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Problem on Balak   By: (1914-2004)

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Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from the September 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: Sometimes you can solve your problem by running out on it! ]

What I'm getting at is that you don't ever have to worry about being bored stiff in Solar Exploitations field work. It never gets dull and in some pretty strange places, at that.

Take the S.E.2100's discovery of Balak, which is a little planet circling 70 Ophiuchi some 20,000 light years from Earth, for example. You'd never expect to run across the greatest race of surgeons in the Galaxy structural, neural or what have you on a little apple like that, any more than you'd expect a four man complement like ours to be handed the sort of life and death problem they put to us.

And, if by some miracle of prophecy you anticipated both, it's a cinch you'd never expect that problem to be solved in the way ours was.

Captain Corelli and Gibbons and I couldn't have gone more than a hundred yards from the S.E.2100 before we met our first Balakian native. Or, to be more accurate, before he met us.

Corelli and I were filling our little sterilized bottles with samples of soil and vegetation and keeping a wary eye out for possible predators when it happened. Gibbons, our ecologist and the scientific mainspring of our crew, was watching a swarm of little twelve legged bugs that were busily pollinating a dwarf shrub at the top and collecting payment in drops of white sap that oozed out at the bottom in return. His eyes were shining behind their spectacles, and he was swearing to himself in a pleased monotone.

"Signal the ship and tell the Quack if you can pry that hypochondriac idiot away from his gargles and germicide sprays to bring out a live specimen container," he called to Captain Corelli. "We've stumbled onto something really new here, a conscious symbiosis between entirely dissimilar life forms! If the rest of the flora and fauna cooperate like this...."

At the moment, Gibbons' discovery didn't register, because it was just then that the first Balakian showed himself.

The native looked at first glance something like a wrinkled pink octopus, standing three feet high and nearly as broad, and he walked in a skip a step swing like a man on crutches because his three short legs were set in a horizontal row. He had four arms to each side, the lower ones meant for grasping and holding and the upper ones for manipulation. He didn't have a head, exactly, but there was a face of sorts up near the top of the body that looked like nothing so much as a politely grinning Oriental's.

He wasn't armed, but I took no chances I dropped my specimen kit and yanked out the heat gun that is a part of every S.E. field operative's gear. Captain Corelli, who was on the point of calling the Quack at the ship, took his thumb off the mike button and grabbed for his own weapon. Gibbons, like a true scientist, stood by with his mouth open, too interested to be scared.

Then the Balakian spoke, and Corelli and I gaped wider than Gibbons. As I said before, Balak is some 20,000 light years from Earth, and to our knowledge we were the first human beings ever to come within a hundred parsecs of the place.

"Please don't shoot, gentlemen," he said to us in Terran. "My name is Gaffa, and I assure you that I am quite friendly."

I had to give Gibbons credit for being fast on his mental feet; he had taken over before Corelli and I could get our mouths closed, and was talking to the native as if this sort of thing happened every time we made planetfall.

"You speak Terran fluently," Gibbons said. "Or is this some sort of telepathic contact that creates the illusion of oral communication?"

The native grinned delightedly... Continue reading book >>

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