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Planet Stories VOL. 5, No. 5 MARCH, 1952

Captive of the Centaurianess

A Novel of Primitive Future Worlds

By POUL ANDERSON

The entire System was after Ballantyne. Earth wanted him.
The Jovian war-fleet jetted on his trail. But mainly Ballantyne
feared his big-bosomed, sword-swinging space-mate
—Dyann the Amazon from man-starved Alpha C3
.

THE hero is the child of his times, in that his milieu furnishes him with motives and means, and yet the hero seizes the time and shapes it as he will. And he remains an enigma to his contemporaries and to the future.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the strange story of the three whose discoveries and achievements determined the whole course of history. The driving idealism and bold military genius of Dyann Korlas; the mighty wisdom, profound and benign, of Urushkidan; above all, perhaps, the transcendent clarity of mind and inspired leadership of Ballantyne—these molded our century and all centuries to come, and yet we will never understand them, they are too far beyond us and their essential selves must be forever a mystery.

—Vallabbhai Rasmussen, History
of the Twenty-third Century, v. 1

I

THE tender loomed above the crowd of passengers and leave-takers, a great shining bullet caught in floodlights against the dark, and Ray Ballantyne quickened his steps. By Heaven, he'd made it! The flight from San Francisco to Quito, the nail-biting dawdle as he waited for the airbus, then the flight out to Ecuador Spaceport, the last walk through the vast echoing hollowness of the terminal, out onto the field—and there it was, there the little darling lay, waiting to carry him from Earth up to the Jovian Queen and safety.

He kissed his fingers at the tender and shoved rudely through the swarm of people and Martians. He'd already missed the first trip up to the liner, and the thought of waiting for the third was beyond endurance.

"Hey, chum."

As the heavy hand fell on his arm, Ballantyne whirled, his heart slamming against his teeth and his spine dropping out. The thick-set man compared his thin sharp features with the photograph in the other paw, nodded, and said "All right, Ballantyne, come along."

"Se llama Garcia!" gibbered the engineer. "No hablo Ingles."

"I said come along," said the detective wearily. "I thought you'd try to leave Earth. This way."

Ballantyne's free hand reached up and crammed the fellow's hat down over his eyes. Wrenching loose, he turned and ran for the gangway, upsetting a corpulent Latin woman en route and pursued by a volley of imprecations. He shoved aside the passenger before him and ran into the solid wall of an impassive Jovian ship's officer.

The Jovian, a tall muscular blond in a dazzling crispness of white uniform, looked at him with the thinly veiled contempt of a proper Confed for the lesser breeds of humanity. "Ticket and passport, please," he said stonily.

Ballantyne shoved them at him, glancing shakily back to the detective who had become entangled with the indignant woman and was being slapped with a handbag and volubly cursed. With maddening deliberation the Jovian scanned the engineer's papers, compared them with a list in his hand, and waved him on.

The detective caromed against the same immovable barrier. "Let me by!" he gasped.

"Your ticket and passport, please," said the Jovian.

"That man is under arrest. Let me by."

"Your ticket and passport, please."

"I tell you I'm an officer of the law and I have a warrant for that man. Let me by."

"Proper authorization may be obtained at the main office," said the Jovian coldly.

The detective tried to rush, encountered a bit of expert judo, and tumbled back into the crowd. Every able-bodied Jovian was a well-trained military reservist.

"Proper authorization may be obtained at the main office," repeated the immovable barrier. To the next man, "Your ticket and passport, please."

Ray Ballantyne dashed the sweat off his brow and permitted himself a nasty chuckle. By the time the hapless detective had gone through all that red tape, the tender would be well on its way.

Before one of his country's secret police the Jovian would have quailed and said nothing. But this was Earth, and the Confeds loved to bait Terrestrials, and there was no better way than by demanding the endless papers which their file-clerk mentalities had devised.

The engineer went on into the tender, found a seat, and strapped himself in. He was clear. Before Heaven, he was away!

Even the long Vanbrugh arm did not reach to Jupiter. Ballantyne's alleged crimes weren't enough for the Earth government to ask his extradition. He could stay on Ganymede till the whole business had blown over, and then—well—

He sighed, relaxing—a medium-sized young man, slender and wiry, with close-cropped yellow hair and features a little too sharp to be handsome. His thin deft fingers rearranged his overly colorful tie and straightened his sports jacket. Always wanted to see the Jovian System, anyway, he rationalized.

The tender's airlock sighed shut and a stewardess went down the aisle handing out anti-acceleration pills. She had the full-bodied, pure-blooded good looks of the ideal Jovian together with their faintly repellent air of hard, purposeful efficiency. The rockets began to throb, warming up, and a siren hooted.

Ballantyne turned to the man beside him, obsessed with the idiotic desire for conversation found in all recent escapees from the law or the dentist. "Going home, I see," he remarked.

The man was a tall specimen in the gray Jovian army uniform, with colonel's planets on his shoulders and a chestful of ribbons and medals—about forty, closely shaven head, iron jaw, ramrod spine. He fixed the Earthling with a chill pale eye and said, "And you, I see, are leaving home. Two scintillating deductions."

"Ummm—uh—well." Ballantyne looked away, his ears ablaze. The Jovian clutched his heavy portfolio tighter to his side.

The tender shook itself, howled, and jumped into the sky. Ballantyne leaned back in the cushioned seat, staring out the port at the fire-starred unfolding of space. The Jovian colonel sat rigid as before, not deigning to yield to the pressure.

They came up to the Jovian Queen, where the great liner held her orbit about Earth, and Ballantyne glimpsed her long metal shape, blinding in the raw sunlight, as the tender swung in for contact. When the airlocks joined there was a steady one-gravity as the spaceship rotated on her axis. Whatever you could say against the Jovians —and that was quite a bit—they did maintain the best transport in the Solar System. Earth's heavy passenger and freight haulers were in tight financial straits competing with the state-subsidized lines of Jupiter.

An expressionless uniformed steward took charge of the passengers as they entered the ship, herding them to their respective destinations. Ballantyne lugged his valise toward third-class section. He'd have to share his cabin with two others—how had the mighty fallen! Thinking over the decline and fall of the Ballantyne pocketbook, he sighed, and the suitcase seemed to drag at him. He'd hit Ganymede pretty broke, unless...

He opened his assigned door.

"Put—me—down!"

Ballantyne dropped his suitcase and his jaw. Within the narrow cabin a Martian was struggling in the clutch of a six-foot armored woman.

"Put—me—down!" he spluttered. He coiled his limbs snakelike around the woman's brawny arms, and a Martian's four thick, rubbery walking-tentacles have formidable strength. She didn't seem to notice. She laughed and shook him a bit.

"I—beg your pardon—" gasped Ballantyne, backing away.

"You are forgiven," said the woman. Her voice was a husky contralto, burdened with a rippling, slurring accent he couldn't place. She shot out one Martian-encumbered arm, grabbed him by the coat, and hauled him inside. "You be the yudge, my friend. Is it not yustice that I have the lower berth?"

"It is noting of te sort!" screamed the Martian, fixing Ballantyne with round, bulging, and indignant yellow eyes. "My position, my eminence, clearly entitle me to ebery consideration, and ten tis hulking monster—"

The Earthling let his gaze travel up and down the woman's smooth-muscled form and said in an awed whisper, "I think you'd better accept the lady's generous offer. But —uh—I seem to have the wrong cabin—"

"Are you Ray Ballantyne of Earth?" asked the woman.

He pleaded guilty.

"Then you belon vith us. I have looked at the passenyer lists. You may have the cot."

"Th-thanks," shivered Ballantyne, sitting down on it.

The Martian seemed to give the fight up as a bad job and allowed himself to be placed on the upper bunk. "To tink of it," he squeaked. "Tat I, te great Urushkidan of Ummunashektaru, should be manhandled by a sabage who does not know a logaritm from an exponent!"

Urushkidan. Ballantyne knew the name of the Martian mathematician, the latterday Gauss or Einstein, and stared as if this were the first Martian he had seen in his life. Urushkidan looked like any other of his race, at least to the inexperienced eye. A great gray-skinned cupola of a body balanced four feet high on the walking tentacles, with the two slim, three-fingered arm-tentacles writhing from either side of a wide lipless mouth set beneath that torse. Big unwinking eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles, flat nose, elephantine ears—"Not the Urushkidan?" he gasped.

"Tere is only one Urushkidan," said the Martian.

THE amazon sat down on her own bunk and laughed, a Homeric shout of laughter ringing between the metal walls and shivering the furniture. "Velcome, little Earthman," she cried. "You are cute, I think I vill like you. I am Dyann Korlas of Kathantuma." She grabbed his hand in a bone-cracking grip.

"One of the Centaurians," said Ballantyne feebly.

"Yes, so you call us." She opened her trunk and began unpacking. Ballantyne watched her with appreciation and some curiosity. He'd only seen the Alpha Centaurian visitors on television before now.

She looked human enough externally, aside from a somewhat different convolution of the ears. Internally there were plenty of peculiarities, among them a skeletal and tissue structure considerably harder and denser than that of Homo Solis. Alpha Centauri III—or Varann, as its more advanced nation had decided to call it after learning from the terrestrial explorers that it was a planet—was Earth-like enough in a cool and bracing way, but it had half again the surface gravity.

Sexual differentiation also varied a bit from the Solar norm. The Centaurian men were somewhat smaller and weaker than the women. They stayed at home and did the housework while their wives conducted the business. In the warlike culture of Kathantuma and its neighbor states that meant going out, cutting the other army into hamburger, and stealing everything which wasn't bolted down.

This—Dyann Korlas—was something to write home about as far as looks went. Her size and the broadsword at her waist were intimidating, but her build was magnificent in a statuesque, tiger-lithe way. She looked young, her skin smooth, and faintly golden, a heavy mass of shining bronze hair coiled about the haughtily lifted head. Her face was close to the ideal of an ancient Hellenic sculptor, clean straight lines, firm jaw, brilliant gray eyes under heavy brows. She wore a light cuirass over her tunic, sandals, a bat-winged helmet on her head.

"It—ah—it's strange they'd put you in the same cabin with me," said Ballantyne hesitantly.

"Oh, you are safe enough," she grinned.

He flushed, reflecting that the ladies from Centauri were in little danger from any Solar man. Very likely it was the other way around. Then he recalled that their native titles translated into things like warrior, district-ruler, chief, and so on. With their arrogant indifference to mere exploration and ethnology, the Jovians had probably assumed that Dyann Korlas was male. Well, he wasn't going to enlighten them.

He looked up to Urushkidan, who was morosely stuffing a big-bowled pipe. "Ah, I know of your work, of course," he said hesitantly. "I am—was—a nuclear engineer, so maybe I even have some appreciation of what it's about."

The Martian preened. "Doubtless you have grasped it bery well," he said generously. "As well as any Eartman could, which is, of course, saying bery little."

"But, if I may ask, sir, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, I have an inbitation from te Jobian Academy of Science to lecture. Tey are commendably interested and seem to realise my fundamental importance. I will be glad to get off Eart. Te air pressure, te gravity, pfui!"

"But a man, uh, Martian of your distinction—traveling third class—"

"Oh, they sent me a first-class ticket, of course. But I turned it in, bought a tird class, and banked te difference." He scowled darkly at Dyann Korlas. "Tough if I must be treated so—Well." He shrugged. A Martian shrugging is quite a sight. "It is of no matter. We of Uttu—Mars as you insist on calling it—are so incomparably far advanced in te philosophic virtues of serenity, generosity, and modesty tat I can accept wit equanimity."

"Oh," said Ballantyne. To the Centaurian, "And may I ask why you are going to Jupiter—ah—Miss Korlas?"

"Y...

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