The Cytha had obviously passed the word along: Man back there needs killing. Go and get him.
Just like that, for a Cytha would be the power here. A life force, the giver of life, the decider of life, the repository of all animal life on the entire planet.
There was more than one of them, of course. Probably they had home districts, spheres of influence and responsibility mapped out. And each one would be a power supreme in its own district.
Momism, he thought with a sour grin. Momism at its absolute peak.
Nevertheless, he told himself, it wasn't too bad a system if you wanted to consider it objectively.
But he was in a poor position to be objective about that or anything else.
The screamers were inching closer, hitching themselves forward slowly on their bottoms.
"I'm going to set up a deadline for you critters," Duncan called out. "Just two feet farther, up to that rock, and I let you have it."
He'd get all six of them, of course, but the shots would be the signal for the general rush by all those other animals slinking in the brush.
If he were free, if he were on his feet, possibly he could beat them off. But pinned as he was, he didn't have a chance. It would be all over less than a minute after he opened fire. He might, he figured, last as long as that.
The six inched closer and he raised the rifle.
But they stopped and moved no farther. Their ears lifted just a little, as if they might be listening, and the grins dropped from their faces. They squirmed uneasily and assumed a look of guilt and, like shadows, they were gone, melting away so swiftly that he scarcely saw them go.
Duncan sat quietly, listening, but he could hear no sound.
Reprieve, he thought. But for how long? Something had scared them off, but in a while they might be back. He had to get out of here and he had to make it fast.
If he could find a longer lever, he could move the tree. There was a branch slanting up from the topside of the fallen tree. It was almost four inches at the butt and it carried its diameter well.
He slid the knife from his belt and looked at it. Too small, too thin, he thought, to chisel through a four-inch branch, but it was all he had. When a man was desperate enough, though, when his very life depended on it, he would do anything.
He hitched himself along, sliding toward the point where the branch protruded from the tree. His pinned leg protested with stabs of pain as his body wrenched it around. He gritted his teeth and pushed himself closer. Pain slashed through his leg again and he was still long inches from the branch.
He tried once more, then gave up. He lay panting on the ground.
There was just one thing left.
He'd have to try to hack out a notch in the trunk just above his leg. No, that would be next to impossible, for he'd be cutting into the whorled and twisted grain at the base of the supporting fork.
Either that or cut off his foot, and that was even more impossible. A man would faint before he got the job done.
It was useless, he knew. He could do neither one. There was nothing he could do.
For the first time, he admitted to himself: He would stay here and die. Shotwell, back at the farm, in a day or two might set out hunting for him. But Shotwell would never find him. And anyhow, by nightfall, if not sooner, the screamers would be back.
He laughed gruffly in his throat--laughing at himself.
The Cytha had won the hunt hands down. It had used a human weakness to win and then had used that same human weakness to achieve a viciously poetic vengeance.
After all, what could one expect? One could not equate human ethics with the ethics of the Cytha. Might not human ethics, in certain cases, seem as weird and illogical, as infamous and ungrateful, to an alien?
He hunted for a twig and began working again to clean the rifle bore.
A crashing behind him twisted him around and he saw the Cytha. Behind the Cytha stalked a donovan.
He tossed away the twig and raised the gun.
"No," said the Cytha sharply.
The donovan tramped purposefully forward and Duncan felt the prickling of the skin along his back. It was a frightful thing. Nothing could stand before a donovan. The screamers had turned tail and run when they had heard it a couple of miles or more away.
The donovan was named for the first known human to be killed by one. That first was only one of many. The roll of donovan-victims ran long, and no wonder, Duncan thought. It was the closest he had ever been to one of the beasts and he felt a coldness creeping over him. It was like an elephant and a tiger and a grizzly bear wrapped in the selfsame hide. It was the most vicious fighting machine that ever had been spawned.
He lowered the rifle. There would be no point in shooting. In two quick strides, the beast could be upon him.
The donovan almost stepped on him and he flinched away. Then the great head lowered and gave the fallen tree a butt and the tree bounced for a yard or two. The donovan kept on walking. Its powerfully muscled stern moved into the brush and out of sight.
"Now we are even," said the Cytha. "I had to get some help."
Duncan grunted. He flexed the leg that had been trapped and he could not feel the foot. Using his rifle as a cane, he pulled himself erect. He tried putting weight on the injured foot and it screamed with pain.
He braced himself with the rifle and rotated so that he faced the Cytha.
"Thanks, pal," he said. "I didn't think you'd do it."
"You will not hunt me now?"
Duncan shook his head. "I'm in no shape for hunting. I am heading home."
"It was the vua, wasn't it? That was why you hunted me?"
"The vua is my livelihood," said Duncan. "I cannot let you eat it."
The Cytha stood silently and Duncan watched it for a moment. Then he wheeled. Using the rifle for a crutch, he started hobbling away.
The Cytha hurried to catch up with him.
"Let us make a bargain, mister. I will not eat the vua and you will not hunt me. Is that fair enough?"
"That is fine with me," said Duncan. "Let us shake on it."
He put down a hand and the Cytha lifted up a paw. They shook, somewhat awkwardly, but very solemnly.
"Now," the Cytha said, "I will see you home. The screamers would have you before you got out of the woods."
They halted on a knoll. Below them lay the farm, with the vua rows straight and green in the red soil of the fields.
"You can make it from here," the Cytha said. "I am wearing thin. It is an awful effort to keep on being smart. I want to go back to ignorance and comfort."
"It was nice knowing you," Duncan told it politely. "And thanks for sticking with me."
He started down the hill, leaning heavily on the rifle-crutch. Then he frowned troubledly and turned back.
"Look," he said, "you'll go back to animal again. Then you will forget. One of these days, you'll see all that nice, tender vua and--"
"Very simple," said the Cytha. "If you find me in the vua, just begin hunting me. With you after me, I will quickly get smart and remember once again and it will be all right."
"Sure," agreed Duncan. "I guess that will work."
The Cytha watched him go stumping down the hill.
Admirable, it thought. Next time I have a brood, I think I'll raise a dozen like him.
It turned around and headed for the deeper brush.
It felt intelligence slipping from it, felt the old, uncaring comfort coming back again. But it glowed with anticipation, seethed with happiness at the big surprise it had in store for its new-found friend.
Won't he be happy and surprised when I drop them at his door, it thought.
Will he be ever pleased!
By Vance Simonds
Huckster Heaven, in Hollywood, set out to fulfill the adman's dream in every particular. It recognized more credit cards than it offered entrees on the menu. Various atmospheres, complete with authentic decor, were offered: Tahitian, Parisian, even Afro-Cuban for the delectation of the Off-Beat Client. In every case, houris glided to and fro in appropriate native costume, bearing viands calculated to quell, at least for the nonce, harsh thoughts of the combative marketplace. Instead, beamish advertisers and their account executive hosts were plied so lavishly that soon the sounds of competitive strife were but a memory; and in the postprandial torpor, dormant dreams of largesse on the Lucullan scale came alive. In these surroundings, droppers of such names as the Four Seasons, George V, and the Stadium Club were notably silent.
Campbell ("Cam") Schofft was ostentatiously honored as one of the Huckster Heaven "in-group." His business card (die-bumped and gold-dusted, of course) was one of those enshrined, under glass as it were, in the foyer. His advice concerning California land speculation was sought by the maitre d', a worthy who had sold his own posh oasis in Escondido in order to preside at H. H., as the communications fraternity affectionately styled the restaurant. Today, however, Cam was aware of Michel's subtle disapproval as they glided into the Caribbean milieu.
And little wonder: The character awaiting Cam in the booth was definitely not the H. H. type. Far from being cast in the approved lean, sickly, bespectacled mold, Everett O'Toole featured jowls wider than Cam's natural shoulders; and his gut threatened to thrust their tiny table into the houris' concourse. Manhattan innkeepers often confused Everett with Ralph Kramden, a classic comic character of the Sixties still cast occasionally for the cognoscenti.
Cam viewed this great flow of flesh with dispassionate eyes. The behemoth spoke: "Can't resist a fast megabuck, eh, Cam?"
"As you know, hippo, I agreed to meet you here in the naive hope that you had something to contribute to the science of marketing," said Cam.
"Science! Hah!" Everett sucked on his goblet. "I do have something to sell, but it's probably over your head."
"Very possibly. In which event, I'll whirl on to something more productive, and you can pick up your own tab for those half-gallons of equatirial garbage you've been gulping."
Sobered by this threat, Everett looked about with a conspiratorial air and leaned across the table.
"You and that giggle gang you call the Market Research Group have been groping around like so many blind mice. How would you like to know in advance, beyond any cavil, the exact future reaction to any product, new, old or sea-changed--or to any campaign to be inflicted on the peasantry?"
"How would you like to be Duke of the Western World, with your castle in Acapulco?"
"That's what keeps alive my faith in you," said Everett. "You do understand, a little bit. That's what we call Empathy."
Cam signalled for a Bellafonte Sunrise to fortify himself for the forthcoming adventure in non-Aristotelian ratiocination.
"Empathy is our merchandise," Everett continued, looking around again. "My associates and I have discovered our propensity for experiencing vicariously--with unfortunate intensity--the emotional reactions of others."
"I have encountered many ridiculous routines," Cam advised the Dominican beauty placing new potables before them. "But this wins the Freberg."
"Exhibit A coming up." Everett lapsed into a pose of deep concentration, like a two-bit swami. Cam noticed a tiny, rodent-type nose thrusting itself up from Everett's side pocket. "Fear ... I detect great apprehension--panic--hysteria verging on the loss of reason ... third booth this side of the runes ... Valhalla."
Cam rose and went to the Nordic banquet hall. Vikings with groaning platters and great horns of mead almost knocked him down, but he fought his way to the curtained stall described, and eavesdropped.
"He ain't gonna take no for an answer this time, Quiverton," rasped the guttural tones of one occupant. "Gable has to host the new series, with Jean Harlow for the first guest star--or, he gets a new agency."
"Bu-but Fred, they're both dead."
"He ain't gonna stand still for any more alibis. It's up to you--produce, or else! You got a week."
There was a sound of blubbering from within, interspersed with piteous cries like those emitted by a rabbit transfixed by headlights. They sounded to Cam like an account man he knew over at GFR&O; and this in turn meant that the ultimatum was probably proceeding from the fabled throne room of Occidental Tobacco itself, which billed more in one week than some of Cam's clients knew had been printed. Cam even had a blinding inspiration as to the means by which Occidental's megalomaniac prexy, William McKinley Krog, might be satisfied in this latest necrophiliac whim: Spectaculars built around the classics of the Golden Age of the Silver Screen ... (By Godfrey! Not a bad series title!) ... using film clips of deceased movie greats, and emceed by Stanislaus Von Gort, who everybody thought was dead and therefore might as well be.
With this melee raging in his skull, Cam dodged back to Everett. He found that worthy sliding liquidly from the booth, his side-pocket familiar now half-emerged and regarding his gross symbiote with more-than-animal concern.
"Quickly," cried Cam to the slave-girl. "Stimulants!"
"We only serve rum drinks in this section," unctuously responded the Nefertiti of the Horse Latitudes; but a blazing glance from Cam sent her scurrying, every cheek a-dance.
"You can see what this takes out of me," said the patient, treating himself with deep draughts of Cam's Sunrise. "I don't know how many more of these I--we--can take."
"Take it easy, boy. I conditionally buy your bit. Save your strength." The small inhabitant of the side pocket was regarding him with some asperity. "Who's your little chum?"
"I'm hep to your devious mind," giggled Everett. "You charlatan, you've got it figured that he's one of my associates."
"You're stoned," said Cam, leading his obese charge stumbling and falling out of the Caribbean grotto, past the Michael Mouse shrine and the framed Exceptional T & E Vouchers (to which no exception had been taken, thus attesting to the achievement of their authors).
"Get this, you call-boy of the communications complex," shrilled Everett hilariously in the muted beauty of the business-card foyer. "You're right; he is one of our Gestalt; but there's a couple more. And Our Gang will cost you, Schofft, cost like crazy.... But you'll pay, through the nose; because your clients will pay through the nose and ears! He, he, he!" The pained features of the maitre d' reflected exquisite pain as he ushered them into the sunlight.