Eric Frank Russell's "Mesmerica": Very hostile telepathic aliens don't welcome humans on their world
This story is not always logical, but but likable enough.
About the same terrestrial/martian mixed crew of "Mechanistria" & "Symbiotica", aboard their faster-than-light ship Marathon, powered by Flettner drive. Now out to a planet "in the region of Cassiopeia". Narrator is again the ship's sergeant-at-arms, & Captain McNulty is still the commander.
After landing, Ambrose & McFarlane will go cautiously exploring in a small flier. "Circling over a large lake. There's what looks like an encampment on the shore... about a hundred small pyramidical huts arranged in four concentric circles. Can't see anything moving around between them."
They land. Toss who will get out; other will stay put in the vessel. McFarlane wins the toss.
Nothing is heard from the two after this. All attempts to call ship fail. Except some where ship appears to be simply parroting whatever the mothership is saying!
A rescue group goes out in "pinnace". They fly over the spot, & see Ambrose & McFarlane lazing around in the sun! They cannot land for lack of landing space, click a few pictures of lazing bums, & return. More warnings to the 2 to return fast. No luck.
Encouraged by pinnace's report that the two are safe, a few venture out from mothership on foot. Two of them will not return.
When photos are developed in mothership, someone notices a peculiarity. Where they had seen Ambrose & McFarlane, there was nothing! "Precisely where they had stood outside the lifeboat's airlock were two repulsive objects resembling tangled masses of thick, black, greasy rope."
Slowly, the realization downs. "We have made contact with this planet's highest life form some hours ago but not realised it until now. They're hostile and they've gained the edge of us. The first loss is ours. We're already down by four men... it is evident that they have mesmeric power not to be despised. Doubtless they used it to entice Ambrose from the lifeboat, making him think he was being summoned by McFarlane... they can delude you into thinking you see what they want you to see - and maybe they can take it farther than that! We're facing a mental weapon of considerable potency".
Another search party for Ambrose & McFarlane. "Six men and one Martian will conduct the search... You will keep close together at all times and not permit yourselves to be separated even for a moment. The remaining four will stay in the pinnace and not leave it in any circumstances whatsoever... The four in the boat do not leave the vessel even if the search party reappears and begs on bended knees for them to come out - because by that time the search party may not be what it looks to be!" Those going out will have to use verbal passwords to gain entry; they are arranged before pinnace takes off.
Before the search party goes, there is a little incident at the mothership. A local rope-being, looking like one of the lost men, gains entry because the guard at airlock knows him. Only quick wits of narrator saves the ship.
Anyway, search party flies out again - including narrator; & force land in spite of tight landing space. In spite of all the caution, two men first in the search party are knocked out! One wakes up & figues he was thrashed by a nearby tree! And stupidly fries the tree with his needle gun - only to find it was really a rope-being! Party will destroy another tree like this, before moving on to cluster of huts.
Every hut they search is empty! After a while, the party is convinced the two men they are looking for are not here, & they are wasting time. Only Kli Yang, a martian, doesn't think so. Another realization - their thoughts are being tempered with!
OK - with more resolve, they begin search again. Only the locals end up behaving stupidly. As humans are searching a certain hut, they see a distraction 2 huts ahead. Distraction itself is stupidly executed, convincing the searchers that the two skipped huts contain their comrades.
While these two huts also look empty, the searchers are careful. An apparently stupid search by narrator on all fours by feeling empty space in one of the huts locates one of the lost men; similar search in other skipped hut will yield the other guy.
There will be a bit of fighting with telepaths on their way to pinnace, but eventually the heroes return safely to mothership.
They will learn that a local search party found the other two lost men too. Turns out, Jay Score's eyes cannot be fooled. He has also taken a live sample for return trip back home.
"Mesmerica", short story, review
First published: "Men, Martians and Machines", 1955
Series: "Jay Score" (A), "Mechanistria" (B), "Symbiotica" (B), "Mesmerica" (B)
Related: All stories of Eric Frank Russell.
- Ray Bradbury's "Mars is Heaven": Another story with very hostile telepathic aliens that make human explorers see whatever the aliens want them to see.