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«Deathworld 2 The Specialist in Ethics», Harry Harrison

For JOHN W. CAMPBELL without whose aid this book— and a good percentage of modern science fiction— would never have been written.

1

“Just a moment,” Jason said into the phone, then turned away for a moment and shot an attacking homdevil. “No, I’m not doing anything important. I’ll come over now and maybe I can help.”

He switched off the phone and the radio operator’s image faded from the screen. When he passed the gutted horndevil it stirred with a last spark of vicious life, and its horn clattered on his flexible metal boot; he kicked the body off the wall into the jungle below.

It was dark in the perimeter guard turret; the only illumination came from the flickering lights of the defense screen controls. Meta looked up swiftly at him and smiled, then turned her full attention back to the alarm board.

“I’m going over to the spaceport radio tower,” Jason told her. “There is a spacer in orbit, trying to make contact in an unknown language. Maybe I can help.”

“Hurry back,” Meta said and, after a rapid check that all her alarms were in the green, she turned in the chair and reached up to him. Her arms held him, slim-muscled and as strong as a man’s, but her lips were warm, feminine. He returned the kiss, though she broke away as suddenly as she had begun, turning her attention back to the alarm and defense system.

“That’s the trouble with Pyrrus,” Jason said. “Too much efficiency.” He bent over and gave her a small bite on the nape of the neck and she laughed and slapped at him playfully without taking her eyes from the alarms. He moved—but not fast enough—and went out rubbing his bruised ear. “Lady weight-lifter!” he muttered under his breath.

The radio operator was alone in the spaceport tower, a teen-age boy who had never been offplanet, and therefore knew only Pyrran, while Jason, after his career as a professional gambler, spoke or had nodding acquaintance with most of the galactic languages.

“It’s orbiting out of range now,” the operator said. “Be back in a moment. Talks something different.” He turned the gain up, and above the crackle of atmospherics a voice slowly grew.

jeg kan ikke forsta°. . . Pyrrus, kan dig hШr mig. . .

“No trouble with that,” Jason said, reaching for the microphone. “It’s Nytdansk—they speak it on most of the planets in the Polaris area.” He thumbed the switch on.

“Pyrrus til ruin fartskib, over,” he said, and opened the switch. The answer came back in the same language.

“Request landing permission. What are your coordinates?”

“Permission denied, and the suggestion strongly presented that you find a healthier planet.”

“That is impossible, since I have a message for Jason dinAlt and I have information that he is here.”

Jason looked at the crackling loudspeaker with new interest. “Your information is correct: dinAlt speaking. What is the message?”

“It cannot be delivered over a public circuit. I am now following your radio beam down. Will you give me instructions?”

“You do realize that you are probably committing suicide? This is the deadliest planet in the galaxy, and all the life forms, from the bacteria up to the clawhawks—which are as big as the ship you’re flying— are inimical to man. There i~ a truce of sorts going now, but it is still certain death for an outworlder like you. Can you hear me?”

There was no answer. Jason shrugged and looked at the approach radar.

“Well, it’s your life. But don’t say with your dying breath that you weren’t warned. I’ll bring you in—but only if you agree to stay in your ship. I’ll come out to you; that way you have a fifty-fifty chance that the decontamination cycling in your spacelock will kill the local microscopic life.”

“That is agreeable,” came the answer, “since I have no wish to die

—only to deliver my message.”

Jason guided the ship in, watched it emerge from the low-lying clouds, hover, then drop stern first with a grating crash. The shock absorbers took up most of the blow, but the ship had bent a support and stood at a decided angle.

“Terrible landing,” the radio operator grunted, and turned back to his controls, uninterested in the stranger. Pyrrans have no casual curiosity.

Jason was the direct opposite. Curiosity had brought him to Pyrrus, involved him in the planet-wide war, and almost killed him. Now curiosity drove him towards the ship. He hesitated a moment as he realized that the radio operator had not understood his conversation with the strange pilot, and could not know that he planned to enter the ship. If he was walking into trouble he could expect no help.


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