By the twenty-fourth century, scientists had developed space craft that could travel through a time warp to distant suns. One of them was named Tau Gruis, over one hundred light years from Earth. There was also a small planet titled Luminati, so named because of the shiny surface it displayed. The men who went to the planet found a tribe of intelligent inhabitants, only slightly smaller than Earthlings. They had rose colored skins however, large blue eyes and long tails.
Filled with youthful exhuberance and riding the crest of a first year in space selling that had set records, Ken Rathbone, who covered the outer planets with his wares, had chartered a ship to go to Tau Gruis, and the planet of Luminati. It had cost him a small fortune but he hoped it would pay off as a profit making venture because no one had yet sold to them. If he was the first one to get a contract from them, he would get royalties for all sales anyone made for the next ten years; a financial goal that excited him.
He disembarked from the craft, leaving a small crew behind, and kicked at a clump of purple moss. He saw large birds in the sky but they seemed harmless. The bright yellow sun made him a little hot and uncomfortable. He had come here to sell the natives one-man rockets. Research he had done made him believe they were ready for them. He also had scarves to sell to the ladies.
The heat did not slow him down as he walked to the village.The rocket in his arms was a burden as were the scarves draped over his shoulders.
The village was close to a river, half hidden by palma plants that towered to great heights and were covered with large leaves. Ken found his way without difficulty. He knew this was dangerous; other salesmen never returned -- but there was great potential; this planet had many diamonds.
They came through the palma plants, swinging by their tails; these strange beings of Luminati. Ken had seen pictures of them and was not overly surprised at their sudden appearance. They landed around him and poked sticks at his sides. He was glad he had a translation box hanging around his neck. By switching it on he could could get a fair translaction of what the natives would say to him. And it would also work in reverse, to broadcast what he said their language. He hurriedly switched on the box.
“I would like to see the tribal chief,” he announced. “How about it?” He forced a laugh from his trembling lips.
“Come with us, space bird,” the leader of the party demanded.
They soon came to the largest house, built of palma logs covered with animal skins. The natives called their houses, kaopis. He entered the kaopi while his receptionists waited outside. The Chief, who stood in the center of the room, had the wise, burning eyes of a philosopher. Beside him was a breath taking young woman; her eyes like glowing twin moons, her hair a glowing white and her lips like curved rubies.
“I am Tarn,” the old man declared. “And this is my daughter, Moonbeam.”
When the chief bowed, Ken also bowed in respect. “I am Ken Rathbone and I am a salesman. Want to see what I’ve got?” He tried to relax his tall frame and be highly sociable, his brown eyes sparkling with friendliness.
Tarn smiled, hiding any anger that might have formed in his alien mind. He bowed to his daughter and asked, “Shall we permit this Earthman an audience?”
Moonbeam walked over to Ken. Her eyes searched his slowly and thoughtfully.Ken had the strange feeling that she was reading his mind and searching out his background and intentions. She bowed slightly and grabbed him into her arms. He felt startled when she kissed him fully on the lips. His head seemed to whirl in ecstasy, These Luminati babes, he decided, are really on the ball. Tarn, to
Ken’s surprise, rubbed his hands together in glee.
“I see that my daughter is pleased in you,” Tarn said. “We will look at your wares.”
“Good!” Ken answered. “Stand back and I will show you my one-man rocket.”
They followed him from inside the kaopi and got out of the way as he strapped the rocket to his back, turned on a switch, and was pushed into the air by a downward stream of fire. He took hold of the handle bars and guided it about over fifty feet above them. Then he brought it in for a graceful landing. He motioned to Tarn.
“You try it now,” he said.
Tarn strapped it on and, before Ken could give him any instructions, pushed a button and shot upward. “What do now?” he yelled in terror.
“Take hold of the handle bars and guide it!” Ken yelled, but his instructions came too late. Tarn had only gone up six feet, but he crashed to the ground. The only thing hurt was his pride as he got up and brushed off the dust.
“I refuse to buy,” he wailed. “I get killed! Our tribe needs nothing. We have the wind and sands of Luminati. We have our gardens, our villages of kaopis. Whatelse could we ask for?”
Ken jumped in at this cue with the professional attitude of a salesman who knows he has to create a market for his wares. He reached for the scarves over his shoulders.They were all covered with moons and stars, white in a field of blue.
“I give these scarves to you, Moonbeam. There are ten of them.”
“How beautiful!” she cried out, accepting the scarves. She even tied one about her neck.
“Úgh!” Tarn uttered disdainfully. “Women not happy unless they have work to do. They weave clothing and blankets and do not need scarves.”
Ken felt like the chief had slapped him in the face. Selling this guy wasn’t going to be easy. He didn’t even ask if they might want the blankets. He had a lurking fear in the back of his mind that he might become one of the missing salesmen. If it came to a struggle, he thought that he couldn’t whip his way past evenone native.
He decided to make one more try. He pulled the picture of a beautiful house out of his pocket. “How would you like to live in that?” he remarked.
“No!” Tarn uttered angrily. “We build our own kaopis. Tribe no allowed to be idle. Only cause trouble! I don’t like! They would fight
among themselves and destroy us all! None of your things are good for us.” He whipped out a knife and cut the picture to bits. A maniacal gleam came into the chief’s eyes as Ken shuddered.
“Look here, Tarn!” Ken cried out in dismay. “Just because you don’t like something doesn’t you mean you have to cut it to pieces. Perhaps I can show you otherthings.”
Tarn clapped his hands together and a group of warriors gathered around kenwith angry looks and wild chants. “Give this Earthman the prisoner treatment!” he roared. “Me don’t like anymore! He no good! He would ruin tribe! Women getlazy and men wouldn’t work!”
Ken put up a struggle as they grabbed him, kicking, biting and landing blows with his fists on top of the warriors heads. They caught him by the sheer weight of their numbers and dragged him out of the kaopi.
He groaned in terror, realizing that this was probably the same treatment other salesmen had gone through in the past. He wasn’t even certain what that meant but knew he was probably going to be killed. They tied vines to his wrists and left him hanging on a palma limb. He continued to kick and struggle, feeling the vines cut into his wrists. The pain became agony. His eyes bulged. The warriors gathered around him with long poles.
“Hey guys! Cut it out!” he moaned “Just let me down. I won’t sell you a thing.”
He knew now what had happened to the other salesmen. It wasn’t pleasant.A pole jabbed him on a hip. Other poles knocked him around. Blood ran down hislegs. He closed his eyes, praying for a quick, merciful death. His chance for survivalseemed totally lost.
Then shadows fell from overhead, and the natives looked up and screamed.Startled almost out of his wits, Ken also managed to look up. He saw a giant bird, similarto some prehistoric flying beast of a bygone age on Earth. Its hugh wings spannedan enormous area. To his horror, he saw it swoop down, then rise with Moonbeam inits claws.
Tarn rushed to where his warriors were standing Ken remained hanging froma palma limb.
“Cut prisoner down!” Tarn shouted. “He’s the only who can chase after Moonbeam and that giant bird with his one- man rocket! Will you help us, Earthman?”
“Yes!” Ken uttered, a bit weakly. He welcomed the chance, no matter howdangerous it might be.
The natives cut him down from the palma branch. He rubbed his
wrists to get rid of the numbness, then let Tarn and the others lead him to his one-man rocket. It was lying on the ground, undamaged.
He picked it up and mounted himself on the seat. Pushing a button, he made the engine come to life, and shot into the air on a roaring flame while hanging on to the handle bars. He leveled the rocket about a hundred feet up. After hearing the people cheer, he knew he would have to deliver on his mission. The memory of seeing the large birds overhead when he had departed from his ship, had caused him to think they would not pose any danger. He had been wrong about that. Then he checked thesecurity belt. He had fastened it tightly, and he shot forward at a dangerouslyhigh speed.
Had the machine been tested and approved for this? He didn’t know, but he continued onward. Several birds had now joined the first. They appeared like dots on the horizon, but his rocket was moving faster than they were. They seemed to gain in size as he moved toward them.
Then the lead female bird suddenly swooped down a hillside cliff to a large nestsitting on a ledge. She deposited Moonbeam into the nest. He gasped in horror as hewitnessed the chief’s daughter fighting off the fledglings. He needed to get there quickly or he would be too late to save her from being eaten.
A desperate plan formed in his mind as he nearly reached the flock of birds.Turning the rocket about in mid air, he let the roar of the engine and the flames engulf them. They squawked fearfully and
flew away, some of them leaving a trail of fire.
From there he guided his rocket to the nest that was now nearby. He fought withthe mother bird. She pecked at his arm and he began to bleed again. The nest had nowcaught fire from his downward flame.
“Hold me tightly!” he cried out to Moonbeam. “I’m going to fly us out of here!”
She wrapped her arms about his chest. As they flew out of the nest, it fell downthe cliff, burning quickly. The mother bird flew away,
abandoning her young fledglings.
“I’m taking you back to the village where it’s safe,” he said. “Just keep hanging on and don’t fall.” .
He managed to land in the village and unbuckle the rocket from his body. Then Moonbeam turned loose of him as he fell to the ground in a state of unconsciousness.
Sometime later, he opened his eyes and found himself lying on a small cot in the chief’s kaopi. Moonbeam leaned over and kissed his lips tenderly. He felt that strange thrill again.
“Thanks!” she said. “You saved my life, but I did not suffer as much as you.I will take care of you until you are well again. That should be soon.”
Tarn walked over, the surliness gone from his face. “We do want things fromyou,” he said. “The head scarves please our women. Have your company bring 2000 of them. And our men want rockets. We can fly like birds when we learn not to crash.We will fight off birds if attack again. Also fight off other warriors of Luminati if they attack us. We talked it over and thought you had good things for us. We pay you indiamonds.”
“Thanks!” Ken said, getting painfully to his feet. “You were a tough nut to crack. I didn’t think I’d ever sell you anything.” They shook hands and Ken made outa contract.
Tarn signed with an X and Ken signed his name under it. He kissed Moonbeam, glad that he had been able to save her from the birds. He felt that it wouldnot be necessary for her to nurse him back to better health.
“You will come back if you leave?” she asked. “When you saved my life, you also meant that you would marry me. It is the custom of this world.”
“Oops! I didn’t know that!” he admitted.
But he knew that the doctors of Earth had overcome any problems that might occur if they decided to have children.
“All the wild animals of Luminati couldn’t keep me away,” he declared,smiling.