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The Talkative Tree   By: (1918-1997)

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By H. B. Fyfe


Dang vines! Beats all how some plants have no manners but what do you expect, when they used to be men!

All things considered the obscure star, the undetermined damage to the stellar drive and the way the small planet's murky atmosphere defied precision scanners the pilot made a reasonably good landing. Despite sour feelings for the space service of Haurtoz, steward Peter Kolin had to admit that casualties might have been far worse.

Chief Steward Slichow led his little command, less two third class ration keepers thought to have been trapped in the lower hold, to a point two hundred meters from the steaming hull of the Peace State . He lined them up as if on parade. Kolin made himself inconspicuous.

"Since the crew will be on emergency watches repairing the damage," announced the Chief in clipped, aggressive tones, "I have volunteered my section for preliminary scouting, as is suitable. It may be useful to discover temporary sources in this area of natural foods."

Volunteered HIS section! thought Kolin rebelliously.

Like the Supreme Director of Haurtoz! Being conscripted into this idiotic space fleet that never fights is bad enough without a tin god on jets like Slichow!

Prudently, he did not express this resentment overtly.

His well schooled features revealed no trace of the idea or of any other idea. The Planetary State of Haurtoz had been organized some fifteen light years from old Earth, but many of the home world's less kindly techniques had been employed. Lack of complete loyalty to the state was likely to result in a siege of treatment that left the subject suitably "re personalized." Kolin had heard of instances wherein mere unenthusiastic posture had betrayed intentions to harbor treasonable thoughts.

"You will scout in five details of three persons each," Chief Slichow said. "Every hour, each detail will send one person in to report, and he will be replaced by one of the five I shall keep here to issue rations."

Kolin permitted himself to wonder when anyone might get some rest, but assumed a mildly willing look. (Too eager an attitude could arouse suspicion of disguising an improper viewpoint.) The maintenance of a proper viewpoint was a necessity if the Planetary State were to survive the hostile plots of Earth and the latter's decadent colonies. That, at least, was the official line.

Kolin found himself in a group with Jak Ammet, a third cook, and Eva Yrtok, powdered foods storekeeper. Since the crew would be eating packaged rations during repairs, Yrtok could be spared to command a scout detail.

Each scout was issued a rocket pistol and a plastic water tube. Chief Slichow emphasized that the keepers of rations could hardly, in an emergency, give even the appearance of favoring themselves in regard to food. They would go without. Kolin maintained a standard expression as the Chief's sharp stare measured them.

Yrtok, a dark, lean faced girl, led the way with a quiet monosyllable. She carried the small radio they would be permitted to use for messages of utmost urgency. Ammet followed, and Kolin brought up the rear.

To reach their assigned sector, they had to climb a forbidding ridge of rock within half a kilometer. Only a sparse creeper grew along their way, its elongated leaves shimmering with bronze green reflections against a stony surface; but when they topped the ridge a thick forest was in sight.

Yrtok and Ammet paused momentarily before descending.

Kolin shared their sense of isolation. They would be out of sight of authority and responsible for their own actions. It was a strange sensation.

They marched down into the valley at a brisk pace, becoming more aware of the clouds and atmospheric haze. Distant objects seemed blurred by the mist, taking on a somber, brooding grayness. For all Kolin could tell, he and the others were isolated in a world bounded by the rocky ridge behind them and a semi circle of damp trees and bushes several hundred meters away... Continue reading book >>

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