Walls were getting pock-marked from interstellar dust. They complained that they would need a full beauty treatment when they got home. Talker assured them that the company would pay for it.
Even Eye was getting bloodshot from staring into space so continuously.
They dipped over another planet. Its characteristics were flashed to Thinker, who mulled over them.
Closer, and they could make out the forms.
Pushers! Primitive Pushers!
They zoomed back into space to make plans. Feeder produced twenty-three different kinds of intoxicants for a celebration.
The Ship wasnât fit to function for three days.
âEveryone ready now?â Talker asked, a bit fuzzily. He had a hangover that burned all along his nerve ends. What a drunk he had thrown! He had a vague recollection of embracing Engine, and inviting him to share his tree when they got home.
He shuddered at the idea.
The rest of the Crew were pretty shaky, too. The Walls were letting air leak into space; they were just too wobbly to seal their edges properly. Doctor had passed out.
But the worst off was Feeder. Since his system could adapt to any type of fuel except atomic, he had been sampling every batch he made, whether it was an unbalanced iodine, pure oxygen, or a supercharged ester. He was really miserable. His tentacles, usually a healthy aqua, were shot through with orange streaks. His system was working furiously, purging itself of everything, and Feeder was suffering the effects of the purge.
The only sober ones were Thinker and Engine. Thinker didnât drink, which was unusual for a spacer, though typical of Thinker, and Engine couldnât.
They listened while Thinker reeled off some astounding facts. From Eyeâs pictures of the planetâs surface, Thinker had detected the presence of metallic construction. He put forth the alarming suggestion that these Pushers had constructed a mechanical civilization.
âThatâs impossible,â three of the Walls said flatly, and most of the Crew were inclined to agree with them. All the metal they had ever seen had been buried in the ground or lying around in worthless oxidized chunks.
âDo you mean that they make things out of metal?â Talker demanded. âOut of just plain dead metal? What could they make?â
âThey couldnât make anything,â Feeder said positively. âIt would break down constantly. I mean metal doesnât know when itâs weakening.â
But it seemed to be true. Eye magnified his pictures, and everyone could see that the Pushers had made vast shelters, vehicles, and other articles from inanimate material.
The reason for this was not readily apparent, but it wasnât a good sign. However, the really hard part was over. The Pusher planet had been found. All that remained was the relatively easy job of convincing a native Pusher.
That shouldnât be too difficult. Talker knew that cooperation was the keystone of the Galaxy, even among primitive peoples.
The Crew decided not to land in a populated region. Of course, there was no reason not to expect a friendly greeting, but it was the job of a Contact Team to get in touch with them as a race. All they wanted was an individual.
Accordingly, they picked out a sparsely populated landmass, drifting in while that side of the planet was dark.
They were able to locate a solitary Pusher almost at once.
Eye adapted his vision to see in the dark, and they followed the Pusherâs movements. He lay down, after a while, beside a small fire. Thinker told them that this was a well-known resting habit of Pushers.
Just before dawn, the Walls opened, and Feeder, Talker, and Doctor came out.
Feeder dashed forward and tapped the creature on the shoulder. Talker followed with a communication tendril.
The Pusher opened his seeing organs, blinked them, and made a movement with his eating organ. Then he leaped to his feet and started to run.
The three Crew members were amazed. The Pusher
Rita Monaldi, Francesco Sorti