- Author: Andre Norton
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STORM OVER WARLOCK
Copyright ©, 1960, by Andre Norton
An Ace Book, by arrangement with The World Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved
Printed in U.S.A.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
Front matter consisting of a blurb and a list of other publications by the author has been moved to the end of the text.
[Pg 5]1. DISASTER
The Throg task force struck the Terran Survey camp a few minutes after dawn, without warning, and with a deadly precision which argued that the aliens had fully reconnoitered and prepared that attack. Eye-searing lances of energy lashed back and forth across the base with methodical accuracy. And a single cowering witness, flattened on a ledge in the heights above, knew that when the last of those yellow-red bolts fell, nothing human would be left alive down there. His teeth closed hard upon the thick stuff of the sleeve covering his thin forearm, and in his throat a scream of terror and rage was stillborn.
More than caution kept him pinned on that narrow shelf of rock. Watching that holocaust below, Shann Lantee could not force himself to move. The sheer ruthlessness of the Throg move-in left him momentarily weak. To listen to a tale of Throgs in action, and to be an eye-witness to such action, were two vastly different things. He shivered in spite of the warmth of the Survey Corps uniform.
As yet he had sighted none of the aliens, only their plate-shaped flyers. They would stay aloft until their long-range weapon cleared out all opposition. But how had they been able to make such a complete annihilation of the Terran force? The last report had placed the nearest Throg nest at least two systems away from Warlock. And a patrol lane had been drawn about the Circe system the minute that Survey had[Pg 6] marked its second planet ready for colonization. Somehow the beetles had slipped through that supposedly tight cordon and would now consolidate their gains with their usual speed at rooting. First an energy attack to finish the small Terran force; then they would simply take over.
A month later, or maybe two months, and they could not have done it. The grids would have been up, and any Throg ship venturing into Warlock's amber-tinted sky would abruptly cease to be. In the race for survival as a galactic power, Terra had that one small edge over the swarms of the enemy. They need only stake out their new-found world and get the grids assembled on its surface; then that planet would be locked to the beetles. The critical period was between the first discovery of a suitable colony world and the erection of grid control. Planets in the past had been lost during that time lag, just as Warlock was lost now.
Throgs and Terrans.... For more than a century now, planet time, they had been fighting their queer, twisted war among the stars. Terrans hunted worlds for colonization, the old hunger for land of their own driving men from the over-populated worlds, out of Sol's system to the far stars. And those worlds barren of intelligent native life, open to settlers, were none too many and widely scattered. Perhaps half a dozen were found in a quarter century, and of that six maybe only one was suitable for human life without any costly and lengthy adaption of man or world. Warlock was one of the lucky finds which came so seldom.
Throgs were predators, living on the loot they garnered. As yet, mankind had not been able to discover whether they did indeed swarm from any home world. Perhaps they lived eternally on board their plate ships with no permanent base, forced into a wandering life by the destruction of the planet on which they had originally been spawned. But they were raiders now, laying waste defenseless worlds, picking up the wealth of shattered cities in which no native life remained. And their hidden temporary bases were looped about the galaxy, their need for worlds with an atmosphere similar to[Pg 7] Terra's as necessary as that of man. For in spite of their grotesque insectile bodies, their wholly alien minds, the Throgs were warm-blooded, oxygen-breathing creatures.
After the first few clashes the early Terran explorers had endeavored to promote a truce between the species, only to discover that between Throg and man there appeared to be no meeting ground at all—total differences of mental processes producing insurmountable misunderstanding. There was simply no point of communication. So the Terrans had suffered one smarting defeat after another until they perfected the grid. And now their colonies were safe, at least when time worked in their favor.
It had not on Warlock.
A last vivid lash of red cracked over the huddle of domes in the valley. Shann blinked, half blinded by that glare. His jaws ached as he unclenched his teeth. That was the finish. Breathing raggedly, he raised his head, beginning to realize that he was the only one of his kind left alive on a none-too-hospitable world controlled by enemies—without shelter or supplies.
He edged back into the narrow cleft which was the entrance to the ledge. As a representative of his species he was not impressive, and now with those shudders he could not master, shaking his thin body, he looked even smaller and more vulnerable. Shann drew his knees up close under his chin. The hood of his woodsman's jacket was pushed back in spite of the chill of the morning, and he wiped the back of his hand across his lips and chin in an oddly childish gesture.
None of the men below who had been alive only minutes earlier had been close friends of his; Shann had never known anyone but acquaintances in his short, roving life. Most people had ignored him completely except to give orders, and one or two had been actively malicious—like Garth Thorvald. Shann grimaced at a certain recent memory, and then that grimace faded into wonder. If young Thorvald hadn't purposefully tried to get Shann into trouble by opening the wolverines'[Pg 8] cage, Shann wouldn't be here now—alive and safe for a time—he'd have been down there with the others.
The wolverines! For the first time since Shann had heard the crackle of the Throg attack he remembered the reason he had been heading into the hills. Of all the men on the Survey team, Shann Lantee had been the least important. The dirty, tedious clean-up jobs, the dull routines which required no technical training but which had to be performed to keep the camp functioning comfortably, those had been his portion. And he had accepted that status willingly, just to have a chance to be included among Survey personnel. Not that he had the slightest hope of climbing up to even an S-E-Three rating in the service.
Part of those menial activities had been to clean the animal cages. And there Shann Lantee had found something new, something so absorbing that most of the tiring dull labor had ceased to exist except as tasks to finish before he could return to the fascination of the animal runs.
Survey teams had early discovered the advantage of using mutated and highly trained Terran animals as assistants in the exploration of strange worlds. From the biological laboratories and breeding farms on Terra came a trickle of specialized aides-de-camp to accompany man into space. Some were fighters, silent, more deadly than weapons a man wore at his belt or carried in his hands. Some were keener eyes, keener noses, keener scouts than the human kind could produce. Bred for intelligence, for size, for adaptability to alien conditions, the animal explorers from Terra were prized.
Wolverines, the ancient "devils" of the northlands on Terra, were being tried for the first time on Warlock. Their caution, a quality highly developed in their breed, made them testers for new territory. Able to tackle in battle an animal three times their size, they should be added protection for the man they accompanied into the wilderness, and their wide ranging, their ability to climb and swim, and above all, their curiosity were assets.
Shann had begun contact by cleaning their cages; he ended[Pg 9] captivated by these miniature bears with long bushy tails. And to his unbounded delight the attraction was mutual. Alone to Taggi and Togi he was a person, an important person. Those teeth, which could tear flesh into ragged strips, nipped gently at his fingers, closed without any pressure on arm, even on nose and chin in what was the ultimate caress of their kind. Since they were escape artists of no mean ability, twice he had had to track and lead them back to camp from forays of their own devising.
But the second time he had been caught by Fadakar, the chief of animal control, before he could lock up the delinquents. And the memory of the resulting interview still had the power to make him flush with impotent anger. Shann's explanation had been contemptuously brushed aside, and he had been delivered an ultimatum. If his carelessness occurred again, he would be sent back on the next supply ship, to be dismissed without an official sign-off on his work record, thus locked out of even the lowest level of Survey for the rest of his life.
That was why Garth Thorvald's act of the night before had made Shann brave the unknown darkness of Warlock alone when he had discovered that the test animals were gone. He had to locate and return them before Fadakar made his morning inspection; Garth Thorvald's attempt to get him into bad trouble had saved his life.
Shann cowered back, striving to make his huddled body as small as possible. One of the Throg flyers appeared silently out of the misty amber of the morning sky, hovering over the silent camp. The aliens were coming in to inspect the site of their victory. And the safest place for any Terran now was as far from the vicinity of those silent domes as he could get. Shann's slight body was an asset as he wedged through the narrow mouth of a cleft and so back into the cliff wall. The climb before him he knew in part, for this was the path the wolverines had followed on their two other escapes. A few moments of tricky scrambling and he was out in a cuplike depression choked with brush covered with the purplish[Pg 10] foliage of Warlock. On the other side of that was a small cut to a sloping hillside, giving on another valley, not as wide as that in which the camp stood, but one well provided with cover in the way of trees and high-growing bushes.
A light wind pushed among the trees, and twice Shann heard the harsh, rasping call of a clak-clak—one of the bat-like leather-winged flyers that laired in pits along the cliff walls. That present snap of two-tone complaint suggested that the land was empty of strangers. For the clak-claks vociferously and loudly resented encroachment on their chosen hunting territory.
Shann hesitated. He was driven by the urge to put as much distance between him and the landing Throg ship as he could. But to arouse the attention of inquisitive clak-claks was asking for trouble. Perhaps it would be best to keep on along the top of the cliff, rather than risk a descent to take cover in the valley the flyers patrolled.
A patch of dust, sheltered by a tooth-shaped projection of rock, gave the Terran his first proof that Taggi and his mate had preceded him, for printed firmly there was the familiar paw mark of a wolverine. Shann began to hope that both animals had taken to cover in the wilderness ahead.
He licked dry lips. Having left secretly without any emergency pack, he had no canteen, and now Shann inventoried his scant possessions—a field kit, heavy-duty clothing, a short hooded jacket with attached mittens, the breast marked with the Survey insignia. His belt supported a sheathed stunner and bush knife, and seam pockets held three credit tokens, a twist of wire intended to reinforce the latch of the wolverine cage, a packet