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Sir Orfeo was still alive, with all the flesh torn off the back of his thighs and the glistening white bone showing.

He caught at my arm when I bent over him.

"Jongo—your job now—the Lady Raire . . ."

I was shaking and tears were running down my face. I tried not to look at his horrible wounds.

"Buck up, man," Sir Orfeo's voice was a groan of agony. "I'm depending on you . . . keep her safe . . . your responsibility, now. . . ."

"Yes," I said. "I'll take care of her, Sir Orfeo."

"Good . . . now . . . water. Fetch water . . . from the car . . . ."

I ran off to follow his orders. When I came back the Lady Raire met me, looking pale and with dust sticking to the perspiration on her forehead. She told me that he'd sent her to investigate a sound and then dragged himself to where his filament pistol had fallen and blown his head off.





I used a crater-rifle to blast shallow pockets under the overhanging rock beside the trail; she helped me drag the bodies to them. Then we went back down to the car. We carried our guns at the ready, but nothing moved in all that jumble of broken rock. Sir Orfeo had been lucky about finding game, all right.

The Lady Raire got into the driver's seat and headed back down the way we'd come. When we reached level ground, she stopped and looked around as if she didn't know which way to go. I tapped on the glass and her head jerked around. I think she had forgotten I was there. Poor Lady Raire, so all-alone.

"That direction, Milady," I said, and pointed toward where the yacht was, out of sight over the horizon.

She followed my directions; three hours later we came up over a low ridge and there was the yacht, glittering far away across the desert. Another forty-five minutes and we pulled up in front of the big cargo door.

She jumped down and went to it and twinkled her fingers on a polished metal disc set in the hull beside it. Nothing happened. She went around to the smaller personnel door and the same thing happened. Then she looked at me. Having her look at me was an event even then.

"We cannot enter," she said in a whisper. "I mind well 'twas Sir Orfeo's custom to reset the entry code 'ere each planetfall lest the yacht be rifled by aborigines."

"There's got to be a way," I said. I went up and hammered on the panel and on the control disc and walked all the way around the yacht and back to the door that I had sneaked in by, that first night, and tried again, but with no luck. A terrible, hollow feeling was growing inside me.

"I can shoot a hole in it, maybe," I said. My voice sounded weak in the big silence. I unslung the crater-rifle and asked her to step back, and then took aim from ten feet and fired. The blast knocked me down, but the metal wasn't even scorched.

I got to my feet and brushed dust off my shins, feeling the full impact of the situation sinking in like the sun that was beating down on my back. The Lady Raire looked at me, not seeing me.

"We must . . . take stock of what supplies may be in the car," she said after a long pause. "Then can'st thou make for thyself a pallet here in the shadow of the boat."

"You mean—we're just going to sit here?"

"If any rescue comes, we must be close by the yacht, else they'll not spy us in this endless waste."

I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Milady, we can't stay here."

"Indeed? Why can we not?" She stood there, a slim, aristocratic little girl, giving me a level look from those cool gray eyes.

"I don't know much about the odds against anybody finding us, but we've got a long wait, at best. The supplies in the car won't last long. And the heat will wear us down. We have to try to find a better spot, now, while we're still strong." I tried to sound confident, as if I knew what I was doing. But my voice shook. I was scared; scared sick. But I knew I was right about moving on.

"'Tis a better thing to perish here than to live on in the wilderness, without hope."

"We're not dead yet, Milady. But we will be if we don't do something about it, now."

"I'll tarry here," she said. "Flee if thou wilt, Jongo."

"Sir Orfeo told me to take care of you, Milady. I'm going to do my best to follow his order."

She looked at me coolly. "Wouldst force me, then?"

"I'm afraid so, Milady."

She walked to the car stiffly; I got into my usual seat in back and she started up and we headed out across the desert.





We drove until the sun set and a huge, pock-marked moon rose, looking a lot like the old one back home, except that it was almost close enough to touch. We slept then, and went on, still in the dark. Day came again, and I asked the Lady Raire to show me how to drive so I could relieve her at the wheel. After that, we drove shift on, shift off, holding course steady to the northwest. On what I estimated was the third day, Earth-style, we reached a belt of scrub-land. Half an hour later the engine made a gargly sound and died, and wouldn't go again.

I went forward on foot to a rise and looked over the landscape. The scrub-dotted waste went on, as far as I could see. When I got back to the car, the Lady Raire was standing beside it with a filament pistol in her hand.

"Now indeed is our strait hopeless," she held the gun out to me. "Do thy final duty to me, Jongo." Her voice was a breathless whisper.

I took the gun; then I whirled and threw it as far as I could. When I faced her, my hands were shaking.

"Don't ever say anything like that again!" I said. "Not ever!"

"Would you then have me linger on, to wither in this heat, shrivel under the sun—"

I grabbed her arm. It was cool, as smooth as satin. "I'm going to take care of you, Milady," I said. "I'll get you home again safe, you'll see!"

She shook her head. "I have no home, Jongo; my loyal friends are dead—"

"I'm still alive. And my name's not Jongo. It's Billy Danger. I'm human, too. I'll be your friend."

She looked straight at me. It was the first time she ever really looked at me. I looked back, straight into her eyes. Then she smiled.

"Thou art valiant, Billy Danger," she said. "How can I then shrink from duty? Lead on, and I'll follow while my strength lasts."






The car was stocked with food concentrates, plus a freezer full of delicacies that would have to be eaten first, before they spoiled. The problem was water. The tanks held about thirty gallons, but with the distiller out of action, there'd be no refilling them. There were the weapons and plenty of ammunition, first-aid supplies, some spare communicators, goggles, boots. It wasn't much to set up housekeeping on.

For the next week, I quartered the landscape over a radius of about five miles, looking for a spring or water hole, with no luck. By that time, the fresh food was gone—eaten or spoiled, and the water was down to two ten-gallon jugs full.

"We'll have to try a longer hike," I told the Lady Raire. "There may be an oasis just one ridge farther than I've gone."

"As you wish, Billy Danger," she said, and gave me that smile, like sunrise after a long night.

We packed up the food and water and a few extras. I slung a Z-gun over my shoulder, and started off at twilight, after the worst of the day's heat.

It was monotonous country, just hilly enough to give us a long pull up to one low crest after another and an ankle-turning slog down the far side. I steered due west, not because the prospects looked any better in that direction, but just because it was easier to steer straight toward the setting sun.

We did about twenty miles before dark, another forty in two marches before the sun rose. I worried about the Lady Raire, but there was nothing I could do that I wasn't already doing. We slogged on toward the next ridge, hoping for a miracle on the other side. And always the next side looked the same.

We rested in the heat of the long day, then marched on, into the glare of the sun. And about an hour before sunset, we saw the cat.






He was standing on a rock on the crest of a rise, whipping his tail from side to side in a slow, graceful motion. He made a graceful leap to a lower rock and was just a dark shadow moving against the slope ahead. I unlimbered my rifle and watched him close. At thirty feet, he paused and sat down on his haunches and wrinkled his face and began licking his chest. He finished and stuck out a long tongue and yawned, and then rose and went loping off into the dusk, the way he'd come.

All the while, we stood there and watched him, not saying a word. As soon as he was gone, I went to where he'd been sitting. His paw-prints were plain in the powdery dust. I started believing in him, then. I might see imaginary cats, but never imaginary cat tracks. We set off following them as fast as we could in the failing light.






The water hole was in a hollow in the rock, hidden behind a wall of black-green foliage growing on the brink of a ravine. The Lady Raire stopped to gaze at it, but I stumbled down the slope and fell full-length in the water and drank in big gulps and luckily choked and had a coughing fit before I could drink myself to death.

There was a steep jumble of rock rising behind the pool, with the dark mouths of caves showing. I picked my way around the pond in the near-dark with my gun ready in my hand. There was a smell of cat in the air. I was grateful to tabby for leading me to water, but I didn't want him jumping on our backs now that it looked like we might live another few days.

The caves weren't much, just holes about ten feet deep, not quite high enough to stand up in, with enough dirt drifted in them to make a more or less level floor.

The Lady Raire picked out one for herself, and I helped her clean out the dead leaves and cat droppings and fix up a stone that could be rolled into the opening to block it, in case anything bigger than a woodchuck wanted in. Then she picked out another one and told me it was mine and started in on it. It was dark when we finished. I saw her to her den, then sat down outside it with the pistol in my hand and went to sleep. . . .

—and woke hungry, clear-headed, and wondering how a cat happened to be here, in this super-Mojave. I thought about the dire-beasts and the meat-shredding leeches that had killed Lord Desroy and Sir Orfeo. The cat was no relative of theirs. He had been a regulation-type, black and gray and tan striped feline, complete with vertical-slitted pupils and retractable claws. He looked like anybody's house-cat, except that he was the size of a collie dog. I'd heard about parallel evolution, and I hadn't been too surprised when Sir Orfeo had told me about how many four-legged, one-headed creatures there were in the Universe—but a copy this perfect wasn't possible.


That meant one of two things: Either I had dreamed the whole thing—which was kind of unlikely, inasmuch as when I looked down I saw two more cats, just like the other one, in the bright moonlight down by the water—or our yacht wasn't the first human-owned ship to land on Gar 28.






In the morning light, the water looked clear and inviting. The Lady Raire studied it for a while, then called to me. "Billy Danger, watch thee well the while I lave me. Methinks t'will be safe enow . . ." She glanced my way, and I realized she was talking about going for a swim. I just stared at her.

"How now, art stricken dumb?" she called.

"The pond may be full of poison snakes, crocodiles, quicksand and undertows," I said.

"I'd as lief be devoured as go longer unwashed." She proceeded to unzip the front of the tunic she'd changed into from the temperature suit, and stepped out of it. And for the second time in one minute, I was struck dumb. She stood there in front of me, as naked as a goddess, and as beautiful, and said, "I charge thee, Billy Danger, take not thine eyes from me," and turned and waded down into the water. It was the easiest order to follow I ever heard of.

She stayed in for half an hour, stroking up and down as unconcerned as if she were in the pool at some high-priced resort at Miami Beach. Once or twice she ducked under and stayed so long I found myself wading in to look for her. After the second time I complained and she laughed and promised to stay on top.

"Verily, hast thou found a garden in the wilderness, Billy Danger," she said after she had her clothes back on. "'Tis so peaceful—and in its rude way, so fair."

"Not much like home, though, I guess, Milady," I said; but she changed the subject, as she always did when the conversation brought back too many memories.

In the next few days, I made two trips back to the car, brought in everything that looked as if it might be useful; then we settled down to what I might describe as a very quiet routine. She strolled around, climbed the rocks, brought home small green shrubs and flowers that she planted around the caves and along the path and watered constantly, using a pot made of clay from the poolside cooked by a Z-gun on wide-beam. I spent my time exploring to the west and north, and trying to make friends with the cats.

There were plenty of them; at certain times of the day, there'd be as many as ten in sight at one time, around the water hole. They didn't pay much attention to us; just watched us when we came toward them and at about fifteen feet, rose casually and moved off into the thick growth along the ravine. They were well fed and lazy, just nice hearthside tabbies, a little larger than usual.

There was one with a few streaks of orange in among the black and tan that I concentrated on, mainly because I could identify him easily. Every time I saw him I'd go out and move up as close as I could without spooking him, sit down, and start to play with a ball of string from the car. He sat and watched. I'd roll it toward him, then pull it back. He moved in closer. I let him get a paw on it, then jerked it. He went after it and cuffed it, and I pulled it in and tossed it out again.

In a week, the game was a regular routine. In two, he had a name—Eureka—and was letting me scratch him between the ears. In three, he had taken to lying across the mouth of my cave, not even moving when I stepped over him going out.

The Lady Raire watched all this with a sort of indulgent smile. According to her, cats were pets on most of the human-inhabited world she knew of. She wasn't sure where they had originated, but she smiled when I said they were a native of Earth.

"In sooth, Billy Danger, 'tis a truism that each unschooled mind fancies itself the center of the Universe. But the stars were seeded by Man long ago, and by his chattels with him."

At first, the Lady Raire didn't pay much attention to my pet, but one day he showed up limping, and she spent half an hour carefully removing a splinter from his foot. The next day she gave him a bath, and brushed his fur to a high gloss. After that, he took to following her on her walks. And it wasn't long before he took to sleeping at the mouth of her cubbyhole. He got more petting that way.

I watched the cats, trying to see what it was they fed on, on the theory that whatever they ate, we could eat, too. Our concentrates wouldn't last forever. But I never saw them pounce on anything. They came to the water hole to drink and lie around in the shade; then they wandered off again into the undergrowth. One day I decided to follow Eureka.

"As thou wilt," the Lady Raire said, smiling at me. "Tho' I trow thy cat o' mountain lives on naught but moonbeams."

"Baked moonbeam for dinner coming up," I said.

The cat led me up the rocks and through the screen of alien foliage at the north side of the hollow, then struck out along the edge of the ravine, which was filled from edge to edge by a mass of deep-green vines.

The chasm was about three hundred yards long, fifty yards wide; I couldn't see the bottom under the tangle of green, but I could make out the big stems, as thick as my leg, snaking down into the deep shadows for at least a hundred feet. And I could see the cats. They lay in crotches of the big vine, walked delicately along the thick stems, peered out of shadows with green eyes. There were a few up on the rim, sitting on their haunches, watching me watching them. Eureka yawned and switched his tail against my thigh, then made a sudden leap, and disappeared into the green gloom. By getting down on all fours and shading my eyes, I could see the broad branch he'd jumped to. I could have followed, but the idea of going down into that maze full of cats lacked appeal. I got up and started off along the rim. I noticed that it was scattered with what looked like chips of thick eggshell.






The ravine shallowed out to nothing at the far end. The vines were less dense here, and I could see rock strata slanting down into the depths. There were strange knobs and shafts of blackish rock embedded in the lighter stone. I found one protruding near the surface and saw that it was a fossilized bone. The rock was full of them. That would be a matter of deep interest to a paleontologlst specializing in the fauna of Gar 28, but it was no help to me. I needed live meat. If there was any around—excepting the cats, and I didn't like the idea of eating them, for six or eight reasons I could think of offhand—it had to be down below, in the shade of the greenery. The descent looked pretty easy, here at the end of the cut. I hitched my gun around front for quick access, and started down.

The rock slanted off under me at an angle of about thirty degrees. The big vines bending up over my head were tough, woody, scaled with dead-looking bark. Only a few green tendrils curled up here, reaching for sunlight. The air was fresh and cool in the shade of the big leaves; there was a sharp, pungent odor of green life, mixed with the rank smell of cat. Fifty feet down the broken slope the growth got too thick to be ignored; it was switch over to limb-climbing or go back. I went on.

It was easy going at first. The stems weren't too close together to push between, and there was still plenty of light to see by. I could hear the cats moving around, back deeper in the growth. I reached a major stem, as big as my torso, and started down it. There were plenty of handholds here. Big seedpods hung in clusters near me. A lot of them had been gnawed, either by the cats or by what the cats ate. So far I hadn't seen any signs of the latter. I broke off one of the pods. It was about a foot long, knobby and pale green. It broke open easily and half a dozen beans as big as egg yolks rolled out. I took a nibble of one. It tasted like raw beans. After a couple of weeks on concentrates, even that was good—if it didn't kill me.

I went down. The light was deep green now; a luminous dusk filtered through a hundred feet of foliage. The trunk I was following curved sharply, and I worked my way around to the up side, descended another ten feet, and my feet thunked solidly against something hard. I had to get down on all fours to see that I was on a smooth, curving surface of tarnished metal.






Something thumped beside me like a dropped blanket; it was Eureka, coming over to check on me. He sat and washed his face while I rooted around the base of the big vine, saw that it was growing out through a fracture in the metal. The wood had bulged and spread and shaped itself to conform to the opening. I had the impression that it was the vine that had burst the metal.

By crawling, I was able to explore an oval area about fifteen feet long by ten wide before the vines slanted in too close to let me move. All of it was the same iodine-colored metal, with no seams, no variations in contour, with the exception of the bulge around the break. If I wanted to see more, I'd have to do a little land-clearance. I got out the pistol and set it on needle-beam, cut enough wood away to get a look into a room the size of a walk-in freezer, almost filled with an impacted growth of wood.

I backed out then, wormed my way over to the big trunk, and climbed back to the surface. There was a lot more to see, but what I wanted to do now was get back in a hurry and tell the Lady Raire that under the vines in the ravine,I'd found a full-sized spaceship.


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