The first officer's bag contained a piece of one of the smaller craters. It had no immediately discernable value. It was Anderson's intention to polish it up and put some kind of a metal plaque on it.
Four more hours went by and there was no sign of Farnsworth or Hamston. Robb began to worry. He'd never forgive himself if anything happened to either of the two men. He waited another half hour, then ordered Kinsley and Anderson to put on their pressure suits and go look for the two missing crew members.
The search was avoided as Farnsworth entered the ship dragging Hamston behind him.
"What happened!" yelled Robb.
Farnsworth began the job of getting out of his pressure suit. "I don't know. Hamston's sick as a dog. I checked every inch of his suit and couldn't find anything out of order."
Robb bent over the prone rocket expert. Hamston looked up at him with half-opened eyes and an insipid grin on his face. He mumbled something about "a fine state of affairs."
They removed Hamston's suit and placed his limp frame on a bunk. Robb examined him for forty minutes.
He reached the curious conclusion that Hamston was as fit as a fiddle.
The rocket expert fell asleep. Robb and the rest of the crew prepared to blast off.
The Ajax XX thrust itself through space, halfway back to its home planet.
The excitement of her crew members grew with every passing second. In his concern over Hamston, Farnsworth had forgotten about his souvenir. He now opened his bag and displayed it before the others.
"What is it?" asked Kingsley.
"Dust!" was Farnsworth's proud reply.
"What the hell you going to do with dust?"
"Maybe you don't know it but this is going to be the most valuable dust on the face of the Earth! Do you realize what I can get for an ounce of this stuff?"
"What's anybody want to buy dust for?"
"Souvenirs, man, souvenirs!"
Farnsworth asked to see what Kingsley and Anderson had picked up. The two men obliged. For the next hour the three men and Robb discussed the mementoes and their possible uses on Earth.
Then Anderson said, "I sure wouldn't turn down about a gallon of good Kentucky whiskey right now!"
Robb laughed. "We did enough sweating on the way. You wouldn't want to sweat out the trip back on a belly full of booze."
"That may be a better idea than you think it is, Captain."
The four men turned to find Hamston sitting up on his bunk.
"Hamston!" Robb exclaimed, "how do you feel?"
"What happened to you?" asked Kingsley.
Hamston stared at each man individually. He took a deep breath and his cheeks puffed up as he let it out slowly. "Well, I guess you'd better know now."
Robb frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Farnsworth and I separated after we got about four miles from the ship. I thought I saw something that looked like a cave. I figured I might find something interesting there to take back with me. So I told Farnsworth I'd keep radio contact with him and off I went."
"Did you find a cave?" Robb wanted to know.
"No, it was just a big indentation in the wall of the crater. I threw some light on it and found it to be ten or fifteen feet deep." He paused as though not sure of what to say next.
"So that's where I found my souvenir."
"Well, let's see it!" said Anderson.
Hamston opened his leather bag. The object he removed rendered the crew weak in the knees. He said, "We can have that drink, Anderson, but I don't think we'll enjoy it."
He poured them each a shot from a half-filled bottle of Vodka.
WHEN THE MOON TURNED GREEN.
By Hal K. Wells
Outside his laboratory Bruce Dixon finds a world of living dead men--and above, in the sky, shines a weird green moon.
It was nearly midnight when Bruce Dixon finished his labors and wearily rose from before the work-bench of his lonely mountain laboratory, located in an abandoned mine working in Southern Arizona.
He looked like some weirdly garbed monk of the Middle Ages as he stretched his tall, lithe figure. His head was completely swathed in a hood of lead-cloth, broken only by twin eyeholes of green glass. The hood merged into a long-sleeved tunic of the same fabric, while lead-cloth gauntlets covered his hands.
The lead-cloth costume was demanded by Dixon's work with radium compounds. The result of that work lay before him on the bench--a tiny lead capsule containing a pinhead lump of a substance which Dixon believed would utterly dwarf earth's most powerful explosives in its cataclysmic power.
So engrossed had Dixon been in the final stages of his work that for the last seventy-two hours he had literally lived there in his laboratory. It remained now only for him to step outside and test the effect of the little contact grenade, and at the same time get a badly needed taste of fresh air.
He set the safety catch on the little bomb and slipped it into his pocket. As he started for the door he threw back his hood, revealing the ruggedly good-looking face of a young man in the early thirties, with lines of weariness now etched deeply into the clean-cut features.
The moment that Dixon entered the short winding tunnel that led to the outer air he was vaguely aware that something was wrong. There was a strange and intangibly sinister quality in the moonlight that streamed dimly into the winding passage. Even the cool night air itself seemed charged with a subtle aura of brooding evil.
Dixon reached the entrance and stepped out into the full radiance of the moonlight. He stopped abruptly and stared around him in utter amazement.
High in the eastern sky there rode the disc of a full moon, but it was a moon weirdly different from any that Dixon had ever seen before. This moon was a deep and baleful green; was glowing with a stark malignant fire like that which lurks in the blazing heart of a giant emerald! Bathed in the glow of the intense green rays, the desolate mountain landscape shone with a new and eery beauty.
Dixon took a dazed step forward. His foot thudded softly into a small feathered body there in the sparse grass, and he stooped to pick it up. It was a crested quail, with every muscle as stonily rigid as though the bird had been dead for hours. Yet Dixon, to his surprise, felt the slow faint beat of a pulse still in the tiny body.
Then a dim group of unfamiliar objects down in the shadows of a small gully in front of him caught Dixon's eye. Tucking the body of the quail inside his tunic for later examination, he hurried down into the gully. A moment later he was standing by what had been the night camp of a prospector.
The prospector was still there, his rigid figure wrapped in a blanket, and his wide-open eyes staring sightlessly at the malignant green moon in the sky above. Dixon knelt to examine the stricken man's body. It showed the same mysterious condition as that of the quail, rigidly stiff in every muscle, yet with the slow pulse and respiration of life still faintly present.
Dixon found the prospector's horse and burro sprawled on the ground half a dozen yards away, both animals frozen in the same baffling condition of living death. Dixon's brain reeled as he tried to fathom the incredible calamity that had apparently overwhelmed the world while he had been hidden away in his subterranean laboratory. Then a new and terrible thought assailed him.
If the grim effect of the baleful green rays was universal in its extent, what then of old Emil Crawford and his niece, Ruth Lawton? Crawford, an inventor like Dixon, had his laboratory in a valley some five miles away.
An abrupt chill went over Dixon's heart at the thought of Ruth Lawton's vivid Titian-haired beauty being forever stilled in the grip of that eery living death. He and Ruth had loved each other ever since they had first met.
Dixon broke into a run as he headed for a nearby ridge that looked out over the valley. His pulse hammered with unusual violence as he scrambled up the steep incline, and his muscles seemed to be tiring with strange rapidity. He had a vague feeling that the rays of that malignant green moon were beating directly into his brain, clouding his thoughts and draining his physical strength.
Gaining the crest of the ridge, he stopped aghast as he looked down the valley toward Emil Crawford's place. Near the site of Crawford's laboratory home was an unearthly pyrotechnic display such as Dixon had never seen before. An area several hundred yards in diameter seemed one vivid welter of pulsing colors, with flashing lances of every hue crisscrossing in and through a great central cloud of ever-changing opalescence like a fiery aurora borealis gone mad.
Dixon fought back the ever-increasing lethargy that was benumbing his brain, and groped dazedly for a key to this new riddle. Was it some weird and colossal experiment of Emil Crawford's that was causing the green rays of death from a transformed moon, an experiment the earthly base of which was amid the seething play of blazing colors down there in the valley?
The theory seemed hardly a plausible one. As far as Dixon knew, Crawford's work had been confined almost entirely to a form of radio-propelled projectile for use in war-time against marauding planes.
Dixon shook his head forcibly in a vain effort to clear the stupor that was sweeping over him. It was strange how the vivid rays of that malevolent green moon seemed to sear insidiously into one's brain, stifling thought as a swamp fog stifles the sunlight.
Then Dixon suddenly froze into stark immobility, staring with startled eyes at the base of a rocky crag thirty yards away. Something was lurking there in the green-black shadows--a great sprawling black shape of abysmal horror, with a single flaming opalescent eye fixed unwinkingly upon Dixon.
The next moment the vivid moon was suddenly obscured by drifting wisps of cloud. As the green light blurred to an emerald haze, the creature under the crag came slithering out toward Dixon.
He had a vague glimpse of a monster such as one should see only in nightmares--a huge loathesome spider-form with a bloated body as long as that of a man, and great sprawling legs that sent it half a dozen yards nearer Dixon in one effortless leap.
The onslaught proved too much for Dixon's morale, half-dazed as he was by the green moon's paralyzing rays. With a low inarticulate cry of terror, he turned and ran, straining every muscle in a futile effort to distance the frightful thing that inexorably kept pace in the shadowy emerald gloom behind him.
Dixon's strength faded rapidly after his first wild sprint. Fifty yards more, and his faltering muscles failed him utterly. The dread rays of that grim green moon sapped his last faint powers of resistance. He staggered on for a few more painful steps then sprawled helplessly to the ground. His brain hovered momentarily upon the verge of complete unconsciousness.
Then he was suddenly aware of a fluttering struggle, inside his tunic where he had placed the body of the quail. A moment later and the bird wriggled free. It promptly spread its wings and flew away, apparently as vibrantly alive as before the mysterious paralysis had stricken it.
The incident brought a faint surge of hope to Dixon as he dimly realized the answer to at least part of the green moon's riddle. The bird had recovered after being shielded in the lead-cloth of his tunic. That could only mean one thing--the menace of those green moon rays must in some unknown way be radioactive. If Dixon could only get the lead-cloth hood over his own head again he also might cheat the green doom.
He fumbled at the garment with fingers that seemed as stiff as wooden blocks. There was a long moment of agony when he feared that his effort had come too late. Then the hood finally slipped over his head just as utter oblivion claimed him.
Dixon came abruptly back to life with the dimly remembered echo of a woman's scream still ringing in his ears. For a moment he thought that he was awakening on his cot back in the laboratory after an unusually vivid and weird nightmare. Then the garish green moonlight around him brought swift realization that the incredible happenings of the night were grim reality.
The clouds were gone from the moon, leaving his surroundings again clearly outlined in the flood of green light. Dixon lifted his head and cautiously searched the scene, but he could see no trace of the great spider-form that had pursued him.
Wondering curiously why the creature had abandoned the chase at the moment when victory was within its grasp, Dixon rose lithely to his feet. The protecting hood had brought a quick and complete recovery from the devastating effects of the green moon's rays. His muscles were again supple, and his brain once more functioned with clearness.
Then abruptly Dixon's blood froze as the sound of a woman's scream came again. The cry was that of a woman in the last extremity of terror, and Dixon knew with a terrible certainty that that woman was Ruth Lawton!
He raced toward the small ridge of rocks from behind which the sound had apparently come. A moment later he reached the scene, and stopped horror-stricken.
Three figures were there in a small rock-walled clearing. One was old Emil Crawford, sprawled unconscious on his side, the soft glow of a small white globe in a strange head-piece atop his gray hair shining eerily in the green moonlight.
Near Crawford's body loomed the giant spider-creature, and clutched firmly in the great claspers just under the monster's terrible fanged mouth was the slender body of Ruth Lawton. Merciful unconsciousness had apparently overwhelmed the girl now, for she lay supinely in the dread embrace, with eyes closed and lips silent.
As the monster dropped the girl's body to the ground and whirled to confront Dixon, for the first time he had a clear view of the thing in all its horror.
He shuddered in uncontrollable nausea. The incredible size of the creature was repellent enough, but it was the grisly head of the monstrosity that struck the final note of horror. That head was more than half human!
The fangs and other mouth parts were those of a giant tarantula, but these merged directly into the mutilated but unmistakable head of a man--with an aquiline nose, staring eyes, and a touseled mop of dirty brown hair. Resting on top of the head was a metallic head-piece similar to the one worn by Emil Crawford, but the small globe in this one blazed with a fiery opalescence.
The creature crouched lower, with its legs twitching in obvious preparation for a spring. Dixon looked wildly about him for a possible weapon, but saw nothing. Then he suddenly remembered the little lead grenade in his pocket. The cataclysmic power of that little bomb should be more than a match for even this monster.
His fingers closed over the grenade just as the great spider's twitching legs straightened in a mighty effort that sent it hurtling through the air straight toward him.
Dixon dodged to one side with a swiftness that caused the monster to miss by a good yard. Dixon raced a dozen paces farther away, then whirled to face the great spider. The creature's legs began scuttling warily forward. It was to be no wild leap through the air this time, but a swift rush over the ground that Dixon would be powerless to evade.
Releasing the safety catch of the grenade, Dixon hurled the tiny missile straight at the rock floor just under the feet of that vast misshapen creature. There was a vivid flash of blinding blue flame, then a terrific report. Dazed by the concussion, but unhurt, Dixon cautiously went over to investigate the result of the explosion.
One brief glance was enough. The hideous mass of shattered flesh sprawling there on the rocks would never again be a menace. The only thing that had escaped destruction in that shattering blast was the strange head-piece the thing had worn. Either the small shining globe was practically indestructible, or else it had been spared by some odd freak of the explosive, for it still blazed in baleful opalescence atop the shattered head.
Dixon hurried back to where Emil Crawford and Ruth Lawton lay. The girl's body was so rigidly inert that Dixon threw back his encumbering hood and knelt over her for a swift examination. His fears were quickly realized. Ruth was already a victim of the green moon's dread paralysis.
"Dixon! Bruce Dixon!"
Dixon turned at the call. Emil Crawford, his face drawn with pain, had struggled up on one elbow. The old man was obviously fighting off complete collapse by sheer will power.
"Dixon! Replace Ruth's shining head-piece at once!" Crawford gasped. "That will make her immune from the Green Death, and then we can--" The old man's voice swiftly faded away into silence as he again fainted.
Dixon hurriedly searched the scene and found Ruth's head-piece on the ground where it had apparently fallen in her first struggle with the giant spider, but the tiny white globe in the device was shattered and dark.