Chapter 1

“We need data,” I said as I manipulated the scanner and surveyed our little domain of rocks and vegetation. “The animate life we have collected so far is of a low order.”

“There is nothing here with intelligence,” Ven agreed, gesturing at the specimens in front of us. “Although they’re obviously related to our race, they’re quite incapable of constructing those artifacts we saw on our way down.”

“Or of building electone communications or even airboats,” I added.

“I expect that there is only one way to get what we want--and that’s to go looking for it,” Ven said as she smoothed her antennae with a primary digit. “I also expect,” she added acidly, “that there might have been other places from which it wouldn’t be so hard to start looking. Or did you have to set us down in this isolated spot?”

I glared at her and she flushed a delicate lavender. “Do you think I landed here because I wanted to?” I asked with some bitterness, inflating my cheek pouches to better express my disgust. “There were less than two vards of useful fuel left on the reels when I cut the drives. There isn’t enough to take us across this valley. We came close to not making planetfall here at all.”

“Oh,” Ven said in a small voice, vocalizing as she always does when she is embarrassed. Like most females, she finds it difficult to project normally when she is under emotional stress. Afraid or angry she can blow a hole in subspace; but embarrassed, her projections are so faint that I have to strain my antennae to receive them.

Her aura turned a shamefaced nacreous lavender. I couldn’t stay angry with her. She was lovely, and I was proud to be her mate. The Eugenics Council had made an unusually good match when they brought us together. The months we had spent aboard ship on our sabbatical had produced no serious personality conflicts. We fitted well, and I was more happy than any Thalassan had a right to be.

“We shall have to try other measures,” I said. “Although there aren’t very many natives hereabouts, we had better start looking for them rather than wait for them to look for us.” I felt disappointed. I was certain that we made enough disturbance coming down for them to be here in droves, which was why I had the robots camouflage the ship to look like the surrounding rocks. There could be such a thing as too much attention.

“They could have mistaken us for a meteor,” Ven said.

“Probably,” I agreed. “But it would have saved a great deal of trouble if one of them had come to us.” I sighed. “Oh well.”

I added, “it was only a hope, at best.”

“I could explore,” Ven offered.

“I was about to suggest that,” I said. “After all, the atmosphere is breathable although somewhat rich in oxygen, and the gravity is not too severe. It would be best to wait until dark before starting out. There may be danger. After all, this is an alien world, and Authority knows what’s out there.”

Her antennae dropped, her aura dimmed to gray and her integument turned a greenish black. “It doesn’t sound pleasant,” she said.


The sun dipped below the horizon with an indecently gaudy display of color. After the last shades of violet had faded, I opened the airlock and watched Ven, a darker blot in the darkness of the night, slip away into the shadows.

She went unarmed. I wanted her to take a blaster, but she refused, saying that she had never fired one, wouldn’t know what to do with one--and that its weight would hold her back. I didn’t like it. But I was unable to go with her, and it was better that she did as she wished at this time.

I sat for a while in the entrance port watching the slow wheel of the stars across the heavens, and for a moment I wished that I were a female with the rugged physique to withstand this gravity. As it was, the beauty of the night was lost on me. I breathed uncomfortably as the pressure crushed my body and made every joint and muscle ache. Males, I reflected gloomily, weren’t what they were in the old days. Too much emphasis on mind, and not enough on body, had made us a sex of physical weaklings.

I wondered bitterly if a brain was as worthwhile as the Council insisted.

The next few hours were miserable. I worried about Ven, imagining a number of unpleasant things which might have happened to her. I dragged myself into the control room and fiddled with the scanners, trying the infra and ultra bands as well as the normal visible spectrum in the hopes of seeing something. And just as I was beginning to feel the twinges of genuine fear, I heard Ven.

Her projection was faint. “Help me, Eu! Help me!”

I stumbled to the entrance port, dragging a blaster with me. “Where are you?” I projected. I couldn’t see her, but I could sense her presence.

“Here, Eu. Just below you. Help me. I can’t make it any farther!”

Somehow I managed it. I don’t know from where the strength came, but I was on the ground lifting her, pushing her onto the flat surface of the airlock--clambering up--dragging her in and closing the lock behind us. I looked down at her with pride. Who would have thought that I, a male, could lift a mature female into a ship’s airlock even against normal gravity? I chuckled shakily. Strange things happen to a body when its owner is stressed and its suprarenals are stimulated.

She looked up at me. “Thank you,” she said simply. But there was more behind the words than the bare bones of customary gratitude.


I helped her into the refresher and as she restored her tired body I pelted her with numerous questions.

“Did you succeed?” I asked.

“Better than I expected.”

“Did you find a native?”

“Two of them.” The cubicle glowed a pale green as her strength came back.

“Where?”

“Two vursts from here--down the hill. They’re camped near a road. They have a big ground car with them.”

“Did you see them?”

“Yes.”

“What did they look like?”

The radiance in the cubicle flicked out. “They’re horrible!” Ven said. “Monstrous! Four or five times our size! I never saw anything so hideous!”

“Did they see you?”

“No, I don’t think so. They weren’t looking in my direction at first. And I don’t think they can sense, because I was frightened and they didn’t respond to my projection.” She was beginning to recover.

“You couldn’t have been too frightened,” I said. “I didn’t hear you--and you can reach farther than two vursts.”

“Mostly I was repelled,” Ven admitted.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. They smelled bad, but it was more than that. There was something about them that made my antennae lie flat against my ears. Anyway--I did a foolish thing.” The cubicle turned a pale embarrassed lavender.

“What did you do?” I demanded.

“I ran away,” Ven said. “And I made a lot of noise.”

“All right--all right,” I said impatiently. “Go ahead and tell the rest of it.”

“By the time I stopped running I was down at the bottom of the hill,” Ven said. “I was dead tired--and with all that rock to climb to get back to the ship. I didn’t really think I’d make it.”

“But you did,” I said proudly. “You’re a real Thalassan--pure green.”

The cubicle slowly brightened again.

“Can you find them again?” I asked.

“Of course. I wasn’t lost at any time. If I hadn’t panicked, I’d have been back a whole lot sooner.”

“Can you go now?”


She shivered with distaste. “I can,” she said, “but I don’t want to.”

“That’s nonsense. We can’t let a little physical revulsion stop us. After all, there are some pretty grim things to be seen in this universe.”

“But nothing like this! I tell you, Eu, they’re horrible! That’s the only word that can describe them.”

“Take a stat projector--” I began.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked.

“Two vursts on this planet? What do you think I am?”

Her face hardened. “I don’t know,” she said coldly, “but I do know this--if you don’t come, I won’t go.”

I groaned. From her aura I could tell she meant every word. It angered me, too, because Thalassan females usually don’t defy a male. “Remember,” I said icily, “that you’re not the only female on Thalassa.”

“We’re not on Thalassa,” she said. Her aura was a curious leaden color, shot through with sullen red flares and blotches.

“I have no right to force you,” she went on stubbornly, “but I can’t handle them alone. You simply have to come.”

“But Ven--I’m a physical cipher. This gravity flattens me. I won’t make it.”

“You will,” she said. “I’ll help you. But this job needs a male mind.”

It was deliberate flattery, I suppose. But there was an element of truth in it. Ven obviously couldn’t do it, and obviously she thought I could. I couldn’t help feeling pride in her need for me. I liked the feeling. For, after all, we hadn’t been mated so long that there was too great an amount of familiarity in our relationship. The Eugenics Council had taken care of that very effectively when we announced our plans for our sabbatical.

“All right--I’ll go,” I repeated.

With a quick light movement she touched my antennae with her primary digits. The shock ran through me clear to my pads. “You’re good,” she said--and the way she said it was an accolade.

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