The Hairy Ones by Basil Wells



Marooned on a world within a world, aided
by a slim girl and an old warrior, Patrolman
Sisko Rolf was fighting his greatest
battle—to bring life to dying Mars.

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Winter 1944.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

“The outlaw ships are attacking!” Old Garmon Nash’s harsh voice snapped like a thunderclap in the cramped rocket flyer’s cabin. “Five or six of them. Cut the searchlights!”

Sisko Rolf’s stocky body was a blur of motion as he cut the rocket jets, doused the twin searchlights, and switched over to the audio beams that served so well on the surface when blind flying was in order. But here in the cavern world, thirty-seventh in the linked series of vast caves that underlie the waterless wastes of Mars, the reflected waves of sound were of little value. Distances were far too cramped—disaster might loom but a few hundred feet away.

“Trapped us neatly,” Rolf said through clenched teeth. “Tolled into their underground hideout by that water-runner we tried to capture. We can’t escape, that’s certain. They know these caverns better than…. We’ll down some of them, though.”

“Right!” That was old Garmon Nash, his fellow patrolman aboard the Planet Patrol ship as he swung the deadly slimness of his rocket blast’s barrel around to center on the fiery jets that betrayed the approaching outlaw flyers.

Three times he fired the gun, the rocket projectiles blasting off with their invisible preliminary jets of gas, and three times an enemy craft flared up into an intolerable torch of flame before they realized the patrol ship had fired upon them. Then a barrage of enemy rocket shells exploded into life above and before them.

Rolf swung the lax controls over hard as the bursts of fire revealed a looming barrier of stone dead ahead, and then he felt the tough skin of the flyer crumple inward. The cabin seemed to telescope about him. In a slow sort of wonder Rolf felt the scrape of rock against metal, and then the screeching of air through the myriad rents in the cabin’s meralloy walls grew to a mad whining wail.

Down plunged the battered ship, downward ever downward. Somehow Rolf found the strength to wrap his fingers around the control levers and snap on a quick burst from the landing rockets. Their mad speed checked momentarily, but the nose of the vertically plunging ship dissolved into an inferno of flame.

The ship struck; split open like a rotten squash, and Rolf felt himself being flung far outward through thick blackness. For an eternity it seemed he hung in the darkness before something smashed the breath and feeling from his nerveless body. With a last glimmer of sanity he knew that he lay crushed against a rocky wall.

Much later Rolf groaned with the pain of bruised muscles and tried to rise. To his amazement he could move all his limbs. Carefully he came to his knees and so to his feet. Not a bone was broken, unless the sharp breathlessness that strained at his chest meant cracked ribs.

There was light in the narrow pit in which he found himself, light and heat from the yet-glowing debris of the rocket flyer. The outlaws had blasted the crashed ship, his practiced eyes told him, and Garmon Nash must have died in the wreckage. He was alone in the waterless trap of a deep crevice.

In the fading glow of the super-heated metal the vertical walls above mocked him. There could be no ascent from this natural prison-pit, and even if there were he could never hope to reach the surface forty miles and more overhead. The floors of the thirty-seven caves through which they had so carefully jetted were a splintered, creviced series of canyon-like wastes, and as he ascended the rarefied atmosphere of the higher levels would spell death.

Rolf laughed. Without a pressure mask on the surface of Mars an Earthman was licked. Without water and food certain death grinned in his face, for beyond the sand-buried entrance to these lost equatorial caves there were no pressure domes for hundreds of miles. Here at least the air was thick enough to support life, and somewhere nearby the outlaws who smuggled their precious contraband water into the water-starved domes of North Mars lay hidden.

The young patrolman unzippered his jacket pocket and felt for the emergency concentrate bars that were standard equipment. Half of the oval bar he crushed between his teeth, and when the concentrated energy flooded into his muscles he set off around the irregular wall of the pit.

He found the opening less than ten paces from the starting point, an empty cavity higher than a man and half as wide. The glow from the gutted ship was failing and he felt for the solar torch that hugged flatly against his hip. He uncapped the torch and the miniature sun glowed redly from its lensed prison to reveal the rocky corridor stretching out ahead.

Light! How many hours later it was when the first faint glow of white light reached his eyes Rolf did not know—it had seemed an eternity of endless plodding along that smooth-floored descending tunnel.

Rolf capped the solar torch. No use wasting the captive energy needlessly he reasoned. And he loosened the expoder in its holster as he moved carefully forward. The outlaw headquarters might be close ahead, headquarters where renegade Frogs, Venusians from the southern sunken marshes of Mars, and Earthmen from dusty North Mars, concealed their precious hoard of water from the thirsty colonists of North Mars.

“They may have found the sunken seas of Mars,” thought Rolf as he moved alertly forward, “water that would give the mining domes new life.” His fists clenched dryly. “Water that should be free!”

Then the light brightened before him as he rounded a shouldering wall of smoothly trimmed stone, and the floor fell away beneath his feet! He found himself shooting downward into a vast void that glowed softly with a mysterious all-pervading radiance.

His eyes went searching out, out into undreamed distance. For miles below him there was nothing but emptiness, and for miles before him there was that same glowing vacancy. Above the cavern’s roof soared majestically upward; he could see the narrow dark slit through which his feet had betrayed him, and he realized that he had fallen through the vaulted rocky dome of this fantastic abyss.

It was then, even as he snapped the release of his spinner and the nested blades spun free overhead, that he saw the slowly turning bulk of the cloud-swathed world, a tiny five mile green ball of a planet!

The weird globe was divided equally into hemispheres, and as the tiny world turned between its confining columns a green, lake-dotted half alternated with a blasted, splintered black waste of rocky desert. As the spinner dropped him slowly down into the vast emptiness of the great shining gulf, Rolf could see that a broad band of stone divided the green fertile plains and forests from the desolate desert wastes of the other half. Toward this barrier the spinner bore him, and Rolf was content to let it move in that direction—from the heights of the wall he could scout out the country beyond.

The wall expanded as he came nearer to the pygmy planet. The spinner had slowed its speed; it seemed to Rolf that he must be falling free in space for a time, but the feeble gravity of the tiny world tugged at him more strongly as he neared the wall. And the barrier became a jumbled mass of roughly-dressed stone slabs, from whose earth-filled crevices sprouted green life.

So slowly was the spinner dropping that the blackened desolation of the other hemisphere came sliding up beneath his boots. He looked down into great gashes in the blackness of the desert and saw there the green of sunken oases and watered canyons. He drifted slowly toward the opposite loom of the mysterious wall with a swift wind off the desert behind him.

A hundred yards from the base of the rocky wall his feet scraped through black dust, and he came to a stop. Deftly Rolf nested the spinners again in their pack before he set out toward the heaped-up mass of stone blocks that was the wall.

Ten steps he took before an excited voice called out shrilly from the rocks ahead. Rolf’s slitted gray eyes narrowed yet more and his hand dropped to the compact expoder machine-gun holstered at his hip. There was the movement of a dark shape behind the screen of vines and ragged bushes.

“Down, Altha,” a deeper voice rumbled from above, “it’s one of the Enemy.”

The voice had spoken in English! Rolf took a step forward eagerly and then doubt made his feet falter. There were Earthmen as well as Frogs among the outlaws. This mysterious world that floated above the cavern floor might be their headquarters.

“But, Mark,” the voice that was now unmistakably feminine argued, “he wears the uniform of a patrolman.”

“May be a trick.” The deep voice was doubtful. “You know their leader, Cannon, wanted you. This may be a trick to join the Outcasts and kidnap you.”

The girl’s voice was merry. “Come on Spider-legs,” she said.

Rolf found himself staring, open-mouthed, at the sleek-limbed vision that parted the bushes and came toward him. A beautiful woman she was, with the long burnished copper of her hair down around her waist, but beneath the meager shortness of the skin tunic he saw that her firm flesh was covered with a fine reddish coat of hair. Even her face was sleek and gleaming with its coppery covering of down.

“Hello, patrol-a-man,” she said shyly.

An elongated pencil-ray of a man bounced nervously out to her side. “Altha,” he scolded, scrubbing at his reddened bald skull with a long-fingered hand, “why do you never listen to me? I promised your father I’d look after you.” He hitched at his tattered skin robe.

The girl laughed, a low liquid sound that made Rolf’s heart pump faster. “This Mark Tanner of mine,” she explained to the patrolman, “is always afraid for me. He does not remember that I can see into the minds of others.”

She smiled again as Rolf’s face slowly reddened. “Do not be ashamed,” she said. “I am not angry that you think I am—well, not too unattractive.”

Rolf threw up the mental block that was the inheritance from his grueling years of training on Earth Base. His instructors there had known that a few gifted mortals possess the power of a limited telepathy, and the secrets of the Planet Patrol must be guarded.

“That is better, perhaps.” The girl’s face was demure. “And now perhaps you will visit us in the safety of the vaults of ancient Aryk.”

“Sorry,” said the tall man as Rolf sprang easily from the ground to their side. “I’m always forgetting the mind-reading abilities of the Hairy People.”

“She one of them?” Rolf’s voice was low, but he saw Altha’s lip twitch.

“Mother was.” Mark Tanner’s voice was louder. “Father was Wayne Stark. Famous explorer you know. I was his assistant.”

“Sure.” Rolf nodded. “Lost in equatorial wastelands—uh, about twenty years ago—2053, I believe.”

“Only we were not lost on the surface,” explained Tanner, his booming voice much too powerful for his reedy body, “Wayne Stark was searching for the lost seas of Mars. Traced them underground. Found them too.” He paused to look nervously out across the blasted wasteland.

“We ran out of fuel here on Lomihi,” he finished, “with the vanished surface waters of Mars less than four miles beneath us.”

Rolf followed the direction of the other’s pale blue eyes. Overhead now hung the bottom of the cavern. An almost circular island of pale yellow lifted above the restless dark waters of a vast sea. Rolf realized with a wrench of sudden fear that they actually hung head downward like flies walking across a ceiling.

“There,” roared Tanner’s voice, “is one of the seas of Mars.”

“One,” repeated Rolf slowly. “You mean there are more?”

“Dozens of them,” the older man’s voice throbbed with helpless rage. “Enough to make the face of Mars green again. Cavern after cavern lies beyond this first one, their floors flooded with water.”

Rolf felt new strength pump into his tired bruised muscles. Here lay the salvation of Earth’s thirsting colonies almost within reach. Once he could lead the scientists of North Mars to this treasure trove of water….

“Mark!” The girl’s voice was tense. Rolf felt her arm tug at his sleeve and he dropped beside her in the shelter of a clump of coarse-leaved gray bushes. “The Furry Women attack!”

A hundred paces away Rolf made the dark shapes of armed warriors as they filed downward from the Barrier into the blackened desolation of the desert half of Lomihi.

“Enemies?” he whispered to Mark Tanner hoarsely.

“Right.” The older man was slipping the stout bowstring into its notched recess on the upper end of his long bow. “They cross the Barrier from the fertile plains of Nyd to raid the Hairy People. They take them for slaves.”

“I must warn them.” Altha’s lips thinned and her brown-flecked eyes flamed.

“The outlaws may capture,” warned Tanner. “They have taken over the canyons of Gur and Norpar, remember.”

“I will take the glider.” Altha was on her feet, her body crouched over to take advantage of the sheltering shrubs. She threaded her way swiftly back along a rocky corridor in the face of the Barrier toward the ruins of ancient Aryk.

Tanner shrugged his shoulders. “What can I do? Altha has the blood of the Hairy People in her veins. She will warn them even though the outlaws have turned her people against her.”

Rolf watched the column of barbarically clad warriors file out upon the barren desert and swing to the right along the base of the Barrier. Spear tips and bared swords glinted dully.

“They will pass within a few feet!” he hissed.

“Right.” Tanner’s fingers bit into Rolf’s arm. “Pray that the wind does not shift, their nostrils are sensitive as those of the weasels they resemble.”

Rolf’s eyes slitted. There was something vaguely unhuman about those gracefully marching figures. He wondered what Tanner had meant by calling them weasels, wondered until they came closer.

Then he knew. Above half naked feminine bodies, sinuous and supple as the undulating coils of a serpent, rose the snaky ditigrade head of a weasel-brute! Their necks were long and wide, merging into the gray-furred muscles of their narrow bodies until they seemed utterly shoulderless, and beneath their furry pelts the ripples of smooth-flowing muscles played rhythmically. There was a stench, a musky penetrating scent that made the flesh of his body crawl.

“See!” Tanner’s voice was muted. “Giffa, Queen of the Furry Ones!”

Borne on a carved and polished litter of ebon-hued wood and yellowed bone lolled the hideous queen of that advancing horde. Gaunt of body she was, her scarred gray-furred hide hanging loose upon her breastless frame. One eye was gone but the other gleamed, black and beady, from her narrow earless skull. And the skulls of rodents and men alike linked together into ghastly festoons about her heavy, short-legged litter.

Men bore the litter, eight broad-shouldered red-haired men whose arms had been cut off at the shoulders and whose naked backs bore the weals of countless lashes. Their bodies, like that of Altha, were covered with a silky coat of reddish hair.

Rolf raised his expoder, red anger clouding his eyes as he saw these maimed beasts of burden, but the hand of Mark Tanner pressed down firmly across his arm. The older man shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said. “When Altha has warned the Hairy People we can cut off their retreat. After they have passed I will arouse the Outcasts who live here upon the Barrier. Though their blood is that of the two races mingled they hate the Furry Ones.”

A shadow passed over their hiding place. The Furry Amazons too saw the indistinct darkness and looked up. High overhead drifted the narrow winged shape of a glider, and the warrior women shrieked their hatred. Gone now was their chance for a surprise attack on the isolated canyons of the Hairy People.

They halted, clustered about their leader. Giffa snarled quick orders at them, her chisel-teeth clicking savagely. The column swung out into the wasteland toward the nearest sunken valleys of the Hairy People. Rolf and Mark Tanner came to their feet.

Abruptly, then, the wind veered. From behind the two Earthmen it came, bearing the scent of their bodies out to the sensitive nostrils of the beast-women. Again the column turned. They glimpsed the two men and a hideous scrawling battle-cry burst from their throats.

Rolf’s expoder rattled briefly like a high-speed sewing machine as he flicked its muzzle back and forth along the ranks of attacking Furry Ones. Dozens of the hideous weasel creatures fell as the needles of explosive blasted them but hundreds more were swarming over their fallen sisters. Mark Tanner’s bow twanged again and again as he drove arrows at the bloodthirsty warrior women. But the Furry Ones ran fearlessly into that rain of death.

Tanner smashed an elbow into Rolf’s side. “Retreat!” he gasped.

The Furry Amazons swarmed up over the lower terraces of rocks, their snaky heads thrust forward and their swords slashing. The two Earthmen bounded up and backward to the next jumbled layer of giant blocks behind them, their powerful earthly muscles negating Lomihi’s feeble gravity. Spears showered thick about them and then they dropped behind the sheltering bulk of a rough square boulder.

“Now where?” Rolf snapped another burst of expoder needles at the furry attackers as he asked.

“To the vaults beneath the Forbidden City,” Mark Tanner cried. “None but the Outcasts and we two have entered the streets of deserted Aryk.”

The bald scientist slung his bow over his head and one shoulder and went bounding away along a shadowy crevice that plunged raggedly into the heart of the Barrier. Rolf blasted another spurt of explosive needles at the Furry Ones and followed.

Darkness thickened as they penetrated into the maze of the Barrier’s shattered heart. An unseen furry shape sprang upon Rolf’s shoulders and as he sank to his knees he felt hot saliva drip like acid upon his neck. His fist sent the attacker’s bulk smashing against the rocky floor before fangs or claws could rip at his tender flesh, and he heard a choked snarl that ended convulsively in silence.

Bat-winged blobs of life dragged wet leathery hide across his face, and beneath his feet slimy wriggling things crushed into quivering pulp. Then there was faint light again, and the high-vaulted roof of a rock dungeon rose above him.

Mark Tanner was peering out a slitted embrasure that overlooked the desolate land of the Hairy People.

Tanner’s finger pointed. “Altha!” Rolf saw the graceful wings of the glider riding the thermals back toward the Barrier. “She had warned the Hairy People, and now she returns.”

“The weasel heads won’t follow us here?” asked Rolf.

Tanner laughed. “Hardly. They fear the spirits of the Ancients too much for that. They believe the invisible powers will drink their souls.”

“Then how about telling me about this hanging world?”

“Simply the whim of an ancient Martian ruler. As I have learned from the inscriptions and metal tablets here in Aryk he could not conquer all of Mars so he created a world that would be all his own.”

Rolf laughed. “Like the pleasure globes of the wealthy on Earth.”

“Right.” Tanner kept his eyes on the enlarging winged shape of Altha’s flyer as he spoke. “Later, when the nations of Mars began draining off the seas and hoarding them in their underground caverns, Lomihi became a fortress for the few thousand aristocrats and slaves who escaped the surface wars.

“The Hairy People were the rulers,” he went on, “and the Furry Ones were their slaves. In the revolt that eventually split Lomihi into two warring races this city, Aryk, was destroyed by a strange vegetable blight and the ancient knowledge was lost to both races.”

“But,” Rolf frowned thoughtfully, “what keeps Lomihi from crashing into the island? Surely the two columns at either end cannot support it?”

“The island is the answer,” said Tanner. “Somehow it blocks the force of gravity—shields Lomihi from….” He caught his breath suddenly.

“The outlaws!” he cried. “They’re after Altha.”

Rolf caught a glimpse of a sleek rocket flyer diving upon Altha’s frail wing. He saw the girl go gliding steeply down toward a ragged jumble of volcanic spurs and pits and disappear from view. He turned to see the old man pushing another crudely constructed glider toward the outer wall of the rock chamber.

Tanner tugged at a silvery metal bar inset into the stone wall. A section of the wall swung slowly inward. Rolf sprang to his side.

“Let me follow,” he said. “I can fly a glider, and I have my expoder.”

The older man’s eyes were hot. He jerked at Rolf’s hands and then suddenly thought better of it. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Help her if you can. Your weapon is our only hope now.”

Rolf pushed up and outward with all the strength of his weary muscles. The glider knifed forward with that first swift impetus, and drove out over the Barrier. The Furry Ones were struggling insect shapes below him, and he saw with a thrill that larger bodied warriors, whose bodies glinted with a dull bronze, were attacking them from the burnt-out wastelands. The Hairy People had come to battle the invaders.

He guided the frail wing toward the shattered badlands where the girl had taken shelter, noting as he did so that the rocket flyer had landed near its center in a narrow strip of rocky gulch. A sudden thought made him grin. He drove directly toward the grounded ship. With this rocket flyer he could escape from Lomihi, return through the thirty-seven caverns to the upper world, and give to thirsty Mars the gift of limitless water again.

A man stood on guard just outside the flyer’s oval door. Rolf lined up his expoder and his jaw tensed. He guided the tiny soarer closer with one hand. If he could crash the glider into the guard, well and good. There would be no explosion of expoder needles to warn the fellow’s comrades. But if the outlaw saw him Rolf knew that he would be the first to fire—his was the element of surprise.

A score of feet lay between them, and suddenly the outlaw whirled about. Rolf pressed the firing button; the expoder clicked over once and the trimmer key jammed, and the doughy-faced Venusian swung up his own long-barreled expoder!

Rolf snapped his weapon overhand at the Frog’s hairless skull. The fish-bellied alien ducked but his expoder swung off the target momentarily. In that instant Rolf launched himself from the open framework of the slowly diving glider, full upon the Venusian.

They went down, Rolf swinging his fist like a hammer. He felt the Frog go limp and he loosed a relieved whistle. Now with a rocket flyer and the guard’s rifle expoder in his grasp the problem of escape from the inner caverns was solved. He would rescue the girl, stop at the Forbidden City for Mark Tanner, and blast off for the upper crust forty miles and more overhead.

He knelt over the prostrate Venusian, using his belt and a strip torn from his greenish tunic to bind the unconscious man. The knots were not too tight, the man could free himself in the course of a few hours. He shrugged his shoulders wearily and started to get up.

A foot scraped on stone behind him. He spun on bent knees and flung himself fifty feet to the further side of the narrow gulch with the same movement. Expoder needles splintered the rocks about him as he dropped behind a sheltering rocky ledge, and he caught a glimpse of two green-clad men dragging the bronze-haired body of the girl he had come to save into the shelter of the flyer.

A green bulge showed around the polished fuselage and Rolf pressed his captured weapon’s firing button. A roar of pain came from the wounded man, and he saw an outflung arm upon the rocky ground that clenched tightly twice and relaxed to move no more. The outlaw weapon must have been loaded with a drum of poisoned needles, the expoder needles had not blasted a vital spot in the man’s body.

The odds were evening, he thought triumphantly. There might be another outlaw somewhere out there in the badlands, but no more than that. The flyer was built to accommodate no more than five passengers and four was the usual number. He shifted his expoder to cover the opposite end of the ship’s squatty fuselage.

And something that felt like a mountain smashed into his back. He was crushed downward, breathless, his eyes glimpsing briefly the soiled greenish trousers of his attacker as they locked on either side of his neck, and then blackness engulfed him as a mighty sledge battered endlessly at his skull.

This sledge was hammering relentlessly as Rolf sensed his first glimmer of returning light. There were two sledges, one of them that he identified as the hammering of blood in his throbbing temples, and the other the measured blasting pulse of rocket jets. He opened his eyes slowly to find himself staring at the fine-crusted metal plates of a flyer’s deck. His nose was grinding into the oily muck that only undisciplined men would have permitted to accumulate.

Cautiously his head twisted until he could look forward toward the controls. The bound body of Altha Stark faced him, and he saw her lips twist into a brief smile of recognition. She shook her head and frowned as he moved his arm. But Rolf had learned that his limbs were not bound—apparently the outlaws had considered him out of the blasting for the moment.

By degrees Rolf worked his arm down to his belt where his solar torch was hooked. His fingers made careful adjustments within the inset base of the torch, pushing a lever here and adjusting a tension screw there.

The ship bumped gently as it landed and the thrum of rockets ceased. The cabin shifted with the weight of bodies moving from their seats. Rolf heard voices from a distance and the answering triumphant bawling of his two captors. The moment had come. He turned the cap of the solar torch away from his body and freed it.

Heat blasted at his body as the stepped-up output of the torch made the oily floor flame. He lay unmoving while the thick smoke rolled over him.

“Fire!” There was panic in the outlaw’s voice. Rolf came to his knees in the blanketing fog and looked forward.

One of the men flung himself out the door, but the other reached for the extinguisher close at hand. His thoughts were on the oily smoke; not on the prisoners, and so the impact of Rolf’s horizontally propelled body drove the breath from his lungs before his hand could drop to his belted expoder.

The outlaw was game. His fists slammed back at Rolf, and his knees jolted upward toward the patrolman’s vulnerable middle. But Rolf bored in, his own knotted hands pumping, and his trained body weaving instinctively aside from the crippling blows aimed at his body. For a moment they fought, coughing and choking from the thickening pall of smoke, and then the fingers of the outlaw clamped around Rolf’s throat and squeezed hard.

The patrolman was weary; the wreck in the upper cavern and the long trek afterward through the dark tunnels had sapped his strength, and now he felt victory slipping from his grasp.

He felt something soft bump against his legs, legs so far below that he could hardly realize that they were his, and then he was falling with the relentless fingers still about his throat. As from a great distant he heard a cry of pain and the blessed air gulped into his raw throat. His eyes cleared.

He saw Altha’s bound body and head. Her jaws were clamped upon the arm of the outlaw and even as he fought for more of the reeking smoky air of the cabin he saw the man’s clenched fist batter at her face. Rolf swung, all the weight of his stocky body behind the blow, and the outlaw thudded limply against the opposite wall of the little cabin.

No time to ask the girl if she were injured. The patrolman flung himself into the spongy control chair’s cushions and sent the ship rocketing skyward. Behind him the thin film of surface oil no longer burned and the conditioning unit was clearing the air.

“Patrolman,” the girl’s voice was beside him. “We’re safe!”

“Everything bongo?” Rolf wanted to know.

“Of course,” she smiled crookedly.

“Glad of that.” Rolf felt the warmth of her body so close beside him. A sudden strange restlessness came with the near contact.

Altha smiled shyly and winced with pain. “Do you know,” she said, “even yet I do not know your name.”

Rolf grinned up at her. “Need to?” he asked.

The girl’s eyes widened. A responsive spark blazed in them. “Handier than calling you Shorty all the time,” she quipped.

Then they were over the Barrier and Rolf saw the last of the beaten Furry Ones racing back across the great wall toward the Plains of Nyd. He nosed the captured ship down toward the ruined plaza of the Forbidden City. Once Mark Tanner was aboard they would blast surfaceward with their thrilling news that all Mars could have water in plenty again.

Rolf snorted. “Shorty,” he said disgustedly as they landed, but his arm went out toward the girl’s red-haired slimness, and curved around it.