The Shadows and Other Stories – three stories by the immensely talented Leigh Brackett.
The Shadows (1952) – Friend or foe, they dogged intruding footsteps…
Quest of the Starhope (1949) – They were helpless, these human-like captives from other planets, and Quintal, the ruthless hunter, was strong…
RUNAWAY (1954) – It took a trip to Venus to prove to Reid that the one thing he couldn’t escape was himself.
Leigh Brackett (1915 – 1978) was known as the “Queen of Space Opera.” She also was a very talented screenwriter having written the script for The Big Sleep in 1945 and the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.
The Shadows and Other Stories has 6 illustrations.
FOR COUNTLESS numbers of its years there had been no sight or sound or sense of man upon the world of the little blue star. But now, without warning, a remembered thing had come suddenly into the air again—a quiver, a subtle throbbing that meant only one kind of life. The Shadows felt it, the Shadows that had waited so long and patiently. They began to stir among the ruined walls. They rose and shook themselves, and a soundless whisper ran among them, a hungry whisper, wild and eager. “Man! Man! Man has come again!”
THE GALACTIC SURVEY ship lay in an expanse of level plain, ringed on one side by low mountains and on the other by a curving belt of forest. A river ran across the plain and there was much grass. But nothing cropped it, and there were no tracks in the mud of the river bank to show that anything had.
Hubbard sniffed the warm air and dug his feet into the soil, which was rich and dark. He grinned broadly. “This is something like it,” he said. “A pretty world. Real pretty.”
He was a young man. His field was anthropology, and this was his first voyage out. For him, the stars still shone brightly. Barrier looked at him between envy and sadness. He said nothing. His gaze roving off across the plain and the forest, studied the sky—a suspicious, sombre gaze. He was old enough to be Hubbard’s father and he felt every year of it, pressed down and running over.
“Of course, the colors are all wrong,” said Hubbard, “but that’s nothing. After they’d lived with a blue sun for a while people would think it was the only kind to have.”
Barrier grunted. “What people?”
“Why, the colonists, the people that will live here some day”!” Hubbard laughed suddenly. “What’s the matter with you? Here at last we’ve found a beautiful world, and you’re as glum, as though it were a hunk of dead rock.”
“I guess,” said Barrier slowly, “that I’ve seen too many hunks of dead rock, and too many beautiful worlds that—”
He broke off. This was no time to talk. In fact, it was not his place to talk at all. If he didn’t like what he was doing any more he could go home to Earth and stay there, and leave the stars to the young men who had not yet lost their faith.
The mountains, the plain, and the forest were very still in the bright blue morning. Barrier could feel the stillness. No wing cut the sweet air, no paw rustled the tangled grass, no voice spoke, from among the curious trees. He moved restlessly where he stood, looking rather like an old hound that scents danger where there should be game. That was Barrier’s job, his science, the oldest science of mankind—to venture into strange country and feel the invisible, sense the unknown and survive. He was head of the Ground Exploration-team, and an expert on exploring. He had been at it all his life. Too long.
Hubbard said, “I wish Kendall would come back. I want to get started.”
“What do you think you’re going to find?”
“How do I know? That’s the fun of it. But on a world like this there’s bound to be life of some kind.”
Again Barrier grunted, and again he said nothing.
They waited. Other men were scattered about the plain and the river bank, taking samples of soil, rock, water, and vegetation. They stayed close to the ship, and all were armed. The technical staff, after checking solar radiation, atmospheric content, temperature, gravitation, and the million and one other things that go to make a world habitable or otherwise for Earthmen, had rated this planet Earth-Type A, and in obedience to Survey ruling the ship had landed to determine surface conditions. So far, they had all been favorable. So far.
Barrier fidgeted, and listened to the silence.
PRESENTLY a speck appeared far off in the sky. It gave off a thin droning, coming closer, and developed into a small ‘copter which settled down beside the ship, a gnat alighting beside a whale. Kendall and his observer and cameraman got out.
Barrier went up to him. “What did you find?”
“More of the same,” said Kendall, “and nothing in it. Except—” He hesitated.
“Over there beyond the forest. I thought it might be the ruins of a city.”
“There!” cried Hubbard. “You see?”
Kendall shrugged. “The boys said no, it was just a bunch of rocks grown over with the woods. I don’t know. You can decide for yourselves when you see the pictures.”
The men who were out on the plain and the river bank had come running up. They were all young men, like Hubbard.. Only the Captain, the chief of Technical, a couple of research scientists and Barrier were old. There was an uproar of voices, all talking at once. The Survey ship, had made few landings, and it had been a long time since the last one. They were like youngsters let out of confinement, bursting with excitement and pride at what they had found.
Barrier, went with them into the ship, into the main salon. There was a brief wait while the film, which had been developed automatically on exposure, was fed into the projector. The lights were cut. The small screen came to life.
They all watched, with intense interest. The panorama unfolded in natural color, like and yet unlike Earth. On closer inspection, the forest trees were not trees at all, but monstrous flowers with stems as thick as trunks, bearing clusters of brilliant and improbable blooms. Barrier caught a glimpse of something that might have been a butterfly or a drifting petal, but other than that, nothing moved.
Excerpt From: Leigh Brackett. “The Shadows and Other Stories.”
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