What he discovered there interested him very much. We do not intend to describe all of the marvels unfolded for him in that venerable mildewed manuscript, for some of the more gruesome mysteries of the supernatural world are better left unrevealed; but let it be said at least, that one chapter intrigued Brother Ambrose immensely. So much so, that he shamelessly whipped out his scissors and, nipping that section, stuck it inside his rough wool robes so he might peruse it at greater leisure within the privacy of his cell.
The chapter that evoked such delight and interest within Brother Ambrose's complicated brain was one that had been penned in the early ages of the Church by a lay-brother who had concerned himself with pagan magic. In it, he had described the fiendish habits and activities of werewolves and had actually even presented a formula. Ut Fiat Homo Lupinus it was entitled, which purported to give the secret words and ritual necessary to achieve the transformation from man to beast.
At last, the opportunity had arrived Ambrose's way to achieve his long-desired revenge on Brother Lorenzo!
Twenty-four hours had passed since the momentous discovery. The moment was at hand. Night again had settled upon the Spanish cloisters, the last bell had tolled; and all the good and hardy men were supposed to be at sound sleep on their rough iron cots. But in Brother Ambrose's chilly cell, a small candle burned-casting sickly light that produced huge flickering shadows against the whitewashed walls.
Brother Ambrose held the treasured piece of manuscript between his hands. It was difficult to make out the faded Latin; the writing was cramped and crude, and Ambrose was no scholar to boot. But like all persons of his times, he was quite well-aware of the existence of werewolves, werefoxes, and other such monsters; and he held no doubt but what the spell would work.
It was the scheming brother's plan to creep in the stealth of night down the corridor to the barred oak door of Lorenzo's own simple cell. There, he would knock; lightly enough to disturb no other sleepers, yet loud enough that the rapping would summon Brother Lorenzo from whatever wicked dreams might be festering in his own sleeping mind.
As Fray Lorenzo's naked footsteps were heard pattering across the bare floor, Ambrose would drink the bat's blood he had collected, sniff the wolfbane he had ground to ash, and pronounce the obscure Celtic words that would alter the very atoms of his flesh, transforming them into an obscene travesty of life. Brother Lorenzo, when he opened the door, would be met not by a fellow human being, but by a snarling fanged wolf that would hurl its hairy bulk at the drowsy monk's own throat.
The next day, the entire monastery would be awakened, of course, by shouts of the news that foul murder had been discovered. But no amount of detection would ever manifest the bestial murderer. Brother Ambrose would hug to his soul the secret of his crime until the day of his shriving.
At length, the hour had grown so late that it was certain even the Prior himself must have long since retired.
Brother Ambrose made ready to carry out his deed. He rose from his cot, removed the coarse brown robe that normally he wore to bed as well as in his daily rounds so that his long-unwashed body stood naked. There must be no chance for tell-tale blood to stain his clothes, when his fierce talons and wolfish teeth tore and rended at human flesh.
Carrying his precious piece of scroll, he departed from his cell and groped his way down the stone corridor until the light improved enough for him to see his way. Luckily, a patch of moonlight illuminated the very space in front of the accursed Brother Lorenzo's door. What fortune!
Brother Ambrose halted and stared at the door as though his eyes could see through it, at the sleeping form within. He sucked in a deep breath. His palms were sweaty; his heartbeat rapid. For a moment, he was almost ready to back out.
Then suddenly, the memory of all the hundreds of grudges he bore against Lorenzo surged through him. Hatred built up a massive reservoir, that broke out over his crumbling conscience and flooded his body with anger and wild resentment. His teeth gritted. What had he been thinking of-to retreat now, with revenge so nearly at hand!
He rapped. A moment later, he heard a creaking sound like Brother Lorenzo slipping out of bed.
Trembling, he lifted the phial of bat's blood, drank it down. It tasted salty. He chewed on the wolfbane powder until it mixed with the saliva of his mouth, then he swallowed. Holding the ancient scroll-segment before him, he began to repeat the badly-written incantation: Ut fiat homo lupinus, pulvis arnicae facenda est et dum....
A thousand jolts assailed his body, as if he had been struck by all the lightnings in heaven. Then, came a rushing paralysis, a distortion of time and space, a dread feeling of disintegration and death ...
The door to Brother Lorenzo's cell began to recede, swelling in volume as it did. The ceiling of the corridor likewise retreated at ever-increasing pace. Staring down at his own dwindling frame, Ambrose saw that the slug-white flesh was now covered with thick fur, even as the limbs were gnarling- Then, suddenly the door opened. Brother Lorenzo stepped out, his kindly pious face wrinkled with sleep but otherwise showing no irritation or displeasure at being summoned from his rest. At first, the monk seemed not to have noticed Ambrose's form, for he gazed above him and away.
Ambrose kept on shrinking.
Finally, Brother Lorenzo's gaze chanced to glance downward. But still, his features mirrored no recognition or alarm; only puzzlement.
Now, thought Ambrose, now is the time for me to snarl.
But no snarl, nor semblance of a snarl, emerged from his lips. Rather, his lips had elongated into long sucking proboscises, while already a third pair of limbs had commenced growing from his furred-over abdomen.
This was not a wolf-like form, he was assuming, Ambrose suddenly realized in terror. But if it was not lupine, what was it? Had he misread the incantation? Had he mispronounced a simple word?
The weird crawling form into which he had metamorphosed was now hardly an inch higher than the surface of the floor. But Ambrose's eyes had bulged into great many-faceted orbs capable of seeing objects with greater clarity than ever. Inches away from him, he made out the segment of scroll he had discarded after reading aloud from it. Crawling over to it, he perused the beginning words of the spell.
And it suddenly dawned on him (while what passed for a heart and ventricles within his pulpy form began simulating horror) that the ancient monk of centuries ago who had first copied the incantation must have been as careless of spelling as he. For the charm obviously did not convert its user into a werewolf, but rather some other animal ...
Dredging up all the miserable Latin he knew, Ambrose fished for some word similar to lupinus.
And suddenly he had it!
Pulicus! That was the word the sloppy copyist of yesteryear had wrongly transcribed.
From the word pulex, meaning "flea."
Not how to become a wolf-like man, but a flea-like man-that was what the formula had described.
Ambrose, the flea, braced himself. Gathering his powerful legs under him, he leaped in soaring flight to land upon the object of hatred-the giant Brother Lorenzo, who towered so high above him.
But the gentle and considerate Brother Lorenzo, who probably would not have hurt hair nor hide of any other creature on Earth-even he knew full well that there is only one thing you can do to discourage a flea.
NEXT DOOR, NEXT WORLD.
By ROBERT DONALD LOCKE
Almost any phenomenon can be used--or act--for good or ill. Mutation usually brings ill--but it also brings greatness. Change can go any direction.
Hungrily, the cradled vessel's great steel nose pointed up to the distant stars. She was the Cosmos XII, newest and sleekest of the Space Service's rapidly-expanding wing of interstellar scout ships, and she was now ready for operational work.
Major Lance Cooper, a big man with space-tanned features, stood in the shadow of the control bunker and watched the swarm of ground crewmen working at last-minute speed atop the loading tower. Inside him burned a hunger, too.
Hunger, and another emotion--pride.
The pride swelled Lance's open-collared khaki shirt, as he envisioned himself at the ship's controls within a few minutes. Finally, after long years of study, sweat and dedication, he'd made it to the Big League. No more jockeying those tubby old rocket-pots to Luna! From here on, he was going to see, taste, feel what the universe was like way, way out--in Deep Space. The Cosmos XII, like her earlier sisters, was designed to plow through that shuddery nowhere the cookbooks identified as "hyperspace."
Lance's glance shifted upward, scanning the velvet backdrop of frosty white points of light against which the slender, silverish, almost wingless form stood framed. More stars than a man could visit in a lifetime! And some already within grasp!
His exultant feeling grew, and Lance kept his head tilted backward. Alpha Centauri, the most popular target, was not visible at this latitude; and Barnard's star, besides being far too faint, lay on the other side of the sun. But there shone Sirius, just as bright as it had glittered for the Greeks, and frosty Procyon, a little to the north. Both orbs twinkled and beckoned, evoking strange and demanding dreams!
One day, Man would be able to make landings. Teams of scientists outfitted to the eyebrows and trained to cope with any environment or emergency, would explore unknown jungles, llanos, steppes; tramp up and down fertile vales and hills under blue-hot alien suns. Perhaps, they might even contact native species boasting human intelligence: mammalian hunters and fishers, city-building lizards, sky-probing arachnids--who knew what?
But now, of course, all that Headquarters permitted of flights was the most furtive of reconnoitering. You hoisted your scout ship aloft under high-gee, cleared the ecliptic, then swung out of normal space and jumped. When you materialized in the new sector, you set your cameras clicking, toggled all the other instruments into recording radiation, gravity pressures, spectroscopy, at slam-bang speed. The very instant your magnetic tapes got crammed to capacity, you pressed six dozen panic buttons and scooted like a scared jackrabbit for Home, Sweet Home.
Adventure? It wasn't even mentioned on the travel posters, yet.
But, adventure would follow.
Meanwhile, at the taxpayers' expense, you--the guardian of the Peace--had enjoyed the billion-dollar thrill of viewing our Solar System from light-years and light-years of distance. Or so the manual said, right here on Insert Page 30-Dash-11-Dash-6.
Lance thought about those veteran hype-pilots who'd already poked around in the great black Cold out there. How was it they were always compensating for their frustration?
Now, he remembered.
Having few tall tales to spellbind audiences with when they swooped back down on Home Base after their missions, the hype-pilots got around it by bragging up Terra itself, and how at least you could always depend upon good old Earth to come up with something to relax this Warp-Weary generation!
"Something, for example, such as we now hold in our hand, brothers!" Lance could hear them now. "Namely, one of these superbly-programmed cocktails, as only Casey can turn out."
(Casey was the Officers Club barkeep and much-beribboned mixologist.) "A real 'Casey Special'--look at its pristine beauty! What better consolation can a man ask, for not having gotten to land at the apogee point of his orbit?"
"Besides"--this usually came out after two or three more tongue-loosening toasts had been quaffed to the beasts of Headquarters--"what's so blasted special about landing on some God-forsaken rock out there?
"Hell's bells! Earth is a planet too, isn't it? And when you've been cooped up in a parsec-gobbling pot for a very, very long two weeks, any planet looming in your viewscope cries to be set down upon. Your own prosaic hunk of mud is good as any!"
Lance Cooper's rambling thoughts broke off their aimless tracking to swing one hundred and eighty degrees in midspace and dart right back to Earth.
Here at this very moment--and less than a hundred yards away--came Terra's foremost attraction for him. His hammering heartbeat would have placed him on the "grounded" list immediately, had there been a medico with a stethoscope hanging about to detect it.
The attraction's name was Carolyn Sagen, and she was hurrying directly across the concrete apron.
Even under the incandescent work-lamps of the crew scrambling up and down the ladders, she looked as fetching as a video starlet making her first personal-appearance tour of the nation. Only the fact she was Colonel "Hard-Head" Sagen's family pride and joy kept the helmeted and half-puckered up techs on the rungs from whistling themselves dry in their enthusiasm.
Now, she had completely bypassed the work area. Here, the lighting did not reach and the paler illumination of starshine took over. It seemed to render the girl's soft blond hair and her full warm lips more intimately something belonging to Lance Cooper alone--and he liked that. He saw that she had turned up the collar of her tan coat against the night wind.
While still a step or two distant from him, Carolyn halted. Her worshiping eyes rested fully upon the big pilot. Lance thought he detected a troubled expression.
Then, the girl managed a tight smile that conveyed her outward resignment to all Man's absurd aspirations to own the galaxy: "Don't worry about 'Security,' Lance. Dad wrote me out an O.K. to skitter up this close to the Launching Area. You know"--she gestured self-consciously--"big crucial moment ... lovers' farewell ... I pulled all the stops, but it worked."
"Matter of fact," she added, in an obvious attempt at facetiousness, "Dad opined he'd have walloped the daylights out of me, if I hadn't put up a struggle to get near my man."
Then suddenly, she was not at all brave, anymore.
Suddenly, she had burrowed into his arms. "Oh Lance, had there been no other way, I'd have clawed right through fence and revetments to get to you! Men, men! Just because something's out there, as you say ... why is it so important to build ships and go out and look at it?" Her fingers dug into Lance's shoulders. "Women are saner ... but maybe that's why men need us." The grip of her fingers shifted, tightened. "Kiss me, you big baboon."
Lance kissed her. A tender kiss, yet gusty enough that he lifted her from the ground and her high-heeled shoes kicked in free fall.
The pilot found his girl's breath warm, loving. Yet her cheeks seemed colder than even the crisp air should account for. And her body was trembling.
He planted a second kiss, then set her down.
"Hey! This is no way for a Space Service brat to carry on. Why, you're just about to--"
"To cry, Lance? No, I wasn't. It's just that ... you'll be gone so long."
He punched her playfully. "Two measly weeks out, two weeks to astrogate her back home. And once I've got my feet wet at it, it'll be like shooting ducks in an alley."
Carolyn reached out, brushed a windswept tuft of hair from above the rock-steady eyes that looked at her.
"I know, Lance. I even realize that just ten years ago, women had to put up with separations from their sweethearts or husbands that lasted months. When the old pioneer ships used to limp back and forth to Mars and Venus. But I'm different, I guess. Weak, maybe. Or just plain scared--"
This didn't sound like the blithe-spirited girl he'd pursued for a year, then wooed and subdued. Lance studied her, then said slowly: "You're scared. About what? My first flight?"
Carolyn's head bobbed timidly.
Lance flashed a reassuring grin. "Everything has to be a brand-new experience, at some time or other. Me, I prefer to look at hype-flight from the point of view of the service. A routine thing. Just takes training. Otherwise," and he shrugged, "it's no more a risk than hauling groceries upstairs to some weather satellite."
"Is it, Lance? When one or two ships out of every ten never make it back at all. Just disappear ... somewhere ... while the others--"
"One out of thirty or forty, you mean. So hyperspace is a little tricky."
"And there's always pilot error to blame, too, I suppose?"
"Now that you mention it."
"Only my man is immune from everything?"
Lance smiled, a little wryly. "Any pilot can make boo-boos, Carolyn. I'm determined to try awfully hard not to." He added a slight qualification to his statement. "I've always been pretty lucky up to now, at not getting lost."
"I thought the guidance systems and the autopilot computers took care of all the astrogation corrections?"
"On a theoretically perfect flight, yes. It's equally true, however, that hyperspace's geometry doesn't always resemble the sort of lines and angles you find in our own universe--"
Lance abruptly stopped, realizing he was quoting text; his mind groped for a better way to explain. But Carolyn plunged in first: "You see, there do sometimes develop special situations."
"Sure, sometimes." An exasperation crept into Lance Cooper's voice, despite his effort to keep it out. Hell, he was just a pilot; not a rated mathematician. He'd fly hyperspace by the seat of his pants, if he had to.
"Lance," said Carolyn.
"You feel it too, don't you?"