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Home is Where You Left It   By: (1928-2008)

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[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories February 1957. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Illustration: The chance of mass slaughter was their eternal nightmare.]

[Sidenote: How black is the blackest treachery? Is the most callous traitor entitled to mercy? Steve pondered these questions. His decision? That at times the villain should possibly be spoken of as a hero. ]

Only the shells of deserted mud brick houses greeted Steve Cantwell when he reached the village.

He poked around in them for a while. The desert heat was searing, parching, and the Sirian sun gleamed balefully off the blades of Steve's unicopter, which had brought him from Oasis City, almost five hundred miles away. He had remembered heat from his childhood here on Sirius' second planet with the Earth colony, but not heat like this. It was like a magnet drawing all the moisture out of his body.

He walked among the buildings, surprise and perhaps sadness etched on his gaunt, weather beaten face. Childhood memories flooded back: the single well from which all the families drew their water, the mud brick house, hardly different from the others and just four walls and a roof now, in which he'd lived with his aunt after his parents had been killed in a Kumaji raid, the community center where he'd spent his happiest time as a boy.

He went to the well and hoisted up a pailful of water. The winch creaked as he remembered. He ladled out the water, suddenly very thirsty, and brought the ladle to his lips.

He hurled the ladle away. The water was bitter. Not brackish.


He spat with fury, then kneeled and stuffed his mouth with sand, almost gagging. After a while he spat out the sand too and opened his canteen and rinsed his mouth. His lips and mouth were paralyzed by contact with the poison. He walked quickly across the well square to his aunt's house. Inside, it was dim but hardly cooler. Steve was sweating, the saline sweat making him blink. He scowled, not understanding. The table was set in his aunt's house. A coffeepot was on the stove and last night's partially consumed dinner still on the table.

The well had been poisoned, the town had been deserted on the spur of the moment, and Steve had returned to his boyhood home from Earth too late for anything.

He went outside into the square. A lizard was sunning itself and staring at him with lidless eyes. When he moved across the square, the lizard scurried away.

"Earthman!" a quavering voice called.

Steve ran toward the sound. In the scant shadow of the community center, a Kumaji was resting. He was a withered old man, all skin and bones and sweat stiffened tunic, with enormous red rimmed eyes. His purple skin, which had been blasted by the merciless sun, was almost black.

Steve held the canteen to his lips and watched his throat working almost spasmodically to get the water down. After a while Steve withdrew the canteen and said:

"What happened here?"

"They're gone. All gone."

"Yes, but what happened?"

"The Kumaji "

"You're Kumaji."

"This is my town," the old man said. "I lived with the Earthmen. Now they're gone."

"But you stayed here "

"To die," the old man said, without self pity. "I'm too old to flee, too old to fight, too old for anything but death. More water."

Steve gave him another drink. "You still haven't told me what happened." Actually, though, Steve could guess. With the twenty second century Earth population hovering at the eleven billion mark, colonies were sought everywhere. Even on a parched desert wasteland like this. The Kumaji tribesmen had never accepted the colony as a fact of their life on the desert, and in a way Steve could not blame them. It meant one oasis less for their own nomadic sustenance. When Steve was a boy, Kumaji raids were frequent... Continue reading book >>

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