The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Pacifists

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Title: The Pacifists

Author: Charles E. Fritch

Release date: April 10, 2019 [eBook #59243]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




Parker was a trouble maker wherever they
landed. But here was the planet ideal, a
chance he had awaited a long, long time—easy,
like taking candy from a baby....

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, May 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Like a lone sentinel, the house stood apart at the edge of the village, a white cube with no windows. The door stood open, a dark hole against the white brick. The house was silent. The village beyond was silent.

"They must have seen us land," Compton said, a little wildly. "You can't set down a rocket ship a hundred yards from somebody and not have them notice. They must have seen us!"

"Unless no one lives here," Parker amended. "This may be a ghost city."

"He's right," Hinckley agreed. "There might not be anyone living here, or anyplace on the planet for that matter. We've found very little life in these alien star-systems, and it's varied from primitive to ancient. Perhaps this society became old and died before any of us were born."

The three Earthmen stood at the base of the spaceship, their spacesuit headpieces thrown back so they could breathe in the cool thin air. They stood there peering into the deathly stillness.

"I hope there are people living here," Parker said. "It's been more than a month now—"

"Well," Hinckley said, "let's find out." He waved them forward.

They were fifty feet from the house when a woman appeared in the doorway with a silver vase. She was dressed in a grey flowing robe that covered her from neck to ankles.

"A young woman," Hinckley breathed, staring. "A woman just like any on Earth!"

His voice was loud in the silence, but the woman took no notice. She stooped and began filling the vase with sand. The two men with Hinckley shifted anxiously, settling the sand beneath their boots. Behind them the great spaceship pointed its nose at the sky.

Parker was staring intently at the girl. "I'm going to like this place," he said slowly.

They walked forward, crunching sand. But the girl took no notice of their approach. She was kneeling beside the house, scooping tiny handfuls of sand into the silver vase. When they were within five feet of her, Hinckley cleared his throat. She did not look up. He coughed.

"Maybe she's deaf," Parker suggested vaguely. His eyes wandered appraisingly over her youthful body; he licked dry lips.

Hinckley moved forward and stood before the girl. Her small white hands dug into the sand, scooping around his boots as though not aware of them.

"And blind, too?" Compton wanted to know. "And without the sense of touch?" There was a strange quality to his voice, as though some primitive part of his unconsciousness was telling him to run.

Hinckley bent to tap the girl lightly upon the shoulder. "Pardon me, Miss. We're visitors from Earth," he told her.

But she paid no attention to the sound of his voice, and he stepped back, puzzled.

"Now what?" Compton wanted to know. He looked around him nervously, at the house, the speckled sand, the rocket squatting behind them. "I hope all the natives aren't like this."

"I do," Parker said, licking his lips thoughtfully and keeping his gaze on the girl. "I'd just as soon have them all like this. It might be interesting."

Compton flushed. "What I meant—"

"He knows what you meant," Hinckley said harshly. "And there won't be any of that going on here. You caused enough trouble on the other planets, and it's not going to happen again, not while I'm in charge of this expedition. We didn't come all the way out here just so you could satisfy your romantic inclinations."

"And how about my off hours, Captain," Parker said, emphasizing the word as though it were obscene; "then may I fraternize?"

"You have no off hours," Hinckley said sternly.

"Here comes another one," Compton warned in a whisper.

A man, dressed in robes similar to the woman's, came from the door of the house and walked into the yard. After helping the woman to rise, he picked up the vase, and the two of them went back inside the house. He hadn't even looked at the Earthmen.

After awhile, Parker said, "Do you suppose they're both mirages?"

"Maybe that's it," Compton said. "Maybe it's all a mirage, the woman, the vase, the man, the house, maybe even the planet itself." His voice had risen in his excitement.

"Take it easy," Hinckley advised.

"Let's get back to the ship before the whole planet evaporates," Compton said.

"Go back if you like," Hinckley said. "I'm going to investigate this. How about you, Parker?"

"Okay with me. Always wanted to see what makes a mirage tick." He glanced contemptuously at Compton.

"Okay," Compton said, gripping his rifle, "we'll all make fools of ourselves."

"C'mon, then."

Hinckley led the way into the house, hesitating only briefly at the doorway. Inside, a blue light flickered as the man bent over a flaming trough and poured sand into it from the silver vase. The flames leaped high, filling the room with a sweet fragrance. The man emptied the vase, rose and took it to one corner of the room. He sat down on the couch by the woman. He did not look at the Earthlings.

"He doesn't see us either," Compton said hoarsely. He cried, "Hey, you! You! Listen! We're Earthmen. Visitors from space."

His voice was explosive in the silence. The man didn't look up. The Earthmen became aware of music seeping from the walls, music strange and hauntingly beautiful, played on incredible invisible instruments.

"I don't like this," Compton said. "I don't like it at all. Why are they ignoring us? Why?"

"Maybe they can't help it," Hinckley suggested. "Perhaps they actually can't see us or hear us. It's fantastic, but it's possible."

"I wonder," Parker mused. And before anyone could stop him, he struck the man across the face with a doubled fist.

"Parker!" Hinckley cried. "You fool!"

"That's a matter of opinion," Parker said steadily, rubbing his knuckles. "I found out what I wanted to."

The man had fallen beneath the blow, but recovered seconds later. There was a large red welt on his forehead, but neither he nor the woman took any notice of it.

"It's incredible," Compton said.

"Evidently we can affect them physically, even if not mentally," Hinckley said. "You do something like that again, Parker, and I'll shoot you. I've got the authority to do it, you know, and sometimes the urge."

"I know," Parker said, "but you haven't got the guts. Besides, I'll behave myself." He looked intently at the young woman. "I just wanted to make certain they're real, that's all."

"Let's get out of here," Compton suggested. "There must be some way we can get a message through to these people. Perhaps someone in the village—"

Hinckley nodded and motioned them from the house. Compton went eagerly, but Parker lingered. The air outside seemed cooler now, and its freshness seemed strange after the pleasant fragrance inside the house.

"Go back to the ship," Hinckley told Parker. "Compton and I'll go into the village."

"I like it right here," Parker said.

"We might need someone at the ship," Hinckley said. "That's an order." His hand caressed his rifle, as though daring Parker to refuse.

Parker grinned contemptuously. "Anything you say, Captain. If you need any help, just yell." He turned away and walked toward the rocket.

"Someday I'm going to kill him," Hinckley promised. He turned to Compton. "C'mon, let's see what the village looks like."

The village was a replica of the first hut, multiplied. Some of the huts seemed to have specialized purposes as stores or warehouses, but otherwise it was the same. People sat in the houses, listening to music or watching moving pictures swarm over their hut walls. Some occasionally ventured into the street. All of them ignored the Earthmen.

"I don't know what to make of it," Hinckley said finally. "We can touch them and hear them; they appear normal in all respects, but they seem to be operating on a different level of existence."

"I don't pretend to understand it," Compton said, "but I have a feeling I don't like, whenever I think about it. I'd rather meet bug-eyed monsters than this."

"I know what you mean," Hinckley said. "These people even though they're humanoid, are out of contact with reality—at least with reality as we know it. It's like some kind of mass hypnosis, with everyone in a trance except us."

"Think of how helpless these people would be," Compton said. "When we turn in our report, those who come out here with unhealthy designs won't have any opposition."

"We have a prime example of that on board," Hinckley said disgustedly. "We'd better get back to the ship; I don't like to leave Parker alone; there's no telling what he'll do."

When they got back Parker wasn't there.

"I was afraid of this," Hinckley said between clenched teeth.

"Maybe they've done something to him," Compton suggested nervously.

"That's too much to hope for. Chances are, it's the other way around. If I know Parker, there's only one place he'll be. C'mon."

Clutching his rifle, Hinckley ran from the rocket. Compton followed, a bit more cautiously.

Hinckley reached the lone house and peered into the bluelit gloom. He entered, gun ready, Compton at his heels.

"He's not here," Hinckley said, surprised.

The man and the young woman sat on the couch and casually watched pictures move across the far wall. Hinckley, looking at the pictures, was not at all certain they weren't the reality and the natives of this place merely ghost images that might fade at any moment.

On the wall an empire was being formed. Tall buildings were raised by machinery that was unfamiliar to the Earthmen. Aircraft flitted across the sky like strange black birds. The buildings towered, the flying machines dove, spitting needles that exploded into blossoms of fire, and the buildings toppled into dust. People ran, screaming soundless screams. Columns of smoke rose to replace the buildings. The scene shifted. Great weapons were assembled and heaped carelessly. To the heap were added the skycraft and other weapons of war. The pile exploded, and the people rejoiced, clasping hands, dancing. The walls darkened.

Actual or symbolic? Hinckley wondered.

"What does it mean?" Compton asked him.

"I think," Hinckley said, "we've just been given a short history of their race. They built up a great society here, but a warring one. Finally, they outlawed all weapons in order to save themselves from total destruction. We could probably take a lesson from that."

"They'll probably be worse off when the Earthmen come here," Compton said. "Even if they could see and hear us, they wouldn't have any weapons left to defend themselves. We could loot and rape and—"

"I think we'd better forget this planet exists," Hinckley said slowly. "If we don't report it, no one'll ever know. It's one planet in a million planets. If we say it's empty, they'll believe it and never bother to check."

"But what about Parker?"

"Yes," Hinckley said in a disturbed tone. "Parker. We've got to find him before he does anything he shouldn't. He must be in one of the huts. C'mon. You take one side of the village, I'll take the other. When we find him, we'll blast off."

But they didn't find him. They searched through all the buildings, peered into all the faces.

"I don't like it," Compton said when they met. "The people may be helpless, but that doesn't mean everything on the planet is. We've got to get out of here while we've got the chance."

"Take it easy," Hinckley advised. "We can't leave without Parker. He's probably hiding someplace."


"Hoping we'll take off and leave him alone here. He'd be perfectly safe. He could take anything he wanted—food, drink, anything—and these people couldn't raise a finger to stop him; they wouldn't even know he was here, most likely. If I know Parker that's what he'd want. He wouldn't care about the people as long as he satisfied himself."

"We'll never find him," Compton said. "There's a forest beyond the village. If he got into that, we could search for months and not find him."

Hinckley shrugged. "We've got to try."

Night came before they returned to the rocket.

Hinckley shook his head in the gathering darkness. "He could be anyplace out there, damn him."

"Let's get out of here," Compton suggested again. "Leave him here, if that's what he wants. Let him do what he wants here; what difference does it make if the natives don't know what's happening?"

Hinckley's look was cold. "We'll wait until morning," he said. "If he isn't back by then, we'll leave."

But the next morning, the rays of the alien sun found the white squatting houses silent; Parker had not returned.

Hinckley turned on the outer loudspeaker. "Parker," he said. The words crashed across the still village. "Parker, this is Hinckley. We're blasting off in five minutes. If you're not aboard, we're leaving without you."

After a few minutes, Compton said, "He's not coming. He's probably dead, and so will we be if we wait long enough."

"More likely, he's ignoring us," Hinckley said, consulting his watch. "He's got two minutes more."

Two minutes later, Compton said, "Time's up."

Hinckley nodded. He switched on the rocket motors. Deep within the spaceship a turbine growled; the growl rose to a whine.

"I still don't like to leave him there. Even though they don't know what's happening to them, I feel sorry for those people out there." He switched on the loudspeaker again. "Parker," he said over it. "Last chance. We're blasting off."

"He's not coming," Compton said shrilly, "he's not coming."

Hinckley touched a button. Flaming rockets drove their fire in to the ground. The great spaceship shuddered, rose on a column of flame.

"At last," Compton sighed. "At last."

"We'll have to come back, though," Hinckley said. "I knew we'd have to turn in a report, and now I know we'll have to come back here to find Parker, to jail him as a deserter, and perhaps worse. I hate to think of what'll happen to those people down there when the Earthmen come."

They looked into a viewscreen. Below them, the planet dwindled and became nothing.

From the edge of the forest, Parker watched the spaceship rise into the sky and disappear. He chuckled contentedly. He had won the game of hide-and-seek, and the planet was his prize. Earthmen always took what they could from newly discovered planets, only this time he would have first choice well ahead of any others. It would be months before an Earth ship would arrive. But he could last that long easily. Longer if necessary. During that time he could make up some story to account for his absence. They'd have to prove him a liar, and that would be difficult. Any story he made up would certainly be no less fantastic than this planet certainly was.

Meanwhile, there were things to do.

He took off his cumbersome spacesuit and left it in a clearing in the forest; he wouldn't need that for awhile, and it would only hamper him. He was in no mood to be delayed. There were a great many things to do, but first there was one special thing to do. There was a girl, he remembered, a young woman in a small hut at the other end of the village. He licked his lips in anticipation. There was a man with her, but there was nothing he could do—nothing at all. Parker laughed loudly into the silence and trotted down the street.

When he reached the other end of the village, he walked eagerly into the house. The girl sat on the couch. The man stood nearby. The walls were unmoving and the blue fire cast a cold light about the room. The Earthman sat down beside the girl, and his hands reached out, unhesitating.

But suddenly the man said something in an alien tongue, a sound that was like a whiplash, angry and bitter.

Parker felt his throat tighten. "What?" he said. "What?"

He looked up into eyes alive with hate. No, that was impossible. It was only imagination. Only imagination, yet for a moment—he laughed guiltily—he'd thought the man was looking directly at him.

Furiously, angry at himself, Parker forced the thought from his mind. He reached once more for the girl, but she shrank from his touch and leaped up. The Earthman followed her movement with startled, puzzled eyes, and then his bewilderment changed to a fear that held him with cold fingers.

The man had taken a long silver knife from beneath his robe, and he held it in his hands so that its blade reflected the cold blue fire. His face was a mask, not pleasant to see. And he was looking at the Earthman, seeing him, watching him, hating him.

A sudden flash of understanding came. These people had known all the time. They stayed indoors in dim light to enhance the illusion and watch with greater secrecy, so that the movement of eyes would not betray them—and they had waited. For what?

Parker leaped up with a hoarse cry and ran, not waiting to find out. He was in the doorway when the silver knife caught him and slid easily between his ribs and released the breath of life that lay hidden there. Before he struck the ground, he was a shell, with neither fear nor desire to trouble him.

For a long moment afterward, the man stood over the still body, looking down at it with a mixture of hate and disgust. The girl joined him. He looked at her and then at the sky.

"We must learn to make weapons again," he told her. "These creatures will be back, unsuspecting, thinking us helpless. Next time, we must be ready!"

Without ceremony, they buried the Earthman's body and then met others of their kind coming into the village streets. There was work to do.