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Attrition   By:

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Of course if Man is to survive, he must be adaptable, as any life form must. But that's not enough; he must adapt faster than the competing forms. And on new planets, that can be tricky....


Illustrated by Krenkel

The faxgram read: REPORT MA IS INSTANTER GRAVIS. The news obelisk just off the express strip outside Mega Angeles' Galactic Survey Building was flashing: ONE OF OUR STAR SHIPS IS MISSING!

Going up in the lift, I recalled what I had seen once scrawled upon the bulkhead of a GS trainer: Space is kind to those who respect her. And underneath, in different handwriting: Fear is the word, my boy .

The look given me by the only other passenger, a husky youngster in GS gray, when I punched Interstel's level, didn't help. It was on the tip of my tongue to retaliate: Yes, and I'd turn in my own mother if she were a star chaser and I caught her doing something stupid. But I let it ride; obviously, it was a general principles reaction; he couldn't have known the particulars of my last assignment: the seldom kind that had given Interstel its reputation.


At the end of the long corridor between offices was a door labeled: CHIEF SPECIAL AGENT.

Gravis hadn't changed a bit in the thirty six hours since I'd last seen him: a large, rumpled man who showed every year of the twenty he'd spent in Interstel.

"It's a nasty job, Ivy."

"Always has been," I said, completing the little interchange that had been reiterated so often that it had become almost a shibboleth.

I took advantage of his momentary silence. I'd had an hour during the air taxi hop from Xanadu, the resort two hundred miles off the coast of California, to prepare my bitter statement. Words come fluently when an earned leave has been pulled peremptorily out from beneath you; a leave that still had twenty nine days to go. But I was brief; the news flasher had canceled much of the bite of my anger; it took me something under one hundred and twenty seconds, including repetition of certain words and phrases.

Gravis lived up to his name; he didn't bat an eye. He handed me a thin folder; three of its sheets were facsimile extrapolations of probot reports; the fourth was an evaluation and assignment draft; all were from Galactic Survey Headquarters, NAF, in Montreal. The top three were identical, excepting probot serial numbers and departure and arrival times. GSS 231 had been located in its command orbit above a planet that had not yet been officially named but was well within the explored limits of the space sector assigned NAFGS by the interfederational body, had been monitored by three robot probes described as being in optimum mechanical condition on three distinctly separate occasions, and all devices that could be interrogated from outside had triggered safe and secure . But no human contact had been accomplished. The fourth sheet which bore the calligraphy on its upper right corner: Attention Callum assumed that the crew of 231, a survey team and con alternate, had met with an accident or series of accidents of undetermined origin and extent in the course of carrying out the duty described as follow up exploration on the Earth type planet, herein and heretofore designated Epsilon Terra , and must therefore be considered

"The news is " I started to say.

"Pure delirium," Gravis interrupted. "Haven't you read Paragraph Six? We know exactly where the ship is because it's exactly where it should be. It's the crew that's missing."

Paragraph Seven concluded: We therefore recommend that an agent of experience be dispatched soonest to the designated star system.

"Experienced or expendable?" I muttered.

"Ivy, after ten years in Interstel, you should know that experience and expendability are synonymous... Continue reading book >>

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