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.