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Founding Father

19th September 2017
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Title: Founding Father
Author: Jesse Franklin Bone
Summary: The creatures were huge, hairy, surly—and the males were always chasing the females. But what else could you expect of mammals?
Word count:  18254
Public Domain Mark (PDM)

Image: Galaxy Magazine April 1962

 

 

“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.

II

“This way,” Ven said, emitting a faint yellow aura that lighted the area around her. “Follow me.” She staggered a little under the weight of the equipment she was carrying. I wished that we had enough power to energize an air sled—-but we had none to spare. The robots had used up most of our scanty power metal reserves in camouflaging the ship and the adaptor had taken the rest. This was going to be a miserable trip. It was going to be painful, uncomfortable and perhaps even dangerous.

It was.

We went across rocks, through sharp-twigged brush—across the saw-edged grass of the meadow below us, over more rocks, and down-hill along a faint double trail that never seemed to end. I was nearly dead with weariness when Ven’s aura flicked off and the dark closed in. My proprioceptors were screaming as I sank to the ground and panted the rich air of this world in and out of my aching chest.

“They’re just ahead,” Ven whispered. “Around that next group of rocks. Be careful.”

We moved forward cautiously. “There was a fire,” Ven whispered.

“There isn’t now,” I said. “I can’t sense any heat.” The night air blew a rank odor to my nostrils. My spines stiffened! I knew what Ven meant when she said that these natives repelled her. I had smelled that scent before—the scent of our ancestral enemies! So these were the natives, the dominant life on this planet! I gagged, my tongue thick in my throat.

“You see?” Ven asked.

I nodded. “It’s pretty bad,” I said.

“It reminds me of a zoo,” Ven answered softly.

I nodded. It did and it was thoroughly unpleasant.

I strained my perception to its limits, pushing it through the gelid darkness, searching until I found the natives. “They’re asleep,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Suspension of consciousness. Something like estivation.”

“Oh. Then we can approach safely?”

“If we are quiet,” I replied. “Sleep is broken easily and consciousness returns quickly.”

The trail deepened beyond the rocks—two rutted tracks about three vards apart. We moved forward cautiously, our senses keyed to their highest pitch. The night was oppressively still and every movement rasped loudly. My breath came fast and shallow. My heart pounded and my musk glands were actively secreting as I parted the opening to their cloth shelter, and sensed the dim forms within.

“Stat,” I projected and Ven handed me the weapon. It was almost more than I could manage in my weakened condition, but I aimed it and fired a full intensity blast at the nearest lumpy figure. It jerked and flopped inside its coverings, and the second form sat up with horrid speed!

A roar of sound came from it as the air was filled with its fetid odor. In panic I triggered a blast at the menacing figure, and it, too, flopped and laid still.

I ran my tongue over the roof of my dry mouth and called to Ven. “They’re quiet now. Come in and see what we’ve got.”

“Ugh!” Ven snorted as she entered the tent at my heels. “It stinks!”

“They’re not the sweetest life form in the universe,” I said as I prodded the huge mound beside me, looking for reflexes that would indicate returning consciousness.

“What are they?” Ven asked.

“Mammals,” I said.

“No wonder I thought of a zoo,” Ven said. “But they’re so big!”

“Not on all planets,” I said.

“Obviously,” Ven commented. “Well—what’s next? Let’s get this done. I’m suffocating!”

“Hand me the probe kit,” I said.

I selected two of the longest probes and made my way up to the head of the nearest monster. I scanned its braincase until I found the area I wanted and inserted the probes, driving them through the heavy bone and into the brain beneath. I clipped on the short antennae and stepped back. “Turn the control to low,” I said. “Place the clips on your antennae. Now think of rising.” The bulk beside me stirred and Ven gave a squeak of terror. “It’s all right,” I assured her. “Turn the control back to zero. This one’s secure.”

I went to the second and treated it like the first, and felt a justifiable pride as it reacted. Not many men could implant neuro-probes correctly on the first attempt. “All right, Ven. You can go out now. Take the controls with you. I’ll see what I can do to get these brutes out of their coverings.”

The tent opening swayed as Ven passed through and I bent over the nearest form. The covering was a heavy sack closed with a slide fastener much like the ones we used. I pulled and it opened, sending a flood of rank scent into the fetid air. I coughed, my eyes smarting, and found the fastener of the other sack. Retching with nausea I staggered out of the tent.

Ven sprang forward, caught me as I was about to fall, and lowered me gently to the ground.

“What are we going to do?” Ven asked as I lay panting at her feet.

“We’re going to get them out of there,” I said, “and take them back to the ship. I didn’t come all this way for nothing.” I drew one of the controls toward me, fastened the clips to my antennae, advanced the gain and thought into it. There was a stir of movement inside and a huge form came stumbling out. It stood there clad in loose cloth coverings, reeking with halogen. I looked up at the dark bulk and shivered.

“That smell!” Ven said.

“We can help it a bit,” I replied and turned to the control. With its massive fore-limbs the brute ripped the cloth from its body as it moved down-wind. I made it stand and took the other control.

“Let me do it,” Ven said. “You can’t handle both of them in your condition.”

“All right,” I said, “but be careful.”

“I will. Now what do I do?”

“Advance the intensity knob and think what you want it to do.”

There was a flurry of movement inside the tent, the thrashing of a huge body, and the second mammal burst through the opening and staggered clumsily to a stop.

“Reduce the intensity,” I said. “You’re projecting too strong a stimulus. Now uncover it and send it over with the other one to cool off. They’re more bearable when they’re cold. They exude the scent from their skin glands to compensate for temperature.”

“I know,” Ven said. “I studied biology.” She did as I instructed and then dropped beside me. We relaxed, gathering our strength for the climb ahead. But I didn’t recover rapidly. I could move, but the exertion made me dizzy. The excitement was over and reaction had set in. “I’ll never make it,” I said dully.

“I can help,” Ven said—”a little.”

“It won’t be enough. You don’t have the strength to carry me.” I looked at the huge bodies of the mammals gleaming pallidly in the darkness, and suddenly I had an idea. The Slaads on Valga domesticated mammals. They were quadrupedal, true enough, but they were still mammals. Why couldn’t I ride one of these as they did? Those great masses of muscle should carry me easily. “I think I have a solution,” I said.

“What?”

“I’ll have one of them carry me.”

“You can’t!”

“Why not? They’re controlled. And they’re the only way I’ll be able to get back to the ship.” I picked up the nearest controller. “Let’s see what happens.”

Ven squeaked as the monster lifted me in the air and set me across its neck. I crossed my pads and hung on. The ground seemed terribly far away.

“How is it up there?” Ven asked.

“A little unstable,” I said, “but I’ll manage. Shall we go?”

We moved up the trail to the rocky abutment and turned up the hill. The brute beneath me climbed strongly and easily.

“Wait a minute,” Ven said as she turned the corner behind me, “you’re going too fast.”

“Why don’t you ride?” I called down to her. “This one moves easily enough. It’s much better than walking.”

“I think I will,” Ven replied.

“This is all right,” Ven said as we moved side by side up the hill. “The fibrils on top of its head—”

“Hair,” I corrected.

“The hair of this one is longer than yours. I can hold on nicely.”

The big bodies of the natives moved smoothly and powerfully, their giant strides eating up the distance we had so painfully covered some time before. Presently we came out onto the lower edge of the meadow below our ship.

Ven looked at me, her aura glowing pink with excitement. “I’ll race you to the ship,” she cried, and dashed off with a burst of speed.

Somehow I couldn’t resist the challenge in her voice. I advanced the control knob and thought strongly. The brute jumped as though it had been whipped and leaped into a plunging run. I clung desperately for a moment and then relaxed as I caught the rhythm of the driving strides. My heart pounded, but not with fear. I had never known such exhilaration! Machines were pale compared to it. The mammal could run like a frightened skent—and it was faster than Ven’s!

 

I caught her halfway up the meadow, and pulled away, exulting in the powerful muscles moving underneath me. I charged up to the grove of trees that concealed our camouflaged ship, and brought the mammal to a halt. It was panting, trembling, drenched with stinking sweat, but I didn’t mind. I was part of it. There was a certain amount of feedback in a bipolar control circuit and I could feel the heat of its body, the beat of the great heart, the rise and fall of the broad chest, the pulse of the blood vessels in the thick neck. It was magnificent! I laughed. I had never before felt the ecstasy of physical strength!

I turned and looked back, still tasting the pleasure of the great body connected to my mind.

Ven drew up beside me. “Hai Yee!” she exclaimed. “What a sensation!”

“You liked it?” I asked.

“Liked it? Liked it? I loved it! Didn’t you?”

“I think so,” I said truthfully.

“I’m going across the meadow again,” Ven said as she turned her mammal around.

“No,” I said. “We have use for these two and we have no knowledge of how much they can stand. There’s no sense damaging them.” I frowned as I noticed the bloody scratches on the legs and body of her mammal.

Ven noted the direction of my gaze. “They’re not as tough as I thought,” she said with sudden contrition. “But they’re not too badly damaged, are they?”

“No.” I said.

I ordered the mammal to set me down. Dawn was breaking and I could see better what we had captured. They were a male and a female. On the whole, except for their mammalian ancestry, they conformed to dominant-race criteria, being erect, bipedal, predatory types with binocular vision. Their upper extremities were evolved into manipulative organs similar to our primary digits.

The most outstanding difference was the extreme sex dimorphism, which was obviously apparent in the brightening light. The physical differences were carried to such lengths that it was hard to believe that they were members of the same species.

They weren’t exactly ugly, yet there was something disturbing about them. Perhaps it was the rank halogen odor of their skin glands that were still secreting despite the coolness of the air. Or perhaps it was merely that they were intelligent mammals. It was as though Authority had, in a moment of cosmic humor, drawn oversized caricatures of Thalassans and endowed them with life. I felt a subtle insult in their presence. I suppose it showed in my aura because Ven came quickly to my side.

“I told you they were disturbing,” she said as we looked up at their monstrous forms towering over us.

“I’m glad they’re not uncontrolled,” I answered, shivering a little as I looked at them. “I suppose it’s just species antipathy, but they make me uncomfortable.”

“Mammals were exterminated on Thalassa long ago, weren’t they?”

“Yes,” I said. “They ate our eggs.”

Ven walked forward and ran her primary digits over the female’s legs. “They’re quite well evolved,” she said. “The skin hasn’t a vestige of scales.”

“Neither does yours except at the tip of your tail,” I said tartly. “Don’t get the idea that they’re a primitive life form. Actually they are a later evolutionary type than we! If our ancestors had not developed intelligence enough to realize their peril we would be extinct—and something like them would rule Thalassa today.”

Ven shivered, “How horrible! I don’t like thinking about it.”

“Don’t,” I advised.

“What are we going to do with them?” Ven asked.

“I was going to analyze them and construct a proxy, but they’re far too big to duplicate with our limited resources. I suppose the only thing we can do is to insert control circuits and use them as they are.”

“Won’t that be painful?”

“Only psychically. Physically they shouldn’t suffer a bit. The brain, you know, feels no pain. It merely interprets stimuli from elsewhere.”

“In mammals too?”

I shrugged. “I suppose so. Besides, what difference does it make? Once we’re through with them we can destroy them if they’re too badly damaged.”

“That seems unfair.”

“It’s not a question of fairness. It’s survival. If they don’t perform properly, we shall have to dispose of them or they’ll be back here with a whole herd. Of course, if they operate under control, we’ll turn them loose when we’re through with them. I doubt that their technology is advanced enough to recognize a bio-circuit if they saw one. And if it is, they will have learned nothing new.”

“But why can’t we keep them—take them back to Thalassa? They’d make an unusual contribution to the Central Zoo.”

“I’m afraid not,” I said. “I doubt if they’d survive space. The only part of the ship large enough to hold them would be the cargo storage compartment, and that’s not shielded. A hyperjump would kill them. You wouldn’t want even them to die that way, would you?”

Her aura turned gray. “No, I suppose not.”

“There isn’t a chance,” I said, seizing her thought before it was uttered. “It would take ten of our lifetimes to reach our nearest outpost on normal spacedrive. Forget it.”

“But—”

“Come along,” I said, “I’ll need your help to modify these brutes.”

Actually it wasn’t a hard job. Their brains were well developed and nicely compartmentalized. With our probes and instruments it was a simple enough matter to implant the necessary organic extensions of our instruments.

“That should do it,” I murmured as I disconnected the leads I had jury-rigged into the analyzer. “They’re clean as a Fardel’s tooth.” I was tired, but I had the pleasant feeling of accomplishment that comes from working with organic matter. Possibly if I were not so interested in History, I’d have become a medic. I do have a certain talent along that line.

At any rate, we now had a pair of proxies. With only normal fortune they would be completely undetectable.

“Is it all done?” Ven asked as she looked over my shoulder.

“Yes,” I said. “But leave the probes in place until we test them.” I dragged my weary body once again into the control room and tried the headgear and circuits. They functioned absolutely perfectly.

“What do we do now?” Ven’s projection came to me.

“Remove the probes and send them back to their camp. There’s no sense in leaving them here.”

“But Eu—”

“No,” I said. “They are not toys. They’re tools. They’re to do a job for us. Now stop acting like a child. When they bring us metal you can play games with them—but not now. They’re stressed, tired, and need rest. And they’re going to get it.”

“Yes, Eu.” Her projection was submissive.

“But don’t worry,” I added kindly. “You can monitor them. I installed two extra circuits, one to the hypothalamus and the other to the tactile centers. You will be able to feel every sensation they experience. It will be just like having an extra body.”

“Can I try it now?” she asked eagerly as she came into the control room.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Put on a helmet and use the double control. Take them back to their camp and then neutralize the controller. As for me, I’m going to the refresher. I need it.”

III

I awoke from partial estivation with Ven’s projection vibrating my antennae. “Eu! Come quickly! They’re awake!”

I groaned. What did she expect? But it might be interesting to see how they behaved. And if they panicked, someone should be there to assume control.

I checked the chronometer. I had rested for eight satts which should be enough. I felt as well as could be expected, so with only a few choice Low-Thalassic expletives to help me, I managed to clamber out of the tank and stagger into the control room. Ven already had one of the helmets on. I picked up the other and flicked the switch to “on.” It was the male’s—and he was talking. The words were gibberish, but the thoughts behind them were easy to read.

I was part of an entity called Donald G. Carlton, a male mammal of the human species. He was a “writer” and was mated to the female, who was called Edith and who worked in “motion pictures.” They lived in a place called Hollywood, in a family unit structure faintly similar to a children’s creche. Custom on this world dictated that the female take one name of her mate, which indicated that the sex was even more subservient than female Thalassans. The male’s body ached, but not as badly as I would have expected. And, as I expected, there was no sensitivity in the brain.

“Hey! Edith!” Donald said. “Get up!”

“Leave me alone, Don. I’m miserable,” a lighter voice answered from the lumpy sack beside him. “I had the most awful dream.”

“It must be the mountain air,” he replied. “I did too.”

“Whatever made me think this would be fun!” Edith said. “You and your meteor-hunting!” The sack heaved and twisted and her head appeared at one end. “I feel like I’ve been worked over with a baseball bat. Oh! My legs!”

“You’re not alone,” he said. “I guess it’s the hard ground and these strait-jackets they laughingly call sleeping bags.”

“About that dream,” Edith said. “It was horrible. There was this little green and yellow thing that looked like a cross between a lizard and a human being. It was sitting on my shoulders and I was naked—carrying it around, doing what it wanted me to do! I wanted to throw it off and stamp on it but I couldn’t. I just ran and ran and all the time that little monster sat with its legs around my neck, hooting like an owl. Now, wasn’t that something?”

Donald was very quiet. “You know,” he said slowly, “essentially that was the same dream I had.”

“But that can’t be! People don’t have the same nightmares.”

“We did.”

“Then maybe—maybe it wasn’t a nightmare!”

“Nonsense. We’re here. We’re all right. But I think perhaps we’d better get out of here—oh, Keerist! I’m one solid bruise.” He twisted around until he found the fastenings and opened the bag. With a groan he stood up.

Edith looked at him, her eyes wide with sudden terror. “Don,” she said in a brittle voice, “didn’t you wear pajamas when you went to bed last night?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you’re not wearing them now.” An expression of horror crossed her face. “And neither am I,” she added in a small voice.

I could feel the shock in Donald’s brain as he looked down at himself. “That’s not all I’m not wearing,” he said dully. “I’m shaved!”

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