The Project Gutenberg eBook of Forgotten danger

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Title: Forgotten danger

Author: Joseph Samachson

Illustrator: Kelly Freas

Release date: August 15, 2022 [eBook #68753]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Future Publications, Inc, 1953

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at





Crusoe could remember only one thing—that
somewhere near some deadly danger
threatened him! He had no way of knowing
what it was, or why he was in the swamp.
Then he found he could work miracles!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Science Fiction Adventures Magazine, February 1953.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

He had a feeling that there was something he had to remember, something urgent, something that had to do with danger. But it was hard to think of it, it was hard to think at all. There was a dullness in his head as if he had been too long asleep. And now that he had awakened at last, he did not know for the moment where he was. He would realize, of course, once he shook himself and straightened out his mind. But so far he did not know. Nothing was familiar.

It was dark, and in the background he saw the silhouettes of bushes, a bridge, trees. Closer at hand there was a fire over which a large pot was boiling. Around the fire were four men in ragged clothes. As the firelight flickered over their faces, casting weird lights upon the battered features, he studied them carefully. He knew none of them.

One was a big subtly mis-shapen bull of a man with a three days' beard. There was power in the set of his shoulders, in his easy slouch as, with narrowed eyes, he stirred the contents of the pot. Another was small, with a pointed beard and a shining bald head. The first one, he gathered from their conversation, was called Angel, the second, Professor. The other two were of more moderate size. He saw that their faces assumed strange colors in the light of the leaping flames. He could not, no matter how hard he tried, gather what their names were. But he knew that names didn't matter. The thing that mattered was the danger that somehow threatened and that he couldn't remember.

Angel lifted something out of the pot with a long spoon, said curtly, "Stuff's ready," and began to ladle out the steaming mixture. The men moved toward him with their large tin cups, and then moved back to eat. The largest portion of all Angel kept for himself. The next largest he brought to the sitting man, stumbling as he did so over a root that tangled his shoe. But he caught himself before he had spilled the contents of the cup and said, "Here y'are, Crusoe."

Crusoe. A strange name. Not his at all. But he said automatically, "Thank you."

Angel had lifted a spoonful of the stew to his own mouth. Now he gulped it down hastily and said, "Hey fellows, he sounds like he came out of it."

The other men gathered around him. Professor, staring with sharp eyes, asked, "Do you recall your real name now?"

He shook his head. "I don't remember a thing. How did I get here?"

"You don't remember that?"

He said with irritation, "I have just told you so."

"Don't get huffy, chum," said Angel. "I been feedin' you and takin' care of you and your pal for two weeks. And you don't know a thing about it, huh?"

"I recall nothing. Except that there is danger."

"The railroad bulls who chased us," said one of the other men. "He remembers them."

"Bulls? No, it is something more than that."

"What about it, Professor?" asked Angel. "Think he'll snap out of it so he really remembers?"

"I certainly hope so," returned the little bald man. "When I first found him, wandering around near the swamp, he seemed to be in a complete coma. Then, after a few days of rest, he seemed to realize dimly what was going on around him. But from day to day he remembered nothing. Perhaps the events are not completely forgotten, perhaps they reside in his subconscious, ready to be called to mind again upon proper occasion. However, so far there is no evidence on this point."

"But he's gettin' better all the time," said Angel defensively.

"Yes, that is the thing that indicates there is hope. From now on I think that he will consciously remember all that happens. And perhaps, in time, he will recall who he really is. In the meantime, of course, he is like a shipwrecked mariner discovering an entirely strange land. That is why I have named him Crusoe." He smiled wistfully. "Perhaps he is more fortunate than he seems. I would give much for his ability to forget."

"Stop harpin' on it, Professor. It happened long ago."

"But I still remember it as keenly as if it had happened yesterday. Strange, all the whiskey and gin I have drunk have not dulled my memory in the least. I was very successful in my profession, gentlemen. I was already an Associate Professor of English Literature, a recognized authority on the novel. I had a great career ahead of me. And then, one day, coming home from a Christmas party with my wife, my car skidded on the ice—"

Angel's heavy hand fell across his shoulder. "It's okay, Professor, don't talk about it no more. I know where I can pick up some rotgut tomorrow night, and you'll celebrate and forget all about it."

Crusoe listened with interest. He had a vague memory of having heard Professor's story about his wife's death before, as if the man had told it to others before they had met Angel and the latter's friends. But it was so vague that he could hardly be sure it was a memory at all. And meanwhile the feeling of danger persisted. He had to do something, do it rapidly. But what?

He felt the anger of frustration, an anger that made him tense and irritable. He ate his stew in silence, aware of its strong and slightly unpleasant taste. He had a feeling as if he were used to better food—and yet he must have been eating the stew all along for the past weeks.

The fire was dying down, and several of the other men talked in low voices to each other. He heard Angel: "And so this cop says to me, 'Move on, ya funny-lookin' bum—'" And then, the rough voice rose in amusement. "I give him a airplane whirl and toss him over the bridge. And then he comes up, coughin' up water, and says, 'Now I remember when I seen you before. You was the Destroyin' Angel. You used to wrestle with The Masked McGinty!'"

Angel had been a wrestler, Professor a student of literature. If he asked the other men what they had been, they would doubtless know. What had he himself been?

Again his mind seemed blank. He sat there sullenly, staring at his empty cup, and wondered if there were any torture greater than that of not being able to remember something that insistently demanded to be remembered.

Soon the conversations died down. The men settled themselves on the dry grass, pulled their old worn apologies for blankets over them, and began to snore. Around them, as the fire was reduced to embers, the night closed in. Crusoe could hear the chirping of crickets and the quiet flow of water under the bridge. A crackling shower of sparks spurted unexpectedly from the still glowing coals.

He couldn't sleep. He had slept enough during the past weeks. Now he had to awaken fully, to realize what he must do next. But first he must recall what had happened. Where had the Professor met him? He had been wandering around near a swamp. Now, what on earth had he been doing near a swamp?

The night passed slowly as he tried to track down the thoughts which kept eluding him. Even the chirping of the crickets died away, and at last there was only the ripple of the water. Then, after a time, he became aware of new sounds. The crunching of twigs under foot, the creak of shoes on the ground. People were approaching.

He sat up suddenly, as if he had recognized that this was the danger he had feared. "Angel!" he called.

The ex-wrestler awoke, and the Professor with him. "Could be cops," whispered Angel hoarsely. "Some farmer loses a chicken, and they think of us. We better get goin'."

He rose quietly and led the way in the direction opposite the approaching sounds. Crusoe could hear the heavy breathing of the other men, almost as if they were continuing to snore even though they were now awake. They were on the alert, but not seriously alarmed. No, this wasn't the danger he had to fear. This was a mere trifle. The real danger was deep, hidden—

Some one stumbled loudly. A voice came out of the darkness. "Hey, you—stop!"

"Better start runnin'," muttered Angel, and lumbered forward. He tripped over something and cursed, but kept on going.

It was growing lighter now, and Crusoe found it easier to see. In front of him the ground rose gently toward the top of a low hill. And halfway up the slope stood two men, armed with rifles. They lifted the rifles and one of them said harshly, "Hold it, you bums."

Their retreat was cut off. Angel came to a stop, the others near him, the slower and slighter Professor bringing up the rear. Without thinking, Crusoe raised his arm, and just as if his hand held a weapon, he pointed at the two men with their rifles.

The rifles exploded. They flew apart into countless fragments, and as if by magic, blood appeared on the faces of the two men. Angel grasped the situation instantly. He said, "Come on, fellows," and rushed forward again. But the two men collapsed before he reached them.

From behind them came angry yells as the first group realized that the trap had failed. Angel chuckled. "They thought they had us," he said. "When they see what happened to those two guys, they won't be in such a hurry to get close to us again."

"What did happen?" asked one of the men. He gestured with reluctance at Crusoe. "This guy just pointed his hand—"

Angel whirled around. "Him? I thought somebody in back of me threw a grenade. I wasn't askin' who done it—"

"Nobody threw no grenade. He just pointed at them."

"Just with his finger? And them rifles exploded? It ain't possible!"

They surrounded Crusoe and stared at him with fear-filled eyes. "How did you do it, pal?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I just felt as if a weapon belonged in my hand, as if all I had to do was point it. So I did. And the rifles exploded."

"Point at a tree."

He pointed at a tree. Nothing happened.

Angel bounced his hand against his ear, as if trying to shake loose some water that hampered his hearing. He looked uneasy and bewildered. "Somethin's screwy, but we can't stop to figure it now. We gotta keep goin'."

The pursuers were being more cautious now, and after a time Crusoe realized that the acuteness of the danger had passed. They all stopped to rest. The other two men, however, paused only briefly. One of them said, "So long, chum. We better split up here. We're gonna catch a freight goin' north."

They seemed anxious to part from Angel and his friends. Crusoe watched them go without regret. They were odd-looking men, and he had not enjoyed their company. Moreover, he had a feeling that they had nothing to do with the danger the thought of which made him uneasy. Professor, now—Professor had a little more to do with it.

Angel's ponderous mind had returned to the subject of their mysterious escape. He said, "Look, Crusoe, how'd ya do it? You can come clean with us. We won't spill it to nobody."

Crusoe said, "I haven't the slightest idea. As I told you, all I did was point."

"Any more tricks you know how to pull?"

"How do I know? I didn't even suspect that I could perform this one."

"I suppose," said the Professor, "that the reflexes, which existed long before there was a conscious mind, can continue to persist even after the mind has been seriously injured. You must have been in the habit of using some weapon—"

"A weapon? You mean that I was a soldier? Then what am I doing out of uniform?"

"I hardly know," said the Professor slowly. "When I first met you, near the swamp, you were wearing nothing. Your body was dirty and slightly burnt, as if from some explosion. There was not a shred of clothes to give a clue to what you had been. Those you are now wearing, including your overalls, I ah—borrowed from a clothesline."

"But there may be traces of my own clothes back in that swamp."

"They will be hard to find. Swamps have a habit of swallowing what is left in them."

"But there must be something there. How did I get to the swamp in the first place? And what sort of explosion tore my clothes from me?"

"A plane," said Angel suddenly. "Maybe you were in a crash. I remember that a coupla months ago some farmers had a story about a plane explodin' in the sky. Maybe that was the one."

"If I was in a plane, the wreckage must still be in the swamp." And there too must be where the danger lay. "I'm going back there," he said with sudden determination.

"I'll go with you, of course," said the Professor. "As the first one to come across you in your helpless condition, I feel a certain responsibility for you."

Angel grinned. "I feel the same way about you, Professor. I guess I been feelin' like that ever since I found you gettin' pushed around by Monk Cromo. Monk's about my size," he explained to Crusoe. "And he useta be a fighter. He thought he had only Professor to handle. He found he had me. And ya know, pal, that a good wrestler will take a fighter any old time."

"How long ago was that?" asked Professor. "It seems like ages."

"Five, six years. But you know somethin', pal, you ain't as helpless as you used to be. That's what comes of havin' a head on you. You learn how to get along, no matter where you are."

"I regard that as a compliment, Angel," smiled the little man. "Now, shall we start?"

Toward the danger that Crusoe felt awaited them in the swamp they could travel but slowly. They had to go by foot, on dusty narrow roads. There was no hope of getting a lift from passing cars. One look at the three of them, and the average driver stepped on the gas and raced away. Farmers set their dogs on them, and only the sight of Angel's grim face and the strength of Angel's powerful muscles kept them from being torn by the hounds and beaten by their masters.

Everything that happened now Crusoe remembered perfectly. His mind could go back a day, two days, with no trouble at all. It was only when it reached that moment when he had become aware of his surroundings at the fire that his memory stopped short, with terrifying abruptness. Beyond that it couldn't go. What had he done before then?

As they made their way toward the swamp, he became aware of something else. The people here looked strange. Come to think of it, those two tramps who had been with them earlier had looked strange in the same way. And the farmers spoke in peculiar fashion, with an accent that grated slightly on his ear. Queer, he thought, that people who had lived here all their lives should seem so out of place and learn their own language so improperly.

Once, when Angel was foraging for food, a big dangerous-looking dog came barking at Crusoe and Professor. This was a barking dog that had never heard that it was not supposed to bite. Crusoe liked neither the vicious glint in its eyes nor the cruel look of its teeth. As the beast made a sudden lunge at them, he snapped his fingers sharply and said, "Scar!"

The animal came to a halt, as if puzzled. Professor laughed. "I don't think that's its name," he said, and stooped to pick up a heavy rock that might serve as a missile. The dog promptly scurried away as fast as its legs would take it.

"'Scar' isn't a name," said Crusoe thoughtfully. "I have the feeling that it's a command. When accompanied by a snap of the fingers, it tells the animal to go back to its corner."

"That's interesting. So you're actually beginning to recall things."

"Not exactly. I'm still responding almost automatically, at little beyond the reflex level. Before I snapped my fingers I didn't know that I was going to snap them. Nor did I realize that I knew the word."

"But at least you've made a beginning," said Professor happily. "Soon you'll be recalling the past with full consciousness."

When Angel rejoined them, he was in proud possession of a tough but edible chicken. Crusoe and Professor congratulated him, and later they cooked the chicken and devoured it. It struck Crusoe that the taste of the chicken too was strange. Or was it rather that the chicken was quite ordinary, and that his own sense of taste was what was unusual? That must have been it, he thought. The feeling that food tasted good or bad also depended upon a kind of reflex memory, a memory that was making itself felt more and more.

The evening of that same day they camped in an open stubble-covered field. As it grew dark, Angel began to talk of his past career, of his triumphs as a wrestler, of his one great adventure in Hollywood to make a picture. He had been the comic relief, a foil to the handsome hero. Crusoe had no reason to doubt what he said, but all the same he found Angel's adventures incredible. The life that the ex-wrestler described was mad, completely absurd. He couldn't imagine himself living it.

He stared up at the sky, and realized that this too didn't look "normal." It wasn't, it couldn't be, the sky under which he had lived for most of his life. And the idea of living under a different sky didn't surprise him. It was an idea to which he must long have been accustomed.

Two days later they reached the edge of the swamp. "I found you near here," said the Professor. He waved his arm vaguely. "You were wandering around, covered with mud."

It didn't look familiar. Nor did it look as dangerous as he had expected it to look. He asked, "Why did we leave this neighborhood? Why didn't we stay and look for the plane that had crashed?"

"For one reason," said the Professor gently. "Because at the time I didn't realize that there had been a plane. For another, because we were—shall I say, not popular?"

"Why? Why weren't we?"

A chuckle from Angel interrupted him. "People don't like to lose chickens."

"I see."

"Nor clothes," added the Professor. "Remember that I supplied you with garments that were hanging on a clothesline. Perhaps I should have mentioned that the farmer's wife who discovered her loss tried to extract payment from me by means of a shotgun."

Crusoe nodded slowly. "By now, you assume, the memory of the loss will have grown faint?"

"I hope so. We shall, of course, do our best not to attract attention."

They moved into the swamp. It was gloomy, but not, thought Crusoe, frightening. There must have been no more than light rains during the past weeks, for at first they found it possible to walk along dry paths, and here and there were pools of mud where ordinarily there must have been water. But as they penetrated further in, the mud became more liquid. The leaves of the trees overhead shut out most of the light, and they walked over soft carpets of moss and decaying leaves. The odor too became unpleasant, the odor of mud flats and stagnant water, of small dead animals and impure, stinking marsh gas.

"Where are we headed for?" said Angel uneasily. "This is kind of dark—"

"Not too dark to see," said Crusoe. "But I perceive no signs of there having been a crash."

"Nor do I," agreed the Professor. "However, the swamp covers an area of roughly twenty square miles. It will take us a considerable time to explore it all."

And in those twenty square miles was the danger which he had felt hanging over him. He suddenly began to wonder what he would find. A crashed plane? No, it would be more than that. A crashed plane wouldn't explain why the people acted and talked so queerly, why the food didn't taste right, nor the sky look right.

The following day Angel stumbled over a half-hidden log and almost stepped into a trap. As the steel jaws snapped on the log instead of on his foot, Crusoe thought of another trap, a trap not of steel, but more relentless, one that gripped more firmly than this ever would. Had it shut recently, or was it going to shut?

Angel's cursing distracted him from his thoughts. Professor said mildly, "Don't use such language, Angel. After all, you have escaped. And here's another trap—with something in it."

Angel's eyes glittered. "It's a 'possum. They're good eatin'." He began to laugh. "Say, won't this guy be sore when he finds two traps sprung, and nothin' in them!"

But later that day, when they saw the trapper, it seemed less like a laughing matter. The man carried a rifle, and as Angel made an incautious noise, he swung around, rifle butt to his shoulder. Angel dropped just as the bullet cut through the leaves near where his head had been.

And then the trapper's rifle exploded, just as the other rifles had done.

The trapper stared at what was left of his weapon in his hand and then turned and ran. Angel said, "You pointed your finger again!"

"No," said Crusoe. "Not this time. I just started to point."

"Maybe it's just the thinkin' about it that does it. Maybe you can do things by thinkin'."

"That's absurd."

"I wonder," said the Professor. "The swamp ahead of us is particularly nasty. We'll have to wade through water and mud at least to our waists. And when I remember how muddy you were when I found you, I have a feeling that you must have wandered through here. Now if we could only dry up the swamp—"

"They tried to do it once," said Angel. "It can't be done."

"But suppose Crusoe were to point his finger at it and think: 'Swamp, dry up.' I wonder what would happen."

They were both staring at Crusoe now, and he said, "Nothing would happen."

"You can't tell," said Angel. "Maybe Professor's right. Maybe it would dry up. Try it and see."

"I refuse to make a fool of myself."

"The foolish thing," remarked the Professor, "is not to try."

"Yeah, that trapper will be comin' back after awhile, with his pals. He'll keep us from goin' back the way we came. We'll have to go ahead. And I hate to get all muddy. Come on, pal, just point your finger and think the magic words."

He did feel like a fool, and if the other two had seemed at all skeptical, he would never have dared do it. Nevertheless, there did seem to be nothing to lose. He pointed his finger at the dark and muddy water, at the tangle of fallen trees and rotting water lilies, and concentrated.

"Think hard," urged the Professor.

He thought hard and forgot that they were there. Suddenly, a sheet of blinding flame swept over the swamp. He heard Angel cry out, and covered his own eyes. When the flame had passed, the water was gone, and with it the tangle of fallen vegetation. Before them lay a bed of hard dry clay.

"You did it," said Angel in awe.

"I didn't," he replied angrily. "You just can't do things like that by thinking."

"I know I can't," said Angel. "But you can. It's magic."

The Professor smiled. "Let's not worry what it is. The main thing is that the swamp ahead of us is now dry, and we can go ahead."

They went ahead. And a quarter mile ahead of them they found the ship.

It had been easier to locate than he had thought it would be. And once he saw the ship, a feeling of recognition swept over him.

Angel had halted and was saying in awe, "This ain't no plane."

It wasn't. It had been constructed to do more than skim the surface of a planet. It had been built to bridge the gap from one planet to the next, from one star to the next. Only fifty feet long, it was a thing of strength and beauty, with a dull smooth finish that could slip through an atmosphere with a minimum of friction. He was beginning to remember a great deal now. The entrance, he knew, was near the nose. The door closed tight after you went through it, leaving an apparently unbroken surface of metal, but if you came over to it and put your hand on a certain plate—

He came over to it and hesitated. The Professor asked eagerly, "Is this—is it a spaceship?"

"Yes. This is the door, over here. I must have crashed in the swamp and for some reason staggered out."

"But how—how does it work?"

"Like this."

He raised his hand to the plate, and suddenly the sense of danger swept over him again. And now he knew where it came from. Not from the ship itself. No, not from the ship. But from the Professor, the gentle little man who had been protecting him.

He swung around and saw that the little man's forehead was beady with sweat. The man had been tense, hoping that he would open the door without remembering too much. The hope had failed. His memory had been coming back gradually in the past few days. Now the sight of the ship had brought back everything. Everything.

He caught sight of the glint of metal in the Professor's hand. "I thought so," he said. "I thought so."

Angel's lower jaw had dropped. He stammered, "What is this? Professor, that ain't a gun, is it?"

"Much more than a gun," said Crusoe softly. "That's the magic. When I pointed with my hand, without thinking, it was because I was accustomed to having a weapon like that. But it was the Professor who actually had it. It was he who made those rifles explode. And because he didn't want any one to suspect that he had such a thing on him, he let me have the credit."

"It will do you no good to remember," said the Professor. "In the long run it will do you no good."

"I wonder. You can cover a great surface with a sheet of flame by using that thing, you can kill with it, but you can't make me do what you want. Not now, not after I've remembered who you are."

"Look," said Angel, "I don't get this. I know the Professor for five, six years."

"Not this one," replied Crusoe. "Perhaps the original Professor did find me wandering around alone. But then my friend here came searching for me, and after studying his characteristics for a time, killed him and took his place. He's a great mimic, is my friend. That, in fact, is why I was sent to get him, and was bringing him, a prisoner, back to his home planet. He's mimicked all sorts of people, even those who have only the slightest resemblance to humanoids. It was nothing at all for him to become a Professor. Physically, of course, he probably doesn't fit the part too well. Do you mean to say that you haven't noticed?"

The Professor laughed gently. "Angel wouldn't notice. Haven't you realized yet that he's half blind? He stumbles, blunders into things. He can't see well. He didn't notice the difference. Not when I acted so well."

Angel sought escape from confusion in a fact he could understand. He said pathetically, "You killed the real Professor? He was a guy who wouldn't have hurt anybody. You killed him?"

"Of course. I've killed much better and more important people than he would ever be."

"He's right, Angel, he's an experienced killer. But all his killing won't help him now. He needs me to open and operate the ship. And I'm not cooperating."

Angel held fast to what he could understand. He muttered to himself, "The dirty killer. The rat."

The little man ignored him. He said, "You were very wise, Tlaxon—you remember your name now?—you were very wise, when you saw that a crash threatened, to lock the ship's machinery so that only your own personal characteristic motions would open it again. That was too much for even me to mimic. Your cleverness left me helpless to escape from the planet without you. After we finally crashed, and I recovered from the shock, I examined the ship's machinery. There seemed to be no serious damage. But I couldn't operate it. I needed your help. And you were unconscious. Sitting at the controls, you had received a much more severe shock than I had. You didn't recover for many hours. And after you did, you remembered nothing. You were still unable to be of use to me.

"I was enraged, but there was nothing I could do. I tried to keep you in the ship, but once, while I was asleep, you awoke and stumbled out. I had no choice then but to follow you in order to protect you. The ship locked automatically behind me, leaving me worse off than ever. But I had to follow because my escape depended on your own. It was then that Professor discovered you and I discovered him. I had to kill him. I think you can see why."

"Yes, I see now."

"Once our return to the ship was blocked off, we had to hide. I had to discard our old clothes and steal clothes that would be less conspicuous. As it was, we ourselves were conspicuous enough. In the world of ordinary men, we would have been subject to immediate investigation. It was only among such outcasts as Angel and his friends that we could to some extent pass ourselves off as natives. When they met us, the others thought that Angel had at last found friends of his own kind. Angel, of course, thought he had found the Professor. He was overjoyed to see me, and his enthusiasm was our passport. Moreover, in their world, it was not customary to ask questions that a man was not inclined to answer. There were too many embarrassing secrets on all sides.

"I was continually on tenter-hooks with regard to you. I was hoping that you would remember enough to help operate the ship and escape from the planet, but not enough to recall who I was. Meanwhile, I watched with interest how even in your amnesiac state you absorbed the English language. With our people, Tlaxon, language learning is much more of a reflex process than it is with these Earthlanders. You learned without knowing that you were doing so. All the same, your racial peculiarities prevented you from speaking exactly as the natives do."

"That's why I thought that they were the ones who spoke strangely. All but Angel."

"Yes, he has the same difficulties with dentate sounds like t's and d's that we do. Strange how much he resembles us physically too. It helped people to think of us as three freaks of a kind. Mentally, of course, there's all the difference in the world."

"Is there? I wonder if he isn't basically sound. I wonder how well he'd do if he weren't made to feel like a freak, if he were given a chance in our own System."

The smaller man's lips curled in a sneer. "Perhaps an inferior creature like him would fit in. I'm afraid I never will. I'll tell you what I'll do, Tlaxon. Once we take off from this planet I'll let you put me down in one of three places where I have friends. I'll give you your choice and promise you that no harm will come to you."

"The rat," muttered Angel hoarsely. "Look, Crusoe, I don't understand everything you fellows said. But I remember the Professor, the real Professor. He had a big head, just like me. He used to say a wrestler could be a highbrow too."

"A high forehead, such as our own. Yes," agreed the little man. "He had."

"And he didn't make fun of me because my face was kinda blue. Other people used to look at me like I was a freak. They didn't realize that after I stopped wrestlin' I had to go to work in some factory where the silver chemicals turned my skin blue. They just thought I was born that way."

"We were born that way," said Crusoe gently. "Can't you tell? Or are your eyes so very bad? That's one reason we would have been so conspicuous without you. That's why the people looked so strange to me. Not merely because most of them had low foreheads. But because none of them were blue. Pink and brown and white, and red and yellow and black, but no blue. I began to think of them all as freaks."

"You are as big a freak as any," interrupted the Professor. "I am giving you a chance for your life. And you prefer to discuss irrelevancies."

Crusoe shook his head. "Your offer is rejected. Whatever happens to me, I do not intend to help you escape."

"No? You have no choice, friend Tlaxon. I am tired of caring for you like a baby. Either you accept my offer now or I withdraw it for a worse one. And I think I know of ways to make you do as I wish."

It was Crusoe's turn to perspire. He was quite aware that the other man knew of many painful ways. But he knew too that if he accepted the original offer, the murderous little man would break his promise and murder him the moment the ship's controls were freed of their responsiveness to the characteristics of one man.

While Crusoe hesitated, the sharp crack of a rifle broke the silence. Angel winced and pressed his hand to his right shoulder. A red stain spread under his fingers.

Half a dozen men with rifles were advancing across the burned out area of the swamp. "Attracted by the flame," muttered the Professor. "The fools." He swung around to cover them with his weapon, keeping one eye on Crusoe.

He had written off Angel because of the latter's wound. He should have remembered the man's tremendous vitality. Just as the weapon went off, Angel's left hand swung out and caught him under the jaw. A sheet of flame appeared at treetop level and then died out. The weapon fell to the ground and Crusoe picked it up.

The rifles exploded. The next moment the door in the ship's surface had swung silently open. Crusoe leaped in.

"So long, pal," said Angel huskily. "This rat killed Professor. I'm goin' to make sure that he gets his."

Crusoe shook his head, remembering all the times the big man had befriended him before.

"Those men will punish him. You come in here."

"Huh?" said Angel foolishly.

"Your one real friend is dead. Do you want to be regarded by the others as a freak all the rest of your life? Come with me. I'm expected back with a prisoner. They'll be glad to get you instead. You'll be made over, given a new life. You'll still be blue, of course—but so will everyone else. As for him, he's past making over. He doesn't deserve to be treated as we treat most of our prisoners. I'll leave him to your race and he'll probably be punished for killing the real Professor. Even if the only thing that happens to him is to remain on Earth and have no way of getting back to his own planet, that will be punishment enough. You needn't worry about his getting his."

Angel moved slowly through the doorway. The metal clanged shut behind him. The motor purred and the ship began to vibrate so smoothly that Crusoe could hardly feel it. All was well, he realized; the motor was unharmed by the crash. For which they were thankful.

The ship roared into the air. As the forgotten little man, who had been the danger, screamed unheard, they headed for the nearest star and home—for both of them.