“Any problem posed by one group of
human beings can be resolved by any
other group.” That’s what the Handbook
said. But did that include primitive
humans? Or the Bees? Or a …
The cool green disk of Alphard Six on the screen was infinitely welcome after the arid desolation and stinking swamplands of the inner planets, an airy jewel of a world that might have been designed specifically for the hard-earned month of rest ahead. Navigator Farrell, youngest and certainly most impulsive of the three-man Terran Reclamations crew, would have set the Marco Four down at once but for the greater caution of Stryker, nominally captain of the group, and of Gibson, engineer, and linguist. Xavier, the ship’s little mechanical, had–as was usual and proper–no voice in the matter.
“Reconnaissance spiral first, Arthur,” Stryker said firmly. He chuckled at Farrell’s instant scowl, his little eyes twinkling and his naked paunch quaking over the belt of his shipboard shorts. “Chapter One, Subsection Five, Paragraph Twenty-seven: No planetfall on an unreclaimed world shall be deemed safe without proper– “
Farrell, as Stryker had expected, interrupted with characteristic impatience. “Do you sleep with that damned Reclamations Handbook, Lee? Alphard Six isn’t an unreclaimed world–it was never colonized before the Hymenop invasion back in 3025, so why should it be inhabited now?”
Gibson, who for four hours had not looked up from his interminable chess game with Xavier, paused with a beleaguered knight in one blunt brown hand.
“No point in taking chances,” Gibson said in his neutral baritone. He shrugged thick bare shoulders, his humorless black-browed face unmoved, when Farrell included him in his scowl. “We’re two hundred twenty-six light-years from Sol, at the old limits of Terran expansion, and there’s no knowing what we may turn up here. Alphard’s was one of the first systems the Bees took over. It must have been one of the last to be abandoned when they pulled back to 70 Ophiuchi.”
“And I think you live for the day,” Farrell said acidly, “when we’ll stumble across a functioning dome of live, buzzing Hymenops. Damn it, Gib, the Bees pulled out a hundred years ago, before you and I were born–neither of us ever saw a Hymenop, and never will!”
“But I saw them,” Stryker said. “I fought them for the better part of the century they were here, and I learned there’s no predicting nor understanding them. We never knew why they came nor why they gave up and left. How can we know whether they’d leave a rear-guard or booby trap here?”
He put a paternal hand on Farrell’s shoulder, understanding the younger man’s eagerness and knowing that their close-knit team would have been the more poorly balanced without it.
“Gib’s right,” he said. He nearly added as usual. “We’re on rest leave at the moment, yes, but our mission is still to find Terran colonies enslaved and abandoned by the Bees, not to risk our necks and a valuable Reorientations ship by landing blind on an unobserved planet. We’re too close already. Cut in your shields and find a reconnaissance spiral, will you?”
Grumbling, Farrell punched coordinates on the Ringwave board that lifted the Marco Four out of her descent and restored the bluish enveloping haze of her repellors.
Stryker’s caution was justified on the instant. The speeding streamlined shape that had flashed up unobserved from below swerved sharply and exploded in a cataclysmic blaze of atomic fire that rocked the ship wildly and flung the three men to the floor in a jangling roar of alarms.
* * * * *