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Image of the Gods by Alan Edward Nourse

Image of the Gods

It was nearly winter when the ship arrived. Pete Farnam never knew if the timing had been planned that way or not. It might have been coincidence that it came just when the colony was predicting its first real bumper crop of all time. When it was all over, Pete and Mario and the rest tried to figure it out, but none of them ever knew for sure just _what_ had happened back on Earth, or _when_ it had actually happened. There was too little information to go on, and practically none that they could trust. All Pete Farnam really knew, that day, was that this was the wrong year for a ship from Earth to land on Baron IV.

Pete was out on the plantation when it landed. As usual, his sprayer had gotten clogged; tarring should have been started earlier, before it got so cold that the stuff clung to the nozzle and hardened before the spray could settle into the dusty soil. The summer past had been the colony's finest in the fourteen years he'd been there, a warm, still summer with plenty of rain to keep the dirt down and let the _taaro_ get well rooted and grow up tall and gray against the purple sky. But now the _taaro_ was harvested. It was waiting, compressed and crated, ready for shipment, and the heavy black clouds were scudding nervously across the sky, faster with every passing day. Two days ago Pete had asked Mario to see about firing up the little furnaces the Dusties had built to help them fight the winter. All that remained now was tarring the fields, and then buckling down beneath the wind shields before the first winter storms struck.

Pete was trying to get the nozzle of the tar sprayer cleaned out when Mario's jeep came roaring down the rutted road from the village in a cloud of dust. In the back seat a couple of Dusties were bouncing up and down like happy five-year-olds. The brakes squealed and Mario bellowed at him from the road. "Pete! The ship's in! Better get hopping!"

Pete nodded and started to close up the sprayer. One of the Dusties tumbled out of the jeep and scampered across the field to give him a hand. It was an inexpert hand to say the least, but the Dusties seemed so proud of the little they were able to learn about mechanized farming that nobody had the heart to shoo them away. Pete watched the fuzzy brown creature get its paws thoroughly gummed up with tar before he pulled him loose and sent him back to the jeep with a whack on the backside. He finished the job himself, grabbed his coat from the back of the sprayer, and pulled himself into the front seat of the jeep.

Mario started the little car back down the road. The young colonist's face was coated with dust, emphasizing the lines of worry around his eyes. "I don't like it, Pete. There isn't any ship due this year."

"When did it land?"

"About twenty minutes ago. Won't be cool for a while yet."

Pete laughed. "Maybe Old Schooner is just getting lonesome to swap tall stories with us. Maybe he's even bringing us a locker of T-bones. Who knows?"

"Maybe," said Mario without conviction.


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