We’ll go Out There, of course. And we’ll colonize. We’ll do whatever it takes. We’ll adapt. Genetic engineering, if necessary. We’ll have wings. Or gills. Maybe not WHEELS (Ejler thought that one was over the top). And Someday…
SOMEDAY THERE WILL BE CENTAURS
A short science-fantasy by Brian Alan Burhoe
Beneath Proxima Centauri’s red glower:
Imagine a golden centaur standing poised in expectation at the edge of a worldwide grassland that begins at his forehooves.
The wind touches the golden hair along his proudly held body and pulls his mane across his joyful, laughing face — and oh! his great mirth! his taunting vanity! — and the wind sweeps away from him like a green shadow across the prairie.
He stands naked except for the woven quiver worn arrogantly across his wide shoulders, paper-vaned bolts and stringed bow filling the hair-lock decorated quiver.
If there is any memory of his human beginnings in those jovial brown eyes, it is dim.
That great golden centaur haughtily snatches a grassfruit up in one hand, contemplates its honey-yellow shell, drops it to the black earth and steps on it with one savage forehoof.
Lifting the broken caryopsis: he explores his world’s taste.
And beneath the huge red ball of Proxima (its flare-wreathed outline seemingly even too big for its apparent bulk to be gathered into the two powerful arms he outstretches in welcome): not really suns, but more than stars, fiery gold and fiery brass: Alpha C. rises.
Laughter rumbles in the centaur’s stallion chest.
He throws the broken grassfruit out over the shivering prairie.
He sees the silver teardrop coming from out of Alpha C.
And his haunches quiver.
His hooves dance with the grass.
“I am ready,” he rumbles.
And a bubble, shining redly amber beneath the looming sun, comes out of the teardrop ship.
Inside the gently floating bubble; like a dark, hungering insect; there is a man: basicform: Earth-born: imposing in his own gloomy way; pale and dark; long, hollow face; gaunt hands grip Earthener devices of the hunt.
He is like a sudden dark shadow across the multi-sunned world.
The Earthener says, “You know who I am, centaur?”
There is hunger in the way he says the word “centaur.”
“Your coming was foreseen by the Wise Ones. You are a Collector.”
“Wise Ones? So — Earth isn’t the only world where those kind of powers develop. Yes, centaur. I am a Collector. You are –”
“I am the one chosen to be here to meet you,” says the centaur, tossing back his head and shaking his long golden hair from his face.
The basicform nods grimly. “That is wise. Yes, one sacrificed is better than me having to choose. The — choosing can be bloody. You will fit well into my collection of forbidden otherworld things. And the best of my collection are you adapted-form colonists. Truly, the Designers were the greatest artists of all. To reshape humankind… First, you realize, you must die!”
Laughing: “Perhaps, Earthener.” And the golden centaur rears magnificently and leaps at the sky-filling sun.
And he runs across the grassland as no man should ever run, so beautifully, so much the glorious creation of humankind, that the gloom-shrouded Earthener floats surprised in the sky for long moments before he stabs at his device-bloated belt and gives chase, leaving his teardrop ship behind.
He runs, that stallion man, as fast as the eternal wind, so that it seems it is he who ruffles the velvet grass in his wake.
His black hooves scarcely seem to touch his world, and yet they spit dark earth behind him.
He runs — oh! how he runs! And he laughs.
Born to race: but never such a race as this.
Behind him, the Earthener-in-amber matches the pace but cannot gain enough to bring his hunting devices into action.
The grassland dips and the centaur splashes across a shallow river, throwing sheets of water out to his sides; water falling from his flanks like medieval trapping, he thunders back up a hill.
He looks over his bronzed shoulder and taunts his insectoid hunter: “With all your sciences, I’m still the better man!”
And he runs on.
Across the alien prairie.
The triple suns of Alpha Centaurus rise higher in the cloudless blue of the colony world’s sky, and still he gallops:
But finally the centaur’s head drops, just for a moment, but it drops.
And the Collector smiles grimly inside his force field, knowing the inevitable.
The centaur drinks in more air, drums the ground harder.
The spittle gathers on his face.
His body strains, the magnificent muscles pull and push along his body.
“You are finished,” comes the amplified voice of the Earthener.
“Not yet,” rumbles the stallion man.
He pulls up his bow and puts a bolt with a head of bronze and a varnished shaft to the string.
Turning his torso as he continues to run, he sends the arrow at the hovering Collector.
The tiny missile catches the force field that contains the Earthener: the bolt seems to penetrate the bubble but bursts into flame as the field goes inert.
The centaur swerves in his course and watches the now-gray bubble continue to fly on its original course, away from the adapted form.
The bubble goes transparent again but before its occupant has a chance to see where his victim has gone, a second bolt causes the field to go inert once more.
A fine strategy, but soon the centaur has taken himself out of bow range and the basicform is after him again; his amplified voice booming: “Where did you learn that trick, centaur?”
Shaking from increased exhaustion, he takes another arrow from his woven quiver and twists to fire.
Shouting in surprise, he stumbles over his own forelegs, crashing mightily to the ground.
Grass stalks and dust shower up around his fallen form.
The race is done.
“A fine chase,” applauds the Collector, continuing: “Now, your death will come with little pain.”
And the Earthener aims his devices at his living trophy.
The centaur rises clumsily to his feet to face his hunter, his hands on his knees as he breathes deeply.
His bow is broken at his feet….
But there is still haughty laughter in those brown eyes.
The Earthener is paler and darker than before as he shakes the devices in his gaunt hands: “They don’t work!?”
The golden centaur’s mirth and exhaustion combine into racking peals of laughter.
And in the sky above them appears something with immense dark wings spread and the ancient emblem of the Scales of Justice flickering on its bright bow.
And the centaur says, “I told you that your coming was forseen, Collector.”
“While we were lost in our race, they wove their own sorcery about you. With all your sciences, now you are theirs!”
And the insectlike man pokes fiercely at his device-bloated belt to bring powers to bear that are no longer his to control.
As the Earthener is drawn screaming up to the Justice ship, the centaur says, “It was a good race, Collector.”
And the great golden centaur shakes himself and turns to trot off alone into the winds — and oh! his great mirth! his taunting vanity!
And beneath Proxima Centauri’s red glower, as the wind sweeps toward him like a green shadow across the grass sea, he again races, seeming to fly, though his hooves spit dark earth behind him.
NOTE: This science fiction short story was written to honour writers of a younger time: Hal Foster, Andre Norton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Otis Adelbert Kline and Robert E Howard.
My first published story dealing with Human colonists biologically adapted to survive and thrive on alien worlds was my Science Fantasy short story ORNITHANTHROPUS, way back in 1971 in IF Magazine, Dec, 1971, edited by Ejler Jakobsson, published as by B Alan Burhoe. Ornithanthopus was reprinted in a number of Best Science Fiction anthologies of the Year.
This was another.
– Brian Alan Burhoe, creator of the Civilized Bear Tales
==>> To see links to my published Fiction, go to THE LIFE AND WORKS OF BRIAN ALAN BURHOE Right Here, Mon Ami!
SOMEDAY THERE WILL BE CENTAURS – Science Fantasy by Brian Alan Burhoe
Keywords: Andre Norton, B Alan Burhoe, Civilized Bears, Ejler Jakobsson, Hal Foster, Ornithanthropus
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