The World That Couldn't Be
By CLIFFORD D. SIMAK
Illustrated by GAUGHAN
Like every farmer on every planet, Duncan had to hunt down anything that damaged his crops—even though he was aware this was—
he tracks went up one row and down another, and in those rows the vua plants had been sheared off an inch or two above the ground. The raider had been methodical; it had not wandered about haphazardly, but had done an efficient job of harvesting the first ten rows on the west side of the field. Then, having eaten its fill, it had angled off into the bush—and that had not been long ago, for the soil still trickled down into the great pug marks, sunk deep into the finely cultivated loam.
Somewhere a sawmill bird was whirring through a log, and down in one of the thorn-choked ravines, a choir of chatterers was clicking through a ghastly morning song. It was going to be a scorcher of a day. Already the smell of desiccated dust was rising from the ground and the glare of the newly risen sun was dancing off the bright leaves of the hula-trees, making it appear as if the bush were filled with a million flashing mirrors.
Gavin Duncan hauled a red bandanna from his pocket and mopped his face.
"No, mister," pleaded Zikkara, the native foreman of the farm. "You cannot do it, mister. You do not hunt a Cytha."
"The hell I don't," said Duncan, but he spoke in English and not the native tongue.
He stared out across the bush, a flat expanse of sun-cured grass interspersed with thickets of hula-scrub and thorn and occasional groves of trees, criss-crossed by treacherous ravines and spotted with infrequent waterholes.
It would be murderous out there, he told himself, but it shouldn't take too long. The beast probably would lay up shortly after its pre-dawn feeding and he'd overhaul it in an hour or two. But if he failed to overhaul it, then he must keep on.
"Dangerous," Zikkara pointed out. "No one hunts the Cytha."
"I do," Duncan said, speaking now in the native language. "I hunt anything that damages my crop. A few nights more of this and there would be nothing left."
amming the bandanna back into his pocket, he tilted his hat lower across his eyes against the sun.
"It might be a long chase, mister. It is the skun season now. If you were caught out there...."
"Now listen," Duncan told it sharply. "Before I came, you'd feast one day, then starve for days on end; but now you eat each day. And you like the doctoring. Before, when you got sick, you died. Now you get sick, I doctor you, and you live. You like staying in one place, instead of wandering all around."
"Mister, we like all this," said Zikkara, "but we do not hunt the Cytha."
"If we do not hunt the Cytha, we lose all this," Duncan pointed out. "If I don't make a crop, I'm licked. I'll have to go away. Then what happens to you?"
"We will grow the corn ourselves."
"That's a laugh," said Duncan, "and you know it is. If I didn't kick your backsides all day long, you wouldn't do a lick of work. If I leave, you go back to the bush. Now let's go and get that Cytha."
"But it is such a little one, mister! It is such a young one! It is scarcely worth the trouble. It would be a shame to kill it."
Probably just slightly smaller than a horse, thought Duncan, watching the native closely.