Behind the Moon
Ernst, 6941 words
Astounding Stories 1931
pitiless jaws, a distant crater opened for their ship.
Helplessly, they hurtled toward it: helplessly, because
they were still in the nothingness of space, with no
atmospheric resistance on which their rudders, or stern
or bow tubes, could get a purchase to steer them.
Professor Dorn Wichter waited anxiously for the
slight vibration that should announce that the
projectile-shaped shell had entered the new planet's
intrepid Earth-men fight it out with the horrific
monsters of Zeud's frightful jungles.
"Have we struck it yet?" asked Joyce, a tall blond
young man with the shoulders of an athlete and the broad
brow and square chin of one who combines dreams with
action. He made his way painfully toward Wichter. It was
the first time he had attempted to move since the shell
had passed the neutral point—that belt midway between the
moon and the world behind it, where the pull of gravity of
each satellite was neutralized by the other. They, and all
the loose objects in the shell, had floated uncomfortably
about the middle of the chamber for half an hour or so,
gradually settling down again; until now it was possible,
with care, to walk.
"Have we struck it?" he repeated, leaning over the
professor's shoulder and staring at the resistance gauge.
"No." Absently Wichter took off his spectacles and
polished them. "There's not a trace of resistance yet."
They gazed out the bow window toward the vast disc,
like a serrated, pock-marked plate of blue ice, that was
the planet Zeud—discovered and named by them. The same
thought was in the mind of each. Suppose there were no
atmosphere surrounding Zeud to cushion their descent into
the hundred-mile crater that yawned to receive them?
"Well," said Joyce after a time, "we're taking no
more of a chance here than we did when we pointed our nose
toward the moon. We were almost sure that was no
atmosphere there—which meant we'd nose dive into the rocks
at five thousand miles an hour. On Zeud there might be
anything." His eyes shone. "How wonderful that there
should be such a planet, unsuspected during all the
centuries men have been studying the heavens!"
Wichter nodded agreement. It was indeed wonderful.
But what was more wonderful was its present discovery: for
that would never have transpired had not he and Joyce
succeeded in their attempt to fly to the moon. From there,
after following the sun in its slow journey around to the
lost side of the lunar globe—that face which the earth has
never yet observed—they had seen shining in the near
distance the great ball which they had christened Zeud.
Astronomical calculations had soon described the
mysterious hidden satellite. It was almost a twin to the
moon; a very little smaller, and less than eighty thousand
miles away. Its rotation was nearly similar, which made
its days not quite sixteen of our earthly days. It was of
approximately the weight, per cubic mile, of Earth. And
there it whirled, directly in a line with the earth and
the moon, moving as the moon moved so that it was ever out
of sight beyond it, as a dime would be out of sight if
placed in a direct line behind a penny.
Zeud, the new satellite, the world beyond the moon!
In their excitement at its discovery, Joyce and Wichter
had left the moon—which they had found to be as dead and
cold as it had been surmised to be—and returned summarily
to Earth. They had replenished their supplies and their
oxygen tanks, and had come back—to circle around the moon
and point the sharp prow of the shell toward Zeud. The
gift of the moon to Earth was a dubious one; but the gift
of a possibly living planet-colony to mankind might be the
solution of the overcrowded conditions of the terrestial
"Speed, three thousand miles an hour," computed
Wichter. "Distance to Zeud, nine hundred and eighty miles.
If we don't strike a few atoms of hydrogen or something
soon we're going to drill this nearest crater a little
Joyce nodded grimly. At two thousand miles from
Earth there had still been enough hydrogen traces in the
ether to give purchase to the explosions of their
water-motor. At six hundred miles from the moon they had
run into a sparse gaseous belt that had enabled them to
change direction and slow their speed. They had hoped to
find hydrogen at a thousand or twelve hundred miles from
"Eight hundred and thirty miles,"
commented Wichter, his slender, bent body tensed. "Eight
A thrumming sound came to their ears as the shell
quivered, imperceptibly almost, but unmistakeably, at the
touch of some faint resistance outside in space.
"We've struck it, Joyce. And it's much denser than
the moon's, even as we'd hoped. There'll be life on Zeud,
my boy, unless I'm vastly mistaken. You'd better look to
the motor now."
Joyce went to the water-motor. This was a curious,
but extremely simple affair. There was a glass box, ribbed
with polished steel, about the size and shape of a cigar
box, which was full of water. Leading away from this, to
the bow and stern of the shell, were two small pipes. The
pipes were greatly thickened for a period of three feet or
so, directly under the little tank, and were braced by
bed-plates so heavy as to look all out of proportion.
Around the thickened parts of the pipes were coils of
heavy, insulated copper wire. There were no valves nor
cylinders, no revolving parts: that was all there was to
Joyce didn't yet understand the device. The water
dripped from the tank, drop by drop, to be abruptly
disintegrated, made into an explosive, by being subjected
to a powerful magnetic field induced in the coils by a
generator in the bow of the shell. As each drop of water
passed into the pipes, and was instantaneously broken up,
there was a violent but controlled explosion—and the shell
was kicked another hundred miles ahead on its journey.
That was all Joyce knew about it.
He threw the bow switch. There was a soft shock as
the motor exhausted through the forward tube, slowing
"Turn on the outside generator propellers," ordered
Wichter. "I think our batteries are getting low."
Joyce slipped the tiny, slim-bladed propellers into
gear. They began to turn, slowly at first in the almost
"Four hundred miles," announced Wichter. "How's the
Joyce stepped to the thermometer that registered the
heat of the outer wall. "Nine hundred degrees," he said.
"Cut down to a thousand miles an hour," commanded
Wichter. "Five hundred as soon as the motor will catch
that much. I'll keep our course straight toward this
crater. It's in wells like that, that we'll find livable
air—if we're right in believing there is such a thing on
Joyce glanced at the thermometer. It still
registered hundreds of degrees, though their speed had
been materially reduced.
"I guess there's livable air, all right," he said.
"It's pretty thick outside already."
The professor smiled. "Another theory vindicated. I
was sure that Zeud, swinging on the outside of the
Earth-moon-Zeud chain and hence traveling at a faster
rate, would pick up most of the moon's atmosphere over a
period of millions of years. Also it must have been
shielded by the moon, to some extent, against the constant
small atmospheric leakage most celestial globes are
subject to. Just the same, when we land, we'll test
conditions with a rat or two."
At a signal from him, Joyce checked their speed to
four hundred miles an hour, then to two hundred, and then,
as they descended below the highest rim of the circular
cliffs of the crater, almost to a full stop. They floated
toward the surface of Zeud, watching with breathless
interest the panorama that unfolded beneath them.
They were nosing toward a spot that was being
favored with the Zeudian sunrise. Sharp and clear the
light rays slanted down, illuminating about half the
crater's floor and leaving the cliff protected half in dim
The illuminated part of the giant pit
was as bizarre as the landscape of a nightmare. There were
purplish trees, immense beyond belief. There were broad,
smooth pools of inky black fluid that was oily and
troubled in spots as though disturbed by some moving
things under the surface. There were bare, rocky patches
where the stones, the long drippings of ancient lava flow,
were spread like bleaching gray skeletons of monsters. And
over all, rising from pools and bare ground and jungle
alike, was a thin, miasmic mist.
Sustained by the slow, steady exhaust of the motor,
rising a little with each partly muffled explosion and
sinking a little further in each interval, they settled
toward a bare, lava strewn spot that appealed to Wichter
as being a good landing place. With a last hiss, and a
grinding jar, they grounded. Joyce opened the switch to
cut off the generator.
"Now let's see what the air's like," said Wichter,
lifting down a small cage in which was penned an active
He opened a double panel in the shell's hull, and
freed the little animal. In an agony of suspense they
watched it as it leaped onto the bare lava and halted a
"Seems to like it," said Joyce, drawing a great
The rat, as though intoxicated by its sudden
freedom, raced away out of sight, covering eight or ten
feet at a bound, its legs scurrying ludicrously in empty
air during its short flights.
"That means that we can dispense with oxygen
helmets—and that we'd better take our guns," said Wichter,
his voice tense, his eyes snapping behind his glasses.
He stepped to the gun rack. In this were half a
dozen air-guns. Long and of very small bore, they
discharged a tiny steel shell in which was a liquid of his
invention that, about a second after the heat of its
forced passage through the rifle barrel, expanded
instantly in gaseous form to millions of times its liquid
bulk. It was the most powerful explosive yet found, but
one that was beautifully safe to carry inasmuch as it
could be exploded only by heat.
"Are we ready?" he said, handing a gun to Joyce.
But for a breath or two they hesitated before
opening the heavy double door in the side of the hull,
savoring to the full the immensity of the moment.
The rapture of the explorer who is the first to set
foot on a vast new continent was theirs, magnified a
hundredfold. For they were the first to set foot on a vast
new planet! An entire new world, containing heaven alone
knew what forms of life, what monstrous or infinitesimal
creatures, lay before them. Even the profound awe they had
experienced when landing on the moon was dwarfed by the
solemnity of this occasion; just as it is less soul
stirring to discover an arctic continent which is
perpetually cased in barren ice, than to discover a
continent which is warmly fruitful and, probably, teeming
Still wordless, too stirred to speak, they opened
the vault-like door and stepped out—into a humid heat
which was like that of their own tropical regions, but not
In their short stay on the moon, during which they
had taken several walks in their insulated suits, they had
become somewhat accustomed to the decreased weight of
their bodies due to the lesser gravity, so that here,
where their weight was even less, they did not make any
blunders of stepping twenty feet instead of a yard.
Walking warily, glancing alertly in all directions
to guard against any strange animals that might rush out
to destroy them, they moved toward the nearest stretch of
The first thing that arrested their attention was
the size of the trees they were approaching. They had got
some idea of their hugeness from the shell, but viewed
from ground level they loomed even larger. Eight hundred,
a thousand feet they reared their mighty tops, with trunks
hundreds of feet in circumference; living pyramids whose
bases wove together to make an impenetrable ceiling over
the jungle floor. The leaves were thick and bloated like
cactus growths, and their color was a pronounced lavender.
"We must take back several of those leaves," said
Wichter, his scientific soul filled with cold excitement.
"I wish we could take back some of this air, too."
Joyce filled his lungs to capacity. "Isn't it great? Like
wine! It almost counteracts the effects of the heat."
"There's more oxygen in it than in our own,"
surmised Wichter. "My God! What's that!"
They halted for an instant. From the depths of the
lavender jungle had come an ear shattering, screaming
hiss, as though some monstrous serpent were in its death
They waited to hear if the noise would be repeated.
It wasn't. Dubiously they started on again.
"We'd better not go in there too far," said Joyce.
"If we didn't come out again it would cost Earth a new
planet. No one else knows the secret of your water-motor."
"Oh, nothing living can stand against these guns of
ours," replied Wichter confidently. "And that noise might
not have been caused by anything living. It might have
been steam escaping from some volcanic crevice."
They started cautiously down a well defined, hard
packed trail through thorny lavender underbrush. As they
went, Joyce blazed marks on various tree trunks marking
the direction back to the shell. The tough fibres exuded a
bluish liquid from the cuts that bubbled slowly like
To the right and left of them were cup-shaped bushes
that looked like traps; and that their looks were not
deceiving was proved by a muffled, bleating cry that rose
from the compressed leaves of one of them they passed.
Sluggish, blind crawling things like three-foot slugs
flowed across their path and among the tree trunks,
leaving viscous trails of slime behind them. And there
were larger things....
"Careful," said Wichter suddenly, coming to a halt
and peering into the gloom at their right.
"What did you see?" whispered Joyce.
Wichter shook his head. The gigantic, two-legged,
purplish figure he had dimly made out in the steamy dark,
had moved away. "I don't know. It looked a little like a
They halted and took stock of their situation,
mechanically wiping perspiration from their streaming
faces, and pondering as to whether or not they should turn
back. Joyce, who was far from being a coward, thought they
"In this undergrowth," he pointed out, "we might be
rushed before we could even fire our guns. And we're
nearly a mile from the shell."
But Wichter was like an eager child.
"We'll press on just a little," he urged. "To that
clear spot in front of us." He pointed along the trail to
where sunlight was blazing down through an opening in the
trees. "As soon as we see what's there, we'll go back."
With a shrug, Joyce followed the eager little man
down the weird trail under the lavender trees. In a few
moments they had reached the clearing which was Wichter's
goal. They halted on its edge, gazing at it with awe and
It was a circular quagmire of festering black mud
about a hundred yards across. Near at hand they could see
the mud heaving, very slowly, as though abysmal forms of
life were tunneling along just under the surface. They
glanced toward the center of the bog, which was occupied
by one of the smooth black pools, and
cried aloud at what they saw.
At the brink of the pool was lying a gigantic
creature like a great, thick snake—a snake with a lizard's
head, and a series of many-jointed, scaled legs running
down its powerful length. Its mouth was gaping open to
reveal hundreds of needle-sharp, backward pointing teeth.
Its legs and thick, stubbed tail were threshing feebly in
the mud as though it were in distress; and its eyes, so
small as to be invisible in its repulsive head, were
glazed and dull.
"Was that what we heard back a ways?" wondered
"Probably," said Wichter. His eyes shone as he gazed
at the nightmare shape. Impulsively he took a step toward
the stirring mud.
"Don't be entirely insane," snapped Joyce, catching
"I must see it closer," said Wichter, tugging to be
"Then we'll climb a tree and look down on it. We'll
probably be safer up off the ground anyway."
They ascended the nearest jungle giant—whose rubbery
bark was so ringed and scored as to be as easy to climb as
a staircase—to the first great bough, about fifty feet
from the ground, and edged out till they hung over the rim
of the quagmire. From there, with the aid of their
binoculars, they expected to see the dying monster in
every detail. But when they looked toward the pool it was
not in sight!
"Were we seeing things?" exclaimed Wichter, rubbing
his glasses. "I'd have sworn it was lying there!"
"It was," said Joyce grimly. "Look at the pool.
That'll tell you where it went."
The black, secretive surface was bubbling and waving
as though, down in its depths, a terrific fight were
"Something came up and dragged our ten-legged lizard
down to its den. Then that something's brothers got onto
the fact that a feast was being held, and rushed in. That
pool would be no place for a before-breakfast dip!"
Wichter started to say something in reply, then
gazed, hypnotized, at the opposite wall of the jungle.
From the dense screen of lavender foliage stretched
a glistening, scale-armored neck, as thick as a man's body
at its thinnest point, which was just behind a
tremendous-jawed crocodilian head. It tapered back for a
distance of at least thirty feet, to merge into a body as
big as that of a terrestial whale, that was supported by
four squat, ponderous legs.
Moving with surprising rapidity, the enormous thing
slid into the mud and began ploughing a way, belly deep,
toward the pool. Shapeless, slow-writhing forms were cast
up in its wake, to quiver for a moment in the sunlight and
then melt below the mud again.
One of the bloated, formless mud-crawlers was
snapped up in the huge jaws with an abrupt plunge of the
long neck, and the monster began to feed, hog-like,
slobbering over the loathsome carcass.
Wichter shook his head, half in fanatical eagerness,
half in despair. "I'd like to stay and see more," he said
with a sigh, "but if that's the kind of creatures we're
apt to encounter in the Zeudian jungle, we'd better be
going at once—"
"Sh-h!" snapped Joyce. Then, in a barely audible
whisper: "I think the thing heard your voice!"
The monster had abruptly ceased its feeding. Its
head, thrust high in the air, was waving inquisitively
from side to side. Suddenly it expelled the air from its
vast lungs in a roaring cough—and started directly for
"Shoot!" cried Wichter, raising his gun.
Moving with the speed of an express train, the
monster had almost got to their overhanging branch
before they could pull the triggers. Both shells imbedded
themselves in the enormous chest, just as the long neck
reached up for them. And at once things began to happen
with cataclysmic rapidity.
Almost with their impact the shells exploded. The
monster stopped, with a great hole torn in its body. Then,
dying on its feet, it thrust its great head up and its
huge jaws crunched over the branch to which its two puny
destroyers were clinging.
With all its dozens of tons of weight, it jerked in
a gargantuan death agony. The tree, enormous as it was,
shook with it, and the branch itself was tossed as though
in a hurricane.
There was a splintering sound. Wichter and Joyce
dropped their guns to cling more tightly to the bole of
the drooping branch that was their only security. The guns
glanced off the mountainous body—and, with a last
convulsion of the mighty legs, were swept underneath!
The monster was still at last, its insensate jaws
yet gripping the bough. The two men looked at each other
in speechless consternation. The shell a mile off through
the dreadful jungle.... Themselves, helpless without their
"Well," said Joyce at last. "I guess we'd better be
on our way. Waiting here, thinking it over, won't help
any. Lucky there's no night, for a couple of weeks at
least, to come stealing down on us."
He started down the great trunk, with Wichter
following close behind. Walking as rapidly as they could,
they hurried back along the tunneled trail toward their
They hadn't covered a hundred yards when they heard
a mighty crashing of underbrush behind them. Glancing
back, they saw tooth-studded jaws gaping cavernously at
the end of a thirty-foot neck—little, dead-looking eyes
glaring at them—a hundred-foot body smashing its way over
the trap-bushes and through tangles of vines and
"The mate to the thing we killed back there!" Joyce
panted. "Run, for God's sake!"
Wichter needed no urging. He hadn't an ounce of fear
in his spare, small body. But he had an overwhelming
desire to get back to Earth and deliver his message. He
was trembling as he raced after Joyce, thirty feet to a
bound, ducking his head to avoid hitting the thick
lavender foliage that roofed the trail.
"One of us must get through!" he panted over and
over. "One of us must make it!"
It was speedily apparent that they could never
outrun their pursuer. The reaching jaws were only a few
yards behind them now.
"You go," called Joyce, sobbing for breath. He
slowed his pace deliberately.
"No—you—" Wichter slowed too. In a frenzy, Joyce
shoved him along the trail.
"I tell you—"
He got no further. In front of them, where there had
appeared to be solid ground, they suddenly saw a yawning
pit. Desperately, they tried to veer aside, but they were
too close. Their last long birdlike leap carried them over
the edge. They fell, far down, into a deep chasm,
splashing into a shallow pool of water.
A few clods of earth cascaded after them as the
monster above dug its great splay feet into the ground and
checked its rush in time to keep from falling after them.
Then the top of the pit slowly darkened as a covering of
some sort slid across it. They were in a prison as
profoundly quiet and utterly black as a tomb.
Dorn," shouted Joyce. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," came a voice in the near darkness. "And you?"
"I'm still in one piece as far as I can feel." There
was a splashing noise. He waded
toward it and in a moment his outstretched hand touched
the professor's shoulder.
"This is a fine mess," he observed shakily. "We got
away from those tooth-lined jaws, all right, but I'm
wondering if we're much better off than we would have been
if we hadn't escaped."
"I'm wondering the same thing." Wichter's voice was
strained. "Did you see the way the top of the pit closed
above us? That means we're in a trap. And a most ingenious
trap it is, too! The roof of it is camouflaged until it
looks exactly like the rest of the trail floor. The water
in here is just shallow enough to let large animals break
their necks when they fall in and just deep enough to
preserve small animals—like ourselves—alive. We're in the
hands of some sort of reasoning, intelligent beings,
"In that case," said Joyce with a shudder, "we'd
better do our best to get out of here!"
But this was found to be impossible. They couldn't
climb up out of the pit, and nowhere could they feel any
openings in the walls. Only smooth, impenetrable stone met
their questing fingers.
"It looks as though we're in to stay," said Joyce
finally. "At least until our Zeudian hosts, whatever kind
of creatures they may be, come and take us out. What'll we
do then? Sail in and die fighting? Or go peaceably along
with them—assuming we aren't killed at once—on the chance
that we can make a break later?"
"I'd advise the latter," answered Wichter. "There is
a small animal on our own planet whose example might be a
good one for us to follow. That's the 'possum." He stopped
abruptly, and gripped Joyce's arm.
From the opposite side of the pit came a grating
sound. A crack of greenish light appeared, low down near
the water. This widened jerkily as though a door were
being hoisted by some sort of pulley arrangement. The
walls of the pit began to glow faintly with reflected
"Down," breathed Wichter.
Noiselessly they let themselves sink into the water
until they were floating, eyes closed and motionless, on
the surface. Playing dead to the best of their ability,
they waited for what might happen next.
They heard a splashing near the open rock door. The
splashing neared them, and high-pitched hissing syllables
came to their ears—variegated sounds that resembled
excited conversation in some unknown language.
Joyce felt himself touched by something, and it was
all he could do to keep from shouting aloud and springing
to his feet at the contact.
He'd had no idea, of course, what might be the
nature of their captors, but he had imagined them as
man-like, to some extent at least. And the touch of his
hand, or flipper, or whatever it was, indicated that they
They were cold-blooded, reptilian things, for the
flesh that had touched him was cold; as clammy and
repulsive as the belly of a dead fish. So repulsive was
that flesh that, when he presently felt himself lifted
high up and roughly carried, he shuddered in spite of
himself at the contact.
Instantly the thing that bore him stopped. Joyce
held his breath. He felt an excruciating, stabbing pain in
his arm, after which the journey through the water was
resumed. Stubbornly he kept up his pretence of
The splashing ceased, and he heard flat wet feet
slapping along on dry rock, indicating that they had
emerged from the pit. Then he sank into real
The next thing he knew was that he was lying on
smooth, bare rock in a perfect bedlam of noises. Howls and
grunts, snuffling coughs and snarls beat at his ear-drums.
It was as though he had fallen into a vast cage in which
were hundreds of savage, excited animals—animals,
that in spite of their excitement and ferocity were
surprisingly motionless, for he heard no scraping of
claws, or padding of feet.
Cautiously he opened his eyes....
He was in a large cave, the walls of which were
glowing with greenish, phosphorescent light. Strewn about
the floor were seemingly dead carcasses of animals. And
what carcasses there were! Blubber-coated things that
looked like giant tadpoles, gazelle-like creatures with a
single, long slim horn growing from delicate small skulls,
four-legged beasts and six-legged ones, animals with furry
hides and crawlers with scaled coverings—several hundred
assorted specimens of the smaller life of Zeud lay
stretched out in seeming lifelessness.
But they were not dead, these bizarre beasts of
another world. They lived, and were animated with the
frenzied fear of trapped things. Joyce could see the
tortured heaving of their furred and scaled sides as they
panted with terror. And from their throats issued the
outlandish noises he had heard. They were alive
enough—only they seemed unable to move!
There was nothing in his range of vision that might
conceivably be the beings that had captured them, so Joyce
started to lift his head and look around at the rest of
the cavern. He found that he could not move. He tried
again, and his body was as unresponsive as a log. In fact,
he couldn't feel his body at all! In growing terror, he
concentrated all his will on moving his arm. It was as
limp as a rag.
He relaxed, momentarily in the grip of stark, blind
panic. He was as helpless as the howling things around
him! He was numbed, completely paralyzed into immobility!
The professor's voice—a weak, uncertain
voice—sounded from behind him. "Joyce! Joyce!"
He found that he could talk, that the paralysis that
gripped the rest of his muscles had not extended to the
vocal cords. "Dorn! Thank God you're alive! I couldn't see
you, and I thought—"
"I'm alive, but that's about all," said Wichter.
"I—I can't move."
"Neither can I. We've been drugged in some
manner—just as all the other animals in here have been
drugged. I must have got my dose in the pit. I was cut, or
stabbed, in the arm."
Joyce stopped talking as he suddenly heard steps,
like human footsteps yet weirdly different—flap-flapping
sounds as though awkward flippers were slapping along the
rock floor toward them. The steps stopped within a few
feet of them; then, after what seemed hours, they sounded
again, this time in front of him.
He opened his eyes, cautiously, barely moving his
eyelids, and saw at last, in every hideous detail, one of
the super-beasts that had captured Wichter and himself.
It was a horrible cartoon of a man, the thing that
stood there in the greenish glow of the cave. Nine or ten
feet high, it loomed; hairless, with a faintly iridescent,
purplish hide. A thick, cylindrical trunk sloped into a
neck only a little smaller than the body itself. Set on
this was a bony, ugly head that was split clear across by
lipless jaws. There was no nose, only slanted holes like
the nostrils of an animal; and over these were set pale,
expressionless, pupil-less eyes. The arms were short and
thick and ended in bifurcated lumps of flesh like swollen
hands encased in old-fashioned mittens. The legs were also
grotesquely short, and the feet mere shapeless flaps.
It was standing near one of the smaller animals,
apparently regarding it closely. Observing it himself,
Joyce saw that it was moving a little. As though coming
out of a coma, it was raising its bizarre head and trying
to get on its feet.
Leisurely the two-legged monster bent over it. Two
long fangs gleamed in the lipless mouth.
These were buried in the neck of the reviving beast—and
instantly it sank back into immobility.
Having reduced it to helplessness—the monster ate
it! The lipless jaws gaped widely. The shapeless hands
forced in the head of the animal. The throat muscles
expanded hugely: and in less than a minute it had
swallowed its living prey as a boa-constrictor swallows a
Joyce closed his eyes, feeling weak and nauseated.
He didn't open them again till long after he had heard the
last of the awkward, flapping footsteps.
"Could you see it?" asked Wichter, who was lying so
closely behind him that he couldn't observe the monstrous
Zeudian. "What did it do? What was it like?"
Joyce told him of the way the creature had fed. "We
are evidently in their provision room," he concluded.
"They keep some of their food alive, it seems.... Well,
it's a quick death."
"Tell me more about the way the other animal moved,
just before it was eaten."
"There isn't much to tell," said Joyce wearily. "It
didn't move long after those fangs were sunk into it."
"But don't you see!" There was sudden hope in
Wichter's voice. "That means that the effect of the
poison, which is apparently injected by those fangs, wears
off after a time. And in that case—"
"In that case," Joyce interjected, "we'd have only
an unknown army of ten-foot Zeudians, the problem of
finding a way to the surface of the ground again, and the
lack of any kind of weapons, to keep us from escaping!"
"We're not quite weaponless, though," the professor
whispered back. "Over in a corner there's a pile of the
long, slender horns that sprout from the heads of some of
these creatures. Evidently the Zeudians cut them out, or
break them off before eating that particular type of
animal. They'd be as good as lances, if we could get hold
Joyce said nothing, but hope began to beat in his
own breast. He had noticed a significant happening during
the age-long hours in the commissary cave. Most of the
Zeudians had entered from the direction of the pit. But
one had come in through an opening in the opposite side.
And this one had blinked pale eyes as though dazzled from
bright sunlight—and was bearing some large, woody looking
tubers that seemed to have been freshly uprooted! There
was a good chance, thought Joyce, that that opening led to
a tunnel up to the world above!
He drew a deep breath—and felt a dim pain in his
back, caused by the cramping position in which he had lain
for so long.
He could have shouted aloud with the thrill of that
discovery. This was the first time he had felt his body at
all! Did it mean that the effect of the poison was wearing
off—that it wasn't as lastingly paralyzing to his earthly
nerve centers as to those of Zeudian creatures around
them? He flexed the muscles of his leg. The leg moved a
fraction of an inch.
"Dorn!" he called softly, "I can move a little! Can
"Yes," Wichter answered, "I've been able to wriggle
my fingers for several minutes. I think I could walk in an
hour or two."
"Then pray for that hour or two. It might mean our
escape!" Joyce told him of the seldom used entrance that
he thought led to the open air. "I'm sure it goes to the
surface, Dorn. Those woody looking tubers had been freshly
Three of the two-legged monsters came in just then.
They relapsed into lifeless silence. There was a horrible
moment as the three paused over them longer than any of
the others had. Was it obvious that the effects of the
numbing poison was wearing off? Would they be bitten
The Zeudians finally moved on, hissing and clicking
to each other. Eventually the cold-blooded things fed, and
dragged lethargically out of the cave in the direction of
With every passing minute Joyce could feel life
pouring back into his numbed body. His cramped muscles
were in agony now—a pain that gave him fierce pleasure. At
last, risking observation, he lifted his head and then
struggled to a sitting position and looked around.
No Zeudian was in sight. Evidently they were too
sure of their poison glands to post a guard over them. He
listened intently, and could hear no dragging footsteps.
He turned to Wichter, who had followed his example and was
sitting up, feebly rubbing his body to restore
"Now's our chance," he whispered. "Stand up and walk
a little to steady your legs, while I go over and get us a
couple of those sharp horns. Then we'll see where that
entrance of mine goes!"
He walked to the pile of bones and horns in the
corner and selected two of the longest and slimmest of the
ivory-like things. Just as he had rejoined Wichter he
heard the sound with which he was now so grimly
familiar—flapping, awkward footsteps. Wildly he signaled
the professor. They dropped in their tracks, just as the
approaching monster stumped into the cave.
For an instant he dared hope that their movement had
gone unobserved, but his hope was rudely shattered. He
heard a sharp hiss: heard the Zeudian flap toward them at
double-quick time. Abandoning all pretense, he sprang to
his feet just as the thing reached him, its fangs gleaming
wickedly in the greenish light.
He leaped to the side, going twenty feet or more
with the press of his Earth muscles against the reduced
gravity. The creature rushed on toward the professor. That
game little man crouched and awaited its onslaught. But
Joyce had sprung back again before the two could clash.
He raised the long horn and plunged it into the
smooth, purplish back. Again and again he drove it home,
as the monster writhed under him. It had enormous
vitality. Gashed and dripping, it yet struggled on,
attempting to encircle Joyce with its stubby arms. Once it
succeeded, and he felt his ribs crack as it contracted its
powerful body. But a final stroke finished the savage
fight. He got up and, with an incoherent cry to Wichter,
raced toward the opening on which they pinned their hopes
of reaching the upper air.
Hissing cries and the thudding of many feet came to
them just as they reached the arched mouth of the passage.
But the cries, and the constant pandemonium of the
paralysed animals died behind them as they bounded along
They emerged at last into the sunlight they had
never expected to see again, beside one of the great
lavender trees. They paused an instant to try to get their
"This way," panted Joyce as he saw, on a hard-packed
path ahead of them, one of the trail-marks he had blazed.
Down the trail they raced, toward their space shell.
Fortunately they met none of the tremendous animals that
infested the jungles; and their journey to the clearing in
which the shell was lying was accomplished without
"We're safe now," gasped Wichter, as they came in
sight of the bare lava patch. "We can outrun them five
feet to their one!"
They burst into the clearing—and halted abruptly.
Surrounding the shell, stumping curiously about it and
touching it with their shapeless hands, were dozens of the
"My God!" groaned Joyce. "There must be at
least a hundred of them! We're lost for certain now!"
They stared with hopeless longing at the vehicle
that, if only they could reach it, could carry them back
to Earth. Then they turned to each other and clasped
hands, without a word. The same thought was in the mind of
each—to rush at the swarming monsters and fight till they
were killed. There was absolutely no chance of winning
through to the shell, but it was infinitely better to die
fighting than be swallowed alive.
So engrossed were the Zeudians by the strange thing
that had fallen into their province, that Joyce and
Wichter got within a hundred feet of them before they
turned their pale eyes in their direction. Then, baring
their fangs, they streamed toward the Earth men, just as
the pursuing Zeudians entered the clearing from the jungle
The two prepared to die as effectively as possible.
Each grasped his lace-like horn tightly. The professor
mechanically adjusted his glasses more firmly on his
With his move, the narrowing circle of Zeudians
halted. A violent clamor broke out among them. They glared
at the two, but made no further step toward them.
"What in the world—" began Wichter bewilderedly.
"Your glasses!" Joyce shouted, gripping his
shoulder. "When you moved them, they all stopped! They
must be afraid of them, somehow. Take them clear off and
see what happens."
Wichter removed his spectacles, and swung them in
his hand, peering near-sightedly at the crowding Zeudians.
Their reaction to his simple move was remarkable!
Hisses of consternation came from their lipless mouths.
They faced each other uneasily, waving their stubby arms
and covering their own eyes as though suddenly afraid they
would lose them.
Taking advantage of their indecision, Joyce and
Wichter walked boldly toward them. They moved aside,
forming a reluctant lane. Some of the Zeudians in the rear
shoved to close in on them, but the ones in front held
them back. It wasn't until the two were nearly through
that the lane began to straggle into a threatening circle
around them again. The Zeudians were evidently becoming
reassured by the fact that Wichter continued to see all
right in spite of the little strange creature's alarming
act of removing his eyes.
"Do it again," breathed Joyce, perspiration beading
his forehead as the giants moved closed, their fangs
tentatively bared for the numbing poison stroke.
Wichter popped his glasses on, then jerked them off
with a cry, as though he were suffering intensely. Once
more the Zeudians faltered and drew back, feeling at their
"Run!" cried Joyce. And they raced for the haven of
The Zeudians swarmed after them, snarling and
hissing. Barely ahead of the nearest, Joyce and Wichter
dove into the open panel. They slammed it closed just as a
powerful, stubby arm reached after them. There was a
screaming hiss, and a cold, cartilagenous lump of flesh
dropped to the floor of the shell—half the monster's hand,
sheared off between the sharp edge of the door and the
Joyce threw in the generator switch. With a soft
roar the water-motor exploded into action, sending the
shell far into the sky.
"When we return," said Joyce, adding a final
thousand miles an hour to their speed before they should
fly free of the atmosphere of Zeud, "I think we'd better
come at the head of an army, equipped with air-guns and
"And with glasses," added the professor, taking off
his spectacles and gazing at them as though seeing them
for the first time.