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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Fontema  
  A strange two 'wheeled' animal.  

"There's something moving closer than that, and it's really funny." Jack laughed deeply. "Its like the paddle-wheels, shaft and all, of an old-fashioned river steamboat, rolling along as unconcernedly as you please. He won't miss me by over four feet, but he isn't swerving a hair. I think I'll block him off, just to see what he does."

The traveler paid no attention, did not alter its steady pace of a couple of miles per hour. It measured about twelve inches long over all; its paddle-wheel-like extremities were perhaps two inches wide and three inches in diameter.

"Do you think it's actually alive, sir? In a place like this?"

"I'm sure of it. Watch carefully."

It struck the barrier and stopped. That is, its forward motion stopped, but its rolling did not. Its rate of revolution did not change; it either did not know or did not care that its drivers were slipping on the smooth, hard sand; that it could not climb the vertical metal plate; that it was not getting anywhere.

"What a brain!" Northrop chortled, squatting down closer. "Why doesn't it back up or turn around? It may be alive, but it certainly isn't very bright."

The creature, now in the shadow of the 'Troncist's helmet, slowed down abruptly - - went limp -- collapsed.

"Get out of his light!" Jack snapped, and pushed his friend violently away; and as the vicious sunlight struck it, the native revived and began to revolve as vigorously as before. "I've got a hunch. Sounds screwy -- never heard of such a thing -- but it acts like an energy-converter. Eats energy, raw and straight. No storage capacity -- on this world he wouldn't need it -- a few more seconds in the shade would probably have killed him, but there's no shade here. Therefore, he can't be dangerous."

He reached out and touched the middle of the revolving shaft. Nothing happened. He turned it at right angles to the plate. The thing rolled away in a straight line, perfectly contented with the new direction. He recaptured it and stuck a test-prod lightly into the sand, just ahead of its shaft and just inside one paddle wheel. Around and around that slim wire the creature went: unable, it seemed, to escape from even such a simple trap; perfectly willing, it seemed, to spend all the rest of its life traversing that tiny circle.

From First Lensman, by E.E. 'Doc' Smith.
Published by Fantasy Press in 1950
Additional resources -

I don't usually put non-engineered animals in the index, but I couldn't resist. The fontema is a dead ringer for NASA's latest lunar robotic explorer - the Axel rover.

Compare to the spider tripod biot from Rendezvous With Rama (1972) by Arthur C. Clarke.

Thanks to Alvaro for suggesting this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from First Lensman
  More Ideas and Technology by E.E. 'Doc' Smith
  Tech news articles related to First Lensman
  Tech news articles related to works by E.E. 'Doc' Smith

Fontema-related news articles:
  - Axel Rover Robotic Crater Explorer Yo-Yo-Bot
  - Pothole Detection Technology Expands

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