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The Devil's Asteroid   By: (1903-1986)

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Transcriber's note. This etext was produced from Comet July 1941. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



[Illustration: The Rock Bred Evolution in Reverse ]

It was not very large, as asteroids go, but about it clung a silvery mist of atmosphere. Deeper flashes through the mist betokened water, and green patches hinted of rich vegetation. The space patroller circled the little world knowledgeably, like a wasp buzzing around an apple. In the control room, by the forward ports, the Martian skipper addressed his Terrestrial companion.

"I wissh you joy of yourr new home," he purred. Like many Martians, he was braced upright on his lower tentacles by hoops and buckles around his bladdery body, so that he had roughly a human form, over which lay a strange loose armor of light plates. In the breathing hole of his petal tufted skull was lodged an artificial voice box that achieved words. "I rregrret "

Fitzhugh Parr glowered back. He was tall, even for a man of Earth, and his long jawed young face darkened with wrath. "Regret nothing," he snapped. "You're jolly glad to drop me on this little hell."

"Hell?" repeated the Martian reproachfully. "But it iss a ssplendid miniaturre worrld nineteen of yourr miless in diameterr, with arrtificial grravity centerr to hold airr and waterr; ssown, too, with Terresstrrial plantss. And companionss of yourr own rrace."

[Illustration: "You! They drive you out?" A thick, unsure voice accosted him. ]

"There's a catch," rejoined Parr. "Something you Martian swine think is a heap big joke. I can see that, captain."

The tufted head wagged. "Underr trreaty between Marrs and Earrth, judgess of one planet cannot ssentence to death crriminalss frrom the otherr, not even forr murrderr "

"It wasn't for murder!" exploded Parr. "I struck in self defense!"

"I cannot arrgue the point. Yourr victim wass a high official perrhapss inssolent, but you Earrth folk forrget how eassy ourr crraniumss crrack underr yourr blowss. Anyway, you do not die you arre exiled. Prreparre to dissembarrk."

Behind them three Martian space hands, sprawling like squids near the control board, made flutelike comments to each other. The tentacle of each twiddled an electro automatic pistol.

"Rremove tunic and bootss," directed the skipper. "You will not need them. Quickly, ssirr!"

Parr glared at the levelled weapons of the space hands, then shucked his upper garment and kicked off his boots. He stood up straight and lean muscled, in a pair of duck shorts. His fists clenched at his sides.

"Now we grround," the skipper continued, and even as he spoke there came the shock of the landfall. The inner panel opened, then the outer hatch. Sunlight beat into the chamber. "Goodbye," said the skipper formally. "You have thirrty ssecondss, Earrth time, to walk clearr of our blasstss beforre we take off. Marrch."

Parr strode out upon dark, rich soil. He sensed behind him the silent quiver of Martian laughter, and felt a new ecstasy of hate for his late guards, their race, and the red planet that spawned them. Not until he heard the rumble and swish of the ship's departure did he take note of the little world that was now his prison home.

At first view it wasn't really bad. At second, it wasn't really strange. The sky, by virtue of an Earth type atmosphere, shone blue with wispy clouds, and around the small plain on which he stood sprouted clumps and thickets of green tropical trees. Heathery ferns, with white and yellow edges to their leaves, grew under his bare feet. The sun, hovering at zenith, gave a July warmth to the air. The narrow horizon was very near, of course, but the variety of thickets and the broken nature of the land beyond kept it from seeming too different from the skyline of Earth. Parr decided that he might learn to endure, even to enjoy... Continue reading book >>

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