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Plot Summary/Details

A human spacecraft lands on an alien world. I'm not sure if they are exploring, or touched down for repairs. The world is a foreboding place, and home to a vicious predator that somewhat resembles a panther, or other big terrestrial cat. The creature is quite cunning, and ambushes several crewmen when they are scouting the planet or doing some other activity that would have them isolated and away from the ship. It sticks in my mind the creature is very strong, and able to bite through the heavy spacesuits the men wear with ease.

The creature has an unusual nutritional requirement of some sort. As such, it doesn't eat its victims, but somehow drains them of a particular element or chemical substance. I can't remember what it is, though I think it had something to do with the skeletal structure of the men. Calcium, maybe?

I have only very general recollections of how the story ends/is resolved. The humans become aware of the threat, and I believe they ultimately slay the beast. I can't recall anything more specific than that, unfortunately.

Timeframe of Publication

This one is old, I'm sure of that. I can remember the writing style and some of the descriptions being very "old school" - spacemen, rocketship, that sort of thing. Almost like something you'd see in an old sci-fi movie serial, to use a film analogy. If I had to guess, I'd say 1950's at the latest.

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    I vaguely recall a comic book where an alien cat somehow feeds on the phosphorous in the bones of a spaceship's crew, sorry I can't remember the name. – Nu'Daq Feb 24 '17 at 4:12
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    "Black Destroyer" by A. E. van Vogt, 1939 novelette later incorporated into his Voyage of the Space Beagle fix-up novel. – user14111 Feb 24 '17 at 4:17
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    @Nu'Daq Alien cat feeds on phosphorus in bones of human space crew? That has to be a comic book adaptation of van Vogt's "Black Destroyer". – user14111 Feb 24 '17 at 4:35
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"Black Destroyer", a novelette by A. E. van Vogt, also the answer to the question "Does the Cobalcat appear in any other stories apart from 'Tuf Voyaging'?"; first published in Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1939, available at the Internet Archive; later incorporated into the 1950 fix-up novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle.

On and on Coeurl prowled. The black, moonless, almost starless night yielded reluctantly before a grim reddish dawn that crept up from his left. A vague, dull light it was, that gave no sense of approaching warmth, no comfort, nothing but a cold, diffuse lightness, slowly revealing a nightmare landscape.

Black, jagged rock and black, unliving plain took form around him, as a pale-red sun peered at last above the grotesque horizon. It was then Coeurl recognized suddenly that he was on familiar ground.

A human spacecraft lands on an alien world. I'm not sure if they are exploring, or touched down for repairs.

It's a scientific expedition:

Came cunning—understanding of the presence of these creatures. This,Coeurl reasoned for the first time, was a scientific expedition from another star. In the olden days, the coeurls had thought of space travel, but disaster came too swiftly for it ever to be more than a thought.

The world is a foreboding place, and home to a vicious predator that somewhat resembles a panther, or other big terrestrial cat.

"I'd hate to meet that baby on a dark night in an alley."

"Don't be silly. This is obviously an intelligent creature. Probably a member of the ruling race."

"It looks like nothing else than a big cat, if you forget those tentacles sticking out from its shoulders, and make allowances for those monster forelegs."

The creature is quite cunning, and ambushes several crewmen when they are scouting the planet or doing some other activity that would have them isolated and away from the ship.

With unwinking eyes, Coeurl lay and watched the two men clearing away the loose rubble from the metal doorway of the huge old building. His whole body ached with the hunger of his cells for id. The craving tore through his palpitant muscles, and throbbed like a living thing in his brain. His every nerve quivered to be off after the men who had wandered into the city. One of them, he knew, had gone—alone.

It sticks in my mind the creature is very strong, and able to bite through the heavy spacesuits the men wear with ease.

Fear completely evaporated, Coeurl leaped out of hiding. With ravenous speed, he smashed the metal and the body within it to bits. Great chunks of metal, torn piecemeal from the suit, sprayed the ground. Bones cracked. Flesh crunched.

It was simple to tune in on the vibrations of the id, and to create the violent chemical disorganization that freed it from the crushed bone. The id was, Coeurl discovered, mostly in the bone.

The creature has an unusual nutritional requirement of some sort. As such, it doesn't eat its victims, but somehow drains them of a particular element or chemical substance. I can't remember what it is, though I think it had something to do with the skeletal structure of the men. Calcium, maybe?

"I've found the missing element," Kent said. "It's phosphorus. There wasn't so much as a square millimeter of phosphorus left in Jarvey's bones. Every bit of it had been drained out—by what super-chemistry I don't know. There are ways of getting phosphorus out of the human body. For instance, a quick way was what happened to the workman who helped build this ship. Remember, he fell into fifteen tons of molten metalite—at least, so his relatives claimed—but the company wouldn't pay compensation until the metalite, on analysis, was found to contain a high percentage of phosphorus—"

I have only very general recollections of how the story ends/is resolved.

No need for me to spoil it then. Of course, seeing as Campbell published it in Astounding, it's a good bet that the alien does not win.

  • That's most certainly the story I was trying to remember. That the later novel may have had an influence on the film ALIEN (one of my all time favorites) is also quite interesting. I'm wondering now if perhaps Vogt's story was also an influence on the TOS Star Trek episode "The Man Trap"? – Helbent IV Feb 24 '17 at 4:39
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This is Black Destroyer, by A. E. Van Vogt. I found it in the anthology "The World Turned Upside Down" I found a copy of the story here

The story has a human spacecraft, I believe they were exploring the planet. There were mentions of checking for metal deposits for development, and archaeology on the ruins of the cities.

The creature, who recognizes them as intelligent (and yes, also prey) comes up to them openly, acts friendly, and basically tries to hide his The world had been hunted out, I believe he planned ahead enough to want to be taken back to their planet so he could hunt freely where there was lots of food, not settle for the few on planet. He does ambush and kill, and eat, some of them, but he also takes pains to not be suspected.

He takes phosphorous, there is some chemical reaction that he draws energy from when feeding. From his viewpoint he is taking and consuming life energy (called "id"), but there's a scene where the humans are checking a body, and the only thing actually missing in phosphorous.

As the story happens, the humans become suspicious of his attempts to look harmless fairly quickly, but play along for a bit to figure out what he's after - and even when they suspect him of murder, he is intelligent so they are looking for proof. There's a whole theme about history, and civilization types - pointing out that the creature is cunning and treacherous, but predictable to those who had a knowledge of history, and had seen many kinds of civilizations.

In the end,

he commits suicide when his attempt to flee the ship by lifeboat is thwarted (didn't account for deceleration time).

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    Actually, the Baen website that you linked to provides sample chapters, one of which is this very story and is also where I read it. – user21820 Feb 24 '17 at 8:22
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    @user21820 - Oh, good to know. I have the book from that site, and I don't always remember what's in the sample chapters when its easier for me to find the book. – Megha Feb 24 '17 at 8:37

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