Arcturus Times Three
Reviewed date: 2022 Dec 11
Arcturus Times Three was published in the October 1961 issue of Galaxy magazine. You can read it online at Project Gutenberg: Arcturus Times Three, by Jack Sharkey.
Lieutenant Jerry Norcriss, Space Zoologist
Jerry Norcriss is a Space Zoologist whose job is to make Contact with alien life forms on Arcturus Beta. By putting on a Contact helmet, a trained Space Zoologist can make mental contact with and inhabit the mind of an alien animal for a period of forty minutes. Forty minutes, no more, no less. While the Zoologist is in Contact, the machine analyzes the creature and produces a report, which is then used to determine whether that planet is safe to colonize. The catch for the Zoologist is that if the creature dies during the forty minutes of Contact, the Zoologist dies as well.
Jerry's first Contact on Arcturus Beta is a segmented worm creature. As the worm, Jerry sticks out his tongue--only to discover that the tongue is a whole new worm segment. Soon the tongue segment begins to grow and Jerry's segment begins to die. This is the worm's life cycle. Desperately, Jerry does the only thing he can think of: he amputates the tongue segment, killing it. The life force returns to his segment. Then the forty minutes of Contact is up.
Next Jerry makes Contact with a large carnivore shaped somewhat like a horned lion. He eats a small squirrel-like creature as a meal, but the meat rots in his stomach and he is about to die. Just in time he takes a drink from a pool of liquid sulfur. That's just what the horned lion requires for proper digestion. Then Contact is over.
On Jerry's third Contact he finds himself to be one of several dozen scaly rabbit-sized animals trapped in a row of cages in a large room. Across the room Jerry observes humanoid aliens in lab coats performing surgery. He realizes that he's on board a warship engaged in battle, and the patients are injured crewmen. Jerry also realizes that he and the other trapped specimens are being used as organ donors. Frantically he tries to escape when it's his turn to be a donor, but it's no use. As he's about to be caught the ship is fatally damaged and begins to sink. He finds he has gills and is spared the fate of drowning. The Contact ends.
A punchy ending
Jerry takes off the Contact helmet and is back among humans. The data has been gathered and it's positive. The segmented worm-creatures can be killed, as can the horned lions and any other dangerous animal. Arcturus Beta is fit for colonization. Jerry asks about the humanoids who already live there. They inhabit the seas and the coasts, he's told, and the colonies will be in central locations far from the coasts. What about when the colonies grow, Jerry asks. Surely there will be conflict then. But nobody answers him.
And that's why Jerry, like all Space Zoologists, doesn't mind inhabiting the minds of alien creatures: being a human--belonging to a race of conquerors--isn't much of an honor.
And wow, I didn't expect a 1961 story to have such a strong anti-colonialist message. It's well-done, if a little over-long given the eventual payoff.