The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 99
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"Okay," said Sam. "That's that."
But it wasn't, and he knew it. Even as he went about preparing his traps, he knew it.
As it turned out, the only animals he caught in his traps were small ones which tore themselves in two and then scampered off, each half running in a different direction. For the animal which had made those noises, no traps were necessary. Later on he heard a noise outside again, and he went out cautiously, gun in hand. The animal backed away, but he saw it, then he heard it bark. So did Mark, who had followed him.
Mark's eyes almost popped. It was four years since he had heard the sound, but he knew at once what it was. "Gos.h.!.+ A dog! How do you s'pose he got here?"
"I don't know," said Sam. "Your guess is as good as mine."
"But if we're the first human beings to land here--it ain't possible!"
"I know that. But there he is."
At the sound of their voices, the dog broke into a series of furious barks, backing away as it did so.
"What kind is he, Pop?"
"He looks like a mongrel to me. A bad-tempered, medium-sized mongrel with an ugly look about him. Maybe I ought to shoot him and get it over with."
"Shoot him? Don't do that! I want him as a pet."
"He looks too wild to make much of a pet."
The dog gave one last bark of defiance, turned, and fled in the same general direction, Sam noticed, as he had run last time.
"Maybe dogs do grow on other planets, Pop."
"Only if men have brought them there."
"Then that means there was a s.h.i.+p here?"
"At some time or other there was a s.h.i.+p. I don't think it was smashed up, or I'd have seen wreckage when I cruised around before landing. That dog was either left here by mistake, or deliberately marooned."
"Maybe--maybe he's with somebody who's still here."
"Not likely," said Sam thoughtfully. "He wanders around too freely, and he seems unused to the presence of human beings. Besides, no men would be likely to live here long without shelter. And I've seen no sign of any house or hut."
"Could he belong to a being that wasn't human?"
"No," replied Sam with certainty. "Only human beings have been able to domesticate dogs. If a dog is here, a human being was once here. That's definite."
"He would make a good pet," said Mark longingly.
"Not that one. Maybe I should have got you a dog long ago. It might have been just the kind of companions.h.i.+p you needed. But you can't make a pet of this animal. He's been away from people too long, and he's developed some mean habits." And he added mentally, "Like me."
"I could train him," said Mark. "He wouldn't be any trouble at all, Pop. I'd train him and feed him, and he'd be just like one of us. And--and like you say, Pop, it wouldn't be so lonely for me."
Kids don't give up easily, thought Sam. All the same, he had an idea that with this dog all the persistence in the world would be useless. He shrugged, and said simply, "We'll see." And then they went into the s.h.i.+p to eat.
All through the meal he could tell that Mark was thinking about the dog. The boy's thoughts seemed to affect his appet.i.te. For the first time, he left some of his proteinex on the plate.
"I'm not very hungry today," he said apologetically. "Maybe--" He looked inquiringly at his father.
"Go ahead and finish it," said Sam. "We've got plenty of food. I'll fix up something else for the dog."
"But I want to feed him myself, Pop. I want him to get used to me feeding him."
"I'll give you your chance later."
Afterwards, Sam thriftily opened an old can of a less expensive variety of proteinex and put half of it on a platter, which Mark carried outside the s.h.i.+p. He moved off about a hundred yards in the direction the dog had taken, and set the platter down on a rock.
"The wind is blowing the wrong way," said Sam. "Let's wait a while."
In ten minutes the wind s.h.i.+fted, and if the dog was near, Sam felt certain that he had picked up both their scent and that of the food. That his feeling was correct was shown by the sudden appearance of the animal, who barked again, but this time not so fiercely. And he stopped barking to sniff hungrily, at the same time keeping his distance.
"Here, mutt," called Mark.
"I'm afraid he won't come any closer while we're around," said Sam. "If you want him to have that food, you'd better go away from it."
Mark reluctantly backed away with his father. The dog approached the food, finally rus.h.i.+ng down upon it as if he feared it would escape, and gobbled it.
In the days that followed, they continued to feed him, and the animal became relatively tame. He stopped barking at them, and at times let Mark come within a few feet of him. But he never allowed Mark to come close enough to touch him, and he was especially wary of Sam. The latter could see, however, that there was nothing around the smooth-furred neck. The collar, if it had ever existed, had evidently been worn away.
"So we can't find out what his name is," said Mark in disappointment. "Here, Prince, here, Spot, here, Rover--"
The animal answered to none of the traditional dog names, nor to several of the newer ones that Mark recalled.
After the dog had been with them for a half hour or so he usually trotted off in the direction of what they had come to consider his lair.
"He doesn't seem to be getting tame enough for a pet," said Sam. "That's one idea I'm afraid you'll have to give up."
"All he needs is a little more time," said Mark. "He's getting used to me." Then a sudden fear struck him, and he added, "You're not going to leave here yet, are you, Pop? I thought you wanted to catch some big animals."
"There aren't any other big animals," replied Sam. "Just those small ones who came apart in the traps, and they're not worth catching. But I'll stay. This place is as good as any other. I won't leave it yet."
In fact, the stay on the planet, bleak as the place was, seemed to be less unpleasant than cruising aimlessly through s.p.a.ce. Mark had been starved for companions.h.i.+p of someone besides his father, and in a way, without making too many demands, the dog was a companion. Wondering about the beast and trying to tame him gave them something with which to occupy their minds. It had been several days, realized Sam, since he had last snapped at Mark.
It had become quite certain now that there was no other human being around. The dog's eagerness for the food showed that no one else had taken care of him for a long time. Evidently he had been forced to feed himself on the small and elusive native animals which he could run down.
One of the things that puzzled Sam was the dog's obvious anxiety to leave the neighborhood of the s.h.i.+p after a short period and return to his lair. And one day, driven by curiosity, Sam followed him, with Mark coming along, too.
The dog had become sufficiently accustomed to them by now not to resent their presence, and it was easy to keep him in sight. He led the way for at least two miles, over rocky ground and past a small stream. Quite unexpectedly he stopped and began to whine and sniff the ground. As Sam and Mark approached, he turned on them, barking furiously.
The man and boy exchanged glances. "He's acting just like he did in the beginning," said Mark.
"There's something in the ground," said Sam. "I'm going to find out what it is." And he drew his gun.
"You're not going to kill him, Pop!"
"I'll just put him to sleep. An anaesthetic pellet of the kind I use for trapping ought to do the trick."
But one pellet turned out to be not enough. It required the bursting of three pellets before the animal finally trembled, came to a halt, and with eyes glazed, fell over on the ground.
When they approached closer, Sam caught sight of half a dozen stones, roughly piled together. He said, "Better get back, Mark. This may not be pleasant."
"You think--you think somebody's buried here?"
"Very likely. I'm going to see."
Using a flat rock with a sharp edge as an improvised spade, he began to dig. The ground was hard, and the rock was not the best of tools. It took him half an hour to reach the first bone, and another half-hour to uncover the rest.
Mark had come up behind him and was watching with no sign of revulsion. He said, "I--I was afraid there might be a body, Pop."
"So was I. It looks as if the man died so long ago that everything else has rotted away, except for a few metal clasps. No other sign of shoes or clothes. And no indication of how this happened."
"You think he was the dog's master?"
They both stared at the sleeping animal. Then Sam shrugged, and began to fill the shallow grave again. Mark helped him push in the dirt and stamp it down into place. Finally they moved the stones back.
They were about to leave when Mark cried out, "Look at that rock!"
Staring where his son pointed, Sam saw a gray column about four feet high, with four smooth lateral sides. Rectangular prisms of this size were rare in nature. This was obviously the work of human hands, and of a blasting rod as well, to judge by the sides, which showed evidence of having been fused before weathering had cut into them. At first he had thought the column was a gravestone. But there was no inscription upon it. There was nothing but a thin deep groove that ran horizontally around the four sides, several inches from the top.
"What does it mean, Pop?"
"Let's find out. It's obviously been put here as some sort of memorial. As for this groove--"
He put his hands on the top of the stone and lifted. As he had half expected, it separated at the horizontal groove. The top of the stone was the lid of a box. Inside lay a plastic container.
"Some kind of plastic we don't make any more," muttered Sam.
"Aren't you going to open it?" asked Mark eagerly. "Maybe it tells about the grave and the dog's name."
The plastic came open at a slight tug. Inside were several strong sheets of paper. Sam stared at them and said, "It's writing, sure enough. But in some language I don't understand."
"We can put it in our mechanical translator," said Mark. "That can tell us what it means."
"That's what we'll do."
"Aren't we going to take the dog with us, Pop?"
"No, we'll leave him here. He'll come to in a little while."
Walking back to their s.h.i.+p, Mark continued to show an excitement that was unusual for him. "You know what?" he said. "I'll bet we're going to learn what the dog's name is."
"I doubt if whoever wrote this thing would bother about a trifle like that."
"But that's important. You'll see, Pop, you'll see!"
At the s.h.i.+p, Sam inserted the sheets into the reader section of his translator and started the motor. The selector swung into action.
"Before it can translate, it has to decide what language this is," he explained.
"Will that take long?"
"A few minutes if we're lucky, a couple of hours if we're not. After that, I think the translation itself shouldn't take more than a few minutes. While we're waiting, we might as well eat."
"I'm not hungry," said Mark.
"You'd better eat anyway."
"Just a little bit, maybe. You know what I think, Pop? When I call the dog by his name, he'll know I'm his friend and he'll come to me. Then he'll really be my pet."
"Don't count too much on it," said Sam. And thought once more how lonely his son must be, to center so much hope in a half-wild beast.
A light glowed suddenly in the translator. The selector had found the proper language. Now it began to translate.
Twenty minutes later, its work had been completed. As Sam silently began to read, Mark b.u.mped against him, knocking the translation from his hand. Sam's first reaction was anger at the boy's clumsiness. Then he became aware of the hope and the fear that lay behind Mark's excitement, and bit back the angry words which had almost reached his lips.
"Easy, Mark, easy," he said. He picked up the translation again and sat down. "You can read it over my shoulder, if you want to."
"I just want to find out the dog's name."
"The important thing is his master's name. Julian Hagstrom, it says. And he was on a s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p with his brother, Raoul."
Mark's eyes had skipped ahead. "Look, Pop, here's the dog's name--Arkem! I never heard of a dog having a name like that! What does it mean?"
"I wouldn't know," muttered Sam absently, still reading.
But Mark wasn't actually interested in his answer. He ran outside. "Arkem!" he called. "Arkem!"
There was nothing he could interpret as an answer. After a moment or two he came into the s.h.i.+p again, his face betraying his disappointment. "I guess he doesn't hear me. He's too far away."
Sam nodded. He had put the translation down and was staring straight ahead of him, as if looking through the s.h.i.+p's side.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 99
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 99 summary
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