The machinery screeched; there were horrible jerks as the limitless power pulled the cage along in spite of projecting pieces of metal that scraped the outside walls. And then the cage stopped, and he snatched off the rest of the door and hurtled into the corridor. He waited there until Morton and the men came up with drawn weapons.
He thought we’d double-crossed him." He motioned to the monster, and saw the savage glow fade from the coal-black eyes as he opened and closed the door with elaborate gestures to show the operation. Coeurl ended the lesson by trotting into the large room to his right. He lay down on the rugged floor, and fought down the electric tautness of his nerves and muscles. A very fury of rage against himself for his fright consumed him. It seemed to his burning brain that he had lost the advantage of appearing a mild and harmless creature. It meant greater danger in the task that he now knew he must accomplish: to kill everything in the ship, and take the machine back to their world in search of unlimited id. WITH unwinking eyes, Coeurl lay and watched the two men clearing away the loose rubble from the metal doorway of the huge old building. His whole body ached with the hunger of his cells for id. The craving tore through his palpating muscles, and throbbed like a living thing in his brain.
His every nerve quivered to be off after the men who had wandered into the city. The dragging minutes fled: and still he restrained himself, still he lay there watching, aware that the men knew he watched. They floated a metal machine from the ship to the rock mass that blocked the great half-open door, under the direction of a third man. No flicker of their fingers escaped his fierce stare, and slowly, as the simplicity of the machinery became apparent to him, contempt grew upon him. He knew what to expect finally, when the flame flared in incandescent violence and ate ravenously at the hard rock beneath. But in spite of his preknowledge, he deliberately jumped and snarled as if in fear, as that white heat burst forth. His ear tendrils caught the laughter of the men, their curious pleasure at his simulated dismay. The door was released, and Morton came over and went inside with the third man. In our science, atomic energy brought in the non-wheel machine. It’s possible that here they’ve progressed farther to a new type of wheel mechanics. I hope their libraries are better preserved than this, or we’ll never know. What could have happened to a civilization to make it vanish like this?" A third voice broke through the communicators: "This is Siedel. Psychologically and sociologically speaking, the only reason why a territory becomes uninhabited is lack of food." "But they’re so advanced scientifically, why didn’t they develop space flying and go elsewhere for their food?" "Ask Gunlie Lester," interjected Morton. "I heard him expounding some theory even before we landed." The astronomer answered the first call. "I’ve still got to verify all my facts, but this desolate world is the only planet revolving around that miserable red sun. And the nearest star system is nine hundred light-years away . "So tremendous would have been the problem of the ruling race of this world, that in one jump they would not only have had to solve interplanetary but interstellar space traveling. When you consider how slow our own development was—first the moon, then Venus—each success leading to the next, and after centuries to the nearest stars; and last of all to the anti-accelerators that permitted galactic travel. Considering all this, I maintain it would be impossible for any race to create such machines without practical experience. And, with the nearest star so far away, they had no incentive for the space adventuring that makes for experience." COEURL was trotting briskly over to another group. But now, in the driving appetite that consumed him, and in the frenzy of his high scorn, he paid no attention to what they were doing. Memories of past knowledge, jarred into activity by what he had seen, flowed into his consciousness in an ever developing and more vivid stream. From group to group he sped, a nervous dynamo—jumpy, sick with his awful hunger. A little car rolled up, stopping in front of him, and a formidable camera whirred as it took a picture of him. Over on a mound of rock, a gigantic telescope was rearing up toward the sky. Nearby, a disintegrating machine drilled its searing fire into an ever-deepening hole, down and down, straight down. Coeurl’s mind became a blur of things he watched with half attention.
And ever more imminent grew the moment when he knew he could no longer carry on the torture of acting.
His brain strained with an irresistible impatience; his body burned with the fury of his eagerness to be off after the man who had gone alone into the city. He saw that, for the bare moment, nobody was looking. He floated along in great, gliding leaps, a shadow among the shadows of the rocks. In a minute, the harsh terrain hid the spaceship and the two-legged beings. Coeurl forgot the ship, forgot everything but his purpose, as if his brain had been wiped clear by a magic, memory-erasing brush.