Part 3 (1/2)

Sand Doom Murray Leinster 47260K 4 month ago

He boomed laughter in the office with the rounded ceiling of a remade robot hull. Aletha smiled with him, though her eyes were grave.

”You'd better put on a heat-suit,” she said to Bordman.

He fumed again, tempted to defy all common sense because its dictates were not the same for everybody. But he marched away, back to the cubbyhole in which he had awakened. Angrily, he donned the heat-suit that had not protected him adequately before, but had certainly saved his life. He filled the canteens topping full--he suspected he hadn't done so the last time. He went back to the Project Engineer's office with a feeling of being burdened and absurd.

Out a filter-window, he saw that men with skins as dark as Dr. Chuka's were at work on a ground car. They were equipping it with a sunshade and curious s.h.i.+elds like wings. Somebody pushed a sort of caterwheel handtruck toward it. They put big, heavy tanks into its cargo s.p.a.ce. Dr.

Chuka had disappeared, but Aletha was back at work making notes from the loose-leaf volume on the desk.

[Ill.u.s.tration]

”May I ask,” asked Bordman with some irony, ”what your work happens to be just now?”

She looked up.

”I thought you knew,” she said in surprise. ”I'm here for the Amerind Historical Society. I can certify coups. I'm taking coup-records for the Society. They'll go in the record-cache Ralph and Dr. Chuka are arranging, so no matter what happens to the colony, the record of the coups won't be lost.”

”Coups?” demanded Bordman. He knew that Amerinds painted feathers on the key-posts of steel structures they'd built, and he knew that the posting of such ”coup-marks” was a cherished privilege and undoubtedly a survival or revival of some American Indian tradition back on Earth.

But he did not know what they meant.

”Coups,” repeated Aletha matter-of-factly. ”Ralph wears three eagle-feathers. You saw them. He has three coups. Pinions, too! He built the landing grids on Norlath and--Oh, you don't know!”

”I don't,” admitted Bordman, his temper not of the best because of what seemed unnecessary condescensions on Xosa II.

Aletha looked surprised.

”In the old days,” she explained, ”back on Earth, if a man scalped an enemy, he counted coup. The first to strike an enemy in a battle counted coup, too--a lesser one. Nowadays a man counts coups for different things, but Ralph's three eagle-feathers mean he's ent.i.tled to as much respect as a warrior in the old days who, three separate times, had killed and scalped an enemy warrior in the middle of his own camp. And he is, too!”

Bordman grunted.

”Barbarous, I'd say!”

”If you like,” said Aletha. ”But it's something to be proud of--and one doesn't count coup for making a lot of money!” Then she paused and said curtly: ”The word 'sn.o.bbish' fits it better than 'barbarous.' We are sn.o.bs! But when the head of a clan stands up in Council in the Big Tepee on Algonka, representing his clan, and men have to carry the ends of the feather headdress with all the coups the members of his clan have earned--why one is proud to belong to that clan!” She added defiantly, ”Even watching it on a vision-screen!”

Dr. Chuka opened the outer door. Blinding light poured in. He did not enter--and his body glistened with sweat.

”Ready for you, Mr. Bordman!”

Bordman adjusted his goggles and turned on the motors of his heat-suit.

He went out the door.

The heat and light outside were oppressive. He darkened the goggles again and made his way heavily to the waiting, now-shaded ground car. He noted that there were other changes beside the sunshade. The cover-deck of the cargo s.p.a.ce was gone, and there were cylindrical riding seats like saddles in the back. The odd lower s.h.i.+elds reached out sidewise from the body, barely above the caterwheels. He could not make out their purpose and irritably failed to ask.

”All ready,” said Redfeather coldly. ”Dr. Chuka's coming with us. If you'll get in here, please----”

Bordman climbed awkwardly into the boxlike back of the car. He bestrode one of the cylindrical arrangements. With a saddle on it, it would undoubtedly have been a comfortable way to cover impossibly bad terrain in a mechanical carrier. He waited. About him there were the squatty hulls of the s.p.a.ce-barges which had been towed here by a colony s.h.i.+p, each one once equipped with rockets for landing. Emptied of their cargoes, they had been huddled together into the three separate, adjoining communities. There were separate living quarters and mess halls and recreation rooms for each, and any colonist lived in the community of his choice and s.h.i.+fted at pleasure, or visited, or remained solitary. For mental health a man has to be a.s.sured of his free will, and over-regimentation is deadly in any society. With men psychologically suited to colonize, it is fatal.