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Chapter 11

  • "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.