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Title: Crisis On Titan
Author: Adams, James R.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Crisis On Titan" ***

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                            CRISIS ON TITAN

                           By JAMES R. ADAMS

          What the devil! Was Captain Staley nuts? Here they
          were ... no food, no water, about to be blasted out
            of existence by strange inhabitants of a weird
         planet--and Staley was making like a baseball player!

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Spring 1946.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


"Hut! Twuh, hree, foar. Hut! Twuh, hree, foar. Hut! Twuh--" Sergeant
Hallihan boomed forth the monotonous syllables with unfaltering
precision, glaring from the corner of his eye now and then in hopes
of catching some unfortunate fellow out of step or whispering to a
companion with questionable reference to the sergeant.

The dust-caked ranks marched along quietly, carefully refraining from
expressing their opinion of this disgusting detail, but Hallihan
knew what they were thinking. And he could well understand their
displeasure. These were hard-bitten, two-fisted, hell for leather
I.P. men, and here they were with shovels and picks slung over
their shoulders, plodding out to scratch in the dirt like common,
dime-a-dozen ditch-diggers.

Hallihan felt as strongly about it as they, but orders were orders, and
he prided himself on his ability to carry out a command, regardless of
whether or not it conformed with his personal sentiments. This job had
to be done, and the men all knew it could not be entrusted to a mob
of imported flunkies. The _Squeakers_ would make short work of such a
motley crew.

The sergeant emitted a soft sigh between a snappy twuh and hree as his
wandering gaze came to rest on the slow-moving grav-car, in which rode
the brusque Captain Staley. The car skimmed along a foot or so above
the ground, riding smoothly on its gravity-repellent ray. Hallihan
suddenly became acutely aware of his aching feet. Would the captain
never call a halt? Hell, they couldn't march straight through to the
mine without rest. More than one soldier was dragging his feet, and the
sergeant could hardly find the heart to snarl out his customary: "Get
the lead out back there, soldier. Pep it up!"

Bringing up the rearguard of the orderly lines was as strange a group
of "soldiers" as could be found on any moon of the system. These were
the "Barber's Delights," an odd life-form of Titan that had formed a
sort of aloof friendship with the Patrol from the moment it landed. The
men jokingly called them Barber's Delights because of the thick, shaggy
coat of hair that covered their log-like bodies. The B.D.'s either
didn't understand, or just didn't care, for they made no objection to
their nickname.

There were twenty of the creatures in this group, and more joined
them along the way. They imitated the brisk step of the soldiers with
amazing exactness, though they possessed no semblance whatsoever of
feet. They moved on dense mats of stubby, resilient bristles that grew
from the flat bottoms of their column-bodies, sweeping forward like
a horde of self-propelling brooms. Not wishing to be outdone by the
visitors, they had their own sergeant, who moved along importantly at
the side of his command, glaring threateningly from the corner of his
single, huge eye. As Sergeant Hallihan called out his impeccable, "Hut!
Twuh, hree, foar," Sergeant B.D. responded with, "Ungh! Ungh, ungh,
ungh," the only sound he was capable of uttering. Hallihan scowled over
his shoulder and snorted disgruntledly, fervently wishing he could
get his heckler alone for a moment. His hard cot would have a new fur
mattress that night.

Hallihan estimated they were half-way to the mine now. That huge
deposit of _chroidex_ salts was important to the system. Without the
precious mineral spaceflight would be impossible, since there would be
nothing to protect travelers from deadly solar rays. The small amounts
that had been found on Earth and the other major planets would soon
give out, and Titan was the only other known source of _chroidex_.
This deposit would last for centuries, and by the time it, too, was
exhausted, perhaps engineers would have figured a way around the
difficulty.

Captain Staley's car came to a stop and the tall man stepped out. He
stood a moment, surveying the weary marchers with sharp, experienced
eyes. He knew just how much he could get out of a man, knew when the
limits of the human machine had been reached.

"You may rest your troops, Sergeant Hallihan," he said shortly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hallihan sighed inwardly, hoping for at least a twenty-minute surcease.
He went through the formality of placing his men at ease, then strode
anxiously to the captain's side.

"Do you suppose there will be trouble with the Squeakers, Sir?" he
asked apprehensively. "They don't take to us, you know. They might
ambush us at the mine."

The Captain thought a moment, then his thin lips drew up in a smile.

"I don't think they will. Their crude weapons wouldn't stand a chance
against us, in force. Personally, I wish they would attack. Then we
could do away with them once and for all. As it is, we can't risk
bringing laborers here to develop the mine. After the Squeakers picked
off a few of them, the miners would turn tail and run for home. So
we're temporarily stuck with both jobs, Sergeant; working the mine, and
eliminating the Squeakers. We'll catch the whole damn bunch of them in
the open some day. When we do...."

The two men momentarily forgot their conversation and turned to watch
the antics of the perplexed B.D.s. The shaggy creatures were milling
about uncertainly.

"Ungh ungh!" the log-shaped sergeant barked out, pointing a slim
tentacle at the reclining I.P. men. "Ungh ungh!"

But the B.D.s were physically incapable of duplicating the soldiers'
postures. Underneath all that hair, their bodies were not much more
than wooden posts, stiff, erect, and not given to bending at the waist.
The bristling sergeant might as well have saved his breath.

"If only the Squeakers were as friendly as these fellows," Captain
Staley murmured. "But sadly, they don't have the least thing in common.
Their hate for us is equaled, if not exceeded, by their fear of the
B.D.s. Seems the B.D.s have some sort of racial disease that is fatal
to the Squeakers if they come in contact with it. That's why you'll
never see any members of these two races palling around together. Too
bad the B.D.s aren't intelligent enough to cooperate with us. With
their aid, we could wipe out the Squeakers in record time."

A strange occurrence was taking place in the ranks of the Barber's
Delights. The exhausted sergeant had ceased his shouting, and the
creatures stood about in stiff poses of inactivity. Suddenly a cloud
of blue dust whooshed from the flat top of a barrel-like B.D. and the
thing disappeared in a flurry of fur and smoke.

"Noon," Sergeant Hallihan said cryptically.

Others of the B.D.s were going through the same process. It was as if
the ground had opened and swallowed them up. Hallihan's heckler blew
out a great cloud of smoke and dwindled rapidly away to nothing. In one
minute, the unconcerned group of half-animals was lessened by a third.
The I.P. men sat with open mouths, craning their necks over companions'
shoulders to better witness the event. Although they had seen it many
times in the past weeks, the weird exhibition never failed to impress
them.

"Those things never miss," one soldier said in awe. "Come noon or
midnight, and boom!--away they go, right on the dot. S'crazy."

Captain Staley smiled at the man and walked quickly to the spot where
the B.D.s had disappeared, Sergeant Hallihan following. He bent to the
ground and scooped up a handful of elliptical, waxy-surfaced seeds.

"Reproduction, man, reproduction," he said. "Their race, just as
any other, would come to a quick end if they didn't propagate." He
pointed to five B.D.s whose fur was slowly turning yellow and falling
from their bodies in brittle patches. "In exactly half an hour, those
creatures will be dead, and from these seeds will come new B.D.s to
fill the gaps. By actual count, we know there are approximately five
hundred of these beings on Titan. At noon and midnight, half of them
reproduce, and the half that has already reproduced dies. Thus there
are at all times exactly five hundred of the creatures, no more and no
less. The disease germs that all of them carry, though fatal to the
Squeakers, don't seem to have any ill effects on them. If they are
injured, their bodies heal, no matter how deep the wound. So a B.D.
lives his full half-day, Titan-reckoning, regardless of accidents and
diseases. I would like to remain here and watch these seeds develop
into full-grown B.D.s, but we must be getting on to the mine. We shall
remain there a week, Sergeant, returning to the garrison at the end of
that time for fresh supplies and equipment. Four or five grav-trucks
and cranes would make the work much easier, but all of my requisitions
to the government for these have been rejected on the grounds the
Squeakers might stage an uprising and gain possession of valuable
equipment. As I said, we'll have to struggle along as best we can
until we can catch the Squeakers in a false move and blast them out of
existence. Carry on, Sergeant."

Hallihan snapped to attention as the captain whirled on his heel and
returned to his grav-car. Only fifteen minutes rest. Damn!

Under the direction of Hallihan's acid tongue, the men heaved
reluctantly to their feet and fell into line, whispering curses as the
sergeant roared out the hated, "F'r'ard, harch! Hut! Twuh, hree, foar."

"Ungh! Ungh, ungh ungh. Ungh! Ungh, ungh--" The B.D.s quickly appointed
a new sergeant and took up the march with an eagerness that brought
grunts of disgust from the begrimed men.

Hallihan glanced back over his shoulder to fix an icy stare on this new
nemesis, and his eyes widened with amazement as he caught sight of a
disheveled man stumbling along behind them, his arms waving frantically
and his lips moving in a soundless yell. The sergeant called a quick
halt and waited for the man to overtake them.

It was a soldier from the garrison. Blood trickled from his lips and
one arm hung in a queer position at his side. The skin was hideously
burnt and blackened where a heat-ray had caught him full in the face.
Hallihan knew the man was dying as he collapsed in his arms, insanely
babbling: "Managed to 'scape ... got all rest, but managed to
'scape ... must tell you, Serg'nt ... must tell you ... all rest
dead...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Staley's car came to a jarring halt beside them and the alarmed captain
jumped out, his emotionless features softening with pity as he saw the
man's condition. The soldier was talking again, and Staley bent close
to the mutilated mouth to catch all of the feeble words.

"All dead ... all dead ... Squeakers s'prised us 'n' took garrison ...
thousand Squeakers ... thousand Squeakers in garrison ... no chance ...
all dead...."

Captain Staley straightened, and his eyes were steely as he turned to
Hallihan. He waited while Hallihan let the soldier gently to the ground
and assigned a man to watch over him.

"It was a gross mistake to leave such a small complement of men at the
garrison," Captain Staley said bitterly. "I seriously doubt that we
can recapture it. If those creatures have enough intelligence to load
and fire the four atomic cannons, our sidearms will be of little use.
They'll slaughter us to the last man. But we've got to try, Sergeant.
Understand? We've _got_ to try."

"Yes, Sir." Hallihan saluted and turned, grim-lipped, to the waiting
men. "We're returning to the garrison, men," he said simply. "'Bout
face!"

The B.D.s scattered as the I.P. men plowed through them, but reformed
behind the swift-moving columns and scurried anxiously after them.
Another group of the curious creatures joined their fellows, swelling
the ranks to fifty. They made a strange sight as they hustled along
over the rocky ground, the dire-eyed sergeant belching out his eternal,
"Ung! Ung, ungh, ugh. Ungh! Ungh, ungh--"

"If only those crazy bucket-heads would help us fight the Squeakers,"
Hallihan thought unhappily. "But they can't. They're just dumb mimics.
They wouldn't know one end of a heat-ray from the other." Then he
forgot about the B.D.s and started thinking about his shrieking feet.

They reached the garrison late in the afternoon, and Hallihan began
displacing his men about the front of the structure, taking care they
didn't expose themselves to the Squeakers' fire. In spite of their
caution, five men were torn to shreds as an atomic cannon let go,
catching them in the open. Hallihan swore harshly and ducked behind a
huge boulder. Those dirty sons meant business.

The B.D.s followed suit, gliding behind upjuttings of rock and yelling
one-syllable curses at the embattled garrison. They watched the
proceedings with casually-interested eyes, emitting sympathetic "Unghs"
whenever a patrolman fell. One of the creatures got his top blown off
when he let it stick out too far from behind a rock, but he immediately
grew a new one.

The I.P. men weren't faring so well. Most of the Squeakers' shots
went wild, but the very intensity of their fire took its toll of the
outnumbered patrolmen. Hallihan rushed about from rock to rock, patting
his soldiers on the back and shouting words of encouragement in their
ears. The B.D. sergeant hurried along behind him, whacking his tentacle
across the furry bodies of his compatriots and keeping up a steady flow
of loud, well-pleased "Unghs."

Captain Staley was doing his share of the fighting. He crouched behind
a round boulder, snapping quick shots at the garrison and drawing back
before the Squeakers could locate him. Sergeant Hallihan flopped down
beside him and lay staring questioningly at his superior.

"We can't win," Staley said, matter-of-factly. "The garrison was built
to withstand just such a siege as this. We have to hit those loopholes
in the wall dead-center to bring down a Squeaker. We couldn't have
nailed more than half a dozen or so; half a dozen, out of a thousand.
Attack from the rear is impossible, because of the steep canyon walls
protecting the garrison on three sides. If we could rout them into the
open, we could blast them down like cattle. There would be no escape,
except through our ranks, and our sharpshooters would take care of any
who broke through. But that's just wishful thinking, Sergeant. The
Squeakers aren't stupid enough to try charging us. They'll stay holed
up in the garrison, picking us off one by one. There's no place to run
to. All of our food and water is in the hands of those devils, so we
have our choice of fighting it out to the last man or retreating to the
mine and wait for thirst and starvation to end our worries. What will
it be, Sergeant?"

"We'll fight, Sir," Hallihan said grimly. "Yahoo! Pour it to 'em, men!
Give 'em a taste of I.P. hell!"

Above the noise of battle could be heard the rat-like screeching of the
Squeakers. The B.D.s answered with their version of the Bronx cheer,
and between them and the ground-shaking c-r-rump-c-r-rump of the atomic
cannons, the uproar was enough to cause a nervous breakdown in the
staunchest habitue of Times Square.

       *       *       *       *       *

Night fell across the scene, and the battle raged on. The I.P.
patrolmen now had a slight advantage, for the large bulk of the
garrison was easily discernible in the dim light and they had the
locations of the loopholes well-fixed in their minds. After each shot,
they shifted positions, crawling over the ground so the Squeakers could
not observe their movements. More than one unlucky fellow was found
out, though, when a tall B.D. followed him, hurling challenges at
the Squeakers in a loud, attention-drawing voice. This hindrance was
temporarily done away with when midnight came and fully half of the
B.D.s spouted blue smoke from their shaggy tops and dwindled away to
silent, waxy seeds. More of them lost their enthusiasm for the battle
as their brown fur slowly took on a yellowish hue, and they retired to
various dark crannies to sulk away their last few living moments.

"I have an idea, Sir," Hallihan reported excitedly to Captain Staley.
"That armored grav-car of yours could easily gain the wall of the
garrison without getting knocked out of commission, couldn't it? Well,
here's the plan. We use the shovel handles to whip together a ladder
long enough to scale the wall. Then me and a couple of the men speed
through to the garrison in the grav-car and prop the ladder against
the wall before the Squeakers can nail us. Maybe one or two of us will
live long enough to get over the wall and open the gates. Then before
the Squeakers catch wise, the rest of you charge through the gates and
finish 'em off. What do you think, Sir?"

"I must commend you for your valor, Sergeant," Staley said soberly.
"But I don't believe your plan would work. Even assuming that one of
you would get through to the gates--and you must admit there would be
small chance of that--the Squeakers would still be in possession of
the cannons, and our men would be easy targets at such close range. We
would only bring about our own defeat that much sooner. However, you
_have_ given me an idea, Sergeant. As you say, the grav-car _could_
gain the garrison wall, and a man could stand outside with reasonable
safety if he was careful not to move in line with a loophole. What is
the time, Sergeant?"

"Why, er, five minutes past twelve, Sir--Titan-time."

"Good," Staley said determinedly. "I must put my plan into immediate
operation. In ten minutes, Sergeant, my car will move toward the
garrison. Instruct your men to direct a heavy fire at the loopholes
until I have reached the wall. The more confusion, the better; anything
that will draw the Squeakers' attention away from me. After that,
well--Inform your men of the plan, Sergeant!"

Hallihan gulped and saluted. "Yes, Sir! That I'll do, Sir!" Cripes! Had
the old man lost his marbles? One man against a thousand Squeakers!
That was crazier than Hallihan's own idea! Nevertheless, the sergeant
raced away to lay down the law to the sleepy-eyed soldiers.

Ten minutes later, Captain Staley's grav-car leaped from behind a
boulder and bore down swiftly on the dark garrison. Instantly the
patrolmen began howling and blasting at the garrison, drawing a
murderous return fire from the mildly-surprised Squeakers. The few
B.D.s who were still capable of its added their voices to the din,
and Staley's car lurched to a halt at the garrison wall, completely
undamaged. The Captain jumped out and fumbled inside the car a moment.

What the hell was he doing, Hallihan wondered. He watched the dark
form move cautiously along the rampart and stop at a point where a
good-sized upheaval in the ground raised him to within ten feet of the
wall's top. The captain went through some strange motions. His hand dug
in his pocket and then his arms snapped back like a baseball pitcher's.
His hand flicked forward and came down to dig once more in his pocket.
Again he went through the movements of throwing something. Hallihan
scratched his head puzzledly, straining his eyes to see what Staley did
next. That was all. Staley returned to his car and climbed inside, but
the speedy little vehicle gave no indication of withdrawing from its
position against the garrison wall.

[Illustration: _Captain Staley's arms snapped back like a baseball
pitcher's._]

Things quieted down a bit then, and Hallihan nearly went mad waiting
for something to happen. Now and then an atomic cannon blasted out at
the patrolmen, but the intensity of the Squeakers' fire had diminished
considerably from that of earlier in the battle. They had plenty of
time. They would wait until morning, when the sun exposed the hiding
places of the I.P. men, then it would be curtains for these hated
invaders from another world. Hallihan wished he could sleep, but he
knew if he did he might never wake up again. He waited....

A minute later, the sergeant's hair almost stood on end as a prolonged,
hideous screech of terror beat against his ears, growing, swelling in
intensity, and owning a note of stark, unreasoning fear. It came from
the garrison; came from the throats of a thousand panicked Squeakers.
Hallihan's jaw gaped ludicrously as the gates burst open and hundreds
of screaming, scrabbling, sleek-boiled Squeakers spilled into the
clearing, fleeing from the garrison as fast as their skinny legs
could carry them. Hallihan recovered quickly from his surprise and
drew a bead on the leading Squeaker. The creature crumpled under the
heat-beam, shrieking in agony as his fellows trampled over him, making
pulp of his thrashing, charred body.

"Give 'em hell, boys!" Hallihan shouted exultantly. "Pour it to the
rats!"

The I.P. patrolmen needed no coaxing. The terrified Squeakers were
already falling by the dozens under their withering fire. The
rodent-like animals hesitated, not knowing where to turn. Some of
them ran to the canyon walls and tried to scrabble up to safety, but
the sharp-eyed soldiers nailed them before they could go a yard. An
atomic cannon started banging away from the garrison, and Hallihan knew
Captain Staley had plunged his grav-car through the open gates and
taken over one of the deadly guns. After that, it was only a question
of mopping up....

       *       *       *       *       *

When morning came, the canyon floor looked like an inverted graveyard.
Blackened, torn bodies, all that remained of the Squeakers, littered
the clearing. Weary patrolmen emerged from behind the protecting
boulders, moving warily, lest some of the creatures were playing
possum. But the repulsive animals were quite dead.

"Not more than a dozen got away," Hallihan said, satisfaction in his
voice. "They were scared to come through our lines with those B.D.s
hangin' around. The ones that did get through will probably die of that
strange disease the shaggies carry in their fur. Let's find out about
Captain Staley, men."

Staley was waiting for them when they entered the garrison. And so were
fifty Barber's Delights! Staley smiled when he saw the question on
Hallihan's beefy face. Hallihan recovered enough to salute.

"Everything went well, I trust, Sergeant?" Staley asked.

"Yeah. I mean, yes, Sir. We really cleaned up on those devils. We won't
have to worry about them any longer. They come out of here like bats
outta hell. How'd they come to blow their tops, Captain?"

"We have the B.D.s to thank for that," Staley said, fondly patting one
of the log-bodied creatures on the back.

"I don't see why, Sir," Hallihan said skeptically. "We all know the
things ain't got brains enough to fight. Anyway, how in all creation
did they get in here? They--" The sergeant stopped abruptly. He clapped
a hand to his forehead in feigned exasperation and snorted disgustedly.
"Cripes, I'm stupid! I mean, I think I understand now, Sir. You had me
wondering, though. I thought you'd cracked up under the strain when
you started goin' through them crazy shenanigans in front of the wall.
I guess I ought to apologize, Sir."

"No need, Sergeant. I suppose it did seem as if I had gone mad. But
I knew our only chance to beat the Squeakers was to get them into
the open, and the only way to do that was to inspire great fear in
them. The only thing the Squeakers feared was the Barber's Delights,
because of the fatal disease they bear in their fur. But obviously, I
couldn't induce these dumb creatures to storm the garrison and force
the Squeakers into the open. Then I remembered the seeds. The B.D.s'
seeds certainly couldn't object if I carried them to the garrison wall
and tossed them inside. That is exactly what I did. All there was to
do then was wait until the seeds blossomed into full-grown B.D.s and
stampeded the Squeakers right into our hands. The Squeakers' poor
marksmanship was no match for ours. I believe our work is done here,
Sergeant. Experienced miners can take over the job now."

"Yes, Sir!" Hallihan grinned broadly. "The men will be glad to hear
that, Sir. But first, we've got a bit of a mess to clean up. Hold on to
them shovels, men, you ain't through diggin' yet. Lively, now!"

"Ungh ungh!" a new B.D. sergeant took up the cry, glaring balefully at
his fellows. The obedient creatures scooted quickly after the soldiers.
Just dumb mimics, but they had saved spaceflight from an early end.



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