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Strange and delightful creature of space, she could become anything or anyone she wanted to...


by Glenn Llewellyn



Vol. 2 No. 5 1958

     McMATH, PERMANENT member of the two-man crew that manned the United Worlds Station on the asteroid known as Rumford, sloshed the drink of Martian lichenwasser in his plasticontainer and pondered the immutable strangenesses of institutional promotion. Certainly, if he were in charge of the Planetoid-Asteroid Bureau of the UW, Ian Ferraday was quite probably the last man he would have selected to serve as field director of the bureau.
     At the moment, Ferraday, plump, space-burned and soft of lip and eye, was absorbed in the task of oiling and reassembling his stun-gun, humming as he did so some popular Earthside ditty of long ago. As McMath watched, he picked up one of the barrels of the short, stubby weapon and peered through it against the soft luminous ceiling, grunting his satisfaction at its spotlessness.
     On the fibercouch across the oval living room of Rumford Station, Ferraday's wife, Marie, stirred restlessly. She said, in her odd, mixed-planetary accents, "Mr. McMath, where is your partner? I want somebody to talk to. As you see, Ian cares only for his guns, while you..." She shrugged, a thin, bored, vital figure in her luminescent Venus-cloth loungers, her face a vivid white against the emerald-green frame of her short hair, which, in turn, emphasized the emerald in her eyes.
     "Etienne," said McMath patiently, is out checking the vapor-tanks. He should be back soon now.
     "I 'ope so," said Marie Ferraday. She rose, shrugged provocatively, yawned like a cat, then drifted into the bedroom she and her husband were sharing.
     McMath silently cursed Etienne Dumont. He knew damned well what his partner was up to--he was with Zelda. When he got back, he'd be as contented as a tomcat after, a big night, and it would be too late for McMath to visit Zelda himself. He heard Ferraday clear his throat, found the manager's unusually blank eyes on him.
     "You sure you weren't spooling the UW about the game on Rumford," he said anxiously.
     "It's the truth," said McMath. You get on the trail of one of the whifflies, and you'll know you're in for some real sport."
     "Why do you call them whiffiies?" asked the bureau manager.
     McMath shrugged. "We had to call them something,' he said. "We named them after whiffenpoofs, some sort of mythological monsters in an old college song."
     "Is it true they can change shape on you at will?" Ferraday asked.
     "Quite true," McMath told him. "That's one of the angles that makes it sport...not that I've hunted them myself. If you read the report, you know about their psychic blotter as well."
     "I read it," Ferraday admitted, "but I didn't understand it. How does it go ?"
     "Well," said McMath, "what it means is that a whiffy, by concentrating, can read certain elements of your mind and transform himself to suit. They're really quite friendly, sir. In fact, some of them make excellent pets."
     "Great !" enthused Ian Ferraday. "I intend to bring one back alive."
     He turned in shortly afterward, while McMath awaited his partner. When Etienne appeared, the great bulk of Jupiter was already visible through the transparent portion of the station wall. Etienne was softly singing the third verse of "0 Clair de la Lune", the verse no one ever prints in the children's songbooks.
     "I gather you had a ball with Zelda," McMath said acidly, keeping his voice low so they would not be overheard by their official guests.
     "We're going to have trouble with Zelda," said Etienne. "She's determined to have old wind-face catch her tomorrow."
     "Good God !" exclaimed McMath. "He wants to take a whiffy back alive. That means we'll have to break in an other."
     "I know," said Etienne.
 The two of them sat there, glooming at the prospect of long hours spent in synchronizing their thoughts on an agreed-upon vidar-star until the new whiffy, like Zelda, became able to assume the star's shape and functions. It was McMath who led the way to the bedroom they were sharing while the Ferraday's stayed with them.
     The next morning--Earth-time, that is, since there is no real morning on Rumford as on the rest of the planetoids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where once, eons ago, a planet exploded into fragments--McMath rose early and paid Zelda a visit out by the vats. From gray cube, she became a living, breathing replica of Zelda Mansford, the vidar sexpot on Earth, even though Rumford boasted no atmosphere for breathing. Like the rest of her species, Zelda was based on a silicon life-structure that did not demand an atmosphere to exist.
     She said seductively, or rather her thoughts flowed through his helmet, "I suppose you've been amusing yourself with that green-eyed cat indoors, while her stupid husband polishes his guns."
     "Listen, Zelda," said, or rather thought, McMath, "you'd better hide out until this big brass flathead takes off for home. He's determined to take one of you with him...alive."
     "Goodness !" said Zelda, sticking a coy forefinger in her ruby-red mouth. "How you frighten me, darling!"
     "Being hit with a stun-gun's no fun," said McMath.
     "I'm afraid I'll go all to pieces," said Zelda. Then, with a snicker, "What makes you think any Earthman can hurt one of us?"
     "Your feelings are sensitive enough," said McMath.
     "That's different." Zelda sniffed audibly.
     After issuing another warning, McMath returned to the station, where Etienne had breakfast steaming. Marie Ferraday was not in evidence. She had decided not to accompany her husband on his hunt.
     McMath went along as cartridge. bearer with his chief, while Etienne carried the life-meter. For three Earth hours they trod the jagged surface of the planetoid with its strange, six-side , crystalline growths and unexpectedly short horizons. Once a small bird seemed to fly up from under their feet, to whirr rapidly away through non-existent air, and once a rhinoceros charged down on them, to fly into a million pieces as Ferraday's stun-gun caught it dead center.
     "Damme !" he exclaimed. "These guns aren't supposed to do that to anything."
     "Strange creatures, these whiffies," said McMath. He was vastly relieved when Ferraday decided he had had enough. Marie, packed and ready to leave, was awaiting him back at the station, her emerald eyes greener than ever.
     "Wish I'd managed to bag one of them alive," mused Ferraday. Then, lifting his chin, "Well, can't be helped. Nice of you chaps to show me some sport. C'mon, m'dear, we'll have to be blasting off instanter if we're to make the relay ship on this circuit."
     "Of course," cooed Marie, hugging her husbands arm. She undulated out beside him, managing to look sexy even in a no-atmosphere coverall. Minutes later, after a couple of coughing false starts, Ferraday's trim space-pinnace had lifted evenly and was a mere fading streak in the star-studded blackness of space.
     When McMath found Zelda reclining on his bed, as he took his shirts back to his bureau, he picked her up and shook her. "Hey!" he cried. "We've had enough trouble with that bitch on wheels here for two days, without you making yourself up like her."
     Green eyes smoldered angrily, then opened wide, and a low, furious voice said, "Just what the hell do you think you're doing McMath. My husband will have you broken for this."
     There was no question about it. He was actually hearing Marie talk, not receiving it telepathically, as he got Zelda's. Etienne, having heard the fuss, appeared in the bedroom doorway and asked what was wrong.
     "This" said McMath indicating Marie, "isn't Zelda. Zelda went home with the chief."
     It took a moment to get home, and then there was the problem of explaining it to Marie. McMath said earnestly, "We'd better message your husband and let him know."
     But Marie simply sat there and smiled, like a modern Mona Lisa. Then she shook her head and said, "Let the big dope find out for himself."
     "But it may take months," said Etienne.
     "Well ... ?" said Marie. "Is that bad ?"

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