The Interplanetary Huntress [The Adventures of Gerry Carlyle #1] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Arthur K. Barnes
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: Science Fiction's First Heroine Available Again At Last! Out of print for more than 50 years! The action-packed exploits of Gerry Carlyle, Interplanetary Huntress, on assignment from the London Interplanetary Zoo to capture the rarest alien lifeforms in the solar system--and "bring 'em back alive." The only fly in the ointment of this intrepid woman is pilot Tommy Strike, who's just as determined to prove no woman is his superior. Their battles with the most fearsome of otherworldly critters are nothing to their battle with each other! Interplanetary Huntress: The Adventures of Gerry Carlyle #1 by Golden Age science fiction writer Arthur K. Barnes is delightful, light-hearted interplanetary adventure from the pages of the legendary pulps. Here are the trio of classic novelettes that introduced, the woman Femme Fatales: Pulp's Crime-Fighting Heroines website hails as an "adventuress of the first water. She traveled to distant planets to collect exotic specimens to bring to Earth's zoos." Gerry, known as "the interplanetary bring 'em back alive girl" was inspired by those real life bring 'em back alive African wild animal trapper of the 1930s, Clyde Beaty and Frank Buck. In the first volume of her adventures Gerry, determined to prove herself the superior of any man, Gerry takes on the giant, saw-tongued whiposarus of Venus, the deadly twinned menace of the dual world, and the fire-breathing, rocklike Cacus of Satellite V. Genre historian Sam Moskowitz calls her "master science fictioneer Barnes's most original creation, whose exploits combined thrilling space opera with a hilarious, romantic battle-of-the-sexes." Imagine Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable in a typical South Seas comedy-adventure movie, then mentally transpose it to outerspace and you have the idea of what happens when the indomitable Gerry Carlyle and Tommy Strike cross paths. As Amazing Stories noted, "Between watching the intrepid pair capture or slaughter the BEMs [bug-eyed monsters], and then squabble among themselves, there's plenty of action for any deep-dyed thud-and-blunder fan." Even after seventy years, their adventures "are still surprisingly readable--sizzling stuff. If you like a huge collection of assorted BEMs and well thought-out gimmicks in tight situations, you will assuredly go for this," according to Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine. "I loved Gerry Carlyle," said sci-fi master A. E. Van Vogt. You'll love Gerry Carlyle, too!
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2012
* * * *
This is the first of three e-books reprinting all the adventures of Gerry Carlyle, Interplanetary Huntress, from the pages of Thrilling Wonder Stories in the 1940s and '50s.
Gerry Carlyle was the first woman character to earn her own series in the history of science fiction. There had been popular heroines in science fiction earlier -- Dejah Thoris in the John Carter series, Aladoree Anthar in the Legion of Space novels, and Pat Burlingame in the Ham Hammond tales. But, however strong, daring or intelligent, they were clearly subordinate to the male protagonist, and existed primarily to be extricated from peril.
Gerry Carlyle didn't need rescuing. In fact, she did the rescuing!
Today -- when the book stores abound with science fictional heroines like Silence Leigh, Laura Olamina and Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern; and from Xena to Dark Angel to those ladies from Cleopatra 2525, they have exploded onto our television and movie screens -- this may not seem such an accomplishment. But back in 1939, when Arthur K. Barnes introduced his planet-hopping, "bring 'em back alive" huntress to the assembled ranks of adolescent males whom the sci-fi zines of the day were aimed at, it was a risky venture. Both author and editors are said to have held their breath, not sure whether to expect outrage or accolades.
They needn't have worried. The fearless Gerry captured sci-fi fans' hearts with the same ease as the alien lifeforms she pursued. After that Barnes couldn't keep up with the demand for more stories. (In fact, since he hand-crafted each one only when a genuinely original idea occurred to him, there are but seven Gerry Carlyle adventures in all -- most written between 1938 and 1941, before the series and the author's civilian life were brought to a screeching halt by World War II.)
Though Gerry's exploits have been unavailable for up to sixty years, her impact was such that she has not been forgotten. A number of contemporary internet websites recall her fondly. For instance, the "Femme Fatales: Pulp's Crime-Fighting Heroines" site says, "Gerry Carlisle [is] an adventuress of the first water appearing in a string of adventures by Arthur K. Barnes in Thrilling Wonder Stories. She traveled to distant planets to collect exotic specimens to bring to Earth's zoos." Gerry is also featured in a full-page portrait in Firebrands: The Heroines of Science Fiction and Fantasy, a recent pictorial book, in which award-winning artist Ron Miller offers his own visualization of many of the genres most beloved female characters, while author Pamela Sargent provides commentary. (You can see Miller's rendition on-line at his Black Cat Studios website.)
Even forty years ago, when the only collection of her adventures was gathered in book form (presenting less than half of the original stories), sci-fi critics and reviewers thought Gerry was a wow!
"Glamorous Gerry Carlyle returns in Arthur K. Barnes' Interplanetary Huntress based on the stories that first appeared in the late thirties," crowed Hans Stefan Santesson. "Gerry, backed by the resources of the London Interplanetary Zoo, travels from planet to planet trapping rare alien life forms and bringing them all back alive. Her voice is an ice-water jet except when she realizes that Tommy Strike is a wonderful guy, and she is in general a personality that is rather rare in a field where swashbucklers and people of action are so often space-versions of Mike Hammer."
Floyd C. Gale at Galaxy delirious under her spell raved: "This will take you back to the good old days of the middle years of S-F -- the days of monsters and gimmicks. ... The heyday of Gerry Carlyle, the fabulously gorgeous interplanetary hunter modeled with alterations after the glamour figure of the '30s, Frank Buck, this was sizzling stuff. Astonishingly, these stories are still surprisingly readable. If you like a huge collection of assorted BEMs [bug-eyed monsters] and well-thought-out gimmicks in tight situations, you will assuredly go for this."
So why deprive yourself a moment more?
Stand-by for the countdown and then it's rockets away! You are blasting off into the future -- that is, the future as they imagined it back in 1935. We are off on a guided tour of the solar system -- Venus, Saturn, Neptune, and the mysteries of the comets.
You'll be part of a crew sworn to capture the rarest, most dangerous lifeforms on all the outer and inner planets, and to bring them back alive no matter what the risk to yourself. You'll be in this and subsequent volumes up against that dinosaur-like, saw-tongued Venusian Whip, the fire-breathing Cacus of Satellite V, Jupiter's flying, acid-spitting Dermaphos, and on Almussen's comet the ferocious twenty-foot tall, three-headed Cyclops. But, don't worry, you are serving under Captain Gerry Carlyle, the most experienced huntress in the system and nothing has ever daunted her.
But, then she hasn't met Tommy Strike yet -- the man she, and you, will love to hate. The one man who can melt her glacial self-control. Strike is a man who isn't about to be bossed by any woman, and Gerry is a woman who isn't about to be bossed by any man. Sparks fly, and then it's one long hilarious, battle-of-the-sexes -- skirmish, feud and make up -- after another. As Amazing Stories put it, "between watching the intrepid pair capture or slaughter the BEMs, and then squabble among themselves, there's plenty of action for any deep-dyed thud-and-blunder fan."
Spacemen and spacewomen, I give you Gerry Carlyle, Interplanetary Huntress. And need I add, fasten your seatbelts. First stop's Venus.
Jean Marie Stine
THE HOTHOUSE WORLD
* * * *
Day again -- one hundred and seventy dragging hours of throttling, humid heat. An interminable period of monotony lived in the eternal mists, swirling with sluggish dankness, enervating, miasmatic, pulsant with the secret whisperings of mephitic lifeforms. That accounted for the dull existence of the Venusian trader, safe in the protection of his stilt-legged trading post twenty feet above the spongy earth -- but bored to the point of madness.
Tommy Strike stepped out from under the needle-spray antiseptic shower that was the Earthman's chief defense against the myriad malignant bacterial infections swarming the hothouse that is Venus. He grabbed a towel, made a pass at the lever to turn on the refrigeration unit that preserved them during the hot days, shut off the night heating system and yelled:
"Roy! Awake! Arise! Today's the great day! The British are coming! Wake up for the event!"
Roy Ransom, Strike's assistant staggered into view, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"British?" he mumbled. "What British?"
"Why, Gerry Carlyle! The great Carlyle is coming today. In his special ship, with his trained crew, straight from the Interplanetary Zoo in London. The famous 'Catch-'em-alive Carlyle' is on his way and we're the lucky guys chosen to guide him on his expedition on Venus!"
Ransom scratched one thick hairy leg and stepped under the shower with a sour expression. "Ain't that somethin'?" he inquired.
"You don't look with favor on Mister Carlyle?" Strike chuckled.
"No, I don't. I've heard all I want to hear about him. Capturing animals from different planets and bringing them back alive to the Zoo in London is all right. I'd like the job myself. But any guy that rates the sickening amount of publicity he does must have something phony about 'im." He kicked toward the short-wave radio in one corner of the living room.
"Bein' so close to the sun, we're lucky if we bring in a couple of Earth programs a day through the interference. An' it seems to me every damn' one of 'em has somethin' about the famous Carlyle. Gerry Carlyle eats Lowden's Vita-cubes on expedition. Gerry Carlyle smokes germ-free Suaves. Gerry Carlyle drinks refreshen' Alka-lager. Pfui!
"An' now we're ordered to slog around this drippin' planet for 'im, doin' all the work of baggin' a bunch of weird specimens for the yokels t' gape at, while he gets all the glory back home!"
Tommy Strike laughed good naturedly.
"You're all bark and not much bite, Roy. You're just as glad as I am something's turned up to relieve the monotony." He brought out his daytime clothes, singlet and trousers of thin rubberized material and the inevitable broad-soled boots for traversing the treacherous soft spots on Venus' surface.
"Yeah?" retorted Ransom. "I can tell you one thing this visit'll turn up, an' that's trouble. Sure as you're born, Tommy, that guy's comin' here to get two or three Murris -- he hopes! An' you know what that'll mean!"
Strike's eyes clouded. There was truth in Ransom's remarks. Hunting for the strange little creatures called Murris never had resulted in anything but trouble since the day Sidney Murray co-leader of the first great Venusian exploration party, the Cecil Stanhope -- Sidney Murray Expedition, first set eyes upon them.
"Well," he shrugged, "we can stall until just before he's ready to leave and have some fun at least. Maybe he'll listen to reason."
Ransom snorted in wordless disgust at this fantastic hope.
"Anyhow," insisted Strike, determined to see the cheerful side, "even if there is any disturbance, it always blows over in a few days. I'm heading for the landing field. They're just about due."
Tommy stepped outside into the breathlessly hot blinding mist, thick with the stench of rot and decay. Earthly eyes could not penetrate this eternal shroud for more than a hundred feet at a time, even when a wind stirred the stuff up to resemble the churning of a weak solution of dirty milk. Strike grimaced and thoughtlessly filled and lit his pipe.
Thirty seconds later the air was filled with the thin screams and bangings of dozens of the fabulous whiz-bang beetles as they hurtled their armored bodies blindly against the metal walls of the station, attracted by the odor of tobacco. Strike flinched and hurriedly doused the pipe. A man couldn't even have the solace of a smoke on this damned planet. His life would be endangered by the terrific speed of those whiz-bangs.
A few steps took him to the safety of the rear of the station, where abandoned calcium carbonate tanks loomed like metal giants in the fog. There was a time when it had been necessary to pump the stuff to the miniature space-port a safe distance away whenever a ship was about to land.
There, sprayed forth from thousands of tiny nozzles high into the air, its tremendous affinity for water carved a clear vertical tunnel in the fog for the approaching spaceship pilot. New telescopic developments, however, rendered the device obsolete.
Strike paced deliberately along the trail that paralleled the ancient pipeline -- Earthlings soon learn not to overexert in that atmosphere -- and before he had covered half of it his quick ears caught the shrill whine of a spacecraft plunging recklessly into the Venusian air-envelope.
It rose to a nerve-rasping pitch, then dropped sharply away to silence. Presently, sounding curiously muffled and distorted through the clouds, came the noise of opening ports, the clang of metal upon metal, voices. Gerry Carlyle and company had arrived.
He increased his pace somewhat and shortly entered the clearing that served as space-port. He paused to let amazed eyes roam over the unaccustomed sight. Gerry Carlyle's famous expeditionary ship was an incredible monster of gleaming metal, occupying almost the entire field, towering into the air further than the eye could reach in that atmosphere. Its green glass portholes were glowing weirdly from the ship's lights as they looked down upon the stranger.
The craft was immense, approaching in size the giant clipper ships that traveled to the furthermost reaches of the System. Strike had never before been so close to a ship of such proportions. He smiled at the sight of the name on her bow -- The Ark.
The Ark, of course, was one of the new centrifugal flyers, containing in her stem a centrifuge of unbelievable power with millions of tiny rotors running in blasts of compressed air, generating sufficient energy to hurl the ship through space at tremendous speeds. The equipment of The Ark, too, was the talk of the System.
Carlyle, backed by the resources of the Interplanetary Zoo, had turned the ship into a floating laboratory, with a compartment for the captured specimens arranged to duplicate exactly the life conditions of their native planets. All the newer scientific inventions were included in her operating apparatus -- the paralysis ray, antigravity, electronic telescope, a dozen other things the trader knew by name only.
His musings were interrupted by the approach of a snappily uniformed man who saluted, smiling.
"Are you Mr. Strike?" he asked. "I'm sub-pilot Barrows of The Ark and very glad to meet you. Gerry Carlyle will see you at once. We're anxious to get to work immediately."
This day was to be one of many surprises for Tommy Strike and perhaps the greatest shock of all came when he stood beside the sloping runway leading into the brightly lighted bow of the ship. For, awaiting him there, one hand outstretched and a cool little smile on her lips, stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
"Mr. Strike said Barrows, "this is Miss Gerry Carlyle."
The trader stared, thunderstruck. In those days of advanced plastic surgery, feminine beauty wasn't rare but even Strike's unpracticed eye knew that here was the real thing. No synthetic blonde baby-doll here but a natural beauty untouched by the surgeon's knife-spun-gold hair, intelligence lighting dark eyes, a hint of passion and temper in the curve of mouth and arch of nostrils. In short, a woman.
But Miss Carlyle's voice was an ice-water jet to remind the trader of earthside manners.
"You don't seem enthusiastic over meeting your temporary employer, Mr. Strike. Something wrong about me?"
Strike flushed, angry at himself and his own embarrassment. "Oh oh, no." He fumbled for words. "That is, I'm surprised that you're a woman. I -- we expected to find a man in-well, in your position. It's more like a man's job."
Sub-pilot Barrows could have warned the trader that this was a touchy point with Gerry Carlyle but he had no chance. The young woman drew herself up and spoke coldly.
"There isn't a man in the business who has done nearly as well as I. Name a half-dozen hunters. Rogers, Camden, Potter -- they aren't in the same class with me. Man's job? I think you needn't worry about me, Mr. Strike. You'll find I'm man enough to face anything this planet has to offer."
Strike's eyebrow twitched. An arrogant female, withal. Terrific sense of her own importance, willful, selfish. He decided he didn't like her and rather hoped she had come looking for Murris. If so, she would learn one or two bitter lessons.
There followed a five-minute interlude of scurrying about and shouting and unloading, all done to the tune of Gerry Carlyle's voice, which could crack like a whiplash when issuing commands.
Then Strike found himself leading a small party back to the trading post. Now surprisingly Miss Carlyle showed a flattering attention to him.
First she wished to know about the business of the trading post.
"It isn't very exciting," its proprietor told her. "Mostly we sit around being bored stiff, playing cards or fiddling with the bum radio. Several times during a Venusian day our natives bring in a load of some of the medicinal plants we want. Occasion a rough gem of one kind or another, though Venus is very poor in minerals. The only stone really worth much to be found here is the emerald."
"Surely there isn't enough profit in medicinal plants, considering transportation costs, to persuade a young man like you to bury himself here." She waved her hand around disparagingly.
"There's profit all right." Strike shrugged. "The drugs distilled from some of the Venusian growths are plenty valuable. And then there's the adventure angle." He smiled wryly.
"Plenty of young bucks are willing to sign a three-year contract for the thrills of living on Venus -- if they don't know a thing about it beforehand. But it does take an awful lot stuff to bring a freighter our way. We seldom see a ship more often than three or four Earth-months apart!"
"What in the world -- or in Venus are those?" She directed his attention to the thousands of fungi now springing up through moist soil with almost visible movement. They were shaped somewhat like the human body and so pale that they might be a host of tiny corpses rising from their graves.
The trader grimaced. He had never liked those things. Reminded him constantly that battle and destruction were watchwords in this hellhole, where the fang of every creature was turned upon its neighbor and even the plants had poison thorns while the flowers gave off noxious gases to snare the unwary.
"Fungi mostly," he answered. "They grow and propagate amazingly fast. Many of the smaller life-forms here exist on a single day -- they are born, live and die in one hundred seventy hours. Naturally their life cycle is speeded up. In hours all these puffballs will begin popping at once to spread their spores around. It's a funny sight. During the long night, of course, the spores lie dormant. And most of the larger creatures hibernate from the intense cold. Our night life up here is nil. This is strictly a nine-o'clock planet."
She sniffed noting what all newcomers to Venus learn. Although the view is a drab almost colorless one, an incredible multiplicity of odors assails the nostrils -- sweet, sharp, musklike, pungent, spicy, with many unfamiliar olfactory sensations to boot.
Strike explained. On Earth flowering plants are fertilized by the passage of insects from one bloom to another, they develop petals of vivid colors to attract bees and butterflies and other insects. But on Venus, where perpetual mist renders impotent any appeal to sight, plants have adapted themselves to appeal to the sense of smell, therefore give off all sorts of enticing odors.
So it went, question and answer, the pleasant business of getting acquainted, until the all-too-short walk to the station was over. But Strike was not deceived by the woman's sudden change of attitude.
He knew that an interplanetary hunter of Gerry Carlyle's experience would certainly have read up on Venus before ever coming there. And he suspected she knew the answers already to every question she asked.
She must have noticed Strike's disapproving eyebrow during the first moments of their meeting and had deliberately set out to ingratiate herself to promote harmony during her brief stay on the cloudy planet. The trader was willing to be friendly but he looked upon the woman with caution and distaste. Her aggressiveness was not to his taste.
* * * *
Gerry Carlyle was decidedly a woman of action.
"No time to waste," she declared incisively as they reached the post. "Earth and Venus are nearing conjunction and I want to be ready to take off as soon after that date as possible. I've no wish to bang around in space waiting for Earth to catch up to us with a cargo of weird specimens raising Hades in the hold. If you've no objections, Mr. Strike, we'll make our first foray at once."
Strike nodded, staring at this disturbing young woman, who could be one instant so warm and friendly, the next imperious and dominating.
"Sure," he agreed. "Be with you in a moment."
He ran up the metal stairway to where Roy Ransom's face hung over the porch rail like an amazed bearded balloon and the two vanished into the house. Strike returned shortly with a tiny two-way radio.
"Ransom sends out a radio beam for us to travel on. I tell him which way to turn it in case we deviate from a straight line. It's the only possible way to cover any distance in this murk." He adjusted a single earphone, slipped receiver and broadcaster unit into a capacious pocket.
Next he insisted on painting the insides of everyone's nostrils with a tarry aromatic substance.
"Germ-killer," he smiled. "For each dangerous animal on this planet there are a hundred vicious bacteria to knock off an Earthman in twenty hours. I guess that finishes the preliminaries. Shall we go? I ought to warn you that the sense of hearing is well developed up here, so it'll help if you move as quietly as possible."
"One moment." Gerry Carlyle's cool voice struck in abruptly. "I want two things thoroughly understood. First, I'm the sole leader of this party and what I say goes." She smiled with icy sweetness. "No complaints, of course, Mr. Strike, but it's just as well to forestall future misunderstandings.
"Secondly, you must know that the main object of this expedition is to catch one or more Murris and return with them alive. We'll take a number of other interesting specimens, of course, but the Murri is our real goal."
She looked around challengingly, as if expecting a dissenting reaction. And she was not disappointed. Strike glanced up at the porch to exchange a significant look with Ransom.
When he smiled wryly, Gerry Carlyle's temper flared.
"What is the mystery about this Murri, anyhow? Everywhere I go, on Venus, back on Earth among members of my own profession, if the word Murri is mentioned everyone scowls and tries to change the subject. Why?"
No one answered. The Carlyle party shifted uneasily, their boots making shucking sounds. Presently Strike offered, "The fact is, you'll never take back a Murri alive. But you wouldn't believe me if I told you the reason, Miss Carlyle. I--"
"Why not? What's the matter with them? Is their presence fatal to a human in some way?"
"Are they so rare or so shy they can't be found?"
"No, I think I can find you some before you take off."
"Then are they so delicate they can't stand the trip? If so, I can tell you we've done everything to make hold number three an exact duplicate of living conditions here:'
"No, it isn't that either," the trader sighed.
"Then what is it?" she cried. "Why all the evasions and secretive looks? You're acting just like Hank Rogers when I caught him one day in the Explorers' Club.
"He came up here awhile back to get a good Murri specimen. But he returned empty-handed. I asked him why, and he refused to tell me. Actually acted embarrassed about something. What's it all about?"
Tommy Strike shook his head firmly.
"It can't be explained, Miss Carlyle. It's just something you'll find out for yourself."
And on that note of dissatisfaction the party struck off through the mist. The half-dozen crew members from The Ark were surprised to find the going comparatively easy.
Although the great amount of water on Venus would presuppose profuse jungle growth, there is insufficient sunlight to support much more than the tallest varieties of trees, which shoot hundreds of feet up into the curtain of the mist, their broad-bladed leaves spread wide to treasure every stray sunbeam that filters through.
Undergrowth -- which is confined to a sprawling, cactuslike shrub with poisonous spines and to a great many species of drably flowering plants with innumerable odors and perfume -- is laid out almost geometrically in order to catch the dilute sunshine without interference from the occasional Ion trees.
"The main danger in travel," as Strike explained, "is in losing the radio beam. Sometimes we have to circle a bog and we've got to be pretty careful not to let the signal fade."
The party, with Strike and Gerry Carlyle in the lead, hadn't been five minutes away from the station when the restless quiet was shattered by a terrific grunting and coughing like that of a thousand hogs at feeding time. The noise was intermittent, rumbling for a few seconds somewhere ahead, then stopping abruptly to be succeeded by slopping and smacking sounds.
The entire party paused for an instant at that blast of strange thunder. Startled by the sound out of nowhere.
The trader grinned. "Shovel-mouth," he explained. "Not very dangerous."
Gerry Carlyle glanced at her guide catching his implication. "We prefer 'em dangerous, as a matter of fact. Though I hardly expected to find anything interesting this close to-er-civilization."
Strike grinned at the thrust and a little prickle of excitement crawled up his spine as he watched the Carlyle party slip into their smooth routine. Her crisp commands detailed one man to remain with the bulky equipment. Two more loaded a pair of cathode-bolt guns, baby cannons beside the pistol the trader carried for emergencies.
Two of the others, including Gerry, selected weapons resembling the old-fashioned rifles-now to be seen only in museums. Barrows was to work the camera.
"Allen," Gerry snapped, "you circle around to the left. Kranz to the right. As usual, hold your fire unless it's absolutely necessary to prevent the specimen's escape. We'll give you three minutes to get into position."
The two flankers were already moving off into the mist when Strike woke up.
"Wait!" he cracked out. "Come back here. No one must get out of visual touch with me! It's too easy to get permanently lost. Sounds carry far, naturally, but it's impossible for an untrained car to tell which direction they're coming from in this fog."
Gerry Carlyle's eyes flashed in momentary anger as her commands were countermanded but the plan of action was amended to permit the two flankers to remain within sight of the main body.
Strike had thought that Miss Carlyle's assistants were rather a colorless lot, stooges automatically going through letter-perfect roles, and wondered if they'd be any good if they found themselves suddenly without a leader. But when the party spread out with military precision for the stalk Tommy Strike had to admit to himself that he had never witnessed a more competent movement.
Not a single unnatural sound broke the quiet. Not a stick snapped, not a fungus squelched beneath an incautious heel. Even the sucking noises from marshy spots were missing. In sixty seconds they slipped into a little clearing and stood gazing with professional curiosity at the doomed shovel-mouth.
The creature was worth a second look. Fifty feet long and nearly twenty feet wide, it had three pairs of squat powerful legs ending in enormously spatulate discs. Its hide was a thick, tough gray stuff that gleamed dully with a wet slickness in the half light.
But the most surprising feature was the creature's head which, instead of tapering to a point, broadened into a mammoth snout extending several feet horizontally from mouth-corner to mouth-corner. Flattened against the ground it had a ludicrous similarity to a fan-tail vacuum cleaner attachment.
The shovel-mouth stared at the party disinterestedly out of muddy eyes, then lowered his head and waddled across the clearing. Its mouth plowed up a wide shallow furrow as it ate indiscriminately the numerous fungi, low-lying bushes, sticks and mud.
"Herbivorous," Strike murmured. "Its main article of diet is fungus growths but it takes so much for a meal that the creature has to spend most of its waking hours eating everything it can get its mouth on."
Evidently the animal had been dining for some time, for the clearing looked as if a drunken farmer had been trying to plow it up. Gerry signaled, and her crew moved into position like soldiers. She slipped up on the creature's blind side and aimed her curious rifle at the soft, inner portion of the shovel-mouth's leg.
Plop! The beast jerked, nipped at the wound momentarily, then continued to feed. Twenty seconds later it reeled dizzily about and fell to the ground, unconscious.
Just like that -- simple, efficient, no fuss at all. Tommy Strike felt a sense of anticlimax.
"What a disappointment," he said ruefully. "I expected a terrific battle and a lot of excitement with maybe one or two of us half killed for the sake of the movies!"
"With Mr. Strike heroically rescuing Gerry Carlyle from the jaws of death?" She smiled as the trader winced. "Sorry, but this is a business, Mr. Strike, and I find it pays to play safe and sane and preserve my crew intact."
"I value them too much to risk their lives for the sake of a bunch of cheap thrill seekers back home. No. We have excitement and adventure only when someone makes a mistake. Carlyle parties make a minimum of mistakes."
That was the arrogant and cocksure Gerry Carlyle speaking and Strike did not try to dispute her. "I suppose you used a sort of hypodermic bullet in that rifle of yours. But I thought you'd be using more scientific weapons than that. It seems sort of -- sort of primitive."
"I know. You're wondering about the anesthetic gases. Or the wonderful new paralysis ray. Well, there're a lot of inventions that work fine under controlled lab conditions that are flops in the field.
"The paralysis ray is just a toy, totally impracticable. It's unreliable because each species of animal requires a different amount of the ray to subdue him and we seldom have time to fool around experimenting in my work.
"It may also prove fatal if the victim gets too much of a jolt. As for knockout gas, it necessitates the hunters wearing masks and it is difficult to control in the proper dosages between unconsciousness and death."