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Title: Gods of Space
Author: Cummings, Ray
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 "Gods of Space" ***

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                             GODS OF SPACE

                            By RAY CUMMINGS

                 Planetoid-150 was a world of horror.
                   A star of death, ruled by a weird
                    and beautiful Earthian goddess.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Spring 1942.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The weird purple glow of the planetoid was apparent now, even to
the naked eye. The end of Roy Atwood's long, lonely journey was at
hand. In the narrow control-turret of his small spaceship he sat
gazing. Planetoid-150, in the belt out here, far beyond Mars, was a
great leaden disc now occupying nearly a quarter of the firmament.
And the purple glow of the _Xarite_ was puzzling. On Earth, young
Atwood's father had located the treasured substance with a giant
electro-spectroscope; seen it after patient search as a tiny tracery,
a faint band upon the prismatic 'graph of the light from this distant
world.

And now Atwood was here, seeking it. Long since he had discarded
his spectroscope, here in the spaceship turret. It had been his
compass, the identification of Planetoid-150, enabling him to chart
his course. It was unnecessary now. He stared, puzzled. Surely there
must be an immense amount of the electroidally active _Xarite_--the
name his father had given it--here on this little world. And all
concentrated almost in one spot, apparently. The weird purple sheen
was intense; a patch down there on the putty-colored surface of the
five-hundred-mile-diameter asteroid. Occasionally he could see it
clearly. Then at other times the leaden, sullen, low-hanging cloud
masses of the unknown little world wholly obscured it.

       *       *       *       *       *

With his journey's end so near, Atwood's heart was pounding. But a
grimness was on him. He was a young fellow; just twenty-four this
Earth-summer of 2050, a handsome young giant whose hundred and ninety
pounds were stretched over a powerful, yet almost lanky, frame. In the
Government College of New York, he had been a champion athlete. What
would he be here?

Actually, Atwood cared very little what strange form of life might
exist here on Planetoid-150. His was not a trip of scientific
exploration. Now that the beginning of Interplanetary travel was
at hand, he was willing to leave all that sort of thing to the
professional scientists. His was a secret adventure, and so he had of
necessity come alone. His purpose was to land on this unknown little
world, and get a small quantity of the treasured _Xarite_. With that
safely stored in the foot-long, insulated cylinder which now was ready
to strap on his back, he would leave and get back to Earth as speedily
as possible.

It had been a long journey. Atwood contemplated it now as the round
disc of the asteroid enlarged until it was beneath him, stretching
all across the lower firmament; and he set his anti-gravity plates
to resist his fall and verified that the repellent rocket-streams of
electroidal gases were ready for the final atmospheric descent. By
his calculation he would emerge from the clouds fairly close to the
_Xarite_ purple glow. It would be early evening here. He recalled the
details of Planetoid-150 which had been in the letter to him from his
dead father. Meager details indeed. Dr. Paul Atwood had calculated the
asteroid at between five and six hundred miles in diameter.

Then the clouds broke away. Atwood's heart was pounding as he stared
down for his first real sight of the unknown world. At first it was
a blur of deep purple radiance. It seemed to blind him, this weird
glow to which his eyes were unaccustomed. But presently he could see
better.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ahead, the purple glow suffused the night with its faint but lurid
sheen. Then his eyes seemed to grow accustomed to the purple so that he
had the illusion of it fading a little with the details of the scene
taking form. A broken forest stretched here--a strange, spindly form
of purple and red vegetation. In places it grew a hundred feet or more
high in a tangled, lush, solid mass of interwoven vines. There seemed
no trees. It was all slender-stalked, spindly.

Atwood stared, amazed, puzzled. The forest, if it could be called
that, grew in dense patches, interspersed with open spaces where there
was apparently a little soil. Others were naked, gleaming masses of
metallic rock. The forest patches swayed in a gentle night-breeze like
marine vegetation in water. The stalks of the vines were thick with
giant pods; balloon-like things twenty feet or more in length. It was
as though gases of decomposing vegetation within them were lifting them
so that their upward pull held erect the swaying, hundred-foot stalks.

Off in the distance, from the height at which he stared down, Atwood
could see a thread of river. It gleamed dull purple-green, from the
_Xarite_-glow, and the reflection of the cloud-light. The same glow of
cloud-light shone on the forest-top.

Landing demanded all of Atwood's attention, so that after his first
quick scrutiny of what lay down there, he looked about for a place to
land. He headed for a dim open space in the forest, an almost level
hundred-foot area seemingly of rocky soil.

Then, at last, he had landed; brought the forty-foot, narrow little
ship down flat upon its spreading base fins. With air helmet beside
him in the event this atmosphere was not breathable, he cautiously
opened a pressure-exit porte. The cylinder's air did not go out. On the
contrary, the outer pressure was greater, so that the planetoid's air
came hissing in--a rush at first, then a filtering drift, and then it
stopped.

Atwood's head reeled. He gripped his air-mask; then his head steadied
and he discarded the mask. Breathable air. It was heavy; moist,
aromatic with strange smells of the forest. But breathable. In a
moment he hardly noticed its strangeness. In the silence, mingled with
the thumping of his heart against his ribs, a low hum now was audible
coming through the open porte. The voice of the forest. The blended hum
of insect life. Was it that? He listened. It was a weird hum. So faint
it seemed that he heard it within his head, rather than against his
ear-drums. A tiny throbbing sound. But he seemed to know that it was
vast. The blend of billions of still more tiny sounds. And queerly, it
seemed hideous. A thing at which he should shudder. A thing of terror.

With a lugubrious grin he shoved away the thought. Certainly it was no
more than a hunch, a premonition.

Atwood was clad in short, tight trousers, grey shirt open at his
muscular throat, and heavy boots. His crisp curly blond hair was matted
with sweat on his forehead. The descent through the atmosphere had
made his little ship insufferably hot. This moist, heavy night air was
a relief, but not much. At his wide leather belt, pulled tight around
his waist, he carried a small electroidal flash-gun in a holster. The
insulated cylinder into which he would put the _Xarite_ was slung
with a leather strap over one shoulder. In a hand-case he carried his
portable mining equipment and a few explosive-capsules. But he did not
expect to need any of it. Surely this _Xarite_ was on the surface. And
with a glow like this, it must exist in almost a pure state. Perhaps
it was not more than a mile from here in a concentrated lode somewhere
here in this weird forest. All he needed was a scant pound of it. He
might have it and be back here in an hour or two.

Fully ready now for what he hoped was a simple quest, Atwood stepped
through the exit porte. Within the ship his interior gravity was
maintained at about that of Earth. But as he stepped over the
threshold, the gravity of the planetoid gripped him. Amazing change. He
clutched at the porte-casement to steady himself. His weight--certainly
most of it--had gone. Swaying on his feet, the lightness made him
reel. Then gingerly he took a step. Seemingly he weighed now no more
than ten or fifteen pounds. Carefully, with flexed knees, he impelled
himself upward. It was the sort of leap which on Earth would have taken
him a foot or so off the ground. He rose now to a height higher than
his head, and came down, landing in a scrambling heap.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a while, amused in spite of his grimness, Atwood experimented. By
the feel of his cautious attempts, a good running leap would sail him
a hundred feet or more, and probably smash him against a rock. Better
be careful at first. It wouldn't be hard to kill himself, making errors
with a power like this. His muscles were so powerful now in comparison
with his weight.

Then he was ready to start. That faint weird humming still was audible.
But there seemed nothing living here--no insect life underfoot,
no birds in the trees. And, suddenly, he stood staring, stricken.
Something was up on the top of the nearby patch of forest. The matted
vegetation up there a hundred feet above him was so solid that he
realized now he probably could manage to walk upon it. Something was
moving up there. A swaying little blob, vaguely white.

Atwood stood silent, watchful with his gun in his hand. The blob seemed
about five feet tall. White limbs; a flowing drape. Then, as it moved,
a little more light came upon it--starlight filtering down now through
a break in the overhead clouds.

Atwood sucked in his breath with his amazement. A girl! A human girl!
Apparently she had not seen him; and, suddenly, she jumped from the top
of the swaying mass of vines and came fluttering down. A girl, with
pale drapes held like wings in her outstretched hands, so that like a
bird she fluttered down and landed lightly on her feet. She was only
a few paces from Atwood when she saw him. For an instant, amazed, she
stood staring, like himself, stricken. An Earthgirl? Certainly she
looked it. A slender little thing with dark flowing tresses; a draped
robe to her knees--a robe with a flowing cape at her shoulders, the
ends of which she had gripped to spread it like wings as she jumped
down. And now he saw that the robe wasn't fabric, but seemingly made of
woven, dried vegetation.

"Well--" Atwood gasped. "What in the devil--"

With a cry like a frightened animal she stooped, seized a chunk of
rock; flung it. The rock came, very much as a hurled rock would, on
Earth. It struck Atwood's shoulder. The girl turned, and with a leap
made off.

"I'll be damned," Atwood muttered. His caution, this time, was gone.
He jumped, went thirty feet, landed on his side. Already the girl was
gone. Then he saw her as like a monkey she went up a vine-rope. He
tried it; hauled himself up with amazing speed. On the vine-top he
tried running. But after a leap or two, with the girl far ahead of him,
he found himself entangled, floundering in the matted mass of vines.
His gun had been knocked from his hand, lost as it fell down into the
leafy abyss.

The girl, apparently less afraid of him now, stood a hundred feet away,
balanced on a swaying, rope-like vine as she peered at him.

"All right," Atwood muttered. "I guess I can't catch you."

Certainly he had no idea that she could understand him. But, suddenly,
she laughed--a little rippling rill of human laughter, mingled with awe.

"You speak my language?" Her soft voice was amazed. English! It was
quaintly, queerly intoned. But English nevertheless. And she added, in
wonderment. "Who are you that you speak the language of the Gods?"

He could only stare, wordless. And abruptly she was coming forward;
slowly at first, and then, overcoming her fear, she jumped and landed
beside him.

He seized her. "Look here, who the devil are you?"

"Me? I am Ah-li, Goddess of the Marlans."

"Well," he said. "Whatever that is. Anyway, be reasonable. I'm Roy
Atwood. I've just come from Earth. You came from there, too, of course.
When did you come? Your people, are they around here?"

She seemed only able to stare at him as though numbed. Seemingly, she
understood his words, but certainly not their meaning.

"The Earth?" she murmured at last. "What is that? My people? They are
here, of course. The Marlans." Her slim white arm gestured out over the
forest-top. "I am Goddess Ah-li." Wonderment was in her dark eyes and
in her voice. "And now you come--a God, like me."

Her voice faltered. She was trying to smile. "I am afraid I do not
understand," she murmured. "A Man-God coming here to rule with me.
Never did I think that could happen."

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment, as he sat there clutching the girl in the tangled
vines of the swaying forest-top, Atwood was at a loss for words.
Beyond doubt, English was this girl's native language. Had some
Earth-explorers landed here, bringing her when she was an infant?
Earth-people who had died or been killed when the girl was too young
to have learned anything? But her mature, fluent English belied that.
In all those years, from infancy to maturity, alone here with what
apparently were primitive natives of the planetoid, she would have
forgotten her Earth-language.

She was staring at him blankly, her wonderment matching his own. "When
did you come here?" he demanded. "Can't you remember?"

"Oh, yes," she smiled. "I was born--I appeared here in the forest--it
was, how you would say, about two thousand of our days ago."

With the day here about half that of Earth, she was naming something
less than three Earth-years.

"You appeared here in the forest?" he prompted.

"Yes. From the sky I came. The Marlans saw me coming down. In my
God-chariot." She gestured. "Like yours there, it must have been. Only
mine, they tell me, burst into flame and destroyed itself when it
touched the ground."

A miracle surely. But to Atwood, the miracle was that from a wrecked,
flaming little spaceship, somehow she must have escaped alive. Had she
come alone, or with others who, doubtless, in the wreck of the ship,
had been cremated so that remains of them had never been found?

"And you can't remember that coming?" Atwood demanded.

"Oh, yes. When human life came to me I was among the Marlans. I could
not talk their language, then, but only the language of the Gods. This
language of yours," she added. "God-language of you and of me."

Weird. She was so obviously sincerely truthful; she believed it. Naïve,
child-like. Yet there was upon her, implanted by her belief, an aspect
of power. A consciousness that she was a Goddess here. A radiance of
her power, and a humility--a feeling of responsibility to One on High,
who had sent her here as His servant.

And now she was staring at Atwood, another of God's servants, like
herself. A Man-God. She stared with a little color coming into her
cheeks and her breath quickened.

"I see," he murmured. Then abruptly on her forehead he noticed a
scar--white scar-tissue over an area of an inch or so. He reached
gently and shifted a lock of her hair. It was the scar of a ragged cut.
Quite evidently a nasty wound. Three years ago?

"What is that?" he asked.

"Oh--that? There was my human blood running from it when they found me.
My human birth--"

A crash when she landed. A brain concussion. And it had stricken her
with amnesia--all her memory gone so that at that instant when she
regained consciousness her life in effect was beginning again. Atwood
understood it now.

"I see," he nodded. "Well, Ah-li, my name is Roy."

"Rohee," she repeated.

"I came, landed just now, from Earth."

"The Heaven of the Gods?" she murmured. "Oh, yes. Tell me. Surely I
came from there, too. And you can remember it."

"I sure can. Ah-li, listen. What you've got to understand now--"
Abruptly he checked himself. It wouldn't be easy to tell her. And then
he had a queer thought. Was it right for him to destroy her faith in
her own power to do good among the people of this world? Certainly
he'd better find out what was here, first. And she probably would not
believe him anyway.

"Tell me," he amended. "The Marlans--your people here."

Under his questions she told him with simple directness. The planetoid
here was known as Marla. The Marlans were its only race. Not many of
them now of recent generations--a few thousands, he gathered, most of
whom lived in a settlement here in the forest only a short distance
away.

"There were many, once," she was saying. "But always the rising of the
terrible _Genes_ killed them off. We have learned now to subdue the
_genes_ with the glow of the _Drall-stone_ light."

The radiance of the _Xarite_. Her gesture indicated it. From here,
on the forest top, the patch of its light-radiance showed plainly an
Earth-mile or so away. Weird thing. So far as he could understand now,
these _genes_ seemed to be microscopic things of horror. At intervals,
caused by the weather, or in rhythmic cycles of some mysterious
process of nature, the _genes_ abruptly grew from microscopic spores
into ghastly monsters. But the radiance of the _Xarite_ held them in
check. So that of recent years the human Marlans had learned to use the
_Xarite_ against these monsters of the half-world. A barrage of the
_Xarite_ radiance was set up here to protect the Marlan settlement.

"I think I understand," Atwood said at last. "Queerly enough, I came
here to get some of that _Xarite_, as we call it on Earth. It is needed
there."

"In the God-realm they need--"

"Yes," he hastily agreed. "Anyway--Oh, well, never mind that."

His thoughts went back to the letter he had received from his father
who had died suddenly. Young Atwood had been taking a post-graduate
science-medical course in the great Anglo-American University in
London. His father's death had brought him hastily back. And the bank
had given him the letter which his father had left for him.

"_My dear Son:_" the letter began. "_I am preparing this data for you
so that if anything should happen to me before my work is done, you
will be able to carry on for me. I haven't been able to tell you--it
has had to remain a secret. I have been working with a Dr. Georg Johns,
astronomer and physicist of Boston. As you know, all my life, Roy, has
been devoted to the discovery of the cause of poliomelitus--_"

The dread infantile paralysis. Dr. Atwood, ten years ago, had
propounded the theory that it was a sub-microscopic spore so small that
even the giant electro-microscopes could not detect it. So small that
it was non-filterable--no filter had ever been devised that could trap
it, despite the claims of having done that which other medical men had
made.

Surely that was a negative result indeed. But, then, Dr. Atwood
had discovered, in the ore of Xarium, which existed in very small
quantities on Earth, a product which he had named _Xarite_. He had
spent a considerable fortune doing it--the resolution of many tons
of Xarium, refined down into an almost microscopic quantity of an
electroidally active substance. And with it, for a year he worked
miracles. As though by magic the emanations from his tiny _Xarite_
tube, magnified and projected in the fashion of radiotherapy
treatments, had cured victims of the dread disease.

But the triumph was short-lived. The _Xarite_ tube exhausted itself.
And on Earth, the scarcity of the ore of Xarium was such that to secure
another grain of _Xarite_ seemed practically an impossibility. And then
the death of Dr. Atwood had come, and Roy had gotten the letter. His
father had secretly been working with Dr. Johns. Together, with Dr.
Johns' huge electro-spectroscope, they had discovered the existence
of _Xarite_ on Planetoid 150. And had kept it secret. With the era
of Interplanetary adventure now at hand, both the physicians feared
that the _Xarite_ treasure might fall into unscrupulous hands, be
exploited for profit. They wanted to get it themselves and invent the
radiotherapy projectors suitable for its use; and give it all to the
suffering children of the world as their benefaction.

Dr. Atwood's letter to his son told how, finally, Dr. Johns had secured
a small spaceship and had gone, trying to get to Planetoid-150.
Dr. Atwood, in delicate health, had not dared make the trip. He had
been waiting; and had left this letter to Roy, with voluminous data,
as a precaution. Roy had read the letter a hundred times. It was in
the small spaceship which he had built with the money inherited from
his father, and which had brought him here. He remembered its final,
pleading words:

"_You must carry on for me, Roy. Believe me, son, the lives of
thousands of thousands of children will be in your hands. And the
health of thousands upon thousands of others, who do not die, but live
with twisted little bodies, tragic, pathetic, piteous monuments to
the futility of man's medical skill. You have seen them. They will be
counting upon you._"

How could he fail them? And how could he fail his dead father? The
thought of that was what had spurred him; what had brought him here
with a grim determination to secure the _Xarite_ and get back as soon
as possible.

"You are very quiet," the girl said timidly out of the silence.

"I was thinking," he said. "Out there in our--our God-Heaven if that's
what you want to call it--well, it's certainly very queer--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Queer indeed. How could he even attempt to explain it to her!
These _genes_--hideous monsters here on this little world, held in
check, destroyed by the _Xarite_ radiance. And on Earth, the dread
sub-microscopic spores of poliomelitus--his father had killed them
with _Xarite_ radiance. As though here might be not only the original
source of the terrible spores, but the cure for them as well. Nature
striking a balance here; and failing to do it on Earth. Did the spores,
the _genes_ drift through the immensity of space? Young Atwood well
remembered that even a hundred years ago, physicians had advanced some
such theory. Spores, landing on Earth, where conditions would not allow
them to grow in size, but where they could only multiply themselves in
the bodies of human victims.

"I was thinking," Atwood began again. And then he shrugged hopelessly
and gave it up. "Ah-li, listen. Take me to your people now. They will
know I'm friendly?"

"Friendly? Why, of course. A god--to help them--"

And he would get his cylinder full of _Xarite_ in its pure state, and
then go back to Earth. And take the girl with him? The thought occurred
to him suddenly and sent a queer vague thrill through him....

She was helping him to his feet. "We will go," she said. "The
God--Roh-ee--Oh, they will welcome you!"

"We're supposed to go up here over the tree-tops?"

With a faint smile she regarded him. "Well, it is not very far. But you
are clumsy."

"I think I'd feel better on the ground," he agreed.

A leap down, for him from this hundred-foot height, could have been
dangerous. It was different with the girl. On Earth she might have
weighed not much over a hundred pounds; and with her slight weight
here, the pressure of her spread grass-cloak against this heavy air
was sufficient. She fluttered down; and like a clumsy monkey he half
dropped, half fell, clinging to the vine-ropes.

They started over the rocks. "We'll take it slow," he said. "Until I
get used to it."

They followed the open spaces between the patches of forest. The weird
scene was dim in the night-glow. Occasionally now, through breaks in
the patches of lush vegetation, Atwood could see that the radiance of
the _Xarite_-glow ahead of them was growing.... Strange progress, this
half walking, half leaping advance. It was hard for Atwood to keep
his feet; almost impossible to gauge the distance a leap would carry
him. Many times he fell. Muscles that he had seldom used before were
beginning to ache.

"Let's rest a minute," he protested presently.

They were in a rocky defile, like a little gully descending. Atwood
dropped to the ground and drew up the girl beside him. More than ever
now, the idea of taking her to Earth was in his mind. How could he ever
have imagined leaving her here, an Earthgirl, suffering from amnesia.
And he was thinking. Dr. Georg Johns, his father's friend, had left the
Earth, presumably to come here.

"Listen, Ah-li," he said. "I don't want to confuse you too much. Don't
think I'm crazy or anything. In this place where I just came from there
used to be someone called Dr. Georg Johns. Doesn't that mean something
to you? Think back."

He stared at her; and on her face, at mention of the name, there came a
queer, startled puzzlement.

"Why--why--" she could only stammer. Puzzled, with some vague
consciousness of memory stirring within her. And then it was gone.
"Why--what is that?" she murmured. "You speak so strangely. The words I
understand, but the things you say--"

"Forget it, Ah-li. I don't want to worry you. There are things you used
to know, and that you'll remember sometime. They'll come back to you."

"My life in the God-Heaven?"

"Yes, sure. Call it that."

During all this time with the girl, Atwood had been conscious of
that weird, gruesome undercurrent of humming which seemed a sinister
background to this little world. And now, as momentarily they were
silent here in the small rocky recess, abruptly he was aware that the
humming had greatly intensified. Ah-li at the same instant noticed it.
Terror leaped to her face as her hand gripped his arm.

"That humming--" he murmured.

"Yes. Oh, evidently this is the time for the _genes_ to come out! I
thought so; that is why I was out in the tree-tops tonight--to see if
any were around."

The _genes_. On Earth they might remain always as sub-microscopic
spores, multiplying in human nerve and brain tissue to cause the
ghastly poliomelitus. But here they were merely lurking monsters,
seasonally growing into visible things of horror. Things with a voice.
Countless billions of them, with their blended tiny voices faintly
audible.

The rock recess here was dark. It was like a little cave, with an open,
narrow front. Atwood and the girl were seated several feet back from
the entrance. And now, as the tiny humming suddenly was increasing,
in the grotto entrance close before them, a little spot was visible on
the rocks. A spot, like a dot of saffron glow. For that stricken second
numbly Atwood stared at it; an inch-long blob of glow, with a tiny
solid nucleus.

Only a second or two Atwood and Ah-li sat transfixed with horror.
The glow was expanding. A swift expansion--so swift that it was like
a saffron balloon being blown up into size tremendous. As though
hideous forces of nature, held in check, now abruptly were released.
A tentacled thing, big as a football. But before Atwood and the girl
could more than struggle to their feet, it was a monstrous saffron
thing of horror--a round, glowing, luminous pulpy mass, big as Atwood
now. Its bulk blocked the cave-entrance.

"Good God--" Atwood muttered. "We're penned in here!"

There was no chance for them to leap away. In terror Ah-li was clinging
to him. The dark narrow confines of the recess were lurid now with the
monster's ghastly yellow light. Its hideous voice was a humming throb.
For another second it stood blocking the opening, apparently its full
size now, with long tentacles weaving like tongues of yellow fire; and
a ring of clustered eyes in its center, balefully glowing.

And then, with a rolling lunge, it hurled itself forward!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a blur, a chaos of utter horror to Atwood. He had no time to do
more than thrust Ah-li behind him when the monster was upon him. Weird
and ghastly combat. He was conscious of being engulfed by the horrible
glutinous mass as the noisome saffron pulp wrapped itself around him.
Wildly he fought, staggering, with kicking legs and flailing arms. The
intense yellow glow, so close to his eyes now, was dazzling, blinding.
Its voice was chattering, like a dynamo gone awry; a throbbing voice
that mingled with the girl's cry of terror.

"Oh, do not fall. Keep standing!"

"You run--" he gasped. "Get past it and run."

He mustn't fall. That would be the end. The sticky weight of the thing
pressed him. Sucking tentacles were wrapped around him. In the saffron
glare he could not see if the monster still blocked the cave-opening.
If only he could get it further inside, so Ah-li could slip past. Then
he realized that as he fought to get loose, his flailing hands were
pulling the oozy tissue apart. He ripped one of the tentacles loose.
It fell like a segment of yellow flame, writhing on the ground. But
there was no wound where it had been, for it seemed that the oozy flesh
flowed around the break.

Then he felt Ah-li tugging at him as again he staggered, almost went
down. She was tugging, trying to pull him loose. And the monster now,
with chattering, enraged voice rising in pitch, was trying to draw him
inward. A slap of the horrible stuff struck his face; choking him. He
wiped it off; tore loose a great segment of the body and cast it away.

"Now--you--get free--we can run--" The girl's panting voice came to him
out of the chaos. Behind him she was pulling at his shoulders, adding
her slight strength and weight to his.

And suddenly he found himself loose, staggering backward. The monster,
gathered itself, with its glowing fragments on the rocks around it,
rolled itself a few feet away. Atwood found that he was in the mouth of
the cave. Ah-li shoved him, and he was outside.

"You jump--now!"

The huge, screaming, saffron ball lunged for them. With his hand
gripping hers, they jumped, sailed together in a flat arc over the
monster and landed fifty feet behind it. Atwood, who had fallen, picked
himself up. At the mouth of the cave the huge round ball, with new
tentacles growing upon it, stood seemingly confused by the escape of
its prey. Then, growling with a low sullen murmur, suddenly it rolled
itself back into the darkness of the recess. Lurking, with only the
reflected light of it at the opening to show that it was there.

Panting, still with horror making him shudder, Atwood followed the
girl. They skirted an edge of waving forest growth, descending a rocky
declivity. Open rocky space was to the left of them now, with a little
line of hillocks. Ahead, at a lower level, the glow of the purple
_Xarite_-radiance was a big patch in the darkness. And now in the
patch, Atwood could see what seemed a weird little human settlement.
Clusters of low, mound-shaped dwellings of rocks and mud and grass. The
semblance of crooked little streets. The purple glow bathed it--a half
mile, irregular patch. And beyond it and to the sides, there was only
blank darkness.

"That is Marla," Ah-li was saying. "We shall have to put the
light-force up now for the season of the growing of _genes_. The time
has come."

With his questions, she tried to make it clear. The radiance off
there which enveloped the little settlement was inherent to the
ground itself. Most of the Marlans of this little world lived here.
And those others who were nearby, now at the season of the growing of
the _genes_, would come flocking into the glow. A few days, a week or
two; and then the _genes_ would die away until the next cycle of their
growth. But even this natural glow was not sufficient to hold them off,
so that the Marlans set up around their settlement what Ah-li called
a light-fence. A sort of barrage; a few hundred little braziers of
_Xarite_, set at intervals on the ground, their spreading glow mingling
one with the other, encircling the village. A barrage which no _gene_
would dare pass.

"I see," Atwood murmured. "But Ah-li, where do you get that _Xarite_?
Near here?"

"Oh, yes." She gestured toward the dark little line of hills off to the
left. "It is there. Most of it, in grottos underground. You see, it is
not far."

"And what's it like? Loose in the caves?"

He held his breath for her answer. "Yes," she said. "The _Drall-stone_.
It lies loose in the caves."

Triumph swept him. He could get his insulated cylinder packed with
_Xarite_, and then get back to his Spaceship and away. And take Ah-li
with him.

"Listen," he began, "show me the way to one of those caves. I want to
see--"

"Here is water, for us to swim," she interrupted. "The flesh of the
_genes_ is still on us."

Heaven knew he had been conscious of it. A little stream of purplish
phosphorescent water, impregnated no doubt with the _Xarite_, came
babbling down the slope here from the distant hills. He and Ah-li
plunged in; came out, with the purple phosphorescence of the water
dripping from them.

Atwood breathed with relief. "That's certainly better." Now, if he
could get her to lead him to the _Xarite_ caves.

"Ah-lee. Ah-lee." It was the sound of a guttural voice calling from the
dimness of the rocks near at hand. The startled Atwood turned to see a
group of small stocky figures approaching.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Marlans. With Ah-li gripping him he stood as the figures came
forward and ranged themselves in a jabbering group around him and the
girl. They were about five feet tall. Cast somewhat in Earth-human
mould, with crooked heavy legs, and swart, putty-colored skin. The
body was wide-shouldered, thick-chested. The round, hairless head was
set low in a depression of the shoulders. The face was rough-hewn of
feature, with up-turned snout-like nose, and small, watery reddish eyes.

They walked with a sluggishness of heavy, solid tread. Quite evidently
their bodies were a wholly different density from that of Earthmen.
Atwood guessed that here they weighed what might be called three
hundred pounds; compared to which his own weight was ten or fifteen,
and that of Ah-li not more than five or eight. Beside them, with
their swinging, ponderous movements, Atwood suddenly felt spindly and
birdlike. How obvious now, that these primitive people would have
accepted the beautiful little Earthgirl as a Goddess! Her coming from
the sky in a thing which struck the ground and burst into flame. Her
seeming miraculous ability to leap into the air. Her size, and yet her
lightness. Her ability to swim; to leap into the vine-tops and run upon
their frail swaying surface.

Certainly these Marlans would sink like stones in this light water;
they could leap no more than a heavy man could leap on Earth. Their
weight chained them to the ground.

"Ah-lee...." One of them, slightly taller, less ponderous than the
others, came forward, with a flood of words to the girl.

She answered him in weird, guttural, unintelligible words, with
gestures toward Atwood at whom now they were all staring in awe. And
then abruptly she added, in English:

"A Man-God has come to us, Bohr."

"That fellow understands English?" Atwood put in.

"Yes. A little. I have taught him, since this time when I was born from
the sky."

"The language of the Gods." Bohr said heavily. "It, I understand. I am
like a God too--"

Whatever plans Atwood vaguely had made, were swept away now. There
seemed not so much awe of him upon these jabbering, crowding Marlans
as curiosity. They were plucking at him now, with heavy, taloned hands
feeling his arms, prodding at his ribs. And abruptly he realized the
tremendous strength of these creatures. A ponderous power of muscles; a
different quality of strength from that of any Earthman.

The realization sent a thrill of fear through Atwood; mentally he
cursed himself that he had not seized Ah-li, rushed her to one of those
caves for the _Xarite_, and gotten away from this accursed place. But
there was nothing he could do about it now. Bohr and one of the others
gripped him, leading him along, with Ah-li excitedly beside them, and
the crowd of jabbering Marlans engulfing them.

The crowd augmented as they progressed down the slope. It was fifty,
then a hundred. And now he saw women. They were garbed much the same as
the men--shorter, more flabby-looking bodies with wispy hair on their
heads. Their shrill voices mingled with the deeper tones of the men,
as they pressed forward, some of them carrying children, all of them
trying to get a glimpse of Atwood.

"You are to see our Ruler, the great Selah," Ah-li said, as she
walked beside him, clinging to him. "Tonight, I am sure, you will be
proclaimed a God." Her young voice quivered. "Our Man-God."

"All right, but look here--" Atwood muttered. "You better get us out of
this now. This crowd is getting pretty heavy."

They were among the little mound-shaped houses. The narrow crooked
streets were jammed with pressing people.

"Yes," Ah-li agreed. "To my home first. And then the Selah will send
for you."

In the Marlan language she gave her commands to Bohr. He seemed to
assent. But in the light-radiance here which suffused the turmoil
of the weird little village, Atwood had a better look at the leader
of these Marlans. Bohr was close beside him; and on the Marlan's
grotesque, ugly face, Atwood saw an expression very strange. A sort
of sidelong leer at Atwood; and a look at Ah-li that made Atwood's
heart pound. It was as though this Bohr were sullenly resentful. As
though something which he might have been planning was going wrong. And
abruptly, as though with a premonition of menace, Atwood recalled the
only words of English which Bohr had spoken: The language of the Gods,
he had said. "It, I understand. I am like a God too."

Ahead of them a larger dwelling loomed in the radiant glow. "My home,"
Ah-li said. "We will go there, and wait."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ah-li's dwelling was a house seemingly of three mounds interlocked. A
glow of dim purple radiance showed through its small window-openings.
And there were upright ovals for doors. The milling crowd stood
watching as they entered. There seemed three small rooms inside.

Amazement swept Atwood. There was crude furniture here, woven of
plaited vines--a table; chairs. A low little couch with dried leaves
upon it. Furniture almost in Earth-style.

"Where did you get that?" Atwood murmured as he surveyed it.

"That? Why, I made it. I do not know why, but that seemed the right
thing to do."

Memories of her Earth-life which were stirring in her, so vague that
she did not recognize them.

"You go now, Bohr," Ah-li added.

Atwood swung to find the Marlan behind him. "Yes," Bohr said, "I will
tell to the Great-Selah that the Man-God has come." Bohr's wide heavy
jaws were chewing; and as he stood eyeing Atwood, he swayed on his feet.

"You chew the intoxicating weed?" Ah-li said reproachfully. "That is
not good, Bohr. You want to be God-like--you should not do that."

"I know it," he said. His gaze fell before hers. And then as he turned
to leave the room, again his strange flashing look swept Atwood, and
there was hatred and menace in it.

"We will eat now," Ah-li said. "I have food here."

It was a strange meal. The food was peculiar though palatable. But
Atwood hardly was aware of the food as he ate it. At the windows here
he could see that Marlans were watching them. Others undoubtedly were
watching the doors. There would be no chance, certainly not now, for
him to get out, even though, once outside and free, he knew that no
Marlan possibly could catch him. Nor had he the least chance of getting
Ah-li out. Especially since she would probably be unwilling.

"You have told them of the _genes_?" he heard himself saying.

Her voice sounded worried.

"Yes. They are putting the barrage up now."

On impulse Atwood went to one of the windows. The Marlans there drew
back, but stood at a little distance, staring at him. Behind them, the
weird, glowing little village was in a turmoil with the excitement
of the coming of a Man-God, and the news of the _genes_, the dread
season of monsters again at hand. Doubtless the word had spread. From
the nearby smaller settlements, the people were hurrying here. The
streets seemed more jammed than ever now; and out beyond the edge of
the village, radiant beams of the purple light were standing up at
intervals into the sky; spreading beams, intermingling to form the
barrage curtain.

Atwood came back from the window. It faced the main village street.
Atwood was wondering if the other side might not face some space
darker, more empty. That would be this adjoining room.

"When do you think Selah will send for us?" he demanded.

"Perhaps soon. Perhaps later tonight."

He gestured toward the room's inner doorway. "And that room there, that
is for me, the Man-God?"

"Yes," she agreed.

"Then I shall go there now. You call me if the Selah wants us."

Triumph swept him as he reached the dim other room. He had lost his
flash-gun in the tree-tops when he was chasing the girl. But he still
had his other equipment. He discarded it all now save the little
insulated cylinder slung over his shoulder, the cylinder in which he
would store the precious _Xarite_. The window-ovals here were dark.
Cautiously he went to one of them. There was a sort of garden outside,
with beds great blossoms topping spindly stalks. A little forest of
them, high as a man's head. To the left, a section of the village was
visible; crowded with milling excited Marlans. But to the right, beyond
the garden there was dimness. The barrage at the outskirts of the
village there, had not yet gone up. It should be possible to get out
through this window; make a run through the shrouding flowers of the
garden.

Atwood watched his chance. Then, like a shadow, he was out of the
window, sliding into the tall flower-clusters. Every instant he feared
that there would be an alarm; but there was not. Then he was through
the garden, skirting a dark edge of the town. The barrage was going up
to the left of him, but its light did not reach him, and in a moment he
was in the open country, with great sailing leaps bounding toward the
hills and the caves of the _Xarite_.

       *       *       *       *       *

The little cave was a weird, intense glare of violet light. Atwood had
had no difficulty finding it; the glare streamed like an aura from its
entrance, out into the night. The _Xarite_, almost in a pure state, lay
in great powdery heaps. Atwood's hands were trembling as he scooped
it up, filling his insulated cylinder, clamping down its lid. More
than ever, a desperate haste was upon him now. So many things might be
transpiring back in the village. And he realized too that his spaceship
might be discovered.

Within a minute or two he was into the cave and out again, with his
precious little cylinder slung on his back. He was more skillful at
leaping now. Ahead the circular barrage was complete now, a vertical
violet curtain of light enclosing the village. It made the darkness out
here on the rocks seem more intense by contrast.

The dim landscape swayed weirdly with his flat sailing leaps. And
suddenly, off to one side, he was aware that round blobs of yellow glow
were appearing. The monster _genes_. With the season of their growth
upon them, they were struggling up out of their microscopic invisible
world.

The night out here now was hideous with the throbbing, humming voices
of the monsters. Atwood's heart went cold. How would he get the girl
out of this damnable place? He could think only that in some way he
must quickly persuade her. Together, running, leaping like this--or
like birds following the flimsy forest-top which the _genes_ could not
reach--he would be able to get her to the spaceship.

With the purple barrage curtain close before him, Atwood slowed up.
Then he came within the direct light-radiance; crawling almost flat to
pass between two of the braziers. The glare blinded him. Then he was
through, rising to his feet.

"So? Here is the God--our Man-God who was gone?" It was Bohr's ironic,
guttural voice. Atwood had no chance to jump away. Bohr, with a
ponderous pounce, gripped him with the power of a machine. Bohr and a
dozen of his roistering men were here.

"Our Man-God is late for the ceremony," Bohr was leering. They were
shoving Atwood forward, along a village street crowded with jabbering
Marlans, across an edge of the village toward an open space, like
a public square. The mound-dwellings bounded it on one side, and
the barrage was on the other. The square was thronged with Marlans,
standing in jabbering groups, gazing toward the center where three
platforms were erected. Two were side by side, and one faced them. The
two were empty. On the other a single Marlan sat in a great cradle. The
Ruler-Selah. His ponderous fat body was round with flesh. In the cradle
he squatted like a huge toad.

Bohr's grip never for an instant had relaxed on Atwood. "I am to be
made a God now?" Atwood murmured.

"Yes. The Selah has decided." Surely that was leering irony in Bohr's
heavy voice. Where was Ah-li? Then, as Atwood's captors shoved him
toward the larger and higher of the two empty platforms, Atwood saw
the girl. Slowly she was crossing the square. Ah-li, robed now in a
long flowing, bluish grass garment with a garland of flowers around
her head. The Goddess Ah-li. The Marlans, awed, bowed before her as
she advanced, mounted the smaller platform and stood with her arms
outstretched. The reflected glow of the barrage painted her face.
Apprehension was there. And then she saw Atwood. Relief swept her; and
then an exaltation. The recognition of a Man-God, with her to guide
these people.

Then Atwood, tense and alert, stood on the other platform, facing the
ruler. He was some twenty feet from the girl, and five feet or so above
her.

"The Man-God is here," Bohr proclaimed in English. And then he seemed
to be repeating it in the Marlan language.

The crowd was bowing now with foreheads to the ground. The Selah spoke
in a piping, cracked voice; and with a gesture ordered Bohr from the
platform.

       *       *       *       *       *

Alone, Atwood faced the Ruler and the prostrate throng. Out of the
corner of his eyes he could see Ah-li standing stiffly erect, with
arms outstretched as though in benediction. And as the Selah now was
intoning some ritual, Atwood drew himself up and lifted his arms.

But tensely, alertly he was watching. Where was Bohr? The big Marlan
seemed to have vanished. A dozen of Bohr's men were in a little drunken
group, their boistering voices suppressed now as they stood at the edge
of the platform behind the Selah's cradle. The barrage was close behind
them. And as Atwood's apprehensive gaze stared at the purple radiance,
dimly behind it he could see that the _genes_ were crowding. Attracted
by the scent of the human crowd here, they had gathered outside the
barrage. Thousands of them--ghastly, tumbling, tentacled balls of
saffron, milling one upon the other as they pressed forward. Thousands?
There could have been millions; a saffron sea of them out there.

"The Man-God will speak to us now." It was Ah-li's voice, prompting him.

Atwood gathered his wits. He began to talk. What matter the words. He
hardly knew what he was saying, for abruptly behind the Ruler-Selah,
Bohr had appeared. Bohr with a knife in his hand. And in that same
instant, with a ponderous leap he plunged the knife into the Selah's
bloated back!

There was a second of ghastly startled silence. Then chaos. The
prostrate Marlans gasped; then leaped to their feet, shouting, milling
with terror and confusion. Bohr's men from behind the platform leaped
upon it. All of them with knives, plunging the blades into the Ruler's
puffed, toadlike body; and then standing, shouting at the crowd.

It was a startled instant while Atwood stood numbed. Bohr again had
vanished; and then suddenly he appeared on the platform with Ah-li and
was standing beside her, with his heavy arm around her as she sagged
against him in terror. He, too, was shouting at the crowd now; and then
he shouted in English:

"I am the Man-God! Your Man-God and the new Ruler."

All in a few seconds, and then Atwood recovered his wits. Like an
awkward plunging bird he leaped from one platform to the other, landing
full upon Ah-li and the shouting Bohr. It took Bohr by surprise.
Atwood's body struck him full so that he rocked, staggered a little,
his grip releasing the girl as wildly he flailed his arms to ward off
this huge attacking thing clinging to him. The impact against Bohr's
solidity all but knocked the breath from Atwood. He found himself
hanging with feet off the ground as he clung. And desperately he fought
for the knife. Bohr's fingers in his confusion must have gripped it
loosely; and abruptly Atwood had it, stabbed it into Bohr's face.

Gruesome thrust. It went slowly into the tough, heavy flesh as with all
his strength Atwood shoved it to the hilt. Bohr screamed. His twitching
arms pushed Atwood a dozen feet away. With the knife still in his face
and horrible ooze bubbling around it, he staggered and fell heavily
from the platform. Then he was up on his feet, staggering, half blinded
doubtless--staggering toward the barrage. And his scream rang out,
first in the Marlan language and then in English:

"Not to be the Man-God--"

On the platform Atwood gripped the shaking, terrified girl. "We've got
to get away from here."

"Why--why this is terrible."

"You listen to me! Don't talk! If you don't run with me, then I'm going
to carry you." He shook her. "We're going, you understand?"

"Not to be the Man-God--" Bohr's scream still rang over the turmoil.
He had staggered, found himself at one of the barrage-braziers. And
suddenly in a frenzy he overturned the brazier. Its light went out. A
slit of darkness leaped into the barrage.

"Not to be the Man-God--" A frenzy of disappointment, disillusionment
was in Bohr's wild voice. All his plans now gone awry as he felt
himself dying from the knifeblade in his head.

A slit of darkness in the barrage.... And now Bohr had staggered and
overturned another brazier. It was his last act. He staggered and fell
as through the widened dark slit, the hideous torrent of screaming,
chattering saffron monsters rolled through. In a second Bohr was
engulfed. The milling Marlans, shouting in wild terror now, were trying
to run. Ponderous, sluggish steps.... The horrible yellow torrent
engulfed them.

"Ah-li! Ah-li dear--" Atwood gasped. The girl, fascinated with horror
had been resisting him. "We've got to try to get away."

"Yes. Oh, yes--I see it."

She guided him. Hand in hand they leaped--a great sailing leap
that carried them across the square into a now almost deserted
section of the village. And then another--over two or three of the
mound-dwellings. Another, and they went through the opposite side of
the barrage.

Open country. The monsters were all rushing toward the barrage-break.
With a leap Atwood and Ah-li went over a milling, tumbling group of a
hundred of them. It was a wild, scrambling, leaping run.... The dark
little spaceship lying flat on its hull-fins at the edge of the forest
was a blessed haven to the panting, bruised Atwood.

[Illustration: Together they leaped. Behind them, pouring through the
break in the forcescreen, poured the monstrous _genes_.]

"Inside! Quick now--" he gasped.

_Genes_ were here, rolling forward; monstrous bobs of saffron as Atwood
shoved the girl into the porte and slid its door. Through the heavy
bulls-eye pane the gathering monsters were a turgid yellow blur....
Then the little ship was rising, with its rocket streams flaring out
like a comet tail behind it. Atwood and the girl--escaping Gods, from a
world which had become a purgatory.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the control turret they sat, staring ahead at the great stars that
glittered in the black firmament. The Earth was a tiny glowing dot.

"There it is," Atwood said. "Your world, and mine. We've got the
_Xarite_, Ah-li. You wanted to do good on that little planetoid.
There'll be plenty of chance, on Earth."

"And that is Earth?" she murmured. "So small."

"It's very big," he said smilingly. "You'll see. If only my father and
Dr. Johns were alive now, to greet us as we come with the _Xarite_.
They worked so hard for this."

"Dr. Johns?" She was staring at him, startled. And then suddenly on
her face and in her eyes there was the light of memory. "Dr. Johns?
Why--why--"

"Yes?" he prompted. "Try and think!"

"Dr. Johns? Why--_Gloria_--yes, yes there was a Gloria! Why--that is my
other name! His daughter--Gloria Johns--why, of course!"

Gloria Johns.... "Then your father and mine--they were friends," Atwood
murmured.

The familiar scenes of Earth would bring everything back to her. And
Ah-li, Goddess of the planet, would be gone. There would just be Gloria
Johns.

They sat gazing at the immensity of Space--at the tiny dot of light
which was their great world waiting for them.





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