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The Chalice of Circe
by Willard Hawkins
From the April, 1950 issue of
Fantastic Adventures
1
CHAPTER ONE
ERDLU of Callisto bared his fangs in
what was intended to be an ingratiating
smile. A less experienced receptionist and
secretary than Mary Dugan would have fainted at
mere sight of the spider-man, with his chitinous
body suspended from six, many-jointed legs; but
Mary had been connected with Interplanetary
Expositions, Inc., long enough to take them as
they came.
“Both Mr. Lane and Mr. Pendergast are out
of the city,” she responded to his inquiry. “Mr.
Lane has gone to Venus and Mr. Pender—”
The Callistan’s solitary faceted eye seemed
to expand—to occupy all space with its dizzying
red-orange light. A moment later, Mary Dugan
was staring straight ahead and saying in a
mechanical voice:
“Mr. Lane is out on the fair office, third door
right. Vibration ninety-five point six.”
The spider-man glided swiftly to the door
indicated. With a deft claw, he set his vibration
dial at the prescribed wave length and the door
G
The CHALICE of
The Chalice was a symbol of beauty – but like its
namesake, evil would plague the owner . . .
2
noiselessly opened.
A short bald-headed man who had been
industriously figuring at his desk leaped to his feet
in panic.
“Wh-what do you want?” he gasped. “Who
let you—?”
The ingratiating grimace was repeated. In his
rasping voice, Gerdlu explained, “The Callistan
delegation wishes assurance that the forthcoming
contest will be conducted with fairness. They will
consider it an insult if their candidate is slighted
CIRCE
By Willard Hawkins
Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
3
by the judges. They wish to make clear—”
He was jostled by Mary Dugan, who burst
into the room, eyes ablaze, every inch of her trim
figure, clad in its abbreviated costume of the day,
expressing fury.
“Mr. Pendergast, this phony pulled a
hypnotic on me! I told him you and Mr. Lane
were out—and then he glittered that nasty red eye
of his and the first I knew I’d spilled everything.
If that’s the way they’re trying to win the beauty
contest—”
Pendergast struggled to master his
nervousness.
“That’s right—that’s right,” he blustered,
“Won’t do to use hypnotic influence on the
judges, Mr. Grr—Grr—”
“Gerdlu,” supplied the spider-man.
“Er—yes, certainly. At any rate, tell your
delegation that the judging will be strictly
impartial.”
“That is gratifying. In that case, hypnotic
suggestion will not be required. The Callistans
have confidence in their candidate. They wish to
know, however, what standards of beauty will be
employed. It would be unfortunate if terrestrial
standards—”
Pendergast drew himself pompously to his
full height. “The rules definitely state that abstract
standards are to prevail.”
The Callistan bobbed in what probably was
his version of a courtly bow. Nevertheless, his
tone was quietly menacing.
“That assurance will be taken back to my
delegation. They would be much disappointed if
standards unfair to their candidate should force
them to return without the winner’s cup.”
E WITHDREW, while Pendergast sank into
his chair, wiping a moist brow. Godfrey
Lane found him thus, with Mary Dugan vigorously expounding her opinion of alien planet
creatures, and spider-men in particular, when he
breezed in a few minutes later.
“Godfrey,” blurted Pendergast, at the
appearance of his partner, “why can’t we drop the
whole thing?”
“Drop what thing?”
“Don’t play innocent. Your bright ideas have
gotten us into a lot of messes; but this
interplanetary beauty contest beats all the rest for
pure, unadulterated grief.”
Lane tossed his cap and watched with
satisfaction as it settled at a rakish angle on a bust
on his partner’s desk.
“One of those Callistan freaks was here,”
Mary explained, “It seems Callistans take their
beauty contests seriously. It will be a great disappointment if they have to go back without the cup.
So great that they might feel tempted to do
something unpleasant about it.”
“They all take it seriously,” moaned
Pendergast. “Who do you think the latest entry is
from? The turtle-people of Ganymede. They actually think some chunk of gristle from their race
is a sure winner.”
“Fine!” enthused Lane. “The more the
better.”
“You’re missing the point. Don’t you see,
Godfrey, whoever wins the contest, all the rest are
going to be sure it was a frame-up against their
queen? We’ll have sixty-seven kinds of
interplanetary trouble right here on the fair
grounds.”
“No fooling,” cut in Mary. “This beauty
contest idea of yours is just a little too hot.”
“You too, Mary!” he said, in mock dejection.
“Just when I’m ready to spring my latest and best
idea.”
“Is this one colossal or merely stupendous?”
“Well may you ask! It’s super-colossal. Ever
hear of the Bluebird?”
“There’s some kind of an ancient legend—”
“Right you are. Popular around the twentieth
century. It tells how a couple of kids went all over
the known and unknown world searching for
something, only to discover it in their own back
yard.”
“Which has nothing to do with the subject.”
“No? How about this angle? Right now,
Interplanetary Expositions, Inc., is searching
throughout the world and its colonies to locate
Miss Terrestrial—the most beautiful female of the
human species. We carry this search right up to
the final contest. Excitement rises to fever heat.
And who do you suppose wins?”
“Who?” demanded Pendergast, hypnotized
by his partner’s eloquence.
“None other than a home-town gal hailing
from Luna City—our own offices, mind you! Yes,
our own little Mary. All the time we’ve been
H
Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
4
searching the universe for its outstanding beauty,
she’s been working right under our noses—blind
creatures that we are! If that isn’t bringing the
Bluebird up to date, I don’t know a publicity gag
when I see one.”
In spite of himself, Pendergast was
impressed. “Godfrey,” he exclaimed, “it’s
immense.”
“With only one flaw,” added the girl
laconically. “Little Mary won’t play.”
“When you have a chance to become the
outstanding—”
“I know! I know! Well, in the first place, I
couldn’t hold a candle to some of those glamour
girls you’ll be importing.”
“You don’t know the miracles our makeup
department can perform,” protested Lane. “I’ve
seem them take even homelier wenches than you
and make ‘em positively gorgeous.”
“Mary’s a damned pretty girl,” defended
Pendergast loyally.
“In the second place,” continued the girl,
“I’ve no desire to be torn to pieces when the big
event comes off and those assorted spider gals and
elephant venuses and scorpion dames make up
their minds they’ve been double-crossed out of
the decision.”
Lane raised his eyebrows mockingly. “So
you’re going to win the finals too! Modest little
Mary!”
“Whoever wins, I don’t hanker to be around
at the pay-off.”
“I’ve already entered your name.”
“Then you can withdraw it. And if you aren’t
too stiff-necked to take a tip—better call the
whole thing off.”
CHAPTER II
UT THIS was a late day to think of calling
the contest off. Far-flung publicity had
started the ball rolling, and the results had astonished Lane, despite his unblushing admission that
the idea was one of the most marvelous ever
hatched from his prolific brain. Already it was
pulling the Interplanetary Exposition, now in its
third year under the great dome of Luna City, out
of the red.
The team of Pendergast and Lane, promoters
of the exposition, ought to have been full of
rejoicing. Instead, Al Pendergast, senior member,
was being rapidly reduced to a nervous wreck,
while even Godfrey Lane’s youthful assurance at
times rang hollow.
Gerdlu’s visit, with its implied threat, was
merely one of several incidents carrying ominous
portent.
The Plutonian delegation served notice that
the five precepts of beauty formulated by their
revered prophet, Dooveroo, must be adopted in
toto as a basis of judgment—or else! The precepts
to the average terrestrial seemed to have nothing
to do with beauty. In any event, none but a
Plutonian could be considered eligible according
to these precepts.
A bright particular problem was introduced
when the government of Ceres sent an envoy to
inquire into the meaning of the provision that “any
feminine member of the race” could be entered in
the contest. They reminded the promoters that sex
was unknown on Ceres, where the dominant lifeforms multiplied by the vastly superior method of
fission. Was this intended as a slap at the
Ceresians?
The envoy was mollified with an amendment
which provided that races not divided into sexes
might select a representative according to
standards of their own devising.
Whereas the inhabitants of Titan presented a
petition for further change in the rules. “It is well
known that the females of Titan make no claims
to beauty, while the neuters of this race out-shine
the most beautiful creatures of all planets. By the
rules, they are barred from participating. Such
unfriendly discrimination cannot be tolerated. We
respectfully suggest that the Terrestrial
government amend the rules to avoid such
unfairness.”
It was this communication that brought
Lieutenant Compton of the Interplanetary Police
to the offices of Pendergast and Lane.
“What’s the idea?” demanded the junior
partner. “I thought Al and I were running this
contest.”
“Private enterprise isn’t understood by these
totalitarian planets,” responded Compton grimly.
“To them, anything undertaken by earthmen is
sponsored by Earth. At that, it looks to me as if
the I.P. must have been asleep when it let you
B
Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
5
spring this.”
“Tell the I.P. to keep its shirt on,” retorted
Lane, disrespectfully. “This is just a little
publicity stunt—one of the oldest in the archives
of promotion. As for Titan’s trifling complaint,
we’ll interpret the rules to satisfy them.”
“Couldn’t the I.P. issue an order canceling
the contest?” piped Al Pendergast quaveringly.
“That way they couldn’t blame us—”
“No, but they’d blame the I.P.,” retorted
Compton. “Most of the delegations are either here
now or on their way. They’d jump at the conclusion that the contest was called off to keep
their particular glamour queen from winning.”
“Sure,” agreed Lane. “That’s what I’ve been
telling Al. Nothing for it now but to face the
music.”
Compton shook his head glumly. “It’s
crazy—the very thing that ought to be avoided—
bringing all these jealous races together. Anything
may happen. How are you going to judge such a
contest, anyway?”
“We’ll employ abstract standards,” was
Lane’s airy reply.
“Who’s going to employ them? Do you mean
to say you can look at an aquatic Venusian and
put out of mind the fact that to you she resembles
a particularly loathsome variety of squid? If you
were a Callistan, could you regard a terrestrial
cutie as anything more attractive than a grub?
Abstract standards, my eye!”
“I’m working on a plan,” Lane assured him.
Compton was unimpressed. “I’ve sent for
reinforcements. We’ll try to prepare for
emergencies—that’s all there is left to do.”
CHAPTER III
WO DAYS—earth time—before the
preliminary contest for the selection of Miss
Terrestrial, Lane again broached the subject of
entering to Mary Dugan. So definite was her
refusal that the word “flat” fails to describe it.
“You’re missing the opportunity of a
lifetime.”
“To be made into hash,” she amended.
“You exaggerate.”
“How about the Venusian squid and that
sting-ray thing from Deimos?”
To this parting shot, he had no answer. She
alluded to a “regrettable incident”, as Lane
described it for the benefit of the news services.
The two beauty contestants from Venus and one
of its moons had been accorded quarters opening
into the same transparent tank in the exposition’s
huge “Temple of Beauty”. It was an error of
judgment. When the battle was over, what was left
of the contestants could not have been termed
beautiful, even by members of their own races.
The affair was annoying from many
standpoints. Previous publicity had centered on
the glamour and gayety of the contest. News of
this tragic incident gave a hint of its underlying
menace.
The partners spent hours ironing matters out
with the offended governments. Each faction left
clear implication that the one way of avoiding
enormous damage suits, and possible
interplanetary trouble, was to insure that the
beauty award would go to its representative in the
contest—for of course both sent fresh entrants to
replace the martyred queens who had done each
other in.
“What gets me,” Mary complained to Lane,
“is that not one delegation thinks the affair is on
the level. They’re all scheming to pull a fast
one—like hypnotizing the judges, or scaring the
daylights out of them. Which reminds me. You
still haven’t disclosed how you’re going to decide
the main contest.”
“I’ve got a lulu of a scheme figured out,” he
assured her, “Passes the buck in truly magnificent
style, Mary—” he looked at her hopefully—”as a
very special favor, won’t you please—?”
“The answer again is no!”
He shook his head reproachfully. “I was
merely going to ask you, as a special favor, when
you come over to help below stage tomorrow, if
you’ll wear that tricky little costume of yours with
the red trunks and silver-trimmed upper dingus.”
“Why?”
“Because it helps me to concentrate.”
She stared after him blankly as he walked
away. Despite the fact that she had worked for
him some three years, Lane still had the faculty of
disconcerting her with his whimsies.
An amphitheater accommodating a million
people—this had been one of Godfrey Lane’s
dreams, and in the great Luna Coliseum he had
T
Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
6
come within striking distance of achieving it. The
problems involved were tremendous, but modern
architectural science had been equal to them. Over
a thousand tube entrances, some located a mile
distant from the dazzling, many-faceted structure
which towered like an iridescent monument over
the exposition grounds, served to convey visitors
to their sections without congestion at any point.
The audience looked down upon a central
stage which, by a triumph of refractive
engineering, seemed directly in front of each
section. Ingenious sound amplification made
every spoken word audible.
Sections were equipped to provide for the
idiosyncrasies of the various planetary races.
Tubes conveying aquatic creatures deposited them
through air locks into tank-like sections filled with
the fluid of their natural habitat. Similar
compartments were filled with the various native
atmospheres.
HILE THE great edifice filled for the
terrestrial beauty contest, in which the
earth entry—Miss Terrestrial—would be chosen
for the finals, Lane and his technicians were hard
at work backstage. “Backstage”, in this instance,
meant below, since the stage effects were handled
from a honeycomb of rooms and passages
underneath.
When necessary, any section of the stage
could be screened from view of the audience by
refractive screens. Thus, while one spectacle was
in progress, another might be in preparation on the
seemingly unoccupied portion of the same stage.
Of all the staff, Lane was on the least tension,
as far as surface appearances indicated. In a
veritable bedlam, with press agents, delegation
representatives, and newscasters bombarding him
every minute with demands and questions; with
scantily clad girl contestants and their maids
running here and there on frenzied missions, he
appeared calmly unconcerned.
To Al Pendergast had been delegated the
comparatively peaceful task of sitting with the
judges, who were even now self-consciously
surveying the audience from a box at the stage
rim.
When Mary Dugan responded to a hurry call
from Lane, she found him engaged in testing
some flood-lighting equipment. He motioned her
to a dapper little man in white whom she
recognized as Fleury from the makeup
department.
“Sit down please.” Fleury regarded her
closely as she obeyed. “First we apply the base
cream.” He demonstrated with deft fingers. “Then
the cheeks—a delicate tint. Shaded just right—
so!”
“Wait a minute!” Mary protested. “What is
this?”
“I want to test the lighting with actual
makeup,” Lane explained. He turned to the
electrician. “Intensify the gamma ray. See what it
docs?”
“Makes her look faded.”
“Exactly. Now some more of the delta.”
Eventually, he seemed to get the light to suit
him. Fleury stepped back and admired his
handiwork.
“Beautiful!” he exclaimed. “A remarkable
treatment, if I do say it. What fortunate region
does the young lady represent?”
“You’ve got your wires crossed,” Mary
informed him acidly.
Lane chuckled. “She’s not a contender—just
our handy girl.”
Mary flushed under his frankly admiring
gaze. “I wore my silver-and-red, as you asked, so
you could concentrate,” she observed sharply. “I
didn’t know you meant concentrating on my
costume.”
As she spoke, the electrician pushed aside the
light-blending projector, so that they could look
into the wall screen. At his touch on the switch,
the screen became a front-row seat looking out on
the stage.
“It’s already going on!” exclaimed Mary.
Against a velvety-black background, a
striking-looking blonde was walking with stately
tread, to the accompaniment of soft music, toward
the judges’ box. When almost there, she paused
and pirouetted slowly, exhibiting her figure from
all angles, then, after a moment’s self-conscious
pause beneath the eyes of the half-million or more
spectators, she walked down a short ramp, handed
a slip of paper containing her identification
number to the judges’ clerk, and disappeared from
view through a velvet curtain.
The clerk read the number aloud, “Fiftyfour.” At the same moment, a huge crystal ball,
W
Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
7
high above the stage, flashed the number in letters
of light, following with the designation of the
entrant, “Miss Southern Hemisphere.”
For an instant, the stage was black. There
was a hush of expectancy. Then a spot of light
focused on a point near the center, where the
glamour girl next in line had suddenly appeared.
In the moment of darkness, she had been
transported from below stage to a slowly
revolving platform. As the platform came to rest
after a single revolution, she descended, to parade
across the stage as her predecessor had done.
“Nice figure,” commented Mary, “but—” she
hesitated.
“Coloring too pasty,” volunteered the
electrician. “This next number isn’t so hot, either.
If these are the best Earth can produce—”
They watched three or four others cross the
stage, then Lane scribbled something on a slip of
paper.
“I’ve got to get hold of Al,” he said hastily.
He glanced toward the judges’ box, where his
partner sat perspiring between two of the judging
staff. “No way to reach him by visiphone, we
purposely didn’t install them in the judges’ box to
avoid possibility of outside influence. Take him
this note for me, will you?”
“What’s the idea?” Mary asked, vaguely
distrustful.
“I’ve had another inspiration. While the
judges are making their decision, we’re going to
levitate the cup that will be awarded at the interplanetary contest two weeks from now—let the
crowd feast their eyes on it. I want Al to make a
little announcement. We’ll call it the Chalice of
Circe.”
“The what?”
“Circe was a beautiful siren of mythology.
The chalice was the cup she used to drink out of—
or to serve ambrosia to her lovers—something
like that.”
“You’ve got your mythology mixed,”
objected Mary. “As I remember—”
“Doesn’t matter. No time to argue. Take this
note to Al.” He folded it hastily and thrust it into
Mary’s hand, then hustled her down the corridor
to one of the stage traps.
Mary stepped into the round enclosed booth,
clutching at the slender hand support. She
experienced a brief moment of giddiness as the
floor began to rise—then was enveloped in total
darkness.
CHAPTER IV
Y THE slight click and sensation of stopping,
Mary knew that the segment of platform on
which she stood had become part of the vast stage.
The darkness was complete, except for one spot of
light far ahead of her, in which a sinuous figure—
limbs and scanty jeweled costume flashing—was
walking in time with the slow music toward the
judges’ box.
With a gasp of dismay, Mary realized that
she had come up near the middle of the stage. The
next instant, she was bathed in a dazzling
floodlight.
She checked an impulse to run, for fear of
attracting more attention. The floor began to
revolve.
In spite of its appalling aspects, the situation
was absurd. Whoever was directing the lighting
effects no doubt assumed that another glamour
girl had presented herself for that tiresome acrossstage parade.
The least conspicuous thing she could do was
to walk nonchalantly to the judges’ box, deliver
her message, and disappear. The audience would
think she was another contestant, while the note
would explain her presence to the judges.
The slow music insensibly delayed her
footsteps as she descended from the platform and,
with head held high, walked toward the pencil of
light that indicated her destination. She could
sense—even if she could barely see—the huge
audience, the vast open space beneath the central
dome in which she, a tiny figure, walked under
the critical view of more than a half-million eyes.
“All the thrill of being in the contest, without
the glory!” she reflected. A moment later, she was
passing the note crumpled in her palm to the clerk
at the front of the judges’ stand.
“For Mr. Pendergast,” she murmured, then
hurriedly sought the comforting concealment of
the black curtain.
Through an excited concourse of contestants
and their retinues, Mary shouldered her way to the
testing room where she found Lane and the
electrician still at the viewing screen.
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Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
8
“You inconsiderate louse!” she choked. “I
believe you did it on purpose. If that’s your idea
of a joke—!”
“Hold everything!” Lane admonished. “The
judges are going to announce their decision.”
“Didn’t take ‘em long,” breathed the
electrician.
Restraining herself for the moment, Mary
watched the screen. Tyrone Hopwood, the world’s
premier producer of television spectacles, was
rising to his feet in the judges’ box.
“Friends, lovers of beauty, you of the vast
audience in this building, to say nothing of the
millions who have enjoyed this spectacle by
television,” he began pompously. Mary’s attention
wandered, to be recalled as he concluded
impressively:
“And now to end your suspense. The judges’
task was rendered easy when, among all the
lovely contestants who crossed in review, there
appeared one who so far outshone the rest that
there could be no dissenting opinion. It seems
superfluous to inform the audience that this
outstanding contestant was—” he paused to
consult the slip of paper in his hands—”number
seventy-eight, the duly entered candidate from
Luna City—Miss Mary Dugan.”
Then the applause broke loose.
CHAPTER V
ODFREY LANE turned to Mary with a
sheepish grin. She was staring open-mouthed
at the television screen. There was a confusion of
voices and running feet in the corridor. The door
burst open and some one shouted, “Here she is!”
Then the room was swarming with news
correspondents.
They shouted questions, pushed the
bewildered girl into impromptu poses, held
recording instruments to her lips, flashed her
features on millions of news screens as she uttered
gasping protests.
Off at one side, Lane was pouring his version
of the occurrence into willing ears.
“I’m flabbergasted,” he declared. “Never
occurred to us that she’d have the ghost of a
chance against those glorious contestants from
Earth and elsewhere. You know—that reminds
me—”
“Yes! Go on, Mr. Lane,” prompted one of the
newscasters.
“Well, it reminds me somehow of an old
legend. Something about a bluebird. Look it up,
boys—that’s a tip—if you want something for
your headlines.”
Mary at length managed to slip unobserved
into a tube car which transferred her to the
deserted offices in the administration building.
She wanted to be alone—to think—to recover
some measure of her poise—to be very sure of her
determination. Her apartment would no doubt be
surrounded by newscasters. They hadn’t thought
of waiting for her here.
She paused before a restroom mirror and
gazed at herself unbelievingly. Her chic silverand-red costume was fetching; her features and
coloring were good; her figure, with arms and legs
bare in the accepted fashion of the day, was trim
and neat.
“I’m good,” she acknowledged impartially,
“Yeah—but not that good. There’s something
fishy about it all. And what I’ll tell Godfrey
Lane—”
On second thought, she decided to tell him
by letter. When the stinging resignation was
framed to her satisfaction, she strode into his
office. It was disconcerting to find him at his
desk.
“Oh, it’s you!” he said in evident relief,
putting down the visiphone into which he had
been talking.
Her fury flamed into expression.
“I carne to leave this on your desk; but I’ve a
lot to tell you in person. Of all the scurvy tricks!
And I fell for it. ‘Wear that silver-red costume—it
helps me to concentrate.’ ‘I want to test the
lighting effect on makeup.’ ‘Take this note to
Al—you only have to walk up to the judges’
stand.’ Yes, I fell for it. But you outsmarted
yourself, boss. Little Mary still isn’t going to play.
I don’t know how you did it—aside from the trick
you played on me—but there’s something cheesy
about the whole affair.”
Lane had the grace to wilt under the barrage.
“Gosh, Mary. Any other girl would give
twenty years of her life to be in your sandals
today.”
“I don’t like being played for a sap. By the
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Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
9
way, how did you put it over? Bribe the judges?”
“Perhaps I can answer that question.”
Mary whirled sharply at the suave voice that
came from the open doorway behind her. A
swarthy-skinned earthman in the para-fiber garb
of the Martian settlements was smiling
sardonically.
“This is a private conference,” Lane
informed him.
“I agree. It is private—between the two of
us,” the stranger observed with self-assurance.
“However, the young lady may stay if she likes.
Let me introduce myself. I am Vittorio Renoud, of
the Martian Metropolitan. Also of the delegation
which accompanied the unsuccessful candidate
from the Martian earth settlement.”
“I’m sorry your candidate didn’t win, Mr.
Renoud; but—”
“You mistake my purpose. The reason I came
to Luna City—I shall be entirely frank with you—
was to ferret out, if possible, certain secrets of
light diffusion developed by your technicians.”
“Others have tried to steal our secrets,” Lane
informed him tersely. “You’ll discover little, for
all your spying.”
“It will not be necessary to spy, Mr. Lane,
since I expect you to turn those secrets over to me
of your own accord. Or—” he paused deliberately—”would you rather have me make public a
peculiar fact concerning today’s lighting
arrangements?”
Mary watched Lane’s face go pale. He turned
abruptly to request, “Mary, see if you can locate
Al. Tell him I want him here. Then go get some
rest. I’m sorry about everything.”
She started for the door panel, then hesitated.
“You had me deliver another message to Al
today,” she said. “That was a trick. What is it this
time?”
“Please, Mary.”
She studied him shrewdly. “Couldn’t be that
you’re trying to get rid of me?”
“As your employer, I insist—”
“My resignation is on your desk, so I’m no
longer an employee. What was the peculiar fact
you discovered, Mr. Renoud?”
The Mars dweller had been watching the
byplay with appreciation.
“It was this,” he said slowly. “Although your
technicians employed what appeared to be the
same light in the dressing rooms as on the stage,
the quality of makeup was altered materially
under the stage lights.”
“Bunk!” retorted Lane tersely.
“Unfortunately,” smiled Renoud, “our tests
clearly reveal the difference. How it was
accomplished we do not know; but of the result
there is no doubt. Makeup applied under the
dressing-room lights appeared faded under the
stage lights. The young ladies did not look their
best—most decidedly far from it. By a peculiar
circumstance, only one contestant was so
fortunate as to have her makeup applied under the
lighting which was actually used on the stage.”
He bowed sardonically toward Mary. “As the
eloquent spokesman for the judges remarked in
my hearing, it was like gazing upon the sun’s
brilliance after comparing the radiance of a
succession of pale moons.”
White and rigid Mary stood, her hands
clenched into fists. Then, covering her face, she
stumbled from the room.
CHAPTER VI
O ALL the importunities of press and
television news services, the answer given by
the harassed staff of Interplanetary Expositions
was the same: “Miss Dugan is unable to see any
one.”
Forced into a corner, Al Pendergast finally
blurted out the truth. “We don’t know where she
is. She’s disappeared.”
After that, Godfrey Lane, looking holloweyed and worried, yielded to the inevitable and
gave the newscasters an audience.
“Boys,” he said, “I’d have told you before,
but I knew you wouldn’t believe me. We’re
completely at sea. I’ve had an army of detectives
on the job. No results.”
“Pretty thin, Godfrey,” observed the
correspondent for Terrestrial Broadcasters. “It’s a
publicity stunt, of course; but in a place like Luna
City, with every space-port and lock guarded—”
“I know,” responded Lane shortly.
“Nevertheless, it’s true. I’m posting a reward for
information leading to her discovery.”
“And won’t you be surprised,” some one
jeered, “when she unexpectedly turns up on the
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day of the big contest!”
N HER narrow quarters within the Callistan
space vessel, Mary Dugan tuned in on the latest
broadcast involving her disappearance.
“...has increased the reward for information
leading to discovery of her whereabouts to this
fabulous amount,” the commentator was saying.
“He also advanced a fantastic motive for the
young woman’s disappearance. Lane’s story is
that she objected to entering the contest and
appeared against her will. This, ladies and
gentlemen of the television audience, is obvious
press-agent stuff. It is hardly reasonable that any
girl would resent winning so high an honor as that
of Earth’s reigning beauty, or that she could be
tricked into entering a contest against her will.
Also, it must be remembered that no one could
leave Luna City without passing through a series
of closely guarded space locks—and Mary Dugan
most certainly passed through none of them.”
The girl switched off the voice. She wanted
to think.
There was no hint that Lane, or any one else,
suspected the manner of her abduction. Lane had
every reason to think she was doing an exceptionally clever job of hiding out. Her note of
resignation was conclusive evidence on that point.
“No use trying to find me—because I’ll be hiding
where you’d never think to look.”
It had been an empty boast. At the moment
of writing, she had no thought of how to carry it
out. But Gerdlu of Callisto had made the boast a
reality by appearing suddenly and focusing that
big red eye upon her. She dimly remembered
following him.
Three successive guards whom they passed
no doubt had assured Lane and detectives that no
Mary Dugan escaped through the locks. Their
sincerity must have been convincing. They did not
see her when she passed because Gerdlu hypnotically commanded them not to see her. Once
outside, they had entered his space tender and
come directly to the Callistan vessel.
The possibility that hypnosis might have
been employed in abducting Mary had, it is true,
passed fleetingly through Lane’s mind. But it was
merely one of various fantastic theories which
battled for recognition—all of which became
meaningless in view of her expressed intention to
vanish of her own accord.
With the day of the great inter-planetary
contest almost at hand, he had enough to occupy
his attention without stewing over Mary’s fate.
But this did not deter him from doing a man-sized
job of worrying.
The zest seemed to have gone out of the
whole undertaking, as far as he was concerned. He
left important details to Al Pendergast, who was
muddling them beyond imagining.
“How are we going to get out of this mess?”
he wailed, appealing to Lane. “I had to promise
that we’d disqualify any candidate who couldn’t
show Grade D intelligence, and now the Turlocks
of Pluto are raising Cain. Claim the rule was invoked against them. And blast me if I don’t
suspect that it was. Those Turlock females are
gorgeous in coloring—graceful, too. But they’re
without any intelligence at all. The males have all
the brains. Another thing—”
“Go on,” Lane told him wearily.
“A lot of them are kicking about your big
idea—having one member of each contesting race
on the jury.”
“What’s the matter with that?”
“It means, each number will get one vote—
from her home-planet judge. It’s the same as
having each contestant vote for herself.”
“Ah, but you overlook the big thing!” For a
moment, Lane was almost his enthusiastic self.
“Each judge is compelled to cast a second-choice
vote for a different candidate. The second-choice
votes decide the contest.”
“News commentators say it means that the
ugliest will win. To give their candidate a better
chance, each of these judges is going to cast his
second vote for the creature he rates lowest.”
“That’s their lookout,” commented Lane. “If
any one has a better idea, I’m receptive.”
CHAPTER VII
HE ANNOUNCEMENT had no doubt been a
shock to many of the delegations who had
counted upon having a small group of judges to
terrorize, bribe, or otherwise influence. Several
objected to including a Callistan on the jury, on
the ground that so many races were subject to
hypnotic control. Lane met this objection by
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building a separate turret for the Callistan judge,
locating it well back of the main crescent of
judges’ booths.
Gerdlu took no offense at this evidence of
distrust. He seemed, in fact, more amiable as the
contest day drew near.
Encountering Lane on the fair grounds, he
chided, “You are thinking of the one you call
Mary. No word as yet?”
“None. Gerdlu, with the science your race is
said to possess, you ought to be able to help me.”
The Callistan chuckled appreciatively. “You
overrate our abilities. Still, we do have, in our
space vessel, an instrument which in your language might be translated as a ‘locator’. Its scope
is somewhat limited.”
At Lane’s sudden show of interest, the
Callistan explained further. The instrument could
be so attuned as to indicate the direction in which
a specific metal was located. It was used to locate
rare mineral deposits.
“Something like an ancient doodlebug,”
commented Lane. “I don’t see—” he paused,
recalling that Mary possessed a wrist-band of
flexible Ionian murrinite, on which her watch and
vibration dials were mounted. The Ionian
ambassador, who presented it to her, had declared
that it was probably the only bit of that metal
worn on the moon.
“It is worth a trial,” Gerdlu agreed, when
Lane offered the suggestion. “We can readily
attune the instrument to that substance. If you
wish to accompany me to our vessel—”
Lane accepted eagerly. However, before
accompanying the Callistan, he took the
precaution of informing Lieutenant Compton of
his purpose, “Never trust a Callistan” was a familiar byword.
It was morning on Luna’s earth-side
hemisphere, and the great surrounding plain was
jammed with spacecraft of all types. Gerdlu’s
ship, however, was swinging in an orbit overhead
and it was necessary to reach it by a small tender.
Inside of the Callistan vessel, Lane glanced
curiously around the unfamiliar control room.
Gerdlu carelessly pointed to a cased-in
device. “The instrument I spoke of,” he observed.
“However, we shall waste no time employing its
aid. Step into the observation room and I will
show you something much better, I’m sure you’ll
agree.”
With a definite sense of alarm, Lane entered
the narrow cubicle indicated. The click of the door
panel brought him around sharply. Gerdlu had not
entered with him.
“What’s all this?” Lane demanded harshly.
The Callistan’s visage flashed on one of the
several view-plates. “Now, Mr. Lane,” said his
rasping voice, “we will come to terms.”
“Then this was a trick? I’m your prisoner?”
“Only temporarily, Mr. Lane. I am certain
you will be reasonable.”
HERE CAME to Lane the spine-pricking
realization that he was wholly in the power of
this spider-man. In his eagerness to follow every
lead, no matter how forlorn, that might lead to
Mary, he had walked into a trap.
Still, the Callistan knew he had left word
where be was going, and why. Gerdlu would
hardly dare to injure him or to detain him indefinitely in the face of that.
“What do you want?” Lane demanded
shortly.
“Need I state, Mr. Lane? We Callistans are
proud. We do not wish to be outclassed. It is a
coveted honor of my people to be acknowledged
the most beautiful in the solar system.”
“I’m not judging the contest.”
“But you arranged—shall we say by a trick
of lighting—to favor your entrant in the terrestrial
contest.”
“Light effects won’t help in the
interplanetary contest.”
“Perhaps not. There is a method, however,
which will insure the beauty from Callisto
winning the cup to which she is entitled.”
“Whatever you have in mind, the answer is
no. It’s no secret that I’m here in your company. If
I’m not back in reasonable time, the I.P. will take
a hand. I’m sure you wouldn’t care to have
Callisto suspended from the International
Planetary Federation because of your blundering,
Gerdlu.”
The Callistan seemed undisturbed. “A
peculiar fact we have learned about human
psychology is that you people are handicapped by
the phenomena you call emotions. This seems to
be especially the case when the emotion you call
love is involved.”
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As he spoke, a second viewplate flashed into
illumination. As if looking through a window,
Lane saw Mary Dugan listlessly resting on a
couch in a small, cell-like chamber.
“She’s here! You’ve had her all the time!”
Gerdlu chuckled sardonically. “Now let us
have some fun. We Callistans are a very
humorous race.”
As Lane stared apprehensively, a tiny thread
of light flashed across the room, flicking Mary’s
bare arm. She sprang up as if something had stung
her, looking around in bewilderment.
Another sliver of light darted forth, touching
her cheek. She dodged away, only to meet another
crossing thread.
“Ionised light beams,” explained Gerdlu,
“carrying an electric current. Watch as we
increase the intensity.”
Suddenly the room was crossed in every
direction with the slivers of light, looking like
strands of flashing cobweb. The girl sprang this
way and that, bewilderedly trying to evade the
sting of contact. Abruptly the auditory
accompaniment of the viewscreen flashed on, and
scream after scream of pain and terror reached the
horrified ears of the watcher.
“Stop it! Stop it!” roared Lane, beating
impotently on the Callistan’s viewplate with
doubled fists.
At once, the darting cobwebs of light
vanished. The girl stumbled to her cot and threw
herself down, sobbing convulsively.
“A strange phenomenon,” commented
Gerdlu’s voice. “You would have been capable of
standing much greater torture, yourself, yet you
are unnerved merely by another’s suffering.”
“Curse you, Gerdlu! Curse you and all your
heartless race!”
The Callistan chuckled. “Do you wish a
further demonstration, or shall we reach an
agreement now?”
“What agreement?” demanded Lane
belligerently.
The viewplate revealing Mary’s room was
suddenly criss-crossed again with flashing lights.
Again the girl was darting around the cramped
space, her features contorted with agony.
“Stop!” cried Lane. “I agree!”
Gerdlu emitted his unpleasant chuckle as the
viewplate cleared and Mary sank quivering to the
floor.
“She will sustain no harm,” he observed.
“Not a mark will show. It requires more than two
hours for the treatment to cause death. I hope such
extreme action will not be required.”
Lane fumed at his helplessness. “Tell me
what you expect.”
“The young lady will be kept here as a
hostage until the contest. You and I will return to
Luna City. If you should become unfriendly—if
you refuse to carry out my suggestions—members
of my delegation still quartered in the vessel will
take great pleasure in administering the needle
death to the one about whom you are so
concerned.”
Lane answered with cold fury, “Gerdlu, you
and your tribe ought to be wiped out of the solar
system! If ever ruthless extermination was justified—”
“Perhaps,” the Callistan interjected softly,
“you wish another demonstration.”
“No. I’ll play along. Only, once you’ve
attained your purpose, how do I know you’ll let
her go?”
“You have my promise.”
“The word of a Callistan!”
“To employ one of your racial idioms, take it
or leave it. After all, Mr. Lane, if we failed to
keep our agreement, what reason would you have
for keeping quiet about this afterward?”
“What makes you think I’ll keep quiet
anyway?”
“I hardly think, Mr. Lane, that you would be
eager to proclaim that your contest was not
conducted—as you say—on the level.”
The Callistan seemed to have figured out all
the angles.
“Very well,” Lane conceded. “But I warn
you, if Mary Dugan isn’t safely back within an
hour after the contest is decided, I’ll expose the
whole business, regardless of personal
consequences. You can guess,” he added grimly,
“what that would mean.”
“We should be torn to pieces,” agreed
Gerdlu. “So it is plain that my promise will be
kept. Shall we return?”
CHAPTER VIII
Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
13
LTHOUGH Luna Coliseum accommodated
more than half a million, seating capacity for
the Interplanetary Beauty Contest was woefully
inadequate. All tickets of admission had been sold
weeks before the event. As the time drew close,
fantastic prices were offered to the fortunate
holders of seats.
True, the scene was being televised to every
part of the solar system; but merely witnessing it
from an easy chair on some distant planet lacked
the thrill of being part of the spectacle.
The matter of precedence and delicate
apportionment of space among the twenty-odd
planetary delegations was a problem in itself. Al
Pendergast was on the verge of collapse as a result
of toiling to satisfy everyone. More than ever, he
missed the efficient assistance of Mary Dugan.
While the semi-circle of booths at the edge of
the stage was slowly filling with the judges
entrusted with representing their planetary groups,
the audience was being treated to various forms of
aesthetic entertainment. Enormous ingenuity had
been exercised to insure each race its preferred
brand. The earth section listened to the strains of a
symphony orchestra. The aquatic Venusian
creatures witnessed a vivid color-graph display.
The Callistans thrilled to an atrocious cacophony
that would have driven an earth audience crazy.
Although, to each section of the audience, the
entertainment seemed to come from the stage, in
actuality most of it was projected through screens
and amplifying devices.
From the subterranean control room, Lane
and Pendergast could view any selected part of the
coliseum by visiscreen.
Although his practiced eye took note of
anything, and he mechanically dispatched
instructions to various members of the staff, the
undercurrent of Lane’s thoughts was anxiety for
Mary. Would the Callistan make good his
promise? If not, what then? Merely the empty
satisfaction of striking back.
The schedule was proceeding inexorably.
Already, below stage, “the beauty queens were
ascending their pedestals or entering their floats.
Some—as in case of the Ganymedan turtle
woman—were being hoisted into theirs by
derricks. Others were being transferred through
locks into transparent globes. A tiny creature from
some asteroid, scarcely six inches high, was
encased in a magnifying sphere, which gave her
eel-like figure equal prominence with larger
entrants.
HROUGH HIS televisor, Lane scanned the
long corridor in which these preparations
were taking place. He noted with a pang the
pedestal around which there was no excited
gathering. It bore a shield emblazoned with the
legend, “Miss Terrestrial.”
“Glad she’s out of this mess,” he reflected
grimly. “But where the devil is she now?” Gerdlu
would soon have to make good.
The Callistan’s plan for winning the beauty
contest was simplicity in itself. He entrusted to
Lane a box of medallion-like objects, each apparently nothing more than a Callistan garnet in a
platinum-like setting. They could readily, as
Gerdlu pointed out, be worked into the decorative
scheme of the canopy shading the judges’
booths—one to each booth.
“Do you mean that you can extend your
hypnotic influence through these—use them as
substitute eyes—and compel the other judge’s to
vote for your candidate?”
“Not all the judges,” rasped the spider-man.
“Less than half the races are subject to hypnotic
influence. However, that should be enough.”
Lane’s view of the preparations was
interrupted by the approach of Lieutenant
Compton. The I.P. man looked grim. Without
comment, he handed Lane a piece of what looked
like a crumbling wafer, with queer characters
impressed upon it. The fragment felt peculiarly
unsubstantial.
“It’s written,” Compton explained, answering
Lane’s inquiring glance, “on eluso-fabric, which
evaporates rapidly except in a vacuum. It will
vanish in a few minutes.”
“The writing seems to be Martian,” observed
Pendergast, peering at it. “What do they want?”
“It’s addressed to the Martian delegation,”
responded Compton; “but it comes from the
Triturians of Mercury. Each delegation received a
similar threat, I have no doubt, although Vignu of
Mars was the only one with the courage to
disclose it to me.”
“The Triturians are tough babies,”
acknowledged Lane.
“Maybe so,” defended Pendergast; “but I will
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say that they’ve acted pretty decent so far.”
“Because,” said Compton, “they’re smart.
They waited until the last minute to shoot their
barb. The note merely states that if any except the
Triturian candidate is voted the most beautiful, the
winner and every delegate from her planet will
suffer the energy death.”
“Blasting rockets!” gasped the senior partner.
The energy death—colloquially known as the
firecracker death—was one of the most agonizing
known to the solar system. The Mercurians—
inheritors of a strange science—possessed a
weapon which fired a charge of seemingly pure
energy. When it reached its mark, there occurred a
strange reaction. Beginning at the outer
extremities and darting about through the body of
the victim, there occurred a series of explosions.
The effect was not unlike the crackling of a bunch
of ancient firecrackers. It continued until the body
had been torn to shreds.
Though his first impulse was one of horror,
Lane’s second response was a grim laugh.
“If ever there was retributive justice, this is
it,” he said harshly. “For once, Gerdlu has
outsmarted himself,” he observed.
“I doubt if he’ll go through with his plan,”
Compton conjectured. Lane had taken the I.P.
man fully into his confidence relative to the deal
with the Callistan and Mary’s predicament. The
officer added. “Better find out how you stand
under this new setup.”
Lane’s scanning of the crowd located Gerdlu
in the isolated box reserved for the judge
representing his planet. Evidently the spider-man
intended to trust no subordinate with the delicate
task of carrying out his scheme.
When the message stating that Lane wished
to have a word with him was delivered, Gerdlu
read, then tore it up. Assuming that he was under
visiscreen observation, he spoke distinctly.
“The answer is yes. We of Callisto can take
care of ourselves. Our promise has been kept.”
Lane turned to Compton in exasperation.
“How does he know what I intend to ask him?”
“Well, what do you intend to ask?”
“Whether he received one of those
threatening messages—and whether it affects
Mary.”
“So he must have assumed. Well, I admire
his nerve.”
Compton took his departure.
CHAPTER IX
LASHING his view-screen to the section
devoted to the scorpion-like creatures from
Mercury, Lane surveyed the red monsters with
distaste. Strategically surrounding the section, he
discerned several grim faces which he knew
belonged to members of the Interplanetary Police.
Compton was at least prepared for trouble.
At a stir of excitement in the audience, he
switched to the stage. The widely acclaimed
interplanetary pageant of beauty was in progress.
At first the stage was dark. After a moment, a
soft glow appeared in the center. As it throbbed
into intensity, a huge, exquisitely graven cup was
revealed, the famed Chalice of Circe, which
would be awarded to the winner of the contest.
Wraith-like lights began to appear on the
stage circumference. These likewise waxed
insensibly into greater intensity, until the audience
found itself gazing at a succession of tableaux.
The individual displays, ranging from simple
pedestals to elaborate floats, glided around the
huge circle, passing slowly in front of the crescent
comprising the judges’ boxes.
Many of the strange planetary creatures were
beautiful even to terrestrial eyes—some for their
coloring, some for harmony of form. Lane, his
worry overshadowing all else, regarded the
display without enthusiasm.
“If I were picking the ugliest of the lot,”
commented Pendergast, “I’d figure it was a tossup between the Callistan spider woman and that
red demon from Mercury. Yet one of them is sure
to win—Hello! Good gosh! Look!”
Following the direction of his partner’s gaze,
Lane stared in blank unbelief.
“Mary! She’s in the contest!” Pendergast
produced his handkerchief and agitatedly mopped
his perspiring brow.
Speechless, Lane could only stare. Standing
on the simple pedestal bearing the legend “Miss
Terrestrial,” with a bewildered expression on her
face as if she had just awakened from a deep
sleep, was unquestionably Mary Dugan.
Relief swept over Lane like a refreshing
wave. So this was the method Gerdlu had chosen
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for keeping his bargain.
Well, he had made good his promise.
Probably the girl had been smuggled in with the
equipment for the elaborate Callistan float—
placed on her pedestal while under hypnotic
control.
His mind suddenly at rest concerning Mary’s
safety, the publicity man in Lane rose buoyantly
to the surface.
“What a wow of a story this will make!” he
exclaimed jubilantly to Pendergast. “Kidnapped
by—by mysterious beings of whom she has no
memory, Miss Terrestrial electrified the vast
audience and found herself unexpectedly restored
to safety as the floodlights bathed her glorious
figure in the great interplanetary beauty contest.
Al, it’s a knockout! And if she wins!”
He stopped abruptly.
His partner shook his head. “That wouldn’t
be so hot. Not with that Mercurian threat—”
“No—I forgot. Anyway, she’s safe!” Lane’s
eyes dwelt upon her as if they could never get
their fill. Her makeup hadn’t been applied with
the skill he would have demanded, but for all that,
Mary was a glorious show-piece. The fact that
you knew her in her wholesome every-day aspect
didn’t make her any less glamorous.
HE HAD the presence of mind to hold her
pose. It would have been disastrous, in view
of the stage mechanisms involved, if she had tried
to leave her pedestal.
The parade of beauty candidates circled the
stage twice. Then, guided by technicians deep
down in the bowels of the stage, they wove
through a graceful pattern which brought them
eventually to a stop in a semicircular formation
facing the judges.
As if nine-tenths of the terrorized occupants
of the judges’ circle had not already made up their
minds, there was a gesture toward deliberation. At
the request of one judge or another, a contestant
would be asked to come forward for closer view.
The pedestal or flat containing this representative
of pulchritude from some far-off world would
then glide forward under invisible guidance, while
its occupant coyly displayed her charms.
At length came the announcement that voting
would commence.
As each judge cast his vote from within his
booth, by depressing numbered buttons indicating
his first and second choices, verbal announcement
was made simultaneously in some seventy
different languages, and the numbers flashed into
illumination within the crystal ball overhead.
Pendergast and Lane, in the view-room
below stage, watched curiously. The initial choice
of the first member of the jury was for Number
17, Miss Aquatic Venus. The second choice was
for Number 36, Miss Mercury.
“It’s a very simple deduction,” commented
Lane, “that the judge from Aquatic Venus cast
that one—the first vote to save his face with the
home folks, the second to placate those vengeful
Triturians.”
The next voter, while according Miss Pluto
first place, also gave second place to Number 36.
The third vote was a surprise. It gave Miss
Mars first place, but the second choice went to
Miss Terrestrial.
“That Martian has guts!” was Lane’s
comment to his partner. “He not only defied the
Mercurians by turning the threat-note over to
Compton, but now he’s deliberately snubbing
their candidate.”
Followed another vote for Miss Mercury as
second choice. Then three votes in succession for
Miss Terrestrial. Lane felt his spine prickling in
vague alarm. Something was wrong.
On a sudden he realized what it was. There
had been no votes for Miss Callisto!
“Gerdlu must have thrown up the sponge,”
he muttered. “Still, I don’t understand—”
He sprang to his feet with a gasp. All at once
he did understand—fully—horribly.
ENSELY, he followed the next tabulations.
By the time seventeen judges had been heard
from, Miss Mercury was only two ahead of Miss
Terrestrial on second-choice votes. Abruptly,
then, the character of the voting changed. Miss
Terrestrial began to appear as first choice.
Immediately followed a succession of first-choice
votes for Miss Mercury. The tabulation of fiftythree votes gave Miss Terrestrial twenty first
choice votes, Miss Mercury fourteen.
Lane’s muscles grew taut.
“Somebody’s got it in for Mary,” whimpered
Pendergast at his elbow. “If she gets the cup, sure
as fate those Mercurians will—”
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Ignoring him, Lane leaped into action.
Brushing his partner aside, he sped down the long
corridor to the tube entrances leading to the
judges’ boxes. As he sprang into the cage of the
tube-car leading to the Callistan box, an attendant
ran up breathlessly.
“That tube is out of order, Mr. Lane,” he
explained. “Must have been jammed purposely.
I’ve got a crew working in there.”
Lane paused, his mind reviewing the
possibilities. He darted into a “prop” room and
seized the first object that looked like a weapon—
a long-shafted Venusian trident. With this in hand,
he stepped into a stage trap-door projector and
touched the stud which released its mechanism.
In his rash haste, Lane narrowly missed
death. As the platform catapulted him upon the
stage, his left shoulder received a smashing blow
from the side of a massive float. A few inches
closer and he would have been horribly crushed.
Regaining his balance, Lane stumbled toward
the judges’ boxes.
Members of the audience, both of the
Coliseum and those additional millions viewing
the spectacle by television, were startled at seeing
a disheveled member of the terrestrial race
sprinting frantically across the broad stage
expanse, waving a six-foot trident.
As he ran, Lane caught the announcement,
“First-choice votes now stand, Miss Terrestrial,
twenty-seven, Miss Mercury, twenty-one.”
The figures spurred him to greater effort. His
whole energies were concentrated upon reaching
the Callistan box from which unquestionably
emanated the hypnotic control that was piling up
this calamitous vote for Mary.
The box was separated from the stage by
nearly a twenty-foot span, and artificial gravity
within the dome of Luna City was nearly at earth
intensity.
Summoning all his strength, Lane gathered
himself for the leap. The astonished audience saw
him leave the stage in a perfect takeoff, apparently
bent on self-destruction.
He landed with crashing impact against the
turret-like structure. The trident pierced the
unsubstantial wall, and his grasp upon it prevented
him from falling. One hand grasped at the ledge.
Though taken by surprise, the spider-man
occupying the stand moved with lightning speed.
Two arms lashed out to grip the earth-man by the
neck, while another pair disengaged his fingers
from the ledge.
Gasping, Lane released the trident shaft and
caught at the strangling arms which were clutched
around his throat.
The strength seemed to drain from his
dangling body; the world went black. Then, with
the fury of desperation, he gave a convulsive jerk.
The cruel grip on his throat relaxed; the arms
went limp. His despairing wrench must have
broken the tough but slender bones.
Clinging with one hand to the Callistan’s
limply dangling members, Lane groped with the
other for his trident and wrenched it free. With
savage probes, he sought to bury it in the
loathsome body within the box.
At this, Gerdlu stretched forth two more arms
and dragged the earth-man over the ledge into the
booth. The trident caught on the ledge and was
wrenched from Lane’s grasp.
At close quarters, the two grappled fiercely.
With only two of his six prehensile limbs out of
commission, the advantage was still with the
tough-fibered Callistan. Claws tightened cruelly
on Lane’s flesh; the fetid breath of the creature
was in his face.
As the sharp fangs pierced his neck, the
earthman was vaguely conscious of the impacts as
some heavy body, followed by another, plummeted over the ledge.
“Easy boy! We’ll take over.”
He recognized Compton’s voice and the
uniforms of the Interplanetary Police.
CHAPTER X
ITH a dim awareness that verged upon
unconsciousness, Lane felt himself lifted to
his feet and half carried, half supported across the
swaying planks which had been hastily thrust
across, like a bridge, from the stage to the
Callistan box.
They laid him down, and when he struggled
to regain his feet it was again Lieutenant
Compton’s voice that urged.
“Take it easy. He’ll be taken care of.” His
eyes flicked meaningly toward the Callistan’s
box, within which three I.P. men were trying to
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Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
17
force Gerdlu out onto the improvised ramp.
“The voting!” Lane demanded in alarm,
suddenly recollecting his purpose. “They didn’t—”
“Your stage director called a recess,”
explained Compton. He added, “The audience
can’t see us. We’re masked by one of your
refractive screens.”
Lane’s practiced ear caught the crowd
murmur and detected a restive note. He rose,
slowly and painfully, but with decision.
“The contest is off. I’ll make the
announcement.”
“You’re in no condition.”
“See if I’m not!” Lane grinned reassuringly
as he stepped from the concealment of the
refractive screen.
The flood-lights revealed him, a bloody,
disheveled figure. He spoke slowly.
“With deep regret, the management of
Interplanetary Expositions announces that the
contest is declared off. The reason—as it should
be scarcely necessary to state—intimidation of
judges and illegal influence.”
Pausing, Lane turned and pointed to the
Chalice of Circe enthroned in the middle of the
stage above the army of floats and displays,
before continuing.
“The cup we had hoped to present was
apparently too well named. Like its ancient
prototype, it seems to possess the power of
bringing out the beast in so-called civilized
beings.”
He waited a minute, listening to the excited
murmur of the crowd and to the echoing
confusion caused by the translation of his
announcement into tongues understood by
variegated sections of his audience.
His eyes, roving the judges’ booths, were
drawn by a gleam of red. The villainous body of a
Mercurian was squirming from the cubical
reserved for that race.
NSTANTLY, Lane interpreted the move as a
threat to Mary—a threat of that horrible death
he had been seeking to avert.
He dashed across the stage to intercept the
scorpion-like creature, unmindful of Compton’s
warning, “Back, you fool! Get back!”
From a refraction screen at the edge of the
stage, a dozen more I.P. men burst into view,
joining in pursuit of the Mercurian. Ignoring
them, he scuttled toward the bridge leading to the
Callistan box.
In one of his tentacles was a gleam of metal.
He paused at the rim of the stage and pointed
toward the many-legged Gerdlu. A crackling
sound rent the air.
Half in and half out of the box, where he had
been struggling against his captors, the Callistan
began to disrupt with staccato concatenations. The
explosions began at his extremities. Claws on two
of the writhing limbs crackled and burst. The discharges ran up one jointed limb, then darted to
others, in a crescendo of rapid detonations.
Before the horrified eyes of the multitude, the
spider-like body was literally torn to shreds.
Lane caught a glimpse of the orange-red eye
as it exploded out of the repulsive head. A
moment later, still jerking spasmodically with the
blasts of the energy charge, the mass of shattered
bones, shell, and fiber that was left of the
Callistan dropped to the depths below.
Amid a bedlam of weird noises made by
frightened creatures of every type, the red dweller
of Mercury turned and scuttled across the stage.
Apparently bent now only on escape, he leaped
into a tube leading to below-stage regions and
disappeared with the I.P. men in hot pursuit.
Strangely, none of the occupants of the
section devoted to Triturian spectators made a
move to join in the affray.
“Anesthetic gas,” Compton explained in a
low tone, indicating the strangely quiescent group.
“We had it already, just in case.”
A stage executive had taken over from Lane
and was exhorting each member of the audience
to keep his place. “The danger is over,” he assured. “Our Mercurian friends are safely asleep—
thanks to the prompt action of the Interplanetary
Police. And,” he added significantly, “when they
wake up, they’ll be in their space-ship headed for
the hot place where they belong.”
The feeble joke helped to avert a threatening
panic. Even inhabitants of far-off Pluto chuckled
at the allusion to Mercury’s devastating heat.
ITH THE conviction that everything was at
least temporarily under control, Lane
turned to seek Mary. He had not far to look. She
was standing at his elbow, and now they were
I
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Willard Hawkins The Chalice of Circe Fantastic Adventures, April, 1950
18
again hidden from the audience by a refractive
screen.
“Still hate me?” he demanded humbly.
“I ought to,” she retorted. “It’s the publicity
hound in you I suppose. If you’re counting on me
to forgive—”
She did not finish. Bursting through a trapdoor almost at their feet, Al Pendergast stood
struggling to regain his balance, while dabbing at
his bald head with his handkerchief. Half a dozen
young men erupted from nearby traps at almost
the same instant.
“Mary!” he blurted. “They didn’t—they
didn’t—”
“No, they didn’t,” she assured him. “But if
you think I’m going to weep tears of gratitude,
you’re mistaken. All Mary can think of is the goof
who got her into this mess.”
“Don’t blame me,” pleaded Pendergast, “I
warned Godfrey. I said to him, ‘If you pull any
tricks, we’ll lose the best secretary we ever had.’”
“I know a dozen just as good,” assured Lane.
Mary turned on him, her eyes blazing. “Why
you unspeakable—!”
“There you are!” the junior partner observed
in a tone of resignation. “If we fight like that now,
what’s it going to be after we’re married?”
Mary gasped. “After we’re—!” She turned,
conscious of the interested group of newscasters
taking it all in.
“The low-down publicity hound,” she
observed caustically, “even has to do his
proposing in public.” Her gleaming white
shoulders shrugged resignedly.
“All right boys, if he wants it that way, come
and get it. You may as well broadcast this kiss—
sound effects and all. It’s going to be a honey.”
They did. And it was!
THE END
———————————

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