Strange and delightful creature of
space, she could become anything or anyone she wanted to...
by Glenn Llewellyn
Vol. 2 No. 5 1958
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
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,
"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.
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."
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
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
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,"
"Well ... ?" said Marie.
"Is that bad ?"