Title: The God-Plllnk
Author: Jerome Bixby
Release date: September 12, 2016 [eBook #53034]
Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
BY JEROME BIXBY
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of Tomorrow December 1963
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Astronauts and cosmonauts! When you finally reach
Mars, please be very careful what you look like!
In the shadows of a crater-wall on Phobos, moon of Mars, Grg and Yrl waited to greet the God.
If the God continued its present rate of approach, it would land within moments.
Grg and Yrl had journeyed all night, with their eyes on that distant glinting speck in the sky. Over cold-crusted sand dunes and jagged crater walls they had flowed, crept, bounded, oozed, toward the spot where the God must land if its course held true.
Grg was a Fsgh, which is the equivalent of High Priest, Yrl was a Ffssgghh, or Much Higher Priest. The best wishes of their people had gone with them on their tremendous mission.
Now, at the place, they trembled in every tentacle as they peered upward. The rust-red orb of Mars rode the black horizon.
Mars was, as Grg and Yrl had learned from their Elders and now taught their Youngers, the stern Seeing-All Eye of It Who Was the Universe.
From that great Eye, a day ago, had sprung a shining Messenger, an Emissary, a God that must be coming on a purposeful visit.
It had been detected at the half-way point of its trip. But there could be no doubt regarding its origin, its nature, its destination—
For, in the matter of form, the God was a close replica of Grg and Yrl—of all the creatures of their race! It was octopidal, with sinewy double tentacles, and a thinking trunk, and a reproduction pouch!
The only significant difference was that the God gleamed mysteriously, as if its angular, hard-line representation of normal form were cast in shining stone. As it flew it reflected starlight—and the red glow of the Universal Eye behind it—from its sleek surfaces.
Grg and Yrl blinked their own dull-surfaced, astronomically far-sighted, rust-red eyes at each other in supreme excitement and anticipation.
What would the God tell them? What would it reveal? Would it divulge the Cosmic Secret? Would it tell them the place and destiny of their lowly race? Had it come to punish them for not being good enough, for over-reproducing, for worshipping improperly?
From a selfish standpoint, it might even tell them how to get rid of the plllnk—a subject of constant prayer.
How smoothly it flew! While Grg and Yrl and their people could bound about with a great agility in Phobos' light gravity, they could not fly.
"How wonderful it would be to fly," said Yrl.
"Perhaps," said Grg, "we have been found ready to be taught!"
Then Grg twitched as a plllnk bit him, just under the front left double-tentacle. He combed the light fur there, found the plllnk, and shredded it, casting the pieces round-about so that no two of them might combine to form another plllnk.
How wonderful it would be also if the God could tell them how to get rid of the itching, crawling, parasitic plllnk, whose bite, in sufficient numbers, was often fatal!...
The God began to land.
It shot red flame downward from its mouth, on the underside of its gleaming body. Red flickers and sharp-edged black shadows danced about the two who waited below. They shrank back, fearful that the display might be a disapproving communication—yet they held their ground, knowing they had lived good lives and deserved no condemnation on any score they could imagine.
The God lowered, on its belching tongue of flame—the flame that seemed a tiny part, a sliver, of the Universal Eye that Watched.
Strange marks were on the side of the God's body. They were: 1st MARS EXPEDITION—U. S. SPACE FORCE—PLANET-TO-SATELLITE CREWBOAT NO. 2.
The last few moments of the God's descent were quite rapid. Simultaneously, the darting red flames seemed to lessen in intensity and length. Then, at the second of impact, they brightened again to previous power—but too late. The impact was hard.
Grg and Yrl gasped as one of the God's double-tentacles buckled, crumpled, with a glinting of shiny-hard material. The flames stopped.
The God, unable to remain erect with its injury, slowly toppled. Its body thudded silently, stirring pumice dust. It was motionless.
Grg and Yrl stared at each other.
Was the God fatally injured? Dying? Dead? (For a broken tentacle meant that fluids would seep out, and soon the dry-death would occur.)
The God stirred.
It braced two sets of tentacles against the ground, as if trying to push itself erect. The effort was not successful. Again it was motionless. The two double-tentacles remained outstretched, however—and they pointed at the shadows where Grg and Yrl waited and watched.
Grg and Yrl sighed in relief.
The God had assumed conversation-position.
It must have healed its broken tentacle—truly a God! Soon it would be as good as new; for otherwise, agony would forbid conversation.
It was ready to address them. Now.
This was the greatest moment of Grg's and Yrl's lives.
They waited for the God to speak.
It was silent.
A long time passed. The God remained motionless, though in conversation-position, and silent. A very long time passed.
Then a tiny hole appeared in the God's side. It grew larger—larger—and then it stopped growing larger.
Something appeared at the hole. It paused, then dropped to the surface of Phobos, where it began to crawl about.
It bore considerable resemblance to a plllnk, except for its shiny-wrinkled grey skin (plllnks were purple.) And this thing was huge—Huge. It was one-fifth the size of the God's body.
Caught by horror, and fearing the worst, Grg and Yrl waited for the God to speak.
(Damn, John Cotter was thinking. That was a neat bit of sloppiness, that landing.... Carruthers will chew me out and in again! Pause: Holy cats, I hope the radio isn't busted, or I'll have a helluva wait before they follow up and find me!...)
The God was dead.
Killed by the giant plllnk—a scourge from which, evidently, even the Gods were not spared. The huge plllnk, even now creeping around—wrinkle-skinned and detestable, its coloration the same as the God's; the most loathsome sight imaginable ... a god-plllnk!
Grg and Yrl moved into view, from the shadows of the crater wall. Their thinking trunks tingled with misery, sorrow, bitter anger and disappointment.
The plllnk stopped, having sensed them. Then it darted for the hole it had eaten in the God.
Yrl moved to intercept it. The plllnk changed course and headed swiftly up a sand dune. With a great bound, impelled by outrage, Yrl was upon it.
While Grg touched tentacles with the dead God, in reverent mourning, in terrible sorrow, in loss, in supplication, Yrl shredded the god-plllnk.
Two days later, a second God was detected. It silently circled Phobos from the Universal Eye.
It did not land. It silently circled Phobos, and then returned to the Eye.
Within the day, it was back, in the company of eleven other Gods. They landed. Joyfully, mortals went forth to meet them.
It was quite a battle while it lasted.
Joy quickly ended, as the Gods died one by one, each of them showing the holes eaten in their sides by the insatiable plllnks.
Likewise, eventually, died all the plllnks, which presumably had killed the Gods. They fought with strange white flares and crackling blue flashes, which only tickled the hides of the faithful. Then they were shredded.
Religious beliefs on Phobos underwent certain basic changes. Such as: the Gods, or at least their Messengers, were known not to be immortal.
Nor were the special variety of plllnk which afflicted them....
On Earth, twenty years afterward, word is anxiously awaited of the 4th Mars Expedition.