Professor Jameson clung more tightly to his precarious perch on the sloping mountainside. His metal tentacles curled about treacherous knobs of slippery rock. His mechanical eyes circling the coned metal head regarding Gloph, the intelligent space creature who, too, fought for his life against the face of the looming peak. Around them shone the stars of space, and several little moons moved visibly in ever-changing phases. Out of the darkness, a blazing sun threw sharp etched shadows all about them. Far beneath them, they saw the haze of the planet?s low-lying, dense atmosphere up out of which the towering mountains reached beyond and into space, a bleak region, a veritable top of the world, where only Gloph and his species lived. The space ship of the Zoromes was gone. It had fallen when a part of the mountain peak had slid away. Weathering had weakened the mountain peak beneath the atmosphere line. The professor remembered 65G-849 remarking about this characteristic as they had approached and examined the strange world from out in space.
?There is no weathering on the mountain tops in space, other than what results from temperature changes when the sun shines,? 65G-849 had assured his fellow Zoromes. ?It is different, however, below the atmosphere line. Because of the presence of atmosphere and moisture, a good many of the mountain peaks are undermined around the edges.?
Besides the space ship and those inside it, the five machine men who had come out of the space ship with the professor to talk with friendly space creatures had gone hurtling to their doom. The professor had seen 6W-438, 119M-5, 29G-75, 777Y-46 and 7H-88 grab frantically for something to stay their plunge. Only the professor and 119M-5 had been successful in gaining a hold, and 119M-5?s respite had been but a brief one. The machine man?s hold on the slippery surface had been even more insecure than the professor?s 119M-5 had shot by the professor, radiating a departing farewell.
Among the group of space creatures accompanying the machine men, all had fallen, too, except Gloph, who with the professor and 119M-5 had been farthest from the edge of the great break. Before the catastrophe, the space creatures had formed a funeral cortege in the performance of strange rites for the two of their dead, and the machine men had watched. At the climax of the rites, it was the custom, the machine men had learned, to hurl the two dead bodies off the precipice and into the atmospheric sea far below. It was never just one. There always had to be two.
Professor Jameson looked across at Gloph and envied the latter?s soft, shaggy feet which gave him some measure of support in avoiding the inevitable. ?Are you all right?? he radiated. ?For the moment?, the long, thin creature with the luminous eyes formed the thought. ?But I can get nowhere from here.? He gazed up helplessly at the steep slope they were on. His four long arms clung to scanty holds on the steep face of the mountain; four shaggy hooves settled against uneven spots on the slippery rock, while the long, gray body hugged the wall closely.
?We can?t get up farther?, the machine man told him. ?If we could only climb down. It would be easier to climb if we were below the atmosphere line.?