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Chapter 16

  • He said to the alien, "Where's your home planetoid?"
  • "Why?" it asked, mockery still in its weak voice.
  • "I'm capitulating. I want to make a deal with your people."
  • It said, "Ah, the human has sense after all. Our home is the largest of th_steroids, as you call them. The one you said at supper last night had _iameter of 440 miles. We call it Oasis—and a poor one it is, when we remembe_arth."
  • Jerry said, astounded, " _What?_ " His narrow face worked with surprise.
  • "Shut up, Jerry." Pink still had things to find out. "Can you tell your race,
  • telepathically, what we're doing? I don't want them to lose patience and tea_p the hull. We have a very angry gent atop us."
  • "It's the girl," snarled Jerry, before the alien could answer. "She's got yo_ooled like a—like a—good Lord, Pink, are you so crazy about her you can't se_he's been waiting to put this idea in your head all this time?"
  • "Jerry," he said through his teeth, "shut your damn mouth. I'm captain of th_Elephant's Child_."
  • Jerry was aiming the Colt at him; accidentally, Pink hoped. Then the O. O.
  • said, "If I have to blow out your guts to save us, Pink, I will." His torture_eatures writhed with pain. "Oh, hell, boy, wake up!"
  • "Give me one more minute, before you fly off the handle and make an ass o_ourself—and a mess of me." Pink had to have that minute. It was so vital h_ouldn't save himself from the angered Jerry with the one phrase that woul_xplain everything. "Jerry, one lousy minute."
  • "Just tell me you don't mean it about giving in."
  • He couldn't. My God, he couldn't. There was too much of a chance that thi_rute on the floor was telepathic with its own kind. "I have to do it, Jerry,"
  • he said.
  • "Then I have to tie you up till you're sane," said Jerry. "First, though, I'v_ot to make sure about this girl." The muzzle of the gun traveled towar_irce, steadily, remorselessly.
  • Pink had no alternative; the lives of all his men hung in that teeterin_alance. He jerked his right hand, and the tiny gambler's gun, the antiqu_erringer he had hidden up his sleeve for emergencies, slid down into hi_alm. Instinctively his forefinger caught the trigger and with sorrow an_etermination he shot Jerry high in the chest, below the clavicle and a saf_istance from the lung. Jerry staggered back, a look of amazement spreadin_ver his face; he fired the Colt wildly, putting a slug into the floor. The_e sat down, making hurt, uncomprehending noises. Circe took the gun from hi_and.
  • Pink heard a babble from the intercom. He grasped that some of his officer_ust have seen the occurrence. He still hadn't much more than a minute.
  • "Circe," he snapped, "turn off that intercom and then lock the door." To th_iant he said, "Well, can you tell your friends?"
  • "I would have doubted you, had you not eliminated your objecting officer," i_old him. "Now I will say that I cannot communicate with my race throug_hought transference; but if you head for Oasis, you will be safe."
  • Pink breathed a little easier. He snatched down a bottle of whisky and twiste_ff the cap. There was another fact he must learn. He knelt and presented th_ottle to the inert lips. "Have a slug," he said.
  • "You are sensible," said the being with satisfaction. "Pour it into my mout_r my eye; I can absorb it through any orifice." Pink poured rapidly. Th_iquor ran down over the yellow hide.
  • "No, no," gurgled the monster. "Slowly! I absorb it far more slowly than yo_o—"
  • Pink stood up. He took a drink from the bottle and handed it to Circe. Hi_ace was radiant with success. "Toast the last slim chance, honey," he said,
  • voice cracking with relief. "We just found out what we needed to know." H_etrieved the bottle after she had downed a gulp, gave it to the dazed Jerry.
  • "Cheer up, boy," he said. "You didn't get your pink skin plugged for nothing.
  • Now listen." Rapidly he outlined Circe's plot, then the additions he ha_oncocted. "See why I had to do it?" he asked finally.
  • "Yeah. Yes, I see." Jerry blinked. "Would you spray a little sulfaheal on thi_ole, Pink? It hurts… . Okay, I give in. I'm with you. It's a mad notion, bu_ sure can't better it. I'm with you." He looked at Circe, who was alread_usy with sulfaspray and bandages. "But can we trust this wench, Captain? Sh_ould be a wonderful decoy for 'em."
  • "She's in the clear, Jerry; if we hadn't been so blasted rattled we'd hav_ealized it long ago. There was a test she could have passed in two second_hat would have eliminated all this fat-headed suspicion."
  • "What?"
  • "Holy Holmendis, boy— _lead_! If she were alien, the touch of lead would hav_risped her up with pain and paralysis." Pink opened the door then, and th_irst tide of officers coming to Jerry's rescue were halted at sight of Circ_ending his wound. Pink said to Jerry, and to them all, "While I was standin_n the hall, I took a cartridge out of this Derringer, and rubbed the lea_cross the back of her neck. She never winced. That vouches for her, doesn'_t?"
  • Jerry said, "It does. Heaven forgive us for a pack of drooling imbeciles! I_oes indeed."
  • Circe stood up. She came to Pink and stared him in the face. "So that was it,"
  • she said quietly. "You were testing me. And I thought it was a caress. Oh,
  • you—" Then she hauled off and smacked Captain John Pinkham square in the lef_ye.
  • It hurt like sin, but Pink could hardly blame her. So he apologized, withou_ords. He took her in his arms and kissed her soundly.
  • And Circe kissed him back.