Living as we do mostly in space, Free Traders might be expected to have little contact or interest in animals. Long ago all ships carried felines for the protection of the cargo, since they hunted to rout out any pests stowing away. For centuries they were inseparable crew members. But their numbers grew less and less; they did not have as large or as many litters any more. We had forgotten where that animal had originated, so fresh stock could not be obtained to renew the breed. There were still a few at headquarters, highly prized, protected, tended, in hope that the breed might be reinstated. And we had all tried from time to time to replace them with various hunters from many worlds. One or two breeds had promise, but the majority could not adapt to ship life.

Perhaps this desire for companion animals gives us a strong pull toward alien beasts. I did not know about Griss, but I knew that Imust visit the booth behind the moon globe. And it seemed that I would have no argument, for he came willingly with me.

From somewhere there was a dull, heavy gong note. The chatter, the laughter, the singing died down a little, the crowd paying tribute to a temple call. But the hush did not last, for while the fair had its religious side, that had faded with the passing of centuries.

We came under the shadow of the pink-gray banner into the halo of the moon lamp. I had expected some pictures of the animals to be strung up to entice an audience. But instead there was only a fabric screen bearing tangles of native scripts, and over the door flap a strange mask emblem, neither beast nor bird but combining the two. Griss gave a small exclamation as he looked up at that.

'What is it?'

His eager expression surprised me a little. I had seen such a look before only when he fronted a new and intricate machine.

'This is a real find.'

'Find?' I thought of some piece of trade luck.

'A real sight,' he corrected himself as if he knew my thought. 'This is a Thassa show.'

Like Captain Foss he had visited Yiktor before. But I could only repeat, 'Thassa?' I believed I had studied the Yiktor tapes with close attention, but the meaning of this eluded me.

'Come!' Griss pulled me along to where a slender native in a silvery tunic and high red boots was accepting scale pieces for admittance. The native looked up and I was startled.

Around us was the crowd of Yiktorians born and bred—human as to form, with only slight differences between them and my own species. But this youth in his pale clothing seemed more alien to the world than we.

He had an appearance of fragility, almost as if the wind tugging at the sign banner over us could lap around him and carry him off. His skin was very smooth, with no sign that any beard had ever pricked through its surface, and very fair—little or no color in it. His features were human enough, except for the huge eyes, so dark one could not be certain of their color. His brows slanted so far up on the temples they actually joined with his hair, and the shade of that growth was silver-white.

I tried not to stare as Griss offered a token and the native lifted the tent flap for our entrance.


There were no seats, but several wide platforms raised in a series of steps at one end of the tent, such as might be easily dismantled when the show moved. These faced a larger stage which was now empty, but backed by draperies of the same pink-gray as the banner. A series of moon lanterns hung from the center pole overhead. The whole effect was somehow simple yet almost elegant, and to me not in keeping with any beast show.

We had come just in time, for a fold of the back drapery was lifted and the master trainer came to face the audience. Even though the hour was early, there were a goodly number of people, many of them children.

Master? No, the newcomer, though she wore tunic, breeches, and high boots similar to those of the doorkeeper, was clearly a woman. Her tunic was not collared tight to the throat, but fanned out behind her head in an arc of stiffened fabric that glinted along the edge with small sparks of ruby light, the color of which matched her boots and wide belt. She wore also a short, formfitting, sleeveless jacket of the same red-gold fur I had seen displayed in the Great Booth that morning.

She did not carry any whip such as most beast tamers flick about to enforce their commands, but a slender silver wand which could be no defense. It gleamed to match her hair, which was twisted into a high cone and made fast with pins headed by the sparkling ruby lights. In the triangular space between her long slanting eyebrows and the center of her hairline was an elaborate arabesque of silver and ruby which appeared fastened to her skin, for it did not shift with any turn or lift of her head. There was about her a sureness, a confidence that is a part of those who are masters of themselves and of some great art.

I heard a quick-drawn breath from Griss. 'Moon Singer!' His exclamation held a tinge of awe, an emotion rare among the Traders. I would have demanded an explanation from him, save that she who stood on the platform made a gesture now with her wand and at once all hum of speech ended. The audience paid her far more respect than the crowd without had paid the temple gong.

'Freesha and Freesh'—her voice was low, a kind of croon, leaving one from the first word wanting to hear more—'give kindness now to my little people, who wish only to amuse you.' She stepped to the end of the platform and made another wave of her wand. The drapery at the back rose just high enough to allow entrance to six small furred creatures. Their pelts were short-haired, but very thick and plushy, of a dazzling white. They scurried on hind feet, holding small ruby-colored drums to their rounded stomachs with forepaws which had a distinct resemblance to our human palms and fingers, save that their fingers were very long and thin. Their heads were round, and from them projected furless, slightly pointed ears. As with their mistress, their eyes appeared too large in proportion to the rest of their faces, which were wide-nosed and rounded of muzzle. Each carried in a loop over its back a bushy, silky-looking tail.

They trooped, one behind the other, to the opposite side of the stage from their trainer, and squatted on their haunches behind the drums on which they now rested their long-fingered paws. She must have given them some signal I missed, for they began to thump out, not ill-assorted bangs, but a definite rhythm.

Again the draperies arose and another set of actors came forth. These were larger than the drummers, and perhaps less quick in their movements. They were heavy of body for their size, but they tramped in time to the drumming, their coarsely furred bodies dark brown in shade, their huge, long ears and narrow, protruding snouts making them seem grotesque and truly alien. Now they swung their heads in time to the rhythm, their snouts

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