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Authors: Alexander Key

The Golden Enemy

BOOK: The Golden Enemy
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The Golden Enemy

Alexander Key

To the slowly vanishing ones of forest and field, who have treated their planet
—
and their fellow creatures
—
so much better than has the creature called man.

Something About a Star

T
he youngest herder paused a moment in the early dark, listening, not sure of the sound that had come to him. It had been so very faint, so far away. Was it the hunting horn again?

Suddenly he turned and raced up the grassy slope to where the oldest herder stood waiting.


Did
—
did you hear it?” he panted. “Was it the horn?


Sounded like it,” replied the oldest herder. “But I heard only one blast
—
and it was farther to the west this time. That means they're still following the beast.


Won't they ever catch up with it?


They're in rough country now, and they can't do much at night. It could escape.

The youngest herder said bitterly, “I wish I'd gone with them! If that thing gets away
—”


You're not a hunter, son. Your place is here.


But it killed my dog!


That wasn't all it killed.

The youngest herder stood clenching his brown hands as he thought of the terror of the night before. It had crept down in the safety of the mist, unseen, and slashed viciously through the flock as if its one purpose was to kill. Their weapons had been useless. Of the dogs, only Pilot had had the courage to attack
—
and poor old Pilot hadn't lasted a minute. Afterward, as soon as the mist lifted, he'd gone for the hunters. Now here it was night again, and the men were still after the thing.


Why,” he asked, “would any animal act so
—
so mad? As if it just wanted to destroy.


There are reasons, son, but you're not ready to hear them yet. You're too full of hate.


Why shouldn't I hate it? I wish I could kill it.


Killing it wouldn't bring your dog back.


Maybe not, but I'd feel better.


Would you now?

The youngest herder swallowed. As he thought of Pilot, whom he would never see again, tears rolled down his cheeks. Suddenly the aching hurt of it was almost more than he could bear. Pilot had been his only real friend. How could he ever manage without him?

After a long while he dug his knuckles into his eyes and looked up. There was no mist tonight, and the stars were as bright as he had ever seen them. Directly ahead, rising over the hills, was a star he had never noticed before. It didn't have the cold diamond glitter of the others. It was a warm star, a friendly one, with
something about it that seemed to ease the ache within him.

He pointed to it and asked its name.

The oldest herder shook his head, and said quietly, “Why don't you give it a name and call it your own? It looks like a good star, the kind one needs on a lonely night.


Would there be
—
people out there? People like us?


Why not? We came from the stars, long ago
—
from a planet like this one. If that star has such a planet, surely man will be living there.


And would there be beasts there too? Beasts that hate us?


Maybe. Unless man has destroyed them all
—
or made his peace with them.


Made peace with them!” the youngest herder exclaimed. “But that's impossible! How can you make peace with something as murderous as the thing that came last night?


You can't
—
unless you can understand how it feels, and why.

The oldest herder started back to camp, then stopped a moment and added over his shoulder, “Look at your star while I'm gone, and do a little wondering. I've found a lot of answers that way.

The youngest herder watched him move down the slope. Finally, he raised his eyes to the star that now hung like a glowing jewel above the opposite hill.

Would there really be people out there? People like himself? And would there be animals, too? Dogs
—
and beasts that killed?

1

FOOTPRINT

O
n the green planet that circled the youngest herder's star, the forest stretched like a great park over much of the land. Ancient trails led through it, but these days no one except Boy Jaim ever bothered to travel far upon them. Why walk, people said, when it is so easy to fly above it all? But to Boy Jaim—he was looked upon as something of a savage—the forest was a place of endless mystery, and he managed to spend more time in it than at home.

Because he spoke the language of the wild, and knew every creature for miles around, it came as a great shock, one morning, suddenly to discover that the forest had turned unfriendly.

When it happened, he was returning from the edge of a desert area called the Barrens, where he had been exploring. Behind him, floating at the end of a short line, was an air sled loaded with camping gear. A small white dog, one of the few dogs left on the planet, trotted watchfully ahead, on the alert for prankish squirrels who liked to tease them by throwing nuts. Boy Jaim, this morning, was paying no attention to his surroundings. His mind was still on the Barrens and some of the odd things he had found; he did not realize anything was wrong until the dog stopped and gave a low growl of warning.

The youth halted in surprise. He had long outgrown the first part of his name, which had been added when he was small to distinguish him from his father. But though Big Jaim was dead now, the tall son was still Boy Jaim to everyone, and no one thought of changing it.

“What's the matter, Doubtful?” he asked.

The dog stood with head raised, his sharp nose quivering. “Don't know,” he replied, speaking with a muttered flow of sounds that few but Boy Jaim himself could have understood. “Too quiet. The birds have stopped singing.”

“What of it? The birds can't sing all the time.”

“But something's wrong,” Doubtful insisted. “Gives me a queer feeling.”

Frowning, though still unworried, Boy Jaim stood listening while he studied the surrounding woods. The trail they were following had once been a highway, but that was millenniums ago in the day of the wheel. Now great trees covered the ages-old gash through the land, and there remained only a winding path kept open by the hooves of deer. On either side the woods stretched open and park-like into the distance, with an occasional grassy glade where the sunlight slanted down and the forest dwellers came to feed and play.

Turning, he felt sunlight on his bare shoulders, and he realized they'd reached the edge of such a glade. It was one he remembered well. Days ago, when they'd passed through here, the place had been alive with happy creatures. This morning it was strangely empty.

Then his heart gave a sudden twist as he glimpsed, in the distance, the fleeing forms of several deer. The last one halted a moment and looked back, almost regretfully it seemed. It was a white doe.

The white doe was an old friend.

“Wait!” he called, holding out his hands. “What's the matter? Wait! …”

The doe's only response was to whirl about and vanish with the others.

Incredulous, Boy Jaim stood blinking at the silent forest. Never, never in all his life, had anything run from him except in play. Why should the deer flee now—especially the white doe? What had happened to the other creatures? Always there'd been squirrels about, full of devilment, and small inquisitive black bears who liked to meet him on the trail, to gossip a bit and beg for a honeycake. But not one had appeared this morning.

“I can't understand it,” he muttered to Doubtful. “What's got into everything?”

The dog rolled his big amber eyes, looking uneasily from one side to the other. “It's something in the air. Can't you
feel
it?”

Suddenly Boy Jaim shivered. It was almost as if an icy wind had blown through the forest, destroying all that was warm and good. Only, there wasn't even a breeze this morning, and the day was so balmy he hadn't bothered to put on his jacket. Yet the coldness was here, and in it lay a blackness that was almost—was it evil?

He closed his eyes and sent his thoughts reaching out, searching. Now he stood motionless for long seconds, a thin, brown, and intense young figure, man-tall despite his youth, with black hair bushing from under the brightness of his cap. All his clothing, from his green-tasseled cap to his short sturdy brown boots, was from material designed and woven by his cousin, L'Mara, on the looms at home.

His exploring thoughts told him only that the source of what he felt was nowhere near. He began to wonder if evil was the right name for it. From the few books he'd read of the dim past, when man had overrun the planet, there had been evil aplenty. But all that was long ago. Incredibly long ago. Man had changed a lot since those times. Now his numbers were few, and neither man nor beast had harmed each other for ages.

What could have happened here today?

“Come on,” he said abruptly. “Let's go see Grumble. She'll tell us what's wrong.”

Doubtful gave a small grunt of disagreement, but said nothing till they neared the great hollow tree that Grumble and her cub used for a den. Then he held back, muttering, “Careful. She may be feeling mean.”

“Aw, she's just fussy because she has a cub. She's still the friendliest bear around here.”

“You'll see. Don't forget the honeycakes.”

“Oh.”

He reached into the air sled and got out the remaining cakes he'd saved especially for Grumble's cub. He'd given it some last week, and promised it more when he returned.

He did not immediately see Grumble after he called out a greeting, but the cub appeared farther down the trail and stood looking at him uncertainly. In its bright, beady little eyes was a curious new mixture of wonder and fear.

Boy Jaim was startled and not a little upset by the cub's strange manner. It had never stayed away from him before. He stooped and held out a honeycake. The cub eyed it wistfully, but refused to come closer.

“What's wrong, Fuzzy?” he pleaded. “You're not really afraid of me, are you? Surely you know I'd never hurt you!”

“You might,” the cub replied tremulously, its churning thoughts saying more than it could express in sound.

“But why?” he exclaimed, astounded. “You don't believe that, do you?”

“Yes. You're a man-thing.”

“But man-things are your friends!”

“No. Man-things are bad.”

“Who told you that?” he demanded.

“Oh, it was big,
big!
And shining! Didn't you
see
it when—”

They were interrupted by Grumble, who charged suddenly from the trees beyond the den. She slapped the cub and sent it squealing away, and then knocked the offered cakes from Boy Jaim's hand. Her warning snarl told him he was no longer welcome there.

He retreated from her, shocked and trembling, and fled down the trail.

It was long minutes before he calmed enough to think carefully over what had happened and attempt to understand it. But it was all so new in his experience, and so incredible, that none of it made sense.

He realized now that it wasn't just the deer and Grumble and her cub who had turned from him. It was everything in this part of the forest. He was aware of hidden creatures watching him, suspicious and distrustful. They no longer wanted anything to do with him—and it was all because he was a man-thing.

BOOK: The Golden Enemy
7.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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