The Beast of Space

F.E. Hardart
The Beast of Space, by F.E.

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Title: The Beast of Space
Author: F.E. Hardart
Release Date: November 16, 2007 [EBook #23509]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by Greg Weeks, Alexander Bauer and the Online Distributed
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A tale of the prospectors of the starways--of dangers--

[Illustration: He staggered back from the lapping pool--the gas--the
weight of the girl's body--the dog--]
Here the dark cave, along which Nat Starrett had been creeping,
broadened into what his powerful searchlight revealed to be a low,
wide, smoothly circular room. At his feet lapped black, thick-looking
waves of an underground lake, a pool of viscous substance that gave off
a penetrating, poignant odor of acid, sweetish and intoxicating, unlike
any acid he knew. The smell rolled up in a sickening, sultry cloud that
penetrated his helmet, made him cough and choke. Near its center
projected from the sticky stuff what appeared to be the nose of a
He looked down near his feet at the edge of the pool where thick,
slowly-moving tongues of the liquid appeared to reach up toward him,
as if intent on pulling him into its depths. As each hungry wave fell
back, it left a slimy, snake-like trail behind.
Now came a wave of strange music, music such as he had never heard
before. Faintly it had begun some time back, so faintly he was barely
aware of it. Now it swelled into a smooth, impelling wail lulling him
into drowsiness. He did not wonder why he could hear through the
soundproof space helmet he wore; he ceased to wonder about anything.
There was only the strange sweetness of acid and the throbbing music.
Abruptly the spell was broken by something shrilling in his brain,
sending little chills racing up and down his spine. Digger! A small,
oddly canine-like creature with telepathic powers, a space-dweller
which men found when first they came to the asteroids. The
relationship between spacehounds and men was much the same as
between man and dog in the old, earthbound days. Appropriate name
for the beast, Digger. With those large, incredibly hard claws, designed
for rooting in the metal make-up of the asteroids for vital elements, the
spacehound could easily have shredded the man's spacesuit and helmet,
could, at any time, tear huge chunks out of men's fine ships.

The half-conscious man jerked his thin form erect. His mouth, which
had gaped loosely, closed with a snap into firm lines.
"She isn't in this hell hole, Digger. You wouldn't expect her to be where
we could find her easily."
Scooping the small beast up under his good arm, he quickly climbed
the steep, slimy slope of the cave. The other arm in his suit hung empty.
That empty arm in the spacesuit told the story of an earthman become
voluntary exile, choosing the desolation of space to the companionship
of other humans who would deluge him with unwonted sympathy. The
spacehound was friendly in its own fashion; fortunately, such complex
things as sympathy were apparently outside its abilities. The two could
interchange impressions of danger, comfort, pleasure, discomfort, fear,
and appreciation of each other's company, but little more. Whether or
not the creature could understand his thoughts, he could not tell.
As he went on, he reviewed, mentally, the events leading up to his
landing here. The sudden appearance on his teleview screen of the face
and slim shoulders of a girl. Her attractiveness plainly distinguishable
through her helmet; for a moment he forgot that he disliked women.
The call for help, cut short ... but not before he had learned that
apparently she was being held prisoner on Asteroid Moira. He knew
he'd have to do what he could even if it meant unwonted company for
an indefinite length of time. The spell was gone soon after her face
vanished; he remembered former experiences with attractive-looking
girls. Damn traditions!
A change in his course and a landing on Asteroid Moira. Here he'd
found a honeycomb of caves, all leading from one large main tunnel.
The cavern walls had been of a translucent, quartz-like substance,
ranging in color from yellowish-brown to violet-grey. It looked vaguely
familiar, yet he could not place it. There was not time to examine it
more carefully.
The room in which he'd found the evil, hungry lake
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