Org Rider’s knife was at the stranger’s throat before he could check himself; but the man was so helpless, so battered, that even the white-hot rage that the threat to the egg brought boiling up in him wavered.
The man was both desperate and startled. He brought his arm up, less in a gesture of defense than as pure reflex. He was tremendously strong. His gesture brushed Org Rider’s hand and knife away as if they belonged to a child. The violence of his own movement set him lurching against the sheet rock wall behind the waterfall; his head met rock, and he slumped to the ground, stunned.
Org Rider dropped to his knees and embraced the egg fearfully. Its bright curve showed no damage. He pressed an ear against its warm, pliant shell, and heard the even, faint throb of the young org’s heart, along with a random skittering noise that, Org Rider knew, meant the creature was close to hatching.
Then he turned to the intruder.
The crawling sensation at his back was still there. There was no doubt of it, the man who lay before him was the man the Watchers had killed. Yet here he was, alive! Cut, scratched, battered—all of those things. But he was not dead, although he had been.
The boy studied him carefully. His clothing was not quite the same as before; the colors were different, and the puff-sleeved tunic he wore was torn and filthy. The bright metallic things on his arms seemed different, but they were the same class of things as he had worn before.
~ No doubt about it, it was the same man!
It dawned on the boy that this man was the figure he had seen falling from the slamming machine. Perhaps in that there was some sort of explanation; perhaps the machine laid eggs that hatched into identical creatures like this one. He had never heard of such a thing, but he had never heard of a dead man being alive again, either.
Remembering that the man in his previous life had spoken a few intelligible words, Org Rider said carefully, “Are you hungry?”
The man opened his eyes warily. There was no comprehension in them. He stroked die metallic clutter on his wrist with his other hand as if the effort were too much for him, and motioned the boy to speak again.
“Are you hungry?” Org Rider repeated. “I have some food.”
The stranger shook his head, but his eyes fell on the pouch of food Org Rider had dropped. He stretched out his hand toward it.
“You are hungry, then,” Org Rider said. Quickly he cut a slice of flesh from a watersnake and tried it. The taste was sweetish and good. He put a thin strip of it against the stranger’s bearded lips. The man whimpered and sucked at it eagerly.
“It will be better cooked,” the boy said, and offered some of the tender purple stalks. The stranger chewed at them while Org Rider whittled a drill, twirled it to light a fire, and set some of the snake meat to roast. It did not take long, and the fragrant scent of roasting meat was as tantalizing to Org Rider as to his guest; they shared the first half-cooked strips contentedly while the rest were cooking.
Then Org Rider forgot the stranger, because the egg made a sound like ripping cloth.
In the nest, the egg was rocking from the thrusts of some internal eruption. A dark split opened, and spread across the luminious, bronze-flecked blue shell.
Org Rider squatted next to the nest, watching in fascination, urgently needing to help but not knowing how. Inside the egg dull thumping sounds accompanied thrusts against the thick internal membrane. It ripped, and ripped again.
And through the rips the boy could see the dark, wet head of the baby org glistening.
The stranger limped over to watch him, then shrugged and went to the waterfall. He drank thirstily out of the shell of a seed cone, his eyes fixed on the boy and the hatching egg.
The org’s head burst through the slit, slick and black. Almost at once it began to dry, changing to a pale, tawny color. The huge eyes opened, the pupils wide and black and mysterious, rimmed with luminous blue. It fixed its gaze at once on the boy.
Fascinated, Org Rider stared back. It seemed to be resting, and he thought its gaze was pleading with him. For what? He could not guess, until he saw that the infant org was laboring for breath and realized that the effort to tear through the membrane was exhausting for it. Org Rider seized the edge of the glistening membrane and hacked at it with his knife.
The rest of the great head came free. The short trunk uncoiled, opened, waved. The hatchling made a faint, strangled, mewing cry, and the odor of its breath came up around the boy, a warm, sharp scent like the nest it had come from, a little like the odor of parching grain. Org Rider leaned forward and wiped from the tip of the infant’s trunk a thick brown clot. It was breathing more freely now.
Satisfied, the boy relaxed his attention and realized for the first time that, over the clash of the waterfall, the stranger was shouting at him. Org Rider turned, and saw the man, face savage with fear, pointing toward the sky.
The boy ran out from under the waterfall, and peered upward. Was it the Org’s parents, still hunting their offspring?
As soon as he was out from under the falls the sound he heard told him it was not: a roaring, familiar whine.
It was the mottled ship of the Watchers, or one so much like it that he could not tell the difference. It was flying low over the pool below the waterfall, its sound magnified by the black walls surrounding him to a shout of distant thunder.
In sudden dread the boy realized he had been seen.
He turned in indecision, peering back into the cave behind the torrent. Would they take the tiny org away from him? Worse—he remembered the warning about the Watchman’s eye; and he had thrown it away. Would they punish him?
The gaunt stranger babbled fresh gibberish and pointed again at the sky, and the boy saw that a gray fleck had separated from the ship. The ship flew on, up over the rim of the canyon and away; the fleck dropped toward the pool and in a moment spread great wings and circled gently down toward where they were standing.
Org Rider pushed the stranger back inside the cave, and ran to his org. Its jaws free, it had ripped the luminous membrane off, except for a few rags that still clung stickily. Its tail unfolded, wet and delicate. Its whole body burst out in a rich cloud of that parched- grain fragrance.
It was twice the boy’s length, now that its full dimensions had unfolded out of the egg, but it was still an infant, and drained of strength by the struggle to hatch. Its short trunk lifted to sniff him, then it slumped to the damp rock floor of the cave.
The boy began to rub it down with his wadded shirt, drying it and warming it, crooning to it a song he had learned from his mother. Sleepily the org arched its thin body to meet the strokes of his hand, and it’s voice seemed to echo the song.
It was out of the question to leave the org, and impossible to move it. It would be an hour or more before it could fly, and he could not carry it and his food, and still manage the tricky rocks around the falls. He stared desperately at the stranger, wondering how to get him to help.
And then beyond the stranger, in the luminous arch under the edge of the waterfall, another figure ap- - peared.
It was not a watcher; it was human, tall, with a fire- red beard and keen green eyes.
“Redlaw!” the boy gasped.
“Young Org Rider,” acknowledged the giant, grinning through die flowing beard. “I see you’ve got your org after all!”
The giant reached out for the boy’s hand. Org Rider drew back instinctively, fingers leaping toward his knife, before he decided the gesture was friendly and allowed Redlaw to shake hands with him. “I followed you here,” the giant boomed. “Saw two adult orgs looking more frantic than usual, and wondered if you were what they were worrying about. I see you were!”
The boy grinned, then said, “Followed me? But how? I got rid of the Watchman’s eye—”
The giant’s laughter boomed. “Clever about it, too, weren’t you? We located it—inside an org! And the Watchers aren’t going to like it if they see you again, so I recommend you don’t let them. So you’ll have to get rid of that!” And his finger shot out to point at the compass on the boy’s wrist.
“But that was my grandfather’s!”
“No doubt. But where he got it, or someone before him, was from the Watchers. It’s trade goods, and they can trace you by it as easily as by a Watchman’s eye. Made for that purpose.”
“But—but,” the boy said, “but if that’s so, why didn’t they come down and kill me?”
“Thank me, boy!” the giant boomed. “I convinced them you’d been eaten by that org. When it came to explaining how one telltale was inside the org and the other here, I really rose to the occasion! Said it had been excreted. But you’ll have to take it off before you leave this place, of they’ll know you’re still alive; org excrement doesn’t move from place to place by itself.” He peered wonderingly at the stranger, then at the egg. “What’s all this?” he demanded.
“My org!” the boy said proudly. “Look, he’s hungry!” And ignoring Redlaw for the moment, he ran to slice strips from the water-snake remnants and offer them to the hatchling. It devoured them delightedly, great eyes fixed on the boy. It had preened itself and its external surface was now nearly dry. Most of its body became a pale gold, shading into white along the tips of its tail and its wings. Not yet scaled like the adult orgs, it was covered with a fine velvet that felt like fur but was in fact soft fleshy protuberances that would turn into chitin.
Org Rider fetched water in a seed-cone cup and doled it out to the infant, which slobbered its gratitude and demanded more of the watersnake.
While the boy was tending his org, Redlaw had discovered the stranger. Org Rider paid no attention until the giant called his name.
“We’ve got to move on, boy,” he said. “Take off that compass. Don’t break it; they’ll know it if you do that. Just leave it here.”
“Move on where?” Org Rider asked. “My org shouldn’t travel yet—”
“No choice, boy,” Redlaw boomed. “This fellow you’ve got here, he’s what the Watchers are looking for. Says his name’s Ben Yale Pertin”—he pronounced the alien syllables carefully—”whatever that means. And he’s from outside the sky.”
“That’s insane,” Org Rider said seriously. “There’s no such place.”
Redlaw nodded somberly. “Time was I’d have agreed with you, but the Watchers think there is. They spotted him somehow. It’s not you they’re looking for right now; it’s him. And if we want to keep him alive we’ve got to get him where they won’t look.”
“Where’s that?” the boy demanded bitterly, slipping the compass off his wrist and gazing at it. “They know where this is. They must know you are here—”
“Not necessarily,” the giant boomed, but his voice was thoughtful. “I crawled out through a disposal hatch when they weren’t looking. —But you’re right about the telltale. When they miss me, they might come zeroing in on it. And I don’t know, boy, if the three of us can travel fast enough to get out of range.”
“Four of us!” The boy turned to look at the org, now sleeping. It stirred and crooned in its sleep, the pliant trunk lifting to sniff toward him. “There’s Babe,” he said. “I won’t leave him.”
“Is that his name, Babe?”
“It is now. And he can’t travel yet.”
“You mean he might travel right away from you, don’t you?”
The boy held his ground. “I’m not taking that chance!” he said.
“I don’t know, boy,” Redlaw said at last. “Our friend here probably can’t travel very fast anyway. But we can’t just stay here. They won’t just kill us, boy, they’ll eat us right up, you and me and your org. This other fellow might not be that lucky; they’ll want him to talk.”
“Talk about what?”
“Where he came from. Weapons. What he’s up to, him and his friends that pop up all over.” Redlaw looked ill at ease, then suddenly he grinned. “I know! We’ll use their own telltale to confuse them! I can move fast enough by myself; I’ll take it a good long way down Knife-in-the-Sky and drop it off a cliff somewhere. Let them hunt it there! They won’t have any reason to come back here then, and this is as cozy a spot as we’ll find.” He was already standing, beginning to strap his wings on again. “Keep our friend fed, boy,”
he said. “Stay out of sight! I’ll be back in a thousand breaths or so—if I’m lucky!”
It was more than a thousand breaths. It became fifteen hundred, then two thousand.
Org Rider could have stayed in the cave forever, delighted with watching his hatchling grow stronger every breath; but the growth required food, and he had at last to steal out from under the waterfall and forage. Red- law had left his cleaver; the boy took it and bounded along the river course to the forest, where huge fat golden moths trailed gray wakes of sickly bittersweet fragrance. The boy despaired of catching one of them without exposing himself, but the trees themselves were sources of food; he leaped to hack off huge seed-cones with the cleaver, split them open and found them full of edible seeds as well as wriggling blind horned grubs, probably those of the moths.
When he came back to the cave behind the waterfall the stranger called Ben Yale Pertin was sleeping again. The boy regarded him with suspicion tinged with fear. He had not forgotten that he had seen this man die once; he did not understand how it was he was alive again, but something about it made the bristles at the back of his neck crawl.
But for the moment Babe was more important. The young org was awake and eager; he drained the water Org Rider brought him, then whimpered and crooned for more food. The grubs went into his capacious maw so fast that before the boy knew it they were gone, and he and his sleeping guest—or captive?—were still unfed. No matter. Tbe humans could go hungry. A new-hatched org had to eat or die.
The stranger woke briefly, just long enough to drink some water, look around for food, find a few scraps, and return to sleep. Org Rider sat with his hatchling, singing softly to it as his mother had taught him. It pleased him immensely as it responded; but it woke again to be fed, and the scraps that were left were meager. Another thousand breaths later the boy decided he had to forage once more. At the waterfall’s edge he paused uncertainly, then dived for the shelter of the vegetation.
At once he realized he was in danger. The sound of the waterfall had drowned die sound that came from the sky, the shrieks of the angry adult orgs.
He burrowed under a thick cluster of tough gray- green vines, inedible and useless to him but not, he discovered, to some tiny biting creatures that disputed possession with him. It was many hundreds of breaths before he dared venture out.
He stood beside the vines, listening. The shrieks of the orgs were far away again. But there was something else; a clattering sound, more like the sound of the stranger’s slamming machine than anything else the boy could remember hearing, but not much like that, either.
Something appeared over the lip of the canyon and dropped toward him. As it hit the pebbly fringe of the pool it made the clattering racket, was followed by something else like it, and then by the huge form of Redlaw, dropping easily down toward the boy.
“Hurry!” the giant cried. “There are orgs up the slope, and a Watcher ship cruising around. Get this stuff inside!”
“But I’ve got to find food,” the boy protested.
“You won’t have a mouth to eat it with if we don’t get under cover,” the giant promised grimly. Org Rider could not argue with that clear wisdom. The clattering things turned out to be collections of queer metal shapes, held together by vines. He took one batch, Red- law the other, and they managed to get them inside the cave.
Then, panting hard, the giant said proudly: “I found it, boy! I found his slamming machine! Couldn’t carry the whole thing, it was banged up so bad. But I took aU the loose pieces and brought them back.”
From the floor the stranger who called himself Ben Yale Pertin propped himself on an elbow, staring at the collection of bits and pieces. He said something in his unintelligible speech and creakingly got to his feet. Dried blood was black on his nearly naked, half-starved body. Org Rider felt compassion for him, mingled with the dread and the anger. Not much of the anger was left, since Babe had not been harmed by the man’s attempt to crack the egg and eat it, but there was still a vestigial core of dread.
The man shuffled over in his curious stumbling gait and thumbed through the hardware excitedly. He fumbled out a flat black oblong with a handle and touched it in some way that Org Rider did not understand; it sprang open, revealing queer-shaped shining things that looked like tools. With them the stranger began to assault the bangles he wore on his wrist. Org Rider involuntarily stepped back, remembering how those bangles the other stranger had seemed to speak to him with a voice of their own.
“Go to it, Ben Yale Pertin,” Redlaw boomed lustily. “Fix up your gadgets for us! That’s what I want you to do!”
“What is?” Org Rider demanded.
“Why, I want him to repair those trinkets of his. They’re powerful things, boy! Weapons. Machines. I don’t understand them, but I know they’re something that’s never been seen in the world before, and I want them.”
“Ah,” Redlaw boomed in delight, “for the big job that’s ahead of us, son! This funny-looking fellow is our chance to deal with the Watchers. Nothing in the flatworld has a chance to break their power, certainly not your people. Not even me, and I know a good deal more than anyone else you’ve ever met about weapons and how to use them. But this lad has weapons I mean to have.”
Org Rider stared at the scarecrow figure disbelievingly. “He’s only a man,” he said. “Not much of a man at that. Our potter was bigger than he is, and I beat the potter in fair fight.”
“You won’t beat this one, boy. He’s stronger than you think.”
“Stronger than the Watchers?”
“His weapons are! And he’ll give them to us, I promise. Or—”
“Or what?” the boy asked, as Redlaw came to a halt.
After a moment the giant finished his thought somberly. “Or we’ll kill him and take the weapons away from him,” he said.