By AL SEVCIK
The robots were built to serve
Man; to do his work, see to his
comforts, make smooth his way.
Then the robots figured out an
additional service—putting Man
out of his misery.
There was a sudden crash
that hung sharply in the air,
as if a tree had been hit by
lightning some distance away.
Then another. Alan stopped,
puzzled. Two more blasts, quickly
together, and the sound of a
Frowning, worrying about the
sounds, Alan momentarily forgot
to watch his step until his foot
suddenly plunged into an ant
hill, throwing him to the jungle
floor. "Damn!" He cursed again,
for the tenth time, and stood
uncertainly in the dimness.
From tall, moss-shrouded trees,
wrist-thick vines hung quietly,
scraping the spongy ground like
the tentacles of some monstrous
tree-bound octopus. Fitful little
plants grew straggly in the
shadows of the mossy trunks,
forming a dense underbrush that
made walking difficult. At midday
some few of the blue sun's
rays filtered through to the
jungle floor, but now, late afternoon
on the planet, the shadows
were long and gloomy.
Alan peered around him at the
vine-draped shadows, listening
to the soft rustlings and faint
twig-snappings of life in the
jungle. Two short, popping
sounds echoed across the stillness,
drowned out almost immediately
and silenced by an
explosive crash. Alan started,
"Blaster fighting! But it can't
Suddenly anxious, he slashed
a hurried X in one of the trees
to mark his position then turned
to follow a line of similar marks
back through the jungle. He
tried to run, but vines blocked
his way and woody shrubs
caught at his legs, tripping him
and holding him back. Then,
through the trees he saw the
clearing of the camp site, the
temporary home for the scout
ship and the eleven men who,
with Alan, were the only humans
on the jungle planet, Waiamea.
Stepping through the low
shrubbery at the edge of the
site, he looked across the open
area to the two temporary structures,
the camp headquarters
where the power supplies and
the computer were; and the
sleeping quarters. Beyond, nose
high, stood the silver scout ship
that had brought the advance
exploratory party of scientists
and technicians to Waiamea
three days before. Except for a
few of the killer robots rolling
slowly around the camp site on
their quiet treads, there was no
"So, they've finally got those
things working." Alan smiled
slightly. "Guess that means I
owe Pete a bourbon-and-soda
for sure. Anybody who can
build a robot that hunts by homing
in on animals' mind impulses ..."
He stepped forward
just as a roar of blue flame dissolved
the branches of a tree,
barely above his head.
Without pausing to think,
Alan leaped back, and fell
sprawling over a bush just as
one of the robots rolled silently
up from the right, lowering its
blaster barrel to aim directly at
his head. Alan froze. "My God,
Pete built those things wrong!"
Suddenly a screeching whirlwind
of claws and teeth hurled
itself from the smoldering
branches and crashed against the
robot, clawing insanely at the
antenna and blaster barrel.
With an awkward jerk the robot
swung around and fired its blaster,
completely dissolving the
lower half of the cat creature
which had clung across the barrel.
But the back pressure of the
cat's body overloaded the discharge
circuits. The robot started
to shake, then clicked sharply
as an overload relay snapped
and shorted the blaster cells.
The killer turned and rolled back
towards the camp, leaving Alan
Shakily, Alan crawled a few
feet back into the undergrowth
where he could lie and watch the
camp, but not himself be seen.
Though visibility didn't make
any difference to the robots, he
felt safer, somehow, hidden. He
knew now what the shooting
sounds had been and why there
hadn't been anyone around the
camp site. A charred blob lying
in the grass of the clearing confirmed
his hypothesis. His stomach
"I suppose," he muttered to
himself, "that Pete assembled
these robots in a batch and then
activated them all at once, probably
never living to realize that
they're tuned to pick up human
brain waves, too. Damn!
Damn!" His eyes blurred and
he slammed his fist into the soft
When he raised his eyes again
the jungle was perceptibly darker.
Stealthy rustlings in the
shadows grew louder with the
setting sun. Branches snapped
unaccountably in the trees overhead
and every now and then
leaves or a twig fell softly to the
ground, close to where he lay.
Reaching into his jacket, Alan
fingered his pocket blaster. He
pulled it out and held it in his
right hand. "This pop gun
wouldn't even singe a robot, but
it just might stop one of those
They said the blast with your name on it would find
you anywhere. This looked like Alan's blast.
Slowly Alan looked around,
sizing up his situation. Behind
him the dark jungle rustled forbiddingly.
He shuddered. "Not a
very healthy spot to spend the
night. On the other hand, I certainly
can't get to the camp with
a pack of mind-activated mechanical
killers running around.
If I can just hold out until morning,
when the big ship arrives ...
The big ship! Good
Lord, Peggy!" He turned white;
oily sweat punctuated his forehead.
Peggy, arriving tomorrow
with the other colonists, the
wives and kids! The metal killers,
tuned to blast any living
flesh, would murder them the
instant they stepped from the
A pretty girl, Peggy, the girl
he'd married just three weeks
ago. He still couldn't believe it.
It was crazy, he supposed, to
marry a girl and then take off
for an unknown planet, with her
to follow, to try to create a home
in a jungle clearing. Crazy maybe,
but Peggy and her green eyes
that changed color with the
light, with her soft brown hair,
and her happy smile, had ended
thirty years of loneliness and
had, at last, given him a reason
for living. "Not to be killed!"
Alan unclenched his fists and
wiped his palms, bloody where
his fingernails had dug into the
There was a slight creak above
him like the protesting of a
branch too heavily laden. Blaster
ready, Alan rolled over onto his
back. In the movement, his elbow
struck the top of a small
earthy mound and he was instantly
engulfed in a swarm of
locust-like insects that beat disgustingly
against his eyes and
mouth. "Fagh!" Waving his
arms before his face he jumped
up and backwards, away from
the bugs. As he did so, a dark
shapeless thing plopped from
the trees onto the spot where he
had been lying stretched out.
Then, like an ambient fungus,
it slithered off into the jungle
For a split second the jungle
stood frozen in a brilliant blue
flash, followed by the sharp report
of a blaster. Then another.
Alan whirled, startled. The
planet's double moon had risen
and he could see a robot rolling
slowly across the clearing in his
general direction, blasting indiscriminately
at whatever mind
impulses came within its pickup
range, birds, insects, anything.
Six or seven others also left the
camp headquarters area and
headed for the jungle, each to a
slightly different spot.
Apparently the robot hadn't
sensed him yet, but Alan didn't
know what the effective range
of its pickup devices was. He
began to slide back into the
jungle. Minutes later, looking
back he saw that the machine,
though several hundred yards
away, had altered its course and
was now headed directly for
His stomach tightened. Panic.
The dank, musty smell of the
jungle seemed for an instant to
thicken and choke in his throat.
Then he thought of the big ship
landing in the morning, settling
down slowly after a lonely two-week
voyage. He thought of a
brown-haired girl crowding with
the others to the gangway, eager
to embrace the new planet, and
the next instant a charred nothing,
unrecognizable, the victim
of a design error or a misplaced
wire in a machine. "I have to
try," he said aloud. "I have to
try." He moved into the blackness.
Powerful as a small tank, the
killer robot was equipped to
crush, slash, and burn its way
through undergrowth. Nevertheless,
it was slowed by the
larger trees and the thick, clinging
vines, and Alan found that
he could manage to keep ahead
of it, barely out of blaster range.
Only, the robot didn't get tired.
The twin moons cast pale, deceptive
shadows that wavered
and danced across the jungle
floor, hiding debris that tripped
him and often sent him sprawling
into the dark. Sharp-edged
growths tore at his face and
clothes, and insects attracted by
the blood matted against his
pants and shirt. Behind, the robot
crashed imperturbably after
him, lighting the night with fitful
blaster flashes as some
winged or legged life came within
There was movement also, in
the darkness beside him, scrapings
and rustlings and an occasional
low, throaty sound like an
angry cat. Alan's fingers tensed
on his pocket blaster. Swift
shadowy forms moved quickly in
the shrubs and the growling became
suddenly louder. He fired
twice, blindly, into the undergrowth.
Sharp screams punctuated
the electric blue discharge as
a pack of small feline creatures
leaped snarling and clawing
back into the night.
Mentally, Alan tried to figure
the charge remaining in his blaster.
There wouldn't be much.
"Enough for a few more shots,
maybe. Why the devil didn't I
load in fresh cells this morning!"
The robot crashed on, louder
now, gaining on the tired human.
Legs aching and bruised,
stinging from insect bites, Alan
tried to force himself to run
holding his hands in front of
him like a child in the dark. His
foot tripped on a barely visible
insect hill and a winged swarm
exploded around him. Startled,
Alan jerked sideways, crashing
his head against a tree. He
clutched at the bark for a second,
dazed, then his knees
buckled. His blaster fell into the
The robot crashed loudly behind
him now. Without stopping
to think, Alan fumbled along the
ground after his gun, straining
his eyes in the darkness. He
found it just a couple of feet to
one side, against the base of a
small bush. Just as his fingers
closed upon the barrel his other
hand slipped into something
sticky that splashed over his
forearm. He screamed in pain
and leaped back, trying frantically
to wipe the clinging,
burning blackness off his arm.
Patches of black scraped off onto
branches and vines, but the rest
spread slowly over his arm as
agonizing as hot acid, or as flesh
being ripped away layer by
Almost blinded by pain, whimpering,
Alan stumbled forward.
Sharp muscle spasms shot from
his shoulder across his back and
chest. Tears streamed across his
A blue arc slashed at the trees
a mere hundred yards behind.
He screamed at the blast. "Damn
you, Pete! Damn your robots!
Damn, damn ... Oh, Peggy!"
He stepped into emptiness.
Coolness. Wet. Slowly, washed
by the water, the pain began to
fall away. He wanted to lie there
forever in the dark, cool, wetness.
For ever, and ever, and ...
The air thundered.
In the dim light he could see
the banks of the stream, higher
than a man, muddy and loose.
Growing right to the edge of the
banks, the jungle reached out
with hairy, disjointed arms as
if to snag even the dirty little
stream that passed so timidly
through its domain.
Alan, lying in the mud of the
stream bed, felt the earth shake
as the heavy little robot rolled
slowly and inexorably towards
him. "The Lord High Executioner,"
he thought, "in battle
dress." He tried to stand but his
legs were almost too weak and
his arm felt numb. "I'll drown
him," he said aloud. "I'll drown
the Lord High Executioner." He
laughed. Then his mind cleared.
He remembered where he was.
Alan trembled. For the first
time in his life he understood
what it was to live, because for
the first time he realized that he
would sometime die. In other
times and circumstances he
might put it off for a while, for
months or years, but eventually,
as now, he would have to watch,
still and helpless, while death
came creeping. Then, at thirty,
Alan became a man.
"Dammit, no law says I have
to flame-out now!" He forced
himself to rise, forced his legs
to stand, struggling painfully in
the shin-deep ooze. He worked
his way to the bank and began to
dig frenziedly, chest high, about
two feet below the edge.
His arm where the black thing
had been was swollen and tender,
but he forced his hands to dig,
dig, dig, cursing and crying to
hide the pain, and biting his
lips, ignoring the salty taste of
blood. The soft earth crumbled
under his hands until he had a
small cave about three feet deep
in the bank. Beyond that the
soil was held too tightly by the
roots from above and he had to
The air crackled blue and a
tree crashed heavily past Alan
into the stream. Above him on
the bank, silhouetting against
the moons, the killer robot stopped
and its blaster swivelled
slowly down. Frantically, Alan
hugged the bank as a shaft of
pure electricity arced over him,
sliced into the water, and exploded
in a cloud of steam. The
robot shook for a second, its
blaster muzzle lifted erratically
and for an instant it seemed almost
out of control, then it
quieted and the muzzle again
Pressing with all his might,
Alan slid slowly along the bank
inches at a time, away from the
machine above. Its muzzle turned
to follow him but the edge of
the bank blocked its aim. Grinding
forward a couple of feet,
slightly overhanging the bank,
the robot fired again. For a split
second Alan seemed engulfed in
flame; the heat of hell singed his
head and back, and mud boiled
in the bank by his arm.
Again the robot trembled. It
jerked forward a foot and its
blaster swung slightly away. But
only for a moment. Then the gun
swung back again.
Suddenly, as if sensing something
wrong, its tracks slammed
into reverse. It stood poised for
a second, its treads spinning
crazily as the earth collapsed underneath
it, where Alan had
dug, then it fell with a heavy
splash into the mud, ten feet
from where Alan stood.
Without hesitation Alan
threw himself across the blaster
housing, frantically locking his
arms around the barrel as the
robot's treads churned furiously
in the sticky mud, causing it to
buck and plunge like a Brahma
bull. The treads stopped and the
blaster jerked upwards wrenching
Alan's arms, then slammed
down. Then the whole housing
whirled around and around, tilting
alternately up and down like
a steel-skinned water monster
trying to dislodge a tenacious
crab, while Alan, arms and legs
wrapped tightly around the blaster
barrel and housing, pressed
fiercely against the robot's metal
Slowly, trying to anticipate
and shift his weight with the
spinning plunges, Alan worked
his hand down to his right hip.
He fumbled for the sheath clipped
to his belt, found it, and extracted
a stubby hunting knife.
Sweat and blood in his eyes,
hardly able to move on the wildly
swinging turret, he felt down
the sides to the thin crack between
the revolving housing and
the stationary portion of the robot.
With a quick prayer he
jammed in the knife blade—and
was whipped headlong into the
mud as the turret literally snapped
to a stop.
The earth, jungle and moons
spun in a pinwheeled blur,
slowed, and settled to their proper
places. Standing in the sticky,
sweet-smelling ooze, Alan eyed
the robot apprehensively. Half
buried in mud, it stood quiet in
the shadowy light except for an
occasional, almost spasmodic
jerk of its blaster barrel. For
the first time that night Alan
allowed himself a slight smile.
"A blade in the old gear box,
eh? How does that feel, boy?"
He turned. "Well, I'd better
get out of here before the knife
slips or the monster cooks up
some more tricks with whatever
it's got for a brain." Digging
little footholds in the soft bank,
he climbed up and stood once
again in the rustling jungle
"I wonder," he thought, "how
Pete could cram enough brain
into one of those things to make
it hunt and track so perfectly."
He tried to visualize the computing
circuits needed for the
operation of its tracking mechanism
alone. "There just isn't
room for the electronics. You'd
need a computer as big as the
one at camp headquarters."
In the distance the sky blazed
as a blaster roared in the jungle.
Then Alan heard the approaching
robot, crunching and snapping
its way through the undergrowth
like an onrushing forest
fire. He froze. "Good Lord!
They communicate with each
other! The one I jammed must
be calling others to help."
He began to move along the
bank, away from the crashing
sounds. Suddenly he stopped, his
eyes widened. "Of course! Radio!
I'll bet anything they're
automatically controlled by the
camp computer. That's where
their brain is!" He paused.
"Then, if that were put out of
commission ..." He jerked away
from the bank and half ran, half
pulled himself through the undergrowth
towards the camp.
Trees exploded to his left as
another robot fired in his direction,
too far away to be effective
but churning towards him
through the blackness.
Alan changed direction slightly
to follow a line between the
two robots coming up from
either side, behind him. His eyes
were well accustomed to the dark
now, and he managed to dodge
most of the shadowy vines and
branches before they could snag
or trip him. Even so, he stumbled
in the wiry underbrush and
his legs were a mass of stinging
slashes from ankle to thigh.
The crashing rumble of the
killer robots shook the night behind
him, nearer sometimes,
then falling slightly back, but
following constantly, more
unshakable than bloodhounds
because a man can sometimes cover
a scent, but no man can stop his
thoughts. Intermittently, like
photographers' strobes, blue
flashes would light the jungle
about him. Then, for seconds
afterwards his eyes would see
dancing streaks of yellow and
sharp multi-colored pinwheels
that alternately shrunk and expanded
as if in a surrealist's
nightmare. Alan would have to
pause and squeeze his eyelids
tight shut before he could see
again, and the robots would
move a little closer.
To his right the trees silhouetted
briefly against brilliance as
a third robot slowly moved up
in the distance. Without thinking,
Alan turned slightly to the
left, then froze in momentary
panic. "I should be at the camp
now. Damn, what direction am
I going?" He tried to think
back, to visualize the twists and
turns he'd taken in the jungle.
"All I need is to get lost."
He pictured the camp computer
with no one to stop it, automatically
sending its robots in
wider and wider forays, slowly
wiping every trace of life from
the planet. Technologically advanced
machines doing the job
for which they were built, completely,
thoroughly, without feeling,
and without human masters
to separate sense from futility.
Finally parts would wear out,
circuits would short, and one by
one the killers would crunch to
a halt. A few birds would still
fly then, but a unique animal
life, rare in the universe, would
exist no more. And the bones of
children, eager girls, and their
men would also lie, beside a
rusty hulk, beneath the alien
As if in answer, a tree beside
him breathed fire, then exploded.
In the brief flash of the
blaster shot, Alan saw the steel
glint of a robot only a hundred
yards away, much nearer than
he had thought. "Thank heaven
for trees!" He stepped back, felt
his foot catch in something,
clutched futilely at some leaves
and fell heavily.
Pain danced up his leg as he
grabbed his ankle. Quickly he
felt the throbbing flesh. "Damn
the rotten luck, anyway!" He
blinked the pain tears from his
eyes and looked up—into a robot's
blaster, jutting out of the
foliage, thirty yards away.
Instinctively, in one motion
Alan grabbed his pocket blaster
and fired. To his amazement the
robot jerked back, its gun wobbled
and started to tilt away.
Then, getting itself under control,
it swung back again to face
Alan. He fired again, and again
the robot reacted. It seemed familiar
somehow. Then he remembered
the robot on the river
bank, jiggling and swaying for
seconds after each shot. "Of
course!" He cursed himself for
missing the obvious. "The blaster
static blanks out radio
transmission from the computer
for a few seconds. They even do
it to themselves!"
Firing intermittently, he
pulled himself upright and hobbled
ahead through the bush.
The robot shook spasmodically
with each shot, its gun tilted upward
at an awkward angle.
Then, unexpectedly, Alan saw
stars, real stars brilliant in the
night sky, and half dragging his
swelling leg he stumbled out of
the jungle into the camp clearing.
Ahead, across fifty yards of
grass stood the headquarters
building, housing the robot-controlling
computer. Still firing at
short intervals he started across
the clearing, gritting his teeth
at every step.
Straining every muscle in
spite of the agonizing pain, Alan
forced himself to a limping run
across the uneven ground, carefully
avoiding the insect hills
that jutted up through the grass.
From the corner of his eye he
saw another of the robots standing
shakily in the dark edge of
the jungle waiting, it seemed,
for his small blaster to run dry.
"Be damned! You can't win
now!" Alan yelled between blaster
shots, almost irrational from
the pain that ripped jaggedly
through his leg. Then it happened.
A few feet from the
building's door his blaster quit.
A click. A faint hiss when he
frantically jerked the trigger
again and again, and the spent
cells released themselves from
the device, falling in the grass
at his feet. He dropped the useless
"No!" He threw himself on
the ground as a new robot suddenly
appeared around the edge
of the building a few feet away,
aimed, and fired. Air burned
over Alan's back and ozone tingled
in his nostrils.
Blinding itself for a few seconds
with its own blaster static,
the robot paused momentarily,
jiggling in place. In this
instant, Alan jammed his hands
into an insect hill and hurled the
pile of dirt and insects directly
at the robot's antenna. In a flash,
hundreds of the winged things
erupted angrily from the hole in
a swarming cloud, each part of
which was a speck of life
transmitting mental energy to the
robot's pickup devices.
Confused by the sudden dispersion
of mind impulses, the
robot fired erratically as Alan
crouched and raced painfully for
the door. It fired again, closer,
as he fumbled with the lock
release. Jagged bits of plastic and
stone ripped past him, torn loose
by the blast.
Frantically, Alan slammed
open the door as the robot, sensing
him strongly now, aimed
point blank. He saw nothing, his
mind thought of nothing but the
red-clad safety switch mounted
beside the computer. Time stopped.
There was nothing else in
the world. He half-jumped, half-fell
towards it, slowly, in tenths
of seconds that seemed measured
out in years.
The universe went black.
Later. Brilliance pressed upon
his eyes. Then pain returned, a
multi-hurting thing that crawled
through his body and dragged
ragged tentacles across his
brain. He moaned.
A voice spoke hollowly in the
distance. "He's waking. Call his
Alan opened his eyes in a
white room; a white light hung
over his head. Beside him, looking
down with a rueful smile,
stood a young man wearing
space medical insignia. "Yes,"
he acknowledged the question in
Alan's eyes, "you hit the switch.
That was three days ago. When
you're up again we'd all like to
Suddenly a sobbing-laughing
green-eyed girl was pressed
tightly against him. Neither of
them spoke. They couldn't. There
was too much to say.
This etext was produced from Amazing Science Fiction Stories
October 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any
evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was