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Planet Stories, January 1952

Calling World-4 of Kithgol!

By H. B. FYFE

Accidentally, Yorgh sent whirling off into space a grim,
200-year-old message... and lived to see his
dead world meet the vibrant future
.

THE Star was obscured by blowing sand and Yorgh could not see much of The World either. The wolly be rode snorted in panic at die howl of the sandstorm. Finally, the big hunter swung down to the ground and dragged the six-legged beast by the guide rope.

"Where are those trees I passed this morning?" he muttered.

He longed for a drink from the water-skin slung at his shoulder with his rolled cloak, bat there was so much sand in his short, golden beard that he would probably choke himself.

The sand whipped against his gray pants of coarse wool and the dark red tonic for which he had given the Sea People two dozen copper arrowheads, and twirled loosely beneath his calf-high leather boots. Yorgh squinted his eyes till they were mere gleams of bright blue among the laughter wrinkles.

"And I didn't even find the copper rocks!" he growled. "I should have stayed in the flatlands, hunting with the others."

He discovered that he was heading into a gully where the ripping winds had scooped sand from between ridges of dark rocks. Yorgh was not sure whether it offered shelter or the chance to be buried alive, but he plunged ahead to investigate. Within fifty paces, the howl at his back diminished.

"Not the rocks; it's a lull," he exclaimed, peering upward.

The sky was an ugly reddish brown, dark and menacing. He wondered how soon more tons of sand would sweep down to refill the gully. As he gazed upward, a round stone rolled under his foot and he sprawled forward. Even as he dropped, it seemed that he was falling further than he should be.

He brushed sand from his eyes and looked up. From the edge of a hollow whirled from the floor of the gully by opposing winds, the wolly stared down at him with an expression of scared idiocy. The ends of his horn bow and copper-tipped lance thrust up beside the saddle.

As Yorgh scrambled up and his head came above ground level, he saw that the hollow was at the junction of his gully with another. Sand was already beginning to collect again as the wind shifted. Behind a worn rock at his side, Yorgh glimpsed a glint of metal.

Copper? he wondered, stepping forward. It was not copper, nor any other metal he had ever seen.

To judge from what protruded above the sand, the thing was shaped slightly like the wagons the people of the Hunter tribe used in their migrations. Every part of it was smoothly rounded, even the skeleton sitting in the front seat.

Yorgh stared, feeling the prickle of rising hairs on his neck.

The moan of rising wind made him shiver. At least, he told himself it was the wind. It sounded uncomfortably like a wailing spirit.

Any skins or leather padding on the seat had long since crumbled. Only sand-scoured bones and metal remained. Except—

Something gleamed from the small deposit of sand remaining about the feet of the skeleton. Yorgh reached out cautiously and touched the end of a whitish metal cylinder as thick as his thumb. It was loose enough to pull out. He did, and it lay in his palm, about six inches long.

Yorgh could see no mark of any kind on the surface. He wondered if it would stand sharpening as a spearhead.

"Must have been one of the Old Ones," he muttered uneasily. "It is said they had strange and wonderful powers. I wonder if this was one of the wagons that skimmed over the ground with nothing pulling them, as are told of in the legends.

He had been, turning the cylinder over in his hands as he considered. One end moved beneath his fingers and the opposite extreme abruptly flashed a bluish green light at him.

"Gaaghk!" choked Yorgh, and flung the thing from him.

It arched over the edge of the hollow, and its flight was followed by the thud of hooves as the wolly scampered away. The growing wind was again raising stinging flurries of sand.

"Ho! Come back here, you knob-headed idiot!" roared the man, scrambling up the side of the hole to give chase.

THE animal, stung by the flying sand, ran faster. Yorgh stooped, groping for a stone to throw ahead of it, so as to turn it back in his direction. His fingers grasped upon something hard, but the shape felt wrong and he looked down.

It was the white metal cylinder.

I never should have touched it, he thought. Naturally, it would have a curse on it. I must put it back!

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw there would be little time. Sand was heaping up again all along the gully. But the wolly had disappeared up a slope to the surface of the desert.

"I'll come right back!" said Yorgh aloud, with an uneasy feeling that there just might be someone to hear him.

He thrust the object into the leather pouch on his belt beside his bronze knife, and ran up the slope with long-legged strides, even in the sliding sand. The wolly was out of sight.

The moan of wind rose to a shriek from the blackening sky.

Yorgh staggered blindly ahead. Once, peering between his fingers, he thought he caught a glimpse of the animal, but a gust whirled him around and he lost the direction. He floundered onward, wishing he had stayed in the gully. Then he remembered the company be would have had, and wondered if the Old One had been trapped by a similar false hope of shelter there. With fumbling fingers, Yorgh unslung the cloak that hung behind his shoulder and wrapped it about his head. It gave some relief, and he plodded forward, afraid to stop in one spot.

Something jarred his shoulder roughly. Yorgh reached out, but his wild grab did not find the wooly fur of his mount.

"The trees!" he gasped in relief.

It was the only shelter this side of the hills that separated the desert from the grassy plain. Yorgh pulled off his cloak, tied one comer to the tree with the strap of his water-skin, and set about making as good an imitation of a tent as possible. It might at least give him breathing room till the storm ended.

The Star shone hotly at noon the next day before Yorgh tramped wearily into the shade of the tree-lined creek that would lead him to his people's camp on the plain. He was lured to this route partly by the promised coolness and partly by the sight of a herd of kromp out on the open flat. These were six-legged, like every animal on The World except man. There were eighty or a hundred, and a few of the ill-tempered bulls were already sniffing the air and aiming their four horns about.

Yorgh splashed water over his face and neck. He wished he could stop for a swim, but he had walked all night after the sandstorm died down to get through the hills and out of the desert. The only thing which could have kept him from the camp, where he could hope for badly needed sleep, was a chance to find the gully again. When the sand had settled, however, be had found—not entirely to his surprise—that he had completely lost the direction.

"It's like the old legends," he murmured, standing up and taking the cylinder out of his pooch to look at it again. "Things like this always happened to the ancient heroes. They even flew among the stars—huh! That's a likely tale! But this...?"

Once again, as he had learned, he twisted the end of the cylinder. The other end glowed with a blue-green light.

Yorgh shook his head in wonder, and returned the object to his pouch. He went ahead at a relaxed but steady pace. In a few minutes, the sound of voices through the undergrowth brought his head up sharply. He went on, patting the bushes silently. Presently, he grinned as he peered out at a wide pool.

Five of the younger women were swimming or splashing in the shallows. Piles of wet clothing on the bank indicated the task that had brought them to this sheltered eddy in the creek. Yorgh looked hopefully for the red-gold tresses of Vaneen, the shapely—if too haughty—daughter of Chief Tefior, but vainly.

Let me see, he pondered, shall I be a clumsy kromp snorting through the trees, or a meat-eating ponadu?

Raising his hands to his mouth, he emitted a wailing cry that was the trademark of the only providing killer on The World large enough to hunt a man. The splashing in the creek ceased immediately.

YORGH ducked his head lower and wailed again. For good measure, he added a few guttural coughs, as if the animal had scented game. The splashing resumed for a second amid low cries of alarm,' then was replaced by the hasty pat-pat-pat of bare feet along the bank. Yorgh peered after the wetly gleaming figures, and doubled up with one hand firmly across his mouth.

Taking time only to refill his water-skin, he followed the trail along the creek at a good pace. Just as he sighted the outlines of tents through the thinning trees, a handful of hunters ran pell-mell up the trail toward him.

"Hold! What's this?" snapped Chief Tefior, raising his spear to halt those trotting behind him. His gray-streaked beard bristled as he eyed Yorgh suspiciously.

"Yorgh, your best hunter," answered Yorgh, casting his eyes modestly downward. "I would have returned last night, had not my wolly run off in a sandstorm."

"About you, I do not worry!" retorted Tefior, fingering the haft of his spear. "The girls just ran into camp shrieking that a ponadu was stalking the woods."

"Panting, wide-eyed, and in all the glory of their rather damp tresses," added a dark young bowman named Kwint, hiding a grin behind his hand as he examined Yorgh's innocent features.

"I thought I heard something," admitted the latter.

"Come then, Father!" half-grown Puko urked. "You'll help, won't you, Yorgh? Here, take my spear!"

Yorgh was half-inclined to let them go. He liked the sort of joke that brewed a while, gaining savor, like the time last spring when he had the luck to knock a ponadu unconscious with the butt of his broken spear. He still dreamed of having another such inspiration as that which impelled him to tie a dead log to the creature's hind legs, and then lead a group of young hunters into that part of the woods on the way to their nightly courting.

They had been enraged at spending half the night up trees, not daring to venture down in the dark with only their bronze knives. But they had been unable to prove that Yorgh had done anything worse than run faster than they, and he had enjoyed a unique evening being wined and fed and listened to with respect due the only man present, while the others waited for the disgruntled beast to free itself and slink unhappily off.

Yes, it would be good fun to let them go on, but Yorgh could not think of a quick excuse to separate Puko from the band. The boy was his favorite, perhaps because he so admired Yorgh's feats of fun and strength, or perhaps because his brown eyes so resembled those of his older sister.

"Well, truthfully," said Yorgh, "having only a knife in my belt, I broke off a branch and yelled aloud to scare the slinking thing. I distinctly heard it run off up the creek." Some stared at him; other glanced sidelong at each other.

Yorgh grinned good-naturedly, until he saw Tefior's scowl.

"Well," growled the chief, "I think we are too late to catch whatever it was, much as I would have liked to!"

Yorgh widened his eyes to their most innocent expression at the pointed emphasis of the last phrase.

"You, Puko!" added Tefior. "Run back to camp ahead of us and find the fathers of those silly wenches. Tell them I said two or three are to go back with the girls to get the wash, and to smack their bottoms for going so far without even small bows!"

The tramp back to camp was made in silence, save ...

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