The long-unused armaments room was half the width of the ship away. They wen_oward it silently, seven men and a girl, praying that their visitor would no_eet them or spot their furtive advance on the intercom. They slunk into th_unroom and Pink, coming last, ran the heavy emergency bolt across the doo_ehind him.
The armaments officer was dead, of course. Pink said quietly, "Who knows th_rinciples of these weapons?" Daley and Joe Silver raised their hands.
"Activate the viewers, then."
Two walls darkened and became the silver-flecked night of space; it was as i_hey had become suddenly transparent. Half a dozen of the void-giants showe_ear the _Elephant's Child_ , hovering or slowly drifting around the bow o_he ship.
"Now," said the captain, "if only our friend in the bottle has left us ou_uns—train 'em on those monstrosities and fire every forward batter_imultaneously."
The lieutenants, seated in foam-chairs behind the double banks of the gu_ontrols, manipulated instruments that were very like the sights on commo_tom-pistols. Thin blue lines moved across the reflected picture of the spac_eyond the ship's nose, steadied and centered on the nearest giants. Silve_lanced at Daley, who said, "Count o' three, Joe."
Every man leaned forward, scowling at the screens. The nearest space-soare_quinted full in their faces, as though he could actually see them as the_ere scanning him. Coincidence, but—Pink shuddered.
"One," said Daley. "Two."
The _Elephant's Child_ rocked wildly up and back as thirty platinum guns,
the heaviest type in the known universe, fired their hell-projectiles—grea_hells whose inconceivable destructive power was released by the splitting o_he curium atom. In flight, the ship would have absorbed the tremendous recoi_utomatically; stationary as she was, it bucked her over like a blown leaf.
The shells, set to explode at the very closest range that safety permitted,
flashed upon the twin screens like bursting suns. Human eyes looking directl_t such a bombardment would have crisped in their sockets; even on the screen_heir glare was too bright for comfort.
The men blinked, peered sharply for signs of the effect on the giants.
Pink felt disappointment, so biting and gut-curdling that he nearly vomited.
For at first the shells seemed to have had little effect except to hurl th_iants back a mile or so from the ship. Then, as they slowly surged forwar_oward it again, he saw that they had not escaped whole.
One lacked an arm; another had, half his head blown away; a third drifted i_ithout the lower half of his torso. The expressions of their bronze-yello_aces were not of pain, however, but only of rage.
"Look again," said Daley morosely, standing from his foam-chair. "Look at th_ead of the far left skunk."
He who had lost half his cranium was slowly regenerating it, the brow an_heek pressing outward to form new firm outlines, a missing eye graduall_merging from the bloodless tatters of the old socket. Pink said, "Well." H_ook a deep breath. "Well, that's that. Let's all get out and plink at the_ith bean-shooters. It'll do as much harm." All the giants were reconstitutin_heir lost parts.
Now one monster, floating right up to the ship, wrapped his five-hundred-feet-
long arms around it and gave it a shake. It was as if a man had rattled a bo_ull of beetles. The officers of the _Elephant's Child_ , who had ridde_hrough the bucking of the tremendous explosion, were unprepared for thi_ovement, for they had risen from their deep seats. They sprawled across th_oom, smashing up against the wall with bone-jarring thumps. Pinkham foun_imself entangled with Circe Smith in a pretzel of arms and legs that woul_nder other circumstances have been ridiculous but pleasurable. Fearing fo_er safety, he grasped her around the waist; she yielded to him a moment, the_truggled back and stood up. Was her face flushed with indignation, fright,
or—? He got to his own feet. The giant had released the ship.
"We are chastened," murmured Jerry, feeling a bruised shin.
"And now what?" asked Joe Silver. "Ordinary weapons are as much use to us a_pitballs." He sat down. "Let's figure out what else to try. Somewhere there'_n answer."
They all sat down, Pink said, "Remember Wolf 864?"
"Sure," said Daley, who had been on that expedition with Pinkham when the_ere young cubs out of jetschool. "Friendly natives, kind of vegetable-anima_ife, and we murdered half of them unintentionally. We had to get out an_ever go back."
"How?" asked Circe. "How did you kill them?"
"Germs. The common ordinary non-toxic germs we carry in our systems all th_ime. It was a massacre—and of a queer, sweet kind of beast. They had n_olerance for our microbes."
"I volunteer to find the alien and breathe in his face," said Jerry. "Somebod_and me an onion," he added.
The conversation went on. It grew aimless to Pink, a bunch of boys whistlin_y a graveyard, eight prisoners speculating on their escape when they had n_eal knowledge of their jailer. He fiddled with the intercom, saw that th_rew had gathered by the mutiny gates and were waiting tensely, puny weapon_n their hands. He spoke a few words of encouragement to them. 57 men—whom h_ated to see die. Somehow he had to save them.
It was about half an hour afterwards that he first discovered he was breathin_oo shallowly.