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The High Ones and Other Stories [MultiFormat]
eBook by Poul Anderson

eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: THE HIGH ONES by POUL ANDERSON Now was Eben Holbrook's chance to play hero--and win his lady love. Eben Holbrook was not much of a spaceman; he was just a simple nucleonics engineer, not even close to being a scientist. Yet a rare burst of inspiration on his part was what saved them from harm ? or maybe just the thought that his dear Ekaterina was in danger. After having landed on a planet which had the makings of a new Earth, Rurik's troop discovered that someone else beat them to it. The Zolotoyans--a more highly intelligent race--started an arbitrary attack, which forced an investigation into the reason for their hostility. Holbrook, Ekaterina and Grushenko were assigned to the task, and set out for Zolotoy. Much to their surprise, the natives did not attack them once they landed; in fact, they seemed altogether indifferent to their guests' presence, though they were required to stay indefinitely. Holbrook knew that the atmosphere and environment weren't conducive for humans, and sought immediately to escape, but Grushenko insisted on trying to reason with the Zolotoyans no matter what the cost.

From a Science Fiction Grand Master comes ten exciting stories from the 1950s. Over 100,000 words of the future from the past.

Also includes the stories: OUT OF THE IRON WOMB!, TURNING POINT, THE APPRENTICE WOBBLER, STAR SHIP, THE CORKSCREW OF SPACE, LORD OF A THOUSAND SUNS, THE SOLDIER FROM THE STARS, SWORDSMAN OF LOST TERRA, THE CHAPTER ENDS

eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2010


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THE HIGH ONES

CHAPTER I

When he first saw the planet, green and blue and cloudy white across many cold stars, Eben Holbrook had a sense of coming home. He turned from the viewport so that Ekaterina Ivanovna should not see the quick tears in his eyes. Thereafter it became a long waiting, but his hope upbore him and he stayed free of the quarrels which now flared in the ship. Nerves were worn thin, three parsecs and fifty-eight years from Earth; only those who found a way to occupy their hands could endure this final unsureness. Because it might not be final. Tau Ceti might have no world on which men could walk freely. And then it would be back into the night of suspended animation and the night of unending space, for no man knew how long.

Holbrook was not a scientist, to examine how safe the planet was for rhesus monkeys and human volunteers. He was a nucleonics engineer. Since his chief, Rakitin, had been killed in the mutiny, he was in charge of the thermonuclear ion-drive. Now that the Rurik swung in orbit, he found his time empty, and he was too valuable for Captain Svenstrup to accept him as a guinea pig down on the surface. But he had an idea for improving the engines of the great spaceship's auxiliary boats, and he wrapped himself in a fog of mathematics and made tests and swore and returned to his computations, for all the weeks it took. In spare moments he amused himself with biological textbooks, an old hobby of his.

That was one way to stay out of trouble, and to forget the scorn in certain hazel eyes.

The report came at last: as nearly as could be told, this world was suitable for humans. Safer than Earth, in that so far no diseases had seemed able to attack the newcomers; yet with so similar a biochemistry that many local meats and plants were edible and the seeds and frozen livestock embryos on the ship could surely thrive. Of course, it was always possible that long-range effects existed, or that in some other region--

"To hell with it," said Captain Svenstrup. "We're going down."

After such a word, he would have faced a mutiny himself had he decreed otherwise.

They left the Rurik in orbit and the boats gleamed through a high blue heaven--with just the faintest tinge of purple, in this slightly redder sunlight--to land on grass twin-bladed but soft and green, near trees which swayed almost like poplars above a hurried chill river. Not far away lifted steep, darkly forested hills, and beyond them a few snow-peaks haunted the sky. That night fires blazed among temporary shelters, folk danced and sang, accordions mingled with banjos, the vodka bottle worked harder than the samovar, and quite likely a few new human lives were begun.

There were two moons, one so close that it hurtled between constellations not very different from those of home (what was ten light-years in this god-sized cosmos?) and one stately in a clear crystal dark. The planet's period of rotation was 31 hours, its axial tilt 11 degrees; seasons here would not be extreme. They named it New Earth in their various languages, but the Russian majority soon had everyone else calling it Novaya Zemlya, and that quickly became a simple Novaya. Meanwhile they got busy.

There had been no sign of aborigines to dispute Paradise, but one could never be certain, nor learn too much. Man had had a long time to familiarize himself with Old Earth; the colonists must gain equivalent information in months. So small aircraft were brought down and assembled, and ranged widely.

Holbrook was taking a scout turn, with Ilya Feodorovitch Grushenko and Solomon Levine, when they found the aliens.

It was several hundred kilometers from the settlement, on the other side of the mountains. Suddenly the jet flashed over a wooded ridge, and there was the mine pit, and the machines, and the spaceships.

"Judas priest!" gasped Holbrook. He crammed back the stick. The jet spurted forward.

Grushenko picked up the mike and rattled a report. Only a tape recorder heard it: they had too much work to do in camp. He slammed the mike back down and looked grimly at the Americans. "We had best investigate on foot, comrades," he said.

"Hadn't we better ... get back ... maybe they didn't see us go over," stammered Holbrook.

Grushenko barked a laugh. "How long do you expect them not to know about us? Let us learn what we can while we can."

He was a heavy-muscled man, affecting the shaven pate of an Army officer; he made no bones about being an unreconstructed sovietist, he had killed two mutineers before they overpowered him and since then his cooperation was surly. But now Levine nodded a bespectacled head and put in: "He's right, Eben. We can take a walky-talky, and the jet's transmitter will relay back to camp." He lifted a rifle from its rack and sighed. "I had hoped never to carry one of these again."

"It may not be necessary," said Holbrook in a desperate voice. "Those creatures ... they don't live here ... they can't! Why couldn't we make an ... agreement--"

"Perhaps." A faraway light flickered in Grushenko's pale eyes. "Yes, once we learn their language ... it might very well be possible, mutual interest and-- After all, their level of technology implies they have reached the soviet stage of development."

"Oh, come off it," said Levine in English.

Holbrook used a downblast to land the jet in a meadow, a few kilometers from the alien diggings. If the craft had not been noticed--and it had gone over very quickly--its crew should be able to steal up and observe ... He was glad of the imposed silence as they slipped among great shadowy trees; what could he have said, even to Levine? That was how it always went, he thought in a curious irrelevant anguish. He was not much more nervous than the next man, but he had no words at the high moments. His tongue knotted up and he stood like a wooden Indian under the gaze of Ekaterina Ivanovna.

At the end of their walk, they stood peering down a slope through a screen of brush. The land was raw and devastated, it must have been worked for centuries. Holbrook remembered a survey report: curious formations spotted all over the planet, pits hundreds of meters deep. Yes, they must be the grass-grown remnants of similar mines, exhausted and abandoned. How long had the aliens been coming here? The automatons which purred about, digging and carrying, grinding, purifying, loading into the incredibly big and sleek blue spaceships, were such as no one on Earth had ever built.

Levine's voice muttered to a recorder beyond the mountains, "Looks like rare-earth ores to me. That suggests they've been civilized long enough to use up their home planet's supply, which is one hell of a long time, my friends." Holbrook thought in a frozenness that it would be very hard to describe the engines down there; they were too foreign, the eye saw them but the mind wasn't yet prepared to register--

"They heard us! They are coming!"

Grushenko said it almost exultantly. Holbrook and Levine whirled about. Half a dozen forms were moving at a trot up the slope, directly toward the humans. Holbrook had a lurching impression of creatures dressed in black, with purplish faces muffled by some kind of respirator snout, two legs, two arms, but much too long and thin. He remembered the goblins of his childhood, in a lost Maine forest, and a primitive terror took him.

He fought it down just as Grushenko stepped out of concealment. "Friends!" cried Grushenko. He raised both hands. "Friends!" The sun gleamed on his bare head.

An alien raised a tube. Something like a fist struck Holbrook. He went to his knees. A small hot crater smoked not two meters from him. Grushenko staggered back, shooting. One of the aliens went on its unhuman face. They deployed, still running to the attack. Another explosion outraged the earth; fire crawled up a tree trunk. And another. "Let's go!" yelled Holbrook.

He saw Levine fall. The little man stared surprised at the cooked remnant of a leg. Holbrook made a grab for him. A gray face turned up. "No," said Levine. He cradled his rifle and thumbed it, to full automatic. "No heroics, please. Get the hell back to camp. I'll hold 'em."

He began to shoot. Grushenko snatched at Holbrook's wrist. Both men pounded down the farther hillside. The snarl of the Terrestrial rifle and the boom of the alien blast-guns followed them. Through the racket, for a second as he ran, Holbrook heard Levine's voice into the walky-talky mike: "Four of 'em left. A few more coming out of the spaceships. I see three in green clothes. The weapons seem ... oh, Sarah, help me, the pain ... packaged energy ... a super-dielectric maybe."


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