H. Beam Piper

Bishop Berkeley's famous question about the sound of a falling tree
may have no standing in Science. But there is a highly interesting
question about "sound" that Science needs to consider....

* * * * *

The sun warmed Mark Howell's back pleasantly. Underfoot, the
mosslike stuff was soft and yielding, and there was a fragrance in the
air unlike anything he had ever smelled. He was going to like this
planet; he knew it. The question was, how would it, and its people, like
him? He watched the little figures advancing across the fields from the
mound, with the village out of sight on the other end of it and the
combat-car circling lazily on contragravity above.
Major Luis Gofredo, the Marine officer, spoke without lowering his
"They have a tubular thing about twelve feet long; six of them are
carrying it on poles, three to a side, and a couple more are walking
behind it. Mark, do you think it could be a cannon?"
So far, he didn't know enough to have an opinion, and said so, adding:

"What I saw of the village in the screen from the car, it looked pretty
primitive. Of course, gunpowder's one of those things a primitive
people could discover by accident, if the ingredients were available."
"We won't take any chances, then."
"You think they're hostile? I was hoping they were coming out to
parley with us."
That was Paul Meillard. He had a right to be anxious; his whole future
in the Colonial Office would be made or ruined by what was going to
happen here.
The joint Space Navy-Colonial Office expedition was looking for new
planets suitable for colonization; they had been out, now, for four years,
which was close to maximum for an exploring expedition. They had
entered eleven systems, and made landings on eight planets. Three had
been reasonably close to Terra-type. There had been Fafnir; conditions
there would correspond to Terra during the Cretaceous Period, but any
Cretaceous dinosaur would have been cute and cuddly to the things on
Fafnir. Then there had been Imhotep; in twenty or thirty thousand years,
it would be a fine planet, but at present it was undergoing an extensive
glaciation. And Irminsul, covered with forests of gigantic trees; it
would have been fine except for the fauna, which was nasty, especially
a race of subsapient near-humanoids who had just gotten as far as clubs
and coup-de-poing axes. Contact with them had entailed heavy
ammunition expenditure, with two men and a woman killed and a
dozen injured. He'd had a limp, himself, for a while as a result.
As for the other five, one had been an all-out hell-planet, and the rest
had been the sort that get colonized by irreconcilable minority-groups
who want to get away from everybody else. The Colonial Office
wouldn't even consider any of them.
Then they had found this one, third of a GO-star, eighty million miles
from primary, less axial inclination than Terra, which would mean a
more uniform year-round temperature, and about half land surface. On
the evidence of a couple of sneak landings for specimens, the

biochemistry was identical with Terra's and the organic matter was
edible. It was the sort of planet every explorer dreams of finding,
except for one thing.
It was inhabited by a sapient humanoid race, and some of them were
civilized enough to put it in Class V, and Colonial Office doctrine on
Class V planets was rigid. Friendly relations with the natives had to be
established, and permission to settle had to be guaranteed in a treaty of
some sort with somebody more or less authorized to make one.
If Paul Meillard could accomplish that, he had it made. He would stay
on with forty or fifty of the ship's company to make preparations. In a
year a couple of ships would come out from Terra, with a thousand
colonists, and a battalion or so of Federation troops, to protect them
from the natives and vice versa. Meillard would automatically be
appointed governor-general.
But if he failed, he was through. Not out--just through. When he got
back to Terra, he would be promoted to some home office position at
slightly higher base pay but without the three hundred per cent
extraterrestrial bonus, and he would vegetate there till he retired. Every
time his name came up, somebody would say, "Oh, yes; he flubbed the
contact on Whatzit."
It wouldn't do the rest of them any good, either. There would always be
the suspicion that they had contributed to the failure.
* * * * *
The wavering sound hung for an instant in the air. A few seconds later,
it was repeated, then repeated again.
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