"What is it?" asked Circe. Her lovely face was a trifle pallid. "I fee_dd—and you all look pale."
Then it struck Pink. None of the others, even Daley, had recognized what wa_appening. He did not dare waste a second in telling them. He tore the doo_pen and leaped into the corridor.
Deliberately he tried to draw as much oxygen into his lungs as he could. I_as growing rarer every instant; but never mind trying to conserve it—the lif_f everyone aboard depended on his reaching the atmospheria. For the air i_he spaceship was rapidly degenerating, becoming unbreathable as what remaine_f the good stuff was inhaled and thrown off as useless gases… .
Either the atmospheric system had gone on the blink by itself, he thought,
which was a hell of a long shot and too much of a coincidence, or else th_lien, experimenting, had turned it off by accident.
Maybe the brute didn't need oxygen. Of course he didn't! His brothers outsid_ure didn't have any. Then, if he were independent of it, but could stan_iving in it, the probabilities were that he didn't breathe at all; that hi_etabolism was geared to ignore the elements in which he lived.
Just possibly he was taking this way to kill them off in a particularl_iendish fashion.
Silently Pink cursed the architect who had designed the _Elephant's Child_ith the armaments room in the bow and the atmospheria back near the crew'_ector, a thousand feet of passageways off. Every door he flung open too_nother bit of strength from his aching limbs. As he passed a mirror, he had _limpse of his face. His face was flushed now, the grim-set lips were bluish,
his eyes seemed to bulge from his head.
He began breathing through his mouth. It may have been imagination, but h_hought the air had a foul taste, like a sea full of putrid fish.
Pink fell to his knees. Abruptly his strength had waned to almost nothing. H_as horrified to realize how swiftly the air was going bad. He had to get t_he system! He struggled up, staggered forward like a drunk. His heart,
pounding wildly a moment before, now seemed to be slowing, weakening.
He found himself singing… .
> " _Blast off at two, jet down at three
> _ _On the dead dry dusty sphere
> _ _What sort of a life is this for me,
> _ _A veteran rocketeer?_ "
Great God, was he crazy? Singing, shouting the words to that old song tha_irce had brought back to his mind. Using up what amounted to his last drop_f energy and air. God, God, help me, he thought wildly; make me shut up. Bu_he maddened outer part of his brain kept him singing.
> " _I, who have seen the flame-dark seas,
> _ _Canals like great raw scars,
> _ _And the claret lakes and the crimson trees
> _ _In the rich red soil of Mars!_ "
Then he fell, and this time he could not get up.
He would lie here and die, horribly, gasping for breath where there wa_othing to breathe but death. The mind that had made him sing, that ha_hought of Circe longingly and of what he must do to save her and all hi_riends, that blacked out, fell into a pit of ebony walls and ink at th_ottom, blackness and nothing left anywhere… .
Somewhere deep in his skull, some unknown cranny blazed with the light o_nowledge. He had only a few yards to go. He had to make it. This knowledg_rept out and through his body, raised cold swollen hands and made them gras_t a wall, forced the feet of this dead man to scrabble for purchase on th_loor of the passage. Pinkham knew that he was moving, but it was as if h_ere sitting on a distant planet and knowing it; there was no realization tha_his was he, Captain Pinkham, clawing upward and shoving himself on. He looke_t himself curiously, rather proud and a little contemptuous. What a fool,
what a damn fool, he thought.
Here was a door. The half-blind thing that was Pink groped for the handle,
recognizing dimly that if this were not the atmospheria, then it was all over.
He opened the door and fell at full length on the carpet. Instinct rolled hi_ver and hauled him to his knees, and he said admiringly and far away on tha_lanet of death, By God, this is a man! Through a red haze he saw that he wa_n the first of the two small rooms that made up the atmospheria. He lunge_orward, falling, jerked convulsively upward, plunged down a mile and smashe_is face into the carpet, felt pain that for a moment brought him out of hi_tupor. He was making for the master switch that controlled the nitrogen-
oxygen-ozone-etcetra that poured continuously through the great ship when al_as well. From a great distance he could see that the switch was shoved up;
only by breaking a steel band of superb tensility could the alien creatur_ave pushed that switch up, for Pink carried the key to the band on his maste_ing, hanging at his belt. It looked like viciousness, either of knowledg_hat this was the humans' finish, or of ignorance flaring into anger. What _beast_ … .
He gathered himself like a mortally wounded lion. He launched his perishin_rame at the switch, hands clawed to drag it down to the normal position.
He could not feel whether he even touched the wall, for his senses wer_bliterated. He lay on his face and knew that he would not get up again.
Idly, he wondered whether he had managed to reach the switch.
Then the final flame of intelligence winked out, and it was night an_nrelieved blackness, and he fell asleep.