West of the Sun
Abara trotted between Sears and Paul in the forest aisle, a silent ugly man with popeyes, bulging underlip, jutting ears; thirty inches tall. He was twenty-six. His potbellied softness had the beginning sag of middle age. There was politics, Paul guessed, in his presence at the camp--it was not because the queen had tired of him that he was temporarily detached from the harem. His body was agile for all its pokiness, his mind even more nimble; his English, when he stooped to use it, was good. After the noon meal Abara had appeared, crossing the drawbridge like a wisp of red smoke, ignoring the giants, reminding Sears obliquely that it was three days since he had visited the clearing near the camp, where the white olifants had learned to come.
Sears’ love for the great leaf eaters had deepened with familiarity. He had easily persuaded the others to guarantee their permanent protection in the laws. He had taught the pygmies to call them olifants, a shrewd stroke, conveying to the Neolithic mind that the animals were of Sears’ totem. Even during the long ordeal of the rains he had gone alone for whole days and nights, following olifant trails, sitting in patience where a broad-leaf tree they enjoyed was abundant. Deep forest was no place for a man who moved slowly and shrank from discomfort and danger, yet Sears held to this undertaking as stubbornly as Wright to his dreams of a community of good will under a government of laws. And before all except Paul and Wright, Sears was able to preserve a manner like the face of Lake Argo on a still morning. That calm gave him, in the eyes of the pygmies, more puzzling divinity than they found in the others. Abara worshiped from behind a mask of cynical blankness. Pakriaa seemed almost to love him openly. She was not arrogant with him; when he spoke she listened. She assigned soldiers to collect the insects, fish, small animals he wanted for study; she brought him gifts--an earthenware vessel with ritual painting, odd flowers, ornaments of wood and bone and clay. She liked to sit by him when he was at the microscope and peek, mystified, into the country of the lens.
Sears had let the olifants grow used to him. He talked to them. He learned they like to be rubbed above the tip of the trunk and on the vast flat tops of their heads--for this luxury they would kneel, rumbling and sighing. Eventually he dared climb into the natural saddle between hump and skull: they allowed it. They were never excited nor in a hurry. The kaksmas they probably avoided by keen scent and flight in times of danger; they kept clear of the omasha by going into open ground only at night.
The clearing was silent except for muted trilling of illuama. The ground was trodden; purple-leaf vines hung dead and brown, ripped out by trunks and tusks. Sears said that once, with no notion of conveying the idea, he had tugged peevishly at a vine under the nose of his favorite cow. “So, she came and fetched it loose--tired of watching me act like a damn fool.”
Abara said, “I will whistle, me...” Two came, spectrally calm. “Susie!” Sears called. “Been a good girl, hey?” The old cow let down her many tons to have her head scratched. Another arrived on fog-silent feet; then two bulls together, munching leaves. The five were placid, enjoying the hot stillness and Sears’ purring talk. The largest bull stood ten feet at the shoulder, Paul estimated, as Abara’s two-feet-six approached him, seized a lowered ear, and climbed up. Abara piped: “We walk now, Mister Johnson.”
Mister Johnson’s pale eyes noted Paul’s bulging jacket; the boneless finger of his trunk groped suggestively till Paul produced a melon-like fruit. “Hoo-hee!” Abara crowed. “We thank you.” They vanished in the shadows.
“Susie, want to dig some vines?” But Sears halted in the act of climbing her neck. Spearman had joined them, with a good hunter’s quiet.
“You really have something there.” Spearman was cordial and flushed. “Pygmies still make the best wine. Ours is no damn good, yet.”
“Meant to ask how the last turned out.”
“Needs ripening, like everything else.”
“In fact,” said Paul, “you’re slightly plastered.”
“But slightly.” Ed grinned. “How if I climb on one of those?”
Sears was doubtful. “Have to get acquainted first. Mister Smith over there--he shook me off the first time. Not rough--just wasn’t ready.”
“They pull vines at command? You can steer ‘em?”
“Sure. If they like you. Knee pressure.”
“They prefer him to me. Arek is better still. I miss her.”
“Mijok rides, doesn’t he?”
“Mijok and Elis. Surok’s a bit skittish. I guess Pak thinks it’s undignified--or else the damned witches disapprove.”
“Hm ... We have, maybe, three days before Lantis hits us--”
“Lantis--I’d succeeded in forgetting her for three minutes.” Sears drooped his head against the column of Mister Smith’s foreleg; eyes closed, he cursed without humor. He dredged up almost forgotten words from the old years of Earth, from bars, docks, dissecting rooms, at least four major religions. He cursed Lantis root and branch, ancestry and posterity, heart, body, and brain. Regaining a trace of mirth, he outlined a program of correction that would have kept hell under forced draft for a thousand years. Still with closed eyes, he asked, “What’s the point, Ed? What’s the damned point?”
“How many of these critters have you tamed?”
“Five. There’s another smelling around, not ready yet.”
“And five riders--you ride ‘em, don’t you, Paul?” Paul nodded.
Abara and Mister Johnson returned in silence, under the trees behind Spearman, who was unaware of them. Sears said, “Paul’s good. Good balance.”
“So you have a rider for each mount ... Well, I talked it over with Doc--he says it’s your department. What if a bunch of those animals, with armed riders--”
“No,” said Sears. “Quite impractical.”
“Well ... They won’t go in the open--omasha.”
“They will at night, you told me.”
“They are not fighters.”
“If they go where you order ‘em--”
Sears said, “No. If Paul and I and the two strongest giants were trying that, what’s left? You, Doc, Surok, and the giant women.”
Spearman snapped: “Then use only three--Abara, Mijok, Elis.”
“Mijok will fight beside Chris. You know that. So will I.”
Spearman turned away, noticing Abara and Mister Johnson for the first time and ignoring them. Popeyes watched him from a mountain of white flesh. “All right. Oh, I almost forgot: Doc wants you back at the camp for another conference. It has just occurred to him that since we’re about to be wiped off the planet we ought to have a military commander. For the look of the thing, you reckon? You know, I dreamed of space travel from the time I was five. Never imagined I’d do it with a Sunday school. Don’t hurry of course. Just come when it damn well suits you.”
Paul caught up with him on the trail. “Look, Ed--”
“I’ll recite it for you: mustn’t lose my temper. We mustn’t divide; mustn’t quarrel; Doc’s word is holy at all times--”
“No one says that.”
Spearman wasn’t listening. “Goddamn it, why do you think I’ve gone away alone so often? To explore, sure, to find things we need. By God I’ve found ‘em too, haven’t I? Also to get away from the Sunday school. Beating my brains out to win a little advance--you people can’t see--”
“What do you think we should do? I mean right now--Lantis.”
Spearman fretted in silence, striding as if speed and heavy steps could ease his distress. “Why, we ought to have gone to live at Pakriaa’s village a year ago, after the reconciliation, while they were still dizzy from the fall of the idol. You remember--Pak was almost humble. Ready for big changes. We could have done anything with her--then. Eliminated the witches. Taught and trained the best of her followers. We’d have ironworking now. We’d have a competent army. Why, we could take the initiative, drive south, break up anything Lantis may have while she’s on the march. Yeah--a year ago. Sure--Mijok wouldn’t approach the village, so we mustn’t move there. Every day is an opportunity thrown away, wasted.”
“You think we should have abandoned the giants?”
“What’ve they got?” Spearman cried. “Don’t even understand work--throw things around at a great rate, and then somebody sees a new bug or has a funny idea or starts singing. Or asks Doc to explain a point in philosophy. Or they decide to just sit and look at nothing for two hours. Fight? Mijok talks a good fight. You couldn’t make ‘em fight with a kick in the rear.”
“Never tried it.”
Spearman smiled miserably. “One doesn’t, with a critter eight feet tall ... All right, they’re people. They’re intelligent. If we had all the time in the world and nothing threatening I’d like to study ‘em myself. But look at the numbers. Three on the island. Six grown women here. Twelve flutterbrained children. Elis, Surok, Mijok, and the two tenderfeet they brought in today. Is that an army? As for right now--Hell, I’ve given up making suggestions.” He tensed and stopped short. Paul glanced behind; Sears and Abara were catching up. “Thought I heard something.”
“Drums ... Guess I imagined it ... Lantis must have a terrific organization. Bound to, Paul, in a community of sixty thousand. Hadn’t you thought of that at all? Communications, laws, disciplined army, a forest agriculture at least as good as Pakriaa’s. Why, from something Pak said, I think they even have a monetary system--anyway something more elaborate than the barter that’s good enough for Pak’s little cluster of villages. Stone Age--but that’s partly an accident of ecology, isn’t it? I mean, they have to avoid the hills and open ground--wouldn’t be easy to get a start in metalworking when you have to stay in the woods. I believe they’re a people under strong internal pressure toward the next stage of civilization. With labor, organization, a few modern ideas, there would be ways to clean the kaksmas out of the hills. Then metals. We know the omasha breed on rock ledges wherever the kaksmas can’t climb. They could be exterminated too. There’s a whole world for the taking. Doc is right that the new culture has to be a blend of ours and theirs. Oh, the giants too, maybe, sometime. But it won’t be done by piddling around with the kind of pretty idealism that never worked even on Earth.”
Paul groped for the unspoken thing. “You’d have us join forces with Lantis?”
Spearman halted to stare at him. There was a flush of blood around his eyes, the visible pain of frustration that never gave him rest. He waited till Sears and Abara had come up. “I’m a minority. I haven’t suggested a damned thing.” He was silent until they reached the camp.
Abro Pakriaa was there, with seven of her soldiers. All seven wore purple skirts, insignia of leadership--”captains” was the nearest word. With makeshift pigments and brittle whitebark, Paul had recently painted such a group. The effort was for Pakriaa; she had been gravely delighted with it, seeing how prominent in it were her own vivid blue skirt and taller stature. To Paul’s eyes the colors had sworn horribly, and he had been glad when the princess carried the daub away, balanced joyfully on her bald head.