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The Unprotected Species   By:

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The Unprotected Species

By Melvin Sturgis[1]

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe September 1956. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: It was a chill, terrifying planet inhabited by furtive gnomes. And something was forcing the crew into homicidal insanity. But what?]

Early on the first morning after the camp had been secured scarcely twenty four hours after the first plastic shack had been erected four members of the surveying section brought in Bradshaw.

Gallifa, the senior biologist of the party, was loading the halftrack in preparation for a field trip when the men placed the stretcher in the shade of the truck. He took one look; and immediately stopped congratulating himself on the ease of operations.

"Damn! Is he dead?" asked the stunned Gallifa.

"He isn't dead," the mapping officer said lamely. "But he's damn well beat up."

Gallifa nodded awkwardly and looked down at the stretcher. Bradshaw was one of his team. A good man. Gallifa hadn't known he wasn't in the compound. Bradshaw wasn't a pleasant sight. Blood covered his face from a deep gash above the temple, and his clothes and body were cut and scratched in a dozen places.

"Better get him over to the hospital," Gallifa ordered brusquely. "I'll be along as soon as I can."

The mapping officer gestured, and the men moved away with their burden. The officer inspected the toes of his boots uncomfortably.

"How did it happen?" Gallifa asked quietly. "I would say that he had been clawed by some kind of animal."

"That's possible," the other agreed unconvincingly. He licked his lips nervously. "Of course, we are not sure just what did happen." He nodded at a tall, sad faced man standing almost at his elbow. "Hawkins spotted him from the 'copter on his second recon flight this morning. He came back and directed a crew to pick Bradshaw up."

The officer's manner was hesitant and confusing. Gallifa started to speak, then glanced questioningly at Hawkins and motioned impatiently.

Hawkins cleared his throat. "I saw him almost as soon as I was in the air. He was about half a mile on the other side of camp. I probably wouldn't have paid any attention if he hadn't been acting so funny."

Hawkins paused and glanced apologetically at Gallifa. Gallifa frowned.

"You know how thick those brambles are all around here?" Hawkins continued quickly. "Well, Bradshaw was running through them, just as if something was chasing him. The thorns were cutting the clothes right off his back. I couldn't see anything from the air, so I swung the 'copter back and grabbed some men to see if we could find out what was wrong.

"It took almost an hour to find him again. He was in the bottom of a little ravine, leaning against a rock. He seemed to be all right until we were close. Then he picked up a stick and started swinging it around like a wild man. He was clear crazy. I finally had to hit him over the head with a rock to save myself. He was true crazy."

So that was what they had been so hesitant in telling him! Gallifa shook his head in bewilderment. Bradshaw was one of his most competent men. It didn't make sense that he suddenly should go berserk. Something seemed to be missing in the report.

"That doesn't sound right," Gallifa argued stubbornly. "Are you sure Bradshaw wasn't scared half to death by something? A man sometimes does some funny things if he's scared."

"Maybe he was scared," Hawkins admitted. "But he was sure acting crazy. I'm sorry " He spread his hands helplessly and walked away, accompanied by the mapping officer.

Gallifa glanced at his wrist watch and swore softly to himself. He had planned to get an early start, but the Bradshaw tragedy was too important. They still knew relatively nothing about the planet. If a man could wander around for only an hour or so and return with grievous, unexplained injuries Well, it obviously needed looking into... Continue reading book >>

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