Normally, Shann Lantee, most menial of the Terrans attached to the survey camp on the planet Warlock, and Ragnar Thorvald, an officer in the elite First-In Scouts, would never had been friends, or even speaking acquaintances. Now, as sole survivors of the invasion of the planet by bettlelike Throgs, their only hope for survival lay in staying together and, if possible, finding the unknown people whom, Ragnar believed, existed somewhere on the planet. So, relentlessly pursued by the Throgs and their vicious Hound and imperiled by mysterious “urges” relayed to them through an odd round amulet picked up by Ragnar, the two Terrans plunge into a weird, menacing half-world whose delicate female leaders govern by thought control.
Andre Norton, one of the best science-fiction writers, is “a superb storyteller whose skill draws the reader completely into a fantastic other-world”. This swiftly paced, wholly believable adventure in which an untried youth pits his intelligence and strength against invisible foes is a worthy successor to the author’s most recent book, Galactic Derelict.
246 pages, with a reading time of ~3.75 hours (61,726 words), and first published in 1960. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The Throg task force struck the Terran Survey camp a few minutes after dawn, without warning, and with a deadly precision which argued that the aliens had fully reconnoitered and prepared that attack. Eye-searing lances of energy lashed back and forth across the base with methodical accuracy. And a single cowering witness, flattened on a ledge in the heights above, knew that when the last of those yellow-red bolts fell, nothing human would be left alive down there. His teeth closed hard upon the thick stuff of the sleeve covering his thin forearm, and in his throat a scream of terror and rage was stillborn.
More than caution kept him pinned on that narrow shelf of rock. Watching that holocaust below, Shann Lantee could not force himself to move. The sheer ruthlessness of the Throg move-in left him momentarily weak. To listen to a tale of Throgs in action, and to be an eye-witness to such action, were two vastly different things. He shivered in spite of the warmth of the Survey Corps uniform.
As yet he had sighted none of the aliens, only their plate-shaped flyers. They would stay aloft until their long-range weapon cleared out all opposition. But how had they been able to make such a complete annihilation of the Terran force? The last report had placed the nearest Throg nest at least two systems away from Warlock. And a patrol lane had been drawn about the Circe system the minute that Survey had marked its second planet ready for colonization. Somehow the beetles had slipped through that supposedly tight cordon and would now consolidate their gains with their usual speed at rooting. First an energy attack to finish the small Terran force; then they would simply take over.
A month later, or maybe two months, and they could not have done it. The grids would have been up, and any Throg ship venturing into Warlock’s amber-tinted sky would abruptly cease to be. In the race for survival as a galactic power, Terra had that one small edge over the swarms of the enemy. They need only stake out their new-found world and get the grids assembled on its surface; then that planet would be locked to the beetles. The critical period was between the first discovery of a suitable colony world and the erection of grid control. Planets in the past had been lost during that time lag, just as Warlock was lost now.
Throgs and Terrans … For more than a century now, planet time, they had been fighting their queer, twisted war among the stars. Terrans hunted worlds for colonization, the old hunger for land of their own driving men from the over-populated worlds, out of Sol’s system to the far stars. And those worlds barren of intelligent native life, open to settlers, were none too many and widely scattered. Perhaps half a dozen were found in a quarter century, and of that six maybe only one was suitable for human life without any costly and lengthy adaption of man or world. Warlock was one of the lucky finds which came so seldom.
Throgs were predators, living on the loot they garnered. As yet, mankind had not been able to discover whether they did indeed swarm from any home world. Perhaps they lived eternally on board their plate ships with no permanent base, forced into a wandering life by the destruction of the planet on which they had originally been spawned. But they were raiders now, laying waste defenseless worlds, picking up the wealth of shattered cities in which no native life remained. And their hidden temporary bases were looped about the galaxy, their need for worlds with an atmosphere similar to Terra’s as necessary as that of man. For in spite of their grotesque insectile bodies, their wholly alien minds, the Throgs were warm-blooded, oxygen-breathing creatures.
After the first few clashes the early Terran explorers had endeavored to promote a truce between the species, only to discover that between Throg and man there appeared to be no meeting ground at all–total differences of mental processes producing insurmountable misunderstanding. There was simply no point of communication. So the Terrans had suffered one smarting defeat after another until they perfected the grid. And now their colonies were safe, at least when time worked in their favor.
It had not on Warlock.