A film seemed to be over her eyes. Abruptly this vanished, and she stared at him fearfully. He held her closer.
The Raider said, "Janna—the scientist—was quite enthusiastic—wanted to study the thing closely. He nearly did for us, too. Luckily I set the controls on the ship before I lost consciousness. When I recovered we were nearly past Phobos. And that was scarcely a tenth as large as this creature!"
Arn said, "The ray-tubes——"
"We tried them," the Raider reminded him. "Don't you remember? We couldn't hurt it. Even the ship's ray-tubes failed. Janna said the thing built up some sort of resistance that shunted off the rays. The powers of such a creature!" he cried, and for the first time Kenworth heard emotion in the Raider's voice. "It's destroyed all animal life on the Night Side!"
Arn moved forward swiftly. The Raider ran after him, seized his arm. For a moment the two moved together toward the crater's center; then the Raider released Arn. Perspiration dewed his gaunt face as he turned back, but he could not retrace his steps. He stood facing Kenworth, his mouth a tight line. Abruptly he pointed.
Kenworth turned, saw a faint glow in the sky, far beyond the crater's rim.
"There!" the Raider said. "My light-tube. I dropped it by the ship. If we could escape, we could find our way back by that——"
He turned, shrugging. Arn was quite close to the blue mound now. His arm was outstretched, and Kenworth caught a glance of light on metal. Arn was raying the monster.
Useless! A little sparkle showed that the tube had fallen from Arn's hand. He sprang forward—and was engulfed!
The blue light brightened. Sparkling threads of radiance shot through the mound. It pulsated more swiftly.
The Raider looked over his shoulder. "Janna said it—eats—not so much for food as for—emotion. It can draw its food from the soil, like a plant, he said. He thought it gets some sort of unearthly pleasure from what it devours."
Incredible . . . and yet—mankind's development was both mental and emotional. Why could not this ameboid thing have developed its sense of emotion at the expense of intelligence? A mindless entity, sending out its thought-commands by instinct, as a pitcher-plant exudes its luring fluid to attract victims . . . it was possible, Kenworth knew. The blue light had flared brighter when Arn was engulfed than when the octan or the Martian had been—was that because Arn's brain was more highly developed, had given the creature more pleasurable sensations?
The creature was as far removed from an ameba as man was. On earth the ameba had changed, evolved from a unicellular being to a creature of many cells.
But if the cell had not divided? Its evolution would have been far different! And an ameba had no intelligence, had but the urge of hunger. Might not a creature descended directly from a single-celled ameba be an entity living for sensation alone, its hunger urge taking the place of all other pleasurable sensations? Sex? The thing was sexless!
But that the monster could be accounted for scientifically did not lessen its deadly menace. For suddenly Thona tore herself from Kenworth's arms, went racing toward the blue mound.
For a moment Kenworth stared, unmoved. Then he sprinted after her, shouting her name. Could he catch her in time?