Planet of Death
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by Robert Silverberg
Category: Science Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Description: Earthman Roy Crawford is framed for murder on the planet Velliran. He has two choices. He must escape from the planet within three days or go to prison for life.
But the only spaceship leaving the planet within three days belongs to the Exploration Corps. This is a group of scientists which investigates new planets. They are about to leave for World Seven on the Star System Z-16. With help from his friends, the dazed Crawford finds himself in the ship. The scientists, of course, think he is one of them.
But World Seven is no escape for Roy. It is a planet of death. The team of scientists find themselves in a world where even the trees are killers. And one more killer is on the spaceship -- the real murderer who framed Crawford!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1967 USA
eBookwise Release Date: December 2010
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [103 KB]
Reading time: 65-91 min.
Hunting the Yangs
Roy Crawford felt the firm, new snow crunch under his boots. He stepped forward carefully, keeping his eyes sharp. In his hand he held a deadly needle-gun.
Six other hunters were fanned out beside him on the field of snow. He was the leader. This was a dangerous business, and a lot depended on him.
"It's a bad day," said a hunter to his left. "We haven't seen a single yang."
"Don't worry," Crawford snapped. "We'll get plenty before we're through."
He knew that they would. Roy Crawford had been hunting yangs on the planet Velliran for three years now. It was a rough, exciting way to make a living. You risked your life to shoot the yangs -- but you could get rich that way. Yangskins made beautiful fur coats. Women back on Earth were willing to pay good money for a yangskin coat.
"There's one now!" shouted one of the hunters.
Yes! There came a yang! Roy Crawford narrowed his eyes and stared at the lovely, deadly beast.
It was about the size of a wolf. But it had eight strange knobby-kneed legs, a mouth full of long teeth, and claws as sharp as razors. You had to watch your step when hunting yangs. A wounded yang running wild was a cruel killer.
Crawford waved to his men to fan out over the ice. They had to form a wide circle around the yang, so it could not escape. The yang's body was covered with silky, white fur. It was hard to see the animal against the white of the snowy ground.
"Move this way, you," Crawford called. "More to your left! Plug that hole! Hurry it along!"
He was the boss of this team. It had to be that way. Only one man could give the orders, and he was that man.
Crawford took careful aim. It was important to shoot the yang carefully through the head. Otherwise the fur might be spoiled. And if he only wounded the yang, instead of killing it, they'd all be in bad trouble.
His trigger-finger tightened --
And suddenly a blast of flame came from a needle-gun to Crawford's right. One of the other hunters had shot first! It was a poorly aimed shot. The fiery beam hit the yang in the side.
The beast leaped high in the air. Its long claws flashed brightly in the sun. Then it fell over, lying on its back. The eight legs kicked wildly for a moment. They became still. The yang was dead.
Even at this distance, Crawford could see the big burned place in the yang's fur. The hide was ruined. It could never be used for a fur coat.
He slammed his gun against the ground and turned around. A red haze of rage was in his eyes. Angrily he stalked toward the hunter who had fired the bad shot.
"You stupid fool!" Crawford shouted. "Who told you to shoot?"
"I thought --"
"You thought! You thought! Idiot, did you ever think anything in your life?"
The hunter was a young Earthman with yellow hair and pale blue eyes. He looked very embarrassed. He stuttered and blushed as he said, "I'm sorry, Roy, I --"
"Sorry? What good is sorry? You're supposed to wait for orders! You shot out of turn, and you shot badly. I could smash your head in for that!"
Crawford's hot temper boiled over. He grabbed the young hunter by the shoulder and shook him hard. Then his fist smashed out and connected solidly. Crawford was a big man, six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than the other. When Crawford swung, the man went over. He fell backward and landed on the icy ground. Blood dribbled from a cut on his lip.
Standing over him, Crawford snarled, "The next time you listen for orders! I ought to ram that gun right down your throat for wasting that yang!"
The man on the ground looked groggy and afraid. He sat up, shaking his head, and dabbed at his bloody lip. Crawford clenched his fists. He was still angry.
One of the hunters came over -- a man named Bryce, who had a lean face and iron-gray hair. He was older than Crawford, and had been hunting yangs for many years. But he worked for Crawford, and so Crawford told him what to do.
Bryce said, "Go easy on him, Roy. Anybody can make a mistake."
"He made two mistakes. He shot when he shouldn't have. And he didn't make a neat kill."
"That was no reason to knock him down," said Bryce. "It didn't bring the yang back to life. That's a bad habit of yours, Roy. You try to settle everything with your fists. You're too violent."
"Don't preach to me, or you'll get hit too," Crawford said. "What do you want me to do? Get down on my knees and forgive him? He had to be taught a lesson."
"Not that way."
Crawford snorted and turned away. If this kind of talk went on, he might hit Bryce. He didn't want to do that. So he walked over and picked up his gun.
Maybe it had been wrong to get so angry, he told himself. Just because these men worked for him, it didn't mean he could knock them around.
But orders were orders. The blond kid shouldn't have jumped the gun. Crawford had to show them he was top man here, and he had done it the quickest way -- with his fists.
The man who had been knocked down got to his feet. He brushed the snow from his leggings.
"Look!" Bryce yelled. "More yangs!"
They all turned. Four big yangs were racing across the field of ice. Right away all seven of the hunters had their needle-guns aimed.
"Spread out!" Crawford told them.
They did as he said. Suddenly the pack of yangs swung around. One of them crouched and leaped through the air, claws outstretched. He was heading for old Bryce! In another minute those claws would rip the man apart!
"Shoot!" Crawford ordered.
"I've got him," said the hunter Crawford had knocked down.
He fired. The hot beam shot forth and caught one of the yangs right through the head. It was a perfect shot.
"I thank you kindly," Bryce said, as the dead yang fell harmlessly at his feet.
"Good shot," Crawford called out. His anger was gone. The man had made up for his mistake.
The yangs were still coming. Crawford himself fired. A second yang fell dead. It was another perfect shot.
The survivors ran back and forth over the ice. They screamed and snarled, trying to kill the hunters. One of Crawford's men had a narrow escape. Sharp claws ripped through his fur jacket. But two quick shots brought the last two yangs down.
Three of the hunters picked up the dead animals. They began to drag them toward a truck. The rest of the hunters continued to fan out over the ice, looking for more yangs.
Up here in the north was the best place to hunt yangs. They were cold-weather animals, and they lived in places where snow stayed on the ground all year round. Their bright white fur helped them hide against the background of snow. But Earthmen with sharp eyes could still see them.
"It won't be a bad day after all," Crawford said to Bryce. "Four yangs bagged already, and it's still early."
Crawford was glad that he had come to this planet. Earth didn't hold enough adventure for him. In this year of 2411, Earth was too crowded. There were cities everywhere. All the forests and jungles had been chopped down to make room for houses.
Roy Crawford didn't like living in a city. He wanted to breathe fresh air and see open country. He wanted real excitement. So when he was twenty-two years old, he left Earth. He bought a ticket on a starship heading for other worlds.
For three years now he had lived on the planet Velliran. It was a planet a little larger than Earth, but with fewer people. He earned his living as a hunter. There were dangers in that, but also rewards.
"Got another yang!" one of the hunters called out.
One yang fell. A second one came around the snow-bank right in front of Crawford. They could move fast when they were upset. Teeth and claws seemed to surround him. He fired. The yang was dead.
The hunt went on for another two hours. Then Crawford decided that they had killed enough yangs. They had twenty yangs on the truck. It was bad business to kill too many. The price for yangskin coats was high because the fur was so scarce. If they hunted too many, the price would come down.
It had been a good trip. They drove back to town from the yang grounds.
On the way, they saw many natives of Velliran. The local people were not human beings. They were small, blue-skinned folk with long double-jointed arms. They had eight fingers on their hands and strange flat faces.
Bryce said, "It's a good thing they don't like to go hunting themselves."
"It sure is. It leaves a good business open for us," Crawford replied.
The Velliran people allowed Earthmen to come and live on their planet. Some of the Earthmen were businessmen. Others were hunters.
Roy Crawford was a hunter who was becoming a businessman. When he started out on Velliran, he hunted yangs and sold the furs to other Earthmen. Now he ran his own business. He hired other Earthmen to hunt with him. He had six hunters on his payroll, and three men to skin the yangs. Then there were two men who prepared the fur for shipment to Earth, and two who packed up the prepared furs. It was a good business. Crawford was glad he had come to Velliran.
When they reached town, Crawford paid his men and told them when the next hunting trip would be. Then he headed for the little building on the edge of town where he lived.
Soon after he got there, Crawford had a visitor. The man who came to see him was another Earthman, a friend of his named Jeff Hallam.
Hallam was a scientist doing research on Velliran. There was much to study here. The native people had invented many unusual things. They were particularly good at inventing medicines. The Vellirani, as they were called, had created all sorts of useful drugs. They had one to cure headaches and one that could cure some types of cancer. They had a drug that would make a man's eyesight five times as good and a drug that could knock a man out in a fraction of a second.
Jeff Hallam had been studying Vellirani medicines for the past two years. He did not have an easy time, because the Vellirani liked to keep their secrets to themselves. It was hard for an Earthman to learn anything from them. But Hallam kept trying.
Hallam said, "How was the hunting trip?"
"Fine," Crawford answered. "We bagged twenty yangs."
"The rich keep getting richer, eh?"
Crawford chuckled. "I work hard for my money. Do you think it's fun out there on the ice fields?"
"It's fun for you," said Hallam. "It wouldn't be for me."
Hallam and Crawford were different in many ways. Crawford was a big man, with thick black hair and skin that was tanned from being outdoors. Hallam was short and slender, with very white skin and mild-looking eyes. He didn't have much in the way of muscle. Yet the tall, rugged Crawford and the thin, studious Hallam were good friends.
Crawford said, "What's new since I went on my hunting trip?"
"Well, a scientific team from Earth is in town."
"Oh? What are they here to study?"
"They aren't going to stay here," said Hallam. "They're just stopping off on Velliran for a few days. They need to buy some supplies. And one of their men is sick. He's been taken to the hospital."
"Where are they heading when they leave here?" Crawford asked.
"They're going to explore a planet that's never been explored before. I don't know where it is. It doesn't even have a name yet. It's just called World Seven of Star System Z-16."
"What kind of a place is it?"
Hallam said, "Well, no one really knows much about it. That's why this Exploration Corps team is going there. A scout ship has viewed it from orbit a hundred miles up. He says it's one big tropical jungle. But nobody's ever landed on it."
Crawford grinned. "Man, that's what I'd like! To go on the first expedition to an unknown planet! To belong to the Exploration Corps! I've read so many stories about them, I could practically do the things they do."
"You should have become a scientist, then. A dumb hunter like you can't get into the Exploration Corps."
Crawford felt a hot burst of anger. He didn't like people calling him a dumb hunter. Almost without realizing it, he reached out and grabbed Hallam.
"Easy! Easy! Hey, go easy!" Hallam yelped.
Crawford got control of himself and let go.
"Sorry," he said.
Hallam rubbed his throat. "You lose that temper of yours too fast, Roy!"
"Maybe so. But you hit me on a sore place. You know I never got much of an education when I was on Earth. Schoolbooks and I just didn't get along. So how could I have ever joined the Exploration Corps? All I could do was dream about it. You have to be a scientist. What kind of scientist would a guy like me make?"
"I didn't mean to poke fun," Hallam said. "I know how much you'd like to tackle an unexplored world."
"Well, I guess I'm just not going to go. Hey -- wait! Do you think these scientists need an experienced hunter? If it's a jungle planet, it might be dangerous."
"They're trained to deal with dangers, Roy. They can take care of themselves."
"But couldn't you ask them to take me along? The yangskin business can get along without me for a few weeks. If I --"
"It wouldn't work," Hallam said. "It just wouldn't work. It's a scientific expedition, and only Exploration Corps people can go. Scientists. They can't take anybody else."
Crawford frowned. "So a little guy like you could go, but a trained hunter like me has to stay back."
"More or less. But I can't go either."
"Because I'm not a member of the Exploration Corps. I've got the right training, but I never signed up. Besides, I've got plenty of work to do right here on Velliran. You ought to see some of the new drugs I've collected. Come over to the laboratory and I'll give you the rundown."
"As soon as I've got these yangskins ready to go," Crawford promised. "I'll see you then."