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Solar Stiff   By:

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Totem poles are a dime a dozen north of 63° ... but only Ketch, the lying Eskimo, vowed they dropped out of frigid northern skies.

Probos Five gazed at the white expanse ahead, trying to determine where his ship would crash. Something was haywire in the fuel system of his Interstar Runabout. He was losing altitude fast, so fast that all five pairs of his eyes couldn't focus on a place to land.

Five pairs of arms, each pair about three feet apart on the loglike body, pushed buttons and rotated controls frantically, but to no avail. In a few short minutes it would all be over for Probos Five. Even if by some miracle he remained unhurt after crashing, he would die shortly thereafter. The frigid climatic conditions of the third planet were deadly to a Mercurian. He thought once of donning his space suit but decided against it. That would merely prolong the agony. From Planet Three, when one has a smashed space cruiser, there is no return. Probos Five knew that death was riding with him in the helpless ship. The situation did not unnecessarily dismay him; Mercurians are philosophers.

Probos Five ceased to manipulate the unresponding controls. Stretching his trunklike torso to its full twenty feet, four heads gazed through observation ports at the four points of the compass while the remaining head desultorily watched the instrument panel.

Since die he must, Probos Five would meet his end stoically, and five pairs of stumpy arms folded over five chests in a coordinated gesture of resignation.

Probos Five thought fleetingly of his wife Lingua Four and remembered with some annoyance that she was the author of his present predicament. A social climber, Probos Five thought to himself, but aside from that a good wife and mother in addition to being a reigning beauty. Lingua Four was tall even for a Mercurian. Already she scaled seven dergs, or in Earth terms, fourteen feet and was beginning to show evidences of a fifth head. Five heads were rarely found on females and Probos Five was justly proud of his good fortune. In all Mercury at the present time, he knew of but two females possessing five heads and soon Lingua Four would be the third of her sex to be thus endowed.

Yes, thought Probos Five, a woman to be proud of; for today after three vargs of marriage the memory of her trim trunk with four pairs of eyes laughing mischievously, filled his five brains with flame. Slim as a birch she stood in his memory, and eight eyes whispered lovers' thoughts across space and time.

Probos Five recalled his five minds from their nostalgic reverie and gazed at the contour of the Earth that was rushing up to meet him. White, blazing white reflecting the rays of the midnight sun covered the region as far as the eye could reach.

"Good," thought Probos Five, "the Polar regions. That means the end will come quickly. One or two seconds at the most of that bitter cold would be enough."

Turning away from the windows Probos Five let his thoughts return to Lingua Four, to Probos Two, his son, and his home on the first planet from the sun. Ah, that is the place to live, thought Probos, the temperature an unchanging 327°; just comfortably warm, where one could enjoy a life of warmth and ease. Too bad that he would not live to see it again. Thirty vargs, he reflected, is such a short time. With luck, perhaps he may have lived to see a hundred vargs slip by. And perhaps in time he may have added three more heads and five dergs in length to his towering trunk.

He thought of Probos Two and wondered idly if his son would also visit the barbarian worlds to collect data for Lingua Four.

He wished that he could have seen more of Probos Two. There's an up and coming lad, he thought, not quite two vargs old and two heads already. Yes, indeed, he's quite a boy, Probos Five remembered proudly; maybe his mother will keep him at home instead of running him all over the universe to get material for her committees... Continue reading book >>

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