By Alfred Coppel
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy February 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Invading Earth was going to be a cinch, the Triomed scout decided. But to make certain he must study its inhabitants—as one of them!
The Triomed advanced stealthily across the floor of the dark cell toward the sleeping figure huddled in the corner. After the long, lonely voyage, the nearness to a host filled the Triomed with eager anticipation.
The tiny spaceship that had carried him into this lush planetary system far from the galaxy's heart lay well hidden behind him. So far as he could tell, his descent had not been detected, and that was as it should be—for he was a Triomed and a scientist. One of the finest in the service of his dying race. Dying that is, until now, he thought. No longer would the race of Triomeds weaken and die for lack of suitable hosts. This third planet of the yellow sun was a paradise thick with warm-blooded biped mammals....
The sleeping creature stirred uneasily, as though sensing the approach of danger. The Triomed froze into immobility. It was unlikely that he could be seen, he knew, though the sense of sight was only a synthesized abstraction to him. It was not one of his own proper senses, but he had been able to detect at long distance that almost every living creature on this planet received impressions through certain specialized organs mounted on and within their structure. There were plants, of course, as there were on Triom, but they were unimportant.
There were viruses, too, and he had been afraid when he had discovered this fact that he had arrived too late. But the first attempts at establishing communication had relieved the Triomed of his fears. The indigenous viruses were primitive; not at all like his own illustrious ancestors of ancient Triom.
The sleeping biped relaxed and the Triomed inched forward again, a flat, almost two dimensional smear of glistening matter on the floor in front of the biped.
From high above the planet's night side, the Triomed had sensed the city. He had absorbed its shape and size and meaning while his craft settled through the heavy, oxygen-rich air. It was not enough that his instruments told of suitable hosts. He was a scientist and believed in absolute proof. Also, he had been in space long—without the satisfaction of a host—and he yearned for the rapport, the domination of a warm-blooded creature.
There had been a dark segment in the brilliant pattern of the city. An island of solitude amid the myriad confluences. It was there that he had landed his tiny probe ship and hidden it among the thickly wooded glades. Almost immediately he had sensed the nearness of many creatures. Insects, plants, warm-blooded quadrupeds and bipeds. There had been machines and buildings and winding roadways among the trees. Darkness had covered his progress until at last he found himself near the sleeping creature, ready to infiltrate and take command.
The glistening shape elongated, became a thread-like tendril of almost gossamer thickness. It touched the flesh of the sleeper and thrilled with pleasure. Cautiously, the Triomed moved up the hairy leg, an invisible strand of alien life close to the warm skin. Presently, the strand found the opening it sought. It slithered imperceptibly into the moist warmth of the sleeper's nostril, moved through the tear-duct into the space behind the eyeball. Here it probed through muscle and membrane along the base of the brain, seeking the pineal gland.
And found it, penetrated it, coiling like a microscopic serpent within the gland. A surge of pleasure went through the Triomed. Here was safety. The host was large, powerful and vibrant with life. Quickly, the Triomed established dominance. It was