The Anglers of Arz
By Roger Dee
Illustrated by BOB MARTIN
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science
Fiction January 1953. Extensive research
did not uncover
that the U.S. copyright
on this publication
[Sidenote: _In order to make Izaak Walton's sport complete, there must
be an angler, a fish, and some bait. All three existed on Arz but there
was a question as to which was which._]
[Illustration: _There were two pinkish, bipedal fishermen on the tiny
The third night of the _Marco Four's_ landfall on the moonless Altarian
planet was a repetition
of the two before it, a nine-hour intermission
of drowsy, pastoral
peace. Navigator Arthur Farrell--it was his turn to
stand watch--was sitting at an open-side port with a magnoscanner ready;
but in spite of his vigilance
he had not exposed a film when the
inevitable pre-dawn rainbow
began to shimmer
over the eastern ocean.
Sunrise brought him alert with a jerk, frowning at sight of two pinkish,
bipedal Arzian fishermen posted on the tiny coral islet a quarter-mile
offshore, their blank triangular
faces turned stolidly toward the beach.
"They're at it again," Farrell called, and dropped to the mossy turf
outside. "Roll out on the double! I'm going to magnofilm this!"
Stryker and Gibson came out of their sleeping
belting on the loose shorts which all three wore in the balmy Arzian
climate. Stryker blinked and yawned as he let himself through the port,
of white hair tousled and his naked paunch sweating. He
looked, Farrell thought for the thousandth time, more like a retired
cook than like the veterancommander
of a Terran Colonies expedition.
Gibson followed, stretching his powerfully-muscled body like a wrestler
to throw off the effects of sleep. Gibson was linguist-ethnologist of
the crew, a blocky man in his early thirties with thick black hair and
heavy brows that shaded a square, humorless face.
"Any sign of the squids yet?" he asked.
"They won't show up until the dragons come," Farrell said. He adjusted
the light filter
of the magnoscanner and scowled at Stryker. "Lee, I
wish you'd let me break up the show this time with a dis-beam. This
butchery gets on my nerves."
Stryker shielded his eyes with his hands against the glare of sun on
water. "You know I can't do that, Arthur. These Arzians may turn out to
be Fifth Order beings or higher, and under Terran Regulations our
tampering with what may be a basic culture-pattern would amount
invasion. We'll have to crack that cackle-and-grunt language of theirs
and learn something of their mores before we can interfere."
Farrell turned an irritable
stare on the incurious group of Arzians
gathering, nets and fishing
spears in hand, at the edge of the
"What stumps me is their motivation," he said. "Why do the fools go out
to that islet every night, when they must know damned
well what will
happen next morning?"
Gibson answered him with an older problem, his square face puzzled. "For
that matter, what became of the city I saw when we came in through the
stratosphere? It must be a tremendous
thing, yet we've searched the
entire globe in the scouter and found nothing but water and a scattering
of little islands like this one, all covered with bramble. It wasn't a
city these pink fishers could have built, either. The architecture
beyond them by a million years."
* * * * *
Stryker and Farrell traded baffled looks. The city had become something
of a fixation with Gibson, and his dogged insistence--coupled with an
irritating habit of being right--had worn their patience
"There never was a city here, Gib," Stryker said. "You dozed off while
we were making planetfall, that's all."
Gibson stiffened resentfully, but Farrell's voice cut his protest short.
"Get set! Here they come!"
Out of the morning rainbow
dropped a swarm of winged
feet in length and a glistening chlorophyll green in the early light.
They stooped like hawks upon the islet offshore, burying the two Arzian
under their snapping, threshing bodies. Then around
the outcrop the sea boiled whitely, churned to foam by a sudden
uprushing of black, octopoid shapes.
"The squids," Stryker grunted. "Right on schedule. Two seconds too late,
as usual, to stop the slaughter."
A barrage of barbed tentacles lashed out of the foam and drove into the
melee of winged
lizards. The lizards took the air at once, leaving
behind three of their number who disappeared under the surface like
harpooned seals. No trace remained of the two Arzian natives.
"A neat example of dog eat dog," Farrell said, snapping off the
magnoscanner. "Do any of those beauties look like city-builders, Gib?"
Chattering pink natives straggled past from the shelter of the thorn
forest, ignoring the Earthmen, and lined the casting ledges along the
beach to begin their day's fishing.
"Nothing we've seen yet could have built that city," Gibson said
stubbornly. "But it's here somewhere, and I'm going to find it. Will
either of you be using the scouter today?"
Stryker threw up his hands. "I've a mountain of data to collate, and
Arthur is off duty after standing
watch last night. Help yourself, but
you won't find anything."
* * * * *
The scouter was a speeding dot on the horizon
when Farrell crawled into
cubicle a short time later, leaving Stryker to mutter
of notes. Sleep did not come to him at once; a vague sense of
something overlooked prodded irritatingly at the back of his
consciousness, but it was not until drowsiness had finally overtaken him
that the discrepancy assumed definite
He recalled then that on the first day of the _Marco's_ planetfall one
of the pink fishers had fallen from a casting ledge into the water, and
had all but drowned before his fellows pulled him out with extended
spear-shafts. Which meant that the fishers could not swim, else some
would surely have gone in after him.
And the Marco's crew had explored Arz exhaustively without finding
slightest trace of boats or of boat landings. The train of association
completed itself with automatic
logic, almost rousing Farrell out of his
"I'll be damned," he muttered. "No boats, and they don't swim. _Then how
the devil do they get out to that islet?_"
He fell asleep with the paradox unresolved.
* * * * *
Stryker was still humped over his records when Farrell came out of his
cubicle and broke a packaged meal from the food locker. The visicom over
the control board hummed softly, its screen
blank on open channel.
"Gibson found his lost city yet?" Farrell asked, and grinned when
"He's scouring the daylight
side now," Stryker said. "Arthur, I'm going
to ground Gib tomorrow, much as I dislike
giving him a direct order.
He's got that phantom
city on the brain, and he lacks the imagination
understand how dangerous to our assignment
an obsession of that sort can
Farrell shrugged. "I'd agree with you offhand if it weren't for Gib's
bullheaded habit of being right. I hope he finds it soon, if it's here.
I'll probably be standing
his watch until he's satisfied."
Stryker looked relieved. "Would you mind taking
it tonight? I'm
completely bushed after today's logging."
Farrell waved a hand and took up his magnoscanner. It was dark outside
already, the close, soft night of a moonless tropical
world whose moist
atmosphere absorbed even starlight. He dragged a chair to the open port
and packed his pipe, settling himself comfortably
while Stryker mixed a
nightcap before turning in.
Later he remembered that Stryker dissolved a tablet
in his glass, but at
the moment it meant nothing. In a matter of minutes the older man's
snoring drifted to him, a sound faintly
irritating against the velvety
Farrell lit his pipe and turned to the inconsistencies he had uncovered.
The Arzians did not swim, and without boats....
It occurred to him then that there had been two of the pink fishers on
the islet each morning, and the coincidence
made him sit up suddenly,
startled. Why two? Why not three or four, or only one?
He stepped out through the open lock and paced restlessly
up and down on
the springy turf, feeling the ocean breeze
soft on his face. Three days
of dull routine
logwork had built up a need for physical
chafed his temper; he was intrigued and at the same time annoyed by the
enigmatic relation that linked the Arzian fishers to the dragons and
squids, and his desire to understand that relation was aggravated by the
knowledge that Arz could be a perfect world for Terran colonization.
That is, he thought wryly, if Terran colonists could stomach
custom pursued by its natives of committing suicide
He went over again the improbable
drama of the past three mornings, and
found it not too unnatural
until he came to the motivation and the means
that placed the Arzians in pairs on the islet, when
his whole fabric
fell into a tangled snarl of
inconsistencies. He gave it up finally; how could any Earthman
rationalize the outlandish compulsions that actuated so alien a race?
He went inside again, and the sound of Stryker's muffled snoring fanned
his restlessness. He made his decision abruptly, laying aside the
magnoscanner for a hand-flash and a pocket-sized audicom unit which he
clipped to the belt of his shorts.
He did not choose a weapon
because he saw no need for one. The torch
would show him how the natives reached the outcrop, and if he should
need help the audicom would summon
Stryker. Investigating without
speaking, a breach
"Damn Terran Regulations," he muttered. "I've got to _know_."
Farrell snapped on the torch at the edge of the thorn forest and entered
briskly, eager for action now that he had begun. Just inside the edge of
he came upon a pair of Arzians curled up together on the
mossy ground, sleeping
soundly, their triangular
He worked deeper into the underbrush
and found other sleeping
but nothing else. There were no humming insects, no twittering
night-birds or scurrying rodents. He had worked his way close to the
center of the island without further discovery and was on the point of
turning back, disgusted, when something bulky and powerful seized him
A sharp sting burned his shoulder, wasp-like, and a sudden overwhelming
lassitude swept him into a darkness deeper than the Arzian night. His
thought was not of his own danger, but of Stryker--asleep
and unprotected behind the _Marco's_ open port....
* * * * *
He was standing
erect when he woke, his back to the open sea and a
of early-dawn rainbow
shining on the water before him.
For a moment he was totally
disoriented; then from the corner of an eye
he caught the pinkish blur of an Arzian fisherstanding
beside him, and
cried out hoarsely
in sudden panic when he tried to turn his head and
He was on the coral outcropping offshore, and except for the involuntary
muscles of balance and respiration
his body was paralyzed.
The first red glow of sunrise
blurred the reflected rainbow
at his feet,
but for some seconds his shuttling mind was too busy to consider the
danger of predicament. _Whatever brought me here anesthetized me first_,
he thought. _That sting in my shoulder was like a hypo needle._
Panic seized him again when he remembered the green flying-lizards; more
seconds passed before he gained control of himself, sweating with the
effort. He had to get help. If he could switch
on the audicom at his
belt and call Stryker....
He bent every ounce of his will toward raising his right hand, and
His arm was like a limb of lead, its inertia
too great to budge. He
relaxed the effort with a groan, sweating again when he saw a fiery
half-disk of sun on the water, edges blurred and distorted by tiny
On shore he could see the _Marco Four_ resting between thorn forest and
beach, its silvered sides glistening with dew. The port was still open,
and the empty carrier
rack in the bow told him that Gibson had not yet
returned with the scouter.
He grew aware then that sensation
was returning to him slowly, that the
cold surface of the audicom unit at his hip--unfelt before--was pressing
against the inner curve of his elbow. He bent his will again toward
motion; this time the arm tensed a little, enough to send hope flaring
through him. If he could put pressure
enough against the stud....
The tiny click of its engaging sent him faint with relief.
"Stryker!" he yelled. "Lee, roll out--_Stryker_!"
The audicom hummed gently, without answer.
He gathered himself for another shout, and recalled with a chill of
horror the tablet
Stryker had mixed into his nightcap the night before.
Worn out by his work, Stryker had made certain that he would not be
The flattened sun-disk on the water brightened and grew rounder. Above
its reflected glare he caught a flicker
of movement, a restless
suggestion of flapping wings.
* * * * *
He tried again. "Stryker, help me! I'm on the islet!"
The audicom crackled. The voice that answered was not Stryker's, but
"Farrell! What the devil are you doing on that butcher's block?"
Farrell fought down an insane
desire to laugh. "Never mind that--get
here fast, Gib! The flying-lizards--"
He broke off, seeing
for the first time the octopods that ringed
outcrop just under the surface of the water, waiting
tentacles spread and yellow eyes studying him glassily. He heard the
unmistakable flapping of wings behind and above him then, and thought
with shock-born lucidity: _I wanted a backstage look at this show, and
now I'm one of the cast_.
The scouter roared in from the west across the thorn forest, flashing so
close above his head that he felt the wind of its passage. Almost
instantly he heard the shrilling blast of its emergency
bow jets as
Gibson met the lizard
swarm head on.
Gibson's voice came tinnily from the audicom. "Scattered them for the
moment, Arthur--blinded the whole crew with the exhaust, I think. Stand
fast, now. I'm going to pick you up."
The scouter settled on the outcrop beside Farrell, so close that the hot
wash of its exhaust
gases scorched his bare legs. Gibson put out thick
brown arms and hauled him inside like a straw man, ignoring the native.
The scouter darted for shore with Farrell lying across Gibson's knees in
the cockpit, his head hanging
Farrell had a last dizzy glimpse
of the islet against the rush of green
water below, and felt his shaky laugh of relief
stick in his throat. Two
of the octopods were swimming strongly
for shore, holding
Arzian native carefully above water between them.
"Gib," Farrell croaked. "Gib, can you risk a look back? I think I've