We waited. From across the gully there was no sound. I could see now that there was a little ridge in the broken, littered gully floor, behind which the two figures had vanished. A lateral depression was there, with the ragged, broken cliff-wall some ten feet behind it.
"Do you suppose there's only one of them?" Jan whispered. "One man—and that girl—"
"And that—that Thing in flames—"
There was no sign of the animal-like creature. For another moment we crouched tense, peering, listening. A loose stone the size of my fist was here beside us. I picked it up. It was weirdly heavy for its size. Then I flung it out into the gully to the right of us. It fell with a clatter.
Our enemy was there all right. An arrow whizzed in the darkness and struck near where the stone had fallen.
Jan laughed with contempt. "Dumb enough—that fellow. Bob, listen, we've got flash-guns. That fellow with no brains—and just with arrows—"
True enough. "You stay here," I whispered.
"What's the idea?"
"You wait a couple of minutes. Then throw another stone off to the right—about the same place. Understand?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, you do it, anyhow."
There seemed a line of shadow to the left of us, a shadow which extended well out into the gully. The ground dropped down in that area—a slope strewn with crags, broken with little crevices. Crouching low, I crept to the bow of the ship, to the left away from Jan; sank down, waited. There was no sound; evidently I had not been seen. I started again, picking my way down the slope.
A minute. I was well out into the gully now, ten feet or so down, so that I could not see the wrecked ship where Jan was crouching. From here the opposite cliff-wall showed dark and ragged. Occasionally it yawned with openings, like little cave-mouths. The place where the figures had been crouching should be visible from here. The broken, lower side of the little ridge behind which they had dropped was in view to me now. It was dark with shadow, but there seemed nothing there.
Slowly, cautiously, I crossed the gully. Two minutes since I had left Jan? I melted down beside a rock, almost at the edge of the cliff-wall. And then, out in the gully, far to the right, I heard the stone clatter as Jan threw it.
There was no answering arrow-shot this time.... One can be very incautious, usually at just the wrong moment. I recall that I stood up to see better, though I flattened myself against a boulder. And suddenly, close behind me, I was aware of a padding, thudding rhythmic sound on the rocks. I whirled. I had only a second's vision of a dark bounding animal shape coming at me. My sizzling little flash went under it as it rose in one of its bounding leaps.
I had no time to fire another shot. Frantically I pulled the trigger-lever, but the gun's voltage had not yet rebuilt to firing pressure. Futilely I flung the gun into the creature's face as it bore down upon me.
The impact of the dark oblong body knocked me backward so that I fell with it sprawling, snarling upon me. In the chaos of my mind there was only the dim realization of a heavy body as big as my own; spindly legs, like the legs of a huge dog. There seemed six or eight legs, scrambling on me.
Wildly I fought to heave it off. There was a face—a ring of glaring green eyes; fang-like jaws of a long pointed snout which opened, snarling with a gibbering, gruesome cry. I shoved my left forearm into the jaws as they came at my face. They closed upon my arm, ripping, tearing.
But somehow I was aware that I had lunged to my feet. And the Thing reared up with me. It was a Thing almost as heavy as myself. My left arm had come loose from its jaws and as its scrambling weight pressed me I went down again. A Thing of rubber? It seemed boneless, the shape of it bending as I seized it. A gruesomely yielding body. My flailing blows bounded back from it. Then I knew that I was gripping it by the head, twisting it. The snarling, snapping jaws suddenly opened wide with a scream—a scream that faded into a mouthing gibber, and in my grip the Thing went limp. I cast it away and it sank to the rocks, quivering.
For an instant I stood panting, trembling with nausea sickening me. On my hands the flesh of the weird antagonist was sticking like viscous, gluey rubber. Hot and clinging. Hot? I stared at my hands in the dimness. For a second I thought it was phosphorescence. Then yellow-green wisps of flame were rising from my hands. Frantically I plunged them into my jacket pockets. The tiny flames were extinguished. I stripped off my jacket, flung it away and it lay with a little smoke rising from it where the weird stuff was trying again to burst into flame.
The skin of my hands was seared, but the contact with the flames had been only momentary and the burns were not severe. It had all happened in a minute or two. I recall that I was standing trembling, staring at the yawning mouth of a cave entrance which was nearby in the cliff-face. A movement in there? A moving blob? Then I was aware that there was a light behind me. Off across the gully there was a blob of light-fire. A red-green blob, swirling, scrambling. And the sound of a distant, gibbering snarl....
The singing whizz of an arrow past my head made me turn again. My human adversary! I saw him now. He was coming at a run from the mouth of the cave—a wide-shouldered, grotesquely-shaped man with a brown hairy garment draped upon him. He swayed like a gorilla on thick bent legs. In one hand he held what seemed an arrow-sling. In the other he carried a long narrow segment of rock, swinging it like a club. He was no more than ten feet from me. In the dimness I could see his huge round head with tangled, matted blank hair. As I whirled to meet him, his voice was a bellow of guttural roar, like an animal bellowing to intimidate its enemy.
I turned, jumped sidewise. And abruptly from a rock-shadow another shape rose up! Slim, small white body, brown-draped with long, gleaming tawny hair. The girl! Her voice gasped,
"You run! He kill you! In here—this way—"
The bellowing savage had turned heavily in his rush and was charging us. In her terror and confusion the girl gripped me, shoving me toward the cave. As we ran I flung an arm around her, lifting her up. She weighed hardly more than a child. Then we were in the blackness of a tunnel-passage. I set her down.
"Lie down. Be quiet," I whispered vehemently. She understood me; she crouched back against the side wall. There seemed a little light here, a glow which I realized was inherent to the rocks, like a vague, faint phosphorescence. But it was brighter outside. The charging savage had evidently paused at the entrance. As I stared now, his bulky figure loomed there, grotesque silhouette. Then doubtless he saw me. With another bellow he came charging in.
I stood waiting, like a Toreador, in front of a heavily charging bull. It was something like that, for as he rushed me, swinging his club and plunging with lowered head of matted hair, nimbly I jumped aside. I had seized a rock half as big as my head. He had no time to turn and poise himself as I jumped on him, crashing the rock at the side of his broad ugly face as he straightened and swung around.
Ghastly blow. His face smashed in as the rock seemed to go into it. For a second his hulking body stood balanced upon the crooked legs and broad flat bare feet. Gruesome dead thing with the face and top of the head gone, it balanced on legs suddenly turned rigid. Then it toppled forward and thudded against the passage wall, sliding sidewise to the ground where it lay motionless.
In the phosphorescent dimness, I dropped beside the girl. She was panting with terror, shuddering, with her hands before her face.
"It's all right," I murmured. "Or at least, maybe it isn't all right with you, but he's dead, anyway."
Utterly incongruous, the delicately formed bronze-white girl—and that hulking, grotesque, clumsy savage.
"Oh—yes," she murmured. "Dear—yes—"
"You speak English—strange, here on Vulcan—"
"But from your Captain Roberts—he was the fren' of mine—of all the Senzas—"
"He's dead. An arrow in him—lying over there by his wrecked ship—the rest of them, dead inside—"
"Yes. I know it. That was these Orgs. I was caught—just the last time of sleep. Tahg—surely it seems it must be Tahg who sent this Org to take me from my father's home—"
A captive! And she had fought with her savage captor to stop him from sending an arrow into me. Then, in his absorption as he tried to stalk me, she had broken loose from him.
"Just this one Org?" I murmured. "Is he the only one around here? He and that—animal-thing which I killed?"
"That—a female mime—you—you—"
She was huddling beside me, clinging to me, still shuddering. "Two Orgs there were," she whispered. "And another mime—a fire-male—"
The flame-creature! Queerly, it was not until that instant that I thought of Jan. Out there across the gully, that swirling swaying blob of light-fire! Those snarling sounds! Jan had been attacked by another of the savages, and by the weird flaming creature! The mime fire-male, as the girl called it.
I jumped to my feet. "What—what you do?" she demanded.
"You stay here. What's your name?"
"Ama. Daughter of Rohm, the Senza. He my father. He very good fren' of the Captain Roberts—good fren' of all the Earthmen. Like you? You are Earthman?"
"Yes. Now Ama, listen—I came here with another Earthman—with two others, in fact. One of them is over there by the Roberts' ship.... You wait here—"
"No!" she gasped. I had dashed toward the tunnel entrance, but I found her with me. "No—no, I stay with you."
From the entrance the gully showed dim and silent. Over the little rise of ground, just the top of the Roberts' spaceship was visible.
Ama clung to me. "I stay with you," she insisted.
Cautiously we picked our way across the gully, up the small ascending slope. No sound; nothing moving. But now there was a pungent, acrid chemical smell hanging here in the windless air.
"The fire-mime!" Ama whispered. "You smell the fire? Then he was angry, ready to fight—"
"He fought," I retorted grimly. "I saw it—"
"Look! Look there—"
Her slim arm as she gestured tinkled with metal baubles hanging on it.... I saw, up the slope, the blob of something lying on the rocks. Jan! My heart pounded. But it wasn't Jan. The body of one of the weird oblong animals was lying there. Lying on its side, with its six legs stiffly outstretched. Ugly hairless thing, like a giant dog which had been skinned. I could see now that the grey-green flesh had a greasy, pulpy look. What strange organic material was this? Certainly nothing like it existed on Earth. Impervious to heat, as the human stomach tissue is impervious to the action of its own digestive juices. Evidence of the thing's flaming oxidation was here. Wisps of smoke were rising from the ground about the slack body.
Had Jan killed it? The ring of eyes above the long muzzle snout bulged with a glassy, goggling dead stare. The jaws were open, with a thick, forked black tongue protruding, and green, sticky-looking froth still oozing out. The teeth were long and sharp, fangs like polished black ivory protruding from the jaw. The cause of its death was obvious. A knife-slash had ripped, almost severed its throat in a hideous wound where green-black viscous ooze was still slowly dripping, with smoky vapor rising from it.
For a moment, with little Ama clinging to me, I must have stood appalled at the weird sight of the dead fire-mime. If Jan had fought and killed it—then where was he now? And where was that other Org, companion of the clumsy savage I had killed when it had tried to attack me?
And where was Torrence?
"Your fren'—he did this?" Ama was murmuring.
"Yes, I guess so." I raised my voice cautiously. "Jan—Oh, Jan, where are you?"
The dark shadowed rocks mocked me with their muffled, blurred echo of my call. There seemed nothing here alive, save Ama and me. The wrecked spaceship lay broken and silent on the rocks, with the gruesome, strewn bodies of the Earthmen in it. And the body of Roberts still lay here outside, near the bow.
Then Ama abruptly gasped, "The Orgs! See them—up there!"
The cliff which was the gully wall, at this point was some fifty feet high. I stared up to a patch of yellow light which had appeared there in the darkness. A band of the murderous Orgs! Carrying flaming torches, a dozen or more of the gargoyle savages stood above us on the cliff-brink. One stood in advance of them, pointing down at us. He was the other one, doubtless, who had originally been down here with Ama. Around them, half a dozen of the huge greenish mimes bounded, whining with gibbering cries of eagerness.
And in that instant, an arrow came down. I saw one of the savages sling it from a flexible, whip-like contrivance. The whizzing metal shaft sang past our heads and clattered on the rocks.
Ama was clutching me. "You come! Oh hurry—they kill us both."