost infinitesimal slant toward the planet's surface—but normal landing procedures were definitely out.

He saw seas and land and peninsulas below, so a random landing would be unwise. He had to depend on the fins and the Snark's streamlining to gain some sort of control from the resistance of the air. He succeeded only in part.

The little ship bucked crazily. It jerked his head sidewise until he thought his neck would snap but he hung onto the levers. Then he realized that they were doing practically no good at all. The Snark bounced and the straps that held him in his chair dug into his flesh. Then the small space-car seemed to throw a fit.

It went spinning through some fleecy cirrus clouds a good four miles up, straightened out and skidded backwards, then spun and whirled at once and finally began to slow perceptibly and drop with obviously suicidal intent.

Then the tail went up and Stannard saw jungle below him, straight in front of the control room ports. The Snark seemed to decide that this was a good place to smash. It dived down with the evident purpose of splashing itself and Stannard over as much landscape as possible. At least, though, this was land. There was a sea not many miles away.

He let it dive to the last possible moment and then slammed in his jets. For one fleeting instant he wondered sardonically if all of them would fire again. The sabotage of his firing controls had been a thorough job.

But the Snark was consistent in its lunacy. The portside jets alone responded. The space-car made an erratic half-loop and for one instant pointed straight up. In that fraction of a second Stannard threw a full gyro-hold and kept her nose vertical despite the one-sided thrust.

The jets wouldn't hold her up. She sank, stern-first. Stannard almost relaxed. If the gyros seized now or the jets cut out—a trick they'd been doing for three days past—he was simply dead. He'd done everything there was to do.

He caught a fleeting glimpse of foliage rising past the side ports. Then jets sputtered erratically, he heard the beginning shriek of dry gyro-shafts, there was a crashing, then a violent bump, then a heaving, wrenching explosion. The control room split down the middle on either side of him, the whole scrap heap which was the Snark partly folded on itself like an accordion and partly billowed out like an expanding latex bubble—and there was a vast silence.

Stannard hung in the control seat with an expression of vast amazement on his face. The amazement was because he was alive. He didn't even seem to have any broken bones. But the Snark was not quite through. He heard a crackling, booming noise.

The fuel-store had caught. It might burn merely brightly or it might burn with the ravening ferocity of thermite or it might let go at any instant in a monstrous detonation which would blast everything up to half a mile away.

It was time to get away from there. Stannard broke loose the straps, pitched headlong and without dignity, scrambled through a gap in the plating and ran like the devil.

* * *

He dodged tree-trunks, panting, and came out on a patch of savannah just as the fuel blew. There was a sound like the end of all creation, a blast of air lifted him off his feet and hurtled him forward off the ground with his legs still making ridiculous running motions. He landed in a slough of mud. He fell hard. He went under. The mud tried enthusiastically to smother him.

He fought to the surface and cleared thick adhesive stuff from his mouth so that he could gasp in air. He cleared his eyes and nose. He floundered ashore to something solid, swept more mud from himself, saw squirming things wriggling frantically out of the stuff that still coated him—and began to swear.

Instants later he was out of his outer garments and ready for anything. But the squirming things were as anxious to get away from him as he was to avoid contact with them. They writhed and squirmed and inched themselves like measuring-worms, back toward the mud. They were two or three inches long and disgustingly naked flesh. They fled. He heard tiny sucking sounds as they regained their normal habitat and scrambled into clayey seclusion again.

Then there was stillness once more. He looked about and listened. In ancient days there had been tales of castaways. They were very glamorous exciting stories. But this was something else. In the act of estimating his own situation he grew angry all over again at the sabotage which had brought it to pass, for the ruining of the task on which he had been engaged.

He fumbled at the mud which was his outer clothing. He pulled loose and scraped off the belt, which contained a heat unit that, on occasion, could serve as a weapon. He slung the belt about himself and scraped further at his clothes.

He listened from time to time. The mud was infinitely adhesive. Presently he surveyed the mud-slough. There was a small, languid stream which flowed into it. There was a fallen tree-trunk which spanned it at its narrowest. He went out on the trunk and scrubbed off the mud with flowing water.

Four or five more squirming things came frantically out and dropped into the water. His garments became clean. He flapped them violently and the water-droplets flew away. He put his clothes on again, dry.

Somehow he felt better, though this was no enviable situation. Aside from the absolute failure of the job he'd been on he was in a bad fix. This was one of the planets of the Bornik star-cluster and he thought it was Pasik but he was not sure.

The whole group had been surveyed, a couple of centuries before and all the stars were yellow dwarfs, the planets were approximately solar-family types and vegetation on this one had been green as seen from space. Green vegetation plus seas meant breathable atmosphere and not too impossible a climate.

This could be Pasik, if he'd identified the local sun correctly. But he wasn't sure even of that. This part of the galaxy wasn't much visited. Sometimes a hunting-party came through to land here and there and gather more or less improbable specimens.

There were races of low development on some of the planets and there was a vague commerce of sorts kept up by occasional traders. But the known facts about the planets were few. Men could live on them but few did. A castaway could survive but the odds against being picked up were so enormous that they were best expressed by zero.

A single castaway on a planet the size of Earth could escape notice even during a ninety-per-cent complete survey. When there was only one ship in years, which might touch only at one spot more or less at random, there was no chance at all.

So Stannard looked upon his life as a member of the human race as finished. Somebody else would have to take over his job.

In the stillness he heard the crackling of cooling metal sheets. There wouldn't be much to salvage from the Snark and what there was could wait. But still—

He moved back toward the site of the recent explosion. He came to trees bent outward from the blast. He went through them to stumps of trees snapped off by the explosion and piled in untidy windrows. He wormed through a passable place and saw the crater where the Snark had been.

There was literally nothing left but a hole in the ground. On one pile of shattered trees he saw a bit of torn plating. Caught among tree-stumps he saw a crumpled mass of metal. And that was all.

He managed to shrug. No stores, no tools, no food. Hopelessly isolated for all time—

Then he saw a movement across the clearing the explosion had made. Something glistened blackly among tree-branches. A thing came out of the tumbled, shattered trees. It carried a spear and it was about five feet high. It had a cylindrical body and glistening, jointed legs which looked mechanical.

It had two arms of nearly human size and two smaller, apparently specialized mandible-like upper arms and a head which was curiously humanoid without being in the least human. Another similar creature followed it, and another and another. There were thirty of them altogether. Some carried spears and others carried other weapons and several had bags containing mysterious objects slung over their shoulders.

They regarded the crater and made noises among themselves. Stannard froze. A man who stands motionless does not attract attention. This is true on all planets everywhere. Stannard stood still.

The sticklike men moved forward. Despite the angularity of their structure they moved gracefully. They peered into the crater where the fuel had blown a hole all of forty feet across. One of them pointed to the crumpled plating. More noises. One of them doubled up suddenly, and then was erect again. Others did the same.

They clustered around the crater and gesticulated to one another. Then, suddenly, they began to dance. It was a hilarious, unorganized, utterly gleeful dance. Stannard realized, blinking, that they knew exactly what the plating was.

They knew that a ship had crashed and blown itself to atoms and their doublings-up were laughter and the hopping and cavorting was the expression of exuberance that a creation of men had destroyed itself and—of course—apparently killed all the humans in it.

Then one of the stickmen saw Stannard. The dancing stopped instantly. All the stickmen—those with spears included—stared at him. They began to move toward him.


2: The Not-Quite-Humans

It was preposterous. It was absurd. Stannard felt his flesh crawl as the litter carried him swiftly through a narrow lane in the jungle which seemed to be unending. The litter which carried him had been hastily improvised but it was comfortable.

Stickmen carried him swiftly, some running with the flexible litter-poles on their shoulders, some running behind. At least one or two had gone racing on before to carry the news. From time to time the unburdened ones pelted up level with Stannard's bearers and deftly took their places while the relieved ones fell back. And the one who spoke English trotted alongside Stannard and babbled ecstatically whenever Stannard glanced in his direction.

"Pasiki have master!" he seemed to chortle. "Pasiki have man master to serve! All Pasiki love man master! All Pasiki glad to have master! Oh, master, we are happy to have master to serve!"

Stannard kept his face impassive. It did not make sense. That crazy zestful rejoicing dance about the scene of the Snark's explosion and now this babbling abasement—when the dancers first saw him they stopped short in their dance. They saw a man, alive, and a murmuring arose among them. Spears shifted.

Then a shrill voice called among the rest as they moved toward him. One came ahead. Twenty yards away he went down on hands and knees. The others stopped. The leader crawled to Stannard's very feet, and then abjectly lifted Stannard's foot and put it on his head. And he spoke—in English!

It was not speech from a throat somehow. It was actually the vibration of a diaphragm somewhere near where a man's throat would have been. But it formed English words. Now that same native babbled more English words, trotting swiftly beside the litter the others had made and brought for Stannard to ride in.

"Oh, master, such gladness! Pasiki do not know what to do without man master! Hundreds, thousands Pasiki serve with such gladness!"

Stannard said dryly, "How much farther do we go?"

"Not far, master," chortled the English speaking one. "We have sent for man-style servants, for man-style food, for man-things man master will want. Oh, such gladness!"

Stannard again had a crawling sensation in the back of his neck. If he'd ever seen triumphant hate in his life it had been the dancing about the crater where the Snark had struck.

And surely, if these sticklike, these antlike men—Pasiki, they called themselves, which would mean that this was the planet Pasik, barely mentioned in the Space Directory as an earth-type planet, friendly inhabitants of grade 2B, type exoskeletal tympanate—surely if these creatures had wanted to kill him they could have done so with their spears. Stannard reflected vaguely on tales of local deities to whom sacrifice was made. They did not fit, either.

"Where'd you learn man talk?" he asked abruptly.

"Man master, master," babbled the Pasiki, skipping in seeming glee as he kept pace with the litter. "Man master had many Pasiki to serve him. All Pasiki love man master! Our man master died, master. Some Pasiki went to serve woman master but they come more gladness to serve man master."

"Woman?" said Stannard. "There are men and woman masters here?"

"One woman master," said the Pasiki in seeming bliss. "Eight-nine-ten man master, master. You make 'leven man master for Pasiki!"

The trail widened ahead. There was a sort of glade with thick, leafy stuff for a carpet in the place of grass. There was a tent set up there. Stannard wanted to rub his eyes. It was not a tent but a pavilion—a shelter erected on poles, shimmering like silk.

There was a carpet on the ground. There was a table. There was a couch. There was a chair. The table was loaded with fruits and great platters heaped with foodstuffs. There were even bottles with colored contents. There was a stream of black glistening figures running out of the farther side of the glade where the trail reentered the jungle.

Each carried some object and every object was human. Stannard saw cushions, books, binoculars, pots and pans, silverware. He saw a sporting rifle being hustled out of the forest toward the pavilion. He saw clothing—all of a man's wardrobe carried piece by piece to be dumped at the back of the pavilion.

"Pasiki bring things for man master,"' chirruped the English speaking creature. Everything our man master left, master. Not one thing lost! All for new man master."

Then Stannard stiffened. The things being brought out of the forest now were unbelievable. They looked like human bodies, except that they were carried with such lightness and such ease that they could not possibly be bodies. More, bodies would not be limp and boneless like that.

"Man-style servant suits, master," the skipping creature gloated. "Pasiki make master happy, master make Pasiki glad. You look! You see!"

* * *

At sight of the litter the creatures carrying the limp objects stopped short. And then Stannard's eyes popped wide. The things that looked like human bodies were actually suits, of a sort. Like diving suits—but their look was utterly different.

The creatures who carried them put them hastily down. Then they struggled with them. They put them on. And suddenly, instead of glistening black articulated things that looked like ants or stick-insects, there were half a dozen startlingly human figures moving toward the pavilion.

When the litter stopped these oddities stood in amazing similitude of human servants to greet him. There was a figure which looked exactly like a butler out of an old book, complete with striped pants and vest. There was a valet. There were two footmen. There were two maids, similarly contrived.

They were incredibly convincing. Their flesh was lifelike. Their faces wore the reserved, detached expressions of perfect servants. Even their eyes moved and they had hands with fingers on them. The only thing that was not wholly lifelike was the fact that the garments on the figures had been molded on them.

The disguises—uniforms, servant suits—were made of some extraordinarily flexible plastic, on the order of foamflex, and each contained a hollow interior into which one of the insectile Pasiki fitted. With a stick creature inside the flexible creation stood erect and moved and looked human.

"Master," said the butler shape, "we have gladness! Welcome, master! You rest and eat, master?"

Stannard surreptitiously pinched himself. He got out of the litter. The food looked good and smelled good. The butler thing pulled back the chair. Stannard, his eyes a bit narrow, halted.

"Hm," he said suspiciously. "Did I see a rifle just now?"

An unintelligible sound. Then a glistening black creature darted from the back of the pavilion. It placed a rifle in the lifelike hands of a footman figure. The footman presented it to Stannard with an infinitely deferential bow. Stannard examined it closely. It seemed to be in perfect condition. He raised it and aimed at a tree-limb across the open space. He pulled the trigger. There were the normal violent surge of energy and the regulation flare of deep purple flame. The branch flew apart with a burst of steam.

Stannard lowered the rifle. It was a weapon all right, and in good working order. If these creatures had intended to kill him after some extraordinary hokus-pokus they wouldn't have given him a rifle with which he could kill scores of them.

"All right," he said grimly. "I guess this is straight. I'll have lunch. Then what?"

"Master's house waits," said the butler thing obsequiously. "If master wishes, he goes there. Or Pasiki make him new house here. Or anywhere. Anywhere master desires, Pasiki will do with gladness!"

Stannard sat down. The chair edged forward exactly right as he seated himself. A footman served him. There were two footmen and two maidservants and the butler. Their service was abjectly eager. It was such service as a sultan might have.

He could not reach for anything but it was instantly placed before him. He could hardly look at anything but it was offered him. And there were glasses filled and waiting. There were wines and Earth whiskey and a bubbling vintage of infinitely alluring aroma. He tasted one or two of the liquids cagily.

They were a bit too insidious. He had something to think about. He began to have a queer so-far-unjustified hunch that this distinctly novel experience had something to do with the job he'd had on hand when he was shipwrecked.

"You wish music, master?" asked the butler, deferentially.

"Eh? Oh, surely," said Stannard, abstractedly.

His seat did not give him a view of the trail from which a file of black creatures still trotted, bringing burdens. Now he saw an orchestra file before him. It looked real. It had uniforms. He suddenly recognized it—a name band which had made visiphone records that, ten years before, had caught the fancy of half the galaxy.

Servant suits—plastic shapes into which the Pasiki slid themselves—reproduced the builds and faces of the original musicians. There were instruments. Music began. It was an excellent imitation of a visiphone record but after a moment Stannard noted that the movements of the instrumentalists did not match the music.

The sound did not come from the instruments then, but from that diaphragm each of the Pasiki possessed and which vibrated to make speech or sound. It was somehow shocking to realize it.

Then dancers appeared and Stannard almost started up. They were slim and graceful and shapely, and they had plainly studied visiphone records and learned the dances of human beings. But they were Pasiki, clothed in plastic suit-masks. Still, they were astonishingly like lissome human girls in a minimum of costume, dancing to sultry impassioned music.

But all this happened in bright sunshine and Stannard watched from a pavilion in a small clearing, surrounded by strange trees with lenticular leaves. And all about the clearing there were the black glistening bodies of the Pasiki, watching Stannard. It was oddly wrong.

Even the whirling, gracefully alluring figures of the dancers were foamflex, or something similar and inside each there was another glistening black body, faithfully making a marionette of itself for the diversion of the man who was—they said—their master.

Somehow, Stannard felt a little bit sick.


3: Lay That Blaster Down!

The days on Pasik were twenty-two hours long and it was on the third day that Stannard saw the girl. There were times in between when he doubted his sanity and the hunch that said all this connected somehow with the job he'd had on hand when Snark broke down.

There were other times when the temptation to complacent acceptance of his situation and the abandonment of his task was very strong. And there were occasions on which he wanted to smash something out of pure perversity.

The Pasiki were irritating. There is something about abject submissiveness which revolts a normal man and anyhow Stannard could not forget the glee these same Pasiki had shown when they found a human ship had been destroyed—presumably with all its occupants.

The fact that now the Pasiki tended to greet Stannard's rising with songs and cheers and that they raptly assured him each lightest word was inspired and infinite wisdom and that they showed an enormous ingenuity in displaying the most passionate adoration—these things did not jibe. From time to time, at the most unlikely moments, he felt a crawling sensation at the back of his neck.

On the third morning, as he awoke, the butler form hovered about his bed. The bed, like the palace to which he had been conducted, was shoddy and elaborate and falsely elegant. The building had plainly been constructed by the Pasiki under orders from a human being who considered that visiphone records portrayed the everyday life of aristocrats.

"Master," said the butler thing obsequiously, "man master comes to see you. In two hours."

Stannard rolled out of bed. The butler-masked Pasiki helped him to dress. Stannard wore the garments in which he had been wrecked including his belt. As he fastened it, the butler handed him another belt. It contained two hand-blasters in holsters.

"Why weapons?" asked Stannard. "If I'm to have a visitor—"

"Man masters, master," said the butler thing blandly, "always wear weapons to see each other."

He bowed to withdraw.

"But why?" demanded Stannard. "Custom or what?"

"Sometimes they kill," said the butler as if piously regretful. "It is not for Pasiki to understand, master. The master who was here before was killed by another master."

There was a mound, not far from this place, where a human grave was devotedly kept covered with blossoms of a lurid purple. Stannard had been told that it was the grave of his predecessor. But he had gathered an impression of the unknown—from his ideas of luxurious living—which had blunted his curiosity.

He had no morbid interest in the man who'd had all the foam suits of dancing-girl shapes made so that insectile Pasiki could dance for him in the appearance of scantily clad human girls.

Stannard said, "How'd the killing come about?"

"Who knows, master? They drank together and the other master killed our master. You can ask, master, when he comes!"

"The same killer's to be my visitor, eh?" said Stannard. "And what happened after the killing?"

"He went away, master: He did not want our master's possessions."

"How about the law?"

The butler thing said blankly, "Law, master?"

"I see," said Stannard grimly: "Humans are above the law to Pasiki. And there are too few to make laws for themselves. But didn't you Pasiki do anything at all when your master was killed?"

"We asked what the other master wished to do, master," said the butler shape. "We wished to serve him. But he told us to go to the devil. Then he would not tell us how to do that thing and laughed as he went away."

"I see," said Stannard.

* * *

He buckled on the extra belt with two blasters. The Pasiki served men, apparently any man would do. There was no feeling of loyalty to an individual. One man killed another man and the Pasiki, who had been joyous slaves to the murdered man, promptly offered themselves as joyous slaves to the murderer.

It was somehow convincing. It looked quite a lot as if this fitted into Stannard's hunch about a connection between Pasik and his job. But there was no mention of a woman master yet. He'd almost forgotten the one mention of her that he'd heard.

He was at breakfast when, utterly without warning, she came into the room. Her entrance was partly hidden by the butler mask with its shiny-skinned occupant, who was serving Stannard his breakfast with elaborate ceremony.

Stannard saw the feminine form, but he had seen enough foamflex servants. This one he had not seen before but he was not interested. He spooned out a morsel of a curious pink-fleshed fruit and put it to his lips. Then the butler thing moved obsequiously aside and bowed.

"Welcome!" said the butler thing profoundly. "Welcome to woman master! Pasiki have gladness!"

Stannard looked up blankly. The girl faced him across the table and she had a blaster in her hand. It pointed straight at Stannard.

"Good morning," said the girl in a taut voice. "I'd like to know something about you, please. Of course I'd better kill you out of hand, but I'd like to be fair."

Stannard blinked. His eyes went to the blaster, to her face. He suddenly noted that her costume was not a part of her body. It was not molded on. It had been donned.

"You—you're human!" he said blankly.

"Quite," said the girl. She was very pale. "And my Pasiki have let slip you were planning to pay me a visit, so I thought I'd visit first. Don't move, please! I'm going to take your blasters."

She moved around the table, keeping him covered. The human-seeming servants skipped agilely out of her way. She ignored them. Stannard sat still, his hands on the table.

"Don't move!" she repeated fiercely, "I've no reason not to shoot!"

She was behind him. The blaster muzzle touched the back of his neck. It pressed. Hard. She bent forward and reached around him to loosen the belt which held his weapons. He felt the warmth of her breath.

"Be still!" she commanded. But he caught the note of strain which was almost hysteria in her voice. "Keep still!"

The pressure of the blaster muzzle was almost savage against his neck. Then he turned his head. Because of the pressure, the blaster muzzle slid off and past his cheek.

It flared as she desperately pulled the trigger.

A part of the opposite wall spurted intolerable flame. And then the girl was in his arms, fighting desperately, and he was twisting the blaster from her fingers. Flames roared from the ceiling as the blaster flashed again. The room filled with stinking smoke.

Then he had the weapon away from her. He stepped back, breathing fast. He released her.

"I'd rather not be killed this morning," he told her. "More especially, not for a Pasiki holiday!"

He gestured angrily about him. The foam figures—so incredibly convincing at any one glance—stared avidly at the picture of conflict between human beings. Other Pasiki—hordes of black, shining, inhuman shapes—pressed to look zestfully in through doors and windows.

"I've more than a hunch that they hate humans," he said wrathfully. "It would be only to be expected that they'd lie to you if it would make you try to kill me, perhaps to me to get me killed. But—is everybody here fooled by it? If my presence here's annoying I'll be delighted to leave! I didn't come here on purpose! These creatures aren't my idea of congenial society!"

He glowered at her. Then he turned and snarled at the Pasiki in servant suits and otherwise, who watched hopefully for a killing.

"Get the heck away from here!" he rasped.

* * *

Obsequiously the servants retired. The staring, inhuman faces outside vanished. Stannard tossed the girl's blaster contemptuously on the table.

"Sit down!" he said sourly. "I'll be glad to tell you anything you want to know, especially if you'll tell me a few things!"

The girl panted, staring at him as if she did not believe what she had seen and heard.

"You—let me go!" she said, as if stunned. "You really let me—go!"

Stannard went back to the pink-fleshed fruit.

"Why not? I've been here for—" he counted up. "This is my third day. I was in a space-car headed from Billem to Sooris. I was alone. I'd had some repairs made in Billem and they were badly done.

"Whether on purpose or not some fool soldered the firing control junctions instead of flash-welding them, and the vibration broke them loose. I landed here with four jets firing out of eighteen, all of them on one side. My gyros burned out too, trying to hold me on course. I hit out of control, jumped, and ran away before the fuel blew.

"I came back to find Pasiki dancing joyously about the crater my ship had made and then they fawned on me and said they loved me to death. They've been repeating that song ever since but I doubt their sincerity. I would like to get away from this planet. It isn't my idea of a sane or a wholesome atmosphere. Now, what else do you want to know?"

Her face worked suddenly.

"If—if that's true," she said unsteadily, "that's enough! If you were really shipwrecked and didn't come here like the others—"

He raised his eyebrows but his unreasonable hunch grew stronger. She was trembling. There was enormous relief in her voice.

"Sit down and have breakfast," he suggested. "By the way. I wasn't told you were coming. I guess that that was to give you an extra chance to kill me. I have been told that I'm to have a man visitor. Is he likely to have—ah—murderous intentions too?"

She looked scared.

"That would be Mr. Brent. He's the nearest. Y-yes. He'll probably kill you." And then she said desperately, "May I have my blaster back, please? Please! If he's coming I'll need it! But together we should be able to kill him instead."


4: The Pasik Story

Her name, she said, was Jan Casin, and she had been on Pasik for ten years—since she was a small child. The Hill Foundation had sent her father to the planet as a one-man scientific expedition. The Space Directory said that the local intelligent race was friendly to humans and there seemed to be no danger. But the Space Directory did not know of the later history of Pasik.

In the first century after its discovery it had been visited only twice, once by a survey ship which noted the essentials still printed in the Directory and once by one of the pioneer Bible reading merchant spacemen. He found no heavy metals or radioactives, reported the natives as friendly benighted and passed on to other scenes.

But a long while later—and this was not reported to the Space Patrol and hence never got into the Directory—the situation of the aborigines changed. A trader of a new sort landed. He was a typical trader of the later time, half merchant and two-thirds pirate when he dared.

The Pasiki, he discovered, had gemstones highly valued for technical uses. The trader bargained for them. But he and his crew were contemptuous of the sticklike, insectiform natives. The men were overbearing and rapacious. When the Pasiki grew resentful the traders seized a number of them and threatened to kill them unless they were ransomed for a full cargo of gemstones.

The Pasiki, in turn, managed to seize some members of the trader's crew for hostages. The trader's crew, enraged, blasted a Pasiki town. The Pasiki promptly killed the hostages. The trader departed, swearing vengeance.

Later the trader returned with five other trading ships. The Pasiki were furiously warned of wrath to come unless they made complete submission: They defied the six ships. And the ships set about a methodical, murderous slaughter.

Every town and every village was blasted. Pasiki by millions must have been killed. The gemstones wanted by the traders could be recovered from the ashes of blasted towns, and doubtless were.

And then the six ships set up fan beams—already illegal for any but Space Patrol ships to possess—and made gigantic round-ups of the survivors, driving them ahead of the curtains of agony until more thousands died of exhaustion and until the sobbing beaten remnant had lost all spirit and all hope.

When the six ships left the few survivors of the last enormity had been subdued as no race was ever subdued before. They had sworn terrible oaths for themselves and their descendants until the end of time.

They were the slaves of men. They were vermin under the feet of men. They would dig up the gemstones men craved and give them as tribute forever and ever and ever. And they were passionately resigned to it.

For thirty full years mine-slavery was their function. Then the gemstones lost their value because it became possible to crystallize carbon in any size and quantity wanted anywhere. There had never been many humans on Pasiki at any time and the Space Patrol had carefully been kept in ignorance of events there.

But when the gemstones lost value most humans left. Those who left, however, kept the secret of a planet to which any man could retire when troubles were close upon him and those who remained stayed on because they were wanted too badly by the Patrol to find safety anywhere else.

They turned the submissive Pasiki into domestic slaves. They built palaces and lived as kings over the scuttling little people. Before they died off they were joined by others, some their late comrades of the mining days and some badly wanted men who could pay slavishly for sanctuary.

Pasiki became an exclusive haven for the very cream of the aristocracy of crime. There was no law. There was no check upon anything any man chose to do. The Pasiki had lost the spirit to revolt. They abased themselves before any human, obeyed any order in blindly terrified haste.

Sometimes there were as many as forty or fifty retired criminals on the planet, living in infinite self-indulgence. But the death-rate was high. No man who was never crossed by any slave would submit to being crossed by his fellows. And the men were ruthless to begin with.

They killed each other in quarrels. They assassinated each other for fancied slights. They carried on insane, lethal, personal feuds. But none ever left the planet on the one seedy space-vessel which sometimes stopped by either to bring another fugitive or to bring second grade merchandise to exchange for the dhassa nuts and other produce still worth shipping, which the Pasiki gathered for their masters.

* * *

The girl Jan Casin told this to Stannard, keeping her hand close to the blaster he had returned to her after she'd failed to kill him. She listened intently as she talked, but she was not so much afraid of Stannard now. Among the retired criminals on Pasik there was one named Brent. He'd heard of her presence as a child of course.

The Pasiki had an uncanny intelligence system akin to telepathy, and everything that went on anywhere was known everywhere at once. They told Brent of Jan, then merely a child. He went to see her, playing with dolls, and told her father amusedly that he would claim her when she grew old enough.

"And he had Pasiki watching," said Jan, uneasily. "When the Foundation ship came with supplies for us he knew it first. He lured us away from home with a message and he met the ship and told them that he was a planter and that I'd died six months after landing and Father a little later. So the ship went away and never came back again."

She stopped and listened.

"I think someone's coming, judging by the way the Pasiki sound talking to each other. Mr. Brent killed my father when I was sixteen. He meant to take me but I managed to get away. I made the Pasiki help me, of course, but they wouldn't keep a secret from any human who ordered them to talk."

"That made things difficult," commented Stannard. He listened too.

"It did," said Jan briefly. She looked at Stannard with level eyes. "But I managed! Pasiki are the slaves of any human being who gives them commands. So I used them. I had bearers. I had food. I even had watchmen to warn me. And they'll never harm a human, so I was safe from them.

"They wouldn't try to catch me for their masters, because I could always order them to let me go. I could only be caught by a human being in person and they—well, they get soft with slaves to wait on them all the time."

"I see," said Stannard.

"But I got tired of running away!" said the girl fiercely. "And I had no more books to read. I came back to my father's house to get books. Then my Pasiki warned me that you had come. They said a man master was coming after me. I decided to come to you first. I rather expected to kill you. I was tired of running away!"

"Natural enough," said Stannard. He cocked his ear, and thoughtfully drew one of two blasters. He made a fine adjustment at its muzzle. He put it on the table before him. The girl watched, and he went on in a natural voice, "I think I know something about a criminal named Brent. Quite a spectacular case, nine or ten years ago. Piracy."

They were quite alone in the dining hall. It was a huge space, thirty feet by sixty or more, with huge windows and decorative molded pilasters and an ornate ceiling. It would have made a good setting for a visiphone record production.

Outside there was the murmuring of Pasiki voices. They had an extraordinary range, as was to be expected from the fact that they were produced by vibrating diaphragms instead of vocal chords.

Jan said in a low tone, "He's here. I can tell by the Pasiki."

Stannard nodded. Without lowering his voice he said, "It seems to me that I remember the affair. He'd a trading ship and somehow he got arms for it. A tramp ship carried a colony to Verus and he laid aboard an hour after the landing. He beamed the men, carried off the women and, as I recall it, sold the tramp ship to a missionary society in the next star cluster. His picture's on the refresher reel every spaceport guard has to watch all over again every month."

Under his breath he said, "Talk naturally. If he hears conversation—"

But that was unnecessary. A bulky swaggering figure stepped inside the far door. Behind it came a smaller shape carrying a cloak. The manner of the smaller form was abject, like that of all Pasiki servants in foam suits.

* * *

Stannard nodded detachedly:

"Brent, eh? How do you do? You know Miss Casin?"

The bulky figure deliberately drew a blaster.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," said Stannard. "I've something I'd like to say before the shooting starts. After all, Miss Casin—"

The bulky figure raised the blaster. There was a sudden spouting of steam from the heaped-up piles of fruit on the table before Stannard. But there was no corresponding purplish flare from the blaster the bloated figure held. Instead, flame and smoke billowed out from the cloak on the arm of the smaller figure. There was a crackling explosion and the smaller figure cast down a smoking blaster and cursed horribly.

"You," said Stannard coldly to the bulky form, "drop that blaster and get out of that servant-suit."

The huge form said obsequiously, "Much gladness, master."

The larger figure split improbably down the back and a skinny shining black shape came out of the limpness which collapsed to the floor.

"Get out!" snapped Stannard. The insect-like stickman fled. Stannard turned cold eyes upon the rows of unhuman heads that again peered eagerly in the window. They vanished a second time. He turned back to the cursing man who was nursing a scorched hand and arm.

"Amusing, eh?" said Stannard coldly. "You send a Pasiki on before you in a foam suit. He makes a threatening gesture. The man you intend to kill watches him and goes for his gun. And you blast him! Highly diverting! The trouble here was that I knew your name and something of what you looked like. Elementary, eh? Would you mind telling me why you intended to kill me?"

The swearing figure watched him with eyes that rage and pain made beastly.

"Her!" he snarled.

Stannard considered a moment. Small tendrils of steam still rose from the mound of fruit before him on the table. He'd adjusted his blaster to a pencil-beam for accuracy and fired through the fruit which had hidden his hand as he aimed the blaster and fired. Now he thoughtfully readjusted the muzzle to utility-size blast. It would lessen the range a little but fine shooting is not usually called for when a blaster comes into play.

"Hmmmm," said Stannard detachedly. "You've had her in your mind a long time. She's the only woman on the planet. But why the haste to murder me?" Then he nodded. "I see! Pasiki telepathy. Everybody else knows she came back to her father's house too. Are they making plans?"

"Blast 'em!" snarled the wizened figure of Brent. "They're all on the way here!"

"So you thought you'd get rid of me as a possible rival first," agreed Stannard. "Hm . . . There should be some interesting fighting if we stayed here. Rather messy though. I think I'll urge Miss Casin to return to a wandering life. But you—"

He turned his eyes to Jan.

"He murdered your father," he commented dryly, "and you more or less intended to kill me just because I was a man. Now's your chance. Why don't you blow his head off?"


5: The Long Flight

The picture of their progress was quite incredible. All about was darkness, the darkness of pure jungle. On either side were the slender tree-trunks, which were typical of the taller growths on Pasik. From time to time a thread of sky was visible overhead, thickly thronged with stars. Ahead there were torches.

Little glistening-bodied Pasiki ran on ahead, creating a shrill uproar to warn the carnivores of the jungle to draw aside. Behind them ran spear-bearing Pasiki, hating humans with all the passion a living creature can feel, yet prepared to battle to the death against—beasts only—in their defense.

Then came the litter. Pairs of thirty-foot, limber poles reached out before and behind, and fifty of the unhuman creatures trotted swiftly with their burden. Among so many the weight was not great and a minor horde of yet other Pasiki followed with various objects carried for the service of the humans. There were extra bearers to relieve the litter carriers from time to time.

The litter itself was like a rather wide easy chair in which two people—Stannard and Jan—fitted not uncomfortably, though a definite physical contact could not be avoided. Because of the springiness of the carrying poles the feeling of motion was rather soothing than otherwise. Stannard smoked reflectively.

"Somehow," he said, "I feel rather silly being carried like this. I don't like the idea of slaves or servants anyhow. And intelligent creatures shouldn't be beasts of burden!"

The girl, Jan, said restlessly, "I'm used to it. I certainly couldn't have kept away from Mr. Brent and the others on my own feet!"

The litter went on and on. Presently Jan spoke again, again restlessly. "I don't understand why I didn't kill Mr. Brent. Or why you didn't. My father, of course, wouldn't have killed anybody unless—Of course he'd have fought for me! But he didn't get a chance. Mr. Brent murdered him."

Stannard grinned in the darkness. "I wouldn't have let you actually kill Brent. But I wasn't sure you'd told me the truth about yourself. I thought you had, but I wasn't sure. Now I am."

She seemed to puzzle over it without result. Then she said, "What are you planning?"

"First, to get away from more fighting," said Stannard. "I've a rather good reason for wanting not to kill off all the other men on Pasik. It wouldn't make a tidy job."

He felt her turning in the seat beside him as if to try to see his face in the darkness.

"We'll get away," she assured him. "With the two of us to give orders and fresh Pasiki for bearers as often as we need them we can travel night and day."

"And," he agreed, "not trusting each other, the other men can't work together. I'd guess we're making ten miles an hour. That's two-forty—no, two hundred and twenty miles a Pasik day. I've a notion most of the others don't travel much. Right?"

"They've nothing to gain," said Jan. By her tone he knew she was frowning. "The Pasiki bring them everything they want. Of course if they knew I'd settled down somewhere and they thought I'd gotten careless—" He felt her stir uneasily.

"But I mean—you must have some idea of what you intend to do. I think that between us we could make—we could make ourselves safe. But of course, sooner or later the ship will come with other men or maybe just supplies the Pasiki can't make. If—other men come, m-maybe we could kill them too."

Stannard was silent.

"Not that I'd want to!" she added hastily. "I didn't even try to kill Mr. Brent. But they'd try to kill you because I'm with you!"

Stannard chuckled.

"I'm not bloodthirsty!" she insisted. "It's just that I—I want to be safe. I want—" she said desperately "—I want to know what you plan for always!"

He did not answer for a moment and suddenly she put her hands before her face in the darkness.

Then Stannard said gently, "You've been here ten years, since you were a child. You've never really talked to another woman. You've never seen a man you weren't afraid of—and with reason. Now you aren't afraid of me. So naturally you want to be sure you won't be left alone to be afraid again. That's it, isn't it?"

There was a long pause while the insect-like runners trotted swiftly through the darkness with a shrill and torchlit clamor going on before. The flamelight glittered on the chitinous forms of the Pasiki.

Jan gulped and said in a muffled, unsteady steady voice, "P-partly, that's it. But I—guess I don't know how to act like a girl." She sobbed suddenly. "I just don't know how! I've read books about men and girls and they were so different from here—I never could imagine myself acting that way."

"I assure you," said Stannard, amusedly, "you're acting as femininely as any woman in the Galaxy could act. Anyhow, here's part of what you want to know. First, I'm going to stay right with you. Yes. Second, I'm going to contrive a way for us to be reasonably safe without having to kill off all the other men on Pasik. I've a reason for that. And third, I'm going to try to get the two of us away from Pasik."

"Leave Pasik?" she asked unbelievingly. "How could we? Only one ship ever comes here and it certainly wouldn't take us away. Why, if we got away and told about the men who hide here from the Space Patrol—"

"Maybe," said Stannard, "instead of having the ship take us, we'll take the ship. If—hm—if you can draw a map for me of a few hundred miles round about—the sea-coast especially—and if it looks all right and the Pasiki don't know much about boats and we have a little luck, I think we can get away."

"I've traveled more than anybody," said Jan quickly. "I can draw you a map. Surely! And the Pasiki don't make anything but rafts. They used to, but since they've been slaves they don't bother. I doubt if they remember how."

"Then I can almost promise you to get you away from Pasik," he told her. "I'd be pretty inefficient, with the training I've had, if I couldn't! And meanwhile, don't worry. I'll be right with you for just as long as you want me to be."

"That's—that will be for always," she said with a little, quick in-drawing of breath. "For always! You promise?"

He nodded but his thoughts were sardonic. He was the first man since her father had been murdered whom she hadn't feared. She had never talked to another woman. In the book sense she was educated but by ordinary standards she was utterly unsophisticated. She had full awareness of the bestiality of which men are capable. But her feeling of security was so new and so overwhelming that there could be no limit to her confidence in him.

It wouldn't be easy to justify that confidence. For a beginning he'd have to rouse the men to whom Pasik was paradise and make them desperate to destroy him. For another he'd have to take action the Pasiki could not know about nor understand.

He would need to create a complete surprise despite the Pasiki telepathy which spread news incredible distances in no time at all and at the end he'd have to risk his life and Jan's on a throw of pitch and toss.

It would be much easier to compromise and make a secure haven for Jan and himself and live out the rest of his life with multitudes of abject slaves to serve them. Jan would think that only natural.

But there was the job he had to do, the job which the wrecking of the Snark had interrupted.

The litter went swiftly along the trail. Something roared in the jungle to the right. Stannard had no faintest idea what it could be but the Pasiki trotted on. Then Jan stirred beside him.

"In—in books," she said rather breathlessly, "I've read about people who were going to—be with each other always and were very glad. M-may I ask you something?"

"Why not?" asked Stannard.

"W-would you say that we are—engaged?" asked Jan shakily.

He marveled at the ways of woman but he said gravely, "Why—we seem to be. If you wish. Yes."

"And it's for always?"

"Unless you want to break the engagement," he said, amused.

"I wouldn't do that!" she said quickly. "Oh, I wouldn't do that! But in the b-books I've read—" She stammered a little. "S-sometimes they called each other—each other darling and they kissed each other. I wondered—"

He felt a little wrench at his heart. But he put his arm about her shoulders and bent over her upturned face. A moment later he said rather huskily, "Darling!"

The odd thing was that he meant it.

The litter raced on through the jungle. Insect-shaped Pasiki trotted swiftly. Torches raced ahead along with a high-pitched tumult which warned all the creatures of the wilderness to clear the way. A wavering thread of star-speckled sky wound overhead. Small articulated figures with shell-skins on which the starlight glittered ran up and relieved the bearers of the litter and it went on without a pause. A roaring in the dense forest fell behind. The two in the litter rode quietly, side by side.

A long time later Jan sighed a little, looking wide-eyed at the stars. "I like being engaged. It's nice!"

"And how many hours ago was it that you had a blaster at the back of my neck?" asked Stannard drily. "In fact, if you remember, you pulled the trigger."

Jan said ruefully, "Wasn't I silly, darling? I was too stupid for words!"

But Stannard reflected that he wasn't at all sure.


6: Counter Attack

They followed almost a ritual in their flight. The trails of the Pasiki were numerous and well traveled, with many branchings. But in three days and nights of journeying not one dwelling and certainly no village or city of the stickmen became visible. Before nightfall, each night, Stannard summoned the special Pasiki who invariably trotted beside the litter and as invariably was capable of human speech.

"We will want bearers to carry us through the night," he commanded. "Send messengers that they meet us."

"Yes, master!" chirruped the stickman as if in ecstasy. "Much gladness for Pasiki to serve man master!"

Then glistening-skinned figures darted on ahead and were lost to sight in the winding jungle trail. And presently there was a restless, glittering small horde of Pasiki waiting and the bearers who had brought the litter so far surrendered it and the new bearers went on.

When night fell there were torches flaring before, and the shrill clamor to drive away beasts. Stannard and Jan continued to move away from the neighborhood of the other humans present on the planet.

Then, when dawn showed greenish in the east, Stannard or Jan called again to the new runner beside the litter and commanded a message to be sent ahead to command yet other, fresher bearers for the litter. And presently there was another shifting mass of shiny insect-like creatures waiting to relieve this group.

Jan pointed out sagely that it was not only merciful but wise, because no bearers grew exhausted, and greater speed was possible. Three times already close pursuit by Brent or his fellows had failed because she commanded fresh bearers to carry her on while the men ceased to think of their slaves as requiring even the consideration of lower animals. Brent once had driven a party of worn-out Pasiki until half of them died of exhaustion. But they did not revolt.

"On the other hand," said Stannard grimly, "I doubt that they feel grateful to us for acting differently."

He did not like the Pasiki. Their abasement, their servility, their shrill cries of adulation—when he knew that they hated him and all his kind—alone would have made him dislike them. But he could not help despising them for the fact that they had kept their race alive, as slaves, rather than die as free creatures. It was that personal dislike which made him able to make use of them as he needed.

Riding in the litter was wearing. For the first twenty-four hours they went on without a pause. Their route was roughly due north. The second twenty-four they alighted from time to time to stretch their legs and to eat. They began to veer eastward.

In between they talked, and Stannard absorbed from Jan every item of information she possessed about the planet and its products and its people and its geography. At night, Jan dozed in the half-reclining seat with her head on Stannard's shoulder, while he watched.

And then he dozed as well as he could while she stayed awake. He made sure that they traveled close to the shore of a great bay she had sketched on a map she drew for him. Once he waked to find her holding his head tenderly in her arms while she smiled down at him.

He flushed and she said defensively, "We're engaged, aren't we?"

She had acquired an absolute unquestioning confidence in him. When his plans matured and he began to demand metal objects from the Pasiki, she phrased the commands for him so they would be best understood.

Once he took a copper pan and cut an elaborate form from it with the heat unit in his belt. He commanded that fifty duplicates of the arbitrary form be made and sent after them. Then he made other and smaller items—bits of some cryptic device that no Pasiki could understand but which they could make the separate parts for.

He demanded samples of Pasiki iron pots and chose a special shape and size and commanded fifty specimens to be sent after him. And Pasiki, in the hidden cities and workshops which they prayed no human would ever enter, labored to produce the parts required.

On the fourth day—they had passed around the inland end of the bay they guided themselves by—he demanded specific news of those who might have pursued. The running leader beside the litter told him, skipping as if with joy at the telling, that Brent had returned to his own palace in great rage and that two other men had essayed pursuit—not for revenge upon Stannard but for possession of Jan—but had given up the effort after one day's journey on learning that the two fugitives traveled day and night.

* * *

On the fifth day Stannard called a halt to journeying. Their flight had been around the head of the great bay and down its eastern shore until they were almost opposite their starting point. But they were nearly a thousand miles by land travel from anyone who could wish to injure them, and the Pasiki would warn them of any planned expedition against them.

Stannard chose a home site overlooking the waters of the bay whose farther shore was below the horizon. He commanded a cottage to be built. No palace but a tiny place of two rooms, barely thirty feet from end to end.

All this, he knew, the Pasiki would duly tell to the other men a thousand miles away by land. But Stannard was very particular about the roof of his house. It was round and flat and pointed at both ends, and very strongly built. The house had an awning before it, under which he and Jan dined in state, and there was a flagstaff on which a flag would doubtless be flown at some future date.

When the house was finished—and he had had the roof made completely strong and water-tight—he began the assembling of the devices whose component parts he had commanded to be made. He assembled them in secret with none of the Pasiki able to examine any one.

As he finished them, he welded their covers tight with the heat-unit from his belt. Jan gravely kept herself informed of all the telepathic information their Pasiki could give them of the doings of the men they had left behind.

Stannard had not expected action so soon but it was only twelve days after Jan's first encounter with Stannard, only fifteen after his arrival on Pasik, that important information arrived. Jan went wide-eyed to Stannard. A spaceship was expected.

The sheds in which dhassa nuts—a source of organic oils used in perfume synthesis—were stored against the coming of the trading ship were nearly full. The landing field which served as a spaceport had been ordered cleared of new growth. The one ship trading to Pasik was expected to land within days.

Ten men against Stannard—all warned and eager to burn him down for the seizure of Jan—would be only part of the odds. There would also be the crew of the trader, as definitely Stannard's enemies and Jan's pursuers as anybody else.

There was absolutely nothing that they could do without the Pasiki knowing about it and everything the Pasiki knew their enemies knew. They were plainly helpless.

But on the very day that—as it turned out—the trading ship landed, Stannard lined up fifty of the Pasiki in a row. He had them come one by one to the house with the curiously-shaped roof. He gave each one a single metal pot and specific instructions.

Each was to take the pot to a certain special place, dig a hole and bury it, leaving an attached cord out. When he had concealed the burial place, so that even he would have trouble finding it again, he was to pull out the cord and bring it piously back to Stannard.

Each of the Pasiki had the same orders but each had a separate place to go to. They departed, running. They might hate Stannard utterly, and surely their tasks were meaningless, but they would obey.

Stannard waited. One day. Two days. Three and four and five. The trading-ship should be grounded for not less than ten days. Stannard waited out five of them. Then he smiled grimly at Jan. His task from before his shipwreck fitted in nicely with his immediate plans.

He summoned all the Pasiki within miles. He had them remove the roof inside and out in one piece—it was coated inside and out with foamflex—and turn it upside down. Jan, like the Pasiki, did not understand at all. They obeyed because Stannard commanded it. Jan watched absorbedly, blindly confident in Stannard's wisdom.

Hundreds of the black shiny articulated creatures struggled to carry the upturned roof down to the water. At Stannard's further command they brought the flagstaff and fitted it upright in holes which surprisingly seemed to have been made for it.

They brought the awning, and ropes which Stannard had ordered them to make and provisions and water. He shipped a rudder and they gazed in absolute incomprehension at a moderately seaworthy sailboat which was an artifact lost from their traditions. They did not even begin to grasp the idea until the boat was launched and Jan and Stannard were in it. Then they stared by the hundreds.

"I give commands," said Stannard sternly, regarding the horde of glistening black creatures on the shore. "We go to meet other man masters we shall summon from the sky.

"I have made machines, fifty of them, which send messages to other worlds.

"I made so many lest any one of them fail to reach its destined world with its message. I sent them away to be buried and to begin their message-sending. Even now the fifty machines send word through the skies to tell other man masters, to come and be served by the Pasiki, who wish no greater gladness than to serve man masters.

"I command that the machines be left untouched by all the Pasiki until the other man masters come. And now this woman master and myself go to meet the other man masters when they come down from the sky!"

* * *

He hoisted the sail. It had been an awning, but it filled. The boat pulled out from the shore. It heeled a little in the breeze but it made surprisingly little leeway. It was, in fact, a reasonably able small boat. The land fell rapidly behind. Jan looked at Stannard in marveling admiration.

"The Pasiki have telepathy," he told her drily, "but can they tell where we are when they do not know themselves? Or what we do?"

"N-no," said Jan. "But did you really send messages for other spaceships to come to Pasik? That is wonderful!"

"It's a lie," Stannard told her. "A space radio is a pretty delicate and complicated device. I couldn't make them out of stray parts manufactured by the Pasiki! But the Pasiki think I did. And how long before they send word by telepathy and our friends back there think all space is filling up with a howl for the cops?"

"Not long," said Jan. "It will be very quick! But why—"

"How will they take that?" asked Stannard dryly. "Brent, for one, is wanted for piracy, murder, and other assorted crimes. The others who came to Pasik by choice did it for similar reasons. They do not want the Space Patrol here. And there's nowhere else where they can be safe.

"The Pasiki don't want other men here either but they daren't touch those buried pots. How long before the men get busy finding those pots and digging them up to blast them before a message can be picked up from them? If they open one and find it a hoax that won't prove the others are! They have to find every one and smash it for safety's sake!"

Jan. blinked at him. "But still," she said plaintively, "I don't see why—"

He told her and she gasped in amazement. Then, with a curious grimness all her own, she checked over the blasters at her waist. Stannard grinned at her. She flushed.

"You can't tell," she said firmly. "Just because I didn't kill Mr. Brent when I had the chance doesn't mean I won't kill anybody who tries to kill you!"

"I was grinning," said Stannard, "because you once said you didn't know how to act like a woman."

But she did. She sat close beside him and shivered as the boat sailed toward the sunset.

* * *

The sky was barely paling to the east when the boat ran full-tilt aground. It had crossed the bay during the dark hours, and now Stannard was a little worried because he might be many miles out in his calculations. The map Jan had drawn him couldn't be expected to be too accurate.

But they forced their way through jungle and found a Pasiki trail and, within a mile, they came upon a little knot of three stickmen trotting along the path on their own private business. Stannard hailed them savagely and they knelt to him. Their regular master demanded extreme respect.

They led the way to the spaceport. Stannard walked boldly across the freshly jet-seared open space. The airlock door of the trader was open. He walked in with Jan crowding closely behind him. He closed the lock by manual control for silence.

"They've no discipline," he whispered in Jan's ear. "Trader!" There was scorn in the word. "Stay here. Blast anybody you see who isn't me. I'm going to see how many of the crew are on board."

But it was an anticlimax. Jan stood fiercely on guard until she heard his voice, very stern and very savage. Then there were scuffling footsteps and scared protestations. Two men only appeared, clad in the shapeless underwear of a space trader's forecastle.

"Sh-shall I shoot?" quavered Jan in a weak voice.

"No," said Stannard, behind them. "Only two men on board and they were fast asleep. All the others are out with parties of Pasiki, digging up the iron pots by telepathic instructions—which takes time—and blasting 'em to get them all destroyed as soon as possible. Stand aside, Jan."

He opened the airlock and drove the pair out.

He saw them running frantically for the edge of the field as the airlock closed again. He took Jan to the engine room and set the drive for control room handling. Gazing intently—she barely remembered the spaceship which had brought her to Pasik—she followed him to the pilot's cabin.

He strapped her in the co-pilot's seat and started the gyros, flashed the jets all around, then slowly and gently lifted the ancient trading ship off the ground. In fifteen minutes it was beyond atmosphere. In half an hour it was straightened out on a course for Sooris, which had been Stannard's destination in the Snark. In an hour he locked the automatic controls and turned to Jan.

She looked queer. Somehow upset and disappointed.

"What's the matter? Hate to leave Pasik?"

"Oh, no," she said uncomfortably. "Only—it seems as if something's missing. We got all ready for a fight. I thought you'd have to kill people and I was ready to kill anybody who tried to harm you and—and nothing happened."

"Except that we got away," said Stannard.

He watched her for a moment. Then he said amusedly, "Anticlimax, eh? But I'd have done a rather poor job of it if I'd let it end in smoking blasters and corpses all over the place. The Space Patrol doesn't work that way when it can be helped."

"Space Patrol?" said Jan, blankly.

"Me," said Stannard. "I'd been given an assignment that had me licked. There were rumors of a perfect asylum for criminals who could pay enough. I was set on the trail of it. I knew it was past Billem, and I thought it might be near Sooris. And I landed on Pasik by pure sabotage.

"But if I'd killed all the criminals who were supposed to be there and if I'd let the crew of this trader get away, why—I'd have fallen down on my job! And the Space Patrol doesn't like a man to try to guard too many prisoners. It's risky. So I—well—I locked them up on Pasik. Good rations and good care until a Patrol prison ship can come for them."

Jan's face cleared.

"Then—that's all right," she said relievedly. "You did exactly what you were supposed to do! I wanted to be able to boast, you know. Now I can!"

"Mmmmm," said Stannard, reflectively. "We've got to do something about the Pasiki. They're all messed up for progress. Can't leave them to stew in their own fears and humans will have to keep off for a century or so.

"Maybe we can get some of those Miranians to take over and try to straighten them out. They aren't human but they're smart as whips. The Pasiki had a rotten deal."

He thought absorbedly. Jan stared at him. Presently she said diffidently, "Isn't the ship on automatic control now?"

"Eh? Surely!" said Stannard. "Why?"

"Darling," said Jan exasperatedly, "we're engaged!"

They were.


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