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´╗┐Title: World of Mockery
Author: Moskowitz, Sam
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 "World of Mockery" ***

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                           World of Mockery

                           By SAM MOSKOWITZ

             When John Hall walked on Ganymede, a thousand
             weird beings walked with him. He was one man
              on a sphere of mocking, mad creatures--one
                 voice in a world of shrieking echoes.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Summer 1941.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


John Hall wiped away blood that trickled from his mouth. Painstakingly
he disengaged himself from the hopeless wreckage of the control room.
He staggered free, his lungs pumping with terrific effort to draw
enough oxygen from the thin, bitterly cold air of Ganymede--that had
rushed in when his helmet had been shocked open.

Feeling unusually light he walked over to an enormous tear in the side
of his space-cruiser. A bleak scene met his eyes. Short, grotesquely
hewn hills and crags. Rocky pitted plains. And a bitter, wild wind blew
constantly, streaming his long hair into disarray.

He cursed through tight lips. Fate! He had been on his way to Vesta,
largest city of Jupiter, when his fuel had given out. He had forgotten
to check it, and here he was.

Despondently he kicked a small rock in front of him. It rose unhindered
by the feeble gravitation fully thirty feet in the air.

Suddenly there were a dozen scuffing sounds, and a dozen stones winged
themselves painstakingly through the air and began to descend in slow
motion.

Surprise struck, he gazed furtively about him. Momentarily his heart
seemed caught in some terrible vise.

There was a sudden movement behind a close ridge. Momentarily John
Hall was rendered paralyzed. Then he backed slowly toward the ship and
safety behind a Johnson heat ray. The vague form abruptly materialized,
etched in black against the twilight horizon of Ganymede. The effect
was startling. The creature stood upright, on two legs, with two
gnarled, lengthy arms dangling from its bony shoulders. Human? The
question registered itself on his brain, and the thing in front of
him gave unwitting reply, as it moved to a clearer position. No, not
human. Maybe not even animal. Two great eyes bulged curiously from a
drawn, shrunken, monkey-like face. The body was as warped and distorted
as the bole of an old oak tree. With pipe-stem arms and legs, bulging
at the joints. Its most natural position seemed to be a crouch, with
the arms dragging on the ground. Somehow this travesty of human form
struck him as being humorous. He chuckled throatily, and then stopped
with a start as the same chuckle crudely vibrated back, echo-like.
But it was no echo! No, that wasn't possible. John raised his hand
to scratch his head through force of habit; forgetful that this was
impossible through the thick glassite helmet he wore. The tall,
gangling creature in front of him watched closely for a moment, then
stretched one preposterously long limb up and scratched briskly on his
leathery skull in imitation of John Hall.

The answer struck him instantly. Why hadn't he thought of it. This
animal, this thing, whatever it was, was a natural mimic. Such a
thing was not unknown on earth. Monkeys often imitated the gestures
of humans. Parrots prattled back powerful expletives and phrases. He
rather welcomed his new find now. It would be pretty dismal all alone
on desolate Ganymede with no one to talk to but himself, and this
strange animal would undoubtedly help to lighten the long, dreary
hours, perhaps days, that stretched ahead of him until rescue came.
Certainly there was nothing to fear from this creature; not at least
by himself, born to resist the pull of a gravity force many times more
powerful then that of Ganymede's.

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked slowly toward the creature viewing its reactions carefully.
It held its ground. Evidently fear was not an element in its makeup.
Why should it be? Doubtlessly these things were the only animate
life on the globe. Masters of all they surveyed. No other beings to
contest their supremecy. No need then for fear or even for savageness.
They were, undoubtedly, happy-go-lucky beasts who scavenged the bleak,
rocky surface of the moon for hardy mosses or whatever they lived
on. He heard a scuffing noise to his left. Another creature, similar
almost in every detail to the first had popped into view. That seemed
to be a signal for a dozen others to haphazardly appear from the most
unexpected places and niches. One rose up within a few feet of Hall and
blinked its great eyes at him in greeting.

"What the--", Hall spluttered to himself, "seems to be a family reunion
of some sort." Suddenly, prompted by some impish quirk he shouted to
his bizarre audience, "Hello there." A moment of silence and then a
chorus of rasping sounds sent back "Ah-low-da." Probably the closest
that their crude vocal apparatus could interpret his alien accents.
Continuing his mock procedure, John stretched his hands aloft, and then
in stiff, prim fashion bowed low. With solemn dignity the assembly
emulated his action. John leaped twenty feet into the air with glee,
and as he floated slowly to the ground he watched the pitiful attempts
below to equal his feat.

For a moment everything was still and John good-naturedly surveyed the
grotesque caricatures of human beings that surrounded him. "Well," John
finally commented candidly, "at least we are in agreement over what
line of action to follow, which is more than I could say for a lot of
human friends of mine." A blurred attempt at imitation followed.

Then abruptly it was dark. Just like that. Perhaps you have seen
darkness fall in the tropics? Just ten or fifteen minutes of twilight
and then it's dark. The thin atmosphere of Ganymede did not maintain
twilight very long. John cursed a little as he backed his erratic
way back to the ship, revealed only by the gleam of the stars on
its rounded hull. He groped about for the tear in the surface of
the glimmering shell, found it and tumbled hastily in to escape the
terrible cold that was forming in the absence of the sun's heat. The
pilot room was rapidly assuming the aspect of an underground cavern
with long, gleaming icicles hanging from the top. John grumbled a
bit, and then opened the door to the small supply room. Closed it
quickly behind him and sat down on a box of canned beans. Funny,
he reflected, that they had never been able to produce synthetic
foods in feasible form. Perhaps habit was harder to change than the
scientists had thought. People still liked their meals--solid. He
reached out and switched on the feeble storeroom light which operated
from an independent source. Its yellow glow brought back a comforting
nostalgia. He dined frugally on a can of beans and some biscuits;
turned the heating units of his suit up to 70 degrees, and dozed into
fitful slumber.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some indeterminate period later he awoke. His mind still a little
numbed by sleep he slipped the catch on his helmet and threw it back
in order to take advantage of the bracing effect the sharp, thin air
of Ganymede had displayed on the previous evening. He was totally
unprepared for the furnace-like blast of heat that swept across his
exposed features. He stood for a moment, stupefied, while the oven-heat
dried the juices of his face and started to take on a blistering
effect. Comprehension dawned magically and he snapped back the helmet
and breathed with distinct relief the air supplied by his space
suit which was scientifically kept at a pleasant temperature. The
explanation was simplicity itself. The air cover of Ganymede was so
thin, and its cloudless skies so clear, that the sun, though distant,
beat down like old fury itself. He opened the door that led from the
supply room into the pilot room. The long, pointed icicles which had
formed the previous night were gone. The only clue to show that they
had once existed was a rapidly rising cloud of steam from the steel
floor. His glassite helmet misted swiftly as he walked through the
room, then cleared slowly as he stepped out into the full glare of the
sun. He could not help but admire the potency of this yellow star, even
from a distance at which it appeared hardly larger than a standard
sized base ball.

He cupped one heavily encased hand over the top of his helmet to
protect his eyes from the sun, and searched the skies thoroughly for
any sign of a rescue ship. Sighting nothing he dropped his hand
despondently to his side and stumbled thoughtfully along the rough
terrain. His mind worked desperately, attempting to devise some
feasible means of signaling the rescue parties which must, at this
very moment, be combing the space lanes--searching for him. Some huge
flare might be useful, but a simple glance about him revealed that
the largest form of plant life, which might serve as fuel, were small
grey mosses that grew on the underside of occasional outcropping rock
formations. They were useless for anything but a tiny smudge fire.
His mind turned back to his ship. Possibly there was something highly
combustible aboard that might be used for a flare. His mind flitted
thoughtfully over every item in the ship's supplies and retired with
the conclusion that the anti-fire campaigns which had been conducted
for so long on the inhabited planets were going too far! His only hope
lay in the possibility that one of the rescue ships might briefly scan
the surface of Ganymede with one of their telescopic vision plates and
notice the gleaming wreck of his auxiliary space ship. That gave him an
idea. Something he had once used in an old book. About a castaway on a
desert island arranging rocks to spell out giant words in the hope that
some passing airplane might see the message and land to investigate.
Slim chance, but still nothing could be overlooked if he hoped for
eventual rescue.

Swiftly he set about gathering rocks. He planned to form the simple
four letter word HELP, with an exclamation point added for emphasis.
So engrossed was he in his work that he scarcely noted the unusual
volume of noise about him, or if he did notice it attributed it to
the small slides caused by his unearthing rocks from their natural
formation. Hours passed while he painstakingly formed the shape of an
enormous letter "H," a letter fully a tenth of a mile long. Exhausted
by the unaccustomed manual labor he straightened up a moment and cast
an approving eye across the extent of his handiwork. A gasp rose
involuntarily from his throat as a strange sight crossed his line of
vision. The land about him fairly swarmed with the peculiar, bony
creatures he had encountered the evening before, and as far as his eyes
could see there stretched an uninterrupted series of H's, all exactly
similar in shape, size and peculiarities of the original! And at the
edge of each of the letters sat a puffing group of emaciated, leathery
skinned Ganymedians! Their great, watery eyes blinking patiently and
soulfully in his direction!

He didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. It was impossible to
proceed. In order to lay out another letter he would have to accomplish
the tremendous task of removing all the other H's as well. He shuddered
as he realized that he would have to repeat the process again and again
until finally the one word help, with a string of exclamation points
miles in length remained. Suddenly a thought struck him. Wasn't this
seemingly endless row of huge H's sufficient to attract the attention
of any searching party that happened to see it without going to the
trouble, double trouble at that, of adding the rest of the letters that
spelled out the word HELP? It seemed logical enough to him. With a
distinct air of relief he turned away, his arduous task of the past few
hours completed, thanks to these freakish creatures that inhabited this
moon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again the beginning of the short twilight was progressing and the sun
was settling rapidly in the sky--its glare and heat diminishing with
each passing moment. The massive bulk of Jupiter above could be seen
only as a long, thin, crescent that stretched one quarter of the way
across the visible sky. He experimentally lifted his helmet an inch or
two. A sharp gust of air scurried hurriedly around the contours of his
face and slightly ruffled his hair. He threw the helmet all the way
back and with exultation breathed in tremendous gulps of crisp, _fresh_
air. For the first time that day his powerful frame rose to its full
six feet of height and he stood statuesque, his shadow cast before him,
a symbol of man against the cosmos.

Still, somehow his mind could not shift from the ever-present danger.
Possible exhaustion of his food supply; the energy heating units of
his space suit--of water. Once again his thoughts turned to the humor
provided by the strange inhabitants of Ganymede. He called out sharply
to one of them: "How are you old chap?"

"How're _you_ all chap," the grating reply floated back, thinned by the
sparse atmosphere. Some guttural effect in the creature's voice seemed
to place the emphasis on the word "you." And it sounded uncannily
like a return question, infinitely more so than the echo-like effect
it should have had! And also the speech had improved! Very definitely
improved! Where before they had relayed back his sentences in an
indistinguishable blur of sound, now some of the words stood out,
sharp, clear!

"This chap doesn't need enunciation lessons," John muttered softly
to himself. And as if to prove it the lips of the creature moved
erratically, as if talking to itself in the identical manner that John
had just done.

"Nice weather we're having," John phrased ironically as small flakes of
ice formed on the end of his nose.

"Like hell it is!" came back the surprise retort.

John stood there aghast. The creature had emitted the very same reply
that he had been _thinking_, but had not voiced!

The Ganymedian in front of him took on a more surprising aspect
with each passing moment. For some reason nature had bestowed upon
this travesty of human form a telepathic mental pick-up. Similar,
in results, to the ones in use on earth, except that this was not a
mechanical device. It was, undoubtedly, a far more efficient receiver
of flesh and blood, or whatever substance this thing was composed of,
capable of picking up thought waves as simply as a radio receiver picks
up radio waves.

"It can do anything but understand," John found himself saying. He
could only wonder why some scientist had not discovered these creatures
before and dissected them to find out just how their peculiar brains
operated.

And then, for the first time in many hours, his mind turned back to his
fiancee, Joan Crandell. He cursed the stolid fates that had stranded
him here on this god-forsaken satellite with a bunch of damn-fool
mimics. In his mind he visualized Joan as he had last seen her. The
golden, glory-sheen of her hair flowing softly down to her shoulders;
her straight little nose and small, firm chin; her piquant expression
and oh, _so_ desirable lips. And last, but certainly not least her
short, trim figure. Perhaps she wasn't the Venus ideal, but to his mind
at least, she was infinitely more lovable--an ancient phrase, "and
what's more she's got arms," seemed to go well with that thought. For a
little more he accorded himself the luxury of seeing her in his mind's
eye, and then slowly, sadly, shook his head, and looked up. His eyes
popped in disbelief of what he saw! His hands trembled with fearful
delight, wonder and amazement. It couldn't be! It wasn't possible! _But
there she stood--Joan Crandell!_ To the tiniest detail as he had seen
her last! Here on this crazy moon! In an agony of bewilderment he cried
out, "Joan! Joan!" He could say no more. The paralysis of surprise
left his limbs and he dashed wildly forward. _"Joan!" and his arms
reached out to grasp her, and twined about a hard, bony, misshapen,
distorted, leathery form!_ He recoiled in abject horror. These strange
creatures--an instant before new toys to amuse and astound him were
transformed into terror-ridden monsters. No longer a joke--but a
tragedy! Joan, or rather the illusion of Joan was there no longer. In
her place stood a stupid, blinking, _thing_ that threatened his very
sanity--his existence. Something snapped in his mind!

He ran. Miles he ran. His powerful, earthly muscles lending magic
powers to his feet. Across broken, rock-hard plains--stumbling,
falling, slipping, across stretches of mountain region and through
dim valleys. And night descended upon him. Unfailing, relentless, it
settled leaving everything pitch dark. And they followed him. Miles
behind, but never giving up, never faltering. A mad man they followed
who did not run, but leaped, fifty feet into the air, and screaming at
his slow rate of descent barely touched the ground before he was off
on another leap, even greater than the preceding one. A dozen times he
was speared upon dangerous rocks--the tough substance of his suit the
only thing between him and death. And as tiny leaks formed in his suit,
the insidious cold crept in slowly, surely, numbing his body until each
leap was a little shorter, a little less powerful than the other.
Until lost in a maze of bleak mountains he collapsed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dawn bolted deer-like over the black hills of Ganymede, and as if it
had never interrupted its work, the distant sun beat down upon the
frozen landscape with renewed vigor. A lone earth figure rolled over
and groaned. Shakily it got to its feet and took a few trembling steps.
John Hall, exhausted physically and mentally was all right again. The
madness of the preceding night had left him, almost as suddenly as it
had come upon him. It was almost as if kind nature had blotted out the
portion of his brain which preserved memory, and left his mind, dulled,
numb. In a daze, his once proud figure tripped along the devious
mountain passes. Too tired to leap--barely capable of moving, John
Hall threaded his tortuous way through regions only half recalled. No
thoughts, simply a guiding instinct that urged him, warned him, that he
must go this way to return to the space ship, and food--maybe rescue.

And a hundred yards behind him, unnoticed, trailed multiple, black,
ungainly creatures, who stumbled when he stumbled, fell when he fell.

It was nearing twilight again when John Hall panted back into the
region of his space ship. Barely cognizant of what he was doing, he
smashed a can of beans against the steel hull of the ship and devoured
them without ceremony, animal-like. Then he sat wearily down upon
a ruined metal bench and tried to relax. Weakly, but nevertheless
desperately, he fought with himself. Trying to clear the cobwebs that
cluttered up his brain and reason rationally again. Thoughts, like
flitting ghosts, aroused tantilizingly, only to whisk down some hidden
channel of his mind before he could fully grasp and comprehend them.
One of the grotesque things, creatures, objects, whatever they were,
drew close to him, its bulging eyes peering not inquisitively, but
_fearfully_ into his. He knew! The eluding coherency of thought came.
The answer to the enigma lay in his own mind! His powerful earth mind.
Scientists had always been aware that the mind radiates energy thoughts
away from it. That one mind is capable of hypnotizing another, even
across great distances. These inhabitants of Ganymede, with their acute
mental receptivity, were slaves to his more powerful will--his every
thought. And against their own desires they followed and imitated
him. And through some unknown chemical reaction even took the form,
momentarily, of some wished-for object. It was clear. But now again it
wasn't. His mind was failing. Falling back into the abyss of blackness
and incoherency! He stared a moment at one of the peculiar faces before
him and as he stared it changed, grew smooth, black, ebony black--and
God--blank! Blank like his mind--part of his mind, for through the rest
of it swirled a fantasmagoria of images, and disconnected phrases. He
was alone, or almost so. Those things were still here. It was getting
darker ... colder ... so cold ... was this all a dream? Then he
stopped! For over the blank face of the thing in front of him flickered
images, mirroring his thoughts, like some disconnected motion picture!

With incredible strength he tore away the protecting mass of his space
suit. The cold wind hit him, knifed him through and through. And
he stepped forward. Walking, walking, and suddenly his great hands
rose aloft in an agony of sorrow. His mighty voice bellowed above
the elements of loneliness, of despair. And always, those grotesque,
storm-swept, misshapen creatures fastened their wet, glistening eyes
upon him and in the depths of them displayed rage as he displayed it;
despair as he displayed it. And when he pounded his clenched fists in
powerful blows upon his resounding chest, they pounded their gnarled
limbs upon their shrunken chests in powerful mimicry.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the crew of the rescue ship "Space-Spear" landed, they turned back
in horror at a planet of mad-things that shrieked, wept, raged and
despaired in a manner that was more than imitation--that was real! And
they could not help but shudder inwardly at the terrible fate that had
befallen John Hall, and his horrible, unknowing revenge!





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