Sample M04 from Jim Harmon, "The Planet with No Nightmare," If, 11: 3 (July, 1961), 7-12. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,002 words 873 (43.6%) quotes 1 symbolM04

Used by permission of Jim Harmon. 0010-1820

Jim Harmon, "The Planet with No Nightmare," If, 11: 3 (July, 1961), 7-12.

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Ryan hefted his bulk up and supported it on one elbow . He rubbed his eyes sleepily with one huge paw . `` Ekstrohm , Nogol , you guys okay '' ? ?

`` Nothing wrong with me that couldn't be cured '' , Nogol said . He didn't say what would cure him ; ; he had been explaining all during the trip what he needed to make him feel like himself . His small black eyes darted inside the olive oval of his face .

`` Ekstrohm '' ? ? Ryan insisted .

`` Okay '' .

`` Well , let's take a ground-level look at the country around here '' .

The facsiport rolled open on the landscape . A range of bluffs hugged the horizon , the color of decaying moss . Above them , the sky was the black of space , or the almost equal black of the winter sky above Minneapolis , seen against neon-lit snow . That cold , empty sky was full of fire and light . It seemed almost a magnification of the Galaxy itself , of the Milky Way , blown up by some master photographer .

This fiery swath was actually only a belt of minor planets , almost like the asteroid belt in the original Solar System . These planets were much bigger , nearly all capable of holding an atmosphere . But to the infuriation of scientists , for no known reason not all of them did . This would be the fifth mapping expedition to the planetoids of Yancy-6 in three generations . They lay months away from the nearest Earth star by jump drive , and no one knew what they were good for , although it was felt that they would probably be good for something if it could only be discovered -- much like the continent of Antarctica in ancient history .

`` How can a planet with so many neighbors be so lonely '' ? ? Ryan asked . He was the captain , so he could ask questions like that .

`` Some can be lonely in a crowd '' , Nogol said elaborately .

`` What will we need outside , Ryan '' ? ? Ekstrohm asked .

`` No helmets '' , the captain answered . `` We can breathe out there , all right . It just won't be easy . This old world lost all of its helium and trace gases long ago . Nitrogen and oxygen are about it '' .

`` Ryan , look over there '' , Nogol said . `` Animals . Ringing the ship . Think they're intelligent , maybe hostile '' ? ?

`` I think they're dead '' , Ekstrohm interjected quietly . `` I get no readings from them at all . Sonic , electronic , galvanic -- all blank . According to these needles , they're stone dead '' .

`` Ekstrohm , you and I will have a look '' , Ryan said . `` You hold down the fort , Nogol . Take it easy '' .

`` Easy '' , Nogol confirmed . `` I heard a story once about a rookie who got excited when the captain stepped outside and he couldn't get an encephalographic reading on him . Me , I know the mind of an officer works in a strange and unfathomable manner '' .

`` I'm not worried about you mis-reading the dials , Nogol , just about a lug like you reading them at all . Remember , when the little hand is straight up that's negative . Positive results start when it goes towards the hand you use to make your mark '' .

`` But I'm ambidextrous '' .

Ryan told him what he could do then .

Ekstrohm smiled , and followed the captain through the airlock with only a glance at the lapel gauge on his coverall . The strong negative field his suit set up would help to repel bacteria and insects .

Actually , the types of infection that could attack a warm-blooded mammal were not infinite , and over the course of the last few hundred years adequate defenses had been found for all basic categories . He wasn't likely to come down with hot chills and puzzling striped fever .

They ignored the ladder down to the planet surface and , with only a glance at the seismological gauge to judge surface resistance , dropped to the ground .

It was day , but in the thin atmosphere contrasts were sharp between light and shadow . They walked from midnight to noon , noon to midnight , and came to the beast sprawled on its side .

Ekstrohm nudged it with a boot . `` Hey , this is pretty close to a wart-hog '' .

`` Uh-huh '' , Ryan admitted . `` One of the best matches I've ever found . Well , it has to happen . Statistical average and all . Still , it sometimes gives you a creepy feeling to find a rabbit or a snapping turtle on some strange world . It makes you wonder if this exploration business isn't all some big joke , and somebody has been everywhere before you even started '' .

The surveyor looked sidewise at the captain . The big man seldom gave out with such thoughts . Ekstrohm cleared his throat . `` What shall we do with this one ? ? Dissect it '' ? ?

Ryan nudged it with his toe , following Ekstrohm's example . `` I don't know , Stormy . It sure as hell doesn't look like any dominant intelligent species to me . No hands , for one thing . Of course , that's not definite proof '' .

`` No , it isn't '' , Ekstrohm said .

`` I think we'd better let it lay until we get a clearer picture of the ecological setup around here . In the meantime , we might be thinking on the problem all these dead beasts represent . What killed them '' ? ?

`` It looks like we did , when we made blastdown '' .

`` But what about our landing was lethal to the creatures '' ? ?

`` Radiation '' ? ? Ekstrohm suggested . `` The planet is very low in radiation from mineral deposits , and the atmosphere seems to shield out most of the solar output . Any little dose of radiation might knock off these critters '' .

`` I don't know about that . Maybe it would work the other way . Maybe because they have had virtually no radioactive exposure and don't have any R's stored up , they could take a lot without harm '' .

`` Then maybe it was the shockwave we set up . Or maybe it's sheer xenophobia . They curl up and die at the sight of something strange and alien -- like a spaceship '' .

`` Maybe '' , the captain admitted . `` At this stage of the game anything could be possible . But there's one possibility I particularly don't like '' .

`` And that is '' ? ?

`` Suppose it was not us that killed these aliens . Suppose it is something right on the planet , native to it . I just hope it doesn't work on Earthmen too . These critters went real sudden '' .

Ekstrohm lay in his bunk and thought , the camp is quiet .

The Earthmen made camp outside the spaceship . There was no reason to leave the comfortable quarters inside the ship , except that , faced with a possibility of sleeping on solid ground , they simply had to get out .

The camp was a cluster of aluminum bubbles , ringed with a spy web to alert the Earthmen to the approach of any being .

Each man had a bubble to himself , privacy after the long period of enforced intimacy on board the ship .

Ekstrohm lay in his bunk and listened to the sounds of the night on Yancey-6 138 . There was a keening of wind , and a cracking of the frozen ground . Insects there were on the world , but they were frozen solid during the night , only to revive and thaw in the morning sun .

The bunk he lay on was much more uncomfortable than the acceleration couches on board . Yet he knew the others were sleeping more soundly , now that they had renewed their contact with the matter that had birthed them to send them riding high vacuum .

Ekstrohm was not asleep .

Now there could be an end to pretending .

He threw off the light blanket and swung his feet off the bunk , to the floor . Ekstrohm stood up .

There was no longer any need to hide . But what was there to do ? ? What had changed for him ? ?

He no longer had to lie in his bunk all night , his eyes closed , pretending to sleep . In privacy he could walk around , leave the light on , read .

It was small comfort for insomnia .

Ekstrohm never slept . Some doctors had informed him he was mistaken about this . Actually , they said , he did sleep , but so shortly and fitfully that he forgot . Others admitted he was absolutely correct -- he never slept . His body processes only slowed down enough for him to dispell fatigue poisons . Occasionally he fell into a waking , gritty-eyed stupor ; ; but he never slept .

Never at all .

Naturally , he couldn't let his shipmates know this . Insomnia would ground him from the Exploration Service , on physiological if not psychological grounds . He had to hide it .

Over the years , he had had buddies in space in whom he thought he could confide . The buddies invariably took advantage of him . Since he couldn't sleep anyway , he might as well stand their watches for them or write their reports . Where the hell did he get off threatening to report any laxness on their part to the captain ? ? A man with insomnia had better avoid bad dreams of that kind if he knew what was good for him .

Ekstrohm had to hide his secret .

In a camp , instead of shipboard , hiding the secret was easier . But the secret itself was just as hard .

Ekstrohm picked up a lightweight no-back from the ship's library , a book by Bloch , the famous twentieth century expert on sex . He scanned a few lines on the social repercussions of a celebrated nineteenth century sex murderer , but he couldn't seem to concentrate on the weighty , pontifical , ponderous style .

On impulse , he flipped up the heat control on his coverall and slid back the hatch of the bubble .

Ekstrohm walked through the alien glass and looked up at the unfamiliar constellations , smelling the frozen sterility of the thin air .

Behind him , his mates stirred without waking .

Ekstrohm was startled in the morning by a banging on the hatch of his bubble . It took him a few seconds to put his thoughts in order , and then he got up from the bunk where he had been resting , sleeplessly .

The angry burnt-red face of Ryan greeted him . `` Okay , Stormy , this isn't the place for fun and games . What did you do with them '' ? ?

`` Do with what '' ? ?

`` The dead beasties . All the dead animals laying around the ship '' .

`` What are you talking about , Ryan ? ? What do you think I did with them '' ? ?

`` I don't know . All I know is that they are gone '' .

`` Gone '' ? ?

Ekstrohm shouldered his way outside and scanned the veldt .

There was no ring of animal corpses . Nothing . Nothing but wispy grass whipping in the keen breeze .

`` I'll be damned '' , Ekstrohm said .

`` You are right now , buddy . ExPe doesn't like anybody mucking up primary evidence '' .

`` Where do you get off , Ryan '' ? ? Ekstrohm demanded . `` Why pick me for your patsy ? ? This has got to be some kind of local phenomenon . Why accuse a shipmate of being behind this '' ? ?

`` Listen , Ekstrohm , I want to give you the benefit of every doubt . But you aren't exactly the model of a surveyor , you know . You've been riding on a pink ticket for six years , you know that '' .

`` No '' , Ekstrohm said , `` No , I didn't know that '' .

`` You've been hiding things from me and Nogol every jump we've made with you . Now comes this ! ! It fits the pattern of secrecy and stealth you've been involved in '' .

`` What could I do with your lousy dead bodies ? ? What would I want with them '' ? ?

`` All I know is that you were outside the bubbles last night , and you were the only sentient being who came in or out of our alarm web . The tapes show that . Now all the bodies are missing , like they got up and walked away '' .

It was not a new experience to Ekstrohm . No . Suspicion wasn't new to him at all .

`` Ryan , there are other explanations for the disappearance of the bodies . Look for them , will you ? ? I give you my word I'm not trying to pull some stupid kind of joke , or to deliberately foul up the expedition . Take my word , can't you '' ? ?

Ryan shook his head . `` I don't think I can . There's still such a thing as mental illness . You may not be responsible '' .

Ekstrohm scowled .

`` Don't try anything violent , Stormy . I outweigh you fifty pounds and I'm fast for a big man '' .

`` I wasn't planning on jumping you . Why do you have to jump me the first time something goes wrong ? ?