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Colossus of Chaos

By NELSON S. BOND

IT was the evil spawn of lifeless space, drifting aimlessly until
IT's sinister birthing place should come. And finding that abode
for life, IT grew, sacking energy from Terra itself—gathering
strength for that time when all should flee before IT's malign
wrath.

OUT of the darkness It came. Out of the grim, bleak, frore, incalculable depths of outer space, into the empire of light and warmth... and life. It was like nothing known to Man. It was round, but not quite round; It was hard, but not altogether hard; It was cold, but not cold With the terrible, utter iciness of things which come from Beyond. It was in motion but It did not move of Its own volition, for It was quiescent, insensate. It let Itself be carried by the vagrant and unpredictable whims of a kinetic universe, confident that in a day... or a century... or a thousand, thousand centuries... the fitful fingers of chance would find for It a bourne, a resting-place.

Out of the night It came... the endless, inpenetrable night which spans the void between star and star. Out of one cosmos into another; out of oblivion into waking horror.

No eye beheld Its coming. None saw Its faint, thin, cool iridescence; no voice lifted to challenge Its arrival on the sixth satellite of the sixth solar planet. It dropped to earth unwatched, rolled a brief, sluggish way, then rested in m deep, soft, sandy pit.

A gray hoar-frost rimed Its surface as the warmth of a friendly orb dispelled the frightful chill of space; a pale mist rose from Its petroid carapace and trembled into the air like a wan and restless ghost. It had found a home, a lair, a birthingplace. With a slow, ecstatic, burrowing motion It dug Itself still deeper into the nourishing sands. It had arrived. It grew....

I

"A DANGEROUS place," said the heavy man with ominous deliberation. "A most dangerous place!" He raised his glass to his nostrils, passed it back and forth appreciatively, and rolled a single drop of the liqueur upon his tongue. A smile creased his full, red lips. "Excellent, my dear Captain!" he approved. "A most superior brandy. Allow me to congratulate you. Domrémy-Thol '98, I should judge?"

Captain Burke, skipper of the IPS spacecruiser Gaea, basked in the sunshine of his passenger's approbation.

He swirled the liquor in his frosted glass, glanced about the table with a self-satisfied complacency that was almost ludicrous. Then he nodded his head slowly, acknowledging the compliment bestowed upon his judgment in selecting the after-dinned liquor.

"Allow me," he corrected, "to congratulate you, sir, on a truly magnificent palate. You have named the exact vine and season. But... danger? You spoke of danger?"

The connoisseur glanced at the young lady across the table and permitted his eyebrows to arch significantly.

"Perhaps it would be better to abandon the subject," he suggested. "After all, I do not wish to cause Miss Graham undue alarm—"

The girl laughed. She did not seem, noted young Dr. Roswell, occupant of another seat at the captain's table, the least bit perturbed by Grossman's shadowy hint of menace. On the contrary, her already vivid features assumed new color at the scent of danger. Her gray-green eyes brightened, a flush highlighted the natural golden beauty of her cheeks; she bent forward interestedly.

"Please, Mister Grossman... don't stop because of me. I want to learn everything I can about Titan. It's going to be my home from now on, you know. I'll learn sooner or later."

"Ye-e-es," acknowledged the heavy man grudgingly, "I suppose that is true. Your father is Commandant of the Space Patrol post at New Boston, isn't he? Hasn't he warned you of the dangers you face in coming to live with him?"

Again the girl laughed.

"Hardly! You see, he doesn't know I'm coming. He'd have conniption fits if he knew I were aboard the Gaea. He's a lamb, really, but terribly old-fashioned. 'Women belong on Earth,' you know... that sort, of thing. He thinks I'm safe in a Terra boarding-school right now. If he dreamed I were less than an hour off Titan—well, I'm afraid he'd be pale violet with anger."

"And," reproved Grossman sternly, "rightly so. Your father is a wise man. Titan is no place for a girl of gentle breeding. It is a vile and treacherous pest-hole. It should never have been opened to Earth colonists!"

Rockingham Roswell coughed gently. The young savant was taller than any man present, and but for the conservative cut of his clothing might have looked his true weight, but he carried himself in such a way as to seem more fragile than he really was. His lean, close-shaven cheeks were pale, and his tow-colored hair was meticulously plastered to his scalp. He wore thick-lensed, tortoise-shell glasses which he removed and polished nervously as he spoke.

"In... er... in that case, Mister Grossman, it strikes me as a bit odd that you should... er... have established business headquarters on the satellite."

Grossman glanced sharply at the slender man, snapped impatiently, "A business man cannot always pick and choose his locations, Doctor Roswell. He must follow the path of empire as it leads. Since there are Earthmen on Titan, someone must serve them. It is an obligation which cannot be refused—"

"Er... quite!" acknowledged Roswell confusedly. "Job of work to be done... noble sacrifice... the white man's burden... all that sort of rot... what?"

Unaccountably, Grossman flushed. "If you are trying to imply, sir," he fumed, "that I have any ulterior motive in establishing a trading post on Titan—"

"Oh, gracious, no! Nothing of the sort. I wouldn't presume to question your... er... business acumen, Factor. I'm hardly the type, what?" Roswell smiled a faint, thin, apologetic smile. "I mean I... er... I really don't know much about this sort of thing... if you know what I mean...."

CAPTAIN BURKE stared at the younger man impatiently. A spaceman toughened in the crucible of action, he had little patience with such learned young fops as this passenger. His words were polite, as befitted the skipper of a luxury liner, but his tone was brushed with acid.

"If you don't mind, Doctor Roswell, Factor Grossman was about to tell us something about the hazards of Titan. Well, Mister Grossman?"

Grossman took another appreciative sip of his brandy, set down the tulip-glass, and steepled his fingers.

"Well, the perils of Titan fall into several classes. Geographic, physiological and racial. In the first place, it is a satellite approximately the size of Earth's moon... large enough to sustain life, but small enough to be influenced by the perturbations not only of its massive primary, which lies a scant seven hundred and sixty thousand miles away, but also by the attractive forces of the Ring and Saturn's eight other satellites.

"Evidence of this is the peculiarity interwoven orbit trajectories of Titan and its nearest sister, Hyperion, which sometimes approach each other perilously close. Were Titan a sphere of pumaceous formation, like Luna, it. would long since have burst into a million fragments under the impact of these conflicting forces. Fortunately, it is of a basaltic nature, and consequently reasonably stable.

"More immediately hazardous are what might be called the physiological dangers of Titan. These are multifold. To begin with, there is the so-called 'water' of the orb—"

"I've read about that," nodded Captain Burke gravely. "Not water at all, but—"

"But a deadly corrosive acid," finished the speaker, "yes! Happily, the 'seas' of Titan do not cover such a share of the planet's surface as do those of Earth; if they did, no life—either flora or fauna —would ever have developed upon the little world."

His heavy shoulders shivered.

"Still... imagine frothing, tide-swept lakes as large as Lake Erie or Victoria Nyanza splashing endlessly at shores until inch by inch and foot by foot those beaches are eroded, rotted, eaten away by the action of the fluid they contain! These are the 'oceans' of Titan. There are four of them, fed by subterranean sources we have not yet discovered. One day they will have completely devoured the parent planet, and Titan will cease to be."

"But that day, of course," interposed the girl, "is a long way off. Is this the only physiological danger?"

"There is one even more dreadful. The T-radiation."

"T-radiation? What is that?"

Grossman smiled mirthlessly.

"Were I able to tell you, I should be a greater physicist than any who have so far visited Titan. Dozens of the wisest have come, probed, pondered, analyzed... and left Titan none the wiser for their efforts. Frankly, they do not know! The very name 'T-radiation' is an admission of their failure. It is simply an abbreviation for 'Titan-radiation.' It is an electro-magnetic or radioactive emanation lethal to humans that is all they know about it."

Young Dr. Roswell wiped his spectacles carefully and interrupted, "But... er... but surely, Factor, these physicists were able to determine the wave-length of the radiation? Did that not tell them—?"

Grossman said bluntly, almost rudely, "The radiation lies in the Hertzian range, Doctor Roswell. Does that knowledge help you any? Perhaps now you can tell us why these rays are deadly?"

ROSWELL flushed and faltered into silence. The girl glanced curiously at Grossman.

"Hertzian range, Factor?"

"Electrical waves ranging between 1 m. and 1/10 c.m. in length, Miss Graham. Their place is between the so-called 'short waves' of radio transmission and the infra-red or heat waves. Their existence has been known, theoretically, for at least two hundred years. But man has never been able to find a reason, a place, or use for them. Nor have they been found to occur freely in nature elsewhere than on Titan."

"And," asked Captain Burke, "you say these waves are deadly to humans? But how, then, have our colonists managed to win and maintain a foothold—"

"I should have said," admitted Grossman, "the waves are deadly to unshielded humans. Lead sheathing protects the wearer from harm; consequently men in bulgers are quite safe. And one of the first acts of the Solar Space Patrolmen, upon reaching Titan, was to project a series of leaden highways or avenues between the cities of the satellite. Upon these, and only upon these, may Earthmen travel unprotected by bulgers. To stray from one of these roadbeds means exposure to the T-radiation. And that, in turn, means death!"

Rockingham Roswell shuddered delicately. "Beastly!" he murmured. "Deuced unpleasant sort of place, what? But, I say... how about the natives? How did they manage to survive before our countrymen built those jolly old lead roadways?"

Grossman pursed his lips impatiently at the affected young scholar.

"They, Doctor Roswell," he said scomfully, "are immune to the T-radiation. Certainly you are acquainted with the principles of selective breeding?"

"Selective—oh, yes! Survival of the fittest ... all that fiddle-di-diddle? You mean the present Titanians are the present Titanians simply because they adapted their physiques to the surroundings, eh? Why, rather! That's clear enough. Still, if they can stand the radiation, I don't see why other humans—"

"Other humans!" Grossman laughed curtly. "My dear Doctor, it is obvious you have never seen a Titanian. Human, indeed! Why, it is the dissimilarity between the Titanians and ourselves which led me to name racial divergence as among the hazards of life on Titan.

"The creatures who rule Titan look less like humans than like those monsters deranged and alcoholic patients see in their dreams. For some reason—possibly because of this mysterious T-radiation—the denizens of the world have never bred true. Consequently, there is no way of foretelling what the child of any two parents may resemble... though one almost certain guess is that it will resemble neither parent.

"Bilateral symmetry is about the only constant human attribute to be found amongst the Titanians. That and a more or less rudimentary intelligence... an instinct which is more akin to animal cunning than to intellect.

"Some Titanians walk erect on their hind legs. Some crawl on all fours or squirm on their bellies. Some resemble the humanoid races of our planet, or Mars, or Venus. Others look like obscene jungle beasts, ghouls, fabulous monsters. "I have seen Titanians whose leprous flesh covered bones have no counterpart in the human skeleton... others with no faces at all, as we know the meaning of the word... others who grope blindly along on tactile tentacles, 'seeing' with foot-long tongues, 'hearing' through their fingertips.

"Some there are who look like gigantic, crimson ants; others inch their way along the streets like hideous, mangled slugs; while yet again—astonishingly—you may chance upon a Titanian not only similar in appearance to Earthmen, but as clever and quick in thought as any terrestrial."

Grossman paused, nodding significantly. "These," he said, "are the most dangerous of all."

"And—" breathed Lynn Graham—"the nature of this danger, Mister Grossman? Attack, perhaps?"

"Attack!" The trading-post factor laughed brusequely, harshly. "A mild word for it. Extermination! The Titanians hate interlopers on their world —particularly Earthmen—with a smoldering, implacable hatred inconceivable to a civilized mind. Had they their will, they would hunt down every Earthman and slaughter him with the most horrible tortures their warped and twisted minds can devise.

"Your father, Miss Graham—" Grossman bent forward across the table to lend emphasis to his warning—"maintains a post on Titan by sufference only. Because the natives have not the strength nor the weapons with which to rebel. But if ever the day dawns when they find such strength or weapons—" Grossman drew a deep breath and shook his head—"Then... Lord help all like us who dwell on Titan!"

II

IT had arrived. It had found a birthing-place. It grew. There in the tone, lorn silence, in the thawing warmth of the nourishing sands. It spawned according to its nature.

It made no sound save that of a thin, dry grating as Its shell-like covering stirred against the sides of the pit. But a change had come upon Its carapace. Its one-time stony surface no...

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