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The Beast of Space   By:

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A tale of the prospectors of the starways of dangers


[Illustration: He staggered back from the lapping pool the gas the weight of the girl's body the dog ]

Here the dark cave, along which Nat Starrett had been creeping, broadened into what his powerful searchlight revealed to be a low, wide, smoothly circular room. At his feet lapped black, thick looking waves of an underground lake, a pool of viscous substance that gave off a penetrating, poignant odor of acid, sweetish and intoxicating, unlike any acid he knew. The smell rolled up in a sickening, sultry cloud that penetrated his helmet, made him cough and choke. Near its center projected from the sticky stuff what appeared to be the nose of a spaceship.

He looked down near his feet at the edge of the pool where thick, slowly moving tongues of the liquid appeared to reach up toward him, as if intent on pulling him into its depths. As each hungry wave fell back, it left a slimy, snake like trail behind.

Now came a wave of strange music, music such as he had never heard before. Faintly it had begun some time back, so faintly he was barely aware of it. Now it swelled into a smooth, impelling wail lulling him into drowsiness. He did not wonder why he could hear through the soundproof space helmet he wore; he ceased to wonder about anything. There was only the strange sweetness of acid and the throbbing music.

Abruptly the spell was broken by something shrilling in his brain, sending little chills racing up and down his spine. Digger! A small, oddly canine like creature with telepathic powers, a space dweller which men found when first they came to the asteroids. The relationship between spacehounds and men was much the same as between man and dog in the old, earthbound days. Appropriate name for the beast, Digger. With those large, incredibly hard claws, designed for rooting in the metal make up of the asteroids for vital elements, the spacehound could easily have shredded the man's spacesuit and helmet, could, at any time, tear huge chunks out of men's fine ships.

The half conscious man jerked his thin form erect. His mouth, which had gaped loosely, closed with a snap into firm lines.

"She isn't in this hell hole, Digger. You wouldn't expect her to be where we could find her easily."

Scooping the small beast up under his good arm, he quickly climbed the steep, slimy slope of the cave. The other arm in his suit hung empty. That empty arm in the spacesuit told the story of an earthman become voluntary exile, choosing the desolation of space to the companionship of other humans who would deluge him with unwonted sympathy. The spacehound was friendly in its own fashion; fortunately, such complex things as sympathy were apparently outside its abilities. The two could interchange impressions of danger, comfort, pleasure, discomfort, fear, and appreciation of each other's company, but little more. Whether or not the creature could understand his thoughts, he could not tell.

As he went on, he reviewed, mentally, the events leading up to his landing here. The sudden appearance on his teleview screen of the face and slim shoulders of a girl. Her attractiveness plainly distinguishable through her helmet; for a moment he forgot that he disliked women. The call for help, cut short ... but not before he had learned that apparently she was being held prisoner on Asteroid Moira. He knew he'd have to do what he could even if it meant unwonted company for an indefinite length of time. The spell was gone soon after her face vanished; he remembered former experiences with attractive looking girls. Damn traditions!

A change in his course and a landing on Asteroid Moira. Here he'd found a honeycomb of caves, all leading from one large main tunnel. The cavern walls had been of a translucent, quartz like substance, ranging in color from yellowish brown to violet grey... Continue reading book >>

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