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Chapter 10

  • 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.
  • "Hey!" bellowed Calico. "We nicked 'em up, anyway!"
  • "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.