Pendleton's quiet voice was grave. 'Mars is old and tired and torn with famine. Venus is young, but her courage is undisciplined. Her barbarians aren't suited to mechanized warfare. And Earth...' He sighed. 'Perhaps if we hadn't fought so much among ourselves...'
MacVickers stopped at the brink of the dark round shaft.
It was cold, and he was stark naked except for the silver collar welded around his neck. But it was more than cold that made him shiver and clamp his long bony jaw.
He didn't know what the shaft was for, or where it led. But he had a sudden feeling that once he went down he was down for good.
The small, round metal platform rocked uneasily under his feet. Beyond the railing, as far as MacVickers could see to the short curve of Io's horizon, there was mud. Thin, slimy blue-green mud.
The shaft went down under the mud. MacVickers looked at it. He licked dry lips, and his grey-green eyes, narrow and hot in his gaunt dark face, flashed a desperate look at the small flyer from which he had just been taken.
It bobbed on the heaving mud, mocking him. The eight-foot Europan guard standing between it and MacVickers made a slow weaving motion with his tentacles.
MacVickers studied the Europan with the hating eyes of a wolf in a trap. His smooth black body had a dull sheen of red under the Jupiter-light. There was no back nor front to him, no face. Only the four long rubbery legs, the roundish body, and the tentacles in a waving crown above.
MacVickers bared white, uneven teeth. His big bony fists clenched. He took one step toward the Europan.
A tentacle flicked out, daintily, and touched the silver collar at the Earthman's throat. Raw electric current, generated in the Europan's body, struck into him, a shuddering, blinding agony surging down his spine.
He stumbled backward, and his foot went off into emptiness. He twisted blindly, catching the opposite side of the shaft, and hung there, groping with his foot for the ladder rungs, cursing in a harsh, toneless voice.
The tentacle struck out again, with swift, exquisite skill. Three times like a red-hot lash across his face, and twice, harder, across his hands. Then it touched the collar again.
MacVickers retched and let go. He fell jarringly down the ladder, managed to break his fall onto the metal floor below, and crouched there, sick and furious and afraid.
The hatch cover clanged down over him like the falling hammer of doom.
Outpost on Io
Publication date: 30.06.2011
Pendleton's quiet voice was grave.
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