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11

Sains looked around slowly. This time, he was in no hurry. The Dog, obviously, would want to run, to rush, but it had a whole new planet on which to play, and it shouldn’t bother him for a while. Even at a Dog’s speed, a planet is a big place.

Sains loved the Dog, but sometimes its perpetual bounciness, its eagerness was too much for him.

No, he was going to take his time, he had a good record and wasn’t about to screw up now. Screwing up is dangerous and, while Dogs are pretty much immortal, human beings are altogether more fragile. He turned and looked again at the members of the welcoming committee who, at that very moment, strode up the hill toward him. He shuddered briefly before his training took over: their elongated, seesawing legs and carefully erect stance reminded him too much of the ancient Martian’s. Thankfully, the similarities ended there: for all their limbs, the Huylee were distinctly larval in appearance – fat worms atop a scaffold was usually the most popular and accurate description – while this lot were properly insectile. Slim and elegant, with their heads nearly reaching his shoulders, they looked for all the world like giant praying mantes

This did not scare him. He and the dog were alone, after all. Alone against a planet. Once you get used to these odds, the individual characteristics of your opponents do not matter that much anymore.

“ – Greetings,” he said, and raised his right hand, palm outward, in a typically Terran salute. He was aware that the sound of his voice was probably meaningless to them, little more than random noise, and that the gesture could be interpreted in many ways, all different from the lie it was supposed to convey: on this planet, it could be a sign denoting aggression, perhaps, or maybe the most abject surrender, or even sexual arousal for all he knew. He didn’t really care, no more than did his masters: he was here as an emissary of Earth, of Earth’s Empire and of Man’s arrogance. From now on, against such pride, their customs, their usages and languages didn’t mean anything anymore. And it was time they got used to it.

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