Early Bird (Cogswell)

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"Early Bird" is a science fiction short story written in 1973 by Theodore R. Cogswell and Theodore L. Thomas. The story was first published in Astounding: The John W Campbell Memorial Anthology. It takes place within the same universe as Cogswell's 1952 novel The Spectre General and features the character Major Kurt Dixon of the Imperial Space Marines.

Synopsis[edit]

After the Marines have defeated the Galactic Protectorate, the Empire's trade routes start being invaded by the Kierans. The Kierans are an alien race that use ships equipped with a seemingly invincible weapon that clouds the brains of the crew of the ships that try to follow them. Major Kurt Dixon is given command of a scout patrol that follows a Kieran ship to its home base, but he is "fogged" and left unconscious.

Dixon's ship is equipped with an experimental computer that generates a cybernetic personality to support him on long lonely space patrols. The computer, known as Zelda, manages to land the ship on an uncharted planet, inhabited by huge organo-metallic creatures that prey on each other with awesome weaponry and computerised defences.

Whilst the ship is disabled on the planet, it becomes a part of a mating process between two of these creatures. The 'sperm' of one creature homes in on the 'egg' laid by another creature. As part of a 'selection of the fittest' process, Dixon and his ship are modified, acquiring vastly improved mental and physical powers. Dixon discovers that he can now out-manoeuvre the Kierans. He realises that the entire patrol fleet can do the same thing; the newly improved fleet then proceeds to defeat the Kierans.