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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Space Science Fiction Magazine

AUGUST 1957

AN EXPERIMENT IN GUMDROPS

by RUSS WINTERBOTHAM

Oelm despised earthmen and Larky Lawson was here. Larky and the Terrans before him had continually asked questions, probed, trying to find out how Oelm and others like him kept alive on Frigid Pegas.

Oelm regretted having learned their language, but it was too late now to pretend he didn't understand Larky Lawson.

How Oelm survived was his own business. The answer was as simple as the way he lived. Dig in the frozen ground. It kept you warm. Eat the small organisms that lived in the cold soil. They nourished you. That was simple, wasn't it? Larky thought it was too simple. He asked about Oelm's love life, the social structure of Pegas, and, most horrible of all, whether Pegasans considered themselves cultured and intelligent.

Of all things! Oelm was intelligent. Oelm was cultured. Different, maybe, but that was beside the point.

Someday Oelm would lose his temper and kill Larky, crushing him as he crushed a rock, or slashing him in two with his knife-sharp digging claws.

"What is your culture?" Larky asked.

Oelm used his cup-like claws to burrow deeper. His snout-like mouth muzzled out some juicy tidbits which he chewed with relish. He didn't answer the question, but that wouldn't stop Larky. The only effective way to silence him would be murder.

"What is your aim in life?" Larky asked.

"Go away," said Oelm.

"You're neither hospitable nor cooperative," said Larky. He sat down on a rock. The earthman wore furs and only his face was visible. A big, red face with a sharp nose and two little eyes that seemed to sparkle from the reflection of the torch he carried. He was about the same size as Oelm, but quite decadent. Anybody could see he was decadent because he didn't work to keep warm. He just wrapped himself in furs.

Oelm was built for work. To him all work was digging. His claws were shovels, his body small and narrow, his head hard and flat on top. His head was useful to crack rocks.

"There are easier ways to live than yours," said Larky.

"I like my way of life," said Oelm. "It's the only way I know. Now go away and let me live it."

"You don't have to dig all the time," said Larky. "I brought you food."

p He reached in his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag. He took off his mittens and the cold seemed to hurt his hands as he reached inside and pulled out a small something and put it beside Oelm.

The Pegasan sniffed it. An agreeable odor, strange and exotic. His instinct told him it was edible. He ate it. Most delicious. He resumed his digging.

"Eat the rest," said Larky.

"I must dig to keep warm," said Oelm. "What was that thing?"

"Gumdrop,...

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