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Title: Quest On Phoebe
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 "Quest On Phoebe" ***

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                            QUEST ON PHOEBE

                           By James R. Adams

            Savagely, Ron Farr tore and blasted through the
            Saturnian moon's jungle, snarling at the timid
               natives to keep their distance. He sought
            eternal life--and they might get in his way....

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Summer 1947.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Others before him had tried--and failed. Ron Farr meant to succeed. He
had come fully prepared to surmount whatever obstacles might lie in
his path, to conquer the dread guardian jungle and its unknown terrors
and return triumphant to Earth, master of destiny and possessor of
undreamed of power.

Farr knew the obstacles would be there, for he sought the secret of
eternal life, the fabulous elixir that lay hidden somewhere on Phoebe,
enigmatic moon of Saturn, and there was little doubt in his mind that
the ancients of the ringed planet had made ample provision for the
protection of this, their most cherished treasure. One by one, a dozen
eager men had gone in quest of the secret--none had returned. That was
enough proof for him.

But, in spite of this grim evidence, Farr was not afraid. He was
ready to face death itself, if need be, to gain the goal that would
prostrate the world at his feet. He was ready to face death, but he
had taken every precaution against it. For instance, in selecting a
likely landing place, he had shunned the area in which the life secret
was reputed to be, for his instruments had detected some sort of
force-field above the region. Invisible to the eye, the field would
have crushed his ship in an instant, had he attempted to enter the area
without consulting the instrument panel.

The region was boxed in on three sides by sheer cliffs, leaving but one
avenue of approach. That was through the dense and foreboding jungle
that stretched for miles across the face of the canyon.

Farr had taken that avenue. Now, as he stepped from his ship and
regarded the jungle's fringe with clear, steady eyes, he looked
anything but the ruthless brigand he was.

Straight black hair, high forehead, firm, unsmiling lips--all gave the
man the appearance of a gentlemanly scholar. But behind those austere
features lurked a cunning, treacherous mind. That he should be seeking
the secret of eternal life in so surreptitious a manner was proof that
the gaining of it would be put to his own advantage, and not to the
benefit of mankind.

Now the thin lips parted in a wry smile as his searching gaze focused
on a group of watchful creatures gathered silently at the jungle's
edge. Somber eyes stared unwinkingly back at him.

Harmless beings, these, the _Mumums_ of Phoebe. They resembled Earthly
pygmies in stature, but were wholly alien in anatomy. Hairless and
ebon-skinned, they wore only a loincloth as protection against the
elements. Depending from this brief garment by means of a length of
chain swung a small silvery, tubelike affair. Some sort of tribal
fetish, Farr thought, intended to ward off evil spirits. The tubes
gave off a musical tinkling whenever the pygmies moved, and he almost
had to laugh at their ignorance in believing such nonsense could avert
sickness and injury.

They seemed to be attempting to bar his way. He drew his blaster and
balanced it in his hand, smiling grimly. If nothing more ferocious than
these miserable beings were to test his strength and cunning, securing
the life secret was going to be an easy task.

He stepped forward. The _Mumums_ did not move. His steps brought him
closer, and still they remained in his way. Farr curled his lips and
raised his blaster. If it was necessary to teach them a lesson, he
would.

One more stride and he would be touching them. "You asked for it," he
gritted and squeezed the release.

[Illustration: _"You asked for it," he gritted and squeezed the
release._]

There was a hissing crack and a bright stab of flame. The _Mumum_ in
front of Farr fell stiffly over backwards without a sound, an ugly
smoking hole drilled clean through him. The others cringed and drew
back as Farr swung the blaster in a threatening arc. "Get the idea?" he
grinned.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sweat plastered Farr's shirt to his back and streamed copiously down
his masklike face. It was only an hour since he had entered the jungle,
but already he was beginning to tire. His wiry muscles ached and his
breath came wheezily, laboriously. Wearily he sat down on a porous rock
and produced a vacuum-carton from his tunic pocket. The mushy food
mixture contained in the carton was tasteless, but nourishing, and he
ate in contemplative silence, keeping a wary eye on the foliage around
him.

Thus far he had successfully avoided contact with malignant life-forms,
but he did not allow this fact to lull him into a complacence that
might prove his undoing. Even though the jungle denizens had not yet
manifested themselves, he knew they were there, waiting for him to grow
lax in his vigilance, waiting for his eyes to close in sleep--a sleep
from which he would never awaken.

The _Mumums_--the pygmy people--were still with him. They stood a few
feet away, soulful eyes watching him devour his meal. Their stares
vaguely irritated Farr. What made it the worse, was that they never
uttered a sound, but just watched silently, fingering those crazy
silver tubes, moving when he moved, freezing into immobility when he
called a halt, always keeping between him and the goal toward which he
progressed.

Farr uttered a sneering laugh. They couldn't stop him! Let them stare.
Let their saucer eyes reproach him. He would go on and emerge from the
jungle with the secret that would place the fate of the world in his
hands.

He laughed again and wiped the last particles of the meal from his
lips. The food was making him sleepy. Gratefully he allowed leaden lids
to close over sun-dazzled eyes. A keen sense of danger prodded his
drowsy mind, telling him to awake, to throw off the torpor before the
perils of the jungle closed in on him.

By will-power alone, Farr forced his eyes open and strove desperately
to rise. He seemed to be rooted to the rock, and the insidious lump of
matter was sucking out his life-force, draining him of vitality. Where
he had been prepared to face fang and claw, this inanimate foe had
caught him completely off-guard and was swiftly fulfilling the purpose
for which it had been placed here--the destruction of interlopers who
sought the secret of immortality by way of the jungle.

A less determined man than Farr would have succumbed to that compelling
force, would have fallen back on the stone and let the life flow from
his exhausted body. But Farr was made of stern stuff, and as long as
there was life in him, there was fight.

Sweat stood out in glistening beads on his forehead and his lips
compressed in a bloodless slit as he marshaled his powers of
concentration. Slowly his hand moved to his side, clutching at the
blaster that hung there. Minutes passed as his fingers closed around
the butt of the gun and inched it from the holster.

His thumb adjusted the weapon to a tight beam, then he was aiming it
steadily at the rock. A thin finger of flame lanced out and drilled
into the porous stone, devouring it hungrily. A moment later he leaped
free as the chunk of mineral cracked under the heat and suddenly
collapsed in a pile of jumbled fragments.

       *       *       *       *       *

Farr was too shaken for a moment to do anything but stare in horror at
the cooling pieces of the devil stone. Then, reaction over, he became
his calculating, impassive self again. Reflection on the fate he had
narrowly averted was not for him; he must push on. But he did marvel
at the cleverness of the ancients of Saturn in placing the stone here.
It had come close to getting him--too close, for he felt strangely
lethargic and weak.

Groping in a pocket he brought forth a vitamin capsule and popped it in
his mouth. The potent stuff went to work immediately and shortly Farr
could feel his energy returning, slowly at first, then faster as the
capsule's contents worked through his bloodstream.

Feeling better, he tested his legs, then moved forward once more,
resuming his interrupted progress through the brooding jungle. Before
him the ever-present _Mumums_ retreated slowly, backing away through
the underbrush, always with their sad eyes fixed unwaveringly on the
intruder.

Farr had come to hate those eyes, in the short space of time he had
known the creatures. Though he realized now that neither they nor their
owners could do him harm, still he was somehow disturbed by the intent
and mournful gaze.

Shrugging off the feeling, he plodded on, moving ever toward the
distant goal in utter defiance of the terrors lurking around him. Farr
would not be denied his triumph and, now that he knew what to look for,
he kept a wary eye out for other such diabolical traps as the devil
stone.

But, in spite of his caution, he had not the least suspicion of the
next snare that lay in his path, and he was hopelessly enmeshed in it
before his confused mind could understand what was happening.

He had been advancing on a small grassy clearing, and as he reached
its edge he stopped to regard it dubiously. The wood-free tract seemed
innocent enough, and its flat expanse offered no concealment for
contrivances intended to dispose of meddlers. Satisfied that it was
safe, he set foot on the clearing and moved quickly across it.

Halfway across, Farr felt the ground shake under him and a low muffled
droning began somewhere far below. He knew then that it was a trap, and
with the celerity of one pursued by a fiend, lengthened his stride into
a desperate run. But it was too late.

Things suddenly went black, and with the abrupt darkness that fell
over his eyes, Farr stumbled and fell face forward in the grass.
Panic-stricken, he clambered to his feet and passed a hand across his
face. He saw only blackness.

"My Lord!" he cried in horror. "I'm _blind_!"

Farr could feel his lips moving, knew that his frantic brain had
commanded the vocal organs to speak the words--but he could not hear
them. He was deaf, too. Blind and deaf! Walking through the glade,
his footsteps had set in action machinery buried deep in the earth,
machinery that emitted a penetrating ray, blanking out the senses of
sight and hearing. Now, surely, his quest would end in blind groping
through the forest, till some ravenous denizen would put a stop to his
misery.

       *       *       *       *       *

Flinging his head back, Farr laughed shrilly, madly. Facing the guns of
the planetary police, he had never known the feel of fear, but he knew
it now; fear of the darkness, fear of the silence that pressed in on
him. He cried out again, but not the least sound pierced the stillness
in his brain.

He suddenly lunged forward and ran screaming through the glade. He did
not stop until he felt the undergrowth of the jungle whipping about his
legs, then he sank to the ground in a cringing heap, sobbing out his
despair and beating his fists against his temples.

For an hour he sat there, staring sightlessly into space. Frenzy gave
way to apathy, and he no longer strove to fight off the implacable
blackness and quiet that filled his world. Death would come soon,
creeping and crawling through the brush, and he could do nothing but
sit and wait for it, without hope of defending himself.

Despite his despair, Farr was not the least bit penitent. He had played
the game and lost, and now he was ready to pay the price of failure.
His only regret was that he had fallen short of his goal, had been
cheated of it by the infernal ray device, one of the many traps that
had been placed throughout the jungle by the now long-dead ancients of
Saturn.

His features hardened as he thought again of the secret those pitfalls
guarded--the secret of immortality. If only he could yet reach it!
Fumble his way through the jungle somehow and take the treasure from
its cursed temple. He could still be master of the world, if he could
accomplish that, master of all worlds, in fact, for who would not
prostrate himself for the chance of possessing eternal life?

But it was hopeless, Farr knew. He could wander around in here until he
dropped, and still be no nearer his destination than when he started.
Nor could he find his way back to the ship, navigate the distance to
Earth and have his eyes and ears operated on by some unprincipled, yet
skillful surgeon. No, he would never have another chance at the life
secret, never return to civilization with the power that he--

_What was that? Was it a glimmer of light in the darkness?_

Farr's heart leaped with sudden hope. Was his mind playing him tricks,
or was his sight returning? He climbed to his feet, straining his eyes
at the pinpoint of light. No, it wasn't his imagination; his vision was
definitely coming back! As he watched, the small patch of brightness
grew slowly, expanding, pushing back the fearsome darkness.

"_I--I can see again_," he whispered, voice shaking with emotion. Then,
flaming with new-born spirit, he repeated in a shout, "I can see again!"

His joy knew no bounds as he witnessed the unfolding of this miracle.
In short minutes his eyesight had completely returned to normal and
his hearing, too, was rapidly improving. He began talking to himself,
savoring the sound of each word as it impinged on his eardrums.
He caught sight of the _Mumums_, standing at a distance, mute and
motionless as ever, and he yelled to them, "Hi, you ugly things! Am I
glad to see you!"

Indeed, Farr was glad to see anything again, after that awful blackness
that had blotted out his most precious sense. The ray had been intended
to destroy his hearing and sight, but he had escaped its field in time
to avoid permanent injury. Had it not been for the unreasoning fear
that overwhelmed him, he would have remained there in the glade, to
flounder about helplessly and eventually succumb to thirst and hunger.

Now, he was again in full possession of his faculties, and just as
determined as ever to continue on to his destination. Twice he had
fallen prey to the ingenious devices of the Ancients, and both times
emerged unscathed. He was now convinced that the jungle could produce
no obstacle that his cunning could not overcome.

Thus decided, Farr took his bearings. Finding that his flight had
brought him to that side of the glade nearest his goal, he had nothing
to do but resume his march through the lush Phoebe plant-life.

On two occasions during the next few hours he came across grim
discoveries, discoveries that made him shudder in spite of his
callousness--sun-bleached, grinning skeletons. He found the first one
draped over a devil stone, picked free of carrion, mute testimony of
the insidious rock's power.

The other lay not far away in a clump of bushes. As Farr approached,
the willowy branches of the shrubs whipped into sudden action, flicking
gobs of black, gooey matter directly at the surprised spaceman. He
dodged aside with a cry of dismay, barely averting contact with the
stuff. Several of the viscid wads plopped against the bole of a tree
and began eating furiously into the bark.

Eyes bulging, Farr turned and fled, putting distance between himself
and the deadly bushes. No wonder there hadn't been much left of that
second heap of bones! The shrubs were living acid manufactories,
remaining dormant until the approach of a victim, then to spring into
life and bombard the prey with gobs of the fatal stuff.

And those blanched remains back there--they had once been living men,
like himself, in search of the legendary life secret. But unlike him,
they had not been clever enough to elude the pitfalls of the jungle,
and had died agonizing deaths, miles short of the goal. Farr was glad
it was so, else the secret would not now be there for him to pluck from
its pedestal and mold to his own use.

       *       *       *       *       *

Many hours later, Farr emerged from the jungle to stand at last at
the entrance to a desolate canyon. Aching in every muscle, battered,
bruised and hardly able to stay on his feet, he felt a surge of new
energy as he spied his objective, near the center of the valley.

The temple was old, very old. Its walls were drab gray, as if with the
grayness of age, and a great silence hung over it, unbroken by even the
strident sounds of insect life. But in spite of its gloomy, tomb-like
appearance, there was an air of magnificence about the temple, a
faint aura of greatness once known, but long since gone. It was at
once beautiful and foreboding, guardian of the heritage left by the
Ancients to those with courage and intelligence enough to win it.

Farr was not impressed. Beauty meant nothing to him, save the beauty of
power. But he noted the _Mumums_, still with him, were stirred by the
scene. Throughout the trek through the jungle, they had shown no signs
of emotion, but now they were milling about restlessly, staring at the
temple and chattering excitedly among themselves.

Drawing a deep breath, he moved cautiously into the canyon, blaster
ready at his side. There was no telling what hellish devices he had yet
to face, and he did not intend to be robbed of the life secret now,
having come this far along the road.

Sheer cliffs soared high above on three sides of him, and one look
told him that no one could scale those dizzy heights. The _Mumums_,
scampering ahead of him, silver tubes tinkling melodiously, reached
the edifice's yawning portal and stood staring apprehensively into the
impenetrable darkness. He followed quickly, eager to secure the elixir
and leave this dismal canyon far behind.

Twenty feet from the looming entrance, something rattled loosely under
his step and he bent to examine the object. A skull. His eyes traveled
across the ground and spied the body of the skeleton lying between two
boulders. He stepped over to the grisly relic and knelt beside it,
regarding it thoughtfully.

Clutched in the bony fingers was a corroded blaster, and through the
tatters of the dead man's rotted tunic protruded charred stumps of
ribs, grim indication of the last use to which the gun had been put.
Suicide! But why? Had the man been enmeshed in some trap from which
there was no escape? No; if that were the case Farr himself would
now be caught in its toils. At this realization he jumped back with
a start, cursing his thoughtlessness in approaching the spot without
first examining the surroundings.

But nothing happened and, thus reassured, he moved close again,
puzzling over the inexplicable mystery confronting him. To all
appearances the man had been free to leave the valley whenever he
so willed. Yet he had snuffed out his own life--that last desperate
measure one takes when he is faced by some barrier above which his
resources cannot lift him.

Tiring of the problem, Farr gave the remains one last scornful look and
moved away. He had no sympathy for one who comes out second best in a
contest of cunning. But as he walked on to the temple and passed into
its shadows he felt a dark premonition of danger edging into his mind.

He paused inside the structure's entrance and switched on a torch,
sweeping its beam about the chamber in which he stood. The room was
cubical, small, dank and musty with age. Blank walls stared back at him
mockingly, and for the briefest instant he again experienced a feeling
of impending doom, then it faded as before.

Before moving on into the temple proper, he looked over his shoulder to
see if the _Mumums_ had followed. They hadn't. They crowded around the
portal, jabbering shrilly and jostling one another in their eagerness
to get a better view, but carefully refrained from entering.

Shrugging, he turned away. He had no time to wonder at the stupidity
of the _Mumums_; there were more important matters to look after.
Directing the ray of the torch before him he located an inner door and
moved through it, heart leaping in sudden excitement at the sight.

There, resting in solitary splendor atop a marble pillar in the center
of a vast hall, was the object which he had braved every conceivable
type of horror to obtain. Awed in spite of himself, he walked slowly
forward, eyes riveted in fascination on the gleaming prize.

Then the spell was gone and he broke into a run, a shout of exultation
on his lips. He caught up the object from its pedestal and waved it
wildly overhead, brain enfevered by the triumph of the moment. He
brought the gleaming metal cylinder in front of his eyes and gazed at
it in rapture. Power. This represented more power than any man had
known, and plans for its use were already spinning in his brain.

Something rustled dryly in the vacuum container. Powder; it was a
powder, rather than a liquid. The legend had erred on that point,
but the discrepancy was inconsequential. He peered eagerly at the
container, expecting to see the formula of the powder inscribed
thereon. There was none, but it did not disturb him. Chemists could
analyze the stuff and manufacture it.

Flashing his light once more over the great hall to make certain he had
missed nothing, he strode buoyantly to the entrance and passed into the
small outer chamber, thrusting the container of powder in his tunic
pocket as he went.

       *       *       *       *       *

Immediately a dazzling brilliance lit up the room. Varicolored lights
played about his head, blazed radiantly in his brain and etched every
cell in bold relief. Farr fell to his knees, throwing his arms over his
eyes in a vain effort to shut out the light. The torment in his mind
was unbearable, agonizing.

The door! He had to make it to the door! Stumbling to his feet, he
propelled himself on unsteady legs to the entrance, hurtled through it
and down the temple steps, where he collapsed in a quivering, gasping
heap on the rocky valley floor.

Another narrow escape! He could not guess the nature or effect of the
lights, but undoubtedly they had been meant to dispose of him in some
hellish fashion. Apparently he had sustained no injury, though his head
did feel peculiarly light.

Shaking his head dizzily, Farr arose and felt in his pocket. The
cylindrical container was still there, and he breathed a rasping sigh
of relief. All that remained now was to return to his ship and rocket
Earthward, where his plans for the life secret would immediately be put
into effect.

The _Mumums_ brought up the rear now, apparently resigned to the fact
that their puny efforts to prevent the theft of the secret had failed.
Knowing that he would no longer be confronted by their unwinking gaze
was a comfort to Farr, and he moved quickly across the sweltering
valley.

Moving rapidly as he was, he had no time to avoid crashing into the
towering wall of rock that loomed suddenly in his path. Strangely he
felt no pain as he clambered erect, but the very unexpectedness of the
collision stunned him, confusing his befuddled mind even more.

There should be no wall here, yet here it was. Farr could not deny
that, though he could have sworn it had not been here when he entered
the canyon. There was nothing to do but walk around it.

The cliff stretched a hundred yards to either side of him. He began
moving along it, a fierce anxiety to escape this infernal place beating
in his brain. The inscrutable _Mumums_ followed, pattering along on
bare feet.

He had covered what seemed like forty yards, when he stopped and stared
in puzzlement at the craggy precipice. He looked back along the wall,
then ahead, peered up at its dizzy heights, then down at its smooth
base. Color drained from his face and his shoulders slumped in defeat.

He was beaten. Farr knew it. Knew too why that other adventurer had
never left the valley, why his brain was spinning and whirling like
a mad dervish. The ray in the temple--he could easily guess now what
it had done to him. For stone does not move of its own power, and the
cliff _had_ moved. Its terminations still reared a hundred yards in
either direction from him!

It was an illusion, that wall, an illusion conjured by his own
ray-impregnated mind. But for him it was real. He could spend eternity
walking along its face, yet never would he reach the end of the barrier.

He watched dully as a _Mumum_ scampered past and melted into the cliff.
Maddening to know that the wall existed only in his own mind. He tried
to concentrate, tried to nullify the terrible force that had invaded
his brain. If he could do that, the cliff-illusion would vanish.

Veins stood out on his forehead with the effort; but the wall remained,
seemingly solid as ever to his touch. The ray-force was too powerful.

Farr wanted to scream, wanted to hurl himself at the barrier and
pound and tear at it with all the wild energy of a trapped animal.
But he couldn't. His emotions were played out. He could only stand
like a burnt-out robot, his apathetic eyes following the antics of the
_Mumums_ as they popped in and out of the wall-illusion, taunting him,
trying to drive him mad with the realization that only he could not
pass through it to freedom.

The Ancients had triumphed. The life secret would remain in this
valley, eternally guarded by the ingenious ray that warped men's minds
and made them see illusions that to them were insuperable actualities.
Not until a Master Intellect claimed the heritage for the human race,
would it ever leave here.

Farr was not that Master Intellect, and he knew what he must do now.
His blaster came slowly from its holster. He brought the gun to his
temple.

His finger tightened on the trigger. White fire exploded in his brain,
cooking the cells, melting them. A last scream of defiance ripped from
Farr's lips, then his form went suddenly limp and crumpled to the
ground, to lay silent....

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Londar's time to return the cylinder to the temple. Its contents
were worthless, he knew, but it was the Ancients' command that the
ritual be observed, so the pygmy-creature dutifully bent and retrieved
the gleaming container and walked slowly with it toward the brooding
edifice.

To carry out his mission, Londar would be forced to pass through the
Great Lights, and Londar was afraid of the lights, much in the same way
savages of Earth fear the magic of witch doctors. But the intelligence
of the _Mumums_ was slightly above that of savages, and Londar realized
in a vague way that the lights could not harm him, could not do the
things to him they had done to the black-haired man from the sky.

For, long ago, he had swallowed several of the mysterious crystals
contained in the small silver tube swinging at his waist. The Ancients
had commanded him to do that and Londar had complied, as had all his
race, out of their great respect and love for the wise ones. The
Ancients were gone now, had vanished into the sky many seasons since.
But Londar and his people had lived on, ageless, undying, tirelessly
performing the strange duties assigned them by the masters.

Some day, another great race would come, and Londar's people would
then surrender the silver tubes. The black-haired man might have been
the representative of such a race, but he had shown contempt for the
_Mumums_ and had slain Kyrrad. That would not be the way of a true
people of supreme intellect.

Londar walked on, the silvery tube fastened at his waist tinkling
musically in rhythm to his stride.



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