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,"
"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."
"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.