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´╗┐Title: Quest on Io
Author: Williams, Robert Moore
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 "Quest on Io" ***

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



                              QUEST ON IO

                       By ROBERT MOORE WILLIAMS

               Radium-seeking Andy Horn and his talking
                honey-bear believed they were alone on
                Jupiter's bleak satellite. Then out of
                nowhere dropped the space-girl trailing
                 a fateful comet of piracy and death.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                       Planet Stories Fall 1940.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


"Os--car"

Assistant Navigator Andy Horn cocked an attentive ear and listened for
an answer, but only the soft eternal moan of Io's restless winds came
to his straining ears.

"Dern that perfidious imp of Satan to hell and gone and back again,"
he muttered, stretching his red neck out like a turkey gobbler and
squawking again.

"Os--car.... Dern your flea-bitten hide. You better turn up."

Gravel grated on a rock ledge not five feet above him and a Ganymedian
honey bear stepped daintily into view. It was about the size of a fox,
had sleek, heavy brown wool interspersed with longer black hairs, and
a round, intelligent face. It sat down on the ledge and eyed him as
guilelessly as if it hadn't heard him calling all the time.

"Hi, Bub," it said.

Andy reached decisively for a rock. "Dern you, Oscar, I've told you
not to call me Bub." He let go with the rock, but Oscar had slipped
blithely to cover. Andy grabbed another rock and waited and pretty soon
the round face peeked over the ledge at him. It eyed the stone he had
in his hand and was very contrite.

"Aw, Boss, put down that rock. I was only foolin'."

Andy maintained his belligerent attitude.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Horn."

"That's better," Andy answered. "I didn't raise you on a bottle from
the time you were three weeks old to have you sass me when you're grown
up. Show some respect. Come on down from up there. We're going to eat."

Andy had brought food with him from Ganymede, for Io produced nothing
that human beings liked, except mineral wealth, and he was prospecting
for that, taking advantage of the two months' forced vacation while
the _Golden Stag_ was being repaired. A stern jet had jammed when
she was landing, and she had sat down heavily on her tail, shearing
off her stern rocket tubes and knocking a hole in her hull. In two
months, if fate was kind, he might possibly locate a claim that would
provide him with enough money to purchase the dream of his life, a neat
private space yacht lying at the docks on Luna where her millionaire
owner had left her after a narrow escape from a meteor had convinced
him that space travel was not for amateurs. The ship could be bought
for a hundred thousand, which was a give-away, and Andy had come to
Io prospecting, for with the ship he could earn a comfortable living
prospecting around the world. He had brought his honey-bear along for
company.

"Ah, food!" Oscar licked his chops, and started to descend, but
hesitated and looked doubtfully over his shoulder up the twisted,
rock-ribbed ravine.

"Boss," he said hesitatingly, "I think you ought to know and I was
going to tell you when you got so free with that rock, but there's
another of you blood-thirsty humans prospecting up this ravine,
and he's got a gun, and when you started shouting for me, he quit
prospecting and grabbed that gun, and started looking."

"The devil!" Andy ejaculated. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I have. Duck, Boss...." Oscar flattened himself out of sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

Andy needed no further urging. He squeezed his lithe six-feet down
behind a boulder just as a heat beam hissed over his head. It hit
the bluff behind him and he watched the dust boil out as the pulsing
radio-frequency beam turned to heat. The gun worked that way. A thin
radio-frequency special beam was projected and it continued on its way
until it struck something, when it turned to heat. It didn't work worth
a darn on Jupiter. The planet's soupy atmosphere turned the ray to heat
within a dozen feet of the muzzle, but in space, or in the extremely
thin atmosphere of Jupiter's moon, it was bad business.

Andy cautiously stuck his head around the boulder.

"Hey," he yelled, "cut out the shooting. What are you trying to do?
This ain't the Fourth of July."

"Get out of here," a shrill voice came floating down to him.

"This is a free country and I'll stay here as long as I damn well
please."

In answer a heat ray singed the top of the rock he was hiding behind.

"Blast 'im, Boss. He almost got you," he heard Oscar whisper.

"I'll make him hard to catch," he answered, pulling his stumpy blaster
from the holster at his back, and testing the spring to see if it
was wound up to maximum capacity. The blaster was spring actuated,
and hurled an explosive pellet about the size of a buckshot, which
was really a tiny atomic bomb. Where that pellet hit, there was big
trouble immediately, but the pellets in rare instances had been known
to explode in the gun, in which case the person who had hold of the gun
was never heard of again, so that blasters were not a favored weapon.
Andy had picked this one up at a bargain from a technician whose nerves
had gone bad from space strain and who no longer had enough guts
to shoot it. Blasters were not used on Jupiter or Saturn. Too much
atmosphere and gravity for even the most powerful spring to hurl the
pellet far enough for the shooter to be safe.

Andy poked one eye around the top of the boulder and squinted for a
target. He was in the edge of the glow zone. Off yonder, 216,000 miles
away, the mighty rim of Jupiter was visible. The sun was on the other
side of Io, but reflected light from the planet supplied illumination
much better than the best terrestrial moonlight.

Twisted, tumbled, torn and shattered rocks met his eye. Mosses,
lichens, a few tough, low-growing plants. It looked like a picture of
hell, but it was a prospector's paradise, for the rocks of Io were shot
through with veins of gold, silver, platinum, iridium, not to mention
the more common iron and copper, which were not sought for because
transportation back to earth was too expensive to pay profits.

"Off to the right," Oscar whispered.

The glint of Jove-glow on a polished sight up the ravine gave Andy
an aiming point and he snapped the blaster in that direction. He
over-estimated the weak gravity of Io and the pellet hit on top of a
high ridge beyond. A most satisfactory explosion took place there.
Rocks split and tumbled in every direction. Andy lowered his sights and
blasted again. Another brilliant explosion illuminated the landscape,
far to the left this time.

"You shoot like a rocket-man," Oscar commented.

"Shut up," Andy growled. The men who tended the rockets lived in
atmosphere of constant hammering from the explosion of the driving
charges. A few years handling rockets and a man was unable to hold
his hands still, so that old rocket-men always looked like they had
well-developed cases of _paralysis agitans_. To tell a navigator,
who had to have sure nerves and steady hands, that he resembled a
rocket-man was a supreme insult.

"Duck, Boss, he's drawing a bead on you," came Oscar's hurried whisper,
and Andy jerked his head down behind the boulder just in time to avoid
a ray that frothed across the top of the stone. No warning shot, that
one. The unknown marksman had fired that shot with honest intentions of
doing damage.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ray skipped back and forth across the boulder, went over the top
and burned into the bluff beyond. Andy watched it, and wondered what
in hell all the shooting was about. Io, by order of the Interplanetary
Council, was free territory, with the exception of commercial
developments, but any straggler was always welcome there, for the sake
of his companionship. Andy did not know whether he had stumbled into a
space-pirate's lair, or whether some cracked prospector was using him
for a target.

The ray played out, vanished, but Andy kept his head down and waited.
Minutes passed. Gravel crunched at his left and he swung the blaster
up, but it was the honey-bear.

"Oh, it's you," Andy said. "Get back up there and keep your eye peeled
for the man with the ray gun."

"He has beat it. I saw him slip back up the ravine and over the ridge."

"The deuce he has!"

"Yeh. Let's get out of here. This shooting makes me nervous."

Andy stuck his head over the boulder. Nothing happened. He waved his
cap, sure that this would draw fire, but it didn't. He lifted his
blaster, whereupon Oscar hurried out of sight. He loosed a couple of
pellets, which tore up great holes in the rocky ravine. There was no
answer. He climbed up on the boulder. Only desolation met his eye.

"Is the shooting over?" Oscar chirped from some unseen but probably
secure refuge.

"Yeh. Come on out."

The honey-bear came into sight. He looked up at Andy.

"Boss, I tell you let's get out of here. First thing you know, you'll
get in the way of a heat beam, and then what'll I do for sugar?"

"Skirmish, dern you, skirmish. We're going to track that fella down and
find out how come all this shooting."

"Not me, Boss, not me."

"Yes, you, or no sugar."

"Aw, hell."

Oscar subsisted largely on a Ganymedian sweet and found sugar
an excellent substitute. The honey-bears were a great puzzle to
scientists. Their hair glowed when subjected to rays from radium, the
creatures were very intelligent, had vocal organs readily adaptable to
human speech, but were altogether an enigma. They lived in holes in
the ground, had a very loose tribal organization, but made no effort
to improve their condition, and obviously despised the human race for
trying to improve theirs. They were content to be honey-bears, or
_thlots_, to give an approximate English rendering of what they called
themselves. Affectionate and loyal, they made marvelous pets. And while
Oscar protested against following the person who had shot at them, Andy
knew the _thlot_ would be right with him.

Their advance over the broken terrain of Io would have done credit to
an Indian. Andy, figuring an ambush might be ahead, was very cautious,
and Oscar was cautious by nature.

They had advanced for over a mile when Andy caught a glimpse of a tiny
glow in a crevice in the rocks. He crept forward and found himself on
a ledge overlooking a very humble camp. Perhaps thirty feet below him,
the man was sitting. He was using his heat-gun set at low concentration
to boil water, an old prospector's trick.

Even in the cumbersome garb necessitated by the chill of Io, the man
looked lithe and slender. Some youngster, Andy decided, taking a
desperate chance on a frosty moon, but he wondered what necessity would
drive a kid to brave the rigors of Jupiter's flea-bitten satellite.

       *       *       *       *       *

He craned his neck for a better look and a loose stone turned under his
feet. The figure tending the boiling kettle was on the alert instantly.
He had grabbed the heat-gun and was looking for a target. Andy was in
a pickle. He was too close to use the blaster, and he didn't want to
use it anyhow, but any second the man would locate him and then the
heat-gun would make him sizzle. There was only one thing to do, and
he did it. He launched himself out into space, the weak gravity of Io
permitting him to make the drop without danger.

Andy heard a startled cry as the man saw him coming. The gun hummed as
a ray lanced by him. And then he landed on the man's neck, the heat-gun
went flying, and the man crumpled, Andy landing on top. The man wiggled
and Andy twined his legs around the middle, applied pressure. Hands
scratched at his face. He launched a short jab, aiming at the chin, but
the man jerked his head to one side and Andy's fist landed up on the
head, doing no damage but knocking off the man's cap. Andy took one
look at the short red curls flying in his face and hastily stopped his
fight.

He released his legs and scrambled to his feet.

"Madam--" he began, his intention being to say that he was sorry, but
she made a grab for the heat-gun and he was obliged to shove her, which
was not the thing a gentleman would do--but then ladies usually didn't
try to blister every strange man they met with a heat ray. Andy picked
up the gun.

"Madam," he said reprovingly, "What in heck ails you?"

"Give me that gun, you--claim-jumper!"

Since she was starting toward him, he held the gun behind him. Seeing
she couldn't get the gun, she stopped, and the blast she launched from
her eyes made Andy think they were heat guns of a new kind.

"Singe her, Boss, singe her," a new voice spoke, and Oscar came
scrambling down the gravel slide.

"Oh!" the girl gasped, for Oscar looked plenty blood-thirsty as he
galloped. "It's a dingo. Kill it, quickly."

Dingoes were the only predatory animals found on Io. What they lacked
in size they made up in fierceness, and since they usually hunted in
packs, they made life very unhappy for the lone prospector.

"No. It's Oscar. He's not dangerous." The honey-bear skidded to a stop
beside them, saw how fright had made the girl move close to his boss,
and disgust was very plain in his voice.

"Phooey--a woman!"

She saw the half-grin lurking on Andy's face, and jerked away, her
cheeks flaming.

"He liked to have you stand close to him, the idiot," said Oscar in an
easy way.

"Mind your manners!" said Andy sharply, but the _thlot_ only grinned
and wrinkled his nose to show his disgust. Oscar was a woman-hater.

"Now that you've got me, what are you going to do with me?" she snapped.

"Do? Do with you--" It was a poser, Andy saw. He hadn't wanted a
woman, hadn't bargained for one, and hadn't the least idea of what to
do with one. He knew that men frequently married them, and while he
was thirty-three and quite old enough to get married, he hadn't been
planning on it, for space men on the Jupiter run usually didn't live
long enough to enjoy matrimony. And anyhow, Andy had a vague idea
that you were supposed to be in love before you got married, after an
appropriate interval of moonlight, and romance, and nonsense.

"I'm not going to do anything with you," Andy continued, shaking his
head.

"Why did you jump on me then?"

"I! Hell, woman!--I beg your pardon--Why did you shoot at me?"

"Because you and your gang tried to jump my claim. You know that as
well as I do."

"Me? I never jumped a claim in my life. I'm a navigator, doing a little
prospecting on the side, while my ship is laid up." And since she
seemed doubtful, he showed her his credentials and told her the story,
even telling her about the yacht on Luna that he wanted to buy.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh," she said. "Oh ... I'm sorry. I had located an outcropping of
quartz, and three men tried to take it away from me, and I thought you
were one of them.... I'm very sorry."

"Quite all right," Andy answered awkwardly. "A perfectly natural
mistake."

"Phooey!" Oscar snapped. "Women!"

Andy glared at the _thlot_ and turned to the girl. "Prospecting is a
mighty tough occupation for a single woman, isn't it, Ma'am?"

"My father was a prospector. I was born in a mining camp on Ganymede,
and I followed my father from the time I was able to walk. Yes, it's
a hard life, but it's better than being a sissie and having some man
support you because he happens to be married to you."

"Um--" said Andy thoughtfully. "Um--"

"You got something there," Oscar interpolated.

"I was just getting ready to eat," the girl said suddenly. "Will you
join me?"

"Only too happy to, provided you tell me your name." It was a
magnificent effort, for Andy.

"Frieda Dahlem."

"Frieda--Ah, nice name."

"Poppycock!" said Oscar. "Let's eat."

Conversation languished during the meal. Andy glared at the _thlot_,
but Oscar was busy with his cube of sugar, too happy to say anything.

"Have you--have you found anything in your prospecting?" Andy asked.

"No. Oh, there's the outcropping of quartz I told you about, but the
vein isn't rich enough to make it profitable. To import extraction
machinery would cost a small fortune. The hills here are full of
caves--dark, gloomy places that looked like they would make good hiding
places for dingos, and I've been afraid to venture into them. Have you
had any luck?"

"Naw. I guess I'll be a navigator until the end of my days," Andy
answered dolefully.

"More sugar, Boss. One more lump, please," Oscar queried.

"Sugar costs a fortune here, you glutton, freight rates being what they
are. No more for you today."

"Aw, Mr. Horn, one more lump, please."

"Give the horrid thing another lump, Mr. Horn." Oscar sulked at being
called a "horrid thing." Fearful of an outburst of _thlot_ profanity,
Andy hurriedly produced the requested sugar. Oscar grinned happily.

The grin and the happiness both vanished as something hissed through
the air over their heads. It struck several hundred yards beyond them
and the explosion sent debris showering in the air. Andy and the girl
jumped to their feet.

"It's those men who tried to jump my claim," Frieda said. "They have
come back."

The air hissed again and another explosion followed.

"Home was never like this," Oscar wailed. "Where are those caves the
woman was talking about? Me for them."

"That's a darned good idea," Andy answered. "We better move out of
here, and move fast."

Frieda needed no urging. Her face was white, but she held her heat-gun
resolutely as they skipped over the rocks. Andy had his blaster out,
and was searching vainly for a target. Another explosion shook the
ancient, time-worn hills.

Andy snapped three shots at random and three explosions followed. This
business was a game that two could play at.

[Illustration: _Andy's blaster roared again. "Quick!" he barked, "Get
inside the cave. It's our only chance...."_]

"This way," Frieda panted, the thin air of Io not providing enough
oxygen for fast running.

       *       *       *       *       *

Following her pointing finger, Andy saw a dark opening yawning in the
face of the bluff. In other circumstances he would have instantly
noticed that it had an artificial appearance, as if the cave had been
cut into the stone by other than natural means. Frieda came to a
panting halt just inside the entrance, but Oscar, his tail between his
legs, skipped rapidly out of sight into the dark cavern. The _thlot_
loved peace.

"Frieda--Miss Dahlem, I mean," Andy panted. "We're safe here, at any
rate."

Almost immediately a blast shook the cavern. Loosened stone fell from
the roof, there was a shower of debris outside, the cavern rumbled, and
the light coming in through the entrance faded as a landslide almost
completely blocked the opening.

"Hell!" Andy gasped, "another shot like that and we'll be buried alive.
This is no place for us. Let's get out of here."

He moved to the entrance, his earth-sired muscles thrusting aside slabs
of stone that he could not have handled on earth. Frieda worked with
him. Together they cleared a space of less than two feet at the top of
the cavern, which would allow them to slip out. Andy stuck his head out
and immediately jerked it back.

"There are three of 'em. They're on top of the hill and they've got a
blaster trained on us. Luckily they didn't see me, but if we try to
run, they'll blow us to smithereens."

"Can't you get a clear shot at them?"

"Maybe. But if I miss, they'll blow enough junk over the mouth of this
cave to bury us a mile deep. Too much chance. What's eating them,
anyhow?"

"They saw some very rich samples that I had dug out of the quartz vein
I told you about. If the whole vein were as rich as those samples, it
would be worth a fortune, and they think it is that rich. Having tried
to take it, they know they have to kill us, for if we escape, the space
police will round them up and give them a shot of gas."

"Um--I see. Looks tough on the home team."

She didn't answer. Andy cautiously stuck his head outside and jerked it
back as another atomic pellet dislodged a huge stone that came sliding
down the hill.

"Did they see you?"

"Don't think so. That was just a shot for good luck. They think we're
bottled up in here, but you can bet, if we lie still and don't give
them any indication that we're alive, they'll be around to make certain
our goose is cooked. I would, if I were in their place."

Frieda looked at him and he immediately added, "I mean that's the
logical thing to do. If you've got to kill somebody, make sure he's
dead."

It was a hard statement but the men who piloted the liners on the
Jupiter run were a hardy breed. They took grim chances every day the
liners were in space and were accustomed to look death in the face and
call him friend.

They waited. Andy scooped out an opening where he could watch without
being seen. Frieda, sitting below him, whispered to him several times,
but his only answer was a terse command to shut up. He was watching the
three men who had now begun to move stealthily down the opposite hill.

They came slowly, taking advantage of every bit of cover. Andy watched
and grimly waited, pushing his blaster into position. He had no
illusions on this matter, but he was aware that the girl was protesting.

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to blow those crooks clear to Jupiter," he answered,
finality in his tone.

"No," she protested. "Can't you hold them and disarm them?"

"Don't be an idiot! How?"

"I don't know. But it's murder to shoot them down like that."

"Yeh? They been asking for it. Ah...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The three men were standing in a cleared space looking across at the
bluff, evidently deciding on what to do. Andy squinted through the
sight, lifted his head to estimate the distance and the drop, dropped
the rear sight a notch, and squinted again. He was aiming for the
blaster in the hands of the first man, a tough-looking, bearded brute.
If the pellet from his gun hit the blaster in the man's hands--well,
there wouldn't be enough left of the three men to smell bad. He
steadied his gun, started to squeeze the trigger.

"Stop it," said a wailing voice in his ear and a heat-gun prodded him
in the back. "It's murder. I can't let you do it."

"You infernal idiot!" Andy shouted, forgetting himself. The sound of
his voice reached the three men. They took to cover. Andy ducked away
from the opening. He half carried, half led the protesting girl back
into the cave. They were just in time. A sharp explosion at the mouth
sent tons of rock cascading down, blocking the entrance completely.

"Now we're fixed!" said Andy grimly. "We'll never get out."

The girl was sobbing softly. "I'm sorry--I couldn't help it--"

Another explosion sounded outside. Andy could hear the muffled sound of
falling stone.

"They're doing a good job--" he began "Hello Jupiter! What was that?"

The cavern swayed and rocked to the blast of a terrific explosion. It
sounded like a blast from a battery of atomic cannon. A section of the
roof between them and the entrance fell in and a choking dust arose.
The ground seemed to buckle.

The solid stone quivered like jelly.

"I got it," said Andy, awe in his voice. "Their blaster. A pellet
exploded when the spring hit it, and that set off the magazine."
He hesitated, then continued. "There's not ... enough left for
identification purposes."

The girl was crying. "Anyhow ... you didn't murder them," she sobbed.
"And I'm glad--you didn't."

"So am I, kind of. We got maybe a week or two to be glad in. We have a
few condensed food tablets in my pack. Everything else is back at camp.
The tablets will last a little while...."

He could hear the girl crying softly, but the closing of the entrance
had shut off the last gleam of light from the cave, and he couldn't
see her. Awkwardly he reached out in the darkness, found her, drew her
gently to him.

For a long time there was silence broken only by an occasional soft
whisper of sound as one or the other changed his position. Andy
realized that he was a little thirsty, and he wondered if this was the
forerunner of the violent pangs to come.

He was aware of her soft whisper.

"Sh--Look--"

A spot of weirdly glowing light was moving slowly along the cavern
floor. Without body, or visible means of locomotion, it seemed to flow
along. Andy felt his hair rising as he looked at it.

"Give me your heat-gun," he whispered, and the weapon was passed over
to him. He lined up the sights and waited.

       *       *       *       *       *

The small spectral figure slowly approached. It hesitated, moved back,
then came forward again. Andy forgot that he was thirsty, that he would
soon be hungry, that he was doomed to die.

He could hear the girl breathing hard.

What was the glowing figure? Was it friendly. He did not know, did not
dare to guess. Perhaps it was seeking them, perhaps it recognized food
in them. Perhaps it was some form of electrical energy, perhaps it
resembled jelly, like the blobs that existed on Callisto that were so
avid for human flesh.

Andy held the sights of the heat gun on it, waited. He did not know
whether the gun would affect it.

The girl was breathing in long, slow pants, like she was holding her
breath.

It came nearer, shining like a gigantic fire-fly except that the glow
was pale blue instead of golden. It was within twenty feet of them.

"Shoot!" Frieda whimpered. "Shoot, quickly...."

He started to squeeze the trigger.

"Boss," a familiar but unhappy voice spoke. "Something is wrong with
me. I shine."

"Oscar!" Andy shouted dropping his gun. "You imp! Where in hell have
you been?"

The glowing spot bounded forward, leaped into Andy's arms.

"Do something for me, Boss. I shine and I don't like it."

The girl's laughter sounded silly.

"I'll do something for you. I'll buy you a barrel of sugar."

Radium. Somewhere in this cavern was a deposit of radium, and Oscar
had run into it. The hair of the _thlot_ glowed when in the presence
of radio-active energy. Andy was laughing crazily. Radium ... more
precious than diamonds. Fortune. The ship on Luna. His! He had
forgotten they were locked in the cavern.

"Come on," he yelped. "Lead us to the place where you started glowing."

"It's back in there, in a ball. I don't want to go. Let's get out of
here."

"You take us there, or I'll break your damned neck."

"Aw, Boss...."

"Get going."

Oscar, complaining bitterly, started off. They followed.

The cave widened out into an immense chamber. In the center was a
crucible of some kind, a cracked, battered crucible filled with glowing
matter. Andy scratched his head, moved forward.

"There it is, Boss, right there."

A soft glow, like moonlight, filtered through the interstices of the
crucible, dimly illuminating the cavern. Dust moved beneath their feet,
dust that had not been disturbed for ages. Oscar sneezed.

A heavy, cup-like crucible with cracked walls that had been several
feet thick ... in the center was a softly glowing ball.... Andy bent
over it.... Radium.... There was no doubt.... But....

"Hell," he said, his jaw dropping. "Hell...."

His eyes caught the heavy outlines in the dust on the floor. He stirred
it with his toe.

"Intelligence," he muttered. "Intelligence was here, in this cavern
perhaps a hundred centuries ago. The crucible is lead, incredibly old.
Perhaps part of it was once radium. It was the heart of some kind of an
engine, some method of releasing energy, possibly hundreds of thousands
of years ago. Look! You can see in the dust where other metals, which
formed a framework, have oxidized...."

The girl said nothing, and Oscar, for once was silent.

"Once there was intelligent life on Io. It built this, and left it for
some reason that we can't even guess at."

       *       *       *       *       *

Frieda stared at the glowing metal, moved back.

"A fortune," she said. "Yours."

"No," he corrected. "Ours."

They were silent. The mighty cavern was silent. Dim ghosts seemed to
move in it, the shadows of a mighty people that had once been here, and
had gone....

"I want to get away from here," Oscar whimpered. "I don't like this
place."

Andy sighed. Their dust would mingle with the dust of the builders of
the cavern. Another hundred thousand years would pass before the place
was rediscovered. Maybe more....

"We can't," said Andy. "The entrance is blocked."

"The hell we can't!" Oscar answered. "When all the shooting was going
on the rocks started to fall in here, and I looked for a way out. The
hill is hollow. There's an opening on the other side. Come on. Quit
gaping at me, and get a move on."

"_Thlot_," said Andy grimly. "If you're lying, I will break your neck."

"I'm not lying. Come on. You can come back later. I itch from being
near that shining stuff."

The _thlot_ led them off into the darkness. At last a dim glow of light
showed up ahead. Andy pushed ahead of the honey-bear, stepped through
a narrow opening, got a glimpse of the rim of Jupiter, red and angry,
immovable on the horizon.

He was suddenly very tired. He sat down heavily, stared at the
forbidding planet. Forbidding it was, but it looked mighty good to him
at that moment.

The soft purring of the _thlot_ made him turn his head. The girl had
sunk to the ground. She was scratching him and he was purring. Andy
looked at him reprovingly.

"I know it's poppycock," said Oscar, "but I like it. You ought to have
her scratch your back sometime."





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