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´╗┐Title: The Devil's Asteroid
Author: Wellman, Manly Wade, 1903-1986
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Devil's Asteroid" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

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. Meanwhile,
what about the other Terrestrials exiled here? And, as Parr wondered, he
heard their sudden, excited voices.

Threats and oaths rent the balmy air. Through the turmoil resounded
solid blows. Parr broke into a run, shoved through some broad-leafed
bushes, and found himself in the midst of the excitement.

       *       *       *       *       *

A dozen men, with scraggly beards and skimpy rags of clothing, were
setting upon an unclassifiable creature that snarled and fought back. It
was erect and coarsely hairy--Parr saw that much before the enigma gave
up the unequal fight and ran clumsily away into a mass of
bright-flowered scrub. Execrations and a volley of sticks and stones
speeded its flight.

Then the mob was aware of Parr. Every man--they were all male
Terrestrials--turned toward him, with something like respect. One of
them, tall and thin, spoke diffidently:

"You just arrived?"

"I was just booted out, ten minutes ago," Parr informed him. "Why?"

"Because you're our new chief," responded the thin man, bowing. "The
latest comer always commands here."

Parr must have goggled, for the thin one smiled through tawny stubble.
"The latest comer is always highest and wisest," he elaborated. "He is
healthiest. Best. The longer you stay on this asteroid, the lower you

Parr thought he was being joked with, and scowled. But his informant
smiled the broader. "My name's Sadau--here under sentence for theft of
Martian government property."

"I'm Fitzhugh Parr. They said I was a murderer. It's a lie."

One or two chuckled at that, and the one who called himself Sadau said:
"We all feel unjustly condemned. Meet the others--Jeffords, Wain,
Haldocott...." Each man, as named, bowed to Parr. The final introduction
was of a sallow, frowning lump of a fellow called Shanklin.

"I was boss until you came," volunteered this last man. "Now you take
over." He waved toward a little cluster of grass huts, half hidden among
ferny palms. "This is our capital city. You get the largest house--until
somebody new shows up. Then you step down, like me."

He spoke with ill grace. Parr did not reply at once, but studied these
folk who were putting themselves under his rule. They would not have
been handsome even if shaved and dressed properly. Indeed, two or three
had the coarse, low-browed look of profound degenerates. Back into
Parr's mind came the words of Sadau: "The longer you stay ... the lower
you fall."

"Gentlemen," said Parr at last, "before I accept command or other
office, give me information. Just now you were acting violently. You,
Sadau, started explaining. Go ahead."

Sadau shrugged a lean freckled shoulder, and with a jerk of his head
directed his companions to retire toward the huts. They obeyed, with one
or two backward glances. Left alone with Parr, Sadau looked up with a
wise, friendly expression.

"I won't waste time trying to be scientific or convincing. I'll give you
facts--we older exiles know them only too well. This asteroid seems a
sort of Eden to you, I daresay."

"I told the Martians that I knew there was a catch somewhere."

"Your instinct's sound. The catch is this: Living
creatures--Terrestrials anyway--degenerate here. They go backward in
evolution, become--" Sadau broke off a moment, for his lips had begun to
quiver. "They become beasts," he finished.

"What?" growled Parr. "You mean that men turn into apes?"

"Yes. And the apes turn into lower creatures. Those become lower
creatures still." Sadau's eyes were earnest and doleful. "The process
may run back and down to the worm, for all we can judge. We try not to
think too much about it."

"This is a joke of some kind," protested Parr, but Sadau was not

"Martian joke, perhaps. The treaty keeps them from killing us--and this
is their alternative punishment. It makes death trivial by
comparison.... You don't believe. It's hard. But you see that some of
us, oldest in point of exile, are sliding back into bestiality. And you
saw us drive away, as our custom is, a man who had definitely become a

"That thing was a man?" prompted Parr, his spine chilling.

"It had been a man. As you wander here and there, you'll come upon queer
sights--sickening ones."

Parr squinted at the huts, around the doors of which lounged the other
men. "That looks like a permanent community, Sadau."

"It is, but the population's floating. I came here three months
ago--Earth months--and the place was operating under the rules I
outlined. Latest comer, necessarily the highest-grade human being, to be
chief; those who degenerate beyond a certain point to be driven out; the
rest to live peaceably together, helping each other."

Parr only half heard him. "Evolution turned backward--it can't be true.
It's against nature."

"Martians war against nature," replied Sadau pithily. "Mars is a dead
world, and its people are devils. They'd be the logical explorers to
find a place where such things can be, and to make use of it. Don't
believe me if you don't want to. Time and life here will convince you."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the days that followed--the asteroid turned once in approximately
twenty-two hours--Parr was driven to belief. Perhaps the slowness of the
idea's dawning kept him from some form of insanity.

Every man of the little group that called him chief was on the way to be
a man no more. There were stooped backs among them, a forward hang to
arms, a sprouting of coarse, lank hair. Foreheads fell away, noses
flattened coarsely, eyes grew small and shifty. Sadau informed Parr that
such evidences of degeneration meant a residence of a year or so on the
exile asteroid.

"We'll be driving one or two of them away pretty soon," he observed.

"What then?" asked Parr. "What happens to the ones that are driven out?"

"Sometimes we notice them, peering through the brush, but mostly they
haul out by themselves a little way from here--shaggy brutes, like our
earliest fathers. There are lower types still. They stay completely
clear of us."

Parr asked the question that had haunted him since his first hour of
exile: "Sadau, do you see any change in me?"

Sadau smiled and shook his head. "You won't alter in the least for a

That was reasonable. Man, Parr remembered, has been pretty much the same
for the past ten thousand years. If a year brought out the beast in the
afflicted exiles, then that year must count for a good hundred thousand
years turned backward. Five years would be five hundred thousand of
reverse evolution--in that time, one would be reduced to something
definitely animal. Beyond that, one would drop into the category of
tailed monkeys, of rodent crawlers--reptiles next, and then--

"I'll kill myself first," he thought, but even as he made the promise he
knew he would not. Cowards took the suicide way out, the final yielding
to unjust, cruel mastery by the Martians. Parr stiffened his shoulders,
that had grown tanned and vigorous in the healthy air. He spoke grimly
to Sadau:

"I don't accept all this yet. It's happened to others, but not to me so
far. There's a way of stopping this, and paying off those Martian swine.
If it can be done--"

"I'm with you, Chief!" cried Sadau, and they shook hands.

Heartened, he made inquiries. The Martian space-patroller came every
month or so, to drop a new exile. It always landed on the plain where
Parr had first set foot to the asteroid. That gave him an idea, and he
held conference in the early evening, with Sadau, Shanklin, and one or
two others of the higher grade.

"We could capture that craft," urged Parr. "There's only a skipper and
three Martians--"

"Yes, with pistols and ray throwers," objected Shanklin. "Too big a

"What's the alternative?" demanded Sadau. "You want to stay here and
turn monkey, Shanklin? Chief," he added to Parr, "I said once that I was
on your side. I'll follow wherever you lead."

"Me, too," threw in Jeffords, a sturdy man of middle age who had been
sentenced for killing a Martian in a brawl.

"And me," wound up Haldocott, a blond youth whose skin was burned darker
than his hair and downy beard. "We four can pull it off without

But Shanklin agreed, with something like good humor, to stand by the
vote of the majority. The others of the community assented readily, for
they were used to acting at the will of their wiser companions. And at
the next arrival of the Martian patroller--an observer, posted by Parr
in a treetop, reported its coming whole hours away--they made a quick
disposal of forces around the rocket-scorched plain that did duty for a
landing field. Parr consulted for a last moment with Sadau, Shanklin,
Jeffords and Haldocott.

"We'll lead rushes from different directions," he said. "As the hatchway
comes open, the patroller will stall for the moment--can't take off
until it's airtight everywhere. I'll give a yell for signal. Then
everybody charge. Jam the tubes by smacking the soft metal collars at
the nozzles--we can straighten them back when the ship's ours. Out to
your places now."

"The first one at the hatch will probably be shot or rayed," grumbled

"I'll be first there," Parr promised him. "Who wants to live forever,
anyway? Posts, everybody. Here she comes in."

Tense, quick-breathing moments thereafter as the craft descended and
lodged. Then the hatchway opened. Parr, crouching in a clump of bushes
with two followers, raised his voice in a battle yell, and rushed.

A figure had come forward to the open hatch, slender and topped with
tawny curls. It paused and shrank back at the sudden apparition of Parr
and his men leaping forward. Tentacles swarmed out, trying to push or
pull the figure aside so as to close the hatch again. That took more
seconds--then Parr had crossed the intervening space. Without even
looking at the newcoming exile who had so providentially forestalled the
closing of the hatch, he clutched a shoulder and heaved mightily. The
Martian whose tentacles had reached from within came floundering out,
dragged along--it was the skipper whose ironic acquaintance Parr had
made in his own voyage out, all dressed in that loose-plate armor. Parr
wrenched a pistol from a tentacle. Yelling again, he fired through the
open hatchway. Two space-hands ducked out of sight.

"We've won!" yelled Parr, and for a moment he thought they had. But not
all his followers had charged with his own bold immediacy.

Sadau on one side of the ship, Jeffords and Haldocott at the other, had
run in close and were walloping manfully at the nozzles of the rocket
tubes. The outer metal yielded under the blows, threatening to clog the
throats of the blasts. Only at the rear was there no attack--Shanklin,
and with him three or four of the lesser men, had hung back. The few
moments' delay there was enough to make all the difference.

Thinking and acting wisely, even without a leader, the Martian
space-hands met the emergency. They had withdrawn from the open
hatchway, but could reach the mechanism that closed it. Parr was too
late to jump in after them. Then one of them fired the undamaged rear

_Swish! Whang!_ The ship took off so abruptly that Parr barely dodged
aside in time, dragging along with him the new Terrestrial whose
shoulder he clutched, and also the surprised Martian skipper. The rocket
blasts, dragging fiery fingers across the plain, struck down Haldocott
and Jeffords, and bowled over two of the laggards with Shanklin's
belated contingent. Then it was away, moving jumpily with its
half-wrecked side tubes, but nevertheless escaping.

Parr swore a great oath, that made the stranger gasp. And then Parr had
time to see that this was a woman, and young. She was briefly dressed in
blouse and shorts, her tawny hair was tumbled, her blue eyes wide. To
her still clung the Martian skipper, and Parr covered him with the
captured pistol. Next instant Shanklin, arriving at last, struck out
with his club and shattered the flowerlike cranium inside the plated
cap. The skipper fell dead on the spot.

"I wanted him for a prisoner!" growled Parr.

"What good would that do?" flung back Shanklin roughly. "The ship's what
we wanted. It's gone. You bungled, Parr."

Parr was about to reply with the obvious charge that Shanklin's own
hesitancy had done much to cause the failure, when Sadau spoke:

"This young lady--miss, are you an exile? Because," and he spoke in the
same fashion that he had once employed to Parr, "then you're our new
chief. The latest comer commands."

"Why--why--" stammered the girl.

"Wait a minute," interposed Parr again. "Let's take stock of ourselves.
Haldocott and Jeffords killed--and a couple of others--"

Shanklin barked at him. "You don't give orders any more. We've got a new
chief, and you're just one of the rabble, like me." He made a heavily
gallant bow toward the latest arrival. "May I ask your name, lady?"

"I'm Varina Pemberton," she said. "But what's the meaning of all this?"

Shanklin and Sadau began to explain. The others gathered interestedly
around. Parr felt suddenly left out, and stooped to look at the dead
Martian. The body wore several useful things--a belt with ammunition and
a knife-combination, shoes on the thickened ends of the tentacles, and
that strange armor. As Parr moved to retrieve these, his companions
called out to halt him.

"The new chief will decide about those things," said Shanklin
officiously. "Especially the gun. Can I have it?"

To avoid a crisis, Parr passed the weapon to the girl, who nodded thanks
and slid it into her own waist-belt. Shanklin asked for, and received,
the knife. Sadau was the only man slender enough to wear the shoes, and
gratefully donned them. Parr looked once again at the armor, which he
had drawn free of its dead owner.

"What's that for?" asked Shanklin.

Parr made no answer, because he did not know. The armor was too loosely
hung together for protection against weapons. It certainly was no
space-overall. And it had nothing of the elegance that might make it a
Martian uniform of office. Casting back, Parr remembered that the
skipper had worn it at the time when he, Parr, was landed--but not
during the voyage out. He shook his head over the mystery.

"Let that belong to you," the girl Varina Pemberton was telling him. "It
has plates of metal that may be turned to use. Perhaps--" She seemed to
be on the verge of saying something important, but checked herself.

"If you'll come with us," Sadau told her respectfully, "we'll show you
where we live and where you will rule."

       *       *       *       *       *

They held council that night among the grass huts--the nine that were
left after the unsuccessful attack on the patroller. Varina Pemberton,
very pretty in her brief sports costume, sat on the stump that was
chief's place; but Shanklin did most of the talking.

"Nobody will argue about our life and prospects being good here," he
thundered, "but there's no use in making things worse when they're bad
enough." He shook a thick forefinger at Fitzhugh Parr, who wore the
armor he had stripped from the dead Martian. "You were chief, and what
you said goes. But you're not chief now--you're just the man who
murdered four of us!"

"Mmm--yes," growled one of the lower-fallen listeners, a
furry-shouldered, buck-toothed clod named Wain. "That blast almost got
me, right behind Haldocott." His eyes, grown small, gleamed nastily at
Parr. "We ought to condemn this man--"

"Please," interposed Sadau, who alone remained friendly to Parr, "it's
for the chief to condemn." He looked to Varina Pemberton, who shook her
head slowly.

"I feel," she ventured with her eyes on Parr, "that this ought to be
left up to you as a voting body."

Shanklin sprang to his feet. "Fair enough!" he bawled. "I call Parr
guilty. All who think like me, say aye!"




They were all agreeing except Sadau, who looked shrunken and sad and
frightened. Shanklin smirked.

"All who think he should be killed as a murderer--"

"Hold on," put in Varina Pemberton. "If I'm chief, I'll draw the line
there. Don't kill him."

Shanklin bowed toward her. "I was wrong to suggest that before a woman.
Then he's to be kicked out?"

There was a chorus of approving yells, and all save Sadau jumped up to
look for sticks and stones. Parr laid his hand on the club he had borne
in the skirmish that day.

"Now wait," he said clearly and harshly, and the whole party faced
him--Sadau wanly, the girl questioningly, the rest angrily.

"I'm to be kicked out," Parr repeated. "I'll accept that. I'll go. But,"
and the club lifted itself in his right hand, "I'm not going to be
rough-housed. I've seen it happen here, and none of it for me."

"Oh, no?" Shanklin had picked up a club of his own, and grinned

"No. Let me go, and I leave without having to be whipped out of camp.
Mob me, and I promise to die fighting, right here." He stamped a foot on
the ground. "I'll crack a skull or two before I wink out. That's a
solemn statement of fact."

"Let him go," said Varina Pemberton again, this time with a ring of
authority. "He wears that armor, and he'll put up a fight. We can't
spare any more men."

"Thank you," Parr told her bleakly. He gave Shanklin a last long stare
of challenge, then turned on his heel and walked away toward the
thickets amid deep silence. Behind him the council fire made a dwindling
hole in the blackness of night. It seemed to be his last hope, fading

He pushed in among thick, leafy stems. A voice hailed him:


And a figure, blacker than the gloom, tramped close to him across a
little grassy clearing.

"You! They drive you out?" a thick, unsure voice accosted him.

Parr hefted his club, wondering if this would be an enemy. "Yes. They
drove me out. I'm exiled from among exiles."

"Uh." The other seemed perplexed over these words, as though they stated
a situation too complicated. Parr's eyes, growing used to the darkness,
saw that this was a grotesque, shaggy form, one of the degenerate
outcasts from the village. "Uh," repeated his interrogator. "You come to
us. Make one more in camp. Come."

       *       *       *       *       *

Among tall trees, thickly grown, lay a throng of sleepers. Parr's
companion led him there, and made an awkward gesture.

"You lie down. You sleep. Tomorrow--boss talk. Uh!"

So saying, the beast-man curled up at the root of a tree. Parr sat down
with his back against another trunk, the club across his knees, but he
did not sleep.

This, plainly enough, was the outcast horde. It clung together, the
gregariousness of humanity not yet winnowed out by degeneration. It had
a ruler, too--"Tomorrow boss talk." Talk of what? In what fashion?

Thus Parr meditated during the long, moonless night. He also took time
to examine once more his captured armor. Its metal plates, clamped upon
a garment of leatheroid, covered his body and limbs, even the backs of
his hands, as well as his neck and scalp. Yet, as he had decided before,
it was no great protection against violence. As clothing it was
superfluous on this tropical planetoid. What then?

He could not see, but he could feel. His fingers quested all over one
plate, probing and tapping. The plate was hollow--in reality, two
saucer-shaped plates with their concave faces together. They gave off a
muffled clink of hollowness when he tapped them. When he shook the
armor, there was something extra in the sound, and that impelled him to
hold a plate close to his ear. He heard a soft, rhythmic whirr of

"There's a vibration in this stuff," he summed up in his mind. "What
for? To protect against what?"

Then, suddenly, he had it.

The greatest menace of the whole tiny world was the force that reversed
evolution--the vibration must be designed to neutralize that force!

"I'm immune!" cried Fitzhugh Parr aloud; and, in the early dawn that now
crept into the grove, his sleeping companions began to wake and rise and
gape at him.

He gaped back, with the shocked fascination that any intelligent person
would feel at viewing such reconstructions of his ancestors. At almost
the first glance he saw that the newest evolutionary thought was
correct--these were simian, but not apes. Ape and man, as he had often
heard, sprang from the same common fore-father, low-browed,
muzzle-faced, hairy. Such were these, in varying degrees of intensity.
None wore clothes. Grinning mouths exhibited fanglike teeth, bare chests
broadened powerfully, clumsy hands with short, ineffectual thumbs made
foolish gestures. But the feet, for instance, were not like hands, they
were flat pedestals with forward-projecting toes. The legs, though
short, were powerful. Man's father, decided Parr, must have had
something of the bear about his appearance ... and the most bearlike of
the twenty or thirty beast-men heaved himself erect and came slouching
across toward Parr.

This thing had once been a giant of a man, and remained a giant of an
animal. None of the others present were nearly as large, nor were any of
the men who had driven Parr forth. Six feet six towered this
hair-thicketed ogre, with a chest like a drayhorse, and arms as thick as
stovepipes. One hand--the thumb had trouble opposing the great cucumber
fingers--flourished a club almost as long as Parr's whole body.

"I--boss," thundered this monster impressively. "Throw down stick."

Parr had risen, his own club poised for defense. The giant's free hand
pointed to the weapon. "Throw down," it repeated, with a growl as
bearlike as the body.

"Not me," said Parr, and ducked away from the tree-trunk against which
he might be pinned. "What's the idea? I didn't do anything to you--"

"I--boss," said his threatener again. "Nobody fight me."

"True, true," chorused the others sycophantically. "Ling, he boss--throw
down club, you new man."

Parr saw what they meant. With the other community, the newest and
therefore most advanced individual ruled. In this more primitive
society, the strongest held sway until a stronger displaced him. The
giant called Ling was by no means the most human-seeming creature there,
but he was plainly the ruler and plainly meant so to continue. Parr was
no coward, but he was no fool. As the six-foot bludgeon whirled upward
between him and the sky, he cast down his own stick in token of

"No argument, Ling," he said sensibly.

There was laughter at that, and silly applause. Ling swung around and
stripped bare his great pointed fangs in a snarl. Silence fell abruptly,
and he faced Parr again. "You," he said. "You got on--" And he stepped
close, tapping the plates on Parr's chest.

"It's armor," said Parr.

"Huh! Ah--ar--" The word was too much for the creature, whose brain and
mouth alike had forgotten most language. "Well," said Ling, "I want. I

He fumbled at the fastenings.

Parr jumped clear of him. He had accepted authority a moment ago, but
this armor was his insurance against becoming a beast. "It's mine," he

Solemnly Ling shook his great browless head, as big as a coal-scuttle
and fringed with bristly beard. "Mine," he said roughly. "I boss. You--"

He caught Parr by the arm and dragged him close. So quick and powerful
was the clutch that it almost dislocated Parr's shoulder. By sheer
instinct, Parr struck with his free fist.

Square and solid on that coarse-bearded chin landed Parr's knuckles,
with their covering of armor plate. And Ling, confident to the point of
innocence because of his strength and authority, had neither guarded nor
prepared. His great head jerked back as though it would fly from his
shoulders. And Parr, wrenching loose, followed up the advantage because
a second's hesitation would be his downfall.

He hit Ling on the lower end of the breastbone, where his belly would be
softest. Above him he heard the beast-giant grunt in pain, and then
Parr swung roundabout to score on the jaw again. Ling actually gave
back, dropping his immense bludgeon. A body less firmly pedestalled upon
powerful legs and scoop-shovel feet would have gone down. It took a
moment for him to recover.

"Aaaah!" he roared. "I kill you!"

Parr had stooped and caught up his own discarded club. Now he threw it
full at the distorted face of his enemy. Ling's hands flashed up like a
shortstop's, snatched the stick in midair, and broke it in two like a
carrot. Another roar, and Ling charged, head down and arms outflung for
a pulverizing grapple.

Parr sprang sidewise. Ling blundered past. His stooping head crashed
against a tree, his whole body bounded back from the impact, and down he
went in a quivering, moaning heap. He did not get up.

Parr backed away, gazing at the others. They stood silent in a score of
attitudes, like children playing at moving statues. Then:

"Huh!" cried one. "New boss!"

A chorus of cries and howls greeted this. They gathered around Parr with
fawning faces. "You boss! You fight Ling--beat 'im. Huh, you boss!"

At the racket, Ling recovered a little, and managed to squirm into a
sitting posture. "Yes," he said, "you boss."

With one hand holding his half-smashed skull, he lifted the other in
salute to Parr.

       *       *       *       *       *

It took time--several days--but Parr got over his first revulsion at the
bestial traits of his new companions. After all, in shedding the wit and
grace of man, they were recovering the honest simplicity of animals. For
instance, Ling was not malicious about being displaced, as Shanklin had
been. Too, there was much more real mutual helpfulness, if not so much
talk about it. When one of the horde found a new crop of berries or
roots or nuts, he set up a yell for his friends to come and share. A
couple of oldsters, doddering and incompetent gargoyles, were fed and
cared for by the younger beast-men. And all stood ready to obey Parr's
slightest word or gesture.

Thus, though it was a new thought to them, several went exploring with
him to the north pole of their world. The journey was no more than
fifteen miles, but took them across grassy, foodless plains which had
never been worth negotiation. Parr chose Ling and another comparatively
intelligent specimen who called himself Ruba. Izak, the mild-mannered
one who had first met and guided Parr on the night of his banishment
from the human village, also pleaded to go. Several others would have
joined the party, but the deterioration of legs and feet made them poor
walkers. The four went single file--Parr, then big Ling, then Ruba, then
Izak. Each carried, on a vine sling, a leaf-package of fruit and a melon
for quenching thirst. They also carried clubs.

The plain was well-grassed, as high as Ling's knuckled knee.
Occasionally small creatures hopped or scuttled away. The beast-men
threw stones until Parr told them to stop--he could not help but wonder
if those scurriers had once been men. The hot sun made him sweat under
his plate-armor, but not for all the Solar System would he have laid it

They paused for noonday lunch in a grove of ferny trees beyond the
plain, then scaled some rough lava-like rocks. In the early afternoon
they came to what must be the asteroid's northern pole.

Like most of the asteroids, this was originally jagged and irregular.
Martian engineers in fitting it artificially to support life, had roughed
it into a sphere and pulverized quantities of the rock into soil. Here,
at the apex, was a ring of rough naked hills enclosing a pit into which
the sun could not look. Ling, catching up with Parr on the brow of the
circular range, pointed with his great club.

"Look like mouth of world," he hazarded. "Dark. Maybe world hungry--eat

"Maybe," agreed Parr. The pit, about a hundred yards across and full of
shadow, looked forbidding enough to be a savage maw. Izak also came

"Mouth?" he repeated after Ling. "Mmm! Look down. Men in there."

There was a movement, sure enough, and a flare of something--a torch of
punky wood. Izak was right. Men were inside this polar depression.

"Come on," said Parr at once, and began to scramble down the steep,
gloomy inner slope. Ling grimaced, but followed lest his companions
think him afraid. Ruba and Izak, who feared to be left behind, stayed
close to his heels.

The light of the torch flared more brightly. Parr could make out figures
in its glow--two of them. The torch itself was wedged in a crack of the
rock, and beneath its flame the couple seemed to tug and wrench at
something that gleamed darkly, like a great metal toadstool at the
bottom of the depression. So engrossed were the workers that they did
not notice Parr and his companions, and Parr, drawing near, had time to
recognize both.

One was Sadau, who would have remained his friend. The other was Varina
Pemberton. In the torchlight she looked browner and more vigorous than
when he had seen her last.

"What are you doing?" he called to them.

Abruptly they both snapped erect and looked toward him. Sadau seized the
torch and whirled it on high, shedding light. Varina Pemberton peered at
the newcomers.

"Oh," she said, "it's you. Parr. Well, get out of here."

Parr stood his ground, studying the toadstool-thing they had been
laboring over. It was a wheel-like disk of metal, set upon an axle that
sprouted from the floor of rock. By turning it, they could finish
opening a great rock-faced panel near by....

"Get out," repeated the girl, with a hard edge on her voice.

Parr felt himself grow angry. "Take it easy," he said. "Your crowd
booted me out, and I'm not under your rule any more. Neither can this be
said to be your country. We've as much right here as you."

"Four of us," added Ruba with threatening logic. "Two of you. Fight,

"Parr," said Sadau, "do as Miss Pemberton tells you. Leave here."

"And if I don't?" temporized Parr, who felt the eagerness of his
beast-men for some sort of a skirmish.

Varina Pemberton took something from her belt and pointed it. A brittle
report resounded--_whick_! And an electro-automatic pellet exploded
almost between Parr's feet, digging a hole in the rock. He jumped back.
So did his three comrades, from whose memories had not faded the
knowledge of firearms.

"The next shot," she warned, "will be a little higher and more carefully
placed. Get out, and don't come back."

"They win," said Parr. "Come on, boys."

They retired to the upper combing of rock, with the sun at their backs.
There Parr motioned them into hiding behind jagged boulders. Time
passed, several hours of it. Finally they saw Sadau and Varina Pemberton
depart on the other side of the hole.

"Good," rumbled Ling. "We follow. Sneak up. Grab. Kill."

"Not us," Parr ruled. "No war against women, Ling. But we'll go down
where they were working, and see what it's all about."

They groped their way down again. At the bottom of the pit-valley they
found the metal projection, so like a mighty steering wheel. Sadau's
torch lay there, extinguished, and Parr still carried a radium lighter
in the pocket of his shabby shorts. He made a light, and looked.

The big panel or rock, that had been half-open, was closed. As for the
wheel, it had been bent and jammed, by powerful blows with a rock. He
could not budge it, nor could the mighty Ling, nor could all of them

"They were inside this asteroid," decided Parr, half to himself. "Down
where the Martians planted the artificial gravity-machinery. Having been
there, they fixed things so nobody will follow them. Only blasting rays
could open up a way, and those would probably wreck the mechanism and
send air, water and exiles all flying into space. All this she did.

"Why what?" asked Izak, not comprehending.

"Yes, why what?" repeated Parr. "I can only guess, Izak, and none of my
guesses have been worth much lately. Let's go home, and keep an eye
peeled on our neighbors."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Martians had come again--the same space-patroller, repaired, and
twice as many hands and a new skipper. They carried no Terrestrial
exile--for once their errand was different.

Four of them, harnessed into erect human posture, armed and armored,
stood around the evening fire in the central clearing of the village now
ruled by Varina Pemberton. The skipper was being insistent, but not
particularly deadly.

"We rrecognize that fourr dead among you will ssettle forr one dead
Marrtian," he told the gathered exiles. "The morre sso ass you assurre
me that the man rressponssible hass been drriven frrom among you. But we
make one demand--the arrmorr taken frrom the body of the dead Marrtian."

"I am sorry about that," the chieftainess replied from her side. "We
didn't know that you valued it. If we get it back for you--"

"Ssuch action would rreflect favorrably upon you," nodded the Martian
skipper. "Get the arrmorr again, and we will rrefrrain frrom punitive

"Why do you want that armor so much?" inquired Shanklin boldly. He
himself had never thought of it as worth much. He was more satisfied to
have the knife, which he now hid behind him lest the Martians see and
claim. But the skipper only shook his petalled skull.

"It iss no prroblem of yourrss," he snubbed Shanklin. And, to Varina
Pemberton: "What time sshall we grrant you? A day? Two dayss?... Come
before the end of that time and rreporrt to me at the patrrol vessel."

He turned and led his followers back toward the plain where the ship was

Night had well fallen, and silence hung about the vessel. Only a
rectangle of soft light showed the open hatchway. The Martian officer
led the way thither, ducked his head, entered--

Powerful hairy hands caught and overpowered him. Before he could collect
himself for resistance, other hands had disarmed him and were dragging
him away. His three companions, narrowly escaping the same fate, fell
back and drew their guns and ray throwers. A voice warned them sharply:

"Don't fire, any of you. We've got your friends in here, and we've taken
their electro-automatics. Give us the slightest reason, and we'll wipe
them out first--you second."

"Who arre you?" shrilled one of the Martians, lowering his weapon.

"My name's Fitzhugh Parr," came back the grim reply. "You framed me into
this exile--it's going to prove the worst day's work you Martian
flower-faces ever did. Not a move, any of you! The ship's mine, and I'm
going to take off at dawn."

The three discomfited hands tramped away again. Inside the control room,
Parr spoke to his shaggy followers, who grinned and twinkled like so
many gnomes doing mischief.

"They won't dare rush us," he said, "but two of you--Ling and Izak--stay
at the door with those guns. Dead sure you can still use 'em?... You,
Ruba, come here to the controls. You say you once flew space-craft."

Ruba's broad, coarse hand ruffled the bushy hair that grew on his almost
browless head. "Once," he agreed dolefully. "Now I--many thing I don't
remember." His face, flat-nosed and blubber-lipped, grew bleak and
plaintive as he gazed upon instruments he once had mastered.

"You'll remember," Parr assured him vehemently. "I never flew anything
but a short-shot pleasure cruiser, but I'm beginning to dope things out.
We'll help each other, Ruba. Don't you want to get away from here, go

"Home!" breathed Ruba, and the ears of the others--pointed, some of
those ears, and all of them hairy--pricked up visibly at that word.

"Well, there you are," Parr said encouragingly. "Sweat your brains, lad.
We've got until dawn. Then away we go."

"You will never manage," slurred the skipper from the corner where the
Martian captives, bound securely, sprawled under custody of a beast-man
with a lever bar for a club. "Thesse animalss have not mental powerr--"

"Shut up, or I'll let that guard tap you," Parr warned him. "They had
mental power enough to fool you all over the shop. Come on, Ruba. Isn't
this the rocket gauge? Please remember how it operates!"

The capture of the ship had been easy, so easy. The guard had been well
kept only until the skipper and his party had gone out of sight toward
the human village. Nobody ever expected trouble from beast-men, and the
watch on board had not dreamed of a rush until they were down and
secure. But this--the rationalization of intricate space-machinery--was
by contrast a doleful obstacle. "Please remember," Parr pleaded with
Ruba again.

And so for hours. And at last, prodded and cajoled and bullied, the
degenerated intelligence of Ruba had partially responded. His clumsy
paws, once so skilful, coaxed the mechanism into life. The blasts
emitted preliminary belches. The whole fabric of the ship quivered, like
a sleeper slowly wakening.

"Can you get her nose up, Ruba?" Parr found himself able to inquire at

"Huh, boss," spoke Ling from his watch at the door. "Come. I see white

Parr hurried across to look.

The white thing was a tattered shirt, held aloft on a stick. From the
direction of the village came several figures, Martian and Terrestrial.
Parr recognized the bearer of the flag of truce--it was Varina
Pemberton. With her walked the three Martian hands whom he had warned
off, their tentacles lifted to ask for parley, their weapons sheathed at
their belts. Sadau was there, and Shanklin.

"Ready, guns," Parr warned Ling and Izak. "Stand clear of us, out
there!" he yelled. "We're going to take off."

"Fitzhugh Parr," called back Varina Pemberton, "you must not."

"Oh, must I not?" he taunted her. "Who's so free with her orders? I've
got a gun myself this time. Better keep your distance."

The others stopped at the warning, but the girl came forward. "You
wouldn't shoot a woman," she announced confidently. "Listen to me."

Parr looked back to where Ruba was fumbling the ship into more definite
action. "Go on and talk," he bade her. "I give you one minute."

"You've got to give up this foolish idea," she said earnestly. "It can't
succeed--even if you take off."

"No if about it. We're doing wonders. Make your goodbyes short. I wish
you joy of this asteroid, ma'am."

"Suppose you do get away," she conceded. "Suppose, though it's a small,
crowded ship, you reach Earth and land safely. What then?"

"I'll blow the lid off this dirty Martian Joke," he told her. "Exhibit
these poor devils, to show what the Martians do to Terrestrials they
convict. And then--"

"Yes, and then!" she cut in passionately. "Don't you see, Parr?
Relations between Mars and Earth are at breaking point now. They have
been for long. The Martians are technically within their rights when
they dump us here, but you'll be a pirate, a thief, a fugitive from
justice. You can cause a break, perhaps war. And for what?"

"For getting away, for giving freedom to my only friends on this
asteroid," said Parr.

"Freedom?" she repeated. "You think they can be free on Earth? Can they
face their wives or mothers as they are now--no longer men?"

"Boss," said Ling suddenly and brokenly, "she tell true. No. I won't go

It was like cold water, that sudden rush of ghastly truth upon Parr. The
girl was right. His victory would be the saddest of defeats. He looked
around him at the beast-men who had placed themselves under his
control--what would happen to them on Earth? Prison? Asylum? _Zoo_?...

"Varina Pemberton," he called, "I think you win."

The hairy ones crowded around him, sensing a change in plan. He spoke

"It's all off, boys. Get out, one at a time, and rush away for cover.
Nobody will hurt you--and we'll be no worse off than we were." He raised
his voice again: "If I clear out, will we be left alone?"

"You must give back that armor," she told him. "The Martians insist."

"It's a deal." He stripped the stuff from him and threw it across the
floor to lie beside the bound prisoners. "I'm trusting you, Varina
Pemberton!" he shouted. "We're getting out."

They departed at his orders, all of them. Ling and Izak went last,
dropping the stolen guns they had held so unhandily. Parr waited for all
of them to be gone, then he himself left the ship.

At once bullets began to whicker around him. He dodged behind the ship,
then ran crookedly for cover. By great good luck, he was not hit. His
beast-men hurried to him among the bushes.

"Huh, boss?" they asked anxiously. "Ship no good? What we do?"

He looked over his shoulder. Somewhere in the night enemies hunted for
him. The beast-folk were beneath contempt, would be left alone. Only he
had shown himself too dangerous to be allowed life.

"Goodbye, boys," he said, with real regret. "I'm not much of a boss if I
bring bullets among you. Get back home, and let me haul out by myself. I
mean it," he said sternly, as they hesitated. "On your way, and don't
get close to me again--death's catching!"

They tramped away into the gloom, with querulous backward looks. Parr
took a lonely trail in an opposite direction. After a moment he paused,
tingling with suspense. Heavy feet were following him.

"Who's coming?" he challenged, and ducked to avoid a possible shot. None
came. The heavy tread came nearer.

"Boss!" It was Ling.

"I told you to go away," reminded Parr gruffly.

"I not go," Ling retorted. "You no make me."

"Ling, you were boss before I came. Now that I'm gone from you--"

"You not gone from me. You my boss. Those others, they maybe pick new

"Ling, you fool!" Parr put out a hand in the night, and grabbed a mighty
shaggy arm. "I'll be hunted--maybe killed--"

"Huh!" grunted Ling. "They hunt us, maybe they get killed." He turned
and spat over his shoulder, in contempt for all marauding Martians and
their vassal Earth folk. "You, me--we stay together, boss."

"Come on, then," said Parr. "Ling, you're all right."

"Good talk!" said Ling.

       *       *       *       *       *

They went to the other side of the little spinning world, and there
nobody bothered them. Time and space were relative, as once Einstein
remarked to illustrate a rather different situation; anyway, the village
under Varina Pemberton numbered only eight men--Parr and Ling could
avoid that many easily on a world with nearly nine hundred square miles
of brush, rock and gully.

In a grove among grape-vines they built a shelter, and there dwelt for
many weeks. Ling wore well as a sole friend and partner. Looking at the
big, devoted fellow, Parr did not feel so revolted as at their first
glimpse of each other. Ling had seemed so hairy, so misshapen, like a
troll out of Gothic legends. But now ... he was only big and burly, and
not so hairy as Parr had once supposed. As for his face, all tusk and
jaw and no brow, where had Parr gotten such an idea of it? Homely it
was, brutal it wasn't....

"I get it," mused Parr. "I'm beginning to degenerate. I'm falling into
the beast-man class, closer to Ling's type. Like can't disgust like. Oh,
well, why bother about what I can't help?"

He felt resigned to his fate. But then he thought of another--Varina
Pemberton, the girl who might have been a pleasant companion in happier,
easier circumstances. She had banished him, threatened him, wheedled him
out of victory. She, too, would be slipping back to the beast. Her body
would warp, her skin grow hairy, her teeth lengthen and sharpen--Ugh!
That, at least, revolted him.

"Look, boss," said Ling, rising from where he lounged with a cluster of
grapes in his big hand. "People coming--two of 'em."

"Get your club," commanded Parr, and caught up his own rugged length of
tough torn-wood. "They're men, not beast-men--they must be looking for

"Couldn't come to a better place to find it," rejoined Ling, spitting
between his palm and the half of his cudgel to tighten his grip. The two
of them walked boldly into view.

"I see you, Sadau!" shouted Parr clearly, for there was no mistaking the
gaunt, freckled figure in the lead. "Who's that with you?"

The other man must be a new arrival. He was youngish and merry-faced as
he drew closer, with black curly hair and a pointed beard. There was a
mental-motive look to him, as if he were a high grade engineer or
machinist. He wore a breech-clint of woven grasses, and looked
expectantly at Parr.

"They aren't armed," pointed out Ling, and it was true. The pair carried
sticks, but only as staffs, not clubs.

"Parr!" Sadau was shouting back. "Thank heaven I've found you--we need
you badly." He came close, and Parr hefted his club.

"No funny business," he challenged, but Sadau gestured the challenge

"I'm not here to fight. I say, you're needed. Things have gone wrong,
awfully. The others got to feeling that there was no reason to obey a
woman chief, even though Miss Pemberton has many good impulses--"

"I agree to that," nodded Parr, remembering the girl's many strange
behaviors. "I daresay she wasn't much of a leader."

Sadau did not argue the point. "Shanklin, as the previous newest man,
grabbed back the chieftaincy," he plunged ahead. "Those other fools
backed him. When I tried to defend Miss Pemberton, they drove me out. I
stumbled among the others--that crowd you used to capture the
patroller--and got a line on where you were. I came for help."

One phase had stuck in Parr's mind. "You tried to defend that girl. They
were going to kill her?"

"No. Shanklin, as chief and king, figures he needs a queen. She's not
bad looking. He's going to marry her, unless--"

Parr snorted, and Sadau's voice grew angry. "Curse it, man, I'm not
casting you for a knight of the Table Round, or the valiant space-hero
who arrives in the nick of time at the television drama! Simplify it,
Parr. You're the only man who ever had the enterprise to do anything
actual here. You ought to be chief still, running things justly. And it
isn't justice for a girl to be married unofficially to someone she
doesn't like. Miss Pemberton despises Shanklin. Now, do you get my
point, or are you afraid?"

It was Ling who made answer: "My boss isn't afraid of anything. He'll
straighten that mess out."

Parr glanced at the big fellow. "Thanks for making up my mind for me,
Ling. Well, you two have talked me into something. Sadau, shake Ling's
big paw. And," he now had time to view the stranger at close hand,
"who's this with you?"

The man with the black curls looked genially surprised. "You know me,
boss. I'm Frank Rupert."

Parr stared. "Never heard of you."

"You're joking. Why, I almost got that Martian patroller into space,
when Miss Pemberton--"

Parr sprang at him and caught him by his shoulders. "You were
Ruba--Rupert! It's only that you didn't talk plain before. What's
happened to you, man?"

Sadau hastily answered: "The degeneration force is obviated. Reversed.
All those who were beast-men are coming back, some of the later arrivals
completely normal again. Haven't you noticed a change in this big husk?"

Parr turned and looked at Ling. So that was it! Day by day, the change
had not been enough to impress him. As Ling had climbed back along his
lost evolutionary trail, Parr had thought that he himself was slipping

"Don't stop and scratch your head over it, Parr," Sadau scolded him.
"It'll take a lot of explaining, and we haven't time. You said you'd
help get Miss Pemberton out of her jam. Come on."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was like the television thrillers, after all, Parr reflected. But
Sadau was right on one count--Parr didn't quite fill the role of the
space-hero. He had neither the close-clipped moustache nor the gleaming
top boots. But he did have the regulation deep, unfathomable eyes and
the murderous impulse.

It was just after noon. Shanklin, as chief-king, had also set up for a
priest. In the center of the village clearing, he stood holding a sullen
and pale Varina Pemberton by one wrist, while he recited what garblings
of the marriage service he remembered. His subordinates were gathered to
leer and applaud. They did not know of the rush until it was all over

Parr smote one on the side of the neck and spilled him in a squalling
heap. Sadau, Ling and Rupert overwhelmed the rest of the audience, while
Parr charged on into Shanklin. His impact interrupted the words "I take
this woman" just after the appropriate syllable "wo". As once before
with Ling, Parr dusted Shanklin's jaw with his fist, followed with a
digging jab to the solar plexus, and swung again to the jaw. Shanklin
tottered, reeled back, and Parr closed in again.

"I always knew I could lick you," Parr taunted. "Come on and fight,
bridegroom. I'll raise a knot on your head the size of a wedding cake."

Shanklin retreated another two paces, and from his girdle snatched the
Martian knife. He opened its longest blade with a snap. Varina Pemberton
screamed. Then, above the commotion of battle, sounded the flat smack of
an electro-automatic. Shanklin swore murderously, dropping his knife.
His knuckles were torn open by the grazing pellet.

And Parr, glancing in the direction whence the shot came, realized with
savage disgust that the space-hero had come after all. There stood a
gorgeous young spark in absolutely conventional space-hero costume, not
forgetting the top-boots or the close-clipped moustache. Parr moved
back, as if to allow this young demigod the center of the stage.

But Varina Pemberton was not playing the part of heroine. Instead of
rushing in and embracing, she set her slim hands on her hips. She spoke,
and her voice was acid: "It's high time you came, Captain Worrall. I did
my part of the job weeks ago."

The handsome fellow in uniform chuckled. "We weren't late, at least.
We've been hiding here for some time--saw what this fellow I shot loose
from the knife had in mind whole hours ago. But we also saw these
others," and he nodded toward Parr. "They sneaked up in such a
business-like manner, I hadn't the heart to spoil their rescue."

       *       *       *       *       *

Other uniformed men--hands of the Terrestrial Space Fleet--were coming
into view from among the boughs. They, too, were armed. Ling walked
across to Parr, a struggling captive under each arm.

"What are these strangers up to, boss?" he demanded. "Say the word and
I'll wring that officer's neck. I never liked officers, anyway."

"Wait," Parr bade him. Then, to the man called Captain Worrall: "Just
what are you doing here?"

"This asteroid," replied Worrall, "is now Terrestrial territory. We're
fortifying it against the Martians. War was declared three weeks ago,
and we made rocket-tracks for this little crumb. It's an ideal base for
a flanking attack."

Parr scowled. "You're fortifying?" he repeated. "Well, you'd better shag
out of here. There's a power--not working just now, but--"

"No fear of that," Varina Pemberton told him. She was smiling.

"I can explain best by starting at the start. Recently we got a report
of what the Martians were doing out here. We realized that Earth must
take care of her own, these poor devils who were being pushed back into
animalism. Also, with war inevitable--"

"You aren't starting at the start," objected Parr. "Where do you fit
into all this? You're no soldier."

"Oh, but she is," Captain Worrall said, offering Parr a cigarette from a
platinum case. "She's a colonel of intelligence--high ranking. Wonderful
job you've done, Colonel Pemberton."

She took up the tale again: "If the reverse-evolution power could be
destroyed, this artificially habitable rock in space would be a great
prize for our navy to capture. So I took a big chance--got myself framed
to a charge of Murder on Mars, and was the first woman ever sent here. I
knew fairly accurately when war would break out, and figured I had
months to do my work in. That captured armor gave me the clue."

"All I knew was that it gave off a vibration," nodded Parr.

"Exactly. Which meant that the evolution-reverse was vibratory, too. I
confided in Sadau, and he and I pieced the rest of the riddle together.
The vibrator would be inside, where nobody would venture for fear of
jamming the gravity-core--but we ventured--"

"And shut it off!" cried Parr.

"More than that. We reversed it, started it again at top speed to cause
a recovery from the degeneration process. Clever, these Martians--they
fix it so you can shuttle to and fro in development. Already the higher
beast-men are back to normal, like Rupert there, and the others will be
all right, soon."

"You had every right to chase me off at the end of a pistol," said Parr.
"I might have gummed the works badly."

"You nearly did that anyway," Varina Pemberton accused. "Fighting,
raiding, stirring up the Martians who might have put a crimp in my plans
any moment--but, being the type you are, you couldn't do otherwise. I
recognized that when I gave you the protective armor."

He gazed at her. "Why didn't you keep it for yourself?"

"No," and she shook her tawny head. "I figured to win or lose very
promptly. But you, armored against degeneration, might live after me and
be an awful problem to the Martians. Remember, I didn't make you give it
back until I had done what I came to do."

Worrall spoke again: "Colonel, these exiles must stay until all effects
of the degeneration influence is gone. They'll figure as civilians, with
colonists' rights. That means they must have a governor, to cooperate
with the military garrison. Will that be you?"

Shanklin dared to speak: "I am chief--"

"Arrest that man," the girl told two space-hands. "No, Captain. But I'm
senior officer, and I'll make an appointment. By far the best fitted
person for the governorship is Fitzhugh Parr."

The other exiles had pressed close to listen. Sadau, the diplomatic, at
once set up a cheer. Ling added his own loyal bellow, and the others
joined in. Parr's ears burned with embarrassment.

"Have it your way," he said to them all. "We'll live here, get normal,
and help all we can. But first, what have we to eat? We've got guests."

"No, governor, you're the guest of the garrison," protested Captain
Worrall. "Come aboard my ship yonder. I'll lend you a uniform, and
you'll preside at the head of the table tonight."

"Varina Pemberton," Parr addressed the girl who had caused so much
trouble and change on the little world of exile, "will you come and sit
at my right hand there?"

"A pleasure," she smiled, and put her arm through his.

Everybody cheered again, and both Parr and the girl blushed.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Devil's Asteroid" ***

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