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Produced by Greg Weeks, Sankar Viswanathan, and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Space Science Fiction, February and
March, 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.







"The heathen geeks, they wear no breeks," the Terrans
sang. But on a crazy world like Ullr, clothes didn't
make the fighting man. There both red and yellow
meant danger - and blood!

* * * * *


The big armor-tender vibrated, gently and not unpleasantly, as the
contragravity field alternated on and off. Sometimes it rocked
slightly, like a boat on the water, and, in the big screen which
served in lieu of a window at the front of the control-cabin, the
dingy-yellow landscape would seem to tilt a little. The air was
faintly yellow, the sky was yellow with a greenish cast, and the
clouds were green-gray.

No human had ever set foot on the surface, or breathed the air, of
Niflheim. To have done so would have been instant death; the air was a
mixture of free fluorine and fluoride gasses, the soil was metallic
fluorides, damp with acid rains, and the river was pure hydrofluoric
acid. Even the ordinary spacesuit would have been no protection; the
glass and rubber and plastic would have disintegrated in a matter of
minutes. People came to Niflheim, and worked the mines and uranium
refineries and chemical plants, but they did so inside power-driven
and contragravity-lifted armor, and they lived on artificial
satellites two thousand miles off-planet. Niflheim was worse than
airless; much worse.

The chief engineer sat at his controls, making the minor lateral
adjustments in the vehicle's position which were not possible to the
automatic controls. At his own panel of instruments, a small man with
grizzled black hair around a bald crown, and a grizzled beard, chewed
nervously at the stump of a dead cigar and listened intently. A large,
plump-faced, young man in soiled khaki shirt and shorts, with
extremely hairy legs, was doodling on his notepad and eating candy out
of a bag. And a black-haired girl in a suit of coveralls three sizes
too big for her, and, apparently, not much of anything else, lounged
with one knee hooked over her chair-arm, staring into the screen at
the distant horizon.

"I can see them," the girl said, lifting a hand in front of her. "At
two o'clock, about one of my hand's-breaths above the horizon. But
only four of them."

The man with the grizzled beard put his face into the fur around the
eyepiece of the telescopic-'visor and twisted a dial. "You have good
eyes, Miss Quinton," he complimented. "The fifth's inside the handling
machine. One of the Ullrans. Gorkrink."

* * * * *

The largest of the specks that had appeared on the horizon resolved
itself into a handling-machine, a thing like an oversized
contragravity-tank, with a bull-dozer-blade, a stubby derrick-boom
instead of a gun, and jointed, claw-tipped, arms at the sides. The
smaller dots grew into personal armor - egg-shaped things that sprouted
arms and grab-hooks and pushers in all directions. The man with the
grizzled beard began talking rapidly into his hand-phone, then hung it
up. There was a series of bumps, and the armor-tender, weightless on
contragravity, shook as the handling-machine came aboard.

"You ever see any nuclear bombing, Miss Quinton?" the young man with
the hairy legs asked, offering her his candybag.

"Only by telecast, back Solside," Paula Quinton replied, helping
herself. "Test-shots at the Federation Navy proving-ground on Mars. I
never even heard of nuclear bombs being used for mining till I came
here, though."

"It'll be something to see," he promised. "These volcanoes have been
dormant for, oh, maybe as long as a thousand years; there ought to be
a pretty good head of gas down there. The volcanoes we shot three
months ago yielded a fine flow of lava with all sorts of
metals - nickel, beryllium, vanadium, chromium, iridium, as well as
copper and iron."

"What sort of gas were you speaking about?" she asked.

"Hydrogen. That's what's going to make the fireworks; it combines
explosively with fluorine. The hydrogen-fluorine combination is what
passes for combustion here: the result is hydrofluoric acid, the local
equivalent of water. The subsurface hydrogen is produced when the acid
filters down through the rock, combines with pure metals underneath."

The door at the rear of the control-cabin opened, and Juan Murillo,
the seismologist, entered, followed by an assistant, who was not
human. He was a biped, vaguely humanoid, but he had four arms and a
face like a lizard's, and, except for some equipment on belt, he was
entirely naked.

He spoke rapidly to Murillo, in a squeaking jabber. Murillo turned.

"Yes, if you wish, Gorkrink," he said, in Lingua Terra. Then he turned
back to Gomes as the Ullran sat down in a chair by the door.

"Well, she's all yours, Lourenço; shoot the works."

Gomes stabbed the radio-detonator button in front of him.

* * * * *

Out on the rolling skyline, fifty miles away, a lancelike ray of
blue-white light shot up into the gathering dusk - a clump of five
rays, really, from five deep shafts in an irregular pentagon half a
mile across, blended into one by the distance. An instant later, there
was a blinding flash, like sheet-lightning, and a huge ball of
varicolored fire belched upward, leaving a series of smoke-rings to
float more slowly after it. The fireball flattened, then spread to
form the mushroom-head of a column of incandescent gas that mounted to
overtake it, engorging the smoke-rings as it rose, twisting, writhing,
changing shape, turning to dark smoke in one moment and belching flame
and crackling with lightning the next.

"In about half an hour," the large young man told Paula Quinton, "the
real fireworks should be starting. What's coming up now is just small
debris from the nuclear blast. When the shock-waves get down far
enough to crack things open, the gas'll come up, and then steam and
ash, and then magma."

"Well, even this was worth staying over for," the girl said, watching
the screen.

"You going on to Ullr on the _City of Canberra_?" Lourenço Gomes
asked. "I wish I were; I have to stay over and make another shot, in a
month or so, and I've had about all of Niflheim I can take, now."

"When are you going to Terra?" the girl asked him.

"Terra? I don't know; a year, two years. But I'm going to Ullr on the
next ship - the _City of Pretoria_ - if we get the next blast off in
time. They want me to design some improvements on a couple of
power-reactors at Keegark so I'll probably see you when I get there."

"Here she comes!" the chief engineer called. "Watch the base of the

The pillar of fiery smoke and dust, still boiling up from where the
bombs had gone off far underground, was being violently agitated at
the bottom. A series of new flashes broke out, lifting and spreading
the incandescent radioactive gasses, and then a great gush of flame
rose. A column of pure hydrogen must have rushed up into the vacuum
created by the explosion; the next blast of flame, in a lateral sheet,
came at nearly ten thousand feet above the ground. Then geysers of hot
ash and molten rock spouted upward; some of the white-hot debris
landed almost at the acid river, half-way to the armor-tender.

"We've started a first-class earthquake, too," Murillo said, looking
at the instruments.

"About six big cracks opening in the rock-structure. You know, when
this quiets down and cools off, we'll have more ore on the surface
than we can handle in ten years, and more than we could have mined by
ordinary means in fifty."

"Well, that finishes our work," the large young man said, going to a
kit-bag in the corner of the cabin and getting out a bottle. "Get some
of those plastic cups, over there, somebody; this one calls for a

The Ullran, in the background, rose quickly and squeaked
apologetically. Murillo nodded. "Yes, of course, Gorkrink. No need for
you to stay here." The Ullran went out, closing the door behind him.

"That taboo against Ullrans and Terrans watching each other eat and
drink," Paula Quinton commented. "But you were speaking to him in
Lingua Terra; I didn't know any of them understood it."

"Gorkrink does," Murillo said, uncorking the bottle and pouring into
the plastic cups. "None of them can speak it, of course, because of
the structure of their vocal organs, any more than we can speak their
languages without artificial aids. But I can talk to him in Lingua
Terra without having to put one of those damn gags in my mouth, and he
can pass my instructions on to the others. He's been a big help; I'll
be sorry to lose him."

"Lose him?"

"Yes, his year's up; he's going back to Ullr on the _Canberra_. He's
from Keegark; claims to be a prince, or something. But he's a damn
good worker. Very smart; picks things up the first time you tell him.
I'll recommend him unqualifiedly for any kind of work with
contragravity or mechanized equipment."

They all had drinks, now, except the chief engineer, who wanted a
rain-check on his.

"Well, here's to us," Murillo said. "The first A-bomb miners in


Carlos von Schlichten, General of the troops on Ullr, threw his
cigarette away and set his monocle more firmly in his eye, stepping
forward to let Brigadier-General Themistocles M'zangwe and little
Colonel Hideyoshi O'Leary follow him out of the fort. On the little
hundred-foot-square parade ground in front of the keep, his aircar was
parked, and the soldiers were assembled.

Ten or twelve of them were Terrans - a couple of lieutenants,
sergeants, gunners, technicians, the sergeant-driver and
corporal-gunner of his own car. The other fifty-odd were Ullrans. They
stood erect on stumpy legs and broad, six-toed feet. They had four
arms apiece, one pair from true shoulders and the other connected to a
pseudo-pelvis midway down the torso. Their skins were slate-gray and
rubbery, speckled with pinhead-sized bits of quartz that had been
formed from perspiration, since their body-tissues were silicone
instead of carbon-hydrogen. Their narrow heads were unpleasantly
saurian; they had small, double-lidded red eyes, and slit-like
nostrils, and wide mouths filled with opalescent teeth. Being
cold-blooded, they needed no clothing, beyond their belts and
equipment, and the emblem of the Chartered Ullr Company painted on
their chests and backs. They had no need for modesty, since all were
of the same gender - true, functional hermaphrodites; any individual
among them could bear young, or fertilize the ova of any other

Fifteen years before, when he had come to Ullr as a newly commissioned
colonel in the army of the Ullr Company, it had taken him some time to
adjust. But now his mind disregarded them and went on worrying about
the mysterious disappearance of pet animals from Terran homes; there
must be some connection with the subtle change he had noticed in the
attitudes of the natives, but he couldn't guess what. He didn't like
it, though, any more than the beginning of cannibalism among the wild
Jeel tribesmen. Or the visit of Paula Quinton on Ullr as field-agent
for the Extraterrestrials' Rights Association; now was no time to stir
up trouble among the natives, unless his hunch was wrong.

He shrugged it aside and climbed into the command-car, followed by
M'zangwe and O'Leary. Sergeant Harry Quong and Corporal Hassan
Bogdanoff took their places in the front seat; the car lifted, turned
to nose into the wind, and rose in a slow spiral.

"Where now, sir?" Quong asked.

"Back to Konkrook; to the island."

* * * * *

The nose of the car swung east by south; the cold-jet rotors began
humming, and the hot-jets were cut in. The car turned from the fort
and the mountains and shot away over the foothills toward the coastal
plains. Below were forests, yellow-green with new foliage of the
second growing-season of the equatorial year, veined with narrow dirt
roads and spotted with occasional clearings. Farther east, the dirty
gray woodsmoke of Ullr marked the progress of the charcoal-burnings.
That was the only natural fuel on Ullr; there was too much silica on
Ullr and not enough of anything else; what would be coal-seams on
Terra were strata of silicified wood. And, of course, there was no
petroleum. There was less charcoal being burned now than formerly; the
Ullr Company had been bringing in great quantities of synthetic
thermoconcentrate-fuel, and had been setting up nuclear furnaces and
nuclear-electric power-plants, wherever they gained a foothold on the

As planets went, Ullr was no bargain, he thought sourly. At times, he
wished he had never followed the lure of rapid promotion and
fanatically high pay and left the Federation regulars for the army of
the Ullr Company. If he hadn't, he'd probably be a colonel, at five
thousand sols a year, but maybe it would be better to be a middle-aged
colonel on a decent planet than a Company army general at twenty-five
thousand on this combination icebox, furnace, wind-tunnel and
stonepile, where the water tasted like soapsuds and left a crackly
film when it dried; where the temperature ranged, from pole to pole,
between two hundred and fifty and minus a hundred and fifty Fahrenheit
and the Beaufort-scale ran up to thirty; where nothing that ran or
swam or grew was fit for a human to eat.

Ahead, the city of Konkrook sprawled along the delta of the Konk river
and extended itself inland. The river was dry, now. Except in Spring,
when it was a red-brown torrent, it never ran more than a trickle, and
not at all this late in the Northern Summer. The aircar lost altitude,
and the hot-jet stopped firing. They came gliding in over the suburbs
and the yellow-green parks, over the low one-story dwellings and
shops, the lofty temples and palaces, the fantastically-twisted
towers, following a street that became increasingly mean and squalid
as it neared the industrial district along the waterfront.

* * * * *

Von Schlichten, on the right, glanced idly down, puffing slowly on his
cigarette. Then he stiffened, the muscles around his right eye
clamping tighter on the monocle. Leaning forward, he punched Harry
Quong lightly on the man's right shoulder.

"Yes, sir; I saw it," the Chinese-Australian driver replied. "Terrans
in trouble; bein' mobbed by geeks. Aircar parked right in the bloody
middle of it."

The car made a twisting, banking loop and came back, more slowly. Von
Schlichten had the handset of the car's radio, and was punching out
the combination of the Company guardhouse on Gongonk Island; he held
down the signal button until he got an answer.

"Von Schlichten, in car over Konkrook. Riot on Fourth Avenue, just off
Seventy-second Street." No Terran could possibly remember the names of
Konkrook's streets; even native troops recruited from outside found
the numbers easier to learn and remember. "Geeks mobbing a couple of
Terrans. I'm going down, now, to do what I can to help; send troops in
a hurry. Kragan Rifles. And stand by; my driver'll give it to you as
it happens."

The voice of somebody at the guardhouse, bawling orders, came out of
the receiver as he tossed the phone forward over Harry Quong's
shoulder; Quong caught it and began speaking rapidly and urgently into
it while he steered with the other hand. Von Schlichten took one of
the five-pound spiked riot-maces out of the rack in front of him.

Bogdanoff rose into the ball-turret and swung the twin 15-mm.'s
around, cutting loose. Quong brought the car in fast, at about
shoulder-height on the mob. Between them, they left a swath of
mangled, killed, wounded, and stunned natives. Then, spinning the car
around, Quong set it down hard on a clump of rioters as close as
possible to the struggling group around the two Terrans. Von
Schlichten threw back the canopy and jumped out of the car, O'Leary
and M'zangwe behind him.

There was another aircar, a dark maroon civilian job, at the curb; its
native driver was slumped forward over the controls, a short
crossbow-bolt sticking out of his neck. Backed against the closed door
of a house, a Terran with white hair and a small beard was clubbing
futilely with an empty pistol. He was wounded, and blood was streaming
over his face. His companion, a young woman in a long fur coat, was
laying about her with a native bolo-knife.

* * * * *

Von Schlichten's mace had a spiked ball-head, and a four-inch spike in
front of that. He smashed the ball down on the back of one Ullran's
head, and jabbed another in the rump with the spike.

"_Zak! Zak!_" he yelled, in pidgin-Ullran. "_Jik-jik_, you
lizard-faced Creator's blunder!"

The Ullran whirled, swinging a blade somewhere between a big
butcher-knife and a small machete. His mouth was open, and there was
froth on his lips.

"_Znidd suddabit!_" he shrieked.

Von Schlichten parried the cut on the steel shaft of his mace.
"_Suddabit_ yourself!" he shouted back, ramming the spike-end into the
opal-filled mouth. "And _znidd_ you, too," he added, recovering and
slamming the ball-head down on the narrow saurian skull. The Ullran
went down, spurting a yellow fluid about the consistency of gun-oil.

Ahead, one of the natives had caught the wounded Terran with both
lower hands, and was raising a dagger with his upper right. The girl
in the fur coat swung wildly, slashing the knife-arm, then chopped
down on the creature's neck.

Another of them closed with the girl, grabbing her right arm with all
four hands and biting at her; she screamed and kicked her attacker in
the groin, where an Ullran is, if anything, even more vulnerable than
a Terran. The native howled hideously, and von Schlichten, jumping
over a couple of corpses, shoved the muzzle of his pistol into the
creature's open mouth and pulled the trigger, blowing its head apart
like a rotten pumpkin and splashing both himself and the girl with
yellow blood and rancid-looking gray-green brains.

O'Leary, jumping forward after von Schlichten, stuck his dagger into
the neck of a rioter and left it there, then caught the girl around
the waist with his free arm. M'zangwe dropped his mace and swung the
frail-looking man onto his back. Together, they struggled back to the
command-car, von Schlichten covering the retreat with his pistol.
Another rioter was aiming one of the long-barreled native air-rifles,
holding the ten-inch globe of the air-chamber in both lower hands. Von
Schlichten shot him, and the native literally blew to pieces.

For an instant, he wondered how the small bursting-charge of a 10-mm.
explosive pistol-bullet could accomplish such havoc, and assumed that
the native had been carrying a bomb in his belt. Then another
explosion tossed fragmentary corpses nearby, and another and another.
Glancing quickly over his shoulder, he saw four combat-cars coming in,
firing with 40-mm. auto-cannon and 15-mm. machine-guns. They swept
between the hovels on one side and the warehouses on the other,
strafing the mob, darted up to a thousand feet, looped, and came
swooping back, and this time there were three long blue-gray
troop-carriers behind them.

These landed in the hastily-cleared street and began disgorging native
Company soldiers - Kragan mercenaries, he noted with satisfaction. They
carried a modified version of the regular Terran Federation infantry
rifle, stocked and sighted to conform to their physical peculiarities,
with long, thorn-like, triangular bayonets. One platoon ran forward,
dropped to one knee, and began firing rapidly into what was left of
the mob. Four-handed soldiers can deliver a simply astonishing volume
of fire, particularly when armed with auto-rifles having twenty-shot
drop-out magazines which can be changed with the lower hands without
lowering the weapon.

* * * * *

There was a clatter of shod hoofs, and a company of King Jaikark of
Konkrook's cavalry came trotting up on their six-legged,
lizard-headed, quartz-speckled, mounts. Some of these charged into
side alleys, joyfully lancing and cutting-down fleeing rioters, while
others dismounted, three tossing their reins to a fourth, and went to
work with their crossbows. Von Schlichten, who ordinarily entertained
a dim opinion of the King of Konkrook's soldiery, admitted,
grudgingly, that it was smart work; four hands were a big help in
using a crossbow, too.

A Terran captain of native infantry came over, saluting.

"Are you and your people all right, general?" he asked.

Von Schlichten glanced at the front seat of his car, where Harry
Quong, a pistol in his right hand, was still talking into the
radio-phone, and Hassan Bogdanoff was putting fresh belts into his
guns. Then he saw that they had gotten the wounded man into the car.
The girl, having dropped her bolo, was leaning against the side of the

"We seem to be, Captain Pedolsky. Very smart work; you must have those
vehicles of yours on hyperspace-drive.... How is he, colonel?"

"We'd better get him to the hospital, right away," O'Leary replied. "I
think he has a concussion."

"Harry, call the hospital. Tell them what the score is, and tell them
we're bringing the casualty in to their top landing stage.... Why,
we'll make out very nicely, captain. You'd better stay around with
your Kragans and make sure that these geeks of King Jaikark's don't
let the riot flare up again and get away from them. And don't let them
get the impression that they can maintain order around here without
our help; the Company would like to see that attitude discouraged."

"Yes, sir; I understand." Captain Pedolsky opened the pouch on his
belt and took out the false palate and tongue-clicker without which no
Terran could do more than mouth a crude and barely comprehensible
pidgin-Ullran. Stuffing the gadget into his mouth, he turned and began
jabbering orders.

Von Schlichten helped the girl into the car, placing her on his right.
The wounded civilian was propped up in the left corner of the seat,
and Colonel O'Leary and Brigadier-General M'zangwe took the
jump-seats. The driver put on the contragravity-field, and the car
lifted up.

"Them, see if there's a flask and a drinking-cup in the door pocket
next you," he said. "I think Miss Quinton could use a drink."

* * * * *

The girl turned. Even in her present disheveled condition, she was
beautiful - a trifle on the petite side, with black hair and black eyes
that quirled up oddly at the outer corners. Her nails were
black-lacquered and spotted with little gold stars, evidently a new
feminine fad from Terra.

"I certainly could, general.... How did you know my name?"

"You've been on Ullr for the last three months; ever since the _City
of Canberra_ got in from Niflheim. On Ullr, there aren't enough of us
that everybody doesn't know all about everybody else. You're Dr. Paula
Quinton; you're an extraterrestrial sociographer, and you're a
field-agent for the Extraterrestrials' Rights Association, like
Mohammed Ferriera, here." He took the cup and flask from Themistocles
M'zangwe and poured her a drink. "Take this easy, now; Baldur
honey-rum, a hundred and fifty proof."

He watched her sip the stuff cautiously, cough over the first
mouthful, and then get the rest of it down.

"More?" When she shook her head, he stoppered the flask and relieved
her of the cup. "What were you doing in that district, anyhow?" he
wanted to know. "I'd have thought Mohammed Ferriera would have had
more sense than to take you there, or go there, himself, for that
matter," he added quickly.

"We went to visit a friend of his, a native named Keeluk, who seems to
be a sort of combination clergyman and labor-leader," she replied.
"I'm going to observe labor conditions at the North Pole mines in a
short while, and Mr. Keeluk was going to give me letters of
introduction to friends of his at Skilk. We talked with Mr. Keeluk for
a while, and when we came out, we found that our driver had been

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