The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Star of Satan, by Henry Hasse

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Title: The Star of Satan

Author: Henry Hasse

Release Date: April 28, 2020 [EBook #61967]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at



More than the wreck of the Martian
lay on the lazily spinning
asteroid. That uncharted star of Satan
harbored madness in awful, human form.

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

Hype Garth was suddenly awake. He lay there on his cot in the dark, listening intently for the sound he knew would shortly come through the receptor. It almost frightened him, this subconscious awareness of his. He often wondered about it and wished he could explain it. Always, during their sleep period, just a minute before a message came through he was wide awake and waiting, knowing. He supposed nerves had something to do with it. Or the time he'd spent out here? Nerves were bound to go raw and perhaps play strange tricks when two men were thrown together in this black isolated hell of outer space. And Garth had been out here for twenty-three full years and seen his partners come and go.

From the other side of the room came Prokle's slow, sonorous breathing. Garth suddenly hated his partner for his ability to sleep at this moment. Garth reached out and touched the huge, nine-foot receptube by his bed; a faintly glowing violet permeated the darkness. His whole attention centered in a strained, concentrated listening.

Then the sound came, as he knew it would: first the crisp, crackling static; then the familiar and hated voice of the sender at Martian headquarters, stabbing the darkness almost viciously:

"Salvage Station M3! Attention M3! Passenger liner Callisto, enroute Jupiter to Mars, radios they have just encountered uncharted asteroid swarm on the Martian side of the belt. They have passed through unscathed. But attention to this, M3: Captain Lambert of the Callisto reports that he detected a light on the surface of one of the larger masses! This may have been a distress signal-flare, and if so, can mean but one thing: that the sole remaining life-boat unaccounted for from the wreck of the Martian Princess twenty days ago landed on this asteroid; and the party, or some of them, have managed to survive. This seems hardly possible, but we must investigate.

"Proceed at once in search of this uncharted swarm. Approximate position when encountered by the Callisto, exact center of the belt, two hours behind the Lanisar group, orbital plane about twenty degrees from regular passenger route. Mass in question cannot be mistaken, largest of the group, about twenty miles diameter. Proceed at once, M3! End of message."

Garth knew it was not the end of the message. That Martian sender always reserved some little sardonic touch to send to Garth. Garth's jaw tightened, he waited about five seconds, and then, raspingly, it came:

"Oh, just a moment, M3—Garth listening I hope—here's a tip for you. As you probably know, J. P. Chiswell is among those still missing in that life-boat. If you two can locate that party, who knows—it may mean unconditional pardon for both of you! End of message."

There came the hint of an amused chuckle before the tube went dead. Garth's face was grim. J. P. Chiswell, President of EMV Lines! Unconditional pardon. Yes, for Prokle, perhaps, if they were lucky, but never for him, and that rat of a Martian sender knew it. Garth, in the early days, had been a source of considerable annoyance in the spaceways, and he was now serving forty years. The longest sentence in the entire history of the Salvage Stations.

Garth arose and clicked on the light in the little cubicle. He crossed over and shook Prokle, grinning in anticipation of the grumbling protest he knew his partner would make.

"Message just came through," Garth said. "Sounds urgent."

"Go to sleep you damn idiot, and let me," Prokle mumbled. "I was just dreaming I was back in Chicago."

Prokle only lived for the time when he'd get back to Chicago, and Garth knew he never would. So did Prokle.

Garth grinned broader and shook his partner harder. "Come on, snap out of it. This is important, I tell you."

Prokle rolled over, half opened one eye and muttered, "Nothing's more important than sleep, out here. Hell, can't it wait 'til tomorrow—"

"I'll let you be the judge of that," Garth said with calm emphasis. "It's an uncharted swarm."

The effect was electric. Instantly Prokle was awake and on his feet, fumbling with his space equipment, no more questions asked. Garth smiled to himself, and moved over to his own equipment. He had been out here a long time and had often seen the effect of those magical words, "uncharted swarm." But never had he known them to work in quite the way they did on Prokle.

Uncharted swarm! To men such as they, that meant much—or it meant nothing. But above all things it meant a chance, and eternal hope. It had all begun twenty years ago when the group of four men over on Station J5 had found gold on one of the uncharted asteroid swarms. They had pledged secrecy and worked it the smart way, leaving the swarm unreported. They had mined the gold until the rocks sped too far away in their orbit for them to venture out in safety; but they had obtained enough to buy off the duration of their penal terms, and had gone back to Earth very rich men.

Some years later Malcolm and Schroeder, on M1, had made a similar strike, but platinum. They worked it the same secret way. Malcolm had died, and there were rumors his partner had murdered him. Schroeder, through the obvious channels, had bought off his remaining sentence. Through the years there were other such rumors, and "uncharted swarm" had become magic words to all Salvage Station men. Secrecy, jealousy, hope continued to prevail.

Except with Garth. Garth knew that all the precious metals in all the asteroids would not suffice to buy his freedom.

The two men stepped from their sleeping quarters out onto the metal platform which had been Garth's world for twenty-three years, Prokle's for two. It was a tiny world, extending in each direction for a mere quarter of a mile to end abruptly at the edge of the eternal darkness. Man-made, glass-domed, it was the tiniest of all the Salvage Stations. Garth had been stationed there at his own request, defiantly, alone at first. He had worked alone pirating the spaceways, not liking the company of many men. He still didn't.

But he did like the single men they sent out to him now when necessary. And it was frequently necessary. The trouble was, either their sentences expired too quickly, or they did! Garth's last two partners had done that—one stumbling clumsily over a precipice while exploring, shattering his oxygen helmet; the other being crushed in his solo cruiser between two asteroid masses from which Garth himself only narrowly escaped.

And Prokle he liked perhaps best of all. Prokle was the reckless type and it was those who always, somehow, managed to survive. It was Prokle, too, who had hung the name "Hype" on Garth and made him like it. He had first called him "hyper" because of that amazing, premonitory sensitivity of his; then shortened it to "Hype." Garth had at first resented it, then bore it laughingly, then liked it.

And it was not only at the receptube that his strange "awareness" was in evidence. He used to tell Prokle an hour or two in advance when a supply ship was arriving at their Station—and they were supposed to arrive in secret! He could uncannily sense the proximity of dangerous chasms on the asteroids they explored. And once, just before boarding a derelict freighter, Garth had told Prokle to wait; they waited, and five minutes later the freighter was torn asunder by a terrific explosion, caused by seeping fumes.

Now, as they crossed over to the safety lock where their cruiser waited, Garth told Prokle the content of the message. But all the latter heard was "uncharted swarm." There was a gleam in his eyes Garth had seen before, which caused him to say abruptly:

"Look here, Prokle, that gold lust is going to be your finish some day. I can see it coming."

"What else is there to live for out here?" Prokle flared up.

"Work. First of all we're going to follow instructions implicitly. Later we'll have plenty of time to explore and prospect; this swarm is our exclusive property. But just remember old man Chiswell's with that missing party, and that might mean plenty, to you anyway, if we can find 'em."

Prokle's mind came back from its flight. "Yeah, that's right. That is an angle." He seemed to consider it for the first time. "That is an angle," he repeated. "Say, how many are supposed to be in that missing party, anyway?"

"The entire passenger list of the Martian Princess is accounted for," replied Garth, "except six persons. And the missing life-boat is one of the very small ones, accommodating but six. Draw your own conclusions."

"Sure, that's what I'm trying to do. But it just don't add up. Look here, Hype, those life-boats are all provisioned about the same, ain't they? Oxygen for three or four days, and food for a day or two at the most?"

"That's about right. Close enough."

"Then you add it up. The Martian Princess was wrecked twenty-one days ago. Three weeks to the very day. How do you figure a party of six could have survived that long?"

Garth shook his head sadly. "You jump to conclusions like a Venusian Polywog. Nobody's said that the six, or that any of them, have survived. A light was seen, that's all; maybe it was a meteor. Anyway it's not for us to believe it or doubt it, our job is to find out."

"Still, it's damn funny where that life-boat could have got to," Prokle growled. "The way this whole section's been scoured. Our own detector would have picked it out anywhere in a thousand-mile radius."

"Yes, I've been thinking of that. And I sort of lean to the belief they landed somewhere; Captain Lambert was probably right about that light he saw."

"But after three weeks," Prokle protested, "and only a few days' oxygen and provisions? For six that'd be impossible, and even for one man—well, that's a long stretch on oxygen and food."

Garth turned to his partner and said, "You know, Prokle, that's one thing I like about you. You're unimaginative. You're always yourself. You never can put yourself in the other fellow's place. You and me, we don't put a high value on our lives anymore, but other people still value life highly, they cling to it tenaciously. Isn't that quaint?"

"Skip the sarcasm," Prokle said. "I know what you mean. The oldest story in the world, the survival of the fittest."

"Exactly. They can't all have survived. But I'm sure someone did."

They reached the edge of their half-mile world and stepped into the lock where the two-man cruiser waited, Garth having decided against the solo cruisers. Something told him they ought to stick together on this venture.

They sped away into the blackness, Prokle at the controls. Garth looked back at their tiny glass-enclosed world and the wreck of the Martian Princess anchored there, bordering almost one entire edge. She was a rather helpless looking "Princess" now, but her lines were still regal. Garth smiled as he remembered the wreck, three weeks ago. Station M6, with its larger crew, had done most of the rescue work; but the hull of the huge liner had drifted toward M3 and so Garth and Prokle got the salvage job, to the envy of every other Station this side of the belt. But that was the inviolable law of the Stations. The two men were now leisurely engaged in putting the liner back into condition for the inspection crew who would be due out here at the end of the month.

Garth grimaced, remembering the earliest days of these Stations. The few prisoners out here then had at first been sullen, stubborn, unresponding to the occasional messages of salvage work flashed out to them. But there had been no attempt to force the men to do the work. No pretense of discipline. Supply ships had stopped every three months, briefly as possible, then went on their way. Less than a year of this, and the sheer stark ennui of the black outer hell had proved to be the real disciplinary master. There were only three Stations then, a handful of men on each, who soon vied with each other for the too infrequent salvage jobs. Garth had to hand it to the psychological genius who devised the plan!

Prokle brought him abruptly out of his reminiscences.

"What do you say, Hype? Sight for the Lanisar group?"

Garth examined the chart which showed the position and orbit of every known asteroid swarm. He consulted their present position and made swift calculation.

"Sure. Lanisar's coming on fast, but we won't cross it for an hour yet. The baby we want is about two hours behind it, according to headquarters, but on the inside. Remember, that's plenty dangerous territory in the middle of the belt for a flea-cruiser like this, without a repulsor. How does that suit you?"

Prokle revealed how it suited him when he said: "It's an uncharted swarm, ain't it?"

They skirted the edge of the belt, easily avoiding the occasional smaller swarms. The charted Lanisar group, easily recognizable and already thoroughly explored, intersected them in less than an hour.

Prokle turned their tiny craft deeper into the belt. Here there were long stretches of comparative emptiness, but these became ever more infrequent. Dark masses began looming out of nowhere, but luckily they were tinged faintly from the light of the distant sun. Many of these veered crazily, or hurtled across their bow, seeming much closer than they actually were. Some of the larger pieces eventually formed miniature solar systems in themselves.

After more than an hour of this both men were nerve-wracked and exhausted. But they dared not relax for a moment. This was deeper, presumably, into the belt than any men had ever gone with a cruiser as tiny as theirs. They now seemed to be in a veritable sea of leprous light reflecting from the pock-marked masses speeding around them.

Prokle had just turned a worried face to Garth, and the latter moved forward to take the controls ... when the swarm abruptly thinned. They were in the comparative emptiness of space again, with only tiny pebbles peppering their hull harmlessly. Prokle slumped in relief.

But the relief was brief.

"Look," Garth said, pointing.

Far ahead, directly in their trajectory, a pinpoint of light was discernible. It did not remain a pinpoint long. They watched it grow nearer and larger and slowly take shape. Another swarm, seemingly a large one. But gradually they saw that it was, rather, one very large mass with lesser ones speeding along behind it. The large mass turned lazily on a vertical axis, the sunlight striking it sharply.

Then, without the slightest warning, Prokle gave a short gurgling cry. He lurched up from the seat and backward against Garth, clutching at him. Garth could only stare at Prokle in amazement as the latter pointed, in a kind of horror, through the glassite prow.

Garth pressed forward and looked. Now he saw clearly. An involuntary sharp gasp hissed through his clenched teeth.

The large rock ahead, turning on its axis, had suddenly presented a new contour. Due to its formation and the way the sun struck it, it now seemed almost a perfect, though rough-hewn, death's-head!

In fascination rather than horror, Garth watched the rock turning slowly. A minute later, considerably larger, the semblance was directly facing them—undeniably the rough shape of a human skull, all leprously sun-illumined, seeming to grin a sardonic welcome as it came nearer. Deep shadowy gorges were in the places where the eyes would have been. Then it slowly revolved away, and the semblance was lost.

"Very cute, huh?" Garth said, quickly taking over the controls. "Nature's a grand comedian sometimes. I've seen some queer sights out here, but never anything like that!" And he added with grim humor: "Well, that's undoubtedly the baby we're looking for, the one we've got to contact. About twenty miles diameter. Glad you came along?"

Prokle hadn't quite gotten over the initial shock. He started to snap a reply, then clamped his teeth as he remembered something. He smiled wryly and said:

"If it's got gold teeth, I won't mind landing on that thing at all!"

Regulating their speed to that of the asteroid, Garth swung their cruiser behind it and came closer in a gradually contracting spiral. Meanwhile they kept a sharp lookout for the distress flare the Captain of the Callisto had presumably seen.

They detected no light, however. They only saw below them a terrain that might have been lifted from an ink-sketch of grotesquerie by Goya or Sidney Sime. This was a cold and unutterable outer hell running rampant. This was a new canto for Dante. The rock was like a broken-off black tip of a mountain surging suddenly toward them, with jagged pinnacles reaching out to grasp and deep black gullies agape.

Garth allowed the cruiser to drift just beyond gravity, away from the sunward side. Peering at the scene below, he shook his head.

"I wouldn't want to attempt a landing there. Safer to use the magnibullet—there's usually enough metallic content at the core of these rocks to make it feasible, and we're only a few hundred yards away."

They donned space-suits and moved into the air-lock. There the magnibullet, a heavy magnetized projectile, rested in a powerful compressed air tube. From it led a thin cable, wound upon a pivoted spool. Garth opened the outer door and swung the compression tube around. He released the power and the magnibullet shot "down," or "out," straight for the asteroid. The cable unreeled behind it until it struck.

The cruiser was now a tiny satellite, revolving slowly as the rock revolved, but connected to it by the taut strand of wire. The two men moved along the wire hand over hand until the gravity of the rock gripped them, to pull them slowly downward. They alighted on a precipitous plateau bordering on the sunward side. All was an amorphous mass of guttered rock, of serrate pinnacles and precipices and sudden chasms. Bizzare and ever-changing shadows played slowly over the naked, revolving surface.

As they stood there staring around, Prokle clicked on the radiophone in his helmet and said:

"Hype, I thought of something. How could there be a signal flare here anyway? No oxygen."

"How do you know?" Garth replied. "Surprising thing, but there often is air, a thin sort, on asteroids this large—deep down in the crevices. I've even seen various kinds of moss, lichen, and other sparse growth on some of these rocks. Come to think of it, that might conceivably serve as food. You know—to men who cling tenaciously to life?"

Prokle shuddered at the thought. He said, "Well, shall I take the light side and you the dark? That way we could circle this rock in a couple of hours."

"Wait a minute!" Garth said severely as Prokle started off. "You haven't worked a rock this size before. First we're looking for that missing life-boat and not for a gold or platinum vein—remember that. Second, we work only on the dark side, because it's safer. Yes, I mean it. On a rock this size there's always a certain bombardment of fragments—some no larger than your fist. Over here we can see 'em coming, on the light side we can't. I'm cautious on this point because the first partner I ever had out here went that way with a hole smashed clear through him. Now, you take the left, I'll take the right, keep always on the side away from the sun by working away from the direction of rotation."

As Prokle moved away Garth called a final instruction: "Contact me every once in a while, and watch the chasms especially for that light."

Prokle was just a little resentful as he moved away. Much as he liked Garth, he sometimes didn't like his dictatorial manner. As for any of that missing party being left alive here—it was sheerly fantastic. They were wasting time which they might be putting to better and more personal advantage.

Prokle looked into the blackness and saw two tiny points of light moving swiftly toward him. He ducked involuntarily. But the meteoric fragments passed high above his head, and he turned in time to see one and then the other hit on a pinnacle far behind him. He decided suddenly that Garth was right on that point, at least.

He came to a chasm and peered down into stygian blackness. No light there. He muttered disgruntedly and leaped far across to the opposite edge, limned by the faint tinge of starlight. He stopped and looked back and Garth was already out of sight below the rock's ragged horizon. He forged cautiously ahead, leaping chasms and skirting pinnacles and stumbling over dangerously sharp rocks.

Prokle stopped at his eighth or ninth chasm and scanned the utter blackness. Still no light. Why should there be? Fantastic to think a human being could subsist on this place for three weeks. Prokle muttered to himself in ever-increasing sullenness. He hated this derelict rock and this blackness and Garth and—

Then without faintest warning the white flash of a ray spurted up from the depths, past Prokle's left ear, and hung for a moment against the darkness of space. It vanished. And just as Prokle, in his surprise, stumbled backward and fell prone, it spurted up again to burn the lip of the cliff at his feet. Then all below was dark again.

Prokle lay there a moment in silence, blessing the protecting darkness which he had cursed only a moment before. Then, hardly moving, he chuckled grimly and clicked on his phone.

"Hype! For the love of—Hey, Hype, can you hear me?"

Garth's voice came faintly in reply.

Prokle continued: "Hype, listen. I hate to admit it, but I guess you were right. There's someone here all right, and I've got him spotted. I've got him spotted so damn good that I don't dare move! He's got a ray-pistol and he just took two pot shots at me."

Garth's voice came again, thinly: "If this is your idea of a joke, it's out of place and very unfunny."

"It's unfunny all right! You get over here damn quick! And Hype, be careful. I'll keep talking to guide you."

Ten minutes later Garth crept cautiously to his partner's side and whispered: "You're sure it wasn't a meteor you saw?"

"Do meteors singe your ears? It was a ray, I tell you! It came from down there."

Garth crept to the edge of the chasm and rolled a fragment of rock over the rim. It bounded steeply down in the dark, but they could hear no sound due to the helmets they wore. No answering ray flashed up. For a minute Garth lay there, peering down cautiously. Then he crept back.

"You're right," he told Prokle, "someone's down there."

"See something?"

Garth shook his head.

"Oh, I see, it's one of those—those things of yours again. Well, you've never been wrong yet on those premonitions, but this time you don't need it. Can you tell if there's more than one?"

"Not sure," Garth said, "but I don't think so. Just someone. Lord knows where he got the ray-pistol, those life-boats aren't equipped with 'em. He was probably carrying one."

"But good Lord, why take pot shots at us? He must know who we are! He must know we're here to get him off this blasted rock!"

Garth looked straight at Prokle and spoke calmly: "Maybe he knows it and maybe not. Twenty-one days, Prokle, remember? Imagine three weeks on this place, knowing there's only a chance in a million of you being located. Maybe watching the others die off one by one. You'd hate to be the last, Prokle, wouldn't you? But remember what I said about some men loving life more than others, clinging to it longer, even when it means...."

Garth didn't finish, but Prokle nodded and said the last word for him. "Madness. You're right, Hype, that's all it can mean. We've got a madman on our hands. Let's go home."

Garth shook his head and pointed across the chasm. Fifty yards away the opposite precipice, a bit higher, was limned raggedly against the stars.

"Our best bet is to get over there unobserved. It may not be easy dealing with him."

Prokle patted his own ray-pistol at his side.

"No," Garth cautioned. "We don't want to use those and I don't think we'll have to."

Slowly, circuitously and with much effort they gained the opposite rim. It took them nearly ten minutes but the negotiation was masterful and noiseless. Finally, from behind a protecting rock formation they peered again into the depths, their eyes becoming slowly accustomed to that darker darkness. Then Garth silently pointed.

"What is it?" Prokle whispered. "I don't see a thing."

"Keep looking. A little to the right."

Then Prokle saw it. The missing life-boat, lying quite still there below, like a tiny silver bug with its nose smashed. And that disseminated whatever slight doubt they may have had.

"What now?" Prokle whispered.

"We've got to go down!" Garth said hoarsely. "Nothing else. This side doesn't seem so steep; if we get to a point where we can see him, we'll talk to him."

"Can't do that, unless he's got a phone, too!"

"We'll see about that when we have to. Keep looking down there a while, let your eyes get used to it."

Presently, Garth first, they began the descent. It was slow and ticklish work, but now they could dimly see their way enough to proceed in safety. Garth followed a little gully which at times was only arm's width. For perhaps two hundred feet they descended; then Garth stopped so suddenly that Prokle bumped into him and nearly lost balance.

"What is it?" Prokle forged carefully forward.

Garth merely pointed.

They had come nearer to the bottom than they supposed. They now stood upon a narrow ledge scarcely forty feet above the sharp little valley. And below the edge of their protecting ledge they saw a light.

That was not surprising. It was half expected. But the light wasn't a signal-flare, it was a crude, open bonfire.

"Well, Hype, you were right about that, too!" Prokle murmured. "That means there's air of some kind down here."

Hype nodded, and pointed to another ledge perhaps twenty feet below them, and to the right. Carefully they negotiated to it. Again they peered below.

Then, for the first time, they saw the man, but only a silhouette. Really a smallish figure, but looming up large beside the flickering fire. He stood quite still, one hand at his hip grasping a ray-pistol, peering up at the opposite precipice edge; the edge where he had fired at Prokle.

Very still he stood and very still the two men above him watched. Then the figure turned, still very cautious, toward the fire. He bent and threw several handfuls of something on the blaze. It immediately leaped high, illumining the rocky terrain for a hundred feet around. The two men crouched back, but the light did not quite touch the ledge where they stood. His hand still by his hip, the tiny figure turned in a complete circle and surveyed the line of cliffs above him. Then, still peering around, he huddled miserably by the fire, seeking warmth.

But that brief glimpse was enough. Both men had recognized the grotesque figure below. And it was Prokle who pronounced the name first, in a hoarse whisper:

"Chiswell! J. P. Chiswell, president of EMV Lines! Of all men to survive in this hellish place, it had to be him."

"Why not?" Garth snapped venomously. His lips were tight and his face was pale beneath his helmet. He was remembering again, with all the old bitterness, the exceedingly unethical ruse by which he'd been captured in the spaceways many years ago—the ruse engineered by Chiswell himself. "Why shouldn't it be him?" he went on. "The survival of the fittest, remember? Look at that ray-gun!"

For a moment Prokle was uncomprehending; then he said in a rush of fierce words:

"Hype, I'll bet you're right! Of course, you're right! The survival of the fittest, and with that gun old Chiswell was the fittest. I'll bet you he murdered the others and kept all the provisions of that life-boat for himself! There's no other way he could have subsisted here so long."

Garth nodded grimly. "Maybe. Some of 'em may have been lost in space somewhere, though. We've no proof of murder yet; but I know he's capable of it if it means his own hide."

"Sure, I know that, too. Look at the two pot shots he took at me! We've got a maniac on our hands, Hype, what'll we do now?"

"For one thing, he hasn't a helmet. I'm gonna get out of this damned uncomfortable head-gear."

Cautiously Garth unscrewed the helmet at his neck; lifted it slightly, and sniffed the air. Then he threw it back, where it dangled from his shoulders. "Don't breathe too deeply," he warned Prokle who followed his example.

Garth reached into a rocky cleft near by and brought out a handful of greenish, lichen-like growth. "See there? That's the stuff I told you sometimes grows on these big rocks. Maybe it's what he's burning down there. He could dry it out if the sun hits down this far. All right, I'm going to call to him now, so watch out for that ray-gun."

With that, Garth peered down and called loudly:

"Chiswell! J. P. Chiswell!"

Through that thin air his voice rang clear as a bell of doom; echoed eerily between rocky walls and went shivering away into the black distance.

The man below at the fire was on his feet and facing them with a fierce snarl. His hand darted up and a ray flashed toward the voice, to splutter harmlessly on the rock some distance from where the men stood in darkness. That act alone proved to them he was mad; from where they stood they could have rayed him with ease. But they didn't need that mad act as proof of the man's madness.

For in the full glare of the fire his face was a fierce caricature. Even from their distance they could see the wild gleam of his eyes as he leaned tautly forward trying to pierce the dark; could see the gaunt face, beak-like nose, shaggy brows and tangled growth of beard; they could see the flick of his tongue over lips drawn tight, and could hear the animal snarl that rumbled warningly out of that throat. There in the red glare of fire-light he was a demon out of Hell.

For only a moment he stood there tautly facing them, fiercely peering; then, with an agile bound he leaped away from the fire and scuttled like a huge beetle toward the opposite cliff. They could only see him dimly now, but they saw him turn in a posture of defiance, arms spread out as though protecting the cliff behind him.

"Whew!" Prokle breathed.

"That goes double for me," said Garth. "Come on." He leaped the remaining distance to the base of their cliff, and Prokle alighted easily beside him. They peered across at Chiswell.

"There's a sort of cave over there," Prokle exclaimed, "and he's standing in front of it! Say, he's gone mad all right, but there's something else behind his madness."

Garth nodded. He grasped his partner's arm and moved forward slowly, saying: "Careful now; we'll try to reason with him."

They had almost reached the fire when they saw Chiswell's hand come up again with unexpected swiftness. They fell flat upon the rock, and just in time, as the ray flashed close above them. Garth realized they must have been easily visible in the fire-glow, and could have kicked himself for a fool.

But now Prokle was chuckling. "Didn't you notice?" he whispered. "That last ray was dim, it didn't much more than reach us. His charge must be getting low. A couple more like that and it'll be finished."

A few minutes they lay there, watching, as Chiswell made no further move. They could see the cave plainer now, a cave as high as Chiswell's head, but narrow, extending darkly back into the towering rock.

Without warning Prokle leaped up, ran a few feet forward and flopped down again, just as Chiswell's ray stabbed over him.

"Prokle! You damn fool!" Garth crept forward beside him.

"It's all right. I doubt if he has another full charge in that gun now."

"Chiswell!" Garth called, but softly. "We're your friends, don't you understand that? Put down the gun. We've come to take you away from here!"

For the first time, then, they heard the madman's voice. It was just as soft as Garth's had been, but cunning. The voice spoke five words:

"I know what you want!"

"We want to get you off that rock, that's what we want." Then Garth added: "The Martian Princess, don't you remember? The space-wreck? All the others were saved—don't you want to be saved?

"You sound like some street-corner missionary," Prokle said, chuckling.

And again the madman's words came—cunning, but with a certain cool menace:

"I know what you want!"

"See?" Prokle said. "You can't reason with him. Hell, I wonder what he does think we want?" Prokle leaped up, stood exposed in the dying fire-light. Again the ray spurted. Gravity was light, and before Prokle could fall away from it, the ray caught him in the chest. Prokle fell and Garth cursed.

"It's all right, all right!" Prokle assured him quickly. "Just scorched my suit a little. Well, that finishes his ray."

"You're still a fool!" Garth snapped.

Now, from where Chiswell crouched they heard an animal-scream of rage as he realized how he'd been tricked: "Damn you!" And they heard the clatter of the gun as he flung it toward them. And their blood ran cold as Chiswell burst forth in a profane and garbled rush of mad words. The speech was so inarticulate, that it wasn't until he was nearly out of breath that they began to gather the purport:

"... damn tricky are you? But I know you. I know why you're here, too ... want to get me away do you—but you won't!... it's all mine, do you hear, all mine!... mine!... you'll never get it.... I was here first ... keep away from me, keep away!... you just try it ... ha ha!... all mine!"

The rush of words ended in a high pitched scream. They couldn't see him clearly now at all, but they could imagine froth on his lips. They heard his gurgling breath for a moment, then it died away and he was abruptly, cunningly silent.

Prokle grabbed his partner's arm so tightly it hurt. His whispered voice was hoarse with emotion. "Hype! Did you hear? Did you? It means—it must mean—tell me I'm right, Hype! Tell me!"

Garth jerked his arm away. He frowned, but there was a light in his eyes nearly as bright as Prokle's.

"Sure," he said, trying to keep his voice calm. "I guess maybe I'm thinking the same thing you are."

"Gold! It's happened, Hype, it's happened at last! And Chiswell found it for us; no wonder he's protecting that entrance over there, it's a vein!" Prokle laughed almost shrilly. "I never thought we'd make a strike, Hype. Never really. This means back to Earth, back to Chicago. We can buy off the rest of our time! There are ways, if you work it right!"

But Hype Garth, long ago pirate of the spaceways, was looking at his partner silently and calmly. Prokle saw that look and stopped suddenly, abashed. He remembered.

"Oh, I'm—damn, Hype, that's right. I didn't think—"

"Sure, Prokle. I'm serving forty years on the Station. Might as well be life, for it was Chiswell and his crowd who put me there and were tickled to get me there. Sure, you can buy your time, through the obvious channels, but not me. For me there's only one slight chance, a chance in a million. Know what that is?" Garth laughed softly. "One chance in a million, and here it is in my lap! If I can get Chiswell away from here and back to the Station, his sanity might return. I think it would! This sort of madness is only temporary. And then—then—he might be very appreciative."

"You of all persons oughta know better'n that, Hype!"

But Garth went on musingly: "Yes, he might be appreciative to the extent of fixing pardons for both of us. And if he isn't ... why, then I'd just have to persuade him, wouldn't I? And I know some very good methods." His eyes glittered.

"Damn it, Hype, listen! You know what'd happen then as well as I do. Suppose he did fix the pardons, even willingly. D'you think we'd ever get out here to this gold again? Never! We could never beat out the Chiswell interests."

Garth, smiling thinly, looked straight at Prokle. "Sure, I realize that perfectly. You want the gold, sure. But to get it, and get away with it, you're going to have to dispose of Chiswell over there. And if you do that, there goes my one chance of a pardon. Nice little stalemate, huh?"

And Garth, as he watched his partner's indecision, was suddenly enjoying the grim stalemate. But Prokle wasn't. He stared sullenly at Garth for a moment, rubbed his chin and grumbled baffledly in his throat.

Garth grinned back at him.

Suddenly across to them came Chiswell's jumbled words again, this time tinged with fear:

"Whispering, are you? I hear you over there, plotting. You just try it! ... rob me—no! ... ah-h-h! ... two of 'em! ... two ... no, you can't! ... it isn't fair, I'm all alone!" This time his voice ended in a little sob of terror, perhaps because he realized for the first time the odds against him; perhaps because he remembered that he'd thrown his gun away.

Garth, from where he lay, reached out and threw a handful of dry matted lichen upon the fire. For only a few seconds it blazed up, to reveal Chiswell crouched before his cave, a wild sight, trembling and waiting.

And it revealed something else.

"Look!" Again Prokle grabbed Garth's arm in his excitement.

But Garth had seen it, too, within the cave behind Chiswell. Along the sides, only dimly discernible in outline, were masses of something that was not rock. Seemingly sacks of something.

That was enough for Prokle; and Garth, too, was sure his own eyes were blazing as he tried not to let Prokle's fanaticism get him.

"Can you beat that for luck?" Prokle was whispering. "He's started getting the gold out already! Or it's platinum maybe! Anyway it's going to save us a lot of time and work. Lord knows how he ever expected to get it away from here, but—well, I guess I'd have started mining, too, if I was in his shoes. Come on, Hype, let's get over there!"

Prokle had quite lost sight of the issue. Garth kept his own voice calm as he said:

"Not yet; it'll wait. Well, which is it going to be?"

Prokle was still staring over at the cave. Now he looked back at Garth. "Which—what did you say?"

"I said: what happened to our little stalemate? You know, the one we were at a moment ago?"

The light in Prokle's eyes died. "But—but Hype—you can't be serious—to pass up this?"

"I've got to pass it up, pal. You know that all the wealth on this rock couldn't buy my freedom! There's my passport to freedom, crouching over there in front of that cave. And he's got to stay alive."

Prokle was becoming angry. "You're—you're just exaggerating!"

Garth merely shook his head, smiling wryly.

"All right, Hype, I've got an idea. We'll finish off Chiswell—we've got to do that. Then we'll mine the gold. We'll get every ounce that's here, and that ought to be plenty! Then I could get back to Earth myself—and with all that wealth I could help you! I'd make the proper contacts, bribe the right people—you know how it's done. And I'd really try, Hype. And you know you can trust me!"

"Yes, I know I can. And I know you'd try, Prokle. But you simply haven't any idea what you'd be up against, trying to buy a pardon for me. Any other man, yes. But you see, Prokle, the Earth Corporations would never let it go through. They know I'd soon be back pirating the Space Lanes again, and I would, too! I hear that pirating has been pretty tame since I've been away, if you know what I mean." Garth smiled reminiscently.

Across to them came Chiswell's whimpering, his half-sobs of fright as he heard them whispering. He was like a trapped wild animal, not quite daring to flee for fear they would pounce upon him.

Prokle's sullenness was slowly mounting to anger again. There was sweat upon his brow. His face twisted with indecision. Neither man had moved from where they lay, prone beside the dying fire.

Garth looked at his partner and said: "I'm going to leave it squarely to you, Prokle. The decision's all yours."

"Damn you, Hype!"

Hype simply watched. He wasn't smiling any more, for already he knew what the decision would be. He saw the fanatic light return to his partner's eyes. He saw his jaw set determinedly. Prokle wiped the sweat from his brow, and his body tensed. The lure of the gold....

Prokle twisted around to face Garth squarely then, but he couldn't look at him squarely as he said in a voice that was hardly audible:

"I—I can't give it up, Hype! It's too much to ask!"

And with a sudden little push he was on his feet and bounding low across the space toward the cave and Chiswell.

The action was too sudden for Garth to do anything. He couldn't even get to his feet, much less intervene. He saw two leaps carry Prokle halfway across the space. He heard a frightened little cry from Chiswell, and suddenly he felt very sorry for him. The last twenty feet Prokle literally soared, almost horizontally. He leaped too wide, but managed to reach out and grasp the startled Chiswell by the throat. They fell lazily to the ground in a tangled heap, Chiswell bleating in thin terror like a lamb with a wolf at its throat.

Trapped animals can be very dangerous in their terror. Prokle's hold loosened and he rolled over lightly. From his distance, Garth saw Chiswell's hand come up. He glimpsed something massive in it. He cried out a warning, and Prokle twisted around.

But not in time. Garth saw the mass of rock descend, and he heard an awful crunching sound as it smashed Prokle's skull.

Chiswell bleated no longer. The bleat was a snarl as he leaped astride Prokle and without waiting to see if he were dead, gripped his neck with unbelievable strength. Garth heard the vertebrae snap sickeningly, and still the madman clung. He clung until he was quite sure Prokle wasn't going to move any more, and then his hands slowly loosened. He leaped aside, and with the mien of a sculptor surveying his masterpiece he gazed on the thing at his feet. Then, uttering horrible little throat noises he grasped Prokle's hands and dragged him to the cave and into the darkness beyond.

Garth staggered blindly to his feet and stood there swaying. Prokle was dead, but there was something else. A semblance of thought and reason was trying to flow back to his brain, but it came too slowly.

Garth moved toward the cave just as Chiswell emerged. If there had been any doubt before that the man was mad there could not be now. As Garth approached him he stood there half erect, gibbering, ghastly in the pale ghost-light of the sun that was just beginning to reach down into the chasm.

Garth stood before the disgusting thing that was no longer a man. His fist moved only a foot and caught the thing in the throat. On Chiswell's face as he sailed backward there was a look of mild surprise, as if he could not quite understand how it happened or why; but when he hit the rocky wall he crumpled and lay still.

Garth looked at his fist wonderingly. He passed a hand across his brow. That's what he had needed. Clear, concise thought was coming back. He entered the cave and stood a full minute there in the darkness, before he remembered the torch at his side. He lifted it, and was about to flood the cave with light.

Then that familiar premonitory "awareness" was with him again; abruptly, startlingly, vividly it came, engulfing him. It told him not to click on that light.

Garth stood stock still for a moment, hand half lifted, indecision creeping on him.

Prokle's body was in here, he knew that. But—yes, that's what had brought the numb fear a minute ago! That's why this was different! Why had that madman dragged Prokle in here?

For the first time in his life Garth disregarded his warning premonition.

He clicked on the torch.

Out on the Station, in the long dreary days to come, Garth was to remember that scene.

His torch remained on for only about ten seconds. But in those seconds he remembered telling Prokle, "Some of the party may have been lost in space somewhere"—but now he knew none of them had been.

He recalled telling about the lichen and moss here, which desperate men might conceivably use as food—but now he knew Chiswell had not.

His ears rang again with the madman's words, "All mine!"—and now he knew their horrible purport.

He remembered when the fire had flared up and they had glimpsed dim masses of something along the sides of the cave, something that was not rock, something that was seemingly sacks of gold—but now he knew those dim shapes were not sacks of gold.

It was not gold that Chiswell guarded so viciously, for there was no gold here.

In those few seconds before he clicked off the torch Garth felt his mind slowly slipping away into a chaos of vertiginous horror, but he caught it on the brink. He retained enough of sanity to realize why he must not leave his dead friend here.

He emerged with the body of Prokle into the palely creeping sunlight. He saw the thing that was Chiswell stir and breathe and try to sit up. Garth reached for his ray-pistol, aimed it and tried to press the button. Then he let his hand drop. That was strange—he had thought he felt sorry for the thing there before him, but now he didn't feel sorry. He simply didn't feel anything.

But he had Prokle! With the body lightly across his shoulders Garth began the ascent of the cliff to where the cruiser waited. He did not once look back. An idiotic desire to laugh seized him, but he did not laugh; he knew that if once he laughed it would be wildly, and he could never stop, and he'd become as mad as the thing down there....

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