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´╗┐Title: The Sloths of Kruvny
Author: Fearing, Vern
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 Sloths of Kruvny" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Amazing Stories Oct.-Nov. 1953. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.

                              THE SLOTHS



                           BY VERN FEARING

                       Illustrator: Henry Sharp

     _This world we live in is a pretty grim place. It's tough to
      make a living. At any moment we may get blown up, down or
      sideways by the atom bomb. The day after tomorrow may never
      come, and on top of all this, TV commercials are getting
      worse and worse. It seems that our only salvation is a sense
      of humor, so we give you "The Sloths ..." a very unserious

       *       *       *       *       *

Bradley Broadshoulders--friends called him "Brad", or "Broad", or
"Shoulders"--stood grim-lipped, as is the custom of spacemen, and
waited for the Commander to speak fateful words. He was an obese
youth, fully five feet tall, without a shred of muscle, but he wore
the green tunic of the Galaxy Patrol proudly, and his handsome, bony
head boasted a tidy crop of Venusian fungus. His gleaming eyes

"Brad, We Are In A Tough Fix!" the Commander said suddenly. His name
was Metternich, known also as Foxey Gran'pa; he had spoken in capitals
all over Europe and continued the practice since. "We Are Up Against
It!" he went on. "The Fate Of The World May Be At Stake!"

"What's wrong, chief?" asked Brad, jauntily.

"Plenty!" roared Metternich. "Nobody's Attacking The Earth--That's
What's Wrong! Nobody Is Out To Conquer The Universe! How Come, May I

Brad gulped. Could he believe his ears? No one attacking good, kind,
old Earth? Was there nothing in which a man could pin his faith, let
alone his ears? Were they, indeed, _his_ ears?

He turned to his best friend, Ugh, who stood beside him. Would he
stand behind him? Did he realize they were on the verge of A Mission?
Ugh was a _pastiche_, or _intermezzo_--a cross between a Martian and a
Texan--as loathsome and stupid a combination as one could wish. Why he
was Brad's best friend was a mystery. Squarely, he met Brad's gaze,
which left him an eye to spare. It winked, and Brad shuddered.

It was an omen....

"I Want To Know Why!" the Commander shouted. "You Have Your Secret
Orders! Off With You!"

A really fat omen.

The good ship, _Lox Wing_, was almost ready to go. She was a fine,
spaceworthy craft, Brad knew; just the same, it _was_ disconcerting to
see rats deserting her by the thousands. Not that he missed them; some
were sure to return as soon as Ugh appeared on the scene; he seemed to
fascinate them.

Just then, the rats paused. Sure enough, Ugh was coming. He was
reeling. He had apparently made the rounds, as is the custom of
spacemen, swilling vast quantities of airplane dope, and he was high
as a kite. Brad glommed him glumly in the gloaming, with more than a
glimmer of gloomy foreboding. It was wrong, he thought, all wrong. If
only it hadn't been too late to turn back. But it wasn't. They hadn't
even started yet. If anything, it was too early. There was no way out.
He entered the spaceship with a Si. Si, whose whole name was Silas
Mariner, shook his hand weakly, muttered: "Remember the _Albatross_!"
and tottered out.

It was an omen....

Presently, Brad and Ugh were blasting off. As the cigar-shaped vessel
rose to the starry void, spacemen, their visages lined and tanned like
cigars, held their cigars aloft in silent salute and gently flicked
their ashes, while softly, a cigar band played "_Maracas, Why You No
Love Me No More?_"

Two days out, Brad summoned Ugh. "How fast are we going?"

"Oh, say ... 30,000 miles an hour?"

Brad calculated rapidly and put down his abacus. "At this rate it'll
take us 14 years just to get out of our own lousy solar system!" he
barked. "Faster!"

Ugh said Yes, Sir, and vice versa. Then he upped the speed to 186,000
miles per second and came back and shyly told Brad.

Brad said "Bah! We'll be 70 years reaching the Big Dipper! Faster!"

"But _nothing_ can't _go_ any faster!" protested Ugh. "According to

"To hell with Einstein!" roared Brad. "Is he paying your salary?"

So they went faster.

The ship sped onward--unless it was upward--to fulfill its Mission.
Again and again Brad found himself wondering where he was going. The
Mission was a real stiff. He knew only that since there was
practically no life anywhere in the solar system, except for good,
kind, old Earth--Earth had seen to that--anyone attacking Earth--or
not doing so--was obviously somewhere in outer space! But here the
trail ended.

Courage, he told himself, courage! After all, was he not the grandson
of Pierre Fromage, inventor of the rubberband motor? With a start, he
realized he was not.

His own heritage, while covered with peculiar glory, was a more tragic
one--the spacemen's heritage. The Broadshoulders were brave, but
things happened to them. His grandfather, a traffic officer, had
chased a comet for speeding, and had, unfortunately, overtaken it. His
father had been spared the fire, but one day, aboard his spaceship,
someone spilled a glass of water. The gravity was off at the time, and
the water just hung there in mid-air until Brad's father walked into
it and drowned.

What would be his own end, he wondered? What other way was there to
die? Just then, through the bulkhead, he could hear Ugh swinging in
his hammock, playing the violin. He wondered if the rats were dancing,
like the last time he'd surprised him. Another thought was on the way,
something about rats and a new way to die, but Brad was already
asleep, mercifully having a nightmare.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was morning of the fifth day when the _Emergency Alarm_ (E-A) was
suddenly activated! Instantly, a host of automatic devices went off.
One turned on the fan, another blew the fuses, a third made the beds.
Bells clanged and bugles sounded every call from _Battle Stations_
(B-S) to _Abandon Ship_ (J-r). Brad and Ugh slept through it all.
Nothing was wrong, except with the _Emergency Alarm_ (E-A). It wore
itself out and the eventful voyage continued.

Brad woke on the ninth day. The 2-day pill he'd taken on the third day
had evidently done its work well. He was rested, he felt optimistic
again. When he looked out the porthole, he could see plenty of space
for improvement.

--But what was _that_?

There, half obscured in a tumbling, swirling mass of misty gray
clouds, he could make out something white! He pressed his nose against
the porthole and strained his eyes. It gave him the feeling of peering
into a Bendix, as is the custom of spacemen. His mouth went damp-dry.
This was it--whatever it was!

"Ugh!" he shouted, all agog. "Ugh! Ugh!"

Ugh dashed in, wheeling a large kaleidoscope. Expertly, they read the
directions and trained it on the mysterious formation. The Indicator
turned pale.

"By the ring-tailed dog star of Sirius!" barked Brad. "Why, it's
nothing more than an enormous gallstone, revolving in space!"

"This is Sirius!" barked Ugh.

"That's what _I_ barked!" snapped Brad. "And don't ask me _whose_ it
is! It's big enough to support life, that's the main issue! Prepare to

A strange, yet resplendent, civilization, thought Brad, looking out at
a sunlit landscape, or gallscape, of molten gold. The houses, stylish
igloos and mosques, were sturdily constructed of 3-ply cardboard and
driftwood. Before each house, mysteriously, stood a Berber pole of
solid peppermint.

Brad and Ugh bounded out of their ship. The two bounders stood there,
encased in heat-resistant pyrex pants, expecting the natives to make
things hot for them. Dumbfounded at the delay, they waited for the
attack to commence. It did not.

"I never!" said Brad, presently. "If we needed proof, we've got it!
Such a display of indolence is testimony enough that these people are
responsible for not attacking Earth! We shall have to use stratemegy!"

Swiftly, he took off his pants, revealing underneath the red flannel
costume of a 17th century French courtier, complete with powdered wig
and Falstaff. Ugh ran up a flag emblazoned with the legend: _Diplomacy
And Agriculture_, then planted beans all around the ship, while Brad
postured and danced the minuet.

The clever scheme worked beautifully. Soon an old man began circling
them on a bicycle, keeping a safe distance. Clearly, he was someone of
importance, for his long white beard was carefully braided and coiled
in a delivery basket on the handlebars. Furthermore, he wore a glowing
circlet on his forehead--so that Brad knew he was able to read their
minds--if they had any.

"How about throwing us a couple circlets?" Brad cried.

Instead, the old man, who was hard of hearing, flung them a couple
cutlets, which worked even better, and had protein besides.

Thus fortified, they were escorted to the palace.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some moments earlier, Brad had learned first, that Kruvny was the name
of this unusual culture, and second, that the High Kruv himself,
attended by all his nobles, would see him. Brad had then entered the
Kruv Chamber, or Trapeze Room, and he had learned nothing since. It
was all true, he told himself. The High Kruv _was_ hanging by his toes
from a trapeze, and so were all his nobles. The only difference was
that the High Kruv's trapeze was more ornate than the rest. Yes, said
Brad to himself, it was all true; he had been shaking and punching his
head, and nothing had changed.

"I come," he said, "from a far away land--"

"Shad-dap!" cried the Kruv. "Who cares?"

At this, the old man, who was still on his bicycle, whispered to Brad.
"They've all got headaches," he nodded, stroking his beard
sagebrushly. "It's all part of a great cosmic error--a tragedy played
among the spiral nebulae, to the hollow ringing laughter of the gods!
You see, we Sloths are only half the population of Kruvny," he went
on. "On the other side of our world live the Sidemen, or Sad Sax.
Legend has it that eons ago, the Sidemen were mistakenly delivered a
cargo of saxophones, from Saks Fifth Avenue." The old man's voice was
hushed as he added, "They have been practicing ever since."

"I see," said Brad. "And that accounts for the headaches here?"

"Small wonder," said the old man. "I bless the day I went deaf."

"But why do they do it?" asked Brad.

"The Sidemen? They're tryin' to drive us off'n the ranch--the planet,
I mean. Yuh see, they claim they _made_ this whole durned gallstone

"_Made_ it?" asked Brad, dully.

"Uh-huh." The old man spat Mercurian tobacco juice. "Just like on
Earth, where myriad minute oceanic organisms pile their skeletons to
form coral islands. Yuh see, the Sidemen eat radishes--love 'em, in
fact--but it gives 'em gallstones. They claim this whole world is the
collected gallstones of their ancestors." The old man wiped Mercurian
tobacco juice from his beard and shoes. "Kind of a hard claim to
beat," he opined.

"I see," said Brad. "That explains the misty swirling clouds all
around this planet, and why it's seldom visible. You follow me?"

"Yep," said the old man. "It's gas. Them radishes'll turn on you every

Suddenly the High Kruv began to sob. "Now you see, don't you, why we
haven't attacked Earth? A body can't keep his mind on anything around
here! I asked for a few secret weapons, and what did I get?" He was
blubbering now. "Oh, I tried, I tried! Appropriations and all that;
you may be sure we lined our pockets--but after years of stalling,
they showed up with two weapons they swore were terrible enough to put
an end to war. One of them was a water pistol."

"I see," said Brad. "And the other?"

"A ray gun."

Brad's eyes brightened. "A ray gun? May I see how it works?"

"Indeed you may!"

A platoon of maroon dragoons dragged in a queer apparatus. It looked
like a medieval cannon, with a Victorian phonograph speaker flaring
from its business end. The dragoons ranged around the weapon, keeping
their backs to it. One of them clutched the firing lanyard. There was
a pause, a brittle silence--then the lanyard snapped!

"'_Ray!_'" shouted the ray gun.

"What was that?" asked Brad.

Twice more the lanyard snapped. The ray gun boomed: "'_Ray! Ray!_'"

"You mean all it does is shout '_Ray_?'" asked Brad.

"Well, it can also shout '_Max_'," said the old man. "Fearful, ain't

"Yes," said Brad. He took a piece of old parchment from a breast
pocket. "This," he stated, "is the original deed to Manhattan. Notice
here on the bottom where it says $24. I am signing it over to you." He
signed with a flourish. "Now you have a legal claim, a crusade, and a
nice piece of property. Go get it!"

"But the headaches!" cried the old man.

"Cool, man, cool!" said Brad. "I'll mix a Bromo."

"Is it habit-forming?" cried the High Kruv.

"Not a bit," said Brad, mixing it. "Simply take one an hour, forever.
And now I must bid you farewell."

"Wait!" cried the Kruv. "Don't you want to take my lovely daughter
back with you?"

Brad looked at her. She was lovely. She had scales, but she was
lovely. She had magnificent blonde hair, some of it almost an inch
long, none of it on her head, but she was lovely.

"... Well," said Brad, hesitatingly. He had his eyes glued on her;
when he took them off, they made a noise like vacuum cups:

"Your mother won't like her," whispered Ugh.

"... Well," said Brad. He could feel Duty tugging inside. Not for him
the pipe and slippers. He was one of spaceway's men; he would go the
spacemen's way, off into waymen's space. Waymen, not women, he told
himself sternly. The call of the Ether ... the vacuous void ... the
black velvet wastes ... the outspread cloak of the universe, dripping
with stardust ... the undreamt-of galaxies ... these were the things
by which he lived. "... Well," said Brad.

"C'mon," said Ugh. "We'll only fight over her."

Slowly, they bounded back to their spaceship.

The ship sped backward, headed for Earth. It was days before the
mistake was discovered, and this alone spared their lives. For had
they completed their journey on schedule--but why be morbid?

The fact is, the Earth blew up. What a sight. The whole thing,
whirling one minute like the globe in Miss Fogarty's geography supply
closet--the next minute, whamo!

"Gee," said Ugh, soberly. "Guess we're lucky, huh?"

"... Well," said Brad. He hadn't said anything else for days, but he
didn't seem well at all. Funny, he thought. They promise you if you go
on working, work hard and don't fool around, don't ask questions, just
do your job, everything'll come your way. The next thing they're all
dead, and there's nobody to complain to, even. Was it selfish to think
of one's career at a time like this? No, he told himself. It was all
he knew. The Patrol was all that mattered!

He did some rapid calculation. They were far off the interplanetary
travel lanes; their fuel supply was down to a single can of kerosene;
food for perhaps 2 days remained. As he listened to Ugh tuning his
violin, scarcely audible over the squeakings and squealings that
filled the spaceship, he realized that the only solution--the only
thing that could save them, or the future of Earthmen--was for a
shipload of beautiful dames to rescue them within the next 36 hours.

He figured the odds against this to be fifty billion to one--but Brad
had fought big odds before.

Grim-lipped, he shaved.

       *       *       *       *       *

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