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Chapter 3

  • They sat at dinner, the eighteen officers of the  _Elephant's Child_ , eatin_resh vegetables and curried lamb from the hydroponics farm and the froze_ood lockers. On either side of Captain Pinkman sat O. O. Circe Smith, of th_amented Fawcett expedition, and First Officer Ynohp of the extinct Martia_pace Navy.
  • "If you Terrestrians came to Mars over one hundred years ago," Ynohp wa_aying, in a clear and metallic voice that came from the lingoalter on hi_hest—a tiny box which could be set to change any of nine thousand spoke_anguages into any one of the others—"and at that time my people had lost th_ecrets of space travel for approximately four thousand years, this means tha_ have been reclining on a planetoid here for at least 4,100 years. Th_robability is that it has been much longer. Unfortunately my time recorde_as long since become inoperative."
  • He extended one of his four rib appendages and picked up a piece of carrot.
  • "Naturally I was in a cataleptic state," he went on. "As you may know, in m_ace that means that all body processes are suspended  _in toto_. There is n_rowth and no decay. Moth and rust do not corrupt, you might put it."
  • Pink frowned momentarily. There was a false note somewhere, but he couldn'_ut his finger on it. He tried to remember all he could about the dying rac_f Martians. What Ynohp was saying was correct, as nearly as he could recall,
  • but … he shrugged. My God! he thought, this critter's over four thousand year_ld!
  • Well, Circe's about forty-five.
  • The hell she is. She's twenty-seven, which was her age when her ship wa_recked, plus about one actual year of life which equals the eighteen she wa_ost in the Slugjet. Twenty-eight, then, really. I'm thirty-one. Not a ba_ombination.
  • Hey, boy, you're a confirmed bachelor, remember?
  • He chuckled. Who says so? He took a look at Circe. The prettiest spaceman wh_ver came my way, he said to himself happily.
  • The dinner broke up. Space etiquette demanded that he escort the Martian t_is stateroom first, for the four-armed little gray man was senior to a mer_rganicus officer; when he returned to the mess hall, he found that Joe Silve_ad whisked Circe away to show her the new improvements in space drives an_ther technical details.
  • "At least," said Bill Calico, "he said he was going to."
  • Pink went off to talk to Jerry, who was a lousy substitute for a beautifu_irl.
  • He found his O. O. tinkering with the life-scanner.
  • "Something wrong," Jerry said through his teeth. He was a slim young man—Pink,
  • who stood six-three and hefted in at two hundred, would have made two o_erry—and his normally joyous expression was now writhed into a frown. "Th_ed light's not on, but the scanner's not working."
  • "How d'you know?"
  • "Had a hunch. Don't ask me why—unless it's that the Martian makes m_uspicious. Anyway, I tested the scanner; turned it inside and aimed it al_ver the ship. Nothing doing. No life in here, according to it. So something'_he matter with it, and I'm damned if I can figure what."
  • Pink said, "That means what?"
  • "Means that if Fawcett or any of his men are out there, we won't know it. W_ould flash right by them, or through 'em for that matter, and never know it."
  • "Nothing more serious, though?"
  • "That's bad enough, isn't it?" Jerry asked him.
  • "Sure, sure." Pink shook himself. "I feel—I guess  _wary_  is the word." Jerr_ooked a question. "Yeah," said Pinkham uncomfortably, "it's the Martian. _ice guy and all, but he makes me wonder."
  • "Four thousand years plus," nodded Jerry.
  • "No, not that. I think that's possible. It's something else, son."
  • "What?"
  • Pink said slowly, futilely, "I don't know." He patted the O.O.'s shoulder.
  • "Keep at it, Jerry." He went out and walked down the long ramp to th_strolab. Daley was there. "How's it going?" Pink asked him.
  • "We aren't moving," said the lieutenant.
  • "I know. I told Kinkare to put her into the same orbit as the asteroid belt.
  • We want to stay in the same relation to the planetoids till we decide where t_ook for Fawcett."
  • "I know you issued those orders, Pink. I meant we aren't in the orbit. We'r_anging in space, and the dang asteroids are shooting past us." Daley flippe_n his great banks of scanners. "See?" Bands of light were tiny balls of iner_atter, flashing by an obviously stationary  _Elephant's Child_.
  • Pink jumped for the intercom. "No use," said Daley. "It's dead. I sent Calic_or Randy Kinkare." They looked at each other. "I think it's Ynohp," sai_aley.
  • Pinkham took out a pad and pencil. Without saying anything, without admittin_o himself that he agreed with his officer, he put down a number of figures.
  • Then he said, "I left Ynohp just fourteen minutes ago in his stateroom. I'v_ut down the distances he'd have to travel to reach all the things that hav_one wrong since then. He could have done it—if he was invisible, and coul_ove at the rate of two hundred feet per second."
  • "Maybe he can."
  • "You know Martians have the same rate of speed, roughly speaking, a_errestrians."
  • "And if Ynohp isn't a Martian at all?"
  • "Washington, did you ever see a Martian?"
  • "Yeah."
  • "Could anything in the universe make itself look like a four-foot-tall, four-
  • armed, slate-gray man with pink eyes?"
  • "I don't know," said Daley. "Maybe there's something in System Ninety tha_an. Hypnotism, matter transference, fluidity or a lot of other facts coul_xplain it."
  • Kinkare and Bill Calico came in on the run.
  • Their news didn't surprise Pink greatly.
  • The space drive was out of commission.
  • They were adrift in the void.