Amoeba-Hunt can be found in Magazine Entry


MAY 1954



The problem: how to capture an animal that you can't shoot, bomb, stun or trap? The crew of the SPARTACUS had to find the answer or return to the slavery they had so recently escaped.

Abner Hudek came up out of his chair so fast that he was standing fully upright before his seat had had time to sink down and merge back into the floor.

"What was that?" he said in a choked voice.

Lord Glanders yawned and examined his over-long fingernails with an air of affected boredom. When he spoke, his words were even more mincing and his tones more patronizing than usual.

"I've asked you," he said, "to catch an amoeba for me. I want one for my private zoo. If you don't care to undertake the assignment you are free to leave, but I must insist on your preserving the proper deportment for one of your class whatever you decide to do. Another outbreak like that and I shall be forced to have you chastised."

His face burning, Hudek bowed his head humbly and made the proper apologies. He bent into a sitting position and the seat rose up again to meet him.

Lord Glanders acknowledged the apology with a gracious nod.

Hudek stared at the flaccid face and corpulent figure of the man sitting opposite him. Too much time in space, Hudek realized, especially as captain of his own ship, made a man forget the social usages of twenty-second century Earth. He would have to be extremely careful. A chastisement could mean anything from ten lashes to the loss of his ship and a return to hopeless bondage for Hudek and his crew.

And there would be no possibility of appeal from Lord Glanders' action, whatever form it took. For Hudek and his men were of the Emp Class. Free spacemen now, it was true, but all sons of bonded Emps, and their word would be meaningless beside that of Lord Glanders who was not only a member of the Supe Class, but a director-son of the far-flung Atproco in the bargain.

"If Your Lordship please," Hudek began, this time in a much subdued voice, "would you explain further? I don't quite understand what it is you want of me."

Lord Glanders smiled. These free Emps had to be treated with a firm hand or they forgot their place.

"It's quite simple, my good man. Baron Welk of Incomco has been making himself unbearable boasting of the new multileg in his collection, which he brought back last month from a hunting trip on Sirius II. I've decided that an exhibition of a caged amoeba at the next Atproco Ball will be an effective way of silencing the tiresome Baron. Your ship has been recommended to me as ideal for this sort of undertaking. It's much too important for me to chance entrusting to the Emps of my space-yacht."

Hudek was still floundering. "B-but Your Lordship! An amoeba is a microscopic animal! And what do you want a spaceship for? Any stagnant pond—"

"How long have you been out in space, Hudek? It's been almost a year since reports arrived on Earth of the discovery of giant amoebas on Procyon IV!"

Hudek sank back in his scat with a sigh of relief. "Oh, giant amoebas!" Then he began to see difficulties again. "But, Lord Glanders, how does one go about capturing an amoeba?"

Lord Glanders shrugged. "That's your problem, Hudek. Rope it; smother it into submission; I don't care. However, I want it alive and in perfect condition. Are you willing to take the commission?"

Hudek considered silently for a moment. The only way free ships like Hudek's Spartacus were able to make out was by doing jobs too difficult for bonded vessels. Most of the money from the previous voyage was eaten up. Let them once get into debt, and the crew of the Spartacus could kiss their ship and their freedom good-bye.

It was impolite to slate a price, but Hudek knew from past experience that the Supes rewarded generously anyone who enabled them to achieve a slight triumph over another of their class. Lord Glanders' reputation was good, in that respect at least.

"I'll do it," Hudek said heavily.

"Good man!" Lord Glanders rose, indicating that the interview was terminated. Hudek rose also, respectfully, and both chairs became one with the gold-cloth rug on the floor. A liveried butler arrived in answer to Lord Glanders' ring, and Hudek prepared to follow him to the Emp's exit. When Hudek was at the door of the room, Lord Glanders called out, "By the way, Hudek, when do you expect to be ready to leave?"

Hudek considered. "It will take about a week to round up supplies and equipment."

Lord Glanders nodded. "Good. Have a suite made ready for myself and a few servants. I'll have my things brought over tomorrow." He touched a spot on the wall.

Hudek stepped forward. "B-but—" he began, and found himself facing a blank wall. Lord Glanders was gone.

Back on the Spartacus, Hudek assembled his crew in the mess hall and told them the story. He had been afraid they wouldn't approve, and, when he had finished speaking, he could see his suspicions confirmed in their angry faces.

Chief Engineer McGill was the first to break the heavy silence.

"Look, Skipper," he said, "I've been with you since the day the Spartacus shipped on her maiden voyage as a free ship with a free crew, and I've always tended to my engine...

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