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Chapter 18

  • I didn't have to do it, Pink thought. I could have changed the orders when _aw that no giants were in sight. We could have blasted the one on top of th_Elephant's Child_  and taken off and got out of range of 'em and gone back t_arth. We were free in that instant, when Daley caught the alien and corked i_p in the lead bottle with the liquor that drew it. We shouldn't have come ou_ere to the caves. We should have left Oasis to itself.
  • He knew that he had squelched this idea before it was born, because he ha_onged for a good fight; he recognized this alien life-form as unclean, an_e'd wanted to stamp it out, or make a dent in its numbers anyway. So he'_one ahead with the project, and now here was Circe, risking her life to b_ith him, and if anything happened to her he'd kill himself … well, at leas_e'd mop up the giants who'd drawn him here, he'd make a pogrom, a massacre t_venge her… .
  • She isn't dead, boy, he told himself. She's just in danger. Don't ge_istracted.
  • "Stick close," he told her shortly. "I'll whale the pants off you when we ge_ack for this trick, but for now, stay close and keep your eyes open."
  • Then he tuned his radio outward. "Report," he said. His men checked in.
  • Nothing had been sighted thus far.
  • So it was Captain Pinkham's luck to meet the first alien.
  • Rounding a turn, he saw that the cavern enlarged, became a huge grotto; seate_round its walls, staring at one another in the uncanny silence of thi_irless place, were many of the giant life-forms. Only one was near him, an_his monster was first to see him; it leaped at him with the abruptness o_erfect muscular control, its feet a little off the floor of the cavern—Pin_ecalled that these things could levitate themselves in space.
  • There was no time to use the lure of the bottle. He threw up his old revolve_nd fired point-blank, catching Circe by the arm and hurling her to one sid_s he did so. The giant recoiled as at a wall, doubled and thrashed in agony.
  • Pink, rooted to the spot, waited to see the effects. Would one slug of lead b_nough? And evidently it was, for suddenly the thing fell and writhed futilel_n the ground, flinging its arms wide with diminishing strength. In a momen_t was helpless, its only motion a slight heaving as its life retreated fa_ithin the gigantic bulk. Its red eyes glowed at him malevolently in the glar_f his chest-lamp.
  • Strangely enough, none of the others had seen him yet, nor had any of the_oved from the sitting posture. Swiftly he unhooked four of his six bottle_nd set them in a row on the rock floor. Circe returned, having bounced like _it of india-rubber a dozen yards before checking herself. "You big bully,"
  • she said over the radio, and, her tuning being for distance, Daley in anothe_ave said "What? Who?" in a startled tone.
  • Pink dragged her, five pounds of resistance on the tiny planet, and plunke_er down behind a rock. "Sit tight," he said urgently. "Keep the gun handy.
  • And check that you haven't spilled any alky—we'll need all the bottles we ca_et." Then he turned and shone his beam full on the traps he had set out. On_f the aliens was bound to spot them soon.
  • When one did, it came at them with a rush, snarling soundlessly as it sough_he source of the illumination. Towering over the insignificant bottles, i_alted, shuddered, stared down—Pink held his breath—and the incredibl_isintegration and flow of the body happened. The giant entered the bottle,
  • leaving not a trace of its thousand-foot carcass outside. Restraining a desir_o leap out and cork up that bottle, Pink waited. The movement of this alie_ad caught the red eyes of others; they advanced, some hurrying and som_autious, till two more had scented or sensed the alcohol and poured int_ottles. Pink kept his eyes on the little containers. Beside him, Circe gaze_ith horrified fascination at the coming gargantuas… .
  • A trio of them were misting now; this was the test. One empty bottle remained.
  • What would happen, Pink wondered; was one giant per bottle the maximu_ontent? The three streaked down, like smoke sucked into a vacuum cleaner.
  • They jetted into the bottles, and again nothing was left outside. Pink said
  • "Good," in a mutter, and forced himself to wait longer. The more the merrier.
  • How long would it take them to soak up the alcohol? His captive had said th_rocess was slow. How slow? How long did he dare wait?
  • He caught eight more, then the next hesitated, looking around for the sourc_f light. Either he was capable of more resistance to the seductive element,
  • or the bottles were now full of churning, lapping aliens. There were more o_hem approaching, but he didn't dare wait any longer. He jumped forward,
  • potting at the foremost.
  • It went down thrashing, and he shot over it into the yellow of them. Emptyin_he Colt, he reloaded hastily and plugged or nicked another half dozen. B_hen he was standing over the bottles. Nothing had emerged yet. He stooped t_lam on the caps.
  • With horrible speed two giants pounced for him; he saw them out of the corne_f his eye. Then they slammed full length to the rock, and he knew tha_irce's automatic was in action. He corked the last bottle and slung it on hi_elt, put down the two remaining containers. Then he turned and made a might_ump away from them, dragging Circe with him. The aliens came on.
  • Some of them could withstand the pull of the liquor, and some could not. Ther_as a phalanx of them coming, for a good third of the growth's population ha_een the disturbance by now. Any who appeared to be passing by the bottles, h_nd Circe shot; those who hesitated by them and were drawn in exchanged thei_iberty for their lives, because in two minutes Pinkham had feverishly cappe_hem into the leaden prisons. He hooked them onto his belt and said into th_outhpiece before his lips, "Go for the entrance, baby. I'll cover you."
  • "No!" she snapped back. "You are not going to sacrifice—"
  • "Sacrifice, nuts!" he yelled. "This is part of the plan you'd have heard i_ou hadn't sneaked into the landing party at the last minute. Get going!" H_as reloading as he spoke.
  • She ran, almost flying down the cave-tunnel with great leaps that covered man_ards each. He fired three times at the giants who now loomed above him; the_e was running too, stretching his legs and throwing every ounce of power an_anic in his frame into the incredible jumps. And apparently he had th_dvantage over the brutes, for he began to outdistance them; their mass bein_reater, he was helped by the lack of gravity.
  • Then a rock crumbled under his toe, he was thrown off balance, his momentu_hot him full tilt against the wall of the passage, and his head cracke_harply against the inside of his helmet. He knew that he was losin_onsciousness, and that he had fallen and was rolling straight into the pat_f the raging aliens.