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Title: The Mad Moon
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum
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Language:  English
Date first posted: July 2006
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Title: The Mad Moon
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum

                       The Mad Moon


                    Stanley G. Weinbaum

"Idiots!" howled Grant Calthorpe. "Fools--nitwits--imbeciles!" He sought
wildly for some more expressive terms, failed and vented his
exasperation in a vicious kick at the pile of rubbish on the ground.

Too vicious a kick, in fact; he had again forgotten the one-third normal
gravitation of Io, and his whole body followed his kick in a long,
twelve-foot arc.

As he struck the ground the four loonies giggled. Their great, idiotic
heads, looking like nothing so much as the comic faces painted on Sunday
balloons for children, swayed in unison on their five-foot necks, as
thin as Grant's wrist.

"Get out!" he blazed, scrambling erect. "Beat it, skiddoo, scram! No
chocolate. No candy. Not until you learn that I want ferva leaves, and
not any junk you happen to grab. Clear out!"

The loonies--_Lunae Jovis Magnicapites_, or literally, Bigheads of
Jupiter's Moon--backed away, giggling plaintively. Beyond doubt, they
considered Grant fully as idiotic as he considered them, and were quite
unable to understand the reasons for his anger. But they certainly
realized that no candy was to be forthcoming, and their giggles took on
a note of keen disappointment.

So keen, indeed, that the leader, after twisting his ridiculous blue
face in an imbecilic grin at Grant, voiced a last wild giggle and dashed
his head against a glittering stone-bark tree. His companions casually
picked up his body and moved off, with his head dragging behind them on
its neck like a prisoner's ball on a chain.

Grant brushed his hand across his forehead and turned wearily toward his
stone-bark log shack. A pair of tiny, glittering red eyes caught his
attention, and a slinker--_Mus Sapiens_--skipped his six-inch form
across the threshold, bearing under his tiny, skinny arm what looked
very much like Grant's clinical thermometer.

Grant yelled angrily at the creature, seized a stone, and flung it
vainly. At the edge of the brush, the slinker turned its ratlike,
semihuman face toward him, squeaked its thin gibberish, shook a
microscopic fist in manlike wrath, and vanished, its batlike cowl of
skin fluttering like a cloak. It looked, indeed, very much like a black
rat wearing a cape.

It had been a mistake, Grant knew, to throw the stone at it. Now the
tiny fiends would never permit him any peace, and their diminutive size
and pseudo-human intelligence made them infernally troublesome as
enemies. Yet, neither that reflection nor the loony's suicide troubled
him particularly; he had witnessed instances like the latter too often,
and besides, his head felt as if he were in for another siege of white

He entered the shack, closed the door, and stared down at his pet
parcat. "Oliver," he growled, "you're a fine one. Why the devil don't
you watch out for slinkers? What are you here for?"

The parcat rose on its single, powerful hind leg, clawing at his knees
with its two forelegs. "The red jack on the black queen," it observed
placidly. "Ten loonies make one half-wit."

Grant placed both statements easily. The first was, of course, an echo
of his preceding evening's solitaire game, and the second of yesterday's
session with the loonies. He grunted abstractedly and rubbed his aching
head. White fever again, beyond doubt.

He swallowed two ferverin tablets, and sank listlessly to the edge of
his bunk, wondering whether this attack of _blancha_ would culminate in

He cursed himself for a fool for ever taking this job on Jupiter's third
habitable moon, Io. The tiny world was a planet of madness, good for
nothing except the production of ferva leaves, out of which Earthly
chemists made as many potent alkaloids as they once made from opium.

Invaluable to medical science, of course, but what difference did that
make to him? What difference, even, did the munificent salary make, if
he got back to Earth a raving maniac after a year in the equatorial
regions of Io? He swore bitterly that when the plane from Junopolis
landed next month for his ferva, he'd go back to the polar city with it,
even though his contract with Neilan Drug called for a full year, and
he'd get no pay if he broke it. What good was money to a lunatic?

The whole little planet was mad--loonies, parcats, slinkers and Grant
Calthorpe--all crazy. At least, anybody who ever ventured outside either
of the two polar cities, Junopolis on the north and Herapolis on the
south, was crazy. One could live there in safety from white fever, but
anywhere below the twentieth parallel it was worse than the Cambodian
jungles on Earth.

He amused himself by dreaming of Earth. Just two years ago he had been
happy there, known as a wealthy, popular sportsman. He had been just
that too; before he was twenty-one he had hunted knife-kite and
threadworm on Titan, and triops and uniped on Venus.

That had been before the gold crisis of 2110 had wiped out his fortune.
And--well, if he had to work, it had seemed logical to use his
interplanetary experience as a means of livelihood. He had really been
enthusiastic at the chance to associate himself with Neilan Drug.

He had never been on Io before. This wild little world was no
sportsman's paradise, with its idiotic loonies and wicked, intelligent,
tiny slinkers. There wasn't anything worth hunting on the feverish
little moon, bathed in warmth by the giant Jupiter only a quarter
million miles away.

If he _had_ happened to visit it, he told himself ruefully, he'd never
have taken the job; he had visualized Io as something like Titan, cold
but clean.

Instead it was as hot as the Venus Hollands because of its glowing
primary, and subject to half a dozen different forms of steamy
daylight--sun day, Jovian day, Jovian and sun day, Europa light, and
occasionally actual and dismal night. And most of these came in the
course of Io's forty-two-hour revolution, too--a mad succession of
changing lights. He hated the dizzy days, the jungle, and Idiots' Hills
stretching behind his shack.

It was Jovian and solar day at the present moment, and that was the
worst of all, because the distant sun added its modicum of heat to that
of Jupiter. And to complete Grant's discomfort now was the prospect of a
white fever attack. He swore as his head gave an additional twinge, and
then swallowed another ferverin tablet. His supply of these was
diminishing, he noticed; he'd have to remember to ask for some when the
plane called--no, he was going back with it.

Oliver rubbed against his leg. "Idiots, fools, nitwits, imbeciles,"
remarked the parcat affectionately. "Why did I have to go to that damn

"Huh?" said Grant. He couldn't remember having said anything about a
dance. It must, he decided, have been said during his last fever

Oliver creaked like the door, then giggled like a loony. "It'll be all
right," he assured Grant. "Father is bound to come soon."

"Father!" echoed the man. His father had died fifteen years before.
"Where'd you get that from, Oliver?"

"It must be the fever," observed Oliver placidly. "You're a nice kitty,
but I wish you had sense enough to know what you're saying. And I wish
father would come." He finished with a supressed gurgle that might have
been a sob.

Grant stared dizzily at him. He hadn't said any of those things; he was
positive. The parcat must have heard them from somebody else-- Somebody
else? Where within five hundred miles was there anybody else?

"Oliver!" he bellowed. "Where'd you hear that? Where'd you hear it?"

The parcat backed away, startled. "Father is idiots, fools, nitwits,
imbeciles," he said anxiously. "The red jack on the nice kitty."

"Come here!" roared Grant. "Whose father? Where have you-- Come here,
you imp!"

He lunged at the creature. Oliver flexed his single hind leg and flung
himself frantically to the cowl of the wood stove. "It must be the
fever!" he squalled. "No chocolate!"

He leaped like a three-legged flash for the flue opening. There came a
sound of claws grating on metal, and then he had scrambled through.

Grant followed him. His head ached from the effort, and with the still
sane part of his mind he knew that the whole episode was doubtless white
fever delirium, but he plowed on.

His progress was a nightmare. Loonies kept bobbing their long necks
above the tall bleeding-grass, their idiotic giggles and imbecilic faces
adding to the general atmosphere of madness.

Wisps of fetid, fever-bearing vapors spouted up at every step on the
spongy soil. Somewhere to his right a slinker squeaked and gibbered; he
knew that a tiny slinker village was over in that direction, for once he
had glimpsed the neat little buildings, constructed of small, perfectly
fitted stones like a miniature medieval town, complete to towers and
battlements. It was said that there were even slinker wars.

His head buzzed and whirled from the combined effects of ferverin and
fever. It was an attack of _blancha_, right enough, and he realized that
he was an imbecile, a loony, to wander thus away from his shack. He
should be lying on his bunk; the fever was not serious, but more than
one man had died on Io, in the delirium, with its attendant

He was delirious now. He knew it as soon as he saw Oliver, for Oliver
was placidly regarding an attractive young lady in perfect evening dress
of the style of the second decade of the twenty-second century. Very
obviously that was a hallucination, since girls had no business in the
Ionian tropics, and if by some wild chance one should appear there, she
would certainly not choose formal garb.

The hallucination had fever, apparently, for her face was pale with the
whiteness that gave _blancha_ its name. Her gray eyes regarded him
without surprise as he wound his way through the bleeding-grass to her.

"Good afternoon, evening, or morning," he remarked, giving a puzzled
glance at Jupiter, which was rising, and the sun, which was setting. "Or
perhaps merely good day, Miss Lee Neilan."

She gazed seriously at him. "Do you know," she said, "you're the first
one of the illusions that I haven't recognized? All my friends have been
around, but you're the first stranger. Or are you a stranger? You know
my name--but you ought to, of course, being my own hallucination."

"We won't argue about which of us is the hallucination," he suggested.
"Let's do it this way. The one of us that disappears first is the
illusion. Bet you five dollars you do."

"How could I collect?" she said. "I can't very well collect from my own

"That is a problem." He frowned. "My problem, of course, not yours. I
know I'm real."

"How do you know my name?" she demanded.

"Ah!" he said. "From intensive reading of the society sections of the
newspapers brought by my supply plane. As a matter of fact, I have one
of your pictures cut out and pasted next to my bunk. That probably
accounts for my seeing you now. I'd like to really meet you some time."

"What a gallant remark for an apparition!" she exclaimed. "And who are
you supposed to be?"

"Why, I'm Grant Calthorpe. In fact, I work for your father, trading with
the loonies for ferva."

"Grant Calthorpe," she echoed. She narrowed her fever-dulled eyes as if
to bring him into better focus. "Why, you are!"

Her voice wavered for a moment, and she brushed her hand across her pale
brow. "Why should you pop out of my memories? It's strange. Three or
four years ago, when I was a romantic schoolgirl and you the famous
sportsman, I was madly in love with you. I had a whole book filled with
your pictures--Grant Calthorpe dressed in parka for hunting threadworms
on Titan--Grant Calthorpe beside the giant uniped he killed near the
Mountains of Eternity. You're-you're really the pleasantest
hallucination I've had so far. Delirium would be--fun"--she pressed her
hand to her brow again--"if one's head--didn't ache so!"

"Gee!" thought Grant, "I wish that were true, that about the book. This
is what psychology calls a wish-fulfillment dream." A drop of warm rain
plopped on his neck. "Got to get to bed," he said aloud. "Rain's bad for
_blancha_. Hope to see you next time I'm feverish."

"Thank you," said Lee Neilan with dignity. "It's quite mutual."

He nodded, sending a twinge through his head. "Here, Oliver," he said to
the drowsing parcat. "Come on."

"That isn't Oliver," said Lee. "It's Polly. It's kept me company for two
days, and I've named it Polly."

"Wrong gender," muttered Grant. "Anyway, it's my parcat, Oliver. Aren't
you Oliver?"

"Hope to see you," said Oliver sleepily.

"It's Polly. Aren't you, Polly?"

"Bet you five dollars," said the parcat. He rose, stretched and loped
off into the underbrush. "It must be the fever," he observed as he

"It must be," agreed Grant. He turned away. "Good-by, Miss--or I might
as well call you Lee, since you're not real. Good-by, Lee."

"Good-by, Grant. But don't go that way. There's a slinker village over
in the grass."

"No. It's over there."

"It's _there_," she insisted. "I've been watching them build it. But they
can't hurt you anyway, can they? Not even a slinker could hurt an
apparition. Good-by, Grant." She closed her eyes wearily.

It was raining harder now. Grant pushed his way through the
bleeding-grass, whose red sap collected in bloody drops on his boots. He
had to get back to his shack quickly, before the white fever and its
attendant delirium set him wandering utterly astray. He needed ferverin.

Suddenly he stopped short. Directly before him the grass had been
cleared away, and in the little clearing were the shoulder-high towers
and battlements of a slinker village--a new one, for half-finished
houses stood among the others, and hooded six-inch forms toiled over the

There was an outcry of squeaks and gibberish. He backed away, but a
dozen tiny darts whizzed about him. One stuck like a toothpick in his
boot, but none, luckily, scratched his skin, for they were undoubtedly
poisoned. He moved more quickly, but all around in the thick, fleshy
grasses were rustlings, squeakings, and incomprehensible imprecations.

He circled away. Loonies kept popping their balloon heads over the
vegetation, and now and again one giggled in pain as a slinker bit or
stabbed it. Grant cut toward a group of the creatures, hoping to
distract the tiny fiends in the grass, and a tall, purple-faced loony
curved its long neck above him, giggling and gesturing with its skinny
fingers at a bundle under its arm.

He ignored the thing, and veered toward his shack. He seemed to have
eluded the slinkers, so he trudged doggedly on, for he needed a ferverin
tablet badly. Yet, suddenly he came to a frowning halt, turned, and
began to retrace his steps.

"It can't be so," he muttered. "But she told me the truth about the
slinker village. I didn't know it was there. Yet how could a
hallucination tell me something I didn't know?"

Lee Neilan was sitting on the stone-bark log exactly as he had left her
with Oliver again at her side. Her eyes were closed, and two slinkers
were cutting at the long skirt of her gown with tiny, glittering knives.

Grant knew that they were always attracted by Terrestrial textiles;
apparently they were unable to duplicate the fascinating sheen of satin,
though the fiends were infernally clever with their tiny hands. As he
approached, they tore a strip from thigh to ankle, but the girl made no
move. Grant shouted, and the vicious little creatures mouthed
unutterable curses at him, as they skittered away with their silken

Lee Neilan opened her eyes. "You again," she murmured vaguely. "A moment
ago it was father. Now it's you." Her pallor had increased; the white
fever was running its course in her body.

"Your father! Then that's where Oliver heard--Listen, Lee. I found the
slinker village. I didn't know it was there, but I found it just as you
said. Do you see what that means? We're both real!"

"Real?" she said dully. "There's a purple loony grinning over your
shoulder. Make him go away. He makes me feel--sick."

He glanced around; true enough, the purple-faced loony was behind him.
"Look here," he said, seizing her arm. The feel of her smooth skin was
added proof. "You're coming to the shack for ferverin." He pulled her to
her feet. "Don't you understand? I'm real!"

"No, you're not," she said dazedly.

"Listen, Lee. I don't know how in the devil you got here or why, but I
know Io hasn't driven me that crazy yet. You're real and I'm real." He
shook her violently. "I'm _real!_" he shouted.

Faint comprehension showed in her dazed eyes. "Real?" she whispered.
"Real! Oh, Lord! Then take--me out of this mad place!" She swayed, made
a stubborn effort to control herself, then pitched forward against him.

Of course on Io her weight was negligible, less than a third Earth
normal. He swung her into his arms and set off toward the shack, keeping
well away from both slinker settlements. Around him bobbed excited
loonies, and now and again the purple-faced one, or another exactly like
him, giggled and pointed and gestured.

The rain had increased, and warm rivulets flowed down his neck, and to
add to the madness, he blundered near a copse of stinging palms, and
their barbed lashes stung painfully through his shirt. Those stings were
virulent too, if one failed to disinfect them; indeed, it was largely
the stinging palms that kept traders from gathering their own ferva
instead of depending on the loonies.

Behind the low rain clouds, the sun had set and it was ruddy Jupiter
daylight, which lent a false flush to the cheeks of the unconscious Lee
Neilan, making her still features very lovely.

Perhaps he kept his eyes too steadily on her face, for suddenly Grant
was among slinkers again; they were squeaking and sputtering, and the
purple loony leaped in pain as teeth and darts pricked his legs. But, of
course, loonies were immune to the poison.

The tiny devils were around his feet now. He swore in a low voice and
kicked vigorously, sending a ratlike form spinning fifty feet in the
air. He had both automatic and flame pistol at his hip, but he could not
use them for several reasons.

First, using an automatic against the tiny hordes was much like firing
into a swarm of mosquitoes; if the bullet killed one or two or a dozen,
it made no appreciable impression on the remaining thousands. And as for
the flame pistol, that was like using a Big Bertha to swat a fly. Its
vast belch of fire would certainly incinerate all the slinkers in its
immediate path, along with grass, trees, and loonies, but that again
would make but little impress on the surviving hordes, and it meant
laboriously recharging the pistol with another black diamond and another

He had gas bulbs in the shack, but they were not available at the
moment, and besides, he had no spare mask, and no chemist has yet
succeeded in devising a gas that would kill slinkers without being also
deadly to humans. And, finally, he couldn't use any weapon whatsoever
right now, because he dared not drop Lee Neilan to free his hands.

Ahead was the clearing around the shack. The space was full of slinkers,
but the shack itself was supposed to be slinkerproof, at least for
reasonable lengths of time, since stone-bark logs were very resistant to
their tiny tools.

But Grant perceived that a group of the diminutive devils were around
the door, and suddenly he realized their intent. They had looped a cord
of some sort over the knob, and were engaged now in twisting it!

Grant yelled and broke into a run. While he was yet half a hundred feet
distant, the door swung inward and the rabble of slinkers flowed into
the shack.

He dashed through the entrance. Within was turmoil. Little hooded shapes
were cutting at the blankets on his bunk, his extra clothing, the sacks
he hoped to fill with ferva leaves, and were pulling at the cooking
utensils, or at any and all loose objects.

He bellowed and kicked at the swarm. A wild chorus of squeaks and
gibberish arose as the creatures skipped and dodged about him. The
fiends were intelligent enough to realize that he could do nothing with
his arms occupied by Lee Neilan. They skittered out of the way of his
kicks, and while he threatened a group at the stove, another rabble tore
at his blankets.

In desperation he charged the bunk. He swept the girl's body across it
to clear it, dropped her on it, and seized a grass broom he had made to
facilitate his housekeeping. With wide strokes of its handle he attacked
the slinkers, and the squeals were checkered by cries and whimpers of

A few broke for the door, dragging whatever loot they had. He spun
around in time to see half a dozen swarming around Lee Neilan, tearing
at her clothing, at the wrist watch on her arm, at the satin evening
pumps on her small feet. He roared a curse at them and battered them
away, hoping that none had pricked her skin with virulent dagger or
poisonous tooth.

He began to win the skirmish. More of the creatures drew their black
capes close about them and scurried over the threshold with their
plunder. At last, with a burst of squeaks, the remainder, laden and
empty-handed alike, broke and ran for safety, leaving a dozen furry,
impish bodies slain or wounded.

Grant swept these after the others with his erstwhile weapon, closed the
door in the face of a loony that bobbed in the opening, latched it
against any repetition of the slinker's trick, and stared in dismay
about the plundered dwelling.

Cans had been rolled or dragged away. Every loose object had been pawed
by the slinkers' foul little hands, and Grant's clothes hung in ruins on
their hooks against the wall. But the tiny robbers had not succeeded in
opening the cabinet nor the table drawer, and there was food left.

Six months of Ionian life had left him philosophical; he swore heartily,
shrugged resignedly, and pulled his bottle of ferverin from the cabinet.

His own spell of fever had vanished as suddenly and completely as
_blancha_ always does when treated, but the girl, lacking ferverin, was
paper-white and still. Grant glanced at the bottle; eight tablets

"Well, I can always chew ferva leaves," he muttered. That was less
effective than the alkaloid itself, but it would serve, and Lee Neilan
needed the tablets. He dissolved two of them in a glass of water, and
lifted her head.

She was not too inert to swallow, and he poured the solution between her
pale lips, then arranged her as comfortably as he could. Her dress was a
tattered silken ruin, and he covered her with a blanket that was no less
a ruin. Then he disinfected his palm stings, pulled two chairs together,
and sprawled across them to sleep.

He started up at the sound of claws on the roof, but it was only Oliver,
gingerly testing the flue to see if it were hot. In a moment the parcat
scrambled through, stretched himself, and remarked, "I'm real and you're

"Imagine that!" grunted Grant sleepily.

When he awoke it was Jupiter and Europa light, which meant he had slept
about seven hours, since the brilliant little third moon was just
rising. He rose and gazed at Lee Neilan, who was sleeping soundly with a
tinge of color in her face that was not entirely due to the ruddy
daylight. The _blancha_ was passing.

He dissolved two more tablets in water, then shook the girl's shoulder.
Instantly her gray eyes opened, quite clear now, and she looked up at
him without surprise.

"Hello, Grant," she murmured. "So it's you again. Fever isn't so bad,
after all."

"Maybe I ought to let you stay feverish," he grinned. "You say such nice
things. Wake up and drink this, Lee."

She became suddenly aware of the shack's interior. "Why--Where is this?
It looks--real!"

"It is. Drink this ferverin."

She obeyed, then lay back and stared at him perplexedly. "Real?" she
said. "And you're real?"

"I think I am."

A rush of tears clouded her eyes. "Then--I'm out of that place? That
horrible place?"

"You certainly are." He saw signs of her relief becoming hysteria, and
hastened to distract her. "Would you mind telling me how you happened to
be there--and dressed for a party too?"

She controlled herself. "I was dressed for a party. A party. A party in
Herapolis. But I was in Junopolis, you see."

"I don't see. In the first place, what are you doing on Io, anyway?
Every time I ever heard of you, it was in connection with New York or
Paris society."

She smiled. "Then it wasn't all delirium, was it? You did say that you
had one of my pictures--Oh, that one!" She frowned at the print on the
wall. "Next time a news photographer wants to snap my picture, I'll
remember not to grin like--like a loony. But as to how I happen to be on
Io, I came with father, who's looking over the possibilities of raising
ferva on plantations instead of having to depend on traders and loonies.
We've been here three months, and I've been terribly bored. I thought Io
would be exciting, but it wasn't--until recently."

"But what about that dance? How'd you manage to get here, a thousand
miles from Junopolis?"

"Well," she said slowly, "it was terribly tiresome in Junopolis. No
shows, no sport, nothing but an occasional dance. I got restless. When
there were dances in Herapolis, I formed the habit of flying over there.
It's only four or five hours in a fast plane, you know. And last
week--or whatever it was--I'd planned on flying down, and Harvey--that's
father's secretary--was to take me. But at the last minute father needed
him and forbade my flying alone."

Grant felt a strong dislike for Harvey. "Well?" he asked.

"So I flew alone," she finished demurely.

"And cracked up, eh?"

"I can fly as well as anybody," she retorted. "It was just that I
followed a different route, and suddenly there were mountains ahead."

He nodded. "The Idiots' Hills," he said. "My supply plane detours five
hundred miles to avoid them. They're not high, but they stick right out
above the atmosphere of this crazy planet. The air here is dense but

"I know that. I knew I couldn't fly above them, but I thought I could
hurdle them. Work up full speed, you know, and then throw the plane
upward. I had a closed plane, and gravitation is so weak here. And
besides, I've seen it done several times, especially with a
rocket-driven craft. The jets help to support the plane even after the
wings are useless for lack of air."

"What a damn fool stunt!" exclaimed Grant. "Sure it can be done, but you
have to be an expert to pull out of it when you hit the air on the other
side. You hit fast, and there isn't much falling room."

"So I found out," said Lee ruefully. "I almost pulled out, but not
quite, and I hit in the middle of some stinging palms. I guess the crash
dazed them, because I managed to get out before they started lashing
around. But I couldn't reach my plane again, and it was--I only remember
two days of it--but it was horrible!"

"It must have been," he said gently.

"I knew that if I didn't eat or drink, I had a chance of avoiding white
fever. The not eating wasn't so bad, but the not drinking--well, I
finally gave up and drank out of a brook. I didn't care what happened if
I could have a few moments that weren't thirst-tortured. And after that
it's all confused and vague."

"You should have chewed ferva leaves."

"I didn't know that. I wouldn't have even known what they looked like,
and besides, I kept expecting father to appear. He must be having a
search made by now."

"He probably is," rejoined Grant ironically. "Has it occurred to you
that there are thirteen million square miles of surface on little Io?
And that for all he knows, you might have crashed on any square mile of
it? When you're flying from north pole to south pole, there _isn't_ any
shortest route. You can cross any point on the planet."

Her gray eyes started wide. "But I--"

"Furthermore," said Grant, "this is probably the _last_ place a
searching party would look. They wouldn't think anyone but a loony would
try to hurdle Idiots' Hills, in which thesis I quite agree. So it looks
very much, Lee Neilan, as if you're marooned here until my supply plane
gets here next month!"

"But father will be crazy! He'll think I'm dead!"

"He thinks that now, no doubt."

"But we can't--" She broke off, staring around the tiny shack's single
room. After a moment she sighed resignedly, smiled, and said softly,
"Well, it might have been worse, Grant. I'll try to earn my keep."

"Good. How do you feel, Lee?"

"Quite normal. I'll start right to work." She flung off the tattered
blanket, sat up, and dropped her feet to the floor. "I'll fix dinn--Good
night! My dress!" She snatched the blanket about her again.

He grinned. "We had a little run-in with the stinkers after you had
passed out. They did for my spare wardrobe too."

"It's ruined!" she wailed.

"Would needle and thread help? They left that, at least, because it was
in the table drawer."

"Why, I couldn't make a good swimming suit out of this!" she retorted.
"Let me try one of yours."

By dint of cutting, patching, and mending, she at last managed to piece
one of Grant's suits to respectable proportions. She looked very lovely
in shirt and trousers, but he was troubled to note that a sudden pallor
had overtaken her.

It was the _riblancha_, the second spell of fever that usually followed
a severe or prolonged attack. His face was serious as he cupped two of
his last four ferverin tablets in his hand.

"Take these," he ordered. "And we've got to get some ferva leaves
somewhere. The plane took my supply away last week, and I've had bad
luck with my loonies ever since. They haven't brought me anything but
weeds and rubbish."

Lee puckered her lips at the bitterness of the drug, then closed her
eyes against its momentary dizziness and nausea. "Where can you find
ferva?" she asked.

He shook his head perplexedly, glancing out at the setting mass of
Jupiter, with its bands glowing creamy and brown, and the Red Spot
boiling near the western edge. Close above it was the brilliant little
disk of Europa. He frowned suddenly, glanced at his watch and then at
the almanac on the inside of the cabinet door.

"It'll be Europa light in fifteen minutes," he muttered, "and true night
in twenty-five--the first true night in half a month. I wonder--"

He gazed thoughtfully at Lee's face. He knew where ferva grew. One dared
not penetrate the jungle itself, where stinging palms and arrow vines
and the deadly worms called toothers made such a venture sheer suicide
for any creatures but loonies and slinkers. But he knew where ferva

In Io's rare true night even the clearing might be dangerous. Not merely
from slinkers, either; he knew well enough that in the darkness
creatures crept out of the jungle who otherwise remained in the eternal
shadows of its depths--toothers, bullet-head frogs, and doubtless many
unknown slimy, venomous, mysterious beings never seen by man. One heard
stories in Herapolis and--

But he had to get ferva, and he knew where it grew. Not even a loony
would try to gather it there, but in the little gardens or farms around
the tiny slinker towns, there was ferva growing.

He switched on a light in the gathering dusk. "I'm going outside a
moment," he told Lee Neilan. "If the _blancha_ starts coming back, take
the other two tablets. Wouldn't hurt you to take 'em anyway. The
slinkers got away with my thermometer, but if you get dizzy again, you
take 'em."

"Grant! Where--"

"I'll be back," he called, closing the door behind him.

A loony, purple in the bluish Europa light, bobbed up with a long
giggle. He waved the creature aside and set off on a cautious approach
to the neighborhood of the slinker village--the old one, for the other
could hardly have had time to cultivate its surrounding ground. He crept
warily through the bleeding-grass, but he knew his stealth was pure
optimism. He was in exactly the position of a hundred-foot giant trying
to approach a human city in secrecy--a difficult matter even in the
utter darkness of night.

He reached the edge of the slinker clearing. Behind him, Europa, moving
as fast as the second hand on his watch, plummeted toward the horizon.
He paused in momentary surprise at the sight of the exquisite little
town, a hundred feet away across the tiny square fields, with lights
flickering in its hand-wide windows. He had not known that slinker
culture included the use of lights, but there they were, tiny candles or
perhaps diminutive oil lamps.

He blinked in the darkness. The second of the ten-foot fields looked
like--it was--ferva. He stooped low, crept out, and reached his hand for
the fleshy, white leaves. And at that moment came a shrill giggle and
the crackle of grass behind him. The loony! The idiotic purple loony!

Squeaking shrieks sounded. He snatched a double handful of ferva, rose,
and dashed toward the lighted window of his shack. He had no wish to
face poisoned barbs or disease-bearing teeth, and the slinkers were
certainly aroused. Their gibbering sounded in chorus; the ground looked
black with them.

He reached the shack, burst in, slammed and latched the door. "Got it!"
he grinned. "Let 'em rave outside now."

They were raving. Their gibberish sounded like the creaking of worn
machinery. Even Oliver opened his drowsy eyes to listen. "It must be the
fever," observed the parcat placidly.

Lee was certainly no paler; the _riblancha_ was passing safely. "Ugh!"
she said, listening to the tumult without. "I've always hated rats, but
slinkers are worse. All the shrewdness and viciousness of rats plus the
intelligence of devils."

"Well," said Grant thoughtfully, "I don't see what they can do. They've
had it in for me anyway."

"It sounds as if they're going off," said the girl, listening. "The
noise is fading."

Grant peered out of the window. "They're still around. They've just
passed from swearing to planning, and I wish I knew what. Some day, if
this crazy little planet ever becomes worth human occupation, there's
going to be a showdown between humans and slinkers."

"Well? They're not civilized enough to be really a serious obstacle, and
they're so small, besides."

"But they learn," he said. "They learn so quickly, and they breed like
flies. Suppose they pick up the use of gas, or suppose they develop
little rifles for their poisonous darts. That's possible, because they
work in metals right now, and they know fire. That would put them
practically on a par with man as far as offense goes, for what good are
our giant cannons and rocket planes against six-inch slinkers? And to be
just on even terms would be fatal; one slinker for one man would be a
hell of a trade."

Lee yawned. "Well, it's not our problem. I'm hungry, Grant."

"Good. That's a sign the _blancha's_ through with you. We'll eat and
then sleep a while, for there's five hours of darkness."

"But the slinkers?"

"I don't see what they can do. They couldn't cut through stone-bark
walls in five hours, and anyway, Oliver would warn us if one managed to
slip in somewhere."

It was light when Grant awoke, and he stretched his cramped limbs
painfully across his two chairs. Something had wakened him, but he
didn't know just what. Oliver was pacing nervously beside him, and now
looked anxiously up at him.

"I've had bad luck with my loonies," announced the parcat plaintively.
"You're a nice kitty."

"So are you," said Grant. Something had wakened him, but what?

Then he knew, for it came again--the merest trembling of the stone-bark
floor. He frowned in puzzlement. Earthquakes? Not on Io, for the tiny
sphere had lost its internal heat untold ages ago. Then what?

Comprehension dawned suddenly. He sprang to his feet with so wild a yell
that Oliver scrambled sideways with an infernal babble. The startled
parcat leaped to the stove and vanished up the flue. His squall drifted
faintly back.

"It must be the fever!"

Lee had started to a sitting position on the bunk, her gray eyes
blinking sleepily.

"Outside!" he roared, pulling her to her feet. "Get out! Quickly!"


"Get out!" He thrust her through the door, then spun to seize his belt
and weapons, the bag of ferva leaves, a package of chocolate. The floor
trembled again, and he burst out of the door with a frantic leap to the
side of the dazed girl.

"They've undermined it!" he choked. "The devils undermined the--"

He had no time to say more. A corner of the shack suddenly subsided; the
stone-bark logs grated, and the whole structure collapsed like a child's
house of blocks. The crash died into silence, and there was no motion
save a lazy wisp of vapor, a few black, ratlike forms scurrying toward
the grass, and a purple loony bobbing beyond the ruins.

"The dirty devils!" he swore bitterly. "The damn little black rats!

A dart whistled so close that it grazed his ear and then twitched a lock
of Lee's tousled brown hair. A chorus of squeaking sounded in the

"Come on!" he cried. "They're out to exterminate us this time. No--this
way. Toward the hills. There's less jungle this way."

They could outrun the tiny slinkers easily enough. In a few moments they
had lost the sound of squeaking voices, and they stopped to gaze
ruefully back on the fallen dwelling.

"Now," he said miserably, "we're both where you were to start with."

"Oh, no." Lee looked up at him. "We're together now, Grant. I'm not

"We'll manage," he said with a show of assurance. "Well put up a
temporary shack somehow. We'll----"

A dart struck his boot with a sharp _blup_. The slinkers had caught up
to them.

Again they ran toward Idiots' Hills. When at last they stopped, they
could look down a long slope and far over the Ionian jungles. There was
the ruined shack, and there, neatly checkered, the fields and towers of
the nearer slinker town. But they had scarcely caught their breath when
gibbering and squeaking came out of the brush.

They were being driven into Idiots' Hills, a region as unknown to man as
the icy wastes of Pluto. It was as if the tiny fiends behind them had
determined that this time their enemy, the giant trampler and despoiler
of their fields, should be pursued to extinction.

Weapons were useless. Grant could not even glimpse their pursuers,
slipping like hooded rats through the vegetation. A bullet, even if
chance sped it through a slinker's body, was futile, and his flame
pistol, though its lightning stroke should incinerate tons of brush and
bleeding-grass, could no more than cut a narrow path through the horde
of tormentors. The only weapons that might have availed, the gas bulbs,
were lost in the ruins of the shack.

Grant and Lee were forced upward. They had risen a thousand feet above
the plain, and the air was thinning. There was no jungle here, but only
great stretches of bleeding-grass, across which a few loonies were
visible, bobbing their heads on their long necks.

"Toward--the peaks!" gasped Grant, now painfully short of breath.
"Perhaps we can stand rarer air than they."

Lee was beyond answer. She panted doggedly along beside him as they
plodded now over patches of bare rock. Before them were two low peaks,
like the pillars of a gate. Glancing back, Grant caught a glimpse of
tiny black forms on a clear area, and in sheer anger he fired a shot. A
single slinker leaped convulsively, its cape flapping, but the rest
flowed on. There must have been thousands of them.

The peaks were closer, no more than a few hundred yards away. They were
sheer, smooth, unscalable.

"Between them," muttered Grant.

The passage that separated them was bare and narrow. The twin peaks had
been one in ages past; some forgotten volcanic convulsion had split
them, leaving this slender canyon between.

He slipped an arm about Lee, whose breath, from effort and altitude, was
a series of rasping gasps. A bright dart tinkled on the rocks as they
reached the opening, but looking back, Grant could see only a purple
loony plodding upward, and a few more to his right. They raced down a
straight fifty-foot passage that debouched suddenly into a sizable
valley--and there, thunderstruck for a moment, they paused.

A city lay there. For a brief instant Grant thought they had burst upon
a vast slinker metropolis, but the merest glance showed otherwise. This
was no city of medieval blocks, but a poem in marble, classical in
beauty, and of human or near-human proportions. White columns, glorious
arches, pure curving domes, an architectural loveliness that might have
been born on the Acropolis. It took a second look to discern that the
city was dead, deserted, in ruins.

Even in her exhaustion, Lee felt its beauty. "How--how exquisite!" she
panted. "One could almost forgive them--for being--slinkers!"

"They won't forgive us for being human," he muttered. "We'll have to
make a stand somewhere. We'd better pick a building."

But before they could move more than a few feet from the canyon mouth, a
wild disturbance halted them. Grant whirled, and for a moment found
himself actually paralyzed by amazement. The narrow canyon was filled
with a gibbering horde of slinkers, like a nauseous, heaving black
carpet. But they came no further than the valley end, for grinning,
giggling, and bobbing, blocking the opening with tramping three-toed
feet, were four loonies!

It was a battle. The slinkers were biting and stabbing at the miserable
defenders, whose shrill keenings of pain were less giggles than shrieks.
But with a determination and purpose utterly foreign to loonies, their
clawed feet tramped methodically up and down, up and down.

Grant exploded, "I'll be damned!" Then an idea struck him. "Lee! They're
packed in the canyon, the whole devil's brood of 'em!"

He rushed toward the opening. He thrust his flame pistol between the
skinny legs of a loony, aimed it straight along the canyon, and fired.

Inferno burst. The tiny diamond, giving up all its energy in one
terrific blast, shot a jagged stream of fire that filled the canyon from
wall to wall and vomited out beyond to cut a fan of fire through the
bleeding-grass of the slope.

Idiots' Hills reverberated to the roar, and when the rain of debris
settled, there was nothing in the canyon save a few bits of flesh and
the head of an unfortunate loony, still bouncing and rolling.

Three of the loonies survived. A purple-faced one was pulling his arm,
grinning and giggling in imbecile glee. He waved the thing aside and
returned to the girl.

"Thank goodness!" he said. "We're out of that, anyway."

"I wasn't afraid, Grant. Not with you."

He smiled. "Perhaps we can find a place here," he suggested. "The fever
ought to be less troublesome at this altitude. But--say, this must have
been the capital city of the whole slinker race in ancient times. I can
scarcely imagine those fiends creating an architecture as beautiful as
this--or as large. Why, these buildings are as colossal in proportion to
slinker size as the skyscrapers of New York to us!"

"But so beautiful," said Lee softly, sweeping her eyes over the glory of
the ruins. "One might almost forgive--Grant! Look at those!"

He followed the gesture. On the inner side of the canyon's portals were
gigantic carvings. But the thing that set him staring in amazement was
the subject of the portrayal. There, towering far up the cliff sides,
were the figures, not of slinkers, but of--loonies! Exquisitely
carved, smiling rather than grinning, and smiling somehow sadly,
regretfully, pityingly--yet beyond doubt, loonies!

"Good night!" he whispered. "Do you see, Lee? This must once have been a
loony city. The steps, the doors, the buildings, all are on their scale
of size. Somehow, some time, they must have achieved civilization, and
the loonies we know are the degenerate residue of a great race."

"And," put in Lee, "the reason those four blocked the way when the
slinkers tried to come through is that they still remember. Or probably
they don't actually remember, but they have a tradition of past glories,
or more likely still, just a superstitious feeling that this place is in
some way sacred. They let us pass because, after all, we look more like
loonies than like slinkers. But the amazing thing is that they still
possess even that dim memory, because this city must have been in ruins
for centuries. Or perhaps even for thousands of years."

"But to think that loonies could ever have had the intelligence to
create a culture of their own," said Grant, waving away the purple one
bobbing and giggling at his side. Suddenly he paused, turning a gaze of
new respect on the creature. "This one's been following me for days. All
right, old chap, what is it?"

The purple one extended a sorely bedraggled bundle of bleeding-grass and
twigs, giggling idiotically. His ridiculous mouth twisted; his eyes
popped in an agony of effort at mental concentration.

"Canny!" he giggled triumphantly.

"The imbecile!" flared Grant. "Nitwit! Idiot!" He broke off, then
laughed. "Never mind. I guess you deserve it." He tossed his package of
chocolate to the three delighted loonies. "Here's your candy."

A scream from Lee startled him. She was waving her arms wildly, and over
the crest of Idiots' Hills a rocket plane roared, circled, and nosed its
way into the valley.

The door opened. Oliver stalked gravely out, remarking casually. "I'm
real and you're real." A man followed the parcat--two men.

"Father!" screamed Lee.

It was some time later that Gustavus Neilan turned to Grant. "I can't
thank you," he said. "If there's ever any way I can show my appreciation

"There is. You can cancel my contract."

"Oh, you work for me?"

"I'm Grant Calthorpe, one of your traders, and I'm about sick of this
crazy planet."

"Of course, if you wish," said Neilan. "If it's a question of pay--"

"You can pay me for the six months I've worked."

"If you'd care to stay," said the older man, "there won't be trading
much longer. We've been able to grow ferva near the polar cities, and I
prefer plantations to the uncertainties of relying on loonies. If you'd
work out your year, we might be able to put you in charge of a
plantation by the end of that time."

Grant met Lee Neilan's gray eyes, and hesitated. "Thanks," he said
slowly, "but I'm sick of it." He smiled at the girl, then turned back to
her father. "Would you mind telling me how you happened to find us? This
is the most unlikely place on the planet."

"That's just the reason," said Neilan. "When Lee didn't get back, I
thought things over pretty carefully. At last I decided, knowing her as
I did, to search the least likely places first. We tried the shores of
the Fever Sea, and then the White Desert, and finally Idiots' Hills. We
spotted the ruins of a shack, and on the debris was this chap"--he
indicated Oliver--"remarking that Ten loonies make one half-wit.' Well,
the half-wit part sounded very much like a reference to my daughter, and
we cruised about until the roar of your flame pistol attracted our

Lee pouted, then turned her serious gray eyes on Grant. "Do you
remember," she said softly, "what I told you there in the jungle?"

"I wouldn't even have mentioned that," he replied. "I knew you were

"But--perhaps I wasn't. Would companionship make it any easier to work
out your year? I mean if--for instance--you were to fly back with us to
Junopolis and return with a wife?"

"Lee," he said huskily, "you know what a difference that would make,
though I can't understand why you'd ever dream of it."

"It must," suggested Oliver, "be the fever."


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