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It had been a very near thing. Alexander Jones spent several minutes enjoying the simple pleasure of still being alive.

Then he looked around.

It could almost have been Earth—almost, indeed, his own North America. He stood on a great prairie whose dun grasses rolled away beneath a high windy sky. A flock of birds, alarmed by his descent, clamored upward; they were not so very different from the birds he knew. A line of trees marked the river, a dying puff of steam the final berth of his scoutboat. In the hazy eastern distance he saw dim blue hills. Beyond those, he knew, were the mountains, and then the enormous dark forests, and finally the sea near which the Draco lay. A hell of a long ways to travel.

Nevertheless, he was uninjured, and on a planet almost the twin of his own. The air, gravity, biochemistry, the late-afternoon sun, could only be told from those of home with sensitive instruments. The rotational period was approximately twenty-four hours, the sidereal year nearly twelve months, the axial tilt a neat but not gaudy 11½ degrees. The fact that two small moons were in the sky and a third lurking somewhere else, that the continental outlines were an alien scrawl, that a snake coiled on a nearby rock had wings, that he was about five hundred light-years from the Solar System—all this was mere detail. The veriest bagatelle. Alex laughed at it. The noise jarred so loud in this emptiness that he decided a decorous silence was more appropriate to his status as an officer and, by Act of Parliament as ratified locally by the United States Senate, a gentleman. Therefore, he straightened his high-collared blue naval tunic, ran a nervous hand down the creases of his white naval trousers, buffed his shining naval boots on the spilled-out naval parachute, and reached for his emergency kit.

He neglected to comb his rumpled brown hair, and his lanky form did not exactly snap to attention. But he was, after all, quite alone. Not that he intended to remain in that possibly estimable condition. He shrugged the heavy packsack off his shoulders. It had been the only thing he grabbed besides the parachute when his boat failed, and the only thing he really needed. His hands fumbled it open and he reached in for the small but powerful radio which would bring help.

He drew out a book.

It looked unfamiliar, somehow . . . had they issued a new set of instructions since he was in boot camp? He opened it, looking for the section on Radios, Emergency, Use of. He read the first page he turned to:

“—apparently incredibly fortunate historical development was, of course, quite logical. The relative decline in politico-economic influence of the Northern Hemisphere during the later twentieth century, the shift of civilized dominance to a Southeast Asia-Indian Ocean region with more resources, did not, as alarmists at the time predicted, spell the end of Western civilization. Rather did it spell an upsurge of Anglo-Saxon democratic and libertarian influence, for the simple reason that this area, which now held the purse strings of Earth, was in turn primarily led by Australia and New Zealand, which nations retained their primordial loyalty to the British Crown. The consequent renascence and renewed growth of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the shaping of its councils into a truly world—even interplanetary—government, climaxed as it was by the American Accession, has naturally tended to fix Western culture, even in small details of everyday life, in the mold of that particular time, a tendency which was accentuated by the unexpectedly early invention of the faster-than-light secondary drive and repeated contact with truly different mentalities, and has produced in the Solar System a social stability which our forefathers would have considered positively Utopian and which the Service, working through the Interbeing League, has as its goal to bring to all sentient races—”

“Guk!” said Alex.

He snapped the book shut. Its title leered up at him:


by Adalbert Parr,

Chief Cultural Commissioner

Cultural Development Service

Foreign Ministry of the

United Commonwealths

League City, N.Z., Sol III

“Oh, no!” said Alex.

Frantically, he pawed through the pack. There must be a radio . . . a raythrower . . . a compass . . . one little can of beans?

He extracted some five thousand tightly bundled copies of CDS Form J-16-LKR, to be filled out in quadruplicate by applicant and submitted with attached Forms G776802 and W-2-ZGU.

Alex’s snub-nosed face sagged open. His blue eyes revolved incredulously. There followed a long, dreadful moment in which he could only think how utterly useless the English language was when it came to describing issue-room clerks.

“Oh, hell,” said Alexander Jones.

He got up and began to walk.

He woke slowly with the sunrise and lay there for a while wishing he hadn’t. A long hike on an empty stomach followed by an uneasy attempt to sleep on the ground, plus the prospect of several thousand kilometers of the same, is not conducive to joy. And those animals, whatever they were, that had been yipping and howling all night sounded so damnably hungry.

“He looks human.”

“Yeah. But he ain’t dressed like no human.”

Alex opened his eyes with a wild surmise. The drawling voices spoke . . . English!

He closed his eyes again, immediately. “No,” he groaned.

“He’s awake, Tex.” The voices were high-pitched, slightly unreal. Alex curled up into the embryonic position and reflected on the peculiar horror of a squeaky drawl.

“Yeah. Git up, stranger. These hyar parts ain’t healthy right now, nohow.”

“No,” gibbered Alex. “Tell me it isn’t so. Tell me I’ve gone crazy, but deliver me from its being real!”

“I dunno.” The voice was uncertain. “He don’t talk like no human.”

Alex decided there was no point in wishing them out of existence. They looked harmless, anyway—to everything except his sanity. He crawled to his feet, his bones seeming to grate against each other, and faced the natives.

The first expedition, he remembered, had reported two intelligent races, Hokas and Slissii, on this planet. And these must be Hokas. For small blessings, give praises! There were two of them, almost identical to the untrained Terrestrial eye: about a meter tall, tubby and golden-furred, with round blunt-muzzled heads and small black eyes. Except for the stubby-fingered hands, they resembled nothing so much as giant teddy bears.

The first expedition had, however, said nothing about their speaking English with a drawl. Or about their wearing the dress of Earth’s nineteenth-century West.

All the American historical stereofilms he had ever seen gabbled in Alex’s mind as he assessed their costumes. They wore—let’s see, start at the top and work down and try to keep your reason in the process—ten-gallon hats with brims wider than their own shoulders, tremendous red bandannas, checked shirts of riotous hues, Levis, enormously flaring chaps, and high-heeled boots with outsize spurs. Two sagging cartridge belts on each plump waist supported heavy Colt six-shooters which almost dragged on the ground.

One of the natives was standing before the Earthman, the other was mounted nearby, holding the reins of the first one’s—well—his animal. The beasts were about the size of a pony, and had four hoofed feet . . . also whiplike tails, long necks with beaked heads, and scaly green hides. But of course, thought Alex wildly, of course they bore Western saddles with lassos at the horns. Of course. Who ever heard of a cowboy without a lasso?

“Wa’l, I see yo’re awake,” said the standing Hoka. “Howdy, stranger, howdy.” He extended his hand. “I’m Tex and my pardner here is Monty.”

“Pleased to meet you,” mumbled Alex, shaking hands in a dreamlike fashion. “I’m Alexander Jones.”

“I dunno,” said Monty dubiously. “He ain’t named like no human.”

“Are yo’ human, Alexanderjones?” asked Tex.

The spaceman got a firm grip on himself and said, spacing his words with care: “I am Ensign Alexander Jones of the Terrestrial Interstellar Survey Service, attached to HMS Draco.” Now it was the Hokas who looked lost. He added wearily: “In other words, I’m from Earth. I’m human. Satisfied?”

“I s’pose,” said Monty, still doubtful. “But we’d better take yo’ back to town with us an’ let Slick talk to yo’. He’ll know more about it. Cain’t take no chances in these hyar times.”

“Why not?” said Tex, with a surprising bitterness. “What we got to lose, anyhow? But come on, Alexanderjones, we’ll go on to town. We shore don’t want to be found by no Injun war parties.”

“Injuns?” asked Alex.

“Shore. They’re comin’, you know. We’d better sashay along. My pony’ll carry double.”

Alex was not especially happy at riding a nervous reptile in a saddle built for a Hoka. Fortunately, the race was sufficiently broad in the beam for their seats to have spare room for a slim Earthman. The “pony” trotted ahead at a surprisingly fast and steady pace. Reptiles on Toka—so called by the first expedition from the word for “earth” in the language of the most advanced Hoka society—seemed to be more highly evolved than in the Solar System. A fully developed four-chambered heart and a better nervous system made them almost equivalent to mammals.

Nevertheless, the creature stank.

Alex looked around. The prairie was just as big and bare, his ship just as far away.

“ ’Tain’t none o’ my business, I reckon,” said Tex, “but how’d yo’ happen to be hyar?”

“It’s a long story,” said Alex absent-mindedly. His thoughts at the moment were chiefly about food. “The Draco was out on Survey, mapping new planetary systems, and our course happened to take us close to this star, your sun, which we knew had been visited once before. We thought we’d look in and check on conditions, as well as resting ourselves on an Earth-type world. I was one of the several who went out in scoutboats to skim over this continent. Something went wrong, my engines failed and I barely escaped with my life. I parachuted out, and as bad luck would have it, my boat crashed in a river. So—well—due to various other circumstances, I just had to start hiking back toward my ship.”

“Won’t yore pardners come after yo’?”

“Sure, they’ll search—but how likely are they to find a shattered wreck on the bottom of a river, with half a continent to investigate? I could, perhaps, have rubbed a big SOS in the soil and hoped it would be seen from the air, but what with the necessity of hunting food and all . . . well, I figured my best chance was to keep moving. But now I’m hungry enough to eat a . . . a buffalo.”

“Ain’t likely to have buffalo meat in town,” said the Hoka imperturbably. “But we got good T-bone steaks.”

“Oh,” said Alex.

“Yo’ wouldn’t’a lasted long, hoofin’ it,” said Monty. “Ain’t got no gun.”

“No, thanks to—Never mind!” said Alex. “I thought I’d try to make a bow and some arrows.”

“Bow an’ arrers—Say!” Monty squinted suspiciously at him. “What yo’ been doin’ around the Injuns?”

“I ain’t—I haven’t been near any Injuns, dammit!”

“Bows an’ arrers is Injun weapons, stranger.”

“I wish they was,” mourned Tex. “We didn’t have no trouble back when only Hokas had six-guns. But now the Injuns got ’em too, it’s all up with us.” A tear trickled down his button nose.

If the cowboys are teddy bears, thought Alex, then whoor whatare the Indians?

“It’s lucky for yo’ me an’ Tex happened to pass by,” said Monty. “We was out to see if we couldn’t round up a few more steers afore the Injuns get here. No such luck, though. The greenskins done rustled ’em all.”

Greenskins! Alex remembered a detail in the report of the first expedition: two intelligent races, the mammalian Hokas and the reptilian Slissii. And the Slissii, being stronger and more warlike, preyed on the Hokas—

“Are the Injuns Slissii?” he asked.

“Wa’l, they’re ornery, at least,” said Monty.

“I mean . . . well . . . are they big tall beings bigger than I am, but walking sort of stooped over . . . tails and fangs and green skins, and their talk is full of hissing noises?”

“Why, shore. What else?” Monty shook his head, puzzled. “If yo’re a human, how come yo’ don’t even know what a Injun is?”

They had been plop-plopping toward a large and noisy dust cloud. As they neared, Alex saw the cause, a giant herd of—uh—

“Longhorn steers,” explained Monty.

Well . . . yes . . . one long horn apiece, on the snout. But at least the red-haired, short-legged, barrel-bodied “cattle” were mammals. Alex made out brands on the flanks of some. The entire herd was being urged along by fast-riding Hoka cowboys.

“That’s the X Bar X outfit,” said Tex. “The Lone Rider decided to try an’ drive ’em ahead o’ the Injuns. But I’m afeered the greenskins’ll catch up with him purty soon.”

“He cain’t do much else,” answered Monty. “All the ranchers, just about, are drivin’ their stock off the range. There just ain’t any place short o’ the Devil’s Nose whar we can make a stand. I shore don’t intend tryin’ to stay in town an’ hold off the Injuns, an’ I don’t think nobody else does either, in spite o’ Slick an’ the Lone Rider wantin’ us to.”

“Hey,” objected Alex, “I thought you said the, er, Lone Rider was fleeing. Now you say he wants to fight. Which is it?”

“Oh, the Lone Rider what owns the X Bar X is runnin’, but the Lone Rider o’ the Lazy T wants to stay. So do the Lone Rider o’ Buffalo Stomp, the Really Lone Rider, an’ the Loneliest Rider, but I’ll bet they changes their minds when the Injuns gets as close to them as the varmints is to us right now.”

Alex clutched his head to keep it from flying off his shoulders. “How many Lone Riders are there, anyway?” he shouted.

“How should I know?” shrugged Monty. “I knows at least ten myself. I gotta say,” he added exasperatedly, “that English shore ain’t got as many names as the old Hoka did. It gets gosh-awful tiresome to have a hundred other Montys around, or yell for Tex an’ be asked which one.”

They passed the bawling herd at a jog trot and topped a low rise. Beyond it lay a village, perhaps a dozen small frame houses and a single rutted street lined with square-built false-fronted structures. The place was jammed with Hokas—on foot, mounted, in covered wagons and buggies—refugees from the approaching Injuns, Alex decided. As he was carried down the hill, he saw a clumsily lettered sign:


Pop. Weekdays 212

Saturdays 1000

“We’ll take yo’ to Slick,” said Monty above the hubbub. “He’ll know what to do with yo’.”

They forced their ponies slowly through the swirling, pressing, jabbering throng. The Hokas seemed to be a highly excitable race, given to arm-waving and shouting at the top of their lungs. There was no organization whatsoever to the evacuation, which proceeded slowly with its traffic tie-ups, arguments, gossip exchange, and exuberant pistol shooting into the air. Quite a few ponies and wagons stood deserted before the saloons, which formed an almost solid double row along the street.

Alex tried to remember what there had been in the report of the first expedition. It was a brief report, the ship had only been on Toka for a couple of months. But—yes—the Hokas were described as friendly, merry, amazingly quick to learn . . . and hopelessly inefficient. Only their walled sea-coast towns, in a state of bronze-age technology, had been able to stand off the Slissii; otherwise the reptiles were slowly but steadily conquering the scattered ursinoid tribes. A Hoka fought bravely when he was attacked, but shoved all thought of the enemy out of his cheerful mind whenever the danger was not immediately visible. It never occurred to the Hokas to band together in a massed offensive against the Slissii; such a race of individualists could never have formed an army anyway.

A nice, but rather ineffectual little people. Alex felt somewhat smug about his own height, his dashing spaceman’s uniform, and the fighting, slugging, persevering human spirit which had carried man out to the stars. He felt like an elder brother.

He’d have to do something about this situation, give these comic-opera creatures a hand. Which might also involve a promotion for Alexander Braithwaite Jones, since Earth wanted a plentiful supply of planets with friendly dominant species, and the first report on the Injuns—Slissii, blast it!—made it unlikely that they could ever get along with mankind.

A. Jones, hero. Maybe then Tanni and I can

He grew aware that a fat, elderly Hoka was gaping at him, together with the rest of Canyon Gulch. This particular one wore a large metal star pinned to his vest.

“Howdy, Sheriff,” said Tex, and snickered.

“Howdy, Tex, old pal,” said the sheriff obsequiously. “An’ my good old sidekick Monty, too. Howdy, howdy, gents! Who’s this hyar stranger—not a human?”

“Yep, that’s what he says. Whar’s Slick?”

“Which Slick?”

“The Slick, yo’—yo’ sheriff!”

The fat Hoka winced. “I think he’s in the back room o’ the Paradise Saloon,” he said. And humbly: “Uh, Tex . . . Monty . . . yo’ll remember yore old pal come ee-lection day, won’t yo’?”

“Reckon we might,” said Tex genially. “Yo’ been sheriff long enough.”

“Oh, thank yo’, boys, thank yo’! If only the others will have yore kind hearts—” The eddying crowd swept the sheriff away.

“What off Earth?” exclaimed Alex. “What the hell was he trying to get you to do?”

“Vote ag’in him come the next ee-lection, o’ course,” said Monty.

“Against him? But the sheriff . . . he runs the town . . . maybe?”

Tex and Monty looked bewildered. “Now I really wonder if yo’re human after all,” said Tex. “Why, the humans themselves taught us the sheriff is the dumbest man in town. Only we don’t think it’s fair a man should have to be called that all his life, so we chooses him once a y’ar.”

“Buck there has been ee-lected sheriff three times runnin’,” said Monty. “He’s really dumb!”

“But who is this Slick?” cried Alex a trifle wildly.

“The town gambler, o’ course.”

“What have I got to do with a town gambler?”

Tex and Monty exchanged glances. “Look, now,” said Monty with strained patience, “we done allowed for a lot with yo’. But when yo’ don’t even know what the officer is what runs a town, that’s goin’ just a little too far.”

“Oh,” said Alex. “A kind of city manager, then.”

“Yo’re plumb loco,” said Monty firmly. “Everbody knows a town is run by a town gambler!”

Slick wore the uniform of his office: tight pants, a black coat, a checked vest, a white shirt with wing collar and string tie, a diamond stickpin, a derringer in one pocket and a pack of cards in the other. He looked tired and harried; he must have been under a tremendous strain in the last few days, but he welcomed Alex with eager volubility and led him into an office furnished in vaguely nineteenth-century style. Tex and Monty came along, barring the door against the trailing, chattering crowds.

“Well rustle up some sandwiches for yo’,” beamed Slick. He offered Alex a vile purple cigar of some local weed, lit one himself, and sat down behind the rolltop desk. “Now,” he said, “when can we get help from yore human friends?”

“Not soon, I’m afraid,” said Alex. “The Draco crew doesn’t know about this. They’ll be spending all their time flying around in search of me. Unless they chance to find me here, which isn’t likely, they won’t even learn about the Injun war.”

“How long they figger to be here?”

“Oh, they’ll wait at least a month before giving me up for dead and leaving the planet.”

“We can get yo’ to the seacoast in that time, by hard ridin’, but it’d mean takin’ a short cut through some territory which the Injuns is between us and it.” Slick paused courteously while Alex untangled that one. “Yo’d hardly have a chance to sneak through. So, it looks like the only way we can get yo’ to yore friends is to beat the Injuns. Only we can’t beat the Injuns without help from yore friends.”


To change the subject, Alex tried to learn some Hoka history. He succeeded beyond expectations, Slick proving surprisingly intelligent and well-informed.

The first expedition had landed thirty-odd years ago. At the time, its report had drawn little Earthly interest; there were so many new planets in the vastness of the galaxy. Only now, with the Draco as a forerunner, was the League making any attempt to organize this frontier section of space.

The first Earthmen had been met with eager admiration by the Hoka tribe near whose village they landed. The autochthones were linguistic adepts, and between their natural abilities and modern psychography had learned English in a matter of days. To them, the humans were almost gods, though like most primitives they were willing to frolic with their deities.

Came the fatal evening. The expedition had set up an outdoor stereoscreen to entertain itself with films. Hitherto the Hokas had been interested but rather puzzled spectators. Now, tonight, at Wesley’s insistence, an old film was reshown. It was a Western.

Most spacemen develop hobbies on their long voyages. Wesley’s was the old American West. But he looked at it through romantic lenses; he had a huge stack of novels and magazines but very little factual material.

The Hokas saw the film and went wild.

The captain finally decided that their delirious, ecstatic reaction was due to this being something they could understand. Drawing-room comedies and interplanetary adventures meant little to them in terms of their own experience, but here was a country like their own, heroes who fought savage enemies, great herds of animals, gaudy costumes—

And it occurred to the captain and to Wesley that this race could find very practical use for certain elements of the old Western culture. The Hokas had been farmers, scratching a meager living out of prairie soil never meant to be plowed; they went about on foot, their tools were bronze and stone—they could do much better for themselves, given some help.

The ship’s metallurgists had had no trouble reconstructing the old guns, Colt and derringer and carbine. The Hokas had to be taught how to smelt iron, make steel and gunpowder, handle lathes and mills; but here again, native quickness and psychographic instruction combined to make them learn easily. Likewise they leaped at the concept of domesticating the wild beasts they had hitherto herded.

Before the ship left, Hokas were breaking “ponies” to the saddle and rounding up “longhorns.” They were making treaties with the more civilized agricultural and maritime cities of the coast, arranging to ship meat in exchange for wood, grain, and manufactured goods. And they were gleefully slaughtering every Slissii warband that came against them.

As a final step, just before he left, Wesley gave his collection of books and magazines to the Hokas.

None of this had been in the ponderous official report Alex read: only the notation that the ursinoids had been shown steel metallurgy, the use of chemical weapons, and the benefits of certain economic forms. It had been hoped that with this aid they could subdue the dangerous Slissii, so that if man finally started coming here regularly, he wouldn’t have a war on his hands.

Alex could fill in the rest. Hoka enthusiasm had run wild. The new way of life was, after all, very practical and well adapted to the plains—so why not go all the way, be just like the human godlings in every respect? Talk English with the stereofilm accent, adopt human names, human dress, human mannerisms, dissolve the old tribal organizations and replace them with ranches and towns—it followed very naturally. And it was so much more fun.

The books and magazines couldn’t circulate far; most of the new gospel went by word of mouth. Thus certain oversimplifications crept in.

Three decades passed. The Hokas matured rapidly, a second generation which had been born to Western ways was already prominent in the population. The past was all but forgotten. The Hokas spread westward across the plains, driving the Slissii before them.

Until, of course, the Slissii learned how to make firearms too. Then, with their greater military talent, they raised an army of confederated tribes and proceeded to shove the Hokas back. This time they would probably continue till they had sacked the very cities of the coast. The bravery of individual Hokas was no match for superior numbers better organized.

And one of the Injun armies was now roaring down on Canyon Gulch. It could not be many kilometers away, and there was nothing to stop it. The Hokas gathered their families and belongings from the isolated ranch houses and fled. But with typical inefficiency, most of the refugees fled no further than this town; then they stopped and discussed whether to make a stand or hurry onward, and meanwhile they had just one more little drink. . . .

“You mean you haven’t even tried to fight?” asked Alex.

“What could we do?” answered Slick. “Half the folks ’ud be ag’in the idea an’ wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with it. Half o’ those what did come would each have their own little scheme, an’ when we didn’t follow it they’d get mad an’ walk off. That don’t leave none too many.”

“Couldn’t you, as the leader, think of some compromise—some plan which would satisfy everybody?”

“O’ course not,” said Slick stiffly. “My own plan is the only right one.”

“Oh, Lord!” Alex bit savagely at the sandwich in his hand. The food had restored his strength and the fluid fire the Hokas called whiskey had given him a warm, courageous glow.

“The basic trouble is, your people just don’t know how to arrange a battle,” he said. “Humans do.”

“Yo’re a powerful fightin’ outfit,” agreed Slick. There was an adoration in his beady eyes which Alex had complacently noticed on most of the faces in town. He decided he rather liked it. But a demi-god has his obligations.

“What you need is a leader whom everyone will follow without question,” he went on. “Namely me.”

“Yo’ mean—” Slick drew a sharp breath. “Yo’?”

Alex nodded briskly. “Am I right, that the Injuns are all on foot? Yes? Good. Then I know, from Earth history, what to do. There must be several thousand Hoka males around, and they all have some kind of firearms. The Injuns won’t be prepared for a fast, tight cavalry charge. It’ll split their army wide open.”

“Wa’l, I’ll be hornswoggled,” murmured Slick. Even Tex and Monty looked properly awed.

Suddenly Slick began turning handsprings about the office. “Yahoo!” he cried. “I’m a rootin’, tootin’ son of a gun, I was born with a pistol in each hand an’ I teethed on rattlesnakes!” He did a series of cartwheels. “My daddy was a catamount and my mother was a alligator. I can ran faster backward than anybody else can run forrad, I can jump over the outermost moon with one hand tied behind me, I can fill an inside straight every time I draw, an’ if any sidewinder here says it ain’t so I’ll fill him so full o’ lead they’ll mine him!”

“What the hell?” gasped Alex, dodging.

“The old human war-cry,” explained Tex, who had apparently resigned himself to his hero’s peculiar ignorances.

“Let’s go!” whooped Slick, and threw open the office door. A tumultuous crowd surged outside. The gambler filled his lungs and roared squeakily:

“Saddle yore hosses, gents, an’ load yore six-guns! We got us a human, an’ he’s gonna lead us all out to wipe the Injuns off the range!”

The Hokas cheered till the false fronts quivered around them, danced, somersaulted, and fired their guns into the air. Alex shook Slick and wailed: “—no, no, you bloody fool, not now! We have to study the situation, send out scouts, make a plan—”

Too late. His impetuous admirers swept him out into the street. He couldn’t be heard above the falsetto din. He tried to keep his footing and was only vaguely aware of anything else. Someone gave him a six-shooter, and he strapped it on as if in a dream. Someone else gave him a lasso, and he made out the voice: “Rope yoreself a bronc, Earthman, an’ lets’ go!”

“Rope—” Alex grew groggily aware that there was a corral just behind the saloon. The half-wild reptile ponies galloped about inside it, excited by the noise. Hokas were deftly whirling their lariats forth to catch their personal mounts.

“Go ahead!” urged the voice. “Ain’t got no time to lose.”

Alex studied the cowboy nearest him. Lassoing didn’t look so hard. You held the rope here and here, then you swung the noose around your head like this—

He pulled and came crashing to the ground. Through whirling dust, he saw that he had lassoed himself.

Tex pulled him to his feet and dusted him off. “I . . . I don’t ride herd at home,” he mumbled. Tex made no reply.

“I got a bronc for yo’,” cried another Hoka, reeling in his lariat. “A real spirited mustang!”

Alex looked at the pony. It looked back. It had an evilly glittering little eye. At the risk of making a snap judgment, he decided he didn’t like it very much. There might be personality conflicts between him and it.

“Come on, let’s git goin’!” cried Slick impatiently. He was astraddle a beast which still bucked and reared, but he hardly seemed to notice.

Alex shuddered, closed his eyes, wondered what he had done to deserve this, and wobbled over to the pony. Several Hokas had joined to saddle it for him. He climbed aboard. The Hokas released the animal. There was a personality conflict.

Alex had a sudden feeling of rising and spinning on a meteor that twisted beneath him. He grabbed for the saddle horn. The front feet came down with a ten-gee thump and he lost his stirrups. Something on the order of a nuclear shell seemed to explode in his vicinity.

Though it came up and hit him with unnecessary hardness, he had never known anything so friendly as the ground just then.

“Oof!” said Alex and lay still.

A shocked, unbelieving silence fell on the Hokas. The human hadn’t been able to use a rope—now he had set a new record for the shortest time in a saddle—what sort of human was this, anyway?

Alex sat up and looked into a ring of shocked fuzzy faces. He gave them a weak smile. “I’m not a horseman either,” he said.

“What the hell are yo’, then?” stormed Monty. “Yo’ cain’t rope, yo’ cain’t ride, yo’ cain’t talk right, yo’ cain’t shoot—”

“Now hold on!” Alex climbed to somewhat unsteady feet. “I admit I’m not used to a lot of things here, because we do it differently on Earth. But I can outshoot any man . . . er, any Hoka of you any day in the week and twice on Sundays!”

Some of the natives looked happy again, but Monty only sneered. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’ll prove it.” Alex looked about for a suitable target. For a change, he had no worries. He was one of the best raythrower marksmen in the Fleet. “Throw up a coin. I’ll plug it through the middle.”

The Hokas began looking awed. Alex gathered that they weren’t very good shots by any standards but their own. Slick beamed, took a silver dollar from his pocket, and spun it into the air. Alex drew and fired.

Unfortunately, raythrowers don’t have recoil. Revolvers do.

Alex went over on his back. The bullet broke a window in the Last Chance Bar & Grill.

The Hokas began to laugh. It was a bitter kind of merriment.

“Buck!” cried Slick. “Buck . . . yo’ thar, sheriff . . . c’mere!”

“Yes, sir, Mister Slick, sir?”

“I don’t think we need yo’ for sheriff no longer, Buck. I think we just found ourselves another one. Gimme yore badge!”

When Alex regained his feet, the star gleamed on his tunic. And, of course, his proposed counter-attack had been forgotten.

He mooched glumly into Pizen’s Saloon. During the past few hours, the town had slowly drained itself of refugees as the Injuns came horribly closer; but there were still a few delaying for one more drink. Alex was looking for such company.

Being official buffoon wasn’t too bad in itself. The Hokas weren’t cruel to those whom the gods had afflicted. But—well—he had just ruined human prestige on this continent. The Service wouldn’t appreciate that.

Not that he would be seeing much of the Service in the near future. He couldn’t possibly reach the Draco now before she left—without passing through territory held by the same Injuns whose army was advancing on Canyon Gulch. It might be years till another expedition landed. He might even be marooned here for life. Though come to think of it, that wouldn’t be a lot worse than the disgrace which would attend his return.


“Here, Sheriff, let me buy yo’ a drink,” said a voice at his elbow.

“Thanks,” said Alex. The Hokas did have the pleasant rule that the sheriff was always treated when he entered a saloon. He had been taking heavy advantage of the custom, though it didn’t seem to lighten his depression much.

The Hoka beside him was a very aged specimen, toothless and creaky. “I’m from Childish way,” he introduced himself. “They call me the Childish Kid. Howdy, Sheriff.”

Alex shook hands, dully.

They elbowed their way to the bar. Alex had to stoop under Hoka ceilings, but otherwise the rococo fittings were earnestly faithful to their fictional prototypes—including a small stage where three scantily clad Hoka females were going through a song-and-dance number while a bespectacled male pounded a rickety piano.

The Childish Kid leered. “I know those gals,” he sighed. “Some fillies, hey? Stacked, don’t yo’ think?”

“Uh . . . yes,” agreed Alex. Hoka females had four mammaries apiece. “Quite.”

“Zunami an’ Goda an’ Torigi, that’s their names. If I warn’t so danged old—”

“How come they have, er, non-English names?” inquired Alex.

“We had to keep the old Hoka names for our wimmin,” said the Childish Kid. He scratched his balding head. “It’s bad enough with the men, havin’ a hundred Hopalongs in the same county . . . but how the hell can yo’ tell yore wimmin apart when they’re all named Jane?”

“We have some named ‘Hey, you’ as well,” said Alex grimly. “And a lot more called ‘Yes, dear.’ ”

His head was beginning to spin. This Hoka brew was potent stuff.

Nearby stood two cowboys, arguing with alcoholic loudness. They were typical Hokas, which meant that to Alex their tubby forms were scarcely to be distinguished from each other. “I know them two, they’re from my old outfit,” said the Childish Kid. “That one’s Slim, an’ t’other’s Shorty.”

“Oh,” said Alex.

Brooding over his glass, he listened to the quarrel for lack of anything better to do. It had degenerated to the name-calling stage. “Careful what yo’ say, Slim,” said Shorty, trying to narrow his round little eyes. “I’m a powerful dangerous hombre.”

“You ain’t no powerful dangerous hombre,” sneered Slim.

“I am so too a powerful dangerous hombre!” squeaked Shorty.

“Yo’re a fathead what ought to be kicked by a jackass,” said Slim, “an’ I’m just the one what can do it.”

“When yo’ call me that,” said Shorty, “smile!”

“I said yo’re a fathead what ought to be kicked by a jackass,” repeated Slim, and smiled.

Suddenly, the saloon was full of the roar of pistols. Sheer reflex threw Alex to the floor. A ricocheting slug whanged nastily by his ear. The thunder barked again and again. He hugged the floor and prayed.

Silence came. Reeking smoke swirled through the air. Hokas crept from behind tables and the bar and resumed drinking, casually. Alex looked for the corpses. He saw only Slim and Shorty, putting away their emptied guns.

“Wa’l, that’s that,” said Shorty. “I’ll buy this round.”

“Thanks, pardner,” said Slim. “I’ll get the next one.”

Alex bugged his eyes at the Childish Kid. “Nobody was hurt!” he chattered hysterically.

“O’ course not,” said the ancient Hoka. “Slim an’ Shorty is old pals.” He spread his hands. “Kind o’ a funny human custom, that. It don’t make much sense that every man should sling lead at every other man once a month. But I reckon maybe it makes ’em braver, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” said Alex.

Others drifted over to talk with him. Opinion seemed about equally divided over whether he wasn’t a human at all or whether humankind simply wasn’t what the legends had cracked it up to be. But in spite of their disappointment, they bore him no ill will and stood him drinks. Alex accepted thirstily. He couldn’t think of anything else to do.

It might have been an hour later, or two hours or ten, that Slick came into the saloon. His voice rose over the hubbub: “A scout just brung me the latest word, gents. The Injuns ain’t no more’n five miles away an’ comin’ fast. We’ll all have to git a move on.”

The cowboys swallowed their drinks, smashed their glasses, and boiled from the building in a wave of excitement. “Gotta calm the boys down,” muttered the Childish Kid, “or we could git a riot.” With great presence of mind, he shot out the lights.

“Yo’ fool!” bellowed Slick. “It’s broad daylight outside!”

Alex lingered aimlessly by the saloon, until the gambler tugged at his sleeve. “We’re short o’ cowhands an’ we got a big herd to move,” ordered Slick. “Get yoreself a gentle pony an’ see if yo’ can help.”

“Okay,” hiccoughed Alex. It would be good to know he was doing something useful, however little. Maybe he would be defeated at the next election.

He traced a wavering course to the corral. Someone led forth a shambling wreck of a mount, too old to be anything but docile. Alex groped after the stirrup. It evaded him. “C’mere,” he said sharply. “C’mere, shtirrip. Ten-shun! For’ard marsh!”

“Here yo’ are.” A Hoka who flickered around the edges . . . ghost Hoka? Hoka Superior? the Hoka after Hoka? . . . assisted him into the saddle. “By Pecos Bill, yo’re drunk as a skunk!”

“No,” said Alex. “I am shober. It’s all Toka whish ish drunk So only drunks on Toka ish shober. Tha’s right. Yunnershtan’? Only shober men on Toka ish uh drunks—”

His pony floated through a pink mist in some or other direction. “I’m a lo-o-o-one cowboy!” sang Alex. “I’m thuh loneliesh lone cowboy in these here parts.”

He grew amorphously aware of the herd. The cattle were nervous, they rolled their eyes and lowed and pawed the ground. A small band of Hokas galloped around them, swearing, waving their hats, trying to get the animals going in the right path.

“I’m an ol’ cowhand, from thuh Rio Grande!” bawled Alex.

“Not so loud!” snapped a Tex-Hoka. “These critters are spooky enough as it is.”

“You wanna get ’em goin’, don’cha?” answered Alex. “We gotta get going. The greenskins are coming. Simple to get going. Like this. See?”

He drew his six-shooter, fired into the air, and let out the loudest screech he had in him. “Yahoo!”

“Yo’ crazy fool!”

“Yahoo!” Alex plunged toward the herd, shooting and shouting. “Ride ’em, cowboy! Get along, dogies! Yippee!”

The herd, of course, stampeded.

Like a red tide, it suddenly broke past the thin Hoka line. The riders scattered, there was death in those thousands of hoofs, their universe was filled with roaring and rushing and thunder. The earth shook!

“Yahoo!” caroled Alexander Jones. He rode behind the longhorns, still shooting. “Git along, git along! Hiyo, Silver!”

“Oh, my God,” groaned Slick. “Oh, my God! The tumbleweed-headed idiot’s got ’em stampeded straight toward the Injuns—”

“After ’em!” shouted a Hopalong-Hoka. “Mebbe we can still turn the herd! We cain’t let the Injuns git all that beef!”

“An’ we’ll have a little necktie party too,” said a Lone Rider-Hoka. “I’ll bet that thar Alexanderjones is a Injun spy planted to do this very job.”

The cowboys spurred their mounts. A Hoka brain had no room for two thoughts at once. If they were trying to head off a stampede, the fact that they were riding full tilt toward an overwhelming enemy simply did not occur to them.

“Whoopee-ti-yi-yo-o-o-o!” warbled Alex, somewhere in the storm of dust.

Caught by the peculiar time-sense of intoxication, he seemed almost at once to burst over a long low hill. And beyond were the Slissii.

The reptile warriors went afoot, not being built for riding—but they could outrun a Hoka pony. The tyrannosaurian forms were naked, save for war paint and feathers such as primitives throughout the galaxy wear, but they were armed with guns as well as lances, bows, and axes. Their host formed a great compact mass, tightly disciplined to the rhythm of the thudding signal drums. There were thousands of them . . . and a hundred cowboys, at most, galloped blindly toward their ranks.

Alex saw none of this. Being behind the stampede, he didn’t see it hit the Injun army.

Nobody really did. The catastrophe was just too big.

When the Hokas arrived on the scene, the Injuns—such of them as had not simply been mashed flat—were scattered over the entire visible prairie. Slick wondered if they would ever stop running.

“At ’em, boys!” he yelled. “Go mop ’em up!”

The Hoka band sped forward. A few small Injun groups sounded their war-hisses and tried to rally for a stand, but it was too late, they were too demoralized, the Hokas cut them down. Others were chased as they fled, lassoed and hog-tied by wildly cheering teddy bears.

Presently, Tex rode up to Slick. Dragging behind his pony at a lariat’s end was a huge Injun, still struggling and cursing. “I think I got their chief,” he reported.

The town gambler nodded happily. “Yep, you have. He’s wearin’ a high chief’s paint. Swell! With him for a hostage, we can make t’other Injuns talk turkey—not that they’re gonna bother this hyar country for a long time to come.”

As a matter of fact, Canyon Gulch has entered the military textbooks with Cannae, Waterloo, and Xfisthgung as an example of total and crushing victory.

Slowly, the Hokas began to gather about Alex. The utter awe shone in their eyes.

“He done it,” whispered Monty. “All the time he was playin’ dumb, he knew a way to stop the Injuns—”

“Yo’ mean, make ’em bite the dust,” corrected Slick solemnly.

“Bite the dust,” agreed Monty. “He done it single-handed! Gents, I reckon we should’a knowed better’n to go mistrustin’ o’ a . . . human!”

Alex swayed in the saddle. A violent sickness gathered itself within him. And he reflected that he had caused a stampede, lost an entire herd of cattle, sacrificed all Hoka faith in the Terrestrial race for all time to come. If the natives hanged him, he thought grayly, it was no more than he deserved.

He opened his eyes and looked into Slick’s adoring face.

“Yo’ saved us,” said the little Hoka. He reached out and took the sheriff’s badge off Alex’s tunic. Then, gravely, he handed over his derringer and playing cards. “Yo’ saved us all, Human. So, as long as yo’re, here, yo’re the town gambler o’ Canyon Gulch.”

Alex blinked. He looked around. He saw the assembled Hokas, and the captive Slissii, and the trampled field of ruin . . . why, why—they had won!

Now he could get to the Draco. With human assistance, the Hoka race could soon force a permanent peace settlement on their ancient foes. And Ensign Alexander Braithwaite Jones was a hero.

“Saved you?” he muttered. His tongue still wasn’t under very close control. “Oh. Saved you. Yes, I did, didn’t I? Saved you. Nice of me.” He waved a hand. “No, no. Don’t mention it. Noblesse oblige, and all that sort of thing.”

An acute pain in his unaccustomed gluteal muscles spoiled the effect. He groaned. “I’m walking back to town. I won’t be able to sit down for a week as it is!”

And the rescuer of Canyon Gulch dismounted, missed the stirrup, and fell flat on his face.

“Yo’ know,” murmured someone thoughtfully. “maybe that’s the way humans get off their hosses. Maybe we should all—”

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