And the Gods Laughed by Fredric Brown

And the Gods Laughed
By FREDRIC BROWN

Hank was spinning quite a space lie—something
about earrings wearing their owners. The crew got
a boot out of the yarn—until they got to thinking.

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1944.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

You know how it is when you’re with a work crew on one of the asteroids. You’re there, stuck for the month you signed up for, with four other guys and nothing to do but talk. Space on the little tugs that you go in and return in, and live in while you’re there, is at such a premium that there isn’t room for a book or a magazine nor equipment for games. And you’re out of radio range except for the usual once-a-terrestrial-day, system-wide newscasts.

So talking is the only indoor sport you can go in for. Talking and listening. You’ve plenty of time for both because a work-day, in space-suits, is only four hours and that with four fifteen-minute back-to-the-ship rest periods, so you actually work only three hours and spend half that time getting in and out the airlock. But those are union rules, and no asteroid mining outfit tries to chisel on them.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that talk is cheap on one of those work crews. With most of the day to do nothing else, you listen to some real whoppers, stories that would make the old-time Liars Clubs back on earth seem like Sunday-school meetings. And if your mind runs that way, you’ve got plenty of time to think up some yourself.

Charlie Dean was on our crew, and Charlie could tell some dillies. He’d been on Mars back in the old days when there was still trouble with the bolies, and when living on Mars was a lot like living on Earth back in the days of Indian fighting. The bolies thought and fought a lot like Amerinds, even though they were quadrupeds that looked like alligators on stilts—if you can picture an alligator on stilts—and used blow-guns instead of bows and arrows. Or was it crossbows that the Amerinds used against the colonists?

Anyway, Charlie’s just finished a whopper that was really too good for the first tryout of the trip. We’d just landed, you see, and were resting up from doing nothing en route, and usually the yarns start off easy and believable and don’t work up to real depth-of-space lying until along about the fourth week when everybody’s bored stiff.

“So we took this head bolie,” Charlie was ending up, “and you know what kind of flappy little ears they’ve got, and we put a couple of zircon-studded earrings in its ears and let it go, and back it went to the others, and then darned if—” Well, I won’t go on with Charlie’s yarn, because it hasn’t got anything to do with this story except that it brought earrings into the conversation.

When Charlie’d finished, Zeb Werrah stood up and sniffed.

“Air’s getting kind of bad in here,” he said. “Reckon I’ll go out and get my first shift over with. Anybody want to come?”

Ray went with him—our tug had equipment for only two men to work outside at a time—and the rest of us helped them into suits and out the lock, and then settled down for some more talk, there being nothing else to do. Zeb’s remark about the air had been just a crack at Charlie’s story, of course.

“How’d you happen to have zircon earrings along?” Blake Powers asked Charlie, when things had quieted down again. Blake was skipper for the voyages, but now that we were anchored down on our asteroid, he was just one of the boys, until we took off again.

“In with the slum for trading,” Charlie said. “When you’re going to any place in the system that might be inhabited and you don’t know by what kind of critters, you take a little of almost everything. You never know what’s going to strike the fancy of any civilized or semi-civilized race you might hit.

“It might be mirrors—I’ve known dime-store mirrors to bring in twice their weight in radium salt—or it might be paper clips or harmonicas, or salted peanuts or plaster statuettes.” He turned to me and said, “You know that, Hank. You’ve been on a ‘first’ trip or two. So have you, Blake.”

Blake nodded. “I remember I was on the crew of the ship that landed first on Phobos. You know what the Phobonians turned out to be like, of course. They had about everything we had, and damned if we could do a lick of trading until the captain of our ship put something back in a box and happened to put a rubber band around the box. They went nuts; they’d never seen anything that had elasticity. Rubber or anything like it simply wasn’t known on Phobos. We managed to find a few dozen rubber bands in the ship’s office and practically bought out Phobos with them.

“One of the crew was wearing old-fashioned suspenders with elastic in them, and he traded them for a bucket of Phobonian sele-stones. Had to hold up his pants with a piece of rope for the rest of the trip, but when he got back to Earth he was rich. Me, I was wearing a belt. I’ve worn suspenders ever since, but I never got back to Phobos. Not that it would matter if I did; Interplanet’s doing a regular trade in rubber there now, and it’s down to twenty credits a pound or thereabouts.”

Blake shook his head gloomily and then turned to me. He said, “Hank, what went on Ganymede? You were on that ship that went out there a few months ago, weren’t you—the first one that got through? I’ve never read or heard much about that trip.”

“Me either,” Charlie said. “Except that the Ganymedeans turned out to be humanoid beings about four feet tall and didn’t wear a thing except earrings. Kind of immodest, wasn’t it?”

I grinned. “You wouldn’t have thought so if you’d seen the Ganymedeans. With them, it didn’t matter. Anyway, they didn’t wear earrings.”

“You’re crazy,” Charlie said. “Sure, I know you were on that expedition and I wasn’t, but you’re still crazy, because I had a quick look at some of the pictures they brought back. The natives wore earrings.”

“No,” I said. “Earrings wore them.”

Blake sighed deeply. “I knew it, I knew it,” he said. “There was something wrong with this trip from the start. Charlie pops off the first day with a yarn that should have been worked up to gradually. And now you say—Or is there something wrong with my sense of earring?”

I chuckled. “Not a thing, Skipper.”

Charlie said, “I’ve heard of men biting dogs, but earrings wearing people is a new one. Hank, I hate to say it—but just consider it said.”

Anyway, I had their attention. And now was as good a time as any.

I said, “If you read about the trip, you know we left Earth about eight months ago, for a six-months’ round trip. There were six of us in the M-94; me and two others made up the crew and there were three specialists to do the studying and exploring. Not the really top-flight specialists, though, because the trip was too risky to send them. That was the third ship to try for Ganymede and the other two had cracked up on outer Jovian satellites that the observatories hadn’t spotted from Earth because they are too small to show up in the scopes at that distance.

“When you get there you find there’s practically an asteroid belt around Jupiter, most of them so black they don’t reflect light to speak of and you can’t see them till they hit you or you hit them. But most of them—”

“Skip the satellites,” Blake interrupted, “unless they wore earrings.”

“Or unless earrings wore them,” said Charlie.

“Neither,” I admitted. “All right, so we were lucky and got through the belt. And landed. Like I said, there were six of us. Lecky, the biologist. Haynes geologist and mineralogist. And Hilda Race, who loved little flowers and was a botanist, egad! You’d have loved Hilda—at a distance. Somebody must have wanted to get rid of her, and sent her on that trip. She gushed; you know the type.

“And then there was Art Willis and Dick Carney. They gave Dick skipper’s rating for the trip; he knew enough astrogation to get us through. So Dick was skipper and Art and I were flunkies and gunmen. Our main job was to go along with the specialists whenever they left the ship and stand guard over them against whatever dangers might pop up.”

“And did anything pop?” Charlie demanded.

“I’m coming to that,” I told him. “We found Ganymede not so bad, as places go. Gravity low, of course, but you could get around easily and keep your balance once you got used to it. And the air was breathable for a couple of hours; after that you found yourself panting like a dog.

“Lot of funny animals, but none of them were very dangerous. No reptilian life; all of it mammalian, but a funny kind of mammalian if you know what I mean.”

Blake said, “I don’t want to know what you mean. Get to the natives and the earrings.”

I said, “But of course with animals like that, you never know whether they’re dangerous until you’ve been around them for a while. You can’t judge by size or looks. Like if you’d never seen a snake, you’d never guess that a little coral snake was dangerous, would you? And a Martian zeezee looks for all the world like an overgrown guinea-pig. But without a gun—or with one, for that matter—I’d rather face a grizzly bear or a—”

“The earrings,” said Blake. “You were talking about earrings.”

I said, “Oh, yes; earrings. Well, the natives wore them—for now, I’ll put it that way, to make it easier to tell. One earring apiece, even though they had two ears. Gave them a sort of lopsided look, because they were pretty fair-sized earrings—like hoops of plain gold, two or three inches in diameter.

“Anyway, the tribe we landed near wore them that way. We could see the village—a very primitive sort of place made of mud huts—from where we landed. We had a council of war and decided that three of us would stay in the ship and the other three go to the village. Lecky, the biologist, and Art Willis and I with guns. We didn’t know what we might run into, see? And Lecky was chosen because he was pretty much of a linguist. He had a flair for languages and could talk them almost as soon as he heard them.

“They’d heard us land and a bunch of them—about forty, I guess—met us half-way between the ship and the village. And they were friendly. Funny people. Quiet and dignified and acting not at all like you’d expect savages to act toward people landing out of the sky. You know how most primitives react—either they practically worship you or else they try to kill you.

“We went to the village with them—and there were about forty more of them there; they’d split forces just as we did, for the reception committee. Another sign of intelligence. They recognized Lecky as leader, and started jabbering to him in a lingo that sounded more like a pig grunting than a man talking. And pretty soon Lecky was making an experimental grunt or two in return.

“Everything seemed on the up and up, and no danger. And they weren’t paying much attention to Art and me, so we decided to wander off for a stroll around outside of the village to see what the country in general was like and whether there were any dangerous beasties or what-not. We didn’t see any animals, but we did see another native. He acted different from the others—very different. He threw a spear at us and then ran. And it was Art who noticed that this native didn’t wear an earring.

“And then breathing began to get a bit hard for us—we’d been away from the ship over an hour—so we went back to the village to collect Lecky and take him to the ship. He was getting along so well that he hated to leave, but he was starting to pant, too, so we talked him into it. He was wearing one of the earrings, and said they’d given it to him as a present, and he’d made them a return present of a pocket slide-rule he happened to have with him.

“‘Why a slide-rule?’ I asked him. ‘Those things cost money and we’ve got plenty of junk that would make them happier.’

“‘That’s what you think,’ he said. ‘They figured out how to multiply and divide with it almost as soon as I showed it to them. I showed them how to extract square roots, and I was starting on cube roots when you fellows came back.’

“I whistled and took a close look to see if maybe he was kidding me. He didn’t seem to be. But I noticed that he was walking strangely and—well, acting just a bit strangely, somehow, although I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I decided finally that he was just a bit over-excited. This was Lecky’s first trip off Earth, so that was natural enough.

“Inside the ship, as soon as Lecky got his breath back—the last hundred yards pretty well winded us—he started in to tell Haynes and Hilda Race about the Ganymedeans. Most of it was too technical for me, but I got that they had some strange contradictions in them. As far as their way of life was concerned, they were more primitive than Australian bushmen. But they had brains and a philosophy and a knowledge of mathematics and pure science. They’d told him some things about atomic structure that excited hell out of him. He was in a dither to get back to Earth where he could get at equipment to check some of those things.

“And he said the earring was a sign of membership in the tribe—they’d acknowledged him as a friend and compatriot and what-not by giving it to him.”

Blake asked, “Was it gold?”

“I’m coming to that,” I told him. I was feeling cramped from sitting so long in one position on the bunk, and I stood up and stretched.

There isn’t much room to stretch in an asteroid tug and my hand hit against the pistol resting in the clips on the wall. I said, “What’s the pistol for, Blake?”

He shrugged. “Rules. Has to be one hand weapon on every space-craft. Heaven knows why, on an asteroid ship. Unless the council thinks some day an asteroid may get mad at us when we tow it out of orbit so it cracks up another. Say, did I ever tell you about the time we had a little twenty-ton rock in tow and—”

“Shut up Blake,” Charlie said. “He’s just getting to those damn earrings.”

“Yeah, the earrings,” I said. I took the pistol down from the wall and looked at it. It was an old-fashioned metal project weapon, twenty-shot, circa 2000. It was loaded and usable, but dirty. It hurts me to see a dirty gun.

I went on talking, but I sat back down on the bunk, took an old handkerchief out of my duffle-box and started to clean and polish the hand-gun while I talked.

I said, “He wouldn’t let us take the earring off. Acted just a little funny about it when Haynes wanted to analyze the metal. Told Haynes he could get one of his own if he wanted to mess with it. And then he went back to rhapsodizing over the superior knowledge the Ganymedeans had shown.

“Next day all of them wanted to go to the village, but we’d made the rule that not more than three of the six of us would be outside the ship at once, and they’d have to take turns. Since Lecky could talk their grunt-lingo, he and Hilda went first, and Art went along to guard them. Looked safe enough to work that proportion now—two scientists to one guard. Outside of that one native that had thrown a spear at Art and me, there hadn’t been a sign of danger. And he’d looked like a half-wit and missed us by twenty feet anyway. We hadn’t even bothered to shoot at him.

“They were back, panting for breath, in less than two hours. Hilda Race’s eyes were shining and she was wearing one of the rings in her left ear. She looked as proud as though it was a royal crown making her queen of Mars or something. She gushed about it, as soon as she got her wind back and stopped panting.

“I went on the next trip, with Lecky and Haynes.

“Haynes was kind of grumpy, for some reason, and said they weren’t going to put one of those rings in his ear, even if he did want one for analysis. They could just hand it to him, or else.

“Again nobody paid much attention to me after we got there, and I wandered around the village. I was on the outskirts of it when I heard a yell—and I ran back to the center of town but fast, because it sounded like Haynes.

“There was a crowd around a spot in the middle of—well, call it the compound. Took me a minute to wedge my way through, scattering natives to all sides as I went. And when I got to the middle of things, Haynes was just getting up, and there was a big stain of red on the front of his white linen coat.

“I grabbed him to help him up, and said, ‘Haynes, what’s the matter? You hurt?’

“He shook his head slowly, as though he was kind of dazed, and then he said, ‘I’m all right, Hank. I’m all right. I just stumbled and fell.’ Then he saw me looking at that red stain, and smiled. I guess it was a smile, but it didn’t look natural. He said, ‘That’s not blood, Hank. Some native red wine I happened to spill. Part of the ceremony.’

“I started to ask what ceremony, and then I saw he was wearing one of the gold earrings. I thought that was damn funny, but he started talking to Lecky, and he looked and acted all right—well, fairly all right. Lecky was telling him what a few of the grunts meant, and he acted awful interested—but somehow I got the idea he was pretending most of that interest so he wouldn’t have to talk to me. He acted as though he was thinking hard, inside, and maybe he was making up a better story to cover that stain on his clothes and the fact that he’d changed his mind so quick about the earring.

“I was getting the notion that something was rotten in the state of Ganymede, but I didn’t know what. I decided to keep my yap shut and my eyes open till I found out.

“I’d have plenty of time to study Haynes later, though, so I wandered off again to the edge of the village and just outside it. And it occurred to me that if there was anything I wasn’t supposed to see, I might stand a better chance of seeing it if I got under cover. There were plenty of bushes around and I picked out a good clump of them and hid. From the way my lungs worked, I figured I had maybe a half hour before we’d have to start back for the ship.

“And less than half that time had gone by before I saw something.”

I stopped talking to hold the pistol up to the light and squint through the barrel. It was getting pretty clean, but there were a couple of spots left up near the muzzle end.

Blake said, “Let me guess. You saw a Martian traag-hound standing on his tail, singing Annie Laurie.”

“Worse than that,” I said “I saw one of those Ganymede natives get his legs bit off. And it annoyed him.”

“It would annoy anyone,” said Blake. “Even me, and I’m a pretty mild-tempered guy. What bit them off?”

“I never found out,” I told him. “It was something under water. There was a stream there, going by the village, and there must have been something like crocodiles in it. Two natives came out of the village and started to wade across the stream. About half-way over one of them gave a yelp and went down.

“The other grabbed him and pulled him up on the other bank. And both his legs were gone just above the knees.

“And the damnedest thing happened. The native with his legs off stood up on the stumps of them and started talking—or grunting—quite calmly to his companion, who grunted back. And if tone of voice meant anything, he was annoyed. Nothing more. He tried walking on the stumps of his legs, and found he couldn’t go very fast.

“And then he gave a gesture that looked for all the world like a shrug, and reached up and took off his earring and held it out to the other native. And then came the strangest part.

“The other native took it—and the very instant the ring left the hand of the first one—the one with his legs off—he fell down dead. The other one picked up the corpse and threw it in the water, and went on.

“And as soon as he was out of sight I went back to get Lecky and Haynes and take them to the ship. They were ready to leave when I got there.

“I thought I was worried a bit, but I hadn’t seen anything yet. Not till I started back to the ship with Lecky and Haynes. Haynes, first thing I noticed, had the stain gone from the front of his coat. Wine or—whatever it was—somebody’d managed to get it out for him, and the coat wasn’t even wet. But it was torn, pierced. I hadn’t noticed that before. But there was a place there that looked like a spear had gone through his coat.

“And then he happened to get in front of me, and I saw that there was another tear or rip just like it in back of his coat. Taken together, it was like somebody’d pushed a spear through him, from front to back. When he’d yelled.

“But if a spear’d gone through him like that, then he was dead. And there he was walking ahead of me back to the ship. With one of those earrings in his left ear—and I couldn’t help but remember about that native and the thing in the river. That native was sure enough dead, too, with his legs off like that, but he hadn’t found it out until he’d handed that earring away.

“I can tell you I was plenty thoughtful that evening, watching everybody, and it seemed to me that they were all acting strange. Especially Hilda—you’d have to watch a hippopotamus acting kittenish to get an idea. Haynes and Lecky seemed thoughtful and subdued, like they were planning something, maybe. After a while Art came up from the glory hole and he was wearing one of those rings.

“Gave me a kind of shiver to realize that—if what I was thinking could possibly be true—then there was only me and Dick left. And I’d better start comparing notes with Dick pretty soon. He was working on a report, but I knew pretty soon he’d make his routine inspection trip through the storerooms before turning in, and I’d corner him then.

“Meanwhile, I watched the other four and I got surer and surer. And more and more scared. They were trying their darndest to act natural, but once in a while one of them would slip. For one thing, they’d forget to talk. I mean, one of them would turn to another as though he was saying something, but he wouldn’t. And then, as though remembering, he’d start in the middle of it—like he’d been talking without words before, telepathically.

“And pretty soon Dick gets up and goes out, and I followed him. We got to one of the side storerooms and I closed the door. ‘Dick,’ I asked, ‘have you noticed it?’ And he wanted to know what I was talking about.

“So I told him. I said, ‘Those four people out there—they aren’t the ones we started with. What happened to Art and Hilda and Lecky and Haynes? What the hell goes on here? Haven’t you noticed anything out of the ordinary?’

“And Dick sighed, kind of, and said, ‘Well, it didn’t work. We need more practice, then. Come on and we’ll tell you all about it.’ And he opened the door and held out his hand to me—and the sleeve of his shirt pulled back a little from the wrist and he was wearing one of those gold things, like the others, only he was wearing it as a bracelet instead of an earring.

“I—well, I was too dumbfounded to say anything. I didn’t take the hand he held out, but I followed him back into the main room. And then—while Lecky, who seemed to be the leader, I think—held a gun on me, they told me about it.

“And it was even screwier, and worse, than I’d dare guess.

“They didn’t have any name for themselves, because they had no language—what you’d really call a spoken or written language—of their own. You see, they were telepathic, and you don’t need a language for that. If you tried to translate their thought for themselves, the nearest word you could find for it would be “we”—the first person plural pronoun. Individually, they identified themselves to one another by numbers rather than names.

“And just as they had no language of their own, they had no real bodies of their own, nor active minds of their own. They were parasitic in a sense that earthmen can’t conceive. They were entities, apart from—Well, it’s difficult to explain, but in a way they had no real existence when not attached to a body they could animate and think with. The easiest way to put it is that a detached—uh—earring god, which is what the Ganymedean natives called them—was asleep, dormant, ineffective. Had no power of thought or motion in itself.”

Charlie and Blake were looking bewildered. Charlie said, “You’re trying to say, Hank, that when one of them came in contact with a person, they took over that person and ran him and thought with his mind but—uh—kept their own identity? And what happened to the person they took over?”

I said, “As near as I could make out, he stayed there, too, as it were, but was dominated by the entity. I mean, there remained all his memories, and his individuality, but something else was in the driver’s seat. Running him. Didn’t matter whether he was alive or dead, either, as long as his body wasn’t in too bad shape. Like Haynes—they’d had to kill him to put an earring on him. He was dead, in that if that ring was removed, he’d have fallen flat and never got up again, unless it was put back.

“Like the native whose legs had been cut off. The entity running him had decided the body was no longer practicable for use, so he handed himself back to the other native, see? And they’d find another body in better shape for him to use.

“They didn’t tell me where they came from, except that it was outside the solar system, nor just how they got to Ganymede. Not by themselves, though, because they couldn’t even exist by themselves. They must have got as far as Ganymede as parasites of visitors that had landed there at some time or other. Maybe millions of years ago. And they couldn’t get off Ganymede, of course, till we landed there. Space travel hadn’t developed on Ganymede—”

Charlie interrupted me again, “But if they were so smart, why didn’t they develop it themselves?”

“They couldn’t,” I told him. “They weren’t any smarter than the minds they occupied. Well, a little smarter, in a way, because they could use those minds to their full capacity and people—Terrestrial or Ganymedean—don’t do that. But even the full capacity of the mind of a Ganymedean savage wasn’t sufficient to develop a space-ship.

“But now they had us—I mean, they had Lecky and Haynes and Hilda and Art and Dick—and they had our space-ship, and they were going to Earth, because they knew all about it and about conditions there from our minds. They planned, simply, to take over Earth and—uh—run it. They didn’t explain the details of how they propagate, but I gathered that there wouldn’t be any shortage of earrings to go around, on Earth. Earrings or bracelets or, however, they’d attach themselves.

“Bracelets, probably, or arm or leg bands, because wearing earrings like that would be too conspicuous on Earth, and they’d have to work in secret for a while. Take over a few people at a time, without letting the others know what was going on.

“And Lecky—or the thing that was running Lecky—told me they’d been using me as a guinea pig, that they could have put a ring on me, taken me over, at any time. But they wanted a check on how they were doing at imitating normal people. They wanted to know whether or not I got suspicious and guessed the truth.

“So Dick—or the thing that was running him—had kept himself out of sight under Dick’s sleeve, so if I got suspicious of the others, I’d talk it over with Dick—just as I really did do. And that let them know they needed a lot more practice animating those bodies before they took the ship back to Earth to start their campaign there.

“And, well, that was the whole story and they told it to me to watch my reactions, as a normal human. And then Lecky took a ring out of his pocket and held it out toward me with one hand, keeping the pistol on me with the other hand.

“He told me I might as well put it on because if I didn’t, he could shoot me first and then put it on me—but that they greatly preferred to take over undamaged bodies and that it would be better for me, too, if I—that is, my body—didn’t die first.

“But naturally, I didn’t see it that way. I pretended to reach out for the ring, hesitantly, but instead I batted the gun out of his hand, and made a dive for it as it hit the floor.

“I got it, too, just as they all came for me. And I fired three shots into them before I saw that it wasn’t even annoying them. Damn it, the only way you can stop a body animated by one of those rings is to make it fix it so it can’t move, like cutting off the legs or something. A bullet in the heart doesn’t worry it.

“But I’d backed to the door and got out of it—out into the Ganymedean night, without even a coat on. It was colder than hell, too. And after I got out there, there just wasn’t any place to go. Except back in the ship, and I wasn’t going there.

“They didn’t come out after me—didn’t bother to. They knew that within three hours—four at the outside—I’d be unconscious from insufficient oxygen. If the cold, or something else, didn’t get me first.

“Maybe there was some way out, but I didn’t see one. I just sat down on a stone about a hundred yards from the ship and tried to think of something I could do. But—”

I didn’t go anywhere with the “but—” and there was a moment’s silence, and then Charlie said, “Well?”

And Blake said, “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I couldn’t think of a thing to do. I just sat there.”

“Till morning?”

“No. I lost consciousness before morning. I came to while it was still dark, in the ship.”

Blake was looking at me with a puzzled frown. He said, “The hell. You mean—”

And then Charlie let out a sudden yip and dived head-first out of the bunk he’d been lying on, and grabbed the gun out of my hand. I’d just finished cleaning it and slipped the cartridge-clip back in.

And then, with it in his hand, he stood there staring at me as though he’d never seen me before.

Blake said, “Sit down, Charlie. Don’t you know when you’re being ribbed? But—uh—better keep the gun, just the same.”

Charlie kept the gun all right, and turned it around to point at me. He said, “I’m making a damn fool out of myself all right, but—Hank, roll up your sleeves.”

I grinned and stood up. I said, “Don’t forget my ankles, too.”

But there was something dead serious in his face, and I didn’t push him too far. Blake said, “He could even have it on him somewhere else, with adhesive tape. I mean on the million-to-one chance that he wasn’t kidding….”

Charlie nodded without turning to look at Blake. He said, “Hank, I hate to ask it, but—”

I sighed, and then chuckled. I said, “Well, I was just going to take a shower anyway.”

It was hot in the ship, and I was wearing only shoes and a pair of coveralls. Paying no attention to Blake and Charlie, I slipped them off and stepped through the oilsilk curtains of the little shower cubicle. And turned on the water.

Over the sound of the shower, I could hear Blake laughing and Charlie cursing softly to himself.

And when I came out of the shower, drying myself, even Charlie was grinning. Blake said, “And I thought that yarn Charlie just told was a dilly. This trip is backwards; we’ll end up having to tell each other the truth.”

There was a sharp rapping on the hull beside the airlock, and Charlie Dean went to open it. He growled, “If you tell Zeb and Ray what chumps you made out of us, I’ll beat your damn ears in. You and your earring gods….”

Portion of telepathic report of No. 67843, on Asteroid J-864A to No. 5463, on Terra:

“As planned, I tested credulity of terrestrial minds by telling them the true story of what happened on Ganymede.

Found them capable of acceptance thereof.

This proves that our idea of embedding ourselves within the flesh of these terrestrial creatures was an excellent one and is essential to the success of our plan. True, this is less simple than our method on Ganymede, but we must continue to perform the operation upon each terrestrial being as we take him over. Bracelets or other appendages would arouse suspicion.

There is no necessity in wasting a month here. I shall now take command of the ship and return. We will report no ore present here. The four of us who will animate the four terrestrials now aboard this ship will report to you on Terra….”