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The Gun

Philip K. Dick

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at



  _Nothing moved or stirred. Everything was silent, dead. Only the gun showed signs of life ... and the trespassers had wrecked that for all time. The return journey to pick up the treasure would be a cinch ... they smiled._

  The Captain peered into the eyepiece of the telescope. He adjusted thefocus quickly.

  "It was an atomic fission we saw, all right," he said presently. Hesighed and pushed the eyepiece away. "Any of you who wants to look maydo so. But it's not a pretty sight."

  "Let me look," Tance the archeologist said. He bent down to look,squinting. "Good Lord!" He leaped violently back, knocking againstDorle, the Chief Navigator.

  "Why did we come all this way, then?" Dorle asked, looking around at theother men. "There's no point even in landing. Let's go back at once."

  "Perhaps he's right," the biologist murmured. "But I'd like to look formyself, if I may." He pushed past Tance and peered into the sight.

  He saw a vast expanse, an endless surface of gray, stretching to theedge of the planet. At first he thought it was water but after a momenthe realized that it was slag, pitted, fused slag, broken only by hillsof rock jutting up at intervals. Nothing moved or stirred. Everythingwas silent, dead.

  "I see," Fomar said, backing away from the eyepiece. "Well, I won't findany legumes there." He tried to smile, but his lips stayed unmoved. Hestepped away and stood by himself, staring past the others.

  "I wonder what the atmospheric sample will show," Tance said.

  "I think I can guess," the Captain answered. "Most of the atmosphere ispoisoned. But didn't we expect all this? I don't see why we're sosurprised. A fission visible as far away as our system must be aterrible thing."

  He strode off down the corridor, dignified and expressionless. Theywatched him disappear into the control room.

  As the Captain closed the door the young woman turned. "What did thetelescope show? Good or bad?"

  "Bad. No life could possibly exist. Atmosphere poisoned, watervaporized, all the land fused."

  "Could they have gone underground?"

  The Captain slid back the port window so that the surface of the planetunder them was visible. The two of them stared down, silent anddisturbed. Mile after mile of unbroken ruin stretched out, blackenedslag, pitted and scarred, and occasional heaps of rock.

  Suddenly Nasha jumped. "Look! Over there, at the edge. Do you see it?"

  They stared. Something rose up, not rock, not an accidental formation.It was round, a circle of dots, white pellets on the dead skin of theplanet. A city? Buildings of some kind?

  "Please turn the ship," Nasha said excitedly. She pushed her dark hairfrom her face. "Turn the ship and let's see what it is!"

  The ship turned, changing its course. As they came over the white dotsthe Captain lowered the ship, dropping it down as much as he dared."Piers," he said. "Piers of some sort of stone. Perhaps pouredartificial stone. The remains of a city."

  "Oh, dear," Nasha murmured. "How awful." She watched the ruins disappearbehind them. In a half-circle the white squares jutted from the slag,chipped and cracked, like broken teeth.

  "There's nothing alive," the Captain said at last. "I think we'll goright back; I know most of the crew want to. Get the GovernmentReceiving Station on the sender and tell them what we found, and thatwe--"

  * * * * *

  He staggered.

  The first atomic shell had struck the ship, spinning it around. TheCaptain fell to the floor, crashing into the control table. Papers andinstruments rained down on him. As he started to his feet the secondshell struck. The ceiling cracked open, struts and girders twisted andbent. The ship shuddered, falling suddenly down, then righting itself asautomatic controls took over.

  The Captain lay on the floor by the smashed control board. In the cornerNasha struggled to free herself from the debris.

  Outside the men were already sealing the gaping leaks in the side of theship, through which the precious air was rushing, dissipating into thevoid beyond. "Help me!" Dorle was shouting. "Fire over here, wiringignited." Two men came running. Tance watched helplessly, his eyeglassesbroken and bent.

  "So there is life here, after all," he said, half to himself. "But howcould--"

  "Give us a hand," Fomar said, hurrying past. "Give us a hand, we've gotto land the ship!"

  It was night. A few stars glinted above them, winking through thedrifting silt that blew across the surface of the planet.

  Dorle peered out, frowning. "What a place to be stuck in." He resumedhis work, hammering the bent metal hull of the ship back into place. Hewas wearing a pressure suit; there were still many small leaks, andradioactive particles from the atmosphere had already found their wayinto the ship.

  Nasha and Fomar were sitting at the table in the control room, pale andsolemn, studying the inventory lists.

  "Low on carbohydrates," Fomar said. "We can break down the stored fatsif we want to, but--"

  "I wonder if we could find anything outside." Nasha went to the window."How uninviting it looks." She paced back and forth, very slender andsmall, her face dark with fatigue. "What do you suppose an exploringparty would find?"

  Fomar shrugged. "Not much. Maybe a few weeds growing in cracks here andthere. Nothing we could use. Anything that would adapt to thisenvironment would be toxic, lethal."

  Nasha paused, rubbing her cheek. There was a deep scratch there, stillred and swollen. "Then how do you explain--_it_? According to yourtheory the inhabitants must have died in their skins, fried like yams.But who fired on us? Somebody detected us, made a decision, aimed agun."

  "And gauged distance," the Captain said feebly from the cot in thecorner. He turned toward them. "That's the part that worries me. Thefirst shell put us out of commission, the second almost destroyed us.They were well aimed, perfectly aimed. We're not such an easy target."

  "True." Fomar nodded. "Well, perhaps we'll know the answer before weleave here. What a strange situation! All our reasoning tells us that nolife could exist; the whole planet burned dry, the atmosphere itselfgone, completely poisoned."

  "The gun that fired the projectiles survived," Nasha said. "Why notpeople?"

  "It's not the same. Metal doesn't need air to breathe. Metal doesn't getleukemia from radioactive particles. Metal doesn't need food and water."

  There was silence.

  "A paradox," Nasha said. "Anyhow, in the morning I think we should sendout a search party. And meanwhile we should keep on trying to get theship in condition for the trip back."

  "It'll be days before we can take off," Fomar said. "We should keepevery man working here. We can't afford to send out a party."

  Nasha smiled a little. "We'll send you in the first party. Maybe you candiscover--what was it you were so interested in?"

  "Legumes. Edible legumes."

  "Maybe you can find some of them. Only--"

  "Only what?"

  "Only watch out. They fired on us once without even knowing who we wereor what we came for. Do you suppose that they fought with each other?Perhaps they couldn't imagine anyone being friendly, under anycircumstances. What a strange evolutionary trait, inter-species warfare.Fighting within the race!"

  "We'll know in the morning," Fomar said. "Let's get some sleep."

  * * * * *

  The sun came up chill and austere. The three people, two men and awoman, stepped through the port, dropping down on the hard ground below.

  "What a day," Dorle said grumpily. "I said how glad I'd be to walk onfirm ground again, but--"

  "Come on," Nasha said. "Up beside me. I want to say something to
you.Will you excuse us, Tance?"

  Tance nodded gloomily. Dorle caught up with Nasha. They walked together,their metal shoes crunching the ground underfoot. Nasha glanced at him.

  "Listen. The Captain is dying. No one knows except the two of us. By theend of the day-period of this planet he'll be dead. The shock didsomething to his heart. He was almost sixty, you know."

  Dorle nodded. "That's bad. I have a great deal of respect for him. Youwill be captain in his place, of course. Since you're