Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title: Redemption Cairn
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607891.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: October 2006
Date most recently updated: October 2006

This eBook was produced by: Malcolm Farmer

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to


Title: Redemption Cairn
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum

Have you ever been flat broke, hungry as the very devil, and yet so down
and out that you didn't even care? Looking back now, after a couple of
months, it's hard to put it into words, but I think the low point was
the evening old Captain Harris Henshaw dropped into my room--my room,
that is, until the twenty-four-hour notice to move or pay up expired.

There I sat, Jack Sands, ex-rocket pilot. Yeah, the same Jack Sands
you're thinking of, the one who cracked up the Gunderson Europa
expedition trying to land at Young's Field, Long Island, in March, 2110.
Just a year and a half ago! It seemed like ten and a half. Five hundred
idle days. Eighteen months of having your friends look the other way
when you happened to pass on the street, partly because they're ashamed
to nod to a pilot that's been tagged yellow, and partly because they
feel maybe it's kinder to just let you drop out of sight peacefully.

I didn't even look up when a knock sounded on my door, because I knew it
could only be the landlady. "Haven't got it," I growled. "I've got a
right to stay out my notice."

"You got a right to make a damn fool of yourself," said Henshaw's voice.
"Why don't you tell your friends your address?"

"Harris!" I yelled. It was "Captain" only aboard ship. Then I caught
myself. "What's the matter?" I asked, grinning bitterly. "Did you crack
up, too? Coming to join me on the dust heap, eh?"

"Coming to offer you a job," he growled.

"Yeah? It must be a swell one, then. Carting sand to fill up the blast
pits on a field, huh? And I'm damn near hungry enough to take it--but
not quite."

"It's a piloting job," said Henshaw quietly.

"Who wants a pilot who's been smeared with yellow paint? What outfit
will trust its ships to a coward? Don't you know that Jack Sands is
tagged forever?"

"Shut up, Jack," he said briefly. "I'm offering you the job as pilot
under me on Interplanetary's new Europa expedition."

I started to burn up then. You see, it was returning from Jupiter's
third moon, Europa, that I'd smashed up the Gunderson outfit, and now I
got a wild idea that Henshaw was taunting me about that. "By Heaven!" I
screeched. "If you're trying to be funny--"

But he wasn't. I quieted down when I saw he was serious, and he went on
slowly, "I want a pilot I can trust, Jack. I don't know anything about
your cracking up the _Hera_; I was on the Venus run when it happened.
All I know is that I can depend on you."

After a while I began to believe him. When I got over the shock a
little, I figured Henshaw was friend enough to be entitled to the facts.

"Listen, Harris," I said. "You're taking me on, reputation and all, and
it looks to me as if you deserve an explanation. I haven't been whining
about the bump I got, and I'm not now. I cracked up Gunderson and his
outfit all right, only--" I hesitated; it's kind of tough to feel that
maybe you're squirming in the pinch--"only my co-pilot, that fellow
Kratska, forgot to mention a few things, and mentioned a few others that
weren't true. Oh, it was my shift, right enough, but he neglected to
tell the investigating committee that I'd stood his shift and my own
before it. I'd been on for two long shifts, and this was my short one."

"Two long ones!" echoed Henshaw. "You mean you were on sixteen hours
before the landing shift?"

"That's what I mean. I'll tell you just what I told the committee, and
maybe you'll believe me. They didn't. But when Kratska showed up to
relieve me he was hopped. He had a regular hexylamine jag, and he
couldn't have piloted a tricycle. So I did the only possible thing to
do; I sent him back to sleep it off, and I reported it to Gunderson, but
that still left me the job of getting us down.

"It wouldn't have been so bad if it had happened in space, because there
isn't much for a pilot to do out there except follow the course laid out
by the captain, and maybe dodge a meteor if the alarm buzzes. But I had
sixteen solid hours of teetering down through a gravitational field, and
by the time my four-hour spell came around I was bleary."

"I don't wonder," said the captain. "Two long shifts!"

Maybe I'd better explain a rocket's pilot system. On short runs like
Venus or Mars, a vessel could carry three pilots, and then it's a simple
matter of three eight-hour shifts. But on any longer run, because air
and weight and fuel and food are all precious, no rocket ever carries
more than two pilots.

So a day's run is divided into four shifts, and each pilot has one long
spell of eight hours, then four hours off, then four hours on again for
his short shift, and then eight hours to sleep. He eats two of his meals
right at the control desk, and the third during his short free period.
It's a queer life, and sometimes men have been co-pilots for years
without really seeing each other except at the beginning and the end of
their run.

I went on with my story, still wondering whether Henshaw would feel as
if I were whining. "I was bleary," I repeated, "but Kratska showed up
still foggy, and I didn't dare trust a hexylamine dope with the job of
landing. Anyway, I'd reported to Gunderson, and that seemed to shift
some of the responsibility to him. So I let Kratska sit in the control
cabin, and I began to put down."

Telling the story made me mad all over. "Those lousy reporters!" I
blazed. "All of them seemed to think landing a rocket is like settling
down in bed; you just cushion down on your underblast. Yeah; they don't
realize that you have to land blind, because three hundred feet down
from the ground the blast begins to splash against it.

"You watch the leveling poles at the edge of the field and try to judge
your altitude from them, but you don't see the ground; what you see
under you are the flames of Hell. And another thing they don't realize:
lowering a ship is like bringing down a dinner plate balanced on a
fishing rod. If she starts to roll sideways--blooey! The underjets only
hold you up when they're pointing down, you know."

Henshaw let me vent my temper without interruption, and I returned to my
story. "Well, I was getting down as well as could be expected. The
_Hera_ always did have a tendency to roll a little, but she wasn't the
worst ship I've put to ground.

"But every time she slid over a little, Kratska let out a yell; he was
nervous from his dope jag, and he knew he was due to lose his license,
and on top of that he was just plain scared by the side roll. We got to
seventy feet on the leveling poles when she gave a pretty sharp roll,
and Kratska went plain daffy."

I hesitated. "I don't know exactly how to tell what happened. It went
quick, and I didn't see all of it, of course. But suddenly Kratska, who
had been fumbling with the air lock for ten minutes, shrieked something
like 'She's going over!' and grabbed the throttle. He shut off the blast
before I could lift an eyelash, shut it off and flung himself out. Yeah;
he'd opened the air lock.

"Well, we were only seventy feet--less than that--above the field. We
dropped like an overripe apple off a tree. I didn't have time even to
move before we hit, and when we hit, all the fuel in all the jets must
have let go. And for what happened after that you'd better read the

"Not me," said Henshaw. "You spill it."

"I can't, not all of it, because I was laid out. But I can guess, all
right. It seems that when the jets blew off, Kratska was just picked up
in a couple of cubic yards of the soft sand he had landed in, and tossed
clear. He had nothing but a broken wrist. And as for me, apparently I
was shot out of the control room, and banged up considerably. And as for
Gunderson, his professors, and everyone else on the Hera--well, they
were just stains on the pool of molten ferralumin that was left."

"Then how," asked Henshaw, "did they hang it on you?"

I tried to control my voice. "Kratska," I said grimly. "The field was
clear for landing; nobody can stand in close with the blast splashing in
a six-hundred-foot circle. Of course, they saw someone jump from the
nose of the ship after the jets cut off, but how could they tell which
of us? And the explosion shuffled the whole field around, and nobody
knew which was what."

"Then it should have been his word against yours."

"Yeah; it should have been. But the field knew it was my shift because
I'd been talking over the landing beam, and besides, Kratska got to the
reporters first. I never even knew of the mess until I woke up at Grand
Mercy Hospital thirteen days later. By that time Kratska had talked and
I was the goat."

"But the investigating committee?"

I grunted. "Sure, the investigating committee. I'd reported to
Gunderson, but he made a swell witness, being just an impurity in a mass
of ferralumin alloy. And Kratska had disappeared anyway."

"Couldn't they find him?"

"Not on what I knew about him. We picked him up at Junopolis on Io,
because Briggs was down with white fever. I didn't see him at all except
when we were relieving each other, and you know what that's like, seeing
somebody in a control cabin with the sun shields up. And on Europa we
kept to space routine, so I couldn't even give you a good description of
him. He had a beard, but so have ninety per cent of us after a long hop,
and he said when we took him on that he'd just come over from the
Earth." I paused. "I'll find him some day."

"Hope you do," said Henshaw briskly. "About this present run, now.
There'll be you and me, and then there'll be Stefan Coretti, a physical
chemist, and an Ivor Gogrol, a biologist. That's the scientific
personnel of the expedition."

"Yeah, but who's my co-pilot? That's what interests me."

"Oh, sure," said Henshaw, and coughed. "Your co-pilot. Well, I've been
meaning to tell you. It's Claire Avery."

"_Claire Avery!_"

"That's right," agreed the captain gloomily. "The Golden Flash herself.
The only woman pilot to have her name on the Curry cup, winner of this
year's Apogee race."

"She's no pilot!" I snapped. "She's a rich publicity hound with brass
nerves. I was just curious enough to blow ten bucks rental on a 'scope
to watch that race. She was ninth rounding the Moon. Ninth! Do you know
how she won? She gunned her rocket under full acceleration practically
all the way back, and then fell into a braking orbit.

"Any sophomore in Astronautics II knows that you can't calculate a
braking orbit without knowing the density of the stratosphere and
ionosphere, and even then it's a gamble. That's what she did--simply
gambled, and happened to be lucky. Why do you pick a rich moron with a
taste for thrills on a job like this?"

"I didn't pick her, Jack. Interplanetary picked her for publicity
purposes. To tell the truth, I think this whole expedition is an attempt
to get a little favorable advertising to offset that shady stock
investigation this spring. Interplanetary wants to show itself as the
noble patron of exploration. So Claire Avery will take off for the
television and papers, and you'll be politely ignored."

"And that suits me! I wouldn't even take the job if things were a little
different, and--" I broke off suddenly, frozen "Say," I said weakly,
"did you know they'd revoked my license?"

"You don't say," said Henshaw. "And after all the trouble I had talking
Interplanetary into permission to take you on, too." Then he grinned.
"Here," he said, tossing me an envelope. "See how long it'll take you to
lose this one."

But the very sight of the familiar blue paper was enough to make me
forget a lot of things--Kratska, Claire Avery, even hunger.

The take-off was worse than I had expected. I had sense enough to wear
my pilot's goggles to the field, but of course I was recognized as soon
as I joined the group at the rocket. They'd given us the _Minos_, an old
ship, but she looked as if she'd handle well.

The newsmen must have had orders to ignore me, but I could hear plenty
of comments from the crowd. And to finish things up, there was Claire
Avery, a lot prettier than she looked on the television screens, but
with the same unmistakable cobalt-blue eyes, and hair closer to the
actual shade of metallic gold than any I'd ever seen. The "Golden
Flash," the newsmen called her. Blah!

She accepted her introduction to me with the coolest possible nod, as if
to say to the scanners and cameras that it wasn't her choice she was
teamed with yellow Jack Sands. But for that matter, Coretti's black
Latin eyes were not especially cordial either, nor were Gogrol's broad
features. I'd met Gogrol somewhere before, but couldn't place him at the

Well, at last the speeches were over, and the photographers and
broadcast men let the Golden Flash stop posing, and she and I got into
the control cabin for the take-off. I still wore my goggles, and huddled
down low besides, because there were a dozen telescopic cameras and
scanners recording us from the field's edge. Claire Avery simply ate it
up, though, smiling and waving before she cut in the underblast. But
finally we were rising over the flame.

She was worse than I'd dreamed. The _Minos_ was a sweetly balanced ship,
but she rolled it like a baby's cradle. She had the radio on the field
broadcast, and I could hear the description of the take-off: "--heavily
laden. There--she rolls again. But she's making altitude. The blast has
stopped splashing now, and is coming down in a beautiful fan of fire. A
difficult take-off, even for the Golden Flash." A difficult take-off!

I was watching the red bubble in the level, but I stole a glance to
Claire Avery's face, and it wasn't so cool and stand-offish now. And
just then the bubble in the level bobbed way over, and I heard the girl
at my side give a frightened little gasp. This wasn't cradle rocking any
more--we were in a real roll!

I slapped her hands hard and grabbed the U-bar. I cut the underjets
completely off, letting the ship fall free, then shot the full blast
through the right laterals. It was damn close, I'm ready to swear, but
we leveled, and I snapped on the under-blast before we lost a hundred
feet of altitude. And there was that inane radio still talking: "They're
over! No--they've leveled again, but what a roll! She's a real pilot,
this Golden Flash--"

I looked at her; she was pale and shaken, but her eyes were angry.
"Golden Flash, eh?" I jeered. "The gold must refer to your money, but
what's the flash? It can't have much to do with your ability as a
pilot." But at that time I had no idea how pitifully little she really
knew about rocketry.

She flared. "Anyway," she hissed, her lips actually quivering with rage,
"the gold doesn't refer to color, Mr. Malaria Sands!" She knew that
would hurt; the "Malaria" was some bright columnist's idea of a pun on
my name. You see, malaria's popularly called Yellow Jack. "Besides," she
went on defiantly, "I could have pulled out of that roll myself, and you
know it."

"Sure," I said, with the meanest possible sarcasm. We had considerable
upward velocity now, and plenty of altitude, both of which tend toward
safety because they give one more time to pull out of a roll. "You can
take over again now. The hard part's over."

She gave me a look from those electric blue eyes, and I began to realize
just what sort of trip I was in for. Coretti and Gogrol had indicated
their unfriendliness plainly enough, and heaven knows I couldn't mistake
the hatred in Claire Avery's eyes, so that left just Captain Henshaw.
But the captain of the ship dare not show favoritism; so all in all I
saw myself doomed to a lonely trip.

Lonely isn't the word for it. Henshaw was decent enough, but since
Claire Avery had started with a long shift and so had the captain, they
were having their free spells and meals on the same schedule, along with
Gogrol, and that left me with Coretti. He was pretty cool, and I had
pride enough left not to make any unwanted advances.

Gogrol was worse; I saw him seldom enough, but he never addressed a word
to me except on routine. Yet there was something familiar about him--As
for Claire Avery, I simply wasn't in her scheme of things at all; she
even relieved me in silence.

Offhand, I'd have said it was the wildest sort of stupidity to send a
girl with four men on a trip like this. Well, I had to hand it to Claire
Avery; in _that_ way she was a splendid rocketrix. She took the
inconveniences of space routine without a murmur, and she was so
companionable--that is, with the others--that it was like having a young
and unusually entertaining man aboard.

And, after all, Gogrol was twice her age and Henshaw almost three times;
Coretti was younger, but I was the only one who was really of her
generation. But as I say, she hated me; Coretti seemed to stand best
with her.

So the weary weeks of the journey dragged along. The Sun shrunk up to a
disk only a fifth the diameter of the terrestrial Sun, but Jupiter grew
to an enormous moon-like orb with its bands and spots gloriously tinted.
It was an exquisite sight, and sometimes, since eight hours' sleep is
more than I can use, I used to slip into the control room while Claire
Avery was on duty, just to watch the giant planet and its moons. The
girl and I never said a word to each other.

We weren't to stop at Io, but were landing directly on Europa, our
destination, the third moon outward from the vast molten globe of
Jupiter. In some ways Europa is the queerest little sphere in the Solar
System, and for many years it was believed to be quite uninhabitable. It
is, too, as far as seventy per cent of its surface goes, but the
remaining area is a wild and weird region.

This is the mountainous hollow in the face toward Jupiter, for Europa,
like the Moon, keeps one face always toward its primary. Here in this
vast depression, all of the tiny world's scanty atmosphere is collected,
gathered like little lakes and puddles into the valleys between mountain
ranges that often pierce through the low-lying air into the emptiness of

Often enough a single valley forms a microcosm sundered by nothingness
from the rest of the planet, generating its own little rainstorms under
pygmy cloud banks, inhabited by its indigenous life, untouched by, and
unaware of, all else.

In the ephemeris, Europa is dismissed prosaically with a string of
figures: diameter, 2099 M.--period, 3 days, 13 hours, 14
seconds--distance from primary, 425,160 M. For an astronomical ephemeris
isn't concerned with the thin film of life that occasionally blurs a
planet's surface; it has nothing to say of the slow libration of Europa
that sends intermittent tides of air washing against the mountain slopes
under the tidal drag of Jupiter, nor of the waves that sometimes spill
air from valley to valley, and sometimes spill alien life as well.

Least of all is the ephemeris concerned with the queer forms that crawl
now and then right up out of the air pools, to lie on the vacuum-bathed
peaks exactly as strange fishes flopped their way out of the Earthly
seas to bask on the sands at the close of the Devonian age.

Of the five of us, I was the only one who had ever visited Europa--or so
I thought at the time. Indeed, there were few men in the world who had
actually set foot on the inhospitable little planet; Gunderson and his
men were dead, save me and perhaps Kratska, and we had been the first
organized expedition.

Only a few stray adventurers from Io had preceded us. So it was to me
that Captain Henshaw directed his orders when he said, "Take us as close
as possible to Gunderson's landing."

It began to be evident that we'd make ground toward the end of Claire's
long shift, so I crawled out of the coffinlike niche I called my cabin
an hour early, and went up to the control room to guide her down. We
were seventy or eighty miles up, but there were no clouds or air
distortion here, and the valleys crisscrossed under us like a relief

It was infernally hard to pick Gunderson's valley; the burned spot from
the blast was long since grown over, and I had only memory to rely on,
for, of course, all charts were lost with the _Hera_. But I knew the
general region, and it really made less difference than it might have,
for practically all the valleys in that vicinity were connected by
passes; one could walk between them in breathable air.

After a while I picked one of a series of narrow parallel valleys, one
with what I knew was a salt pool in the center--though most of them had
that; they'd be desert without it--and pointed it out to Claire. "That
one," I said, adding maliciously, "and I'd better warn you that it's
narrow and deep--a ticklish landing place."

She flashed me an unfriendly glance from sapphire eyes, but said
nothing. But a voice behind me sounded unexpectedly: "To the left! The
one to the left. It--it looks easier."

Gogrol! I was startled for a moment, then turned coldly on him. "Keep
out of the control room during landings," I snapped.

He glared, muttered something, and retired. But he left me a trifle
worried; not that his valley to the left was any easier to land in--that
was pure bunk--but it looked a little familiar! Actually, I wasn't sure
but that Gogrol had pointed out Gunderson's valley.

But I stuck to my first guess. The irritation I felt I took out on
Claire. "Take it slow!" I said gruffly. "This isn't a landing field.
Nobody's put up leveling poles in these valleys. You're going to have to
land completely blind from about four hundred feet, because the blast
begins to splash sooner in this thin air. You go down by level and
guess, and Heaven help us if you roll her! There's no room for rolling
between those cliffs."

She bit her lip nervously. The _Minos_ was already rolling under the
girl's inexpert hand, though that wasn't dangerous while we still had
ten or twelve miles of altitude. But the ground was coming up steadily.

I was in a cruel mood. I watched the strain grow in her lovely features,
and if I felt any pity, I lost it when I thought of the way she had
treated me. So I taunted her.

"This shouldn't be a hard landing for the Golden Flash. Or maybe you'd
rather be landing at full speed, so you could fall into a braking
ellipse--only that wouldn't work here, because the air doesn't stick up
high enough to act as a brake."

And a few minutes later, when her lips were quivering with tension, I
said, "It takes more than publicity and gambler's luck to make a pilot,
doesn't it?"

She broke. She screamed suddenly, "Oh, take it! Take it, then!" and
slammed the U-bar into my hands. Then she huddled back in her corner
sobbing, with her golden hair streaming over her face.

I took over; I had no choice. I pulled the _Minos_ out of the roll
Claire's gesture had put her in, and then started teetering down on the
underjets. It was pitifully easy because of Europa's low gravitation and
the resulting low falling acceleration; it gave the pilot so much time
to compensate for side sway.

I began to realize how miserably little the Golden Flash really knew
about rocketry, and, despite myself, I felt a surge of pity for her. But
why pity her? Everyone knew that Claire Avery was simply a wealthy,
thrill-intoxicated daredevil, with more than her share of money, of
beauty, of adulation. The despised Jack Sands pitying her? That's a

The underblast hit and splashed, turning the brown-clad valley into
black ashes and flame. I inched down very slowly now, for there was
nothing to see below save the fiery sheet of the blast, and I watched
the bubble on the level as if my life depended on it--which it did.

I knew the splash began at about four hundred feet in this density of
air, but from then on it was guesswork, and a question of settling down
so slowly that when we hit we wouldn't damage the underjets. And if I do
say it, we grounded so gently that I don't think Claire Avery knew it
until I cut off the blast.

She rubbed the tears away with her sleeve and glared blue-eyed defiance
at me, but before she could speak, Henshaw opened the door. "Nice
landing, Miss Avery," he said.

"Wasn't it?" I echoed, with a grin at the girl.

She stood up. She was trembling and I think that under Earthly
gravitation she would have fallen back into the pilot's seat, for I saw
her knees shaking below her trim, black shorts.

"I didn't land us," she said grimly. "Mr. Sands put us to ground."

Somehow my pity got the best of me then. "Sure," I said. "It's into my
shift. Look." It was; the chronometer showed three minutes in. "Miss
Avery had all the hard part--"

But she was gone. And try as I would, I could not bring myself to see
her as the hard, brilliant thrill-seeker which the papers and broadcasts
portrayed her. Instead, she left me with a strange and by no means
logical impression of--wistfulness.

Life on Europa began uneventfully. Little by little we reduced the
atmospheric pressure in the _Minos_ to conform to that outside. First
Coretti and then Claire Avery had a spell of altitude sickness, but by
the end of twenty hours we were all acclimated enough to be comfortable

Henshaw and I were first to venture into the open. I scanned the valley
carefully for familiar landmarks, but it was hard to be sure; all these
canyonlike ditches were much alike. I know that a copse of song-bushes
had grown high on the cliff when the _Hera_ had landed, but our blast
had splashed higher, and if the bushes had been there, they were only a
patch of ashes now.

At the far end of the valley there should have been a cleft in the
hills, a pass leading to the right into the next valley. That wasn't
there; all I could distinguish was a narrow ravine cutting the hills to
the left.

"I'm afraid I've missed Gunderson's valley," I told Henshaw. "I think
it's the next one to our left; it's connected to this one by a pass, if
I'm right, and this is one I came in several times to hunt." It recurred
to me suddenly that Gogrol had said the left one.

"You say there's a pass?" mused Henshaw. "Then we'll stay here rather
than chance another take-off and another landing. We can work in
Gunderson's valley through the pass. You're sure it's low enough so we
won't have to use oxygen helmets?"

"If it's the right pass, I am. But work at what in Gunderson's valley? I
thought this was an exploring expedition."

Henshaw gave me a queer, sharp look, and turned away. Right then I saw
Gogrol standing in the port of the _Minos_, and I didn't know whether
Henshaw's reticence was due to his presence or mine. I moved a step to
follow him, but at that moment the outer door of the air lock opened and
Claire Avery came out.

It was the first time I had seen her in a fair light since the take-off
at Young's Field, and I had rather forgotten the loveliness of her
coloring. Of course, her skin had paled from the weeks in semidarkness,
but her cadmium-yellow hair and sapphire-blue eyes were really
startling, especially when she moved into the sun shadow of the cliff
and stood bathed only in the golden Jupiter light.

Like Henshaw and myself, she had slipped on the all-enveloping ski suit
one wore on chilly little Europa. The small world received only a fourth
as much heat as steamy Io, and would not have been habitable at all,
except for the fact that it kept its face always toward its primary, and
therefore received heat intermittently from the Sun, but eternally from

The girl cast an eager look over the valley; I knew this was her first
experience on an uninhabited world, and there is always a sense of
strangeness and the fascination of the unknown in one's first step on an
alien planet.

She looked at Henshaw, who was methodically examining the scorched soil
on which the _Minos_ rested, and then her glance crossed mine. There was
an electric moment of tension, but then the anger in her blue eyes--if
it had been anger--died away, and she strode deliberately to my side.

She faced me squarely. "Jack Sands," she said with an undertone of
defiance, "I owe you an apology. Don't think I'm apologizing for my
opinion of you, but only for the way I've been acting toward you. In a
small company like this there isn't room for enmity, and as far as I'm
concerned, your past is yours from now on. What's more, I want to thank
you for helping me during the take-off, and"--her defiance was cracking
a bit--"d-during the--the landing."

I stared at her. That apology must have cost her an effort, for the
Golden Flash was a proud young lady, and I saw her wink back her tears.
I choked back the vicious reply I had been about to make, and said only,
"O.K. You keep your opinion of me to yourself and I'll do the same with
my opinion of you."

She flushed, then smiled. "I guess I'm a rotten pilot," she admitted
ruefully. "I hate take-offs and landings. To tell the truth, I'm simply
scared of the _Minos_. Up to the time we left Young's Field, I'd never
handled anything larger than my little racing rocket, the _Golden

I gasped. That wouldn't have been credible if I hadn't seen with my own
eyes how utterly unpracticed she was. "But why?" I asked in perplexity.
"If you hate piloting so, why do it? Just for publicity? With your money
you don't have to, you know."

"Oh, my money!" she echoed irritably. She stared away over the narrow
valley, and started suddenly. "Look!" she cried. "There's something
moving on the peaks--like a big ball. And way up where there's no air at

I glanced over. "It's just a bladder bird," I said indifferently. I'd
seen plenty of them; they were the commonest mobile form of life on
Europa. But of course Claire hadn't, and she was eagerly curious.

I explained. I threw stones into a tinkling grove of song-bushes until I
flushed up another, and it went gliding over our heads with its membrane
stretched taut.

I told her that the three-foot creature that had sailed like a flying
squirrel was the same sort as the giant ball she had glimpsed among the
airless peaks, only the one on the peaks had inflated its bladder. The
creatures were able to cross from valley to valley by carrying their air
with them in their big, balloonlike bladders. And, of course, bladder
birds weren't really birds at all; they didn't fly, but glided like the
lemurs and flying squirrels of Earth, and naturally, couldn't even do
that when they were up on the airless heights.

Claire was so eager and interested and wide-eyed that I quite forgot my
grudge. I started to show her my knowledge of things Europan; I led her
close to the copse of song-bushes so that she could listen to the sweet
and plaintive melody of their breathing leaves, and I took her down to
the salt pool in the center of the valley to find some of the primitive
creatures which Gunderson's men had called "nutsies," because they
looked very much like walnuts with the hulls on. But within was a small
mouthful of delicious meat, neither animal nor vegetable, which was
quite safe to eat raw, since bacterial life did not exist on Europa.

I guess I was pretty exuberant, for after all, this was the first chance
at companionship I'd had for many weeks. We wandered down the valley and
I talked, talked about anything. I told her of the various forms life
assumed on the planets, how on Mars and Titan and Europa sex was
unknown, though Venus and Earth and Io all possessed it; and how on Mars
and Europa vegetable and animal life had never differentiated, so that
even the vastly intelligent beaked Martians had a tinge of vegetable
nature, while conversely the song-bushes on the hills of Europa had a
vaguely animal content. And meanwhile we wandered aimlessly along until
we stood below the narrow pass or ravine that led presumably into
Gunderson's valley to our left.

Far up the slope a movement caught my eye. A bladder bird, I thought
idly, though it was a low altitude for one to inflate; they usually
expanded their bladders just below the point where breathing became
impossible. Then I saw that it wasn't a bladder bird; it was a man. In
fact, it was Gogrol.

He was emerging from the pass, and his collar was turned up about his
throat against the cold of the altitude. He hadn't seen us, apparently,
as he angled down what mountaineers call a _col_, a ledge or neck of
rock that slanted from the mouth of the ravine along the hillside toward
the _Minos_. But Claire, following the direction of my gaze, saw him in
the moment before brush hid him from view.

"Gogroll" she exclaimed. "He must have been in the next valley. Stefan
will want--" She caught herself sharply.

"Why," I asked grimly, "should your friend Coretti be interested in
Gogrol's actions? After all, Gogrol's supposed to be a biologist, isn't
he? Why shouldn't he take a look in the next valley?"

Her lips tightened. "Why shouldn't he?" she echoed. "I didn't say he
shouldn't. I didn't say anything like that."

And thenceforward she maintained a stubborn silence. Indeed, something
of the old enmity and coolness seemed to have settled between us as we
walked back through the valley toward the _Minos_.

That night Henshaw rearranged our schedule to a more convenient plan
than the requirements of space. We divided our time into days and
nights, or rather into sleeping and waking periods, for, of course,
there is no true night on Europa. The shifts of light are almost as
puzzling as those on its neighbor Io, but not quite, because Io has its
own rotation to complicate matters.

On Europa, the nearest approach to true night is during the eclipse that
occurs every three days or so, when the landscape is illumined only by
the golden twilight of Jupiter, or at the most, only by Jupiter and Io
light. So we set our own night time by arbitrary Earth reckoning, so
that we might all work and sleep during the same periods.

There was no need for any sort of watch to be kept; no one had ever
reported life dangerous to man on little Europa. The only danger came
from the meteors that swarm about the giant Jupiter's orbit, and
sometimes came crashing down through the shallow air of his satellites;
we couldn't dodge them here as we could in space. But that was a danger
against which a guard was unavailing.

It was the next morning that I cornered Henshaw and forced him to listen
to my questions.

"Listen to me, Harris," I said determinedly. "What is there about this
expedition that everybody knows but me? If this is an exploring party,
I'm the Ameer of Yarkand. Now I want to know what it's all about."

Henshaw looked miserably embarrassed. He kept his eyes away from mine,
and muttered unhappily, "I can't tell you, Jack. I'm damned sorry, but I
can't tell you."

"Why not?"

He hesitated. "Because I'm under orders not to, Jack."

"Whose orders?"

Henshaw shook his head. "Damn it!" he said vehemently. "I trust you. If
it were my choice, you'd be the one I'd pick for honesty. But it isn't
my choice." He paused. "Do you understand that? All right"--he stiffened
into his captain's manner--"no more questions, then. I'll ask the
questions and give the orders."

Well, put on that basis, I couldn't argue. I'm a pilot, first, last, and
always, and I don't disobey my superior's orders even when he happens to
be as close a friend as Henshaw. But I began to kick myself for not
seeing something queer in the business as soon as Henshaw offered me the

If Interplanetary was looking for favorable publicity, they wouldn't get
it by signing me on. Moreover, the government wasn't in the habit of
reissuing a revoked pilot's license without good and sufficient reason,
and I knew I hadn't supplied any such reason by loafing around brooding
over my troubles. That alone should have tipped me off that something
was screwy.

And there were plenty of hints during the voyage itself. True, Gogrol
seemed to talk the language of biology, but I'll be dogged if Coretti
talked like a chemist. And there was that haunting sense of familiarity
about Gogrol, too. And to cap the climax was the incongruity of calling
this jaunt an exploring expedition; for all the exploring we were doing
we might as well have landed on Staten Island or Buffalo. Better, as far
as I was concerned, because I'd seen Europa but had never been to

Well, there was nothing to be done about it now. I suppressed my disgust
and tried as hard as I could to cooperate with the others in whatever
project we were supposed to be pursuing. That was rather difficult, too,
because suspicious-appearing incidents kept cropping up to make me feel
like a stranger or an outcast.

There was, for instance, the time Henshaw decided that a change in diet
would be welcome. The native life of Europa was perfectly edible, though
not all as tasty as the tiny shell creatures of the salt pools. However,
I knew of one variety that had served the men of the _Hera_, a plantlike
growth consisting of a single fleshy hand-sized member, that we had
called liver-leaf because of its taste.

The captain detailed Coretti and myself to gather a supply of this
delicacy, and I found a specimen, showed it to him, and then set off
dutifully along the north--that is, the left--wall of the valley.

Coretti appeared to take the opposite side, but I had not gone far
before I glimpsed him skirting my edge of the salt pool. That meant
nothing; he was free to search anywhere for liver-leaf, but it was soon
evident to me that he was not searching. He was following me; he was
shadowing my movements.

I was thoroughly irritated, but determined not to show it. I plodded
methodically along, gathering the fat leaves in my basket, until I
reached the valley's far end and the slopes back and succeeded in
running square into Coretti before he could maneuver himself out of a
copse of song-bushes.

He grinned at me. "Any luck?" he asked.

"More than you, it seems," I retorted, with a contemptuous look at his
all but empty basket.

"I had no luck at all. I thought maybe in the next valley, through the
pass there, we might find some."

"I've found my share," I grunted.

I thought I noticed a flicker of surprise in his black eyes. "You're not
going over?" he asked sharply. "You're going back?"

"You guessed it," I said sharply. "My basket's full and I'm going back."

I knew that he watched me most of the way back, because halfway to the
_Minos_ I turned around, and I could see him standing there on the slope
below the pass.

Along toward what we called evening the Sun went into our first eclipse.
The landscape was bathed in the aureate light of Jupiter alone, and I
realized that I'd forgotten how beautiful that golden twilight could be.

I was feeling particularly lonesome, too; so I wandered out to stare at
the glowing peaks against the black sky, and the immense, bulging sphere
of Jupiter with Ganymede swinging like a luminous pearl close beside it.
The scene was so lovely that I forgot my loneliness, until I was
suddenly reminded of it.

A glint of more brilliant gold caught my eye, up near the grove of
song-bushes. It was Claire's head; she was standing there watching the
display, and beside her was Coretti. While I looked, he suddenly turned
and drew her into his arms; she put her hands against his chest, but she
wasn't struggling; she was perfectly passive and content. It was none of
my business, of course, but--well, if I'd disliked Coretti before, I
hated him now, because I was lonely again.

I think it was the next day that things came to a head, and trouble
really began. Henshaw had been pleased with our meal of indigenous life,
and decided to try it again. This time Claire was assigned to accompany
me, and we set off in silence. A sort of echo of the coolness that had
attended our last parting survived, and besides, what I had seen last
night in the eclipse light seemed to make a difference to me. So I
simply stalked along at her side, wondering what to choose for the day's

We didn't want liver-leaves again. The little nutsies from the salt pool
were all right, but it was a half-day's job to gather enough, and
besides, they were almost too salty to be pleasant fare for a whole
meal. Bladder birds were hopeless; they consisted of practically nothing
except thin skin stretched over a framework of bones. I remembered that
once we had tried a brown, fungoid lump that grew in the shade under the
song-bushes; some of Gunderson's men had liked it.

Claire finally broke the silence. "If I'm going to help you look," she
suggested, "I ought to know what we're looking for."

I described the lumpy growths. "I'm not so sure all of us will like
them. Near as I can remember, they tasted something like truffles, with
a faint flavor of meat added. We tried them both raw and cooked, and
cooked was best."

"I like truffles," said the girl. "They're--"

A shot! There was no mistaking the sharp crack of a .38, though it
sounded queerly thin in the rare atmosphere. But it sounded again, and a
third time, and then a regular fusillade!

"Keep back of me!" I snapped as we turned and raced for the _Minos_. The
warning was needless; Claire was unaccustomed to the difficulties of
running on a small planet. Her weight on Europa must have been no more
than twelve or fifteen pounds, one eighth Earth normal, and though she
had learned to walk easily enough--one learned that on any space
journey--she had had no opportunity to learn to run. Her first step sent
her half a dozen feet in the air; I sped away from her with the long,
sliding stride one had to use on such planets as Europa.

I burst out of the brush into the area cleared by the blast, where
already growth had begun. For a moment I saw only the _Minos_ resting
peacefully in the clearing, then I reeled with shock. At the air lock
lay a man--Henshaw--with his face a bloody pulp, his head split by two

There was a burst of sound, voices, another shot. Out of the open air
lock reeled Coretti; he staggered backward for ten steps, then dropped
on his side, while blood welled up out of the collar of his suit. And
standing grimly in the opening, an automatic smoking in his right hand,
a charged flame-pistol in his left, was Gogrol!

I had no weapon; why should one carry arms on airless Europa? For an
instant I stood frozen, appalled, uncomprehending, and in that moment
Gogrol glimpsed me. I saw his hand tighten on his automatic, then he
shrugged and strode toward me.

"Well," he said with a snarl in his voice, "I had to do it. They went
crazy. Anerosis. It struck both of them at once, and they went clean
mad. Self-defense, it was."

I didn't believe him, of course. People don't get anerosis in air no
rarer than Europa's; one could live his whole life out there without
ever suffering from air starvation. But I couldn't argue those points
with a panting murderer armed with the most deadly weapon ever devised,
and with a girl coming up behind me. So I said nothing at all.

Claire came up; I heard her shocked intake of breath, and her almost
inaudible wail, "Stefan!" Then she saw Gogrol holding his guns, and she
flared out, "So you did it! I knew they suspected you! But you'll never
get away with it, you--"

She broke off under the sudden menace of Gogrol's eyes, and I stepped in
front of her as he raised the automatic. For an instant death looked
squarely at both of us, then the man shrugged and the evil light in his
eyes dimmed.

"A while yet," he muttered. "If Coretti dies--" He backed to the air
lock and pulled a helmet from within the _Minos_, an air helmet that we
had thought might serve should we ever need to cross the heights about a
blind valley.

Then Gogrol advanced toward us, and I felt Claire quiver against my
shoulder. But the man only glared at us and spat out a single word.
"Back!" he rasped. "Back!"

We backed. Under the menace of that deadly flame-pistol he herded us
along the narrow valley, eastward to the slope whence angled the ravine
that led toward Gunderson's valley. And up the slope, into the dim
shadows of the pass itself, so narrow in places that my outstretched
hands could have spanned the gap between the walls. A grim, dark,
echo-haunted, and forbidding place; I did not wonder that the girl
shrank against me. The air was thin to the point of insufficiency, and
all three of us were gasping for breath.

There was nothing I could do, for Gogrol's weapons bore too steadily on
Claire Avery. So I slipped my arm about her to hearten her and inched
warily along that shadowy canyon, until at last it widened, and a
thousand feet below stretched a valley--Gunderson's valley, I knew at
once. Far away was the slope where the _Hera_ had rested, and down in
the lower end was the heart-shaped pool of brine.

Gogrol had slipped on the helmet, leaving the visor open, and his flat
features peered out at us like a gargoyle's. On he drove us, and down
into the valley. But as he passed the mouth of the ravine, which by now
was no more than a narrow gorge between colossal escarpments that loomed
heavenward like the battlements of Atlantis, he stooped momentarily into
the shadows, and when he rose again I fancied that a small sound like
the singing of a teakettle followed us down the slope. It meant nothing
to me then.

He waved the automatic. "Faster!" he ordered threateningly. We were down
in the talus now, and we scrambled doggedly among the rocks and fallen
debris. On he drove us, until we stumbled among the boulders around the
central pond. Then, suddenly, he halted.

"If you follow," he said with a cold intensity, "I shoot!" He strode
away not toward the pass, but toward the ridge itself, back along the
slopes that lay nearest the _Minos_, hidden from view in the other
valley. Of course, Gogrol could cross those airless heights, secure in
this helmet, carrying his air supply like the bladder birds.

He seemed to seek the shelter of an ascending ridge. As the jutting rock
concealed him, I leaped to a boulder.

"Come on!" I said. "Perhaps we can beat him through the pass to the

"No!" screamed Claire, so frantically that I halted. "My Lord, no!
Didn't you see the blaster he left?"

The singing teakettle noise! I had barely time to throw myself beside
the girl crouching behind a rock when the little atomic bomb let go.

I suppose everybody has seen, either by eye or television, the effect of
atomic explosions. All of us, by one means or the other, have watched
old buildings demolished, road grades or canals blasted, and those over
forty may even remember the havoc-spreading bombs of the Pacific War.
But none of you could have seen anything like this, for this explosion
had a low air pressure and a gravitation only one-eighth normal as the
sole checks to its fury.

It seemed to me that the whole mountain lifted. Vast masses of crumbling
rock hurtled toward the black sky. Bits of stone, whistling like bullets
and incandescent like meteors, shot past us, and the very ground we
clung to heaved like the deck of a rolling rocket.

When the wild turmoil had subsided, when the debris no longer sang about
us, when the upheaved masses had either fallen again or had spun beyond
Europa's gravitation to crash on indifferent Jupiter, the pass had
vanished. Mountain and vacuum hemmed us into a prison.

Both of us were slightly stunned by the concussion, although the thin
atmosphere transmitted a strangely high-pitched sound instead of the
resounding _b-o-o-m_ one would have heard on the Earth. When my head
stopped ringing, I looked around for Gogrol, and saw him at last seven
or eight hundred feet up the slope of the mountain. Anger surged in me;
I seized a stone from the margin of the pool, and flung it viciously at
him. One can throw amazing distances on small worlds like Europa; I
watched the missile raise dust at his very feet.

He turned; very deliberately he raised the automatic, and stone
splinters from the boulder beside me stung my face. I dragged Claire
down behind the shelter, knowing beyond doubt that he had meant that
bullet to kill. In silence we watched him climb until he was but a tiny
black speck, nearing the crest.

He approached a bladder bird crawling its slow way along the airless
heights. Up there the creatures were slow as snails, for their flight
membranes were useless in the near vacuum. But they had normally no
enemies on the peaks.

I saw Gogrol change his course purposely to intercept the thing.
Intentionally, maliciously, he kicked a hole in the inflated bladder,
collapsing it like a child's balloon. He stood watching while the
miserable creature flopped in the agonies of suffocation, then moved
methodically on. It was the coldest exhibition of wanton cruelty I had
ever witnessed.

Claire shuddered; still in silence we watched the man's leisurely
progress along the ridge. There was something in his attitude that
suggested searching, seeking, hunting. Suddenly he quickened his pace
and then halted abruptly, stooping over what looked to me like a
waist-high heap of stones, or perhaps merely a hummock on the ridge.

But he was burrowing in it, digging, flinging stones and dirt aside. And
at last he stood up; if he held anything, distance hid it, but he seemed
to wave some small object at us in derisive triumph. Then he moved over
the crest of the hills and disappeared.

Claire sighed despondently; she seemed very little like the proud and
rather arrogant Golden Flash. "That settles it," she murmured
disconsolately. "He's got it, and he's got us trapped; so we're quite

"Got what?" I asked. "What was he digging for up there?"

Her blue eyes widened in amazement. "Don't you know?"

"I certainly don't. I seem to know less about this damn trip than
anybody else on it."

She gazed steadily at me. "I knew Stefan was wrong," she said softly. "I
don't care what you were when you wrecked the _Hera_, Jack Sands; on
this trip you've been decent and brave and a gentleman."

"Thanks," I said dryly, but I was a little touched for all that because,
after all, the Golden Flash was a very beautiful girl. "Then suppose you
let me in on a few of the secrets. For instance, what was Coretti wrong
about? And what did Gogrol dig for?"

"Gogrol," she said, watching me, "was digging in Gunderson's cairn."

I looked blank. "Gunderson's what? This is news to me."

She was silent for a moment. "Jack Sands," she said at last, "I don't
care what Stefan or the government or anybody thinks of you. I think
you're honest, and I think you've had an injustice done you somehow, and
I don't believe you were to blame in the _Hera_ crash. And I'm going to
tell you all I know about this matter. But first, do you know the object
of Gunderson's expedition to Europa?"

"I never knew it. I'm a pilot; I took no interest in their scientific

She nodded. "Well, you know how a rocket motor works, of course. How
they use a minute amount of uranium or radium as catalyst to release the
energy in the fuel. Uranium has low activity; it will set off only
metals like the alkalis, and ships using uranium motors burn salt. And
radium, being more active, will set off the metals from iron to copper;
so ships using a radium initiator usually burn one of the commoner iron
or copper ores."

"I know all that," I grunted. "And the heavier the metal, the greater
the power from its disintegration."

"Exactly." She paused a moment. "Well, Gunderson wanted to use still
heavier elements. That required a source of rays more penetrating than
those from radium, and he knew of only one available source--Element 91,
protactinium. And it happens that the richest deposits of protactinium
so far discovered are those in the rocks of Europa; so to Europa he came
for his experiments."

"Well?" I asked. "Where do I fit in this mess?"

"I don't quite know, Jack. Let me finish what I know, which is all
Stefan would tell me. Gunderson succeeded, they think; he's supposed to
have worked out the formula by which protactinium could be made to set
off lead, which would give much more power than any present type of
initiator. But if he did succeed, his formula and notes were destroyed
when the _Hera_ crashed!"

I began to see. "But what--what about that cairn?"

"You really don't know?"

"I'll be double damned if I do! If Gunderson built a cairn, it must have
been that last day. I had the take-off, so I slept through most of it.
But--why, they did have some sort of ceremony!"

"Yes. Gunderson mentioned something about it when your ship touched at
Junopolis on Io. What the government hopes is that he buried a copy of
his formula in that cairn. They do, you know. Well, nobody could
possibly know of the location except you and a man named Kratska, who
had disappeared.

"So Interplanetary, which is in bad anyway because of some stock
transactions, was ordered to back this expedition with you as pilot--or
at least, that's what Stefan told me. I guess I was taken along just to
give the corporation a little more publicity, and, of course, Stefan was
sent to watch you, in hopes you'd give away the location. The formula's
immensely valuable, you see."

"Yeah, I see. And how about Gogrol?"

She frowned. "I don't know. Stefan hinted that he had some connections
with Harrick of Interplanetary, or perhaps some hold over him. Harrick
insisted on his being a member."

"The devil!" I exploded suddenly. "He knew about the cairn! He knew
where to look!"

Her eyes grew wide. "Why, he did! He's--could he be the representative
of some foreign government? If we could stop him! But he's left us
absolutely helpless here. Why didn't he kill us?"

"I can guess that," I said grimly. "He can't fly the _Minos_ alone.
Henshaw's dead, and if Coretti dies--well, one of us is due for the job
of pilot."

A tremor shook her. "I'd rather be dead, too," she murmured, "than to
travel with him alone."

"And I'd rather see you so," I agreed glumly. "I wish to heaven you had
stayed out of this. You could be home enjoying your money."

"My money!" she flashed. "I haven't any money. Do you think I take these
chances for publicity or thrills or admiration?"

I gaped; of course, I'd thought exactly that.

She was literally blazing. "Listen to me, Jack Sands. There's just one
reason for the fool things I do--money! There isn't any Avery fortune,
and hasn't been since my father died. I've needed money desperately
these last two years, to keep the Connecticut place for my mother,
because she'd die if she had to leave it. It's been our family home for
two hundred years, since 1910, and I won't be the one to lose it!"

It took a moment to adjust myself to what she was saying. "But a racing
rocket isn't a poor man's toy," I said feebly. "And surely a girl like
you could find--"

"A girl like me!" she cut in bitterly. "Oh, I know I have a good figure
and a passable voice, and perhaps I could have found work in a
television chorus, but I needed real money. I had my choice of two ways
to get it: I could marry it, or I could gamble my neck against it. You
see which way I chose. As the Golden Flash, I can get big prices for
endorsing breakfast foods and beauty preparations. That's why I gambled
in that race; my racing rocket was all I had left to gamble with. And it
worked, only"--her voice broke a little--"I wish I could stop gambling.
I--I hate it!"

It wasn't only pity I felt for her then. Her confession of poverty had
changed things; she was no longer the wealthy, unattainable being I had
always imagined the Golden Flash to be. She was simply a forlorn and
unhappy girl; one who needed to be loved and comforted. And then I
remembered the evening of the eclipse, and Coretti's arms about her. So
I gazed for an instant at the sunlight on her hair, and then turned
slowly away.

After a while we gathered some liver-leaves and cooked them, and I tried
to tell Claire that we were certain to be rescued. Neither of us
believed it; we knew very well that Gogrol would carry no living
companion to Io; whoever helped him run the _Minos_ would certainly be
dead and cast into space before landing. And we knew that Gogrol's
story, whatever it might be, would not be one likely to encourage a
rescue party. He'd simply report us all dead somehow or other.

"I don't care," said Claire. "I'm glad I'm with you."

I thought of Coretti and said nothing. We were just sitting in glum
silence near the fire when Gogrol came over the hills again.

Claire saw him first and cried out. Despite his helmet, neither of us
could mistake his broad, squat figure. But there was nothing we could do
except wait, though we did draw closer to the area of wild and tumbled
boulders about the central pool.

"What do you suppose--" asked Claire nervously. "Coretti may have died,
or may be too injured to help." Pain twisted her features. "Yes, or--Oh,
I know, Jack! It's that Gogrol can't plot a course. He can pilot; he can
follow a course already laid out, but he can't plot one--and neither can

Instantly I knew she must be right. Piloting a ship is just a question
of following directions, but plotting a course involves the calculus of
function, and that, let me tell you, takes a mathematician. I could do
it, and Claire handled a simple route well enough--one had to in rocket
racing--but astrogators were not common even among pilots.

You see, the difficulty is that you don't just point the ship at your
destination, because that destination is moving; you head for where the
planet will be when you arrive. And in this case, assuming Gogrol meant
to make for Io, a journey from Europa to that world meant speeding in
the direction of the colossal mass of Jupiter, and if a rocket once
passed the critical velocity in that direction--good night!

A hundred feet away Gogrol halted. "Listen, you two," he yelled, "I'm
offering Miss Avery the chance to join the crew of the _Minos_."

"You're the crew," I retorted. "She's not taking your offer."

Without warning he leveled his revolver and fired, and a shock numbed my
left leg. I fell within the shelter of a boulder, thrusting Claire
before me, while Gogrol's bellow followed the crash of his shot: "I'll
shut your mouth for you!"

There began the weirdest game of hide and seek I've ever played, with
Claire and me crawling among the tumbled boulders, scarcely daring to
breathe. Gogrol had all the advantage, and he used it. I couldn't stand
upright, and my legs began to hurt so excruciatingly that I was afraid
each minute of an involuntary groan forcing its way through my lips.
Claire suffered with me; her eyes were agonized blue pools of torment,
but she dared not even whisper to me.

Gogrol took to leaping atop the boulders. He glimpsed me, and a second
bullet struck that same burning leg. He was deliberately hunting me
down, and I saw it was the end.

We had a momentary shelter. Claire whispered to me, "I'm going to him.
He'll kill you otherwise, and take me anyway."

"No!" I croaked. "No!"

Gogrol heard, and was coming. Claire said hastily. "He's--bestial. At
least I can plot a course that will--kill us!" Then she called, "Gogrol!
I'll surrender."

I snatched at her ankle--too late. I went crawling after her as she
strode into the open, but her steps were too rapid. I heard her say, "I
give up, if you won't--shoot him again."

Gogrol mumbled, and then Claire's voice again, "Yes, I'll plot your
course, but how can I cross the peaks?"

"Walk," he said, and laughed.

"I can't breathe up there."

"Walk as far as you can. You won't die while I take you the rest of the

There was no reply. When I finally crept into the open, they were a
hundred feet up the slope.

Helpless, raging, pain-maddened, I seized a stone and flung it. It
struck Gogrol in the back, but it struck with no more force than if I'd
tossed it a dozen feet on Earth. He spun in fury, thrust the screaming
Claire aside, and sent another bullet at me. Missed me, I thought,
though I wasn't sure, for pain had numbed me. I couldn't be sure of

Claire saw that I still retained some semblance of consciousness.
"Goodbye!" she called, and added something that I could not hear because
of the red waves of pain, but I knew Gogrol laughed at it. Thereafter,
for what seemed like a long time, I knew only that I was crawling
doggedly through an inferno of torture.

When the red mist lifted, I was only at the base of the rise. Far above
I could see the figures of Claire and Gogrol, and I perceived that
though he strode with easy steps, protected by his helmet, the girl was
already staggering from breathlessness. While I watched, she stumbled,
and then began to struggle frantically and spasmodically to jerk away
from him. It wasn't that she meant to break her promise, but merely that
the agonies of suffocation drove her to attempt any means of regaining
breathable air.

But the struggle was brief. It was less than a minute before she
fainted, passed out from air starvation, and Gogrol slung her carelessly
under one arm--as I said, she weighed about twelve pounds on Europa--and
pressed on. At the very crest he paused and looked back, and in that
thin, clear air I could see every detail with telescopic distinctness,
even to the shadow he cast across Claire's drooping golden head.

He raised the revolver to his temple, waved it at me with a derisive
gesture, and then flung it far down the mountainside toward me. His
meaning was unmistakable; he was advising me to commit suicide. When I
reached the revolver, there was a single unused catridge in the clip; I
looked up, tempted to try it on Gogrol himself, but he was gone across
the ridge.

Now I knew all hope was gone. Perhaps I was dying from that last bullet
anyway, but whether I were or not, Claire was lost, and all that
remained for me was the madness of solitude, forever imprisoned by empty
space in this valley. That or--suicide.

I don't know how many times I thought of that single cartridge, but I
know the thought grew very tempting after a few more hours of pain. By
that time, for all I knew, the _Minos_ might have taken off on its dash
to death, for the roar of its blast could not carry over the airless
heights, and it would be so high and small by the time I could see it
above the hills that I might have missed it.

If only I could cross those hills! I began to realize that more
important than my own life was Claire's safety, even if it meant saving
her for Coretti. But I couldn't save her; I couldn't even get to her
unless I could walk along the hills like a bladder bird.

Like a bladder bird! I was sure that it was only the delirium of fever
that suggested that wild thought. Would it work? I answered myself that
whether it worked or failed it was better than dying here without ever

I stalked that bladder bird like a cat. Time after time I spent long
minutes creeping toward a copse of song-bushes only to have the creature
sail blithely over my head and across the valley. But at last I saw the
thing crouched for flight above me; I dared not delay longer lest my
wounds weaken me too much for the trial of my plan, and I fired. There
went my single cartridge.

The bladder bird dropped! But that was only the beginning of my task.
Carefully--so very carefully--I removed the creature's bladder, leaving
the vent tube intact. Then, through the opening that connects to the
bird's single lung, I slipped my head, letting the bloody rim contract
about my throat.

I knew that wouldn't be air-tight, so I bound it with strips torn from
my clothing, so closely that it all but choked me. Then I took the slimy
vent tube in my mouth and began an endless routine. Breathe in through
the vent tube, pinch it shut, breathe out into the bladder--over and
over and over. But gradually the bladder expanded with filthy, vitiated,
stinking, and once-breathed air.

I had it half filled when I saw that I was going to have to start if I
were to have a chance of living long enough for a test. Breathing
through the vent tube as long as there was air enough, peering dully
through the semitransparent walls of the bladder, I started crawling up
the hill.

I won't describe that incredible journey. On Earth it would have been
utterly impossible; here, since I weighed but eighteen pounds, it was
barely within the bounds of possibility. As I ascended, the bladder
swelled against the reduced pressure; by the time I had to start
breathing the fearful stuff, I could feel it escaping and bubbling
through the blood around my neck.

Somehow I made the crest, almost directly above the _Minos_. It was
still there, anyway. Gogrol hadn't come this way, and now I saw why.
There was a sheer drop here of four hundred feet. Well, that only
equaled fifty on Earth, but even fifty--But I had to try it, because I
was dying here on the peaks. I jumped.

I landed with a wrench of pain on my wounded leg, but much more lightly
than I had feared. Of course! Jumping down into denser air, the great
bladder had acted like a parachute, and, after all, my weight here was
but eighteen pounds. I crawled onward, in agony for the moment when I
could cast off the stinking, choking bladder.

That moment came. I had crossed the peaks, and before me lay the
_Minos_. I crawled on, around to the side where the air lock was. It was
open, and a voice bellowed out of it. Gogrol!

"You'll trick me, eh!" he screeched. "You'll lay a course that will
crash us! We'll see! We'll see!" There came the unmistakable sound of a
blow, and a faint whimper of pain.

Somewhere I found the strength to stand up. Brandishing the empty
automatic, I swayed into the air lock, sliding along the walls to the
control room.

There was something about the figure that bent in the dusk above a
sobbing girl that aroused a flash of recognition. Seeing him thus in a
shadowed control room with the sun shields up--I knew what I should have
known weeks ago. Gogrol was--Kratska!

"Kratska!" I croaked, and he whirled. Both he and Claire were frozen
into utter rigidity by surprise and disbelief. I really think they were
both convinced that I was a ghost.

"How--how--" squeaked Gogrol, or rather Kratska.

"I walked across. I'd walk across hell to find you, Kratska." I
brandished the gun. "Get out and get away quick, if you expect to escape
the blast. We're leaving you here until police from Io can pick you
up--on that _Hera_ matter among others." I spoke to the dazed Claire.
"Close the air lock after him. We're taking off."

"Jack!" she cried, comprehending at last. "But Stefan's wired to a tree
out there. The blast will incinerate him!"

"Then loose him, and for Heaven's sake, quickly!"

But no sooner had she vanished than Kratska took his chance. He saw how
weak I was, and he gambled on the one shot he thought remained in the
magazine of my weapon. He rushed me.

I think he was mad. He was screaming curses. "Damn you!" he screeched.
"You can't beat me! I made you the goat on the _Hera_, and I can do it

And I knew he could, too, if he could overcome me before Claire released
Coretti. She couldn't handle him, and we'd all be at his mercy. So I
fought with all the life I had left, and felt it draining out of me like
acid out of burette. And after a while it was all drained, and darkness
filled up the emptiness.

I heard curious sounds. Some one was saying, "No, I'll take off first
and lay out the course after we reach escape velocity. Saves time. We've
got to get him to Io." And a little later, "Oh, Lord, Stefan! If I roll
her now--Why am I such a rotten pilot?" And then there was the roar of
the blast for hours upon hours.

A long time later I realized that I was lying on the chart room table,
and Coretti was looking down at me. He said, "How you feel, Jack!" It
was the first time he had used my name.

"O.K.," I said, and then memory came back. "Gogrol! He's Kratska!"

"He was," said Coretti. "He's dead."

"Dead!" There went any chance of squaring that _Hera_ mess.

"Yep. You killed him, smashed in his head with that automatic before we
could pull you off. But he had it coming."

"Yeah, maybe, but the _Hera_--"

"Never mind the _Hera_, Jack. Both Claire and I beard Kratska admit his
responsibility. We'll clear you of that, all right." He paused. "And it
might make you feel a little more chipper it I tell you that we got the
formula, too, and that there's a reward for it that will leave us
sitting in the clover field, even split three ways. That is, Claire
keeps insisting on three ways; I know I don't deserve a split."

"Three ways is right," I said. "It'll give you and Claire a good

"Me and Claire?'

"Listen, Coretti. I didn't mean to, but I saw you the evening of the
eclipse. Claire didn't look as if she was fighting you."

He smiled. "So you saw that," he said slowly. "Then you listen. A fellow
who's asking a girl to marry him is apt to hold the girl a little close.
And if she's got any heart, she doesn't push him away. She just says no
as gently as possible."

"She says no?"

"She did that time. I'd bet different with you."

"She--she--" Something about the familiar sound of the blast caught my
attention. "We're landing!"

"Yeah, on Io. We've been landing for two hours."

"Who took off?"

"Claire did. She took off and kept going. She's been sitting there fifty
hours. She thinks you need a doctor, and I don't know a damn thing about
running a rocket. She's taken it clear from Europa."

I sat up. "Take me in there," I said grimly. "Don't argue. Take me in

Claire barely raised her eyes when Coretti slid me down beside her. She
was all but exhausted, sitting there all those weary hours, and now up
against her old terror of landing.

"Jack, Jack!" she whispered as if to herself. "I'm glad you're better."

"Honey," I said--her hair did look like honey--"I'm taking half the
U-bar. Just let me guide you."

We came down without a roll, and landed like a canary feather. But I
hadn't a thing to do with it; I was so weak I couldn't even move the
U-bar, but she didn't know that. Confidence was all she needed; she had
the makings of a damn good pilot. Yeah; I've proved that. She is a damn
good pilot. But all the same, she went to sleep in the middle of our
first kiss.

This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia