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Chapter 4 The Monster

  • They blacked out the ship before they moved it, carefully covering each por_ith paper, then showing no lights. Hargraves handled the controls himself, slowly turning current into the drivers so their grunting would not revea_hat was happening.
  • "Are we going to take her up high for tonight?" Ushur, the archeologist asked.
  • "She will fly all right as long as we stay in the atmosphere. We would b_afer up high, it seems to me."
  • "Safer from ground attack, yes," Hargraves said thoughtfully. "However, I'_fraid we would be more exposed to attack from a ship."
  • "Oh! That damned sphere. I had forgotten about it."
  • Hargraves moved the ship less than a mile, carefully hid her among the trees.
  • Then he posted guards outside all the ports. He took the first watch himself, in the control room. Ron Val was waiting for him there. The astro-navigator'_ace was grave. "Jed," he said. "I've been talking to several of the fellows.
  • They don't believe you are taking a sufficiently realistic view of ou_ituation. They don't believe you are facing the facts."
  • "Um. What facts have I been evading?"
  • "You apparently don't realize that it will take months—if it can be done a_ll—to repair the damage to the ship."
  • Hargraves settled deep into his chair. He looked at the astro-navigator. Ro_al wasn't angry. Nor was he mutinous. He wasn't challenging authority. He wa_ust scared.
  • "Ron," he said, "according to the agreement under which we sailed, any tim_he majority of the members of this expedition wants a new captain, they ca_ave him."
  • "It isn't that."
  • "I know. You fellows are scared. Hells bells, man! What do you think I am?"
  • Ron Val's eyes popped open. "Jed! Are you? You don't show it. You don't see_ven to appreciate the spot we're in."
  • Hargraves slowly lit a cigarette. The fingers holding the tiny lighter did no_hake. "If I had been the type to show it, do you think I would have bee_elected to head this expedition?"
  • "No. But—"
  • "Because I haven't made an official announcement that we may not be able t_epair the ship, you seem to think I don't realize the fact. I know how big _ole has been ripped in our hull. I know the ship is made of magna steel, th_oughest, hardest, most beautiful metal yet invented. I know the odds are w_an't repair the hole in the hull. We don't have the metal. We don't have th_ools to work it. I know these things. When I didn't call it to you_ttention, I assumed it was equally obvious to everyone else that we may neve_eave this planet."
  • "Jed! Never leave this planet! Never—go home! That can't be right."
  • "See," said Hargraves. "When you get the truth flung in your face, even yo_rack wide open. Yes, it's the truth. The fact you fellows think I'm no_acing—the one you don't dare face—is that we may be marooned here for th_est of our lives."
  • That was that. Ron Val went aft. Hargraves took up his vigil on the bridge. A_idnight Ron Val came forward to relieve him.
  • "I told them what you said, Jed," the astro-navigator said. "We're back of yo_ne hundred per cent."
  • Hargraves grinned a little. "Thanks," he said. "We were selected to wor_ogether as a unit. As long as we remain a unit, we will have a chance agains_ny enemy."
  • Dog-tired, he went to his bunk and rolled in. It seemed to him he had barel_losed his eyes before a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and a shaken voic_houted in his ear. "Jed! Wake up."
  • "Who is it? What's wrong?" The room was dark and he couldn't see who wa_haking him.
  • "Ron Val." The astro-navigator's voice was hoarse with the maddest, wildes_right Hargraves had ever heard. "The—the damnedest thing has happened!"
  • "What?"
  • "Hal Sarkoff—" That was as far as Ron Val could get.
  • "What about him?"
  • " _He's outside trying to get in!_ "
  • "Have you gone insane? Sarkoff is dead. You helped me bury him."
  • "I know it. Jed, he's outside. He wants in."
  • Hargraves had gone to bed without removing even his shoes. He ran forward t_he control room, Ron Val pounding behind him. Lights had been turned on here, in defiance of orders. Someone had summoned the crew. They were all here, al_ighteen who remained alive. The inner door of the lock was open. A daze_uard, who had been on watch outside the lock, was standing in the door. H_ad a pistol in his hand but he looked as if he didn't know what to do wit_t.
  • In the center of a group of men too frightened to move was a black-haired, rugged giant.
  • "Sarkoff!" Hargraves gasped.
  • The giant's head turned until his gaze was centered on the captain. "You move_he ship," he said accusingly. "I had the damnedest time finding it in th_ark. What did you move the ship for, Jed?"
  • If some super-magician had cast a spell over the little group he could no_ave produced a more complete stasis. No one moved. No one seemed to breathe.
  • All motion, all action, all thinking, had stopped.
  • Sarkoff's face went from face to face.
  • "What the heck is the matter with you guys?" he demanded. "Am I poison, o_omething?"
  • He seemed bewildered.
  • "Where—where are the others?" Ron Val stammered.
  • "What others? What the heck are you talking about, Ron?"
  • "Nevins and Reese. We—we buried them with you. Where are they?"
  • "How the hell do I kn—— _You buried them with me?_ " Sarkoff's face went fro_ewilderment to inexplicable good nature. "Trying to pull my leg, huh? Okay. _an go along with a gag." He looked again at Hargraves. "But I can't go alon_ith that gag of moving the ship after you sent me out scouting. Why didn'_ou wait for me? Wandering around among all these trees, I might have got los_nd got myself killed. Why did you do that, Jed?" he finished angrily.
  • "We were—ah—afraid of an attack," Hargraves choked out. "Sorry, Hal, but we—w_ad to move the ship. We would have—hunted you up, tomorrow."
  • Sarkoff was not a man who was ever long angry about anything. The apolog_atisfied him. He grinned. "Okay, Jed. Forget it. Jeepers! I'm so hungry _ould eat a cow. How about a couple of those synthetic steaks we got in th_ce-box?" His eyes went around the group, came to rest on the astro-navigator.
  • "How about it, Ron? How about me and you fixing us up some chow?"
  • "Sure," said Hargraves. "Go on back to the galley and start fixing yoursel_hatever you want. You go with him, Ron. I'll handle your job up here whil_ou're gone."
  • Nodding dumbly, Ron Val started to follow Sarkoff toward the galley. "On_inute," Hargraves called after him. "I want to check something with yo_efore you go!"
  • Sarkoff kept going. Ron Val returned. "Take your cues from him," Hargrave_aid. "You know him better than anyone else. Whatever he says, you agree.
  • Casually bring up past events and watch his reaction.  _Your job is to fin_ut if that is really Hal Sarkoff!_ "
  • The astro-navigator, his face white, clumped toward the galley.
  • Hargraves faced a torrent of questions.
  • "Jed! We buried him."
  • "Jed. He had been in that engine room without air for at least ten minute_efore we got there. He can't be alive."
  • "No air. Temperature diving toward absolute zero. He was frozen stiff, Jed, before we moved him. We left him where he was until long after we landed."
  • "I know," Hargraves said. "There is no doubt about it. I used a stethoscope o_im as soon as I could get to it after we landed.  _He was dead._  Ther_asn't a sign of life."
  • Frightened faces looked at him. Awed faces. Bewildered faces.
  • "What did you mean when you told Ron Val to find out if that is reall_arkoff?"
  • "Just what I said. That may be Sarkoff. It may be something that looks lik_arkoff, acts like him, talks like him— _but isn't he_!"
  • "That—that's impossible."
  • "How do we know what is possible here and what isn't?"
  • "What are we going to do?"
  • "We're going to act just as we would if that were Sarkoff. We're going to pic_p our cues from him? You remember he said he was out scouting. That is hi_tory. We will not question it. We will act as though it were true, until w_now what is happening. Now everybody back to his post. Act as if nothing ha_appened. And for the love of Pete, don't ask me what is going on. I don'_now any more than you do."
  • They didn't want to obey that order. They had just seen a dead man walking, had heard him talking, had spoken to him. There was comfort in just being wit_ach other. Hargraves walked to the bridge, waited. Eventually, disciplin_ent them back to their posts. He kept on waiting. Ron Val returned.
  • "I don't know, Jed. I just don't know. We were in school together. I brough_p incidents that happened in school, things that only Hal and I knew.  _Jed, he knew them._ "
  • With the exception of a hooded blue lamp on the bridge, all lights had bee_urned off again. The control room was in darkness. Ron Val was an uneas_hadow talking from dim blackness.
  • "Then you think that it is really Sarkoff?"
  • "I don't know."
  • "But if he remembers things that only Hal could know—"
  • "He remembers things that he can't know."
  • "Um. What things?"
  • "He asked me how much progress had been made in repairing the ship. Jed, h_ust have died before he knew the ship had been damaged."
  • "Not necessarily," said Hargraves thoughtfully. "He might have been consciou_or one or two minutes after the beam struck us. He would know that the shi_ad been damaged. What did you tell him?"
  • "I changed the subject."
  • "Good for you. If he isn't Sarkoff, the one thing he might want to know i_hether the ship has been repaired. What else?"
  • "Jed, he remembers  _everything_  that happened after the ship was attacked.
  • We almost crashed before we got the engines started. He remembers that. H_emembers hiding the ship among the trees."
  • Hargraves stirred. The keen logic of his mind was being blunted by facts tha_ould not fit into any logical pattern. He tried to think. His mind refuse_he effort. Dead men ought not to remember things that happened after the_ied. But a dead man had remembered!
  • For an instant panic walked through the captain's mind. Then he got it unde_ontrol. There was always an answer to every question, a solution to ever_roblem. Or was there? He went hunting facts.
  • "Does he remember being buried?"
  • Even in the darkness he could feel Ron Val shiver. "No," Ron Val said. "H_oesn't remember. Just as soon as we landed, he thinks you sent him out, t_cout the surrounding territory for possible enemies."
  • "Does he know that we had visitors in his absence?"
  • "No. Or if he does, he didn't mention it, and I didn't ask. He says he wa_eturning when he saw the ship being moved. He says he tried to follow, bu_ost it in the darkness. He says he had the devil's own time finding it again, and he's still hot about being left behind."
  • Again Hargraves had to fight the panic in his mind. This much seemed obvious.
  • Sarkoff's memory was accurate—until the ship landed. Then it went int_antasy, into error. If one thing was certain, he had not been sent out t_cout for enemies. If there was another fact that was immutable, he had bee_uried.
  • "Where is he now?" Hargraves asked abruptly.
  • "In his bunk, snoring. He ate enough for two men, yawned, said he was sleepy.
  • He was sound asleep almost as soon as he touched the blankets."
  • Ron Val's voice relapsed into silence. The whole ship was silent.
  • "Jed, what are we going to do?"
  • "You bunk with him, don't you?"
  • "Yes. Jed! You don't mean—"
  • Hargraves cleared his throat. "This is not an order. You don't have to do i_f you don't want to. But Sarkoff must be watched. Are you willing to go bac_o the room you two shared together and get into the upper deck of your bun_ust as if nothing has happened?"
  • "Yes," said Ron Val.
  • "Somebody must be with him—all the time. You stay awake. When he gets up, yo_et up. Whatever he does, you stay with him. I'll have you relieved as soon a_ossible. And, Ron—"
  • "Yes."
  • "You have something a man could use for courage."
  • Silently, Ron Val walked out of the control room. He fumbled his way throug_he door and his steps echoed down the corridor that led to the sleepin_uarters.
  • Hargraves sat in thought. Then he, too, left the control room.
  • "Noble, you're a bio-chemist. You come with me. Nielson, you take over here i_he control room. In my absence you are in command."
  • "Yes sir," Nielson said. "But what are you going to do?"
  • "See what is in a grave we dug yesterday," Hargraves answered.