SFSS

Science fiction short stories

Les mains d'un apôtre

What you did to your uncle’s grave was unforgivable.

Your mother blamed herself, as always. You didn’t know what you were doing, she said. I could accept that when you traded the shofar I gave you for that eMotiv headset, perhaps, or even when you befriended those young toughs with the shaved heads and the filthy mouths. I would never have forgiven the swastika on your game pod but you are my daughter’s son, not mine. Maybe it was only adolescent rebellion. How could you know, after all? How could any child really know, here in 2017? Genocide is far too monstrous a thing for history books and grainy old photographs to convey. You were not there; you could never understand.

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It's well established now that the way you put a question often determines not only the answer you'll get, but the type of answer possible. So... a mechanical answerer, geared to produce the ultimate revelations in reference to anything you want to know, might have unsuspected limitations.

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Weird Tales cover

Before I try to rest I will set down these notes in preparation for the report I must make. What I have found is so singular, and so contrary to all past experience and expectations, that it deserves a very careful description.

I reached the main landing on Venus, March 18, terrestrial time; VI, 9 of the planet's calendar. Being put in the main group under Miller, I received my equipment—watch tuned to Venus's slightly quicker rotation—and went through the usual mask drill. After two days I was pronounced fit for duty.

Leaving the Crystal Company's post at Terra Nova around dawn, VI, 12, I followed the southerly route which Anderson had mapped out from the air. The going was bad, for these jungles are always half impassable after a rain. It must be the moisture that gives the tangled vines and creepers that leathery toughness; a toughness so great that a knife has to work ten minutes on some of them. By noon it was dryer—the vegetation getting soft and rubbery so that my knife went through it easily—but even then I could not make much speed. These Carter oxygen masks are too heavy—just carrying one half wears an ordinary man out. A Dubois mask with sponge-reservoir instead of tubes would give just as good air at half the weight.

The crystal-detector seemed to function well, pointing steadily in a direction verifying Anderson's report. It is curious how that principle of affinity works—without any of the fakery of the old 'divining rods' back home. There must be a great deposit of crystals within a thousand miles, though I suppose those damnable man-lizards always watch and guard it. Possibly they think we are just as foolish for coming to Venus to hunt the stuff as we think they are for grovelling in the mud whenever they see a piece of it, or for keeping that great mass on a pedestal in their temple. I wish they'd get a new religion, for they have no use for the crystals except to pray to. Barring theology, they would let us take all we want—and even if they learned to tap them for power there'd be more than enough for their planet and the earth besides. I for one am tired of passing up the main deposits and merely seeking separate crystals out of jungle river-beds. Sometime I'll urge the wiping out of these scaly beggars by a good stiff army from home. About twenty ships could bring enough troops across to turn the trick. One can't call the damned things men for all their 'cities' and towers. They haven't any skill except building—and using swords and poison darts—and I don't believe their so-called 'cities' mean much more than ant-hills or beaver-dams. I doubt if they even have a real language—all the talk about psychological communication through those tentacles down their chests strikes me as bunk. What misleads people is their upright posture; just an accidental physical resemblance to terrestrial man.

I'd like to go through a Venus jungle for once without having to watch out for skulking groups of them or dodge their cursed darts. They may have been all right before we began to take the crystals, but they're certainly a bad enough nuisance now—with their dart-shooting and their cutting of our water pipes. More and more I come to believe that they have a special sense like our crystal-detectors. No one ever knew them to bother a man—apart from long-distance sniping—who didn't have crystals on him.

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The slovenly wub might well have said: Many men talk like philosophers and live like fools.

They had almost finished with the loading. Outside stood the Optus, his arms folded, his face sunk in gloom. Captain Franco walked leisurely down the gangplank, grinning.

“What's the matter?” he said. “You're getting paid for all this.”

The Optus said nothing. He turned away, collecting his robes. The Captain put his boot on the hem of the robe.

“Just a minute. Don't go off. I'm not finished.”

“Oh?” The Optus turned with dignity. “I am going back to the village.” He looked toward the animals and birds being driven up the gangplank into the spaceship. “I must organize new hunts.”

Franco lit a cigarette. “Why not? You people can go out into the veldt and track it all down again. But when we run out halfway between Mars and Earth—”

The Optus went off, wordless. Franco joined the first mate at the bottom of the gangplank.

“How's it coming?” he said. He looked at his watch. “We got a good bargain here.”

The mate glanced at him sourly. “How do you explain that?”

“What's the matter with you? We need it more than they do.”

“I'll see you later, Captain.” The mate threaded his way up the plank, between the long-legged Martian go-birds, into the ship. Franco watched him disappear. He was just starting up after him, up the plank toward the port, when he saw it.

“My God!” He stood staring, his hands on his hips. Peterson was walking along the path, his face red, leading it by a string.

“I'm sorry, Captain,” he said, tugging at the string. Franco walked toward him.

“What is it?”

The wub stood sagging, its great body settling slowly. It was sitting down, its eyes half shut. A few flies buzzed about its flank, and it switched its tail.

It sat. There was silence.

“It's a wub,” Peterson said. “I got it from a native for fifty cents. He said it was a very unusual animal. Very respected.”

“This?” Franco poked the great sloping side of the wub. “It's a pig! A huge dirty pig!”

“Yes sir, it's a pig. The natives call it a wub.”

“A huge pig. It must weigh four hundred pounds.” Franco grabbed a tuft of the rough hair. The wub gasped. Its eyes opened, small and moist. Then its great mouth twitched.

A tear rolled down the wub's cheek and splashed on the floor.

“Maybe it's good to eat,” Peterson said nervously.

“We'll soon find out,” Franco said.

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