Coeurl loped on, shaken to his core by the action; but it was too late to turn back. COMMANDER HAL MORTON heard little Gregory Kent, the chemist, laugh with the embarrassed half gurgle with which he invariably announced inner uncertainty. He saw Kent fingering the spindly metalite weapon.
Kent said: "I’ll take no chances with anything as big as that." Commander Morton allowed his own deep chuckle to echo along the communicators. "That," he grunted finally, "is one of the reasons why you’re on this expedition, Kent—because you never leave anything to chance." His chuckle trailed off into silence. Instinctively, as he watched the monster approach them across that black rock plain, he moved forward until he stood a little in advance of the others, his huge form bulking the transparent metalite suit. The comments of the men pattered through the radio communicator into his ears: "I’d hate to meet that baby on a dark night in an alley." "Don’t be silly. Probably a member of the ruling race." "It looks like nothing else than a big cat, if you forget those tentacles sticking out from its shoulders, and make allowances for those monster forelegs." "Its physical development," said a voice, which Morton recognized as that of Siedel, the psychologist, "presupposes an animal-like adaptation to surroundings, not an intellectual one. On the other hand, its coming to us like this is not the act of an animal but of a creature possessing a mental, awareness of our possible identity. You will notice that its movements are stiff, denoting caution, which suggests fear and consciousness of our weapons. I’d like to get a good look at the end of its tentacles. If they taper into hand-like appendages that can really grip objects, then the conclusion would be inescapable that it is a descendant of the inhabitants of this city. It would be a great help if we could establish communication with it, even though appearances indicate that it has degenerated into a history-less primitive." Coeurl stopped when he was still ten feet from the foremost creature.
The sense of id was so overwhelming that his brain drifted to the ultimate verge of chaos. He felt as if his limbs were bathed in molten liquid; his very vision was not quite clear, as the sheer sensuality of his desire thundered through his being. The men—all except the little one with the shining metal rod in his fingers—came closer. Coeurl saw that they were frankly and curiously examining him. Their lips were moving, and their voices beat in a monotonous, meaningless rhythm on his ear tendrils. At the same time he had the sense of waves of a much higher frequency—his own communication level—only it was a machine-like clicking that jarred his brain. With a distinct effort to appear friendly, he broadcast his name from his ear tendrils, at the same time pointing at himself with one curving tentacle. Gourlay, chief of communications, drawled: "I got a sort of static in my radio when he wiggled those hairs. Do you think—?" "Looks very much like it," the leader answered the unfinished question. If it speaks by means of radio waves, it might not be altogether impossible that you can create some sort of television picture of its vibrations, or teach him the Morse-code." "Ah," said Siedel. The tentacles each develop into seven strong fingers. Provided the nervous system is complicated enough, those fingers could, with training, operate any machine." MORTON said: "I think we’d better go in and have some lunch. The material men can set up their machines and start gathering data on the planet’s metal possibilities, and so on. I’d like some notes on architecture and on the scientific development of this rare and particularly: What happened to wreck the civilization. On earth civilization after civilization crumbled, but always a new one sprang up in its dust. Look, he wants to come in with us." Commander Morton frowned, an action that emphasized the deep-space pallor of his face. "I wish there was some way we could take it in with us, without forcibly capturing it. Kent, what do you think?" "I think we should first decide whether it’s an it or a him, and call it one or the other. As for taking him in with us—" The little chemist shook his head decisively. Our oxygen would be pure dynamite to his lungs." The commander chuckled. "He doesn’t believe that, apparently." He watched the catlike monster follow the first two men through the great door. The men kept an anxious distance from him, then glanced at Morton questioningly. Open the second lock and let him get a whiff of the oxygen. That’ll cure him." A moment later, he cursed his amazement.
That means he hasn’t any lungs, or else the chlorine is not what his lungs use. Smith, here’s a treasure house for a biologist—harmless enough if we’re careful. But what a metabolism!" Smith, a tall, thin, bony chap with a long, mournful face, said in an oddly forceful voice: "In all our travels, we’ve found only two higher forms of life. Those dependent on chlorine, and those who need oxygen—the two elements that support combustion. I’m prepared to stake my reputation that no complicated organism could ever adapt itself to both gases in a natural way. At first thought I should say here is an extremely advanced form of life. This race long ago discovered truths of biology that we are just beginning to suspect. Morton, we mustn’t let this creature get away if we can help it." "If his anxiety to get inside is any criterion," Commander Morton laughed, "then our difficulty will be to get rid of him." He moved into the lock with Coeurl and the two men. The automatic machinery hummed: and in a few minutes they were standing at the bottom of a series of elevators that led up to the living quarters.
"Does that go up?" One of the men flicked a thumb in the direction of the monster. "Better send him up alone, if he’ll go in." Coeurl offered no objection, until he heard the door slam behind him; and the closed cage shot upward. He whirled with a savage snarl, his reason swirling into chaos. The metal bent under his plunge, and the desperate pain maddened him.