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Henry Beam Piper

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • Was this ill-fated expedition the end of a proud, old race—or the beginning o_ new one?
  • There are strange gaps in our records of the past. We find traces of man-lik_hings—but, suddenly, man appears, far too much developed to be the "nex_tep" in a well-linked chain of evolutionary evidence. Perhaps something lik_he events of this story furnishes the answer to the riddle.
  • Aboard the ship, there was neither day nor night; the hours slipped gently by, as vistas of star-gemmed blackness slid across the visiscreens. For the crew, time had some meaning—one watch on duty and two off. But for the thousand-od_olonists, the men and women who were to be the spearhead of migration to _ew and friendlier planet, it had none. They slept, and played, worked at suc_asks as they could invent, and slept again, while the huge ship followed he_lotted trajectory.
  • Kalvar Dard, the army officer who would lead them in their new home, had a_ittle to do as any of his followers. The ship's officers had all th_esponsibility for the voyage, and, for the first time in over five years, h_ad none at all. He was finding the unaccustomed idleness more wearying tha_he hectic work of loading the ship before the blastoff from Doorsha. He wen_ver his landing and security plans again, and found no probable emergenc_nprepared for. Dard wandered about the ship, talking to groups of hi_olonists, and found morale even better than he had hoped. He spent hour_taring into the forward visiscreens, watching the disc of Tareesh, the plane_f his destination, grow larger and plainer ahead.
  • Now, with the voyage almost over, he was in the cargo-hold just aft of th_umber Seven bulkhead, with six girls to help him, checking constructio_aterial which would be needed immediately after landing. The stuff had al_een checked two or three times before, but there was no harm in going over i_gain. It furnished an occupation to fill in the time; it gave Kalvar Dard a_xcuse for surrounding himself with half a dozen charming girls, and the girl_eemed to enjoy being with him. There was tall blonde Olva, th_lectromagnetician; pert little Varnis, the machinist's helper; Kyna, th_urgeon's-aide; dark-haired Analea; Dorita, the accountant; plump littl_ldra, the armament technician. At the moment, they were all sitting on o_round the desk in the corner of the store-room, going over the inventory whe_hey were not just gabbling.
  • "Well, how about the rock-drill bitts?" Dorita was asking earnestly, trying t_tick to business. "Won't we need them almost as soon as we're off?"
  • "Yes, we'll have to dig temporary magazines for our explosives, small-arms an_rtillery ammunition, and storage-pits for our fissionables and radioactives,"
  • Kalvar Dard replied. "We'll have to have safe places for that stuff read_efore it can be unloaded; and if we run into hard rock near the surface, we'll have to drill holes for blasting-shots."
  • "The drilling machinery goes into one of those prefabricated sheds," Eldr_onsidered. "Will there be room in it for all the bitts, too?"
  • Kalvar Dard shrugged. "Maybe. If not, we'll cut poles and build racks for the_utside. The bitts are nono-steel; they can be stored in the open."
  • "If there are poles to cut," Olva added.
  • "I'm not worrying about that," Kalvar Dard replied. "We have a pretty fai_dea of conditions on Tareesh; our astronomers have been making telescopi_bservations for the past fifteen centuries. There's a pretty big Arctic ice- cap, but it's been receding slowly, with a wide belt of what's believed to b_pen grassland to the south of it, and a belt of what's assumed to b_vergreen forest south of that. We plan to land somewhere in the norther_emisphere, about the grassland-forest line. And since Tareesh is richer i_ater that Doorsha, you mustn't think of grassland in terms of our wire-gras_lains, or forests in terms of our brush thickets. The vegetation should b_uch more luxuriant."
  • "If there's such a large polar ice-cap, the summers ought to be fairly cool, and the winters cold," Varnis reasoned. "I'd think that would mean fur-bearin_nimals. Colonel, you'll have to shoot me something with a nice soft fur; _ike furs."
  • Kalvar Dard chuckled. "Shoot you nothing, you can shoot your own furs. I'v_een your carbine and pistol scores," he began.
  • There was a sudden suck of air, disturbing the papers on the desk. They al_urned to see one of the ship's rocket-boat bays open; a young Air Forc_ieutenant named Seldar Glav, who would be staying on Tareesh with them t_ilot their aircraft, emerged from an open airlock.
  • "Don't tell me you've been to Tareesh and back in that thing," Olva greete_im.
  • Seldar Glav grinned at her. "I could have been, at that; we're only twenty o_hirty planetary calibers away, now. We ought to be entering Tareesha_tmosphere by the middle of the next watch. I was only checking the boats, t_ake sure they'll be ready to launch… . Colonel Kalvar, would you min_tepping over here? There's something I think you should look at, sir."
  • Kalvar Dard took one arm from around Analea's waist and lifted the other fro_arnis' shoulder, sliding off the desk. He followed Glav into the boat-bay; a_hey went through the airlock, the cheerfulness left the young lieutenant'_ace.
  • "I didn't want to say anything in front of the girls, sir," he began, "bu_'ve been checking boats to make sure we can make a quick getaway. Our meteor- security's gone out. The detectors are deader then the Fourth Dynasty, and th_lasters won't synchronize… . Did you hear a big thump, about a half an hou_go, Colonel?"
  • "Yes, I thought the ship's labor-crew was shifting heavy equipment in the hol_ft of us. What was it, a meteor-hit?"
  • "It was. Just aft of Number Ten bulkhead. A meteor about the size of the nos_f that rocket-boat."
  • Kalvar Dard whistled softly. "Great Gods of Power! The detectors must be dead, to pass up anything like that… . Why wasn't a boat-stations call sent out?"
  • "Captain Vlazil was unwilling to risk starting a panic, sir," the Air Forc_fficer replied. "Really, I'm exceeding my orders in mentioning it to you, bu_ thought you should know… ."
  • Kalvar Dard swore. "It's a blasted pity Captain Vlazil didn't try thinking!
  • Gold-braided quarter-wit! Maybe his crew might panic, but my people wouldn't… . I'm going to call the control-room and have it out with him. By the Te_ods… !"
  • He ran through the airlock and back into the hold, starting toward th_ntercom-phone beside the desk. Before he could reach it, there was anothe_eavy jar, rocking the entire ship. He, and Seldar Glav, who had followed hi_ut of the boat-bay, and the six girls, who had risen on hearing thei_ommander's angry voice, were all tumbled into a heap. Dard surged to hi_eet, dragging Kyna up along with him; together, they helped the others t_ise. The ship was suddenly filled with jangling bells, and the red danger- lights on the ceiling were flashing on and off.
  • "Attention! Attention!" the voice of some officer in the control-room blare_ut of the intercom-speaker. "The ship has just been hit by a large meteor!
  • All compartments between bulkheads Twelve and Thirteen are sealed off. Al_ersons between bulkheads Twelve and Thirteen, put on oxygen helmets and plu_n at the nearest phone connection. Your air is leaking, and you can't ge_ut, but if you put on oxygen equipment immediately, you'll be all right.
  • We'll get you out as soon as we can, and in any case, we are only a few hour_ut of Tareeshan atmosphere. All persons in Compartment Twelve, put on… ."
  • Kalvar Dard was swearing evilly. "That does it! That does it for good!… Anybody else in this compartment, below the living quarter level?"
  • "No, we're the only ones," Analea told him.
  • "The people above have their own boats; they can look after themselves. Yo_irls, get in that boat, in there. Glav, you and I'll try to warn the peopl_bove… ."
  • There was another jar, heavier than the one which had preceded it, throwin_hem all down again. As they rose, a new voice was shouting over the public- address system:
  • "Abandon ship! Abandon ship! The converters are backfiring, and rocket-fuel i_eaking back toward the engine-rooms! An explosion is imminent! Abandon ship, all hands!"
  • Kalvar Dard and Seldar Glav grabbed the girls and literally threw them throug_he hatch, into the rocket-boat. Dard pushed Glav in ahead of him, then jumpe_n. Before he had picked himself up, two or three of the girls were at th_atch, dogging the cover down.
  • "All right, Glav, blast off!" Dard ordered. "We've got to be at least _undred miles from this ship when she blows, or we'll blow with her!"
  • "Don't I know!" Seldar Glav retorted over his shoulder, racing for th_ontrols. "Grab hold of something, everybody; I'm going to fire all jets a_nce!"
  • An instant later, while Kalvar Dard and the girls clung to stanchions an_ieces of fixed furniture, the boat shot forward out of its housing. Whe_ard's head had cleared, it was in free flight.
  • "How was that?" Glav yelled. "Everybody all right?" He hesitated for a moment.
  • "I think I blacked out for about ten seconds."
  • Kalvar Dard looked the girls over. Eldra was using a corner of her smock t_tanch a nosebleed, and Olva had a bruise over one eye. Otherwise, everybod_as in good shape.
  • "Wonder we didn't all black out, permanently," he said. "Well, put on th_isiscreens, and let's see what's going on outside. Olva, get on the radio an_ry to see if anybody else got away."
  • "Set course for Tareesh?" Glav asked. "We haven't fuel enough to make it bac_o Doorsha."
  • "I was afraid of that," Dard nodded. "Tareesh it is; northern hemisphere, daylight side. Try to get about the edge of the temperate zone, as near wate_s you can… ."