Author : Bob Burnett

A glint of reflected sunlight caught Will McRae’s attention. He ground-hitched his sorrel gelding and bellied up the slope to look into the next draw.

He scooted back down the slope, turned on his back and stared at the sky, his mouth suddenly dry. What he had seen could not be.

A silver barn floated some ten feet off the ground. Under the floating barn were three critters, looking something like antelope, except they were the wrong color and had only three legs. Definitely not antelope.

But there was no doubt about what was stretched out on the ground. Two of his cows.

He started to get mad, anger driving out fear. “Ain’t Jack Slade an’ his bunch,” he mumbled as he mounted, “but by God a rustler is a rustler.”

Will McRae flipped the thong off the hammer of his Colt and walked his horse over the rim.

“Alert, team members!” Relf transmitted. “A biped astride a quadruped approaches!”

Will McRae walked his sorrel to within a dozen feet of the strangers. He stopped his horse, slowly tipped his hat back with his left hand, keeping his right hand near his pistol.

“Howdy,” he said.

“Melodious reverberation from the biped,” Jelif transmitted. “Note that the quadruped stands mute.”

“I’m slow to rile,” Will drawled, “but you best be turnin’ my cows loose.” He pointed with his left hand to his two cows, which appeared not to be tied but moved only their eyes.

“Observe. The biped smglndf the subject quadrupeds. Perhaps it feeds on them and is hungry. Offer it flesh to eat. That will show our peaceful intentions.”

Jelif turned to the quadrupeds, extended his molof, and severed portion of flesh. He held the animal protein aloft, offering it to the visitor.

Will McRae’s eyes bulged with rage. “Butcher my cow right in front of me, will you? You dirty, low down . . . ” His right hand flashed to his pistol, drawing and firing in a single motion.

Something slammed into McRae’s chest and he fell from his horse, unconscious.

“Asmoth!” Jelif signaled, rubbing the mark where the .45 slug had struck his marlif. “Perhaps we did not correctly interpret the gestures.”

“Surely this is an intelligent being,” Relif transmitted. “This one suggests that the biped be transported for further study.”

“Agreed. Transport.”

A beam of green light surrounded the unconscious rancher, then he vanished.


Will McRae rode slowly around the herd, looking for signs of sickness or injury. He spotted a calf with a swelling on its left flank.

He guided his mount to cut the calf from the herd while he unlimbered his rope. The calf bolted, but Will’s loop settled over its head.

He secured the calf, walked back to his mount, and removed a straight razor and armored gloves from his saddle bags.

He examined the swelling on the calf, gripped it firmly with his left hand, and slashed the growth with the razor. When the golif emerged, fangs gnashing, he sliced it in two and dropped it, spurting purple fluids on the orange ground.

Will rubbed a salve into the wound and released the calf, which bounded back to its mother, screeching from the indignity of it all.

Watching the calf return to its mother, the young rancher smiled and coiled his rope as he walked back to his mount.

The land might look a little strange, Will McRae thought as he surveyed his surroundings, and the stock is some different. But ranching is ranching.

No matter where you are.

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