The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iii Part 8

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"Poor, dear Schaughtowl," said Curtis gently.

It was unmistakable now--the skin actually brightened and emitted a sort of eerie, luminous glow.

Curtis leaned over and put his hand on what would have been Schaughtowl's neck. The loose skin writhed joyously, and, snakelike, the whole body responded in rippling waves of emotion.

"Gull Lup," the monster--said wasn't the right word, but it was not a bark, growl, mew, cheep, squawk or snarl. Gulp was as close as Stern could come, a dry and almost painful gulping noise that expressed devotion in some totally foreign way that Stern found revolting.

He realized that the phone had been ringing for some time. He disconnected it, and then heard loud knocking.



"It's Dr. Anderson," he heard a man's voice calling impatiently and angrily.

Cautiously, Stern opened the door, but his care was needless. With a few testy remarks, the doctor quickly cleared a s.p.a.ce about the door and entered.

He went at once to Curtis, with only a single shocked glance at Schaughtowl.

"Where the devil have you been and where in h.e.l.l did you get that thing?" he asked as he unb.u.t.toned Curtis's coat and s.h.i.+rt.

Since playing with his pet, Curtis seemed more awake. "I went to Mars," he said. "They're incredibly advanced in ways we hardly guess. We're entirely off the track. I just came back to explain how."

"Your friend doesn't look very intelligent," the doctor answered, busy with his stethoscope.

"Animals like Schaughtowl are used for steeds or pets," said Curtis. "The Ladonai are pretty much like mankind, only smaller."

"Why did you stay so long?"

"After I left, the Ladonai told me, they were going to shut off any possible communication with Earth until we advance more. They think we're at a very dangerous animal-like stage of development. Once I came home, I knew I couldn't go back, so I wanted to learn as much as I could before I left them."

"Stand up for a minute," ordered the doctor.

"Not right now," said Curtis. "I'm too tired."

"You'd better get to bed, then."

"I think not. It's merely caused by the difference in gravity and heavier air. The Ladonai told me to expect it, but not to lie down. After a while I'll try to take a short walk."

So Clyde wasn't going to die, after all, Stern thought. He had come home with a message, and, remembering the determination of the man, Stern knew he wouldn't die until he had given it. But he had to die. He would die, and who was competent enough to know that it wasn't from the shock of having come home to denser air and a heavier gravity?

There were ways--an oxygen tube, for example. Pure oxygen to be inhaled in his sleep by lungs accustomed to a rarified atmosphere, or stimulants in his food so it would look like a little too much exertion on a heart already overtaxed. There were ways.

Stern's scalp tingled unpleasantly, and he saw the Martian looking at him intently, coldly. In that moment Stern knew without question that his mind was being read. Not his idea, perhaps, but his intent toward Curtis. The Martian would have to be attended to first.

"Is it true, Dr. Anderson? Will he be all right?" Beryl was sitting on the arm of the chair next to Schaughtowl, and she was looking at Clyde almost as adoringly as the Martian. A few hours had undone all that Stern had managed to do in four years.

If Stern had been uncertain, that alone would have decided him.

"I think so," said the doctor. "He seems to be uncomfortable, rather than in pain. I'll send you a prescription for his heart, if he breathes too heavily. Be sure, though, not to give him more than one pill in three hours."

"Of course." Beryl was never that solicitous toward Stern.

"And you'll be in quarantine here until the government decides what, if any, diseases he and the Martian may have brought back with them."

"None at all, Doctor." Curtis's voice was markedly more slurred, and he stared intently with unblinking eyes at the blank wall.

"Well, that's something we can't tell yet. Well have to keep out the press and television men, anyway, because of your health. If I'm not detained, I'll be back tomorrow morning. Call me if there's any change."

On his way out, the physician was besieged by reporters and photographers, baulked of better subjects. Shortly after the doctor's departure, police sirens came screaming up. The men waiting around the house were moved outside the gate and a guard was set at every entrance.

Later, a messenger came, was interrogated by the police sergeant who took a small package from him and brought it to the house.

"Medicine," the sergeant said, handing it gingerly to Stern. "You can't leave here without permission." And he walked hurriedly away.

This might be the answer. Stern had a good idea of what the doctor had prescribed--something he'd said, for the heart. It must have been pretty powerful, too, for the doctor to warn against an overdose. Two at once might do it, or another two a little later.

But there was Schaughtowl.

"Al," said Beryl, "stay with Clyde while I fix something for him to eat."

She was more beautiful than ever. Emotions, he thought wryly, become a woman; they thrive on them. In a few minutes a woman could change like this. It was enough to make a man lose faith in the s.e.x.

"Certainly," he said easily.

Curtis seemed to sleep with wide open eyes gazing blankly at the far wall. Schaughtowl sat motionless before him, watchful as a dog, yet still like a snake or spider patiently waiting. Didn't the beast ever sleep?

A drink was what Stern needed. He went to the closet and poured a double brandy. He sipped it slowly. As delicious fire ran down his gullet and warmed his stomach, he felt his tension ease and a sense of confidence pervade his mind.

He needn't worry. He was always successful, except that once with the stocks. And he had calm nerves.

There were guards out in front now in khaki uniform; the Governor must have called out a company of the National Guard. Stern noticed some state police, too. The house was well guarded on the three sides surrounded by a neat, white picket fence. In the back, the severe drop into the ravine made guards there unnecessary.

It was dark before Dr. Curtis moved. Beryl was watching him; she had little to say to Stern now.

"How about some broth, dear?" she asked Curtis immediately.

Slowly, Clyde's eyes focused on her. He smiled. "Let's try it."

He let Beryl feed him, sitting on a stool beside his chair and being unnecessarily motherly and coddling about it.

For a while after he had eaten, Clyde sat in his chair, looking at Beryl with his new and oddly gentle smile. It seemed to activate some hidden response in her, for she glowed with tenderness.

"I suppose," Curtis slurred, "I ought to try to walk now."

"Let me help." Stern rose and crossed the room.

The Martian rustled like snakes in the weeds, and hissed.

Beryl said without suspicion, "Thank you, Al. I knew you'd do whatever you could for Clyde." And she rested her hand trustingly on his arm.

What was past was past, not to be wept over, not to be regretted.

"Like to walk out in the back for the air?" Stern asked. "The breeze is coming from that direction."

"That will do very well," said Curtis, obviously not caring a bit.

Stern helped Curtis from his chair and supported him under the arm. They went out the back door, the Martian slithering after them. It was cooler in the garden. Stern felt a renewed surge of self-confidence.

"The stars--" Curtis stopped to look upward.

The night was almost cloudless and there was no moon. The house hid any view of the crowds and the guards holding them back. They were alone in the dark.

Curtis started forward again, with the Martian sc.r.a.ping along behind. It would never let Curtis out of its sight as long as it lived; that much was clear to Stern.

He guided Curtis to a seat close to the ravine, a favorite spot. Always the Martian was a step--or a slither--behind, and when Curtis sat down, Schaughtowl sat between his beloved master and the precipitous drop.

Stern picked up a rock from the rock garden and tossed it into the ravine. The Martian did not take his eyes off Curtis. Stern picked up a larger rock, a sharp, pointed one. He was behind the Martian and Curtis was looking away unseeingly into the night.

It was simple, really, and well executed. The beast's skull bashed in easily, being merely thin bones for a thin atmosphere and light gravitation. A push sent it over the edge of the ravine.

Curtis sat unnoticing, and the traffic jam out front created more than enough confusion to drown out any noise from the creature's fall.

Stern's palm stung. He realized that, before the Martian had pitched over the ravine, a suction pad had for a moment caught at his hand. It had done the beast no good, though.

Curiously, the Martian had not guarded itself, only Curtis. Sitting with its back to Stern had really invited attack. The mind-reading ability was just something that Stern had nervously imagined.

The police would not be able to tell his rock from any other. The heavy body, its ungainly movement and thin bones would explain everything. Besides, there was no motive for killing the Martian and what penalty could there be? It couldn't be called murder.

Stern looked at the palm of his right hand, the one that had held the rock. It stung a little, but in the darkness he couldn't see it. A stinger of some kind, like a bee, probably. The h.e.l.l with it--couldn't be fatal or Curtis would have warned them about it.

The Martian had been walking by the ravine and had clumsily fallen in. He would report it after he had got Curtis back into the house.

Curtis was easy to arouse and didn't seem to miss Schaughtowl. Stern maneuvered him to the living room, where he sank into a chair and fell into his mood of abstraction.

Beryl must be in the kitchen cleaning up, Stern supposed. Perhaps he had better put some kind of germicide on his palm, just to ward off infection.

He looked at Curtis relaxed in the chair. Clyde suddenly appeared oddly boyish to him, hardly different than he had been in college days. For a moment Stern felt again the adolescent admiration and fellows.h.i.+p he had felt so strongly then. Don't be stupid, he told himself angrily. This man had the money and the woman that had almost belonged to him.

Moving slowly, Stern deliciously savored the aroma of his triumph. On the table was the bottle. Clyde would be easy, unsuspecting, kindly.

It wouldn't be safe to marry Beryl right away, but there could never be any suspicion.

No need to hurry. For a moment he wanted to watch Curtis. He wondered what kind of pictures Clyde was seeing on the blank wall. Martian landscapes? The strange Ladonai? Too bad he hadn't stayed on Mars. Stern couldn't help having a friendly feeling for his old college chum, pity, too, for what must happen to him soon.

This was no way to kill anyone!

He was growing old and soft!

Nevertheless, Curtis did have a n.o.ble and striking face. Funny he had never noticed it before. It seemed to glow with an uncanny peace.

Unnoticed, the numbness crept from Stern's palm along his right arm, and a p.r.i.c.kly sensation appeared in his right leg.

It was funny to read a person's thoughts like this. Love flowed from Curtis like the warm glow from a burning candle. A sort of halo had formed from the light above his head.

Symbolic.

From Curtis came wave after wave of love. He could feel it pulsating toward him, and he felt his own heart turn over, answer it. Yes, Curtis was n.o.ble.

Stern sank cross-legged on the floor beside Curtis and gazed at him. The p.r.i.c.kly sensation had ascended from his leg up through his chest and to his neck. But it didn't matter. Now, for a last time, he could feel the spell of that perfect friends.h.i.+p--before the end.

What end? Why should there be any end to this eternal moment?

Curtis noticed him now. Those half-closed eyes were strangely penetrating. They looked him through.

"Well, Al," he said, "so you killed Schaughtowl?"

Stern looked at the kindly, G.o.dlike face and loved it.

Killed whom?

"Poor Al," Curtis said. He leaned over and laid his hand on the back of Stern's neck, fondling it much as one would a dog. "Poor old Al."

Stern's heart leaped in joy. This was ecstasy. It must be expressed. It demanded expression. If he had possessed a tail, he would have wagged it. Perhaps there was a word for that bliss. There was, and with immense satisfaction he spoke it.

"Gull Lup," he said.

Contents

FOUNDLING ON VENUS.

By John & Dorothy De Courcy Venus was the most miserable planet in the system, peopled by miserable excuses for human beings. And somewhere among this conglomeration of boiling protoplasm there was a being unlike the others, a being who walked and talked like the others but who was different--and afraid the difference would be discovered. You'll remember this short story.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iii Part 8

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