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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Fantastic

FALL 1952

Angels in the Jets

BY JEROME BIXBY

If, as appears more and more likely, mankind intends to start gadding about the universe, it's high time somebody points out that the dangers of Infinity's frontiers may go far beyond gunslinging bandits and Indians in war paint. Take, for example, the lushly beautiful planet where Captain Dodge and his spaceship crew landed. Lots of danger in the air; in fact, the air was danger! Before matters quieted down, the skipper knew one thing for certain: In a world, gone mad padded cells are for the sane!

... A native New Yorker, Jerry Bixby, 27 and unmarried, is a seasoned and capable magazine, editor. While his fiction output is small, it sells at once and invariably gets anthologized.

IT was chemically very similar to Earth, but much smaller. It circled a nameless Class K sun in Messier 13, showing its one Y-shaped continent to the morning every sixteen-odd hours. It had mile-high green flora, hungry fauna, a yellowish-red sky that often rained, grey rivers that wound smoothly to a tossing grey sea. It had a perfectly breathable atmosphere—except for one thing. Because of that one thing, Captain Murchison G. Dodge had named the planet "Deadly".

Interstellar Investigation Team 411 had been on one of the seacoasts of Deadly for three days when Mabel Guernsey tripped over a huge, half-buried clam-like shell. In falling, she struck her head on the point of a huge conch-like shell. Her oxy-mask was torn off, and Mabel Guernsey got the madness.

They locked her up. They walked her over to the Lance that stood like a shining three-hundred-foot trophy on its sloping base of brown-black obsidian, created from sand by landing-blasts. They took her inside and put her in an extra storage compartment, and stacked crates in front of the door, and put a twenty-four-hour guard on duty to see that she didn't get away. For it became swiftly apparent that the one thing in the world—or, rather, on Deadly—that Mabel wanted to do, wanted most terribly to do, was to take off everybody else's mask so that they would all be like her.

Murchison Dodge, who was the Lance's physiologist-biologist as well as its captain, went off searching the surrounding ecology for some cure for the malady, which was in many ways similar to ergot poisoning. Like ergot, the condition was caused by the sclerotium of a fungus—airborne and inhaled, in this case, as a curious microscopic unit which Murchison Dodge thought of as a sclerotioid spore. Like ergot, it brought itching and twitching and numbness at extremities; but these were short-lived symptoms, and there was no ergot-like effect upon the involuntary muscles, so the victims didn't die. They only went mad, and stayed mad. From Mabel Guernsey's behavior, Rupert, the psychologist, judged it to be an especially manic form of insanity. Mabel seemed very happy. She wished they could all be as happy as she. She was still trying to grab off oxy-masks when they closed the door on her.

So Dodge went searching for an antidote. He was gone for two days. And while he was gone, the night guard at Mabel's storage-room prison—a spacehand named Kraus, whom nobody liked, and who found himself stimulated by the proximity of a fairly attractive and provocatively irresponsible woman—pushed aside the crates, opened the door, and went in to do some tax-free tomcatting.

When Dodge returned, in the little one-man crewboat, the Lance was gone.

Far below, a patch of bright color—red, blue, yellow, purple, with the tiniest glimmer of steel to one side—told Dodge that he had at last found his wayward spaceship.

So they hadn't gone interstellar, thank God, or suicidally run the Lance into the local sun. That had been his first terrified tho...

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