By W. Fraser Sandercombe


Keller had a bad feeling about this raid. He'd heard rumours that the property owner was unstable and he would have preferred to go in without any warning but the law wouldn't let him do that.

Arthur Mullick's entire estate was upwards of a hundred square hectometres, the bulk of it restored wilderness. This section was fenced. A herd of white-tailed deer grazed beyond the locked gate. They moved off slowly as Keller's driver landed.

Ben Keller was a small man with weathered leathery skin and sun-streaked blond hair. He was dressed in the green uniform of Wildlife Services. A holstered handgun with a full load of tranquillizers hung at one hip, a prod that could pass a charge from stun to kill hung on the other.

He went to the sheltered console on the gatepost and called up to the house, "Major Ben Keller, Department of Wildlife Services, to see Mr. Arthur Mullick."

Display lights flickered across the screen and the comp asked, "Do you have an appointment?"

"No. I have a warrant."

"I'm sorry. Mr. Mullick is indisposed.

Unsurprised, Keller turned away from the gate. It was stupid of Mullick to be obstructive. One way or another, Wildlife Services was coming in.

"Chaney," he called to the sergeant, "Blow the gate."

"Yes, Sir," Chaney said. He inspected Mullick's security precautions.

Should have done this in the first place, Keller thought, instead of warning him. He knows what's up or he would have let us in.

The Department had been after Mullick and people of his ilk for a long time. Ten years ago the Services had successfully lobbied for legislation against the importation of all off-planet animals by the private sector. The following year, they pressured for a law that made it mandatory for all alien life forms to be registered and illegal for the private sector to purchase imported animals. An addendum to the law stipulated that all those who had imported pets were to permit Wildlife Service inspectors onto the premises to examine their facilities and security arrangements, to be certain none of the creatures could escape into the natural environment.

All along, the Department had been aiming at a total ban on collections of non-native animals. But the government, justifiably, hesitated to pass freedom-restricting laws. Now, finally, after the disaster in Arizona, the Department had been given some real power. No private individual was allowed to keep any non-local, non-native species.

For security reasons, this new law wouldn't be made public until the largest of the private zoos had been impounded. After that, people would be allowed a period of grace so they could voluntarily turn over the aliens. Then the arrests would start.

Keller checked the time, estimated that the convoy of trucks to haul the animals was ten minutes away.

He checked the time again, not really aware that he was doing it. The Kaibab squirrel was native only to a small area in Arizona, a tassel-eared animal with a dusky chest and a white tail. It had lived on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, confined by the desert, a protected species for centuries.

When a pair of off-planet, squirrel-like scuirs escaped from a near-by private zoo, they went into direct competition with the Kaibab, and won. No one even knew it was happening until there were no more Kaibabs. It was the first species to go extinct in nearly fifty years.

The Department of Wildlife Services had warned about such a possibility when the first load of off-planet species was landed and auctioned off by an enterprising merchant. Using an intense advertising campaign, that merchant created a new pastime, a new hobby for the rich, one that had been popular for the better part of the century. As private menageries became more and more in vogue, as even the non-rich began keeping alien pets, the DWS warnings grew strident.

Until the Kaibab went extinct, no one listened. It was common knowledge that most off-planet creatures couldn't survive in the wilds of Earth any longer than it took to starve to death or to poison themselves by eating the native fauna or flora. Creatures escaped from private collections all the time, doing little damage, although the scavengers that fed off the corpses were in danger of being poisoned. But the chance that one of the escapees would manage to adapt was always there. For a breeding pair to escape, survive the environment and have offspring that were not sterile was the worst possible disaster. It had happened before. Look at the starling. During the late 1890s, breeding pairs were imported from Europe. They escaped into upstate New York. They became a plague in North America where there were no natural predators to keep their population in check.

Now, it had happened again.

It had taken Wildlife Services less than twenty-four hours to get the new legislation passed once it was discovered that the Kaibab was extinct. Even in the Department, some people thought such a fuss over a squirrel was laughable. But the Department's simple philosophy was that all native life deserves to survive in harmony and balance. Its mandate was to make that possible, using whatever means were necessary, anything from the forced removal of people to the culling of over-populated mammals.

"Ready, Sir," Chaney said.

Keller nodded his head.

They moved a few metres away from the gate. Chaney aimed the remote. The explosives sizzled and the gateposts disintegrated, collapsing in heaps of rubble.

"Stay here and secure the entrance," Keller said, sprinting for the car, jumping in as it lifted. Electricity whining, the floatcar raced up the long winding drive. Half-a-kilometre into the estate, the house was visible, a large and sprawling dark stone structure with a red-tiled roof. An assortment of off- planet animals was moving through the woods. Keller realised Mullick had opened the doors to all the enclosures.

The man definitely had some high-placed informers, Keller thought. He knew about the law and he was ready for the raid. "Set us down, Dickson," Keller said. "Go back and help Chaney. Make sure nothing gets through those gates. Rauss, you come with me."

With that, Keller jumped from the floatcar, watching the animals. Some of them looked his way but most of them didn't

re-act to his presence. They seemed stunned by their freedom.

Mullick had one of the largest menageries of alien animal life that Keller had ever seen.

Rauss handed Keller a rifle. They had worked together a long time. Keller rarely had to give her any orders. Rauss knew what to do.

As the driver raced to the front gate, Rauss and Keller started shooting. Each clip held twelve trank pellets, hard, synthetic, bullet-shaped capsules that would shatter on impact, forcing the drug in through the skin. At every shot, an animal dropped. Most of the creatures began to panic, running, scattering. It wasn't long before the range was too great and the obstructions too numerous for effective shooting. Slowly, the two officers moved off after the animals, not worried about the ones they had downed. The drug adjusted itself to the metabolism of the recipient. Each animal would be out for roughly two hours.

While most of the creatures had either fur or hair, there were some with scales or armour plating, others with naked leathery skin. There was a scattering of bright hues amongst them but for the most part they were earth colours, the ochres and browns and rusts.

Keller knew some of the more common ones, the hollas and the flecks and a few others, but the majority were strange to him. Two-legged, six-legged, even one eight-legged thing with a bright green pelt and a long trunk...


"Ben, look at that," Rauss said, pointing.

Two fur-covered quadrupeds were using the trees for cover. They were watching Keller and Rauss. Their pelts were dark and the guard hairs were long, shimmering greenish/purple wherever the light touched directly. They had round flat faces with oval blue eyes that were set in the front the way most predators developed. Large ears were cocked towards the two Wildlife Service agents.

When Keller aimed the rifle in their direction, they took off like coyotes, low and fast, dodging through the trees. He tried to lead one of them. Every time he was ready to shoot, it veered off in another direction.

"Forget it, Ben. Those two aren't going to be shot. I'll call Chaney and tell him to watch for them. They're heading for the gate."

As Rauss was talking to Chaney, Keller said, "Tell him that when the trucks get here, he should join us at the house. The guys in the trucks can look after the roundup. We're going in to see Mullick."

Finished with Chaney, Rauss asked, "What did you think of those two things, Ben? Were they really watching us and listening to us?"

"Seemed that way."

"Think they were throwing off our aim on purpose, or were they running that way out of instinct?"

Keller glanced at her, one eyebrow raised. "Are you suggesting that we're dealing with something a little smarter than most animals?"

"Or a lot smarter. Most of the animals here were just running, afraid and panicked. Those two seemed to know the way out. Did you notice that?"

"We'll get them," Keller declared, starting up the steps to Mullick's front door.

"Sorry about that, officers," Mullick said as he answered their knock, mocking them with a smile. He had allowed his hair to whiten with age, the only sign of his eighty-odd years. "There seems to be a short in the circuits to the cages. It sprang all the doors at the same time."

"Are there any animals in the house?" Keller asked, fighting to control his temper.

"Only my cats. All native."

"Yeah, we can smell them," Rauss said. "Ever think of cleaning up after them?"

The man continued to smile. Keller felt his anger building. For the most part, he preferred wildlife to people. He couldn't remember ever wanting to punch a bear or strangle a deer.

"Mind if we look around the house?" He asked.

"Go right ahead."

"Never mind," Keller said. "We'll send somebody through later. I'm sure you have nothing to hide. But what I would like, Sir, are all your records about the animals. It would help if we knew their dietary requirements, et cetera."

"I'm sorry, there was a fire in my study and it burned out most of my system. All the records were destroyed."

"Mr. Mullick, a little more co-operation would be appreciated. Half of those creatures could die by the time we identify them and learn what to feed them."

"I'm aware of that."

"You're some animal lover," Keller snapped.

Mullick smirked at him. Keller clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to contain his anger. "According to my warrant, you're ordered to surrender all non-native species and all records pertaining to them."

"As I've explained..."

"Ben," Rauss said quietly, nodding her head towards the driveway.

The car landed. Chaney jumped out, saying, "They got past us so quick you wouldn't believe it."

Keller didn't say anything. The skin tightened around his mouth as he glared.

"It wasn't his fault, Ben," Rauss said, thinking Chaney was about to receive the rage that Mullick had inspired. "He didn't know what he was dealing with."

Keller sighed and swore and shrugged his shoulders.

Chaney said, "There was a lot of confusion when the trucks got here. Those two just came out of nowhere. Before we knew it, they were across the road and into the woods."

"Never mind," Keller said. "We'll get them later."

Trucks were gliding in along the drive at cruise height, a four-person crew in each vehicle. As the trucks dropped the metre to the ground, two officers from each sprang out and stalked through the woods while the other two gathered the fallen animals, using a winch and a lift for the heavier ones.

"Some collection," Keller said. "They deserve better than you're giving them, Mullick."

The old man continued smiling.

Disgusted, Keller turned away. "Let's go, Rauss. We'll let the whitesuits deal with that idiot. If they can."

Together, followed by Chaney, they left the porch, rounding the building to the back where the cages were kept.

Mullick's menagerie had been set up ornately, a formal garden with red stone walkways that were lined with hedges and shrubs. Deep red roses were the only flowers, both climbers and bedded ones. A carved golden fountain stood in the centre of it all, spewing blue water. The cages were scrolled black metaplastic, almost disappearing into the roses and the ivy. The area itself was bordered on two sides by a fast growing cultivar of the Norway maple, while the rest was walled by the house.

The three agents moved warily.

A rustling sound in the bushes alerted them.

Rauss circled to flush whatever was in there. For such a close range, Keller drew his handgun.

There was a high pitched squawk. A small gray creature about the size of a rat launched itself in a high arc, gliding on loose membranous skin that hung between its front and back legs and pulled taut when the legs were outstretched.

Keller shot it and Chaney caught it before it landed.

"Good catch," Keller said.

"Thanks..." Chaney broke off as he turned back to Keller, looking at something behind the man.

Keller turned quickly, raising the gun. A flash of yellow and brown hit him low and hard. It lifted him, flipped him back into the bushes, then started in after him. Rauss was there and had it tranquillized before it reached Keller.

Extracting himself awkwardly, painfully from the scratching rose bush, gasping from being winded, Keller said, "Well, that's an animal I know."

"You okay?"

"Yeah, never better," Keller groaned. With an arm across his belly, he looked down at a full grown pereate. The prevailing colour was a tawny yellow, but there were dark stripes across the animal's hindquarters. Standing, it would be a metre and a half high at the shoulder, muscles drawing its sleek hide taut. It was six-legged, with a long thin, prehensile tail and a heavily horned head. The horns had missed goring Keller by about three centimetres on each side. He had been struck by the boss.

"Lucky," Chaney whistled. "Good thing you're a field man, Major. Keeps you skinny. One of those fat-butted desk boys would've been wearing this guy's ivory."

"More likely," Rauss said, "This guy would've been wearing the desk boy on his ivory."

"Yeah," Keller replied, subdued. "Chaney, why don't you get a truck over here to collect these. We'll look around some more."

As Chaney started to trot away, the animal sprang at him from the hedgerow.

"Look out!" Rauss shouted. Attracted by her voice, the animal altered its course, long hooked claws reaching out for Rauss. It was jet black and shaggy, a quadruped. As its mouth opened, they could see sharply pointed incisors. Its claws were already into Rauss's shoulder, mouth trying to close on her face as Keller fired. The claws retracted, taking chunks of flesh with them. One fang sliced open Rauss's cheek as the creature crumpled.

When Keller bent to examine his assistant and friend, he heard laughter coming from the house. Gun half-raised, he checked all the windows on this side. No one was visible.

The ambulance pulled away with Rauss. Keller watched it go, trying to keep his face expressionless, trying to keep the anger and the worry to himself.

When the vehicle was out of sight, Keller went to the console in the car and punched up the records on Mullick. The man had collected mostly pairs of animals, a male and a female of each species, wherever that was applicable. Some of the creatures were true hermaphrodites and a few of the species were a-sexual. One of the a-sexual ones with which Keller was familiar would weave itself into a web-like cocoon and emerge a few months later as two animals.

Mullick's collection consisted of one hundred and twenty- seven full grown creatures, along with fifty-four offspring, some of which were nearing adulthood.

All the animals were named. Their dietary requirements were also listed so that if Mullick had started ordering a new chemical, mineral or food-compound, the Department would know he had an addition to his zoo. It wasn't necessary for them to procure Mullick's records, although the information would speed up the process of matching the names to the aliens.

Keller had little to do with administration. His main work was the removal and relocation of troublesome animals. Private menageries were not his territory. But every available officer had been used for that purpose once the law was cleared. Keller and Rauss had been in Ottawa, after an operation in the state of Ontario, awaiting re-assignment when they were sent here. Chaney and the driver, Dickson, had been given to them for the job...

"Well done, Ben," said his immediate superior through the open door of the car. Colonel Ron Vella wore office whites, his sagging belly stretching the material where it was not meant to be stretched.

"Good? With an agent wounded and animals scattered everywhere?"

"The operation's been a shambles all over the country. So far, we've lost eleven people, Ben, and animals are loose everywhere. Most of these witlings knew we were coming and decided to show us a good time."

"Yeah, a fine time. Chaney, did we get a count yet?"

"A hundred and fourteen on the trucks."

"That leaves sixty-seven."

"There's a lot of property here. It'll take some time to round them up."


And Vella asked, "How was your agent? What was her name, Rauss?"

"She'll be fine, unless that thing was carrying something we don't know about. It had retractable claws that were packed with some sort of putrid substance. They started pumping Captain Rauss full of drugs as soon as they got her hooked up to the ambulance."

"So if we can figure out what poison to treat her for, she'll be all right?"


"Well, give her my best," Vella said. He glanced at his watch. "Anyhow, Ben, there are two more operations in the area that I have to check out. You're doing great. Keep it up."

"Yeah, I'll do that," Keller muttered as Vella waddled away. He promised himself he would quit the Service if they ever put him behind a desk.

By the end of the day, all but two of the animals were on the trucks.

Keller, Chaney and Dickson stood by the Rover as the convoy pulled out. The animals would go down to Boston for identification, after which, they would either be shipped to public zoos or, if no zoo wanted them, destroyed. Keller and his team would have nothing to do with that part of the operation. Except for the two escapees, their job was done here.

Keller checked the time and said, "We'll go down to the Re- location Centre, pull a few strings and get them onto Mullick's collection first. I want to know what those two things are."


"They're called Songdogs," the clerk explained. "Apparently, Mullick didn't know what they were so he named them that."

"So what's a songdog?"

"We're still searching for that. As far as I can tell, Mullick had the only two on Earth. We don't know where they're from, nothing. There isn't any information on them in General Storage, unless it's under their proper name which, of course, we don't know. We're checking out the library system right now and trying to match images."

"That's all you've got?"

"Not quite," the clerk said. "They were a breeding pair and Mullick was feeding them milk."


"Right. Enriched cow's milk. You know what that means?"

"Yeah," Keller said, thinking, it means I'd better find them fast. Real fast. He gave the man his page-code so he could be apprised of any further information, then went to the supply room, requisitioned a tracker, some cage-nets and a supply of bait, along with food for the trip. Back at the Department guest house, he got together all the personal gear he would need for an extended stay in the wilds.

Chaney and the driver, Dickson, had been re-assigned during the two hours it took to get the scant information about the songdogs. Keller was on his own. It would be strange, not being out there with Rauss, who was recovering well from the blood poisoning. But he was looking forward to a good hunt, away from people for awhile.

His first stop was the Mullick estate. The front gates had not been repaired. He drifted right up to the house. As he mounted the steps of the porch, he saw the door was ajar. He pushed it wide open, calling, "Anyone home?"

No answer.

The place felt abandoned as Keller stepped into the foyer. He called out again, then listened. There were no soft machinery sounds, no human noises, as if the place had been abandoned. He had that nervous feeling you get when you go uninvited into someone's empty house. But he needed information about the songdogs.

Hesitantly, he went forward, staying in the hall, his boots quiet on the thick carpeting. The walls in the hall were decorated with paintings of off-planet animals. Most of the rooms Keller passed were done the same, with a few sculptures thrown in. He didn't enter a room until he found Mullick's study near the back of the house. Then he went straight to the computer console. He activated the system and went through Mullick's file listings, searching for anything to do with the menagerie. All he really needed to know was the cage location where the songdogs had been kept. Anything else would be helpful.

"You realise, of course, that your warrant expired when the last truck left my property," said the old man, standing in the doorway, a handgun aimed at Keller. "Don't you know breaking and entering is against the law?"

"Right, well, so is releasing alien life forms into the environment," Keller said.

"Did some get away?" Mullick asked hopefully.

"The songdogs."

"That makes sense," the old man said, not elaborating.

"You were feeding them milk?"


"That means they'll survive out there."

The old man grinned.

Keller said, "I need to know where you kept them."

"It won't do you any good to know that," Mullick said, levelling the pistol. "And breaking and entering is a crime, even for you."

"You can shoot me if you want. As things are right now, you might get away with turning all those animals loose. Shoot me and you'll go in for correction. Even with your connections, they'll scramble up your brain and put it back together so you don't even remember how to use a toilet. It'll be months before you're even toilet trained."

Glaring at Keller, the old man lowered his weapon and snapped, "All right."

"You'll show me the cage?"


Keller relaxed, feeling a trickle of sweat down his spine. No matter what, Mullick was up for mild correction. If Rauss died, the old man would get the full process. It bothered Keller that there wasn't anything he could personally do for Rauss, some sort of revenge. No sense making things worse, he told himself. The law'll look after the old bastard. Of course, it did look as if he was planning a trip...

Keller had some animals to catch.

When he knew where the songdogs had been kept, he could program the tracker to their scent, their hair, their faeces and urine. It would find them.

After Mullick showed him the cage, Keller shot him with a trank and called the police, explaining that the old man had been planning to flee the estate.


The woods were too dense for the float to pass through and the trees were too high for it to go over them. Keller left it locked at the bottom of Mullick's drive, slung his pack over his shoulder and got out the scooter. Along with survival gear and trapping equipment, he took a remote that would keep him in touch with his own computer for up to two hundred kilometres.

When he activated the tracker, it set up a directional arrow that indicated the place where the songdogs had entered the woods and the path they had been travelling. In a quiet voice, it told him the tracks were three to four hours old, which he'd known. He turned on the scooter, gliding silently into the autumn woods with that hushed, awed feeling you were supposed to have when you entered a church- or a cathedral-museum.

Throughout his life, he'd been happiest in the wild country. He'd devoted his life to keeping it healthy. He'd joined Wildlife Services at eighteen and within nine years, had been promoted to the position he had now, which was as high as one could go without taking a desk job. He fought all promotions, horrified by the idea of being deskbound.

All day, Keller followed the arrow on the tracker. The songdogs had maintained a straight course into the woods as if they consciously knew they had to put a lot of distance between themselves and the Mullick estate.

In the twilight, Keller set up camp by a stream. The tent was small and light, a dome on telescoping poles. He staked out the four corners, lifted the centre ring and the tent was up. He sparked up a fire-ring to boil water for coffee and ate a light meal of dry, high protein food that came in throw-away, nutrient packages.

With the meal eaten and the coffee ready, he called into the float's computer.

The information was there.

The songdogs had no other known name. They were from a planet that had only a number, in the Beales system, where it was assumed that the only intelligent life forms were ocean dwelling. The songdogs' nutritional needs were specialized, but the creatures were unspecialized in what they could ingest without any adverse effects. For proteins, they required four essential amino acids: tryptophan, lysine, phenylalanine and isoleucine. They also needed a few trace minerals and a lot of calcium. It was impossible for them to metabolise the calcium without supplements of vitamin D.

Mullick had been feeding them enriched milk, which had all those proteins, plus the calcium and the vitamin D.

Specialized, Keller thought. But they can eat anything at all as long as they can extract what they require from it. And everything they need could be easily found.

He reviewed the information, then crawled into the tent, adjusted the temperature controls and lay on his back, listening to the sounds of the night, small animals rustling in the brush, the call of a nightjar, the breeze through the autumn foliage, the stream splashing over the rocks.

Vitamin D was not all that common, he thought. And they would have a hard time letting the sun form it in their skin oils because of the thickness of their pelts and the fact that they would not get much sun in the shadows of the woods. Unless they have some sort of special adaptation that lets them get enough through momentary exposure. Assuming they do not, where the hell would they get it?

He tried to evaluate what he knew about the area, drifted into sleep with the problem unsolved.

He broke camp quickly in the morning, ate as he rode, following their trail in and out of sun patches in the forest. The day was warm and felt more like spring than fall.

Just after noon, the tracker gave a reading that said the trail was seven hours old. They had travelled all night but they must have taken a brief break in their run. He was gaining on them.

He found a spot at the edge of a clearing where the grass and weeds were crushed, patches where they were stained reddish- brown.

Three of them now, Keller thought. The bitch was pregnant and dropped her cub here.

Then he realised what they could eat.

Using the remote, he called into the district office, requesting the exact co-ordinates for the local fish hatchery. The one in this area was a salmon farm. Atlantic salmon numbers had declined so drastically in the east that even with full protection they were in danger of extinction. The hatchery and the re-stocking program were their salvation.

The protein in the meat would have all the essential amino acids for the songdogs. The fish were a reasonable source of vitamin D and the bones would supply calcium.

When Keller had the hatchery location, he asked if there had been any overnight losses.

"Affirmative. Suspect otters," was the reply.

Not otters, Keller thought.

He programmed the hatchery co-ordinates into the compass on the scooter and set off in that direction.

Mid-afternoon, he caught a glimpse of the ponds through the trees.

Using the tracker, he circled the ponds on foot, seeking the freshest traces of the songdogs. When the tracker registered twenty minutes, Keller figured that was fresh enough. He set up two nets on the fringes of a clearing. They were made from a tough synthetic fibre that was nearly invisible and would hold no human scent. In the centre of the traps, he placed opened boxes of enriched milk. Anything entering the trap would trigger the drawstring.

Keller retreated downwind to wait. Half-a-kilometre from the traps, he found a sunlit glade, stretched out on his back to doze in the sun and wait. An alarm on his remote would alert him when he caught something.


On the second day of waiting, Keller's alarm went off. The young one was in the trap.

Approaching the cage, he heard a quiet, fast sound behind him, turned quickly, gun in hand, firing at the movement. One of the adult songdogs dropped at his feet.

"Be she dead?"

Stunned, Keller looked up.

"This one asked, be she dead?"

Keller shook his head negatively, just staring at the quadruped who spoke English with a thick, gravelly accent.

"You shoot this one, too?"

"No," Keller said.

The male songdog approached the female, licked her, nuzzled her. The love was obvious.

"The effects of the tranquillizer will wear off soon enough," Keller said, shocked, struggling to comprehend what was going on here. "How did you... Why... Uh, oh, hell."

"Seventeen months in cage. Be long time," the songdog explained. "Learning language passed time."

"Did Mullick know?"


"And he kept you there anyway?"


"Why doesn't anyone know of you, uh, people? The information about your home planet says the only intelligent life forms are ocean dwelling."

"Keep to selves. Be watching you. If son not greedy for extra milk, you never find."

Keller nodded his head, walked over to the trap. He released the young songdog.

The male asked, "What be next?"

Keller shrugged his shoulders. "Damned if I know."

"You take family back to prison?"

"I'm supposed to. It's my job," Keller said, wondering. His job was wildlife management. He doubted that these people qualified as wildlife.

"What happen then?"

"You'll be caged again. And even if you manage to convince people you're intelligent and not merely imitative, they'll want to hold you for questioning and examination. It would take one awful legal battle to get you free, an even harder one to get you home. In fact, home would be out of the question and I don't imagine they would ever set you free."

"Perhaps you kill us," he sighed, looking around as if to remember the trees, the sun speckled shadows. "Be better."

Keller studied the songdog, thinking, yes, he could kill him, and the female and the offspring. He had killed before and would likely kill again. But that wasn't the answer to this problem. This was an intelligent creature. An intelligent solution was needed. A reasonable solution was needed.

He holstered his gun, leaning back against a tree with his arms folded across his chest as he pondered the problem, struggled against his training.

"There's one thing I have to know. Are your people incestuous? I mean, if your next, uh, child should be female, would your son, uh..."

"When come of age, leave parents and find own territories. When mate - marry - marry for life. Never copulate with family members. That be disgusting. Too disgusting. This one know what worry you. Be not worried," he said. Keller could hear the sadness in his voice. "This one's children never create offspring. Never be competing your people for food and space. This one's family all there ever be... on your world."

"Do you find that preferable to being incarcerated?"

"What you think?"

Keller grinned at him. "People from the hatchery will be out here trying to trap you soon. They think you're otters. And if they can't catch you, they'll send others who won't use traps."

"They kill?"


"What you do?"

They were both silent for a moment. Keller was, basically, a very humane man. He could not sentence them to death or to life imprisonment. They weren't criminals, had done nothing wrong. Trying to survive wasn't wrong.

It went against everything he had learned and practised throughout his career but he thought, you can't take them in. They aren't escaped wildlife. They're escaped prisoners who didn't do anything to warrant imprisonment and who didn't even ask to be on this planet. Damn it. You get caught doing this, you'll be bunked beside Mullick, learning how to pee. But the alternatives are worse. You gotta be able to live with yourself.

He said, "I'm trusting that you won't make me regret this. If you do, I promise you, I'll find you again. But, if you head northwest, you'll find the Great Lakes. The waters are as clean as they ever were before Europeans invaded this continent. Western salmon are there in numbers as the eastern ones were a few hundred years ago, when people could hardly paddle their boats without hitting fish. They won't be as easy to catch as they are here in the hatchery, but you'll do okay and your fur will keep you warm through the winter."

He sighed, "Yeah, you'll do okay."

Keller turned and left the clearing as the songdog nudged his mate... wife.

The End

Copyright 1997 by W. Fraser Sandercombe

Fraser lives in Burlington, Ontario and can be contacted at:

Aphelion Letter Column A place for your opinions.

Return to the Aphelion main page.