The Project Gutenberg EBook of Monster of the Asteroid, by Ray Cummings

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Title: Monster of the Asteroid

Author: Ray Cummings

Release Date: May 6, 2020 [EBook #62040]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


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They might gamble, but win or lose the take
was death for these two new slaves of the
Master of that pitted Devil's Isle of outer space.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Winter 1941.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The amazing thing began that summer evening of 1965 while I was sitting with Dora Franklin on the third ramp at the crossroads, listening to the outdoor public-music. We were on the fringe of the crowd in a secluded little place where there was a small bench under the overhanging branches of a tree. It was a romantic scene with the audience seated in crescent rows under the strings of colored tubelights. My arm went around Dora, with her head against my shoulder as we listened to the soft exotic music.

Around us, countless other couples were also listening in silence.

A pair of young lovers. I realize now that was doubtless what first attracted the furtive man to us. How long he and his weird little companion had been watching us I have no idea. I was aware of the two dark shapes in the shadow under a nearby tree—a tall blob and a short one. Then the tall one came forward; the short one lurked in the deep shadows a few feet away.

"The music is very pretty?" a guttural voice said. It was a man in a long, dull-black cloak. His black peaked hat had a fringe almost in woman fashion which dangled past his ears and shrouded his face so that I could hardly see it. With his mumbled greeting he sidled up and dropped to the bench beside me, peering past me at Dora as though he were infinitely more interested in her rather than me which was not in itself a surprising fact.

"Yes," I agreed. Dora and I sat up and shifted reluctantly to give him room. The little figure ten feet away, stood impassive. I recall that I stared with a sudden startled astonishment; and then with a vague shudder stabbing into me. The silent shape was no more than five feet tall, so that with a quick glance here in the dimness one might have thought it a half grown boy. A man's long black overcoat fell from the top of its head almost to the ground, as though a boy had the overcoat hung on his head, with all of him shrouded inside it. But the top of the overcoat was limp, sagging. I had the sudden crazy thought that the thing was headless—an overcoat hanging on wide square shoulders without any head above them!

I shuddered involuntarily.

"You and the young lady like music?" the man beside me was saying. "It is romantic. You are engaged maybe? Or honeymooning?" His voice was almost too solicitous.

Between the shrouding fringe of his hat the colored tubelight sheen gleamed on his partly shrouded face. It was pallid, hawk-nosed, with burning dark eyes that still were staring with an almost rude intentness at Dora.

"No," I said. I moved with an impulse to stand up and take Dora to another bench, but the man's hand reached out and touched my arm.

"Just a minute," he said in his limping guttural voice. "My name is Bragg. What is yours?"

"Ralston," I said stiffly. "Thomas Ralston."

I could see that Dora now was staring at that little lurking figure. She, too, sensed that there was something gruesome about it.

The man beside me was speaking more swiftly now in a low furtive flow of mumbled words. "I can interest young lovers like you. I have a place, just for honey-mooners. A little colony of lovers. A place to live, without cost, and no work. You would like it. A very beautiful place."

"We're not married," I said. Was this weird fellow a solicitor for some rich man's altruistic colony? I had heard of such places. In my father's day there was a big one on an island off the Florida coast, and another in the South Seas—colonies where newlyweds went to create an earthly paradise, which, of course, wouldn't work out.

"But you will be married?" the man insisted. "It is a very beautiful place. There is no place like it. I am sure Miss Franklin will—"

I tensed, jumped to my feet, and Dora stood up beside me. Miss Franklin! But I hadn't named her. This fellow knew us then. At our movement, it seemed that the little figure nearby was edging closer. I am a pretty husky, six foot fellow. As I stood up, the man on the bench rose also, with his hand still on my arm. He was about my height. I flung off his light hold.

"Not interested," I said. "Come on, Dora."

We started to go.

Was that damnable, headless little thing about to pounce on me? There were five hundred people here within sound of a shout, but despite it a thrill of fear darted through me. I'm not exactly afraid of anything human; but somehow this seemed different—as though that square, box-like, wide-shouldered little thing were something gruesome—something you couldn't fight with your fists. It was standing sidewise to us now, in a deeper shadow than before and, even more than before, I got the impression that the ominous-looking little figure was headless.

"But won't you at least come and see what I have to show you?" the man at my side was insisting. "It is not very far—"

"Thanks, no." I turned away with an arm around Dora. And suddenly the man was slinking off with the wide-shouldered little thing following after him on stiff little legs. In a moment they were gone.

That was the beginning. The details of me are not important here; I need only say that I was twenty-four that summer. Dora and I were engaged to be married. Both of us were orphans. She was wealthy; I was not, so that I did not want to marry until I had made a success of an invention on which I was working—a ray-weapon with which I hoped, not to make war more deadly, but to make war impossible. It was a non-killing, paralyzing vibration. In theory, if I could project it any great distance—a vibration on speeding form—then with it whole armies would be stricken down, rendered helpless.

But I had not progressed that far as yet. I was living in Dora's home, working in a small laboratory with which it was equipped. Just this week I had completed a miniature projector. With tests upon animals it seemed to be effective at some fifty feet....

Dora's home was some three miles out in the country from the Crossroads Municipal Village where we had gone to hear the music. We took her little air-roller which was parked nearby. We did not fly it for such a short distance, merely rolled it out on the State Road. Dora was frightened, but I tried to shrug away the mysterious incident.

"That—that little thing that stood watching us," she said. "Oh Tom—"

"Looked like a boy with an overcoat over his head," I told her. "Forget it, Dora."

Had she noticed that the man who had accosted us knew her name? She did not mention it, nor did I. We were approaching her home within five minutes. Here, fifty miles north of New York City, there was one of the infrequent patches of lonely country. Her small cement and metal cottage nestled against a wooded hillside. Queer—as we rolled up, the house was in complete darkness. Yet Mrs. Holten, our housekeeper, certainly would not have retired now at ten o'clock.

We stopped at the main entrance and climbed out. "Oh Tom—" Dora murmured. "Something very strange about this—"

She stood clinging to me, with the dark silent house beside us. Overhead the moon was riding a sky of low, swift-flying clouds. The trees around the house stirred with a night breeze, but beyond that it seemed that everything was abnormally silent—a silence hanging menacingly around us.

"Mrs. Holten must have gone to bed," I said. "Come on, let's go in."

But Mrs. Holten wasn't in the house. We called; then lighted all the lights. The place was in perfect order, but the housekeeper was gone.

"Strange," I said. "I suppose something called her away. She should have left us a note."

But what I didn't say was that on the wall of the hall, near the door of the laboratory there were dark marks on the plaster—marks that suggested a burn, as though heat had struck the wall.

"Tom, come here," Dora called from the living room. "What a queer smell!"

I met her frightened gaze; her nostrils were dilating. I could smell it—an acrid, pungent smell.

"Government Food Depot Raided!" The crisp low voice here with us in the living room was so unexpected that Dora gave a low scream and clutched me. It was our news-radio which Mrs. Holten had evidently left on; and now a news announcement was being made. "Allenville, New York. Mysterious raiders broke into the Government Surplus Food Depot, here tonight—probably about 9.50 p.m. Large supplies of sealed cooked food stolen. Four watchmen found dead—others missing."

Dora and I stood stricken, listening to the newscaster's droning voice. Allenville was the Municipal Housing Village we had just left. The Government Food Storehouses were on its other side half a mile from where we had heard the music.

"... and the bodies of the watchmen show that they were attacked by some mysterious weapon. There are no wounds. The clothing is charred a little, as though some weird form of heat were applied. Two of the men have burned spots on the forehead—as though some electric charge of a lethal power—"

The signal lights on top of our instrument showed that another public-news station was signalling it had a visual broadcast of immediate interest. I reached and tuned to it. The televisor glowed. Numbed with startled horror, Dora and I stood staring at the moving image on the televisor grid. It was from a public observor lens mounted on a pole beside one of the roads leading out of Allenville. An alarm signal had been turned in by a traffic director there on a crossing ramp. He had evidently flung on the alarm-light so that all the scene was bathed in its white actinic glare. And the road-side observing lens was bringing it now to us, broadcasting it to every receiving set in the country.

What we saw was the crossing ramp with milling, frightened pedestrians and the traffic in a tangle. Momentarily the people were blinded by the glare and deafened by the shrieking of the alarm-siren. In the background loomed a building which I knew was another of the Government Food Depots. The alarm evidently had originated there.

"Tom—look—that doorway!" Dora murmured.

From one of the dark doorways of the Food Depot a little figure came scurrying out. And then another—and at the foot of the ramp where the crowd was milling, several others suddenly were visible. Figures identical with the one which had watched us by the bench!

"Oh Tom—dear God!"

For a brief instant one of them was bathed in the alarm-light and our image of the turmoil showed it clearly. The shrouding garment was open in front as it faced us. The scurrying little thing was headless! It seemed to have square wide shoulders, straight across from tip to tip—no neck—no head! The glimpse was ended in another second as the thing darted away and was gone in the turmoil.

In our living room, Dora and I stood stricken. And suddenly our room tubelight was extinguished and we were plunged into darkness! There was just the moonlight glow from one of the living room's open windows—a pallid rectangle where now I saw a weird box-like thing lurching as it climbed over the sill!

A little automatic bullet-projector for home emergency use was hanging on a rack beside me. I snatched it. The disintegrating air-charge hurled the bullet with an almost soundless whizz. My aim doubtless was true enough; but from the oncoming little creature a faint violet radiance was streaming out, like an enveloping aura around it, visible now in the darkness. The bullet melted with a soundless little puff of light.

I was aware that Dora was clutching at me, screaming. Then something hit us with a numbing electric shock. I was conscious of nothing save that I was falling; galvanized so that I went down rigid, with a crash. Then there was only Dora's scream of terror, swiftly fading as my senses were flung away.

I came to myself with the sense that a considerable time had passed. I knew that I was thinking. For a while it seemed that there was nothing of me alive, except my mind. I was conscious now that my body was numb; lifeless.

Like catalepsy. It was a consciousness most horrible—dead, yet alive. I struggled to move, but there was nothing that would react. Then very slowly I could feel the sensation of tingling. It seemed to define my body; make me conscious of my legs and arms that were prickling as though with a thousand needles stabbing them. I could feel now that I was lying on something soft. My eyelids fluttered up so that I had the swimming vision of narrow metal walls and a low grid ceiling. The room was faintly luminous with a weird dull radiance.

Then my clearing sight focused on a lens-shaped window. Stars were out there—glittering points of blue-white light in a firmament solid black. The stars were in a slow circular procession of movement so that I knew the room was revolving.

Interplanetary Space. I was in a space-vehicle. I could hear the faint, throbbing humming mechanisms now, and see the endless procession of celestial glory outside my window. Numbly, for how long I do not know, I lay blankly watching it. The space-vehicle obviously had a slow horizontal axial rotation. The glittering distant worlds swung past. And then I saw the Earth! The blazing, flame-enveloped ball of Sun was off to one side, so that it was a great crescent Earth. Much time indeed had passed. Hours; days—a blank to me. The Earth was dull red-yellow. The sunlight gleamed on the mountains at the limb of its crescent; and I could see the mottling of clouds and the configurations of oceans and continents beneath them.

"Maybe you can move now. Your name is Tom Ralston, isn't it? Any chance you can speak—you're coming out all right, damned if you're not. I'd about given you up."

It was a low voice beside me; and suddenly I was aware of a hunched man's form sitting here on the floor. My gaze swung to see him—a slim young fellow in ragged Earth garments of tight black and white striped trousers and white blouse open at the throat. His face was good-looking; slack-jawed, weak face with pale blue eyes. His stubble of beard made his weak chin and thin cheeks bluish. He was smiling.

"All right now, Ralston?"

"Yes, I guess so." I could barely mouth it. My tongue was thick; all my body was a torture now from that prickling. But I could move, and every moment I could feel my strength coming back to me. "Where am I?" I mumbled. "What happened? Who are you?" And then I remembered Dora. "She—Dora Franklin—she was with me. Is she all right?"

"Oh sure. If you could call being on this damned ship anything to be pleased about. The woman Setta is taking care of her. The damned little Physical hit her and you both with its shock, but you got much the worst. Dora's all right, now."

I lay, with my strength coming back, listening in mute wonderment to the weird things he was telling me. His name was Johnny Blair. A year ago, in New York City, he had just been married. He and his young wife had been approached by that same weird man who had accosted Dora and me. They had yielded to his lure of a honeymoon paradise; had gone with him. The man's name was Bragg—an escaped Earth criminal, member of a band of fifty who in a wholesale jailbreak five years ago had gotten loose, stolen a space-vehicle and left Earth. Roaming in Space, they had landed on a little planetoid, a member of our Solar System, which encircles the Sun in an orbit outside the orbit of Earth; between the Earth and Mars.

"We're almost there now," young Blair was saying. He had lowered his voice so that now he was furtive, fearing that what he was telling me might be overheard by someone outside our cubby. "Pretty weird new world we're headed for, Ralston," he commented grimly. He jerked his thumb toward the lens-shaped pressure window. "If you're strong enough to take a look, you'll see it right under us. We're dropping down into its stratosphere now."

With his arm supporting me, weakly I staggered to the window. Blair was explaining that our tiny cubby was on the outer rim of the flat, disc-shaped vehicle. Its rocket-streams gave it a slow horizontal rotation, and its gravity plates, set now into repulsion, were slowly dropping it downward.

Through the window I stared down. The little planetoid, some six hundred miles in diameter but with an immense density since it was almost solid metal, lay spread close beneath us. A weird world indeed; a great spread of convex surface of barren, tumbled rocks and mountains in great serrated tiers. The sunlight gleamed with a dazzling sheen on the burnished heights. Then we passed into the shadow of night.

I gazed, wordless. It was a fearsome, barren waste of blue-white metal rocks, fused and pitted as though the little world had been born in a fiery convulsion; a tumbled, strewn land of crags and boulders with ragged gashes of canyons in which now the shadows were black, impenetrable. And over it all there was a lurid green-red glow. It seemed inherent to the air; and it streamed up like a radioactive aura from the rocks of the ground.

"The whole planetoid is like that?" I murmured. "Surely that's not habitable?"

Johnny Blair rubbed his bluish stubble of beard. "Well, there's water—it rains sometimes. Maybe there's soil where things would grow, but I've never seen any. There's quite a colony of us humans here now. We've been stealing our food—"

So that explained the raids on the Government Food Depots! A band of fifty escaped criminals, fugitives from Earth, originally had come here. Their leader was one Torkine; the pallid fellow Bragg was his lieutenant. And now, raiding Earth of food and supplies, married couples were being brought—and young men and young girls, to be married on the planetoid. A new world.

"We've brought some young people from Mars also," Johnny Blair was explaining. "Been there three times, and once to Venus. Quite a lot of humans here now—four hundred maybe."

To colonize an uninhabitable world. I said something like that and Johnny stared at me mutely. "It was inhabited," he said grimly. He seemed to shudder. "A world with just one inhabitant. It—it's a ghastly thing. It's got us all as its prisoners now. The Supreme One—that's what it calls itself. God, when you see it—"

What weird horrible thing was this? I could only return his stare. A barren little planetoid, with just one inhabitant. Something not human.

"But," I stammered, "when Bragg accosted us, there was a little headless thing in an overcoat standing near him. And we saw several of them coming out of the Food Depots."

Johnny's smile was grim. "We call those the Physicals. They're parts of the Supreme One—like his arms and legs, only they're detached."

"Part of him? His arms and legs? I don't get you."

"No? Well, my God, you'll see." Johnny's gesture seemed trying to express his hopelessness at explaining. "You'll see him—the main central part of him, I mean, that never leaves his house. He's a Being, not all in one piece, like us humans. His housed main body can't move. You understand? He's rooted to the ground. The rest of him is detached and he works it by remote control. There must be thousands of those little Physicals—some in one shape, some in others. But mostly they're like the ones you saw."

A new form of life. A Thing, an Individual—the sole occupant of its world. My mind tried to encompass it. On Earth, every living creature at least seems to be, as Johnny expressed it, all in one piece. But why should that be exclusively necessary throughout the Universe? Here, on this little remote planetoid, was one of God's creations that was made wholly different.

Johnny's voice went lower. "He—It—the Supreme One—it's got us all trapped. It's delighted—having something besides parts of itself to rule. You see? that's why it's been sending its parts—like its arms and legs—to make Bragg and the others lure young men and girls. To establish a human world, and the Supreme One will rule it."

I understood it better now. That headless little thing in the overcoat had been watching Bragg—a moving part of the Supreme One, making Bragg do its bidding. And now Johnny was explaining that as though it were a giant electric eel, the headless Physical could emit from its own body a weird electronic discharge. That was what had shocked me into catalepsy. And it had thrown a barrage about itself, so that my bullet had been futile to hit it.

"These Physicals," I was murmuring. "Can they hear you when you speak? Can they talk?"

He nodded. "Yes. Subsidiary organs that operate for themselves when the main body is too remote." Again he shrugged hopelessly. "I guess we humans aren't capable of fully understanding—"

He checked himself suddenly. He and I were still standing by the little bull's-eye window. Behind us I heard a click. A doorslide to our cubby opened. I sucked in my breath with a gasp. One of the Physicals stood there. A little square, box-like thing mounted on two jointed legs, with flexible hinged feet, long and pointed. The light from an outside corridor was behind it, so that I could at first only see its outline in silhouette. As it stood, it seemed to click and a third leg came sliding down to support it like a tripod. Its arms, three on each side of its box-body, were waving like little tentacles. Ghastly little living thing. Its box-body was some two feet wide by three feet long, with perhaps a foot of thickness. The light gleamed on its top edge; the foot-thick surface there was level, smooth and shining, with rounded ends gruesomely to suggest a travesty of human shoulders.

And then it spoke—a low, hollow, tonelessly mechanical voice. "You have recovered? You are the human called Tom Ralston?"

English! Queerly intoned, but correct. Johnny nudged me. "Yes," I said. "That's who I am."

Its third leg slid up again into its body; and with padding little steps it came forward. I could see it better now. Was it clothed? Was it living tissue, or wholly metal? For a moment there seemed no answers. Then I realized that there was no detachable clothing. A body of animal tissue, or mineral? Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. A substance different. But I could see that parts of it were rigid, and parts of it quivering. Down the front of its square little body rows of knobs protruded; and as I stared, one of them shifted aside and a little knife-like finger came out on a tentacle arm and waved at me. Then I saw what might have been called its face—a mobile, flexible-looking circular area in the front center of its body. A hole there seemed to glow as though an eye were in it. A round orifice from which the voice issued was on one side of it; and on the other, a hole that could have been an ear. And over them there was a crescent-shaped little area which was greenly luminous—the little brain in there, visibly palpitating.

"I told Torkine," the Physical said, "that he might see you when you recovered. Blair will bring you now." Its feet turned. With little precision steps it marched out and vanished in the dim corridor.

I stared at Johnny, and now suddenly he gripped me. "We'll have to go," he murmured swiftly. "Listen, we'll be landing in an hour or two—this may be the last chance I have to talk to you alone. I been tryin' to get away from this accursed thing for six months now. Escape—I want to get back to Earth."

"And you couldn't?"

"Good God, no. Wait 'til you understand the—the monster better. It's got all us humans trapped. Helpless. Sometimes it treats us kindly—it's got its own ideas about building up a world of humans, for it to rule. But when you make it mad, the wrath of the monster is horrible!"

His words were making me shudder. "You have a wife," I murmured. "Where is she?"

"She's dead," he said. His voice went drab. "Eight months ago, by Earth-time, I guess it was. She—she displeased the Supreme One, and so it killed her. Four of the Physicals just—just grabbed her arms and legs and they pulled until she—she came apart!"

His voice trailed away. I could only stand with my hand on his shoulder, staring mutely at him as I shuddered. Then he was leading me along the corridor which ran like the spoke of a wheel toward the center of the disc-shaped vehicle.

"What I was saying," he went on in his swift murmur. "Torkine and those fifty men of his convict band—I wouldn't trust a damn one of them. The monster likes Torkine, so he's the boss of us humans. But Torkine is planning something murderous. I've been sure of that for quite a while. And this fellow Bragg is married to a girl we got from Mars. Her name's Setta. She's all right."

His voice sank even lower as he stopped in the corridor and gripped me. "Listen, I've seen your girl Dora—Setta's been taking care of her. I hope the Supreme One decides to marry you to her. But I wouldn't count on it. I've seen Torkine and Bragg both lookin' at her pretty queer. She's a damn sweet-lookin' girl."

My heart was pounding. "Johnny, look here; you say you want to escape, get back to Earth?"

"That's what I was tellin' you. Or to Mars—that would be all right. Setta and I are planning it. Can't tell you now. She loves Bragg, and wants to get him out of here. Bragg has been punished by the monster."

"Johnny, listen. When we get to the planetoid, I want to be in with you—Dora and I."

"Yes. That's what I guessed. Suits me fine. But I'm tellin' you—don't you trust a damn soul!"

The weird passions of humans. Here on this little space-vehicle we all were captives of the Supreme One. And yet, wherever there are humans, smoldering strife will exist. The criminal Torkine and his fifty men—what murderous action were they planning? We passed one of them in the corridor; a big, beetle-browed fellow in trousers and shirt. He stood with his hands on his hips, staring after us with a grinning leer. But he moved quickly enough when a little Physical came marching up with its hurried, jerky little steps and ordered him away.

At the entrance to the small control tower which projected up like the hub of a wheel from the center of the disc-vehicle, Bragg was standing.

"So they got you and your girl?" he murmured.

"Yes," I agreed.

I stared at the woman who was beside him. Setta, his wife, the girl from Mars. She was a small, brown-skinned girl of perhaps twenty. An odd face with slanted eyes, narrow nose and queerly pointed chin. Long sleek black hair framed her face, fell over her brown, sleek bare shoulders and crossed her full breasts to make a sort of bodice. From her waist a fringed brown skirt hung to her bare ankles.

Strange-looking young woman of another world from mine. But as she smiled at me, revealing even white teeth, I felt her charm, and almost at once my sense of her strangeness was gone. At least we were both humans, a man and a woman, with so vast a gulf between us and the gruesome little Physicals.

"I have tried to be good to your woman Dora," Setta said as I passed her.

"Yes, thank you," I responded.

The Control Turret was pallid with overhead starlight. Its big circular glassite windows showed me the spread of the planetoid's barren surface underneath us. We had dropped down through cloud layers now. The wild naked wastes of the little world's surface were no more than ten thousand feet down. Still there seemed nothing but barren metal rocks; no sign of life human or otherwise.

"So you did not die, Tom Ralston. Welcome to our little colony!"

Torkine's ironic voice greeted me. He was seated at the control table where the intricate dials, levers and vacuums of the disc's mechanisms were ranged. He stood up as I entered. And beside him I saw Dora. She was still clad in her Earth garments, and her long pale-blonde hair was braided and coiled on her head. I have not spoken of Dora's beauty. Loving her, my own opinion of it possibly was exaggerated; and yet I have never known a man, or a woman either, who differed greatly from me in praising it—a delicate, ethereal beauty.

She gave a little cry as she saw me, half started to her feet, and then sank back on the bench beside Torkine. Her face was pallid, but she was trying to smile at me.

"Welcome," Torkine said again. "Come sit here with us, Ralston, and I'll show you our new world. You see he did not die, little Dora?"

I saw Torkine now as a huge burly giant; six feet four at least. A swaggering, handsome fellow, this escaped convict. In age he could have been thirty odd. He was grinning at me ironically as he shoved a metal chair toward me.

"The Supreme One will be glad to have you," he added. "You and Dora Franklin. Especially Dora. We need Earth beauty in our motley little colony of humans. The Supreme One spoke to me of that—there will be several marriages soon after we arrive tonight. The Great Master is deciding now which men and which women of our humans shall be mated."

Omnipotence. Torkine's irony was gone now; he spoke casually, as though stating a casual fact. Humans here, who before the power of the Supreme One were no longer individuals to have a will and emotions of their own. Everything to be decided for us.

But I saw the pallid hawk-nosed Bragg staring at Dora with a look that made my heart pound. And Torkine himself dropped back on the bench and murmured:

"Do not be surprised little Dora, if the Master decides not to give you to this fellow Ralston—"

He leered at me, and his arms went around Dora, drawing her to him. She gave a little cry of terror and repugnance. It was too much for me. I jumped up.

"Stop that!" I rasped. "You Torkine—take your hands off her!"

He turned his head, grinning at me, but he did not move. I would have been upon him in another second. Behind me I heard Johnny Blair give a cry to try and stop me. In the shadows of one of the circular walls, half a dozen of the little box-like Physicals, all identical, were ranged motionless in a line. They were muttering now—weird mutterings that popped from them like tiny explosions. And abruptly acting in unison, they came pouncing at me!

"Ralston, stand still!" Blair shouted. "Your only chance—stand still!"

I checked my advance and tried to get my wits; to master the frenzy that was upon me. It was a moment of horrible chaos; I knew that my life or death in that second hung in the balance. With hands at my sides I stood irresolute as the weird little creatures spread out and surrounded me. Little creatures? Still my brain would barely encompass the amazing fact that these were not individual little beings but merely the detached parts of one great Individual—one almost Omniscient Mentality. As though they were just arms and legs with a remote giant central Being to guide them in what they were doing now.

As I stood panting, waiting, with my heart pounding, for an instant it seemed that I would be seized, with the tentacle arms of the box-like little things pulling at me, like poor Blair's young wife, with arms and legs pulled until she came apart....

It was a breathless, horrible moment of suspense. All the humans here in the pallid turret stood breathlessly silent, tense, as helplessly we waited to see what the Supreme One would decide to do. By what weird method of nature were swift communications passing between these little things and their main Being so distant? Our human mind doubtless will never yield an answer to that. Yet perhaps it was no different in its essence from the swift orders which our own brain gives to our distant hands and feet. Ours is a transmission through nerves; this other a transmission through the ether. Each of these little parts had its subsidiary eye, to see these local happenings; a little subsidiary brain to record them, to amplify them with reasoning and to fling the result out to the Supreme One for decision.

Thoughts themselves are instant things. I stood with a flood of such thoughts as the Physicals surged at me. Their little eyes, in the middle of each box-like body, were balefully glaring. A few of the tentacles gripped me. The touch was cold, slimy, yet from it I could feel a current tingling, like a mild electric shock.

Then the gripping fingers in unison relaxed. One of the little hollow voices muttered:

"Tom Ralston, I will punish you later."

As though suddenly the incident were closed, in unison all the Physicals turned, and with their hurried little precision steps marched back to the wall where they lined themselves up, motionless, silent, with only their eyes alert.

And from the bench where still his arm encircled the shuddering Dora, the giant Torkine was grinning at me with a leer of triumph.

The huge disc which was the spaceship dropped lower into the dark night of the weird little planetoid. For a brief time I sat at one of the control turret windows, staring down over the rim of the disc at the barren, tumbled surface. We were slowly sailing now hardly a thousand feet above it. Still there was nothing apparent down there save naked crags. But I knew we were nearing our destination. In the dim little corridors which spread out like spokes here from this hub of the disc, distant sounds of activity were audible. A dozen or more of Torkine's men were on board, watched and herded by a score of the little Physicals. This raid on Earth had produced quantities of food which the humans needed to sustain them on the planetoid. There was alcoholite also. I could see that many of Torkine's villainous-looking men were imbibing it. Their faces were flushed; some of them were murmuring to each other, with leering, appraising looks at Dora.

And this raid had produced a few more Earth captives. Young men and girls who were confined in the little cubbies along one of the corridors. Their frightened voices were audible now as the Physicals herded them with preparations to disembark.

"The planetoid world," Dora abruptly whispered. "Look—there is the city."

Torkine momentarily had moved away, and Dora had shifted to sit beside me. Together we gazed down. The ragged mountainous horizon of the sharply convex surface of the little world seemed only a few miles away. And as the disc, dropping still lower, sailed forward, a human settlement came suddenly into view. I had only a brief glimpse of it. At first it was a group of light-dots. Then the colored glow from them disclosed little groups of dwellings. The lights came from their windows, and other glowing tubelights were set on poles in the spaces, like irregular streets between the houses.

It was a weird, motley little settlement. Small, crude, single story dwellings, evidently erected from materials and parts of other houses filched from Earth on previous raids. A hundred little habitations, set in a group.

Torkine was beside Dora and me now. "Very nice, isn't it?" he said with his ironic smile. "That is for our Earth-people. With nothing here on this planetoid, we have had to do the best we could by bringing everything from Earth. And there to the left is the Martian village. And to the right, our Venus people live."

The two other little house-groups stood a few hundred yards further away, with the weird night-shadows enveloping them. A score perhaps of strangely-fashioned habitations in each of them. A few dozen Martians, living here, captives of this monstrous Thing that ruled here. The spindly, fragile-looking Martian village was almost wholly dark. The Venus group was blue with flickering torchlight which disclosed little mound-shaped houses of wood and stone.

"The nucleus of a new civilization," Torkine was saying. "The Supreme One is proud of it. Earth, Mars and Venus will be blended here in the new race we will produce. And the Great Master will rule and guide us. He chooses our mates. He directs our lives—he even thinks and acts for us, because, you see, we humans are very inferior."

The irony of Torkine's voice made me turn and stare at him. He was grinning at me. But in his dark, deep-set eyes there was something else that smoldered with the glinting reflection of his own thoughts.

"I see," I murmured.

"Well, you don't," he retorted. "But you soon will. There, to one side—that round thing is where the Supreme One houses himself. See it?"

Figures were visible down in the village now as men and women gathered in the doorways and in the spaces between the houses. They were all staring up at our arriving disc. And everywhere I could see the box-like little Physicals. Some stood like sentries at the street corners. Others were marching with their little precision steps back and forth. My gaze followed Torkine's gesture. To one side, partly between the Earth and the Martian sections of the weird village, a flat cauldron depression of the rocks seemed to have a big circular cover over it. It was a bulging dome-like roof perhaps a hundred feet in diameter.

The house of the Monster. The one thing which was native here. The dome-like roof, of some material which to me was nameless, indescribable, glowed with a weird violent sheen. Its circular outer rim was some ten feet above the ground—ten feet of entrance space. But the violet sheen down there was like a barrage-wall, with slits in it like doorways. Groups of Physicals were standing there on guard.

Our space-disc was settling to a level, rocky, open area just beyond the glow of the village lights. The Physicals here in the turret herded Dora and me away. Torkine, with one of the weird little shapes on each side of him, grimly, silently watching him, was at the bank of controls, landing us.

Dora and I had no chance to see young Johnny Blair again. Nor the Martian woman, Setta. At one of the rim pressure-exits, three of the Physicals stood waiting with us. Then we felt the big disc settle with a bump to the ground. The exit door slid open and our captors pushed us out.

The new world. Its strangely heavy air choked me a little at first, and made my head reel. I could feel that the gravity was less than Earth, but not much so because of the immense density of the planet. A babble of muffled sound was audible as human voices greeted us. In the weird darkness of dim tubelights, a fringe of staring captive humans showed on the rocks nearby. But Physicals like little policemen paced in front of them, keeping them away.

Along a descending rocky path Dora and I were shoved until in a moment the violet sheen of the barrage at the house of the Monster loomed ahead. Then we went through one of the slit openings under the dome-like roof. And presently we stopped at a luminous waist-high railing; and in a lurid violet-yellow glow, we stared down at the giant thing which was spread here before us!

The circular area inside here seemed about fifty feet in diameter and was depressed ten feet below us. A violet-yellow luminescence suffused it so that for a moment it was a blur. Then gradually it clarified and we saw the Supreme One! Its flat, intricate body was a quivering, palpitating, luminous mass of tissue spread in a great fifty foot circle. A Thing fifty feet in diameter, and perhaps three feet thick. For a moment I thought that it was lying flat on the rocks. Then I saw that it was suspended a foot or two in the air with a violet curtain or radiance connecting it to the solidity of the ground.

A rooted monster! Incapable of locomotion it spread here, with radiance like roots, through which doubtless it was drawing from the ground its sustenance, its life. Electric sustenance, of course. Weird life-force, animating its nerve-ganglia, replenishing its living tissue. Intricate electronic streams of nourishment which in a human body are blood-streams. A life-force of indescribable chemistry, drawn through its electronic roots from the planet itself.

An amazing Being. Glowing, multiple brain-lobes were like a score of transparent heads with luminous threads of what could have been nerve tissue connecting them; an intricate network of ganglia in a tangle everywhere through the palpitating body-tissue. Other organs, indescribable, unnamable, were crimson and violet glowing blobs. I could see the streams of nourishment swiftly circulating from one to the other—huge transparent arteries of fluorescence, threading out into veins and tiny capillaries. And in the center of the body-mass, a giant eye on a flexible stem, huge organ of sight with spectral colors darting like fire within it, was glaring at us.

All that I saw with my first swift awed gaze. Then other details were apparent. A dozen globes of what could have been transparent muscle were rhythmically palpitating, like huge hearts pumping the strange current through this Thing to keep it alive. And then I saw that under the central giant eye there was the orifice for a voice and another for hearing.

An awesome rooted monster. The only living thing on its barren little world until the humans came, a pseudo-solidity of roof and walls; a radiance which streamed from the monster itself. And now in the lurid dimness I could see faint streams like the threads of an aura emanating from the different sections of the monster. Little cables of vibrations, infinitely long, perhaps as unsubstantial as a human thought. In the darkness here beside Dora and me, a dozen of the little Physicals were ranged. Parts of the monster. I saw it now—saw those evanescent threadlike streams from the circle of quivering tissue—each thread ending in one of the Physicals. The pathways of transmission for orders from the central Being to its seemingly detached physical parts.

Thoughts are so swift! I suppose Dora and I stood there gazing for no more than a minute. The monster for that minute was silent; the round central eye, as big as my head, gazed with appraisement. I heard Dora suck in her breath with terror as she mutely stared. Both of us, clutching at each other. And a weird feeling swept me. It was as though I was gazing at a living thing of vast immensity. The power of thought here, immense, vast and unfathomable to me who was just a human. It gave me a feeling of my own futility, so that in the presence of this Being I stood cringing. Unutterably helpless; small, and terrified.

And then the Supreme One spoke:

"You have been causing me trouble, Tom Ralston. I should have destroyed you, there on the spaceship."

It was a soft, measured, toneless voice, issuing perhaps from near the giant eye. Yet it had a faraway sound as though blended and muffled by distance. And now I could see that one of the brain-lobes near us had been stimulated into action greater than the others. The luminous aura from it had intensified. Beneath its membrane tissue, like a million luminous little snakes writhing one upon the other, the brain-folds were in motion. This, then, was the brain-lobe concerned with us now; the lobe from which the thing had learned English; had learned indeed, that there were other living things in the Universe besides Itself.

"Speak, human!" the monster said suddenly.

"Yes," I stammered. "Should have—killed me—yes."

"But I have not many humans here. Perhaps I shall kill you. Perhaps I shall marry you to this human you call Dora. I have not yet decided."

I had thought that Dora and I were standing by a railing. But like the rest of this dwelling it was a barrage barrier. I could see its outlines quivering in front of me; feel its repellent force so that if I had taken a step forward it would shove me back.

Beside Dora and me now, Torkine had appeared. He stood gazing down at Dora. His face, with the lurid glow on it, was grinning. And suddenly the Supreme One said:

"You, Torkine, you tell me you knew this girl many of your years ago?"

"Yes, Master. Oh, yes." Torkine said ingratiatingly.

Knew Dora years ago? That was news to me.

"I shall think of it," the monster said. "There are several marriages for me to perform presently in your Earth, and Mars and Venus fashions. I need more humans here. You, Tom Ralston—have they told you my purpose?"

"No," I said.

"We shall have a human world here for me to rule. A little world of blended Mars and Venus and Earth. And then we will spread. The parts of Me will go abroad to this great planet and that one, conquering! Conquering everything, until at last I shall master the entire Universe!"

Torkine was chuckling. I stood gripping Dora and my thoughts swung to young Johnny Blair. He had some plan with the woman Setta to escape from here. To me now it seemed a thing utterly hopeless.

And suddenly I shuddered, with a new stab of terror. Could this monstrous Being read our human thoughts? Apparently not, for its voice said sharply:

"For why do you chuckle, Torkine?"

"I was thinking of that fellow Bragg," Torkine responded, "who did his work so badly on this last voyage to Earth. We brought only fifteen more humans, Master."

"I am bringing Bragg here to see me and talk to him more closely," the monster said. "You, Tom Ralston, and you, Dora Franklin—that is all I wish of you now. You will learn my decision soon."

Threadlike streams from one of the brain-lobes of the monster were swaying past me; and as I turned, I saw a dozen little Physicals attached to the faintly luminous threads—Physicals who came marching in with Bragg among them—Bragg, more pallid than ever with his hawk-face contorted by terror. Torkine stood aside, still chuckling. Then Physicals were surrounding Dora and me, herding us away. We stumbled back through the luminous darkness; along a little path. It was no more than a hundred feet until the outlines of a small house—loomed before us. A voice from one of the Physicals said:

"You go inside and wait for my decision." A miniature of the monster's central voice. I realized now that all the Physicals spoke with the same voice, in miniature.

"All right," I said. "You'll have no trouble with us, Master."

The dim room was crudely furnished with Earth furniture. I sat the trembling Dora on a couch; dropped beside her with my arm around her.

"Weird, Dora." I whispered it. "But don't be too frightened. We'll find a way out of this."

In the shadows two figures suddenly were moving! Then I saw that they were the Martian woman, Setta, and young Johnny Blair. They came forward.

"The Physicals all went outside?" Johnny murmured.

"Yes," I agreed. "Good Lord, that weird monster—can it hear us, if we whisper like this?"

"No. Safe enough, in here now."

The room had the door through which we had entered, and two windows. Both were open. In the glowing dimness outside we could see other Physicals ranged in a line, watching us.

"The house is surrounded," Johnny whispered. "No way of getting out—any break would be instant death. But a little later, when they're getting ready for the marriages there's just a desperate chance. There's generally a hundred Physicals guarding the spaceship, but not so many tonight, if they are needed other places. Did he take Bragg in there?"

"Yes," I agreed. "Bragg looked pretty frightened. Good Lord, if that damned monster ever gets really angry—"

The words brought a terrified cry from Setta. "If only Bragg will be brought here to us," she murmured. "I think I can get us outside to watch the marriages. The Master has never been angry at me. And once we are outside with a chance to run for the ship—"

Futile, desperate plans. But they were all we could devise. We huddled now on the sofa, waiting for Bragg. All of us were unarmed. Even if we had been armed, of what use would a knife or a bullet-weapon be against this multiple monster? A thing impregnable to human attack....

Then I was questioning Dora about that strange thing the Supreme One had said—that Torkine had known her many years ago.

"After my father and mother died," Dora was telling me now, "before I met you, Tom, I lived in that home with my Uncle. Mrs. Holten was our housekeeper."

Dora had always seemed reticent about her young girlhood; I had known her only about a year. When she was about twelve, her uncle had been working to give the secret of spaceflight to the world. It was he who had, in secret, constructed the space-disc. Dora had known about it only vaguely; and had been warned to keep secret what little she knew. Torkine had been her uncle's assistant; and him, as a little girl, she had hated and feared.

"He—he tried to kiss me one day," she was telling us now. "You, Tom—you understand? It terrified me so that I screamed, and then my uncle came and I told him."

Torkine had been discharged by her uncle; and later her uncle had heard that he was in prison. Then there was the jailbreak, and shortly after that her uncle's experimental ship, and himself also, had vanished.

"He stole the ship, and killed your uncle?" I murmured.

"Yes. He told me that, while we were coming here."

I could understand so much more of this weird thing now! It was no chance that had directed Bragg to Dora and me as we sat listening to the concert. Torkine had sent him to lure us to some spot where we could be seized without creating an alarm. And it wasn't chance which enabled us to be attacked in Dora's home. Torkine knew where her home was located.

"Was it Bragg, or Torkine himself who came with the Physicals and caught us?" I demanded.

"Torkine," she said. "He told me they killed Mrs. Holten just before we arrived."

My mind leaped back.... My little laboratory there in which I had just completed the small ray-weapon. The paralyzing ray. In our frightened haste when we had arrived and found Mrs. Holten gone, I had glanced into the laboratory, but had not thought of my ray-model. Had Torkine forced Mrs. Holten to tell her what work was being done there? She knew about the weapon. Had Torkine taken it?

The little brown-skinned, brown-clad Martian girl, Setta, was at one of the windows now, standing there with Johnny; and they motioned us silently to come. The guarding Physicals on this side of the house had drawn back a little, but still we could see them, a line of gruesome motionless shapes. Their eyes glowed like points of fire in the darkness. Behind them there was a dark area of open rocks between the house of the monster and the Earth Village. Humans were moving about, always with little groups of Physicals guarding them.

The bustle of activity out there was growing. For half an hour past we had been aware of the sound of men's voices; the voices of girls, sometimes laughing, sometimes with little cries of terror.

"Look," Johnny murmured. "The dais for the wedding couples. They're lighting it."

Earth tubelights, with batteries attached, were glowing now, mounted on the rocks. Their colored radiance illumined a small ledge of rock like a little natural dais which faced the glowing house of the monster. And now we saw a group of Earthmen gathered near the dais. Torkine's original band of criminals. Some had jugs in their hands from which occasionally they drank. Alcoholite, I had no doubt. There were some twenty of them, with others occasionally joining them. Their muttering laughter floated to us.

Johnny Blair bent toward me. "Something going on among those fellows—look at that."

A group of Earth-girls were passing the dais, herded toward its entrance steps by a line of Physicals. Some of the roistering men reached for the girls as they went by. The Physicals with popping anger checked them. The half-drunken men desisted. Some jibed at the girls with coarse comment; but others muttered to themselves—low, defiant curses. I felt myself shuddering. There was smoldering revolt out there. Torkine's men, inflamed now by the alcoholite so that what for a long time they and their leader might have been planning, they now forgot to disguise. It was as though here were a little spark trembling above a pit of horrible explosive—a spark which at any moment might hurl us all to death.

"They've never been like this before," Johnny muttered anxiously. "By Heaven, if the Physicals turn on them, and on us—"

"If only Bragg would come," Setta murmured.

A scream out in the night made her words die in her throat. A man's scream of agony, blood-curdling with its ghastly shrillness. And Setta, here in the dim room with us, echoed it.


It sounded again, mingled now with the hissing, popping little voices of the Physicals. Gruesome, ghastly tragedy being enacted now within the House of the Supreme One! Bragg's screams were horrible, but brief. All in a moment they were dying into terrible agonized moans—Bragg's tortured death in the grip of the angered multiple monster.

And suddenly the frenzied little Setta was rushing from us to the room-door.

"No!" Johnny shouted. "Come back!"

We jumped for her but she eluded us; rushed out. And then we saw her outside for just a brief, horrible glimpse. A group of Physicals rushed at her; seized her, but she fought them. And then suddenly they were pulling at her. Little box-like parts of the great monster with an inhuman, incredible strength ... pulling at her arms and her legs ... like Johnny Blair's young wife....

I seized Dora, pressed her head against my side. "Don't look, Dora. Dear God!"

I could not look myself after a moment.

"I am ready for you now, Dora Franklin." Physicals were here in the room with us, advancing upon Dora! The voice of one of them crisply added:

"Come with me, Dora Franklin."

Even with what I had seen and heard outside, I tensed to resist. But I came to my senses as Johnny tremblingly seized me, and Dora screamed:

"No! No, Tom!"

Then the Physicals had taken her from me. Three or four of them remained here in the room with Johnny and me; the others herded Dora away. Then from the window we saw her as they led her to the dais. Torkine's men called at her with coarse, drunken comment as she went past them.

And now the House of the Monster was opening. The radiant barrage which had formed its walls and roof slowly dissolved so that the huge, weird Being was exposed. Giant glowing thing spread there on the rocks. Its big central eye appraisingly roved the weird night-scene. And then its hollow, toneless, central voice was intoning names. The men and girls whom now it was to marry.

"... and Karl Torkine to Dora Franklin, both of Earth. And Sela Sirran, Mars, to Irene Jarrod, of Earth."

Slaves, matched and mated by the decisions of the Great Master.

Then I saw the big figure of Torkine. The colored tubelight gleamed on his leering face as with his arm around the trembling Dora he led her up onto the marriage dais and faced the glowing spread of the Supreme One.

It was a fantastic, weird ceremony. The varicolored tubelights gleamed down upon the couples who stood ranged along the front edge of the dais. Men and women of three great planets, facing the gruesome multiple monster which here on its own little world was Omnipotent. Its toneless voice was droning now with the ritual it had devised; and at intervals, trained by the Physicals, the couples on the dais bowed, gestured and then knelt with foreheads to the ground in supplication and homage to the Supreme One. Little grey-skinned Venus girls in their gaudy robes; brown-skinned, black-haired young women of Mars; the Earth-girls and young men.

But I had eyes only for Dora, as she knelt with the big Torkine beside her. The light gleamed on her long, pale-blonde hair which fell in great gleaming ripples over her shoulders. Then she and Torkine and the others stood up; and I saw her terrified face.

At the window Johnny and I stood breathless. Watching us, Physicals were ranged across the dim room behind us. I had no thought of them. Helpless, utterly despairing now, I stood gazing out at the weird, eerie night-scene. The group of Torkine's men still gathered at the back of the dais. Their muttering voices mingled with the drone of the Supreme One. Abruptly my heart leaped. One or two of the drunken men had started to climb to the dais. And one suddenly called:

"Why wait, Torkine? Why—"

Like a spark in gunpowder. The Supreme One's voice droned on; but one of the Physicals jumped and jerked the man from the dais. It made a commotion off there. Two others of Torkine's men reached and plucked at the flowing robe of a Venus girl. The man being married to her turned with an oath, jumped and dealt a blow with his fist. There was a scuffle, and the Venus man was pulled down from the dais.

Suddenly there was a milling, spreading chaos. In a fringe at the edge of the light-sheen the spread of rocks was filled with a watching, motley crowd of humans from the three little villages. I saw the crowd wavering; the front ranks pressing backward and those behind shoving forward, trying to see better.

Like fire in prairie grass the milling movement widened. Human voices shouting in terror, and in drunken anger. Darting little Physicals, with popping, commanding voices. Then one of the Physicals emitted a flash. A man screamed and dropped.

"Tom—Oh, look at Torkine!" I was aware that Johnny was gripping me. Up on the dais in the midst of the commotion the big figure of Torkine was standing motionless. His left arm was around Dora who in terror sagged against him. The light revealed clearly his pale, handsome face, and I saw again that leering, triumphant smile. And now his right hand was fumbling under his flaring, gaudy jacket.

Perhaps the monster itself in that instant was startled at the magnitude of this human commotion. The droning central voice abruptly ceased. In the room behind me I was aware that the Physicals had darted back through the doorway and gone outside. And on the dais the leering, triumphant Torkine suddenly brought his right hand from under his jacket. He was leveling a weapon! My ray-gun! My paralyzing vibration-projector!

This, then, was what Torkine had been planning! This was what had inspired drunken boldness among his men! Torkine was leveling it now at the glowing, quivering spread of the Supreme One!

In that tense, breathless second I was aware that Johnny and I were leaning out over the sill of the window, numbly staring. And then Torkine fired my vibration-gun! Its hissing, infra-red bolt spat down into the palpitating spread of the great rooted, multiple monster! There was a split-second when it seemed to me as though all the world hung breathless, pregnant with expectancy of horror.

And the horror came, with a rushing, spreading tumult. Down in the glowing mass of the great circular, flat body there was a little puff of light-flash where the ray vibrations struck. A blow at one of its hearts? It seemed that one of the blobs of heart-muscle was wildly beating, expanding and lunging. And the central eye was flashing crimson and seeming to split with electric flame.

And now in a flash almost simultaneous with the first shot, its wrath was transmitted to its remote, detached parts. Over all the weird chaotic scene of milling humans, the little Physicals sprang into action. A thousand of them as this multiple-membered monster ran amok.

I felt Johnny pulling at me. "Got to get out of here, Tom. It's our last chance!"

"Johnny," I gasped, gripping him. "Got to keep together. Try and get to Dora!"

"Yes; keep away from the Physicals. Good God, Tom!"

Up on the dais Torkine had fired his last futile little bolt, and now he had flung my projector away. He was still holding Dora. Amazement, futility, then terror was on his face as he gazed at the writhing, bellowing monster and then at the wild scene of chaos out on the rocks—the crowd of milling, panic-stricken humans with the little Physicals darting among them. Popping, wrathful, miniature duplicated voices of the Supreme One. Violet-yellow flashes were hissing from the Physicals. The running, milling, screaming humans were falling.

Johnny and I were running, trying to get to the dais. Then we saw that Torkine had lifted Dora in his arms; had leaped down and was running with her over the dark spread of rocks. The lights over the dais abruptly now were extinguished. The dimness of the night sprang around us, hideous with human screams of agony and terror; ghastly with the glares of the little popping bolts and the red-yellow, wrathful glare of the monster.

Where had Torkine gone? We could not see him. We darted sidewise as a group of running men and women with Physicals chasing them swept past. And then again we saw Torkine. He was still carrying Dora, leaping over the rocks, zig-zagging, trying seemingly to reach the space-disc. The dark outlines of it were apparent no more than a hundred feet away.

"No Physicals there!" Johnny gasped.

We slanted our running leaps to head off Torkine. And suddenly he saw us and jumped to a little rocky butte where he stood leering down at us with his arm holding Dora as she sagged against him. A knife was in his hand now. The red-yellow chaos off to our left glistened on its naked blade. For a second I thought that he would plunge it into Dora's breast.

Then suddenly behind him the little box-bodies of Physicals had appeared. Tentacle arms reached for him so that he dropped Dora. For a second she staggered, slumped and then fell over the little brink. Johnny and I scramblingly caught her; I snatched her in my arms and ran, with Johnny beside me. We reached the dark, space-disc doorway, and I turned to look back. Torkine was wildly slashing at a tentacle arm of a Physical that gripped him. Weird tissue-flesh of the damnable, gruesome thing. The steel knife-blade slid harmlessly on it; and then as he wildly stabbed at a box-like chest, the knife-blade broke. He screamed with a last agonized, throat-splitting cry as the plucking little things tumbled him from the rock and engulfed him....

"Tom, there they come! Hurry! Get inside—" Johnny gasped.

We slide the doorslide as a plunging wave of Physicals came and hurled themselves against it....

Then in a moment the big disc was slowly rising. From a bullseye window of the central turret we could see the raging little things as they dropped from the rim of the disc.

The ground slid slowly away beneath us. The sounds were shut off from us now. Mute, ghastly scene. We had only a brief glimpse of the glowing, wrathful monster. It palpitated, quivered in the midst of the carnage. Monster of the planet. Omnipotent ruler here. There were no humans running now. No human bodies were on the rocks. Nothing but crimsoned, noisome fragments with little shapes fighting over them.

The terrible scene in a moment dropped away, blurred and was gone so that there was just starlight here in the turret. The myriad stars of Interplanetary Space. And at the dark, rocky horizon of the planetoid the Earth was just rising, a great mellow crescent, beckoning us.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Monster of the Asteroid, by Ray Cummings


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