And a note on the editing of the second story. The bracketed passage in the story is word for word the same as the original. The editor or typesetter at Adam clearly messed up.
She Loved Him Until She Read His Mind
By THOMAS KERSH
Illustration by HUNTER BARKER
SHE WAS crying and breaking things again. A door slammed, and I heard glass crash in our sleeping quarters. I had stopped trying to understand Audrey three weeks ago. In fact, I also stopped talking to her. We couldn't pass the time of day without breaking into a fight, and if I beat her again, I might kill her. Then when the guard ship came to relieve us, I'd be courtmartialed and kicked out of the Service. I had to keep my temper under control.
However, this wasn't easy—especially every time I touched the gap in my front teeth with my tongue. The gum was still sore, and the first-aid kit had no tooth seeds. Audrey had seen to that.
When she saw she'd knocked out my two front teeth with the oxygen bottle, she ran straight to the first-aid kit, rifled it, and ground the tooth seeds underfoot. I wouldn't be able to grow new teeth until the guard ship came, and chewing was uncomfortable as hell. I blacked both her eyes for that one.
I kept hoping she would commit suicide. But I knew that if she killed herself, she'd make it look as if I'd killed her, and I would be punished for her murder without the pleasure of committing it. Sometimes I suspected that she was even trying to goad me into murdering her, just out of spite. Probably the only thing that kept her from it was that she wouldn't be on hand to see me get a dishonorable discharge.
I didn't see how we could stand three more months of it before the guard ship came. I'm a mild tempered guy, and I never had trouble with a space mate until I was assigned to duty with Audrey. Perhaps because the others agreed to a sensible sleeping arrangement without expecting to fall in love.
POOR little Audrey. She came into space service full of poetry, with stars in her eyes, and a heart so soft that I couldn't help pitying her. She had dreams of living glory, of the vast and infinite beauty of the universe. It was almost a religion with her, and it's a wonder that they didn't catch her tendency at the Service Academy. Still, the Academy makes mistakes.
Audrey wasn't a bad kid, but we should never have been put together under a plastic dome on a black rock in the middle of an ocean as large as Earth, fifty light years from the nearest occupied planet.
Samm, she was thinking, you utter bum.
I started to block my mind to keep her thoughts out, but I had to reply first. I shot back an image of myself holding her upside down by the ankles and banging her lovely blond head on the floor. She started a telepathic shriek, but I blanked it out and enjoyed the silence.
I glanced at the universal time clock in the center of the dome, hanging just underneath our small artificial sun. It was time to check the psi-scopes that guarded the station out to a depth of one light year. I had to trace the circuits mentally and make sure that everything was in working order.
The worst thing of all was not Audrey's disillusionment, but the fact that we were both telepaths. That's where the Service really slipped up. However, the disillusionment was real. Audrey hadn't seen a single star or a square inch of deep space since she got here, but she might have survived her disappointment. She'd be serving at better stations in her future tours of duty, stations where the isolation was not so complete.
Here, the planet was blanketed with a layer of clouds 40 miles thick. Unbreathable chlorine clouds, at that.
It wasn't actually a planet, but a moon, known officially as K-6347-4-1: the largest satellite of the fourth planet of a sun listed as K-6347. It was a medium-sized red sun, and I had seen it only once—on the guard ship, when we approached the system. The planet was the real reason we were there, and it made the red sun look dull by comparison.
It glowed in the sky like a huge ball of pure phosphorescence, which it practically was. Pitchblende Planet, they called it in the Service, and it was one of the most valuable prizes in the galaxy. A survey team spotted it over a century ago, and the Academy engineers still hadn't figured a way of mining it on an economical basis.
It was like having a closet full of money that you couldn't reach because the doorknob was too hot to touch. Nobody had ever been within 5,000 miles of the surface, and the spy rockets that were sent down hadn't shown too much before the radiation knocked out their electronics and drove them haywire. Consequently, no one yet knew exactly why the whole planet didn't go up in smoke, instead of merely glowing a pale luminescent green.
This was our baby, our job. The first month Audrey and I slept together, we called the planet her Moon. We couldn't see it, of course, but we knew it was there, filling a quarter of the Sky above our station on the planet's main satellite. We didn't want to kill each other then, but that was over three years ago. She was so young and so full of happiness that her dreams made me forget myself, and I was making love to her like a mad poet, promising to bring her the biggest moon in the universe, to strew her path with stars, to travel to the end of time for her, and to do other things which would have astonished the high command in the Service. Come to think of it, she seemed to like it, no matter how ridiculous it sounded. Anyhow, that was when we renamed Pitchblende Planet Audrey's Moon.
But there's a limit to such flights of imagination, and nothing could hide the fact—finally—that we were stuck together on a drab little station for four years.
WHEN the Service was founded and crews had to spend long periods alone in space, one of the first rules was that crew members should be man and wife. It seemed the only practical answer to the problem of isolation for years at a stretch, living at close quarters and never seeing anyone else.
It seemed the logical answer, but it didn't work. Man-wife teams had little more luck than all-male or all-female space crews. The final solution was to use a man and woman together but to forbid marriage between them.
The way it worked in the guard section—which Audrey and I and 5,000,000 others belonged to—was a four-year tour of duty starting at the age of fifteen, with a member of the opposite sex. This was followed by a year's leave, and another four-year tour of duty with another space mate. Since you were reasonably sure you'd never see each other after your four years together, it wasn't hard to make allowances and live together in peace. Usually it was a pleasant relationship, and when a man retired at the age of thirty-five after four tours, he'd have some fine memories.
In spite of Audrey's emotional childishness, which I shared for a while, we might have had a smooth four years if we weren't telepaths. The Service's strictest rule, aside from the ban on marriage, was that telepaths couldn't serve together. The danger, of course, is that two telepaths will not be able to stand the intimacy that their ability forces on them.
You can shield your mind at any time, but it's an effort, a strain. It's like holding your arms over your head all day long. A person just can't take it.
I just can't take it, Samm, you bum. Audrey's thought probed through to me. It was getting harder to keep her out.
"Samm!" She had opened the door behind me. I pushed three buttons on the psi-scope panel to keep it automatic, then turned around to face her.
The two black eyes I had given her were no longer puffy, but the discoloration was satisfying to see.
"What can't you take, honey?" I said, sending a couple of obscene images.
Audrey turned pale, and a sick look came over her face. I was almost sorry for her, but I raised a blank in my mind to keep her from knowing.
She covered her face with her hands, and her shoulders shivered as if she had a chill. The thin fabric of her blouse shimmered in the dome's light, and her arms were tan. I could see where the tan was fading under her blouse, now that we weren't taking all-over sunbaths any more.
I'm sorry, I thought to her. I might as well try to make it easier, and she seemed defenseless. It's not our fault that we're telepaths.
Tears ran between her fingers, but she suddenly drew her hands away from her face and glared at me. "It's your fault you won't marry me," she cried.
"Who wants to marry?" I said. "Or have a baby ? I like the Service. I want to stay in it." Anyhow, why marry? You hate me already. What would it be like after a few more years? I was using telepathy because I wanted to edge back into her mind and find out what was really going on.
I could never probe to the bottom of her motives, but I caught glimpses of a secret pleasure at the thought of breaking the Service regulations. Marriage with a baby wasn't an end in itself for Audrey, but a means of defeating the system around us. She wanted to tell the Service to go jump off the edge of the galaxy.
I caught only little pieces of this feeling, and I'm not sure she recognized it herself, but Audrey was a rebel who wanted her own little civilization. She even wanted to make everybody telepathic. I'd rather jump into a pit full of monsters than live among telepaths. Can you imagine knowing everybody's innermost secrets? Or, even worse, hearing the million drab, everyday thoughts that occupy most minds most of the time? It would be like having to listen to a mediocre radio program twenty-four hours a day.
Non-telepaths are convenient. They're like radios with the power shut off, and it's almost impossible to get into their thoughts. That's why it's always safe to have a telepath and a non-telepath as spacemates : they can have a normal relationship, without the friction that arises when two people are thrust too close together. The telepath can take care of the psi-scope, and the other partner can look after the remaining duties of the dome. There's always enough to do to keep a healthy-minded couple from each other's throats.
I could never forget my first tour of duty with Evie. I was fifteen and she was twenty-five, and I learned everything she had to teach me—which was a lot. So gentle, so understanding that she was practically a psychoanalyst.
Evie. You want to marry her. The thought was so strong inside my head that I jumped. Audrey had overheard me again. I shielded my mind at once.
Now she was angry. The tears were gone, as well as her appearance of helplessness. "So that's why you won't marry me She picked up the first-aid kit, which happened to be on the wall near her hand, and started advancing toward me. I edged back.
She raised her arm to throw, and as I tried to dodge, I stumbled on the one-step dais below the psi-scope. The metal-cased kit sailed over my head and crashed into the glass screen of the psi-scope. It punched a ragged hole in the screen, and I ducked to avoid the flying shards, falling heavily on the dais.
Oh no, Audrey thought, looking past my shoulder. Then, after a moment, Well, I'm glad you did. Now we'll be apart.
What did she mean?
I started to brush off the pieces of glass and get up when I suddenly realized that my shoulder was pressing against the warning release under the psi-scope. I eased away with a feeling of horror. The warning would bring a guard cruiser to the station within twenty-four hours, and if we didn't have a good reason for the warning, we'd be courtmartialed.
Economy was a deadly serious matter to the Service. It worked on a strict budget, and a cruiser call might cost as much as 100,000 credits. Cruisers couldn't come running any time a person on one of the 2,500,000 guard stations happened to be lonely. The cost of the Service was so huge already that transportation was kept to a minimum. One call every four years was all a station could expect.
The Service couldn't justify itself by pointing to a clear and present danger, and therefore had trouble every time its budget came up for passage in the Federal Assembly. There were occasional rumors about an alien civilization in another region of the galaxy, but so far nobody had ever seen an "alien" above the pollywog level. There were also stories about whole guard stations vanishing, but I took these tales with a grain of salt.
One thing I knew for sure : the smashed psi-scope and the warning button meant the end of the line in the Service. Halfway to my retirement—no, over halfway—and she had to try bouncing a first-aid kit off my head. With a single motion I rose and lunged for her. "Audrey !" Audrey! I went after her with both hands, visualizing death tortures. I opened my mind to let her see the murder in it.
She whimpered and ran for the sleeping quarters and locked the door.
AUDREY didn't come out again until the ship arrived. The cruiser couldn't land, but a two-man launch came down through the chlorinated mist. I had given up trying to think of a good reason for the warning and was resigned to being merely dignified in defeat.
I was surprised by the quick arrival of the ship, which took only twelve hours instead of twenty-four to answer our call. When I heard the dome's pressure lock click into operation, I let Audrey know.
You might as well come out now. They're here. Straighten the sleeping quarters. And try to look human for a change.
The guards came in, their space suits still wet from the automatic spray that washed off the chlorine. I helped them take off their helmets. The older man, heavy set and bristle-headed, introduced himself.
"I'm Captain Jayten." He motioned to his companion. "Lieutenant Gorman." Both had a friendly, impartial look, and I took a deep breath.
"What's the trouble ?" Jayten asked.
I told it to him straight, including the fact that Audrey and I were both telepaths, stationed together by mistake because some idiot in Assignments had dropped a digit. As I talked, Jayten's slab jaws tightened, and his eyes grew cold and distant. The smile on his face was unpleasant to see. When I was through, he had only a few words to say. He didn't mention courtmartial, but it was written all over his face. He ordered Gorman to take charge of the dome until replacements were sent, and I broke out the space suits Audrey and I would have to wear while walking from the dome to the launch.
I tried to get into Jayten's mind but could catch no more than the usual glimmerings of thought that escape from the consciousness of a non-telepath.
Audrey still hadn't appeared. Audrey, I thought, don't bother powdering your nose. Let's go get courtmartialed.
It's not my nose, she said. It's my eyes. The ones you gave me.
She did a remarkable job on them, all right. At a distance, her skin Was fair and undiscolored, and she smiled shyly at the craggy Captain Jayten. For some reason it made me want to slug her again and restore my original handiwork.
THE launch took less than half an hour to bring us up to the cruiser's orbit. The moon's surface underneath us was a roiling blue-green mass, like a vast, puffy cushion. The planet, much larger, glowed above us like a pale sun, and at first I didn't see the cruiser because of the bright light behind it.
It swung in an orbit a thousand miles above the satellite, and when we got nearer I could make out its number, N-2. It was an old-model six-man ship, but in perfect condition. Space ships always looked bright and new if they never came into contact with a planet's atmosphere.
Audrey sat on my lap in the two-man launch, the seat strap around us both. When the acceleration pressed her against me it was like meeting her all over again. I had forgotten how warm and soft she could be, and I remembered the first days when we were together.
The captain's unfriendliness made me feel a little closer to Audrey, and we opened our minds to each other more than we had for six weeks. The captain said nothing more than was necessary to make contact with the cruiser, and his silence worried Audrey as much as anything. She seemed more troubled by the situation than I'd thought she would be, but it was hard for me to pin her down. Her telepathic powers are different from and better than mine.
I could never get into her mind when she was asleep, for instance, but she could head my dreams any time. That's how our biggest fight started. She caught me in the middle of fine dream about Evie and promptly tried to stuff an oxygen bottle down my throat.
What do you suppose they'll do to us? she asked as we came on board the cruiser and saw the other four guards looking as grim as robots with run-down batteries.
They won't do anything, I said as they showed us to a room the size of a coffin, except take us back to headquarters. There we'll be disciplined. Kicked out of the service probably. Maybe we can get into communications. We won't starve, but we won't skim the cream.
Is that all? she said.
The door had shut behind us and we were alone. The room was six by three by six, barely big enough for a double bunk with food and relief tubes. We wouldn't need to undress.
"No, that's not all," I said. "They'll suspend marriage and procreation privileges for five or ten years. Not that I'm in a hurry to marry anybody, but it might make a difference to you."
It did. She went pale and I thought she was going to cry.
"But they can't," she whispered, her eyes filling up with tears. "I didn't think they'd do that."
In the Academy she probably memorized poetry when she should have been reading the 'Articles of War. Sometimes I think she passed her exams by clairvoyance.
Samm, she said. I've got to do something. I can't go back. We didn't call the cruiser on purpose.
It might be better if we had, I said.
She closed her eyes and her face turned up as if she were trying to hear something a light year away. What—I started to say.
She waved her hand and said, "Shhh. I'm trying to get the electronic system." I went into her mind and tried to follow her, but it was too complex. She was trying the other crew members, digging below the conscious level, which was practically silent, to the mass of informational data underneath. She didn't get much, but it was enough.
She came to life and opened her eyes, yanked a hairpin out of her hair, and slid back the door into the narrow corridor.
"Get a pair of space suits," she said, and disappeared. What was she doing? I followed to see.
The corridor was too narrow for running, but I sidled after her as fast as I could. I saw her squeeze around a corner that I estimated was in the middle of the ship, and when I got to the corner I saw her reaching for the ceiling. She had jabbed the hairpin in a crack and was pounding it with the heel of her slipper.
I grabbed her collar and jerked her back just as a muffled "Poof !" came from the ceiling. A three-inch circle of metal melted away, and a dazzling blue-white ball of flame swelled out of the ceiling panel.
By this time the N-2 was gaining acceleration for the dimensional jump that would last almost a whole day and bring us out near the Service headquarters planet. A sudden surge brought Audrey down upon me, and we both tumbled in the corridor. I got my feet under me and scrambled away from the slowly swelling fire.
The ship's on fire, she thought happily. Now we won't have to go back.
I pulled her along the corridor to our quarters. Where could I give the alarm? I didn't want to be roasted in space, and I gave her a couple of images of What it would be like to fry and freeze at the same time.
Don't worry, she said. The fire set off the alarm, too. They know about it. They'll have to stop, then we can take over.
Take over what? I said. A cruiser blazing like a sky rocket?
BUT she was right. Acceleration suddenly stopped, and we were coasting in free fall. Someone clattered down the corridor, and Jayten appeared in the doorway, his hair burned off and his eyebrows singed.
He was wearing a space suit with the helmet back and dragging two other suits.
"Here," he said, "put these on and follow me. We're going outside."
I started to slug him and run for the two-man launch, but his free hand was too close to his gun. We had to play along for a while. Perhaps if we helped —and if they never found that Audrey started the fire—the courtmartial would give us an easier time of it.
I followed him, pushing the suits ahead of me in the corridor. Just by the escape hatch we had enough room to put them on, and Audrey and I struggled into the suits while Jayten went outside. Another crew member was breaking out fire extinguishers, and he strapped one on each of us.
"Is the fire outside ?" I yelled.
"Started inside," he said, "under one of the vanes. But it caught the emergency fuel line and burned out through the hull." He gave the strap on my extinguisher another jerk and said, "We've stopped it in the fuel lines but one corner of the uranium pile is exposed."
The extinguisher on my back would spray a metal skin over the hull and the uranium pile so that they could patch up the ship and get their power plant shielded again.
I went first out of the escape hatch. I jumped off into the blackness of space but misjudged the push I needed and spun away from the ship. For a moment I lost my bearings. The radiant planet was directly ahead of me, and I twisted back toward the N-2, which hung motionless against the stars. Fire had broken through the hull at the base of a vane, and a large section of the metal skin was red. Two figures in space suits were already spraying the fire.
I could see the satellite much further below now, and its misty softness had changed in the distance to a blue opaque shell. The two space-suited figures were being driven back from the fire by the extinguishers' reaction, and they had to keep jockeying into position again.
I grabbed the oxygen nozzle and pointed it behind me. One squirt was enough to send me scooting back toward the N-2. Three others were tumbling out of the hatch, and I knew Audrey was one of them. I heard he voice in my head.
Save some of the metal in your extinguisher, she said. I have a plan.
Fine. I didn't, so I could tag along—and stop her before she did something drastic.
I maneuvered into place beside the others fighting the fire, and it didn't take long to skin over the hull and get the power pile under wraps again. I didn't empty my extinguisher, and Audrey didn't explain.
But when we were through, Audrey drifted to my side. She raised the nozzle of her extinguisher and pointed it toward the four men in space suits, now examining the repaired hull.
Spray them! she said.
I pointed my extinguisher and let them have it. They were standing in a group, and one of them started to turn in surprise, but he never had a chance. We froze them in place like metal statues. The' liquid metal solidified the joints in their suits and welded them to the cruiser's hull.
Now what? I said to Audrey.
There's one more, she said. Inside.
We started for the hatch, and I wished I had a gun. The extinguisher felt useless now. As I grabbed the edge of the hatch, the voice came.
Not inside. I stopped, because, the voice didn't come from Audrey. Behind you.
I turned and saw the fifth man, pointing a gun at us. It was Jayten, and I'd lost track of him. He could slice us in two with a single shot.
That was a neat trick, he said. But don't make me kill you. I couldn't get over the fact that he was a telepath, but I was thinking more about the fact that the courtmartial would throw the book at us now. A mutiny charge perhaps. Maybe I could put Jayten out of action long enough for Audrey to get away . .
It's time we told them, another voice said, and I knew it must be one of the other crewmen. Another telepath! I didn't have time to think, because I was already diving at Jayten. He leveled the gun at me and a white-hot wave washed over my brain. I heard a gabble of telepathic voices and then blacked out, dropping slowly down into a deep well of unconsciousness.
SOFT hands were stroking my hair, and my head was pressed against something warm and soft. Audrey's voice came in.
You're awake! I tried to move, but my arms and legs were heavy and full of sleep, and my head swam dizzily.
"Where are we?" My voice was rusty, and I had to clear my throat. From the artificial gravity, I could tell the ship was in motion again. I opened my eyes to the narrow cabin.
For answer, Audrey touched a button on the wall, and a viewscreen at the foot of the bunk lit up. It showed the vast radiant surface of the planet, and we were plunging downward. Pitchblende Planet—Audrey's Moon—where the radiation stopped all the scout rockets that were ever sent down.
"It's simple," Audrey said. "They explained it to me while you were asleep."
"While I was asleep." That reminded me. "Why didn't I die ?" I said.
"Jayten didn't shoot you. They're all. telepaths, and they can hook up in a cir-cuit to paralyze anybody they like."
That figured. "But why couldn't we tell they were telepaths before ? We couldn't get more than a whisper from them."
Audrey patted me on the cheek like she owned me and said, "They've got something we could've used. Automatic mind shields. You don't have to be on guard all the time." She held up a small plastic object the size of a bean.
"Just slip it in your ear."
This I would have paid a year's salary for when we were fighting and getting on each other's nerves. But I still didn't understand why we were heading for Audrey's Moon. "Why—" I started to say, when Jayten appeared in the doorway.
Because we're not Service guards, he said. You might call us a new civilization. He looked friendlier now, and the harshness had gone away from his face. He sat down on the edge of the bunk. "There are fifty thousand of us," he said.
HE EXPLAINED that a group of telepaths, mostly persons tired of the restrictions and discipline of the Service, had been building up for the last hundred years. They lived on Pitchblende Planet, which glowed as if it were dangerously radioactive, but this was only an atmospheric effect. Other telepaths in the Service had been careful to doctor the spectroanalysis reports to make sure that nobody discovered there wasn't an ounce of pitchblende per square mile.
They took care of all scout rockets themselves.
Audrey broke in. "They were watching us for years. They heard everything we said or thought."
I sat bolt upright in the bunk and bumped my head sharply.
"You mean to say they heard me every time I . . ." She blushed, and I looked toward Jayten. He was trying not to grin.
He nodded and said, "Right. Not me, of course, because I don't go in for that kind of thing. Mostly it was the women. They even started calling the planet Audrey's Moon."
"Darling, they thought you were wonderful," Audrey said. "You were pretty good at first, you know."
Jayten stopped trying not to grin, and I felt myself getting hot in the face. "Matter of fact," Jayten said, "all the women were in love with you. The men didn't like it and almost voted to keep you off the planet."
This would bear looking into, I decided. I faced Jayten again. "But why didn't you come out in the open before? Why the Service guard act?"
"You'd never have left the Service if you weren't in trouble," Jayten said. "Most people are like that. We wanted you to feel completely alienated to the Service, and then we would have rescued you, pulled you out of a jam. Anybody's glad to escape a courtmartial sentence."
I nodded, and he went on to explain that the station back on the satellite would be destroyed and submerged, as if an oceanquake had broken up the basalt island. The warning hadn't gone through to the Service, and it would be several months before the regular guard ship came to relieve us. It all added up, and when Jayten left us alone, Audrey's face was serene and smiling. I even under-stood now why the cruiser arrived twelve hours early, and why there had been rumors about "aliens." But I was puzzled still about how things stood between me and Audrey. "No more fights ?" I said, looking up at her face. She smiled and kissed me.
"No. We're getting married." I kept my mind a careful blank and took the bean-like thought shield from her hand and put it in my ear. Now I safe. "Why are we getting married?" I asked.
For the same reason I couldn't go back to be courtmartialed." She laughed: "For the same reason I started the fire. For the same reason I got angry when you dreamed about Evie. I've got a secret."
She glowed at me happily and picked the shield out of my left ear. "Listen," she said, and pulled my head against her abdomen. "Two months already."
At first I could hear nothing, but then I caught the faint sounds of an unborn mind drifting lazily in a kind of sleepy warmth.
I don't remember what I said, but it was something like "Darling-why-didn't-you-tell-me-this-before?"
Audrey wept happily and said she had tried, but I was such a beast. I agreed, and we hugged each other.
Then I happened to glance at my watch and saw it was bedtime. Audrey had a faraway look in her eyes and said, "We won't land on the planet for an-other hour . . ."
The bunk was narrow, but we didn't even know the difference.
WE'VE been here four months now, and it's not bad at all. With the mind shields we can have privacy whenever we need it, and when we want to be together as intimately as possible, we take off the shields and enjoy ourselves.
We're very happy that we're going to have a boy. How do I know it's a boy? I've talked to him, of course. He doesn't have a good vocabulary yet, but he's learning. In fact, only last night I argued with him for an hour to convince him that it's not so bad in the outside world and that he ought to be born. He's as stubborn as his mother.
[From Startling Stories (Winter 1955)]
Olak, the white wolf, could not know that these superstitious man-creatures regarded him with awe, and were his protectors in a sense.
Code of the Fang
By HAROLD CRUCCKSHANK
OLAK, the White Phantom wolf king, whirled to the aid of his black wolf mate, Mayek. His fangs dripping red blood on to the snow, Olak savagely attacked a member of an intruder pack which had come down to raid on his range. They were members of the pack of Usam, the big black timber-wolf, a bitter rival of Olak.
Mayek was down, two of Usam's fanged hellions at her throat; but she fought with valiance and with strength and speed that were amazing, considering her condition. Before long, she would retire to the den to bring forth the season's litter of younglings.
Four of Usam's pack-members had beset the black mate of Olak, while the White Phantom was absent hunting. He had heard his mate's faint cry of distress and lost no time getting to her aid; now, with all the savagery in his great fighting heart, he launched himself into attack.
A lean, barren she-wolf coiled and slashed at his beautiful white throat. Her fangs cut through his fur and skin, and now his handsome breast was stained a dirty brown.
Olak sneezed sharply, as if to rid his nostrils of the distasteful tang of his enemies. He bounded to one side as the she-wolf reached again for him but overshot. As swift as chain lightning, Olak coiled inside and struck. . .
It was the end for this gaunt-bellied old member of Usam's pack. Olak's blood had been fired by an instinctive sense of the wide code, when the creatures of his kind must respect the condition of such as Mayek.
As the intruder she-wolf lay kicking, Olak chopped stiffly about her, his bloodied fangs bared, his hackles up. Truly, he assumed proportions that were worthy of his kingship. Two of the raiders crept, wounded, off into the scrub . . . Two, including the slain she-wolf, would never again go bounding down the hunt-trails like wraiths in the starlit winter nights.
Shortly Olak minced to his favorite slab of rock, his look-out position. He raised his head, thrusting his muzzle high, to give out a long and powerful wail of victory and of warning. It was a cry which penetrated the frost-fog, to reach the ears of the man-creatures at the cabin by the springs . . .
Tuk Cramer, his wife Netan, and her strapling Indian brother, Tan, cocked their heads sharply. Tuk and Tan were dressing down the pelts of handsome foxes—foxes which young Tan raised in a compound between the cabin and the springs.
"Olak!" Tuk gasped. "It is like I tol' you, Tan; those four wolves of Usam's pack must have come close to the den of the great white one . . ."
Tan nodded, and resumed the flensing of a hide.
Netan stared wide-eyed at her husband. Her full bosom rose and fell sharply. The Cramers and Tan had been "neighbors" of the White Phantom and his mate and kindred for many reasons here in this grim and desolate Nahanni country.
When the White Phantom called, it was either for tangible good or bad. To these man-creatures, Olak was an unusual creature whom they respected and, in a sense, feared, because of his white coat. Despite their mission-school training, they could not rid their minds of the superstitions of their ancestors. To them—secretly, if not openly—Olak, the White Phantom, was favored of the gods of the wilderness; they had long since learned to identify his calls, and they heeded them.
"Had you better not go and see, brave one?" Netan asked her husband in her soft Cree Indian tongue.
Tuk slowly shook his head. "No. When Olak calls as he did, all is well," he answered. "Tomorrow, out on my traplines, I shall call in close to the den, and check. Ayaie! But it will be bad if Usam brings all his pack down. They will rob our traps, and—ayah! Mayek's young. . . . She and the white one will have to be careful."
A DOG FOX barked huskily from the compound. This started a wild cacophony of sounds. Tan was instantly alert. This was a delicate time of the year for his she-foxes; the vixens could not stand too much excitement.
Pulling on a parka, Tan moved out of doors and walked quickly in the sharp night to the compound.
He whistled softly, and a beautiful silver fox whipped about to point his sharp muzzle at Tan. Shortly there was quiet at the pens. Tan talked softly to his charges; there were some very valuable creatures here—types he had developed by long seasons of careful breeding and attention.
Tan was proud of his foxes; he knew that Corporal Dan Martin of the Mounted—his friend—would be very proud when next he called, on patrol. It was Martin who had helped young Tan get his first start in this business of fox-raising, for the corporal had brought in literature to study.
Suddenly Tan whirled. The silver dog-fox bounded to the roof of his pen and thrust his muzzle high, to bark in his rasping voice-tones. Out of the west there came a long and powerful wolf-call. "Usam!" Tan gasped. His eyes blazed in the starlight.
Game was in short supply. It was the low ebb of the cycle in the rabbit ranks. Deer and moose had gone to yards, forced there by extra heavy snows; a famine was on the range of Olak. . . Usam was a bold adventurer, a ruthless big-fanged black. Small wonder that Tan quivered with misgiving. More than once such creatures as Usam had invaded the compounds, to destroy valuable foxes, in famine-time.
Tan strode back to the cabin, where he gave out the information that Usam was close in. Tuk's almost-black eyes glinted as he tightened his mouth. "It might be bad for our traplines, brave one," he said. "Bad, too, for the foxes. You will have to watch closely. . . ."
Tan stayed up late, almost until the dawn light began to filter through the pall of the dense frost-fog. He shuddered at the compound as he heard the skeleton tamaracks in nearby swamps crack their frost-tortured "bones." But reassurance came when again he heard the long, high-pitched wail of Olak, the White Phantom; the great white wolf king was alert and Tan knew that, if hard pressed, Olak would call in his powerful son, San, and the pack.
With this comforting thought in mind, Tan moved back to the shack, and straightway to his bunk . . . while the thin light of dawn slowly struggled to nudge aside the gloom of lingering night. . . .
MAYEK brought seven younglings to the world. Olak scouted the entire home-range area diligently. He was hard pressed to find and kill enough food for his own needs and for Mayek's sustenance. His flanks leaned off and his belly grew hollow. Many times he cut the sign of his hated rival Usarn and the black's pack members; but alone, Olak wisely gave the tracks a wide berth.
He pushed swiftly into the heavily brushed draws, where he was successful, now and then, in snatching a ruffed grouse or fool hen-grouse. Faithful, he brought a whole, untouched bird back to Mayek, laying the warm, feathered one just inside the entrance to her den. Now and then he cocked his head at the den entrance and listened to the mumblings and mewlings of his and Mayek's new litter. His hackles rose and fell, rose and fell, and he gasped soft, muted sounds as he stretched himself close by to rest, before whisking away to resume his hunting and find some small titbit of game life for the appeasement of his own ravishing hunger.. . .
Olak was out at his hunting when the tang of fox struck his nostrils sharply. Ordinarily he would have curled his lip and moved on, but his empty belly was grumbling. He slid down into a draw, and followed on along the brush-studded depression. Suddenly he came to a sharp halt and his hackles rose, for now. blended with the fox-scent, was the tang of a stranger wolf.
Olak peeled his lips back and rippled his strong muscles. He commenced to inch forward, the chill breeze favoring him, stabbing at his moist nose. Now he peered through a port in a dogwood bush and his eyes widened into a flaming glare as he glimpsed the huge black form of Usam. The big black wolf was down chewing on a fox.
Dawn had only been awakened an hour when all at once Olak froze. His ears pricked backward as faintly there came the crunch, crunch of snow caused by the treading snowshoes of a man-creature. Olak sensed that the man was closer to him than the sounds of his approach indicated, for the wind was against him.
The White Phantom was between Usam, his enemy, and the man at his backtrail. He poised uncertainly for a moment or two, then suddenly galvanized to action. He whipped to the right flat bank of the draw and leaped prodigiously to the topland.
Turning his head, he glimpsed the man-creature; then quickly he cut for the brush, in a run paralleling the draw, to point almost at right angles to Usam, still down at the fox.
As Olak turned he was forced to expose himself. Tuk Cramer, the trapper, gasped. He knew the wolf was in close to one of the fox sets, but never before had he known Olak to make a raid on a set. Tuk was swinging his Winchester around when he heard a stir ahead. He gasped as he saw the great form of Usam rise, half turn his head, and leap on along the draw.
Cramer threw down and pulled, but he swore bitterly as he saw his bullet kick up snow a rod behind the fleeing black wolf. Now Usam was gone, swallowed by covering bush.
Tuk hurried forward, his eyes wide as he glared at the mangled remains of what had been a handsome black dog-fox.
THE MAN now turned to the point at which he had glimpsed Olak. A slow smile toyed with Tuk's mouth-corners. There was a moment, formerly, when he might have charged the White Phantom with the raid on the trap-set. He was glad he had seen Usam, the black one.
"Ayaie!" he gasped. "But it is bad! My catch will be light for the rest of the winter. . . ."
He freed the fox-paw from the trap, hurled the remains of the carcass out into the brush, then reset the trap; but he shrugged as he straightened. Once the wolves began their plundering, there was little man could do to stop them, save by the use of strychnine poison baits; and Tuk had promised his friend Corporal Dan Martin never to use poison.
For the rest of his run along the line, he found only one small cross fox, and the remains of another, whose fine fur was torn.
On his return to his home again, he moved in close to the den of Mayek. He stood long moments watching the almost-screened mouth of the den. but he heard no sounds, saw no sign. Yet he smiled, for he knew that Mayek had her younglings down deep beneath the scrub and rock-reinforced clay.
Back at his cabin. Tuk found Tan, and told him of his experience. "Usam has started to take my foxes, brave one," Tuk said mournfully. "Soon he comes down to the compound here. We must watch closely, or—"
Both men spun at the high-pitched wail of Olak, the White Phantom.
"He is warning his kindred, Tan; it is bad!"
Tuk shrugged and moved on to the cabin to thaw out his lone catch and later pelt it. Many times famine had lanced the grim wild wastes of the Nahanni country. Tuk and Tan and Netan had come through many such a crisis, yet they shuddered now. In such a state, the isolated wilderness was indeed haunted by the grim specter of doubt, and threat and uncertainty. . . .
IT WAS such creatures as Olak and his kind which suffered most in famine-times. And the lynx, which depended almost wholly on the rabbits and grouse.
As the winter waned, Olak came across more than one wasted, starved, frozen form of a lynx, a creature which could provide him with no food-supply. In many cases the great horned and snowy owls had already torn what flesh remained on the lynx bodies, for the big owls, too, had been hard pressed to find adequate food. . . .
With the coming of the spring break-up, Olak hunted wider range. When the ice was gone from the creek, close to his home range, he stood in the cold water of the riffles, his head cocked. He had already tanged the first of the running pike, but it was some time before at last he was able to snap his jaws on a big fish.
He carried this back to Mayek, but she curled her nose, snarling; fish-bones were dangerous. Fish did not form part of the wolves' diet . . . only in extremity did they eat them.
Today, as a warm sun flooded the stirring wilderness, Olak loped on to a farther creek, where beavers had recently begun new activities.
He wrinkled his nose to catch the various scents Wafting on the warm breeze. He was searching for danger sign, for every now and then he had come across Usam's scent—scent planted, as was the habit of the wolf-kind, on hummocks and rocks, or against stumps. . . . But there was no fresh sign here at the beaver flat, no scent that overlay that tantalising musky scent of beaver.
Olak cocked his head. A creature was stirring off his right front. He slowly turned his head, and his lips drew back to expose his fangs in a sharp grimace as he glimpsed a big beaver at work on a fallen poplar near the big lodge.
Bark was being stripped by the strong incisors of the fat beaver. Head down, belly down, Olak began to steal forward. He licked his chops from time to time as he swung wide, left. Now he lay flat behind a clump of poplar saplings which grew right through the domed roof of the big lodge, which was connected to the stream proper by a skilfully cut channel.
With infinite patience, the 'White Phantom watched Ahrnisk, the beaver, at his feeding. Now the big male beaver turned and blinked his small black eyes as he stretched himself and, seated, his flat tail bracing him, began to paw his whiskers and, with his claws, comb out his coat.
Still Olak made no move. He quivered within himself as he waited, waited.
Now old Ahmisk dropped to all fours. There was a sudden resounding clap from the creek, where another adult beaver had been swimming. The warning slap of a broad tail on the water startled both Olak and Ahmisk.
Ahmisk at once coiled and started to scurry on toward the protective stream, but had to pass within half a rod of the crouched White Phantom. .. . Olak stretched and struck.
He was rocked on to his haunches as, like lightning, old Ahmisk slashed his nose with those terrible beaver incisors. Gasping, Olak again rushed, and this time Ahmisk had no time to turn and strike. Olak's fangs had struck him sharply, powerfully, in the nape of the neck.
It was a sharp and terrible killing; but, in his desperation, Olak could not pass up this opportunity. Ahmisk was big and fat; Mayek, at her den, was wasting for food, as her younglings exacted their heavy toll. Olak flattened and began to rip the heavy furry hide from the beaver-flesh. He belched repeatedly as he gulped the well-flavored, fatty meat. Nor did he cease until his gnawing, grumbling belly had ceased to complain. . . .
Olak was instinctively aware of his responsibility for the welfare of his mate at this early spring season. He licked his chops, fastened a strong fang-hold in the heavy remains of the beaver carcass, and turned to move along his home trail. He had gone no farther than half a mile when all at once he dropped the kill, and spun, to bristle his hackles as he saw the two members of Usam's pack trailing him.
THE DARK gray wolves were young dog-wolves with no responsibilities—hungry creatures at large. They had not the wisdom nor the fighting experience of the great White Phantom wolf king; yet they represented a great threat, because they outnumbered Olak two to one. He was crossed by two desires: there was his instinctive sense of faithfulness to his mate; there was his fighting desire to join battle for the retention of his kill.
He bared his fangs and minced a pace or two toward the intruders. His tail was high at the base, and kinked like a dog-fox's. His hackles raised and his breast coat fluffed out, Olak assumed proportions far greater than his natural size.
One of the dark greys suddenly swung, to go tearing in around Olak. He had the beaver carcass in his jaws when the White Phantom whirled and charged.
The fight was on!
Olak wasted no time feinting or bobbing; he sensed that this must be a short, speedy encounter. As the wolf with the beaver remains in his jaws whirled, to make a break, Olak spun and struck. His fangs cut through hide and flesh and ripped sidewise with a powerful jerk of the white one's neck muscles.
Blood spouted. The heavy beaver carcass dropped to the snow. Again Olak drove. There were fangs sinking into one of his rear thigh muscles before he finally severed the first wolf's jugular.
Now he whirled, spinning the second marauder from him. His off-side rear limb buckled under him. Its muscle was cut. Before he could recover and thrust, the dark grey had whipped away to the cover of the brush.... He sat there, at a discreet distance, watching Olak, the white one, coil in an endeavour to lick his wound.
Now Olak shuffled his wounded limb deep into a small patch of cold snow, until he was satisfied that the bleeding had ceased.
He minced about the dead wolf a time or two before moving to a knoll, an old beaver-dam, there to cock his muzzle high and pour out a long, high-pitched wail. It was a call that reached the ears of Mayek at her den. . . . It was a call heard by other wilderness creatures. . . .
Nearby, in the brush, his tongue lolling and his chops drooling, the grey wolf watched with baleful stare. He would have food, but not the succulent beaver. His feast would be cannibalistic, for he would rip and tear at his brother's carcass as the White Phantom moved on, carrying the beaver on to the den of his mate. . . .
As he neared the den, Olak whipped to the cover of scrub brush. He had glimpsed the man-creature. . . .
[Tuk Cramer shuffled on to the Beaver were in close season to all he reached the beaver-dam and the lodge, and saw the sign of a big beaver kill, he shook his head. Beaver were in close season to all trappers.]
"Ayaie!" Tuk gasped. He had protected Ahmisk and his kind for many seasons, watching them multiply. Tuk looked forward to taking a few pelts again when the season opened, but sadly he stared down at the torn fur and hide of old Ahmisk.
"Usam! Mucha Satan!" he swore in the Cree tongue.
It was well he charged Usam with the kill, for it would have been doubly saddening had he known that Olak, the White Phantom, had been responsible. . . .
BACK AT his mate's den, Olak dropped the beaver and thrust his nose deep into the den entrance. Shortly, her hackles up, her fangs bared, Mayek snarled as she approached the feast. Olak grunted and limped away, to settle himself to rest. His nose quivered as from time to time the fragrant, musky odor of the beaver touched his nostrils as Mayek savagely tore the flesh from the bones.
Now Olak's eyes began to blink. Ears cocked, he settled to rest, to nap, while the sun strengthened and the soft sou'-westerly breeze honeycombed remaining snow-patches.
High overhead, the whirr of wings faintly sounded. The first of migratory birds were in full flight north. Soon would come the honking of the wild geese and the cries of the whistler swans, with now and then the more resounding calls of the few remaining trumpeter swans.
Olak shuffled his body into a position of greater comfort, yawned prodigiously, and lay over, to rest while, seated on her haunches at the den entrance, her belly now well filled, Mayek, the beautiful big black, sat on guard.. . .
THE TRUE spring burst on the wilds with amazing suddenness. Songbirds had returned; sap-filled trees were blowing up their buds, and the first green grass-shoots were pushing aside the dead, dry grass of last year.
Hot sun flooded the desolate wastes, laying salve upon the hurts wrought by the grim winter. But as time went on, Olak, the White Phantom, became more restless. He started every time a gust of night wind caused a sinister, sibilant hissing of the dry grasses.
This evening, following many hot days, thunder grumbled. A flash of lightning to westward dazzled him. Throughout the night he sat and watched the play of sheet and fork lightning along the crest of the westerly hills.
There was no dew with daybreak—an ominous sign.
Came a close-in crash of thunder! Mayek had pushed her younglings to the outside. She joined them, her muzzle high. There was no sign of rain.
Another dazzling flash of lightning cut through a single mass of low cloud stratum to the north-west. The flash was attended by a smashing volley of thunder which sent the whelplings scurrying to their mother's sides.
Suddenly Olak sprang to all fours, and raced to a rise of land. He flung his head high, and his nose quivered. Mayek swung on her stern, to watch her mate; and then, over all the wild range, rang the long-drawn wail of the White Phantom. It was a warning. Smoke had touched his nostrils with its dread, acrid tang.
A freak, rainless electric storm had rolled around the hills all night. Its lightning had ripped into the tinder-dry punk of deadfalls at the edge of a tamarack swamp, and now, almost before Mayek could join her mate, smoke was visible. . . .
Several times Olak and his mate had experienced the mad ravages of spring or autumn bush fires, their most deadly enemy, the most deadly enemy of all creatures of the wilderness. The White Phantom did not panic. He turned his head, with muzzle cocked, to sniff sharply as if determining the true wind-direction. Now he spun, ran his muzzle along Mayek's flank; then, wheeling, he raced on toward the north-west.
Does had not yet dropped their fawns. A mule deer doe flashed by Olak, her nostrils flared red. She was in no condition for this sharp run; she had lots of time to make her way to the safety of the lake, to eastward, but, in her condition, she was panicked.
Olak stood a moment or so and watched her until the brush closed behind her. Now he glimpsed an old bull moose standing at full height, head turned toward the scene of the lightning's damage. Soon Moosewa might be gaitin, at full stride toward the lake, but for the time being he was glaring at the coiling smoke.
Now Olak watched a tongue of flame break from the smoke. A wind gusted, whipping the tongue out flat, stirring up the red embers of the punk, scattering them over the dry grass of a ridge. . . .
Then, quickly, the fire flamed out and the fickle wind steadied. . . . Olak sat on his haunches, his lips working sharply in strange grimaces.
A buck deer came bounding up out of a shallow draw, snorting as he pounded along in full flight Suddenly there was a terrific roar as the heated air caused a local eddy of powerful wind, whirled the fire a point to westward. It was then Olak spun and drove back to his den zone.
The seven younglings were without understanding. As Olak and their mother began to muzzle them forward, they tumbled and coiled, to paw and play. Olak seized a husky little dog whelp in his jaws and trotted off with him, setting him down a couple of hundred yards nearer the two-miles-distant lake. He returned for another. Progress was slow, but the progress of the fire was swift now. The sun was blotted out and the wilderness, so recently adorned in the first sign of spring glory, reverted to a sere place of desolation and despair.
Animals of every species moved by. A black bear and tumbling twin cubs came into sight. The old she halted, to turn her head and snarl gutturally at the wolf family. Olak paid her no heed.
All at once he froze in his tracks, a whelp in his jaws, as he heard the sound of footbeats to his right rear. Now he spun, to glimpse man-creatures. He quivered in every nerve-fibre, but no harm came to him. . . .
TUK CRAMER and Tan were out, scouting. They were looking for a suitable area at which to commence back-firing.
Tuk halted, catching at Tan's arm. "Ayah! But look, brave one! Him, the white one, an his family. . . . Cre nom d'un chien! It is sad We cannot help them with those young ones. . . ."
Olak moved on, watched by the men. He flashed past them again, on his way back for another whelp. Then suddenly Tan called to Tub. "Lookl To the right, north. Usam, the black, an'--ayaie!"
Tan pointed to five wolves of the stranger pack.
Tuk straightened his shoulders. In spite of the gravity of the situation, he would have shot Usam and his followers, but Tub was armed only with an axe.
"He is the evil one, Tan!" Tuk whispered huskily. "I am afraid for the white one an'—"
A terrific roar from the gathering forces of the fire cut Tub short. "We begin the backfire, great one?" Tan asked.
Tuk hesitated. "We begin, but, Tan, Olak, Hayek an' the rest of the young . . . We must find out where they are, or—tonnerre! we could encircle them. I go. Be ready!"
Tuk found Mayek nudging along three whelps. She whirled and bared her fangs as he came within a few rods of her. The tang of the smoke in her nostrils had made it impossible for her to catch his scent.
Tuk backed away. Now as he turned to rejoin Tan he gasped as a wall of flame rose like a high tide of red death. Powered by a sudden blast of wind, it rose, surging, to smash against a belt of mixed evergreen and deciduous timber. . . .
Tuk shuddered and spun, to hurry back to Tan. "We move quickly toward the west, Tan. There is no more time. Come!"
Shortly they were touching off dry matted grass, healing out flame, forcing the backfire to creep against the wind, in a widening circle, as they struggled against the smoke fumes to save their home area. . . They must get a backfire line around to join the creek to the south of their home yard; but they realized that their struggles could, in a single puff of wind, be all in vain. . . .
AT THE threat of encirclement by the backfire, Mayek was forced to seize a whelp and rush to find OIak. She was obliged to leave two of the whelps behind. Now she and Olak whipped back together. . . . But as they neared the young ones a dark form flashed to the brush. It was the great form of Usam . . . Usain, the code-breaker. A small whelpling lay stretched out in death.
Together, Mayek and Olak raised hackles and bared their terrible fangs.
Mayek now darted in, snuffling smoke-tang from her nostrils, and seized the last of the whelps, to start nosing them along as fast as their immature legs would carry them. There was no chance now of her gaining the safety of the lake. She was turning her brood on toward the creek, to the south. . . .
Olak had not rejoined her. He was swinging around a belt of brush, and now he poised himself at his' full height, to glare at a slinking black wolf-shape. This was Usam. As the fire demons roared and crackled at his back, Olak raised his muzzle and gave out a husky wail. The black wolf-chieftain spun.
Usam whipped agilely to one side at the White Phantom's thrust. He spun and slashed with his terrible fangs, which caught Olak in the throat.
Smeared with blood, the white one rushed again. He snapped and whipped back. Usam rocked back.
Gutturing deep throat-sounds, the White Phantom hurled himself in. His gaping jaws drove, and his fangs buried themselves in Usam's throat.
The big black wolf was strong. He put all his muscular strength to service now as he wrenched his neck from side to side. He suddenly fell, taking Olak with him. The throat-hold was lost, and for a few seconds Olak was hard pressed.
He caught the black by a forepaw and exerted all his strength in a sharp twist of his head. A bone snapped like the crack of a fire-tortured tamarac.
Usam buckled. He was stumbling forward when Olak whirled and cut his hamstrings. . . .
Olak seized a youngling straggler and whirled, to skirt a flaming patch of scrub brush, then on to the creek flat, where he laid the cub. . . .
As the grim red tide bore ruthlessly down, to reach its climax in the heavy matted dry grasses of the creek flat, Mayek and her brood cowered in the shallows of the creek, as wind roared flame over their backs.
Olak swam back and forth in a pool upstream. Now he returned to his family, and muzzled first one whelpling after another. Above the roar of the fire there came sudden, sharp crashes. The entrapped storm to westward had broken free.
Olak whimpered softly as he raised his head to catch the beat of raindrops. . . . Now he carried the whelps to the far bank, to soft haven in cover of heavy willows, where Mayek joined them.
Olak took himself off to a knoll, where he stood and listened to the hiss of rain into the fire, and watched the clouds of steam replace the black smoke.
Now he thrust up his head and poured out a long wail which declared his victory—victory not only over the fire gods, but over his hated enemy Usam, the code-breaker, whose scorched body lay in the smoke-obscured brush to northward.
[From Adam (Aug. 1955)]
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyrights on these publications were renewed.