* * * * *
That the story of Larner's adventure reached earth dwellers at all is due to the fact that Nern Bela on a subsequent visit to the earth narrated it to a Colorado quartz miner. This miner, a bronzed and bearded prospector for gold, stumbled on the targo in a mountain fastness, and there was nought to do but make him welcome and pledge him to secrecy.
The miner surveyed the crystal targo in rapt wonderment and said: "And to think I am the only earth man who ever viewed such a craft!"
"No," answered Nern Bela, "there is one other." And then the stirring story of Leslie Larner's life on Venus was told.
SAFE FLYING IN FOGS
The outstanding development in aviation recently, and one of the most significant so far in aviation history was the "blind" flight of Lieut. James H. Doolittle, daredevil of the Army Air Corps, at Mitchel Field, L. I., which led Harry P. Guggenheim, President of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, Inc. to announce that the problem of fog-flying, one of aviation's greatest bugbears, had been solved at last.
There has been "blind flying" done in the past but never before in the history of aviation has any pilot taken off, circled, crossed, re-crossed the field, then landed only a short distance away from his starting point while flying under conditions resembling the densest fog, as Lieut. "Jimmy" Doolittle has done, in his Wright-motored "Husky" training-plane. It was something uncanny to contemplate.
The "dense fog" was produced artificially by the simple device of making the cabin of the plane entirely light-proof. Once seated inside, the flyer, with his co-pilot, Lieut. Benjamin Kelsey, also of Mitchel Field, were completely shut off from any view of the world outside. All they had to depend on were three new flying instruments, developed during the past year in experiments conducted over the full-flight laboratory established by the Fund at Mitchel Field.
The chief factors contributing to the solution of the problem of blind flying consist of a new application of the visual radio beacon, the development of an improved instrument for indicating the longitudinal and lateral position of an airplane, a new directional gyroscope, and a sensitive barometric altimeter, so delicate as to measure the altitude of an airplane within a few feet of the ground.
Thus, instead of relying on the natural horizon for stability, Lieut. Doolittle uses an "artificial horizon" on the small instrument which indicates longitudinal and lateral position in relation to the ground at all time. He was able to locate the landing field by means of the direction-finding long-distance radio beacon. In addition, another smaller radio beacon had been installed, casting a beam fifteen to twenty miles in either direction, which governs the immediate approach to the field.
To locate the landing field the pilot watches two vibrating reeds, tuned to the radio beacon, on a virtual radio receiver on his instrument board. If he turns to the right or left of his course the right or left reed, respectively, begins doing a sort of St. Vitus dance. If the reeds are in equilibrium the pilot knows it is clear sailing straight to his field.
The sensitive altimeter showed Lieut. Doolittle his altitude and made it possible for him to calculate his landing to a distance of within a few feet from the ground.
Probably the strangest device of all that Lieut. Doolittle has been called upon to test in Mr. Guggenheim's war against fog is a sort of heat cannon that goes forth to combat like a fire-breathing dragon of old. Like the enemies of the dragon, the fog is supposed to curl up and die before the scorching breath of the "hot air artillery" although the fundamental principle behind the device is a great deal more scientific than such an explanation sounds. It is, in brief, based on the known fact that fog forms only in a very narrow temperature zone which lies between the saturation and precipitation points of the atmosphere. If the air grows a little colder the fog turns into rain and falls; if it is warmed very slightly the mist disappears and the air is once more normally clear, although its humidity is very close to the maximum.
Brigands of the Moon
(The Book of Gregg Haljan)
PART TWO OF A FOUR-PART NOVEL
By Ray Cummings
Out of awful space tumbled the Space-ship Planetara towards the Moon, her officers dead, with bandits at her helm—and the controls out of order!
My name, Gregg Haljan. My age, twenty-five years. My occupation, at the time my narrative begins, in 2075, was third officer of the Interplanetary Space-ship Planetara.
Thus I introduce myself to you. For this is a continuation of the book of Gregg Haljan, and of necessity I am the chief actor therein. I shall recapitulate very briefly what has happened so far:
Unscrupulous Martian brigands were scheming for Johnny Grantline's secret radium-ore treasure, dug out of the Moon and waiting there to be picked up by the Planetara on her return trip from Mars.
The Planetara left, bound for Mars, some ten days away. Suspicious interplanetary passengers were aboard: Miko and Moa, a brother and a sister of Mars; Sir Arthur Coniston, a mysterious Englishman; Ob Hahn, a Venus mystic. And small, effeminate George Prince and his sister, Anita. Love, I think, was born instantly between Anita and me. I found all too soon that Miko, the sinister giant from Mars, also desired her.
As we neared the Moon we received Grantline's secret message: "Stop for ore on your return voyage. Success beyond wildest hopes!" But I soon discovered that an eavesdropper in an invisible cloak had overheard it!
Soon afterwards Miko accidentally murdered a person identified as Anita Prince.
Then, in the confusion that resulted, Miko struck his great blow. The crew of the Planetara, secretly in his pay, rose up and killed the captain and all the officers but Snap Dean, the radio-helio operator, and myself.
I was besieged in the chart-room. George Prince leaped in upon me—and put his arms around me. I looked at him closer—only to discover it was Anita, disguised as her brother! It was her brother, George, who had been killed! George had been in the brigands' confidence—thus Anita was able to spy for us.
Quickly we plotted. I would surrender to her, Anita Prince, whom the brigands thought was George Prince. Together we might possibly be able, with Snap's help, to turn the tide, and reclaim the Planetara.
I was taken to my stateroom and locked there until Miko the brigand leader should come to dispose of me. But I cared not what had happened—Anita was alive!
The Brigand Leader
The giant Miko stood confronting me. He slid my cubby door closed behind him. He stood with his head towering close against my ceiling. His cloak was discarded. In his leather clothes, and with his clanking sword-ornament, his aspect carried the swagger of a brigand of old. He was bareheaded; the light from one of my tubes fell upon his grinning, leering gray face.
"So, Gregg Haljan? You have come to your senses at last. You do not wish me to write my name upon your chest? I would not have done that to Dean; he forced me. Sit back."
I had been on my bunk. I sank back at the gesture of his huge hairy arm. His forearm was bare now; the sear of a burn on it was plain to be seen. He remarked my gaze.
"True. You did that, Haljan, in Great-New York. But I bear you no malice. I want to talk to you now."
He cast about for a seat, and took the little stool which stood by my desk. His hand held a small cylinder of the Martian paralyzing ray; he rested it beside him on the desk.
"Now we can talk."
I remained silent. Alert. Yet my thoughts were whirling. Anita was alive. Masquerading now as her brother. And, with the joy of it, came a shudder. Above everything, Miko must not know.
"A great adventure we are upon, Haljan."
* * * * *
My thoughts came back. Miko was talking with an assumption of friendly comradeship. "All is well—and we need you, as I have said before. I am no fool. I have been aware of everything that went on aboard this ship. You, of all the officers, are most clever at the routine mathematics. Is that so?"
"Perhaps," I said.
"You are modest." He fumbled at a pocket of his jacket, produced a scroll-sheaf. I recognized it: Blackstone's figures; the calculation Blackstone roughly made of the elements of the asteroid we had passed.
"I am interested in these," Miko went on. "I want you to verify them. And this." He held up another scroll. "This is the calculation of our present position. And our course. Hahn claims he is a navigator. We have set the ship's gravity plates—see, like this—"
He handed me the scrolls; he watched me keenly as I glanced over them.
"Well?" I said.
"You are sparing of words, Haljan. By the devils of the airways, I could make you talk! But I want to be friendly."
* * * * *
I handed him back the scrolls. I stood up; I was almost within reach of his weapon, but with a sweep of his great arm he abruptly knocked me back to my bunk.
"You dare?" Then he smiled. "Let us not come to blows!"
"No," I said. I returned his smile. In truth, physical violence could get me nothing in dealing with this fellow. I would have to try guile. And I saw now that his face was flushed and his eyes unnaturally bright. He had been drinking alcolite; not enough to befuddle him—but enough to make him triumphantly talkative.
"Hahn may not be much of a mathematician," I suggested. "But there is your Sir Arthur Coniston." I managed a sarcastic grin. "Is that his name?"
"Almost. Haljan, will you verify these figures?"
"Yes. But why? Where are we going?"
He laughed. "You are afraid I will not tell you! Why should I not? This great adventure of mine is progressing perfectly. A tremendous stake, Haljan. A hundred millions of dollars in gold-leaf; there will be fabulous riches for us all, when that radium ore is sold for a hundred million in gold-leaf."
"But where are we going?"
"To that asteroid," he said abruptly. "I must get rid of these passengers. I am no murderer."
* * * * *
With half a dozen killings in the recent fight this was hardly convincing. But he was obviously wholly serious. He seemed to read my thoughts.
"I kill only when necessary. We will land upon the asteroid. A perfect place to maroon the passengers. Is it not so? I will give them the necessities of life. They will be able to signal. And in a month or so, when we are safely finished with our adventure, a police ship no doubt will rescue them."
"And then, from the asteroid," I suggested, "we are going—"
"To the Moon, Haljan. What a clever guesser you are! Coniston and Hahn are calculating our course. But I have no great confidence in them. And so I want you."
"You have me."
"Yes. I have you. I would have killed you long ago—I am an impulsive fellow—but my sister restrained me."
He gazed at me slyly. "Moa seems strangely to like you, Haljan."
"Thanks," I said. "I'm flattered."
"She still hopes I may really win you to join us," he went on. "Gold-leaf is a wonderful thing; there would be plenty for you in this affair. And to be rich, and have the love of a woman like Moa...."
He paused. I was trying cautiously to gauge him, to get from him all the information I could. I said, with another smile, "That is premature, to talk of Moa. I will help you chart your course. But this venture, as you call it, is dangerous. A police-ship—"
"There are not many," he declared. "The chances of us encountering one is very slim." He grinned at me. "You know that as well as I do. And we now have those code pass-words—I forced Dean to tell me where he had hidden them. If we should be challenged, our pass-word answer will relieve suspicion."
"The Planetara," I objected, "being overdue at Ferrok-Shahn, will cause alarm. You'll have a covey of patrol-ships after you."
"That will be two weeks from now," he smiled. "I have a ship of my own in Ferrok-Shahn. It lies there waiting now, manned and armed. I am hoping that, with Dean's help, we may be able to flash it a signal. It will join us on the Moon. Fear not for the danger, Haljan. I have great interests allied with me in this thing. Plenty of money. We have planned carefully."
* * * * *
He was idly fingering his cylinder; his gaze roved me as I sat docile on my bunk. "Did you think George Prince was a leader of this? A mere boy. I engaged him a year ago—his knowledge of ores is valuable."
My heart was pounding, but I strove not to show it. He went on calmly.
"I told you I am impulsive. Half a dozen times I have nearly killed George Prince, and he knows it." He frowned. "I wish I had killed him, instead of his sister. That was an error."
There was a note of real concern in his voice. Did he love Anita Prince? It seemed so.
He added, "That is done—nothing can change it. George Prince is helpful to me. Your friend Dean is another. I had trouble with him, but he is docile now."
I said abruptly, "I don't know whether your promise means anything or not, Miko. But George Prince said you would use no more torture."
"I won't. Not if you and Dean obey me."
"You tell Dean I have agreed to that. You say he gave you the code-words we took from Johnson?"
"Yes. There was a fool! That Johnson! You blame me, Haljan, for the killing of Captain Carter? You need not. Johnson offered to try and capture you. Take you alive. He killed Carter because he was angry at him. A stupid, vengeful fool! He is dead, and I am glad of it."
* * * * *
My mind was on Miko's plans. I ventured. "This treasure on the Moon—did you say it was on the Moon?"
"Don't be an idiot," he retorted. "I know as much about Grantline as you do."
"That's very little."
"Perhaps you know more, Miko. The Moon is a big place. Where, for instance, is Grantline located?"
I held my breath. Would he tell me that? A score of questions—vague plans—were in my mind. How skilled at mathematics were these brigands? Miko, Hahn, Coniston—could I fool them? If I could learn Grantline's location on the Moon, and keep the Planetara away from it. A pretended error of charting. Time lost—and perhaps Snap could find an opportunity to signal Earth, get help.
Miko answered my question as bluntly as I asked it. "I don't know where Grantline is located. But we will find out. He will not suspect the Planetara. When we get close to the Moon, we will signal and ask him. We can trick him into telling us. You think I do not know what is on your mind, Haljan? There is a secret code of signals arranged between Dean and Grantline. I have forced Dean to confess it. Without torture! Prince helped me in that. He persuaded Dean not to defy me. A very persuasive fellow, George Prince. More diplomatic than I am, I give him credit."
I strove to hold my voice calm. "If I should join you, Miko—my word, if I ever gave it, you would find dependable—I would say George Prince is very valuable to us. You should rein your temper. He is half your size—you might some time, without intention do him injury."
* * * * *
He laughed. "Moa says so. But have no fear—"
"I was thinking," I persisted, "I'd like to have a talk with George Prince."
Ah, my pounding, tumultuous heart! But I was smiling calmly. And I tried to put into my voice a shrewd note of cupidity. "I really know very little about this treasure, Miko. If there were a million or two of gold-leaf in it for me—"
"Perhaps there would be."
"I was thinking. Suppose you let me have a talk with Prince? I have some knowledge of radium ores. His skill and mine—a calculation of what Grantline's treasure may really be. You don't know; you are only assuming."
I paused. Whatever may have been in Miko's mind I cannot say. But abruptly he stood up. I had left my bunk, but he waved me back.
"Sit down. I am not like Moa. I would not trust you just because you protested you would be loyal." He picked up his cylinder. "We will talk again." He gestured to the scrolls he had left upon my desk. "Work on those. I will judge you by the results."
He was no fool, this brigand leader.
"Yes," I agreed. "You want a true course now to the asteroid?"
"Yes. I will get rid of these passengers. Then we will plan further. Do your best, Haljan—no error! By the Gods, I warn you I can check up on you!"
I said meekly, "Very well. But you ask Prince if he wants my calculations of Grantline's ore-body."
I shot Miko a foxy look as he stood by my door. I added, "You think you are clever. There is plenty you don't know. Our first night out from the Earth—Grantline's signals—didn't it ever occur to you that I might have some figures on his treasure?"
It startled him. "Where are they?"
I tapped my forehead. "You don't suppose I was foolish enough to record them. You ask Prince if he wants to talk to me. A high thorium content in ore—you ask Prince. A hundred millions, or two hundred. It would make a big difference, Miko."
"I will think about it." He backed out and sealed the door upon me once again.
* * * * *
But Anita did not come. I verified Hahn's figures, which were very nearly correct. I charted a course for the asteroid; it was almost the one which had been set.
Coniston came for my results. "I say, we are not so bad as navigators, are we? I think we're jolly good, considering our inexperience. Not bad at all, eh?"
I did not think it wise to ask him about Prince.
"Are you hungry, Haljan?" he demanded.
A steward came with a meal. The saturnine Hahn stood at my door with a weapon upon me while I ate. They were taking no chances—and they were wise not to.
The day passed. Day and night, all the same of aspect here in the starry vault of Space. But with the ship's routine it was day.
And then another time of sleep. I slept, fitfully, worrying, trying to plan. Within a few hours we would be nearing the asteroid.
The time of sleep was nearly passed. My chronometer marked five A. M. of our original Earth starting time. The seal of my cubby door hissed. The door slowly, opened.
She stood there with her cloak around her. A distance away on the shadowed deck-space Coniston was loitering.
"Anita!" I whispered it.
She turned and gestured to the watching brigand. "I will not be long, Coniston."
She came in and half closed the door upon us, leaving it open enough so that we could make sure that Coniston did not advance.
I stepped back where he could not see us.
She flung herself into my opened arms.
A moment when beyond all thought of the nearby brigand—or the possibility of an eavesdropping ray trained now upon my little cubby—a moment while Anita and I held each other; and whispered those things which could mean nothing to the world, but which were all the world to us.
Then it was she whose wits brought us back from the shining fairyland of our love, into the sinister reality of the Planetara.
"Gregg, if they are listening—"
I pushed her away. This brave little masquerader! Not for my life, or for all the lives on the ship, would I consciously have endangered her.
"But the ore," I said aloud. "There was, in Grantline's message—See here, Prince."
Coniston was too far away on the deck to hear us. Anita went to my door again and waved at him reassuringly. I put my ear to the door opening, and listened at the space across the grid of the ventilator over my bunk. The hum of a vibration would have been audible at those two points. But there was nothing.
"It's all right," I whispered. "Anita—not you who was killed! I can hardly realize it now. Not you whom they buried yesterday morning."
We stood and whispered, and she clung to me—so small beside me. With the black robe thrown aside, it seemed that I could not miss the curves of her woman's figure. A dangerous game she was playing. Her hair had been cut short to the base of her neck, in the fashion of her dead brother. Her eyelashes had been clipped; the line of her brows altered. And now, in the light of my ray tube as it shone upon her earnest face, I could remark other changes. Glutz, the little beauty specialist, was in this secret. With plastic skill he had altered the set of her jaw with his wax—put masculinity there.
She was whispering: "It was—was poor George whom Miko shot."
* * * * *
I had now the true version of what had occurred. Miko had been forcing his wooing upon Anita. George Prince was a weakling whose only good quality was a love for his sister. Some years ago he had fallen into evil ways. Been arrested, and then discharged from his position with the Federated Radium Corporation. He had taken up with evil companions in Great-New York. Mostly Martians. And Miko had met him. His technical knowledge, his training with the Federated Corporation, made him valuable to Miko's enterprise. And so Prince had joined the brigands.
Of all this, Anita had been unaware. She had never liked Miko. Feared him. And it seemed that the Martian had some hold upon her brother, which puzzled and frightened Anita.
Then Miko had fallen in love with her. George had not liked it. And that night on the Planetara, Miko had come and knocked upon Anita's door. Incautiously she opened it; he forced himself in. And when she repulsed him, struggled with him, George had been awakened.
She was whispering to me now. "My room was dark. We were all three struggling. George was holding me—the shot came—and I screamed."
And Miko had fled, not knowing whom his shot had hit in the darkness.
"And when George died, Captain Carter wanted me to impersonate him. We planned it with Dr. Frank, to try and learn what Miko and the others were doing. Because I never knew that poor George had fallen into such evil things."
* * * * *
I could only hold her thankfully in my arms. The lost what-might-have-been seemed coming back to us.
"And they cut my hair, Gregg, and Glutz altered my face a little, and I did my best. But there was no time—it came upon us so quickly."
And she whispered, "But I love you, Gregg. I want to be the first to say it: I love you—I love you."
But we had the sanity to try and plan.
"Anita, when you go back, tell Miko we discussed radium ores. You'll have to be careful, clever. Don't say too much. Tell him we estimate the treasure at a hundred and thirty millions."
I told her what Miko had vouchsafed me of his plans. She knew all that. And Snap knew it. She had had a few moments alone with Snap. Gave me now a message from him:
"We'll pull out of this, Gregg."
With Snap she had worked out a plan. There were Snap and I; and Shac and Dud Ardley, upon whom we could doubtless depend. And Dr. Frank. Against us were Miko and his sister; and Coniston and Hahn. Of course there were the members of the crew. But we were numerically the stronger when it came to true leadership. Unarmed and guarded now. But if we could break loose—recapture the ship....
I sat listening to Anita's eager whispers. It seemed feasible. Miko did not altogether trust George Prince; Anita was now unarmed.
"But I can make opportunity! I can get one of their ray cylinders, and an invisible cloak equipment."
That cloak—it had been hidden in Miko's room when Carter searched for it in A20—was now in the chart-room by Johnson's body. It had been repaired now; Anita thought she could get possession of it.
* * * * *
We worked out the details of the plan. Anita would arm herself, and come and release me. Together, with a paralyzing ray, we could creep aboard the ship, overcome these brigands one by one. There were so few of the leaders. With them felled, and with us in control of the turret and the helio-room we could force the crew to stay at their posts. There were, Anita said, no navigators among Miko's crew. They would not dare oppose us.
"But it should be done at once, Anita. In a few hours we will be at the asteroid."
"Yes. I will go now—try and get the weapons."
"Where is Snap?"
"Still in the helio-room. One of the crew guards him."
Coniston was roaming the ship; he was still loitering on the deck, watching our door. Hahn was in the turret. The morning watch of the crew were at their posts in the hull-corridors; the stewards were preparing a morning meal. There were nine members of subordinates altogether, Anita had calculated. Six of them were in Miko's pay; the other three—our own men who had not been killed in the fighting—had joined the brigands.
"And Dr. Frank, Anita?"
He was in the lounge. All the passengers were herded there, with Miko and Moa alternating on guard.
"I will arrange it with Venza," Anita whispered swiftly. "She will tell the others. Dr. Frank knows about it now. He thinks it can be done."
* * * * *
The possibility of it swept me anew. The brigands were of necessity scattered singly about the ship. One by one, creeping under cover of an invisible cloak, I could fell them, and replace them without alarming the others. My thoughts leaped to it. We would strike down the guard in the helio-room. Release Snap. At the turret we could assail Hahn, and replace him with Snap.
Coniston's voice outside broke in upon us. "Prince."
He was coming forward. Anita stood in the doorway. "I have the figures, Coniston. By God, this Haljan is with us! And clever! We think it will total a hundred and thirty millions. What a stake!"
She whispered, "Gregg, dear—I'll be back soon. We can do it—be ready."
"Anita—be careful of yourself! If they should suspect you...."
"I'll be careful. In an hour, Gregg, or less, I'll come back. All right, Coniston. Where is Miko? I want to see him. Stay where you are, Haljan! All in good time Miko will trust you with your liberty. You'll be rich like us all, never fear."
She swaggered out upon the deck, waved at the brigand, and banged my cubby door in my face.
I sat upon my bunk. Waiting. Would she come back? Would she be successful?
In the Blue-lit Corridor
She came. I suppose it was no more than an hour: it seemed an eternity of apprehension. There was the slight hissing of the seal of my door. The panel slid. I had leaped from my bunk where in the darkness I was lying tense.
"Prince?" I did not dare say, "Anita."
Her voice. My gaze swept the deck as the panel opened. Neither Coniston nor anyone else was in sight, save Anita's dark-robed figure which came into my room.
"You got it?" I asked her in a low whisper.
I held her for an instant, kissed her. But she pushed me away with quick hands.
She was breathless. My kisses, and the tenseness of what lay before us were to blame.
"Gregg, see, I have it. Give us a little light—we must hurry!"
In the blue dimness I saw that she was holding one of the Martian cylinders. The smallest size; it would paralyze, but not kill.
"Only one, Anita?"
"Yes. I had it before, but Miko took it from me. It was in his room. And this—"
The invisible cloak. We laid it on my grid, and I adjusted its mechanism. A cloak of the reflecting-absorbing variety.[A]
[A] The principle of this invisible cloak involves the use of an electronized fabric. All color is absorbed. The light rays reflected to the eye of the observer thus show an image of empty blackness. There is also created about the cloak a magnetic field which by natural laws bends the rays of light from objects behind it. This principle of the natural bending of light when passing through a magnetic field was first recognized by Albert Einstein, a scientist of the Twentieth century. In the case of this invisible cloak, the bending light rays, by making visible what was behind the cloak's blackness, thus destroyed its solid black outline and gave a pseudo-invisibility which was fairly effective under favorable conditions.
* * * * *
I donned it, and drew its hood, and threw on its current.
"All right, Anita?"
"Can you see me?"
"No." She stepped back a foot or two further. "Not from here. But you must let no one approach too close."
Then she came forward, put out her hand, fumbled until she found me.
It was our plan to have me follow her out. Anyone observing us would see only the robed figure of the supposed George Prince, and I would escape notice.
The situation about the ship was almost unchanged. Anita had secured the weapon and the cloak and slipped away to my cubby without being observed.
"You're sure of that?"
"I think so, Gregg. I was careful."
Moa was now in the lounge, guarding the passengers. Hahn was asleep in the chart-room; Coniston was in the turret. Coniston would be off duty presently, Anita said, with Hahn taking his place. There were look-outs in the forward and stern watch-towers, and a guard upon Snap in the helio-room.
"Is he inside the room, Anita?"
"No. He was sitting upon the spider bridge at the door."
* * * * *
This was unfortunate. That guard could see all the deck clearly. He might be suspicious of George Prince wandering around; it would be difficult to get near enough to assail him. This cylinder, I knew, had an effective range of only some twenty feet.
Anita and I were swiftly whispering. It was necessary now to decide exactly what we were to do; once under observation outside, there must be no hesitation, no fumbling.
"Coniston is sharpest, Gregg. He will be the hardest to get near."
The languid-spoken Englishman was the one Anita most feared. His alert eyes seemed to miss nothing. Perhaps he was suspicious of this George Prince—Anita thought so.
"But where is Miko?" I whispered.
The brigand leader had gone below a few moments ago, down into the hull-corridor. Anita had seized the opportunity to come to me.
"We can attack Hahn in the chart-room first," I suggested. "And get the other weapons. Are they still there?"
"Yes. But Gregg, the forward deck is very bright."
We were approaching the asteroid. Already its light like a brilliant moon was brightening the forward deck-space. It made me realize how much haste was necessary.
We decided to go down into the hull-corridors. Locate Miko. Fell him, and hide him. His non-appearance back on deck would very soon throw the others into confusion, especially now with our impending landing upon the asteroid. And under cover of this confusion we would try and release Snap.
We had been arguing no more than a minute or two. We were ready. Anita slid my door wide. She stepped through, with me soundlessly scurrying after her. The empty, silent deck was alternately dark with shadow-patches and bright with blobs of starlight. A sheen of the Sun's corona was mingled with it; and from forward came the radiance of the asteroid's mellow silver glow.
* * * * *
Anita turned to seal my door; within my faintly humming cloak I stood beside her. Was I invisible in this light? Almost directly over us, close under the dome, the look-out sat in his little tower. He gazed down at Anita.
Amidships, high over the cabin superstructure, the helio-room hung dark and silent. The guard on its bridge was visible. He, too, looked down.
A tense instant. Then I breathed again. There was no alarm. The two guards answered Anita's gesture.
Anita said aloud into my empty cubby: "Miko will come for you presently, Haljan. He told me to tell you that he wants you at the turret controls to land us on the asteroid."
She finished sealing my door and turned away; started forward along the deck. I followed. My steps were soundless in my elastic-bottomed shoes. Anita swaggered with a noisy tread. Near the door of the smoking room a small incline passage led downward. We went into it.
The passage was dimly blue-lit. We descended its length, came to the main corridor, which ran the length of the hull. A vaulted metal passage, with doors to the control rooms opening from it. Dim lights showed at intervals.
* * * * *
The humming of the ship was more apparent here. It drowned the slight humming of my cloak. I crept after Anita; my hand under the cloak clutched the ray weapon.
A steward passed us. I shrank aside to avoid him.
Anita spoke to him. "Where is Miko, Ellis?"
"In the ventilator-room, Mr. Prince. There was difficulty with the air renewal."
Anita nodded, and moved on. I could have felled that steward as he passed me. Oh, if I only had, how different things might have been!
But it seemed needless. I let him go, and he turned into a nearby door which led to the galley.
Anita moved forward. If we could come upon Miko alone. Abruptly she turned, and whispered, "Gregg, if other men are with him, I'll draw him away. You watch your chance."
What little things may overthrow one's careful plans! Anita had not realized how close to her I was following. And her turning so unexpectedly caused me to collide with her sharply.
"Oh!" She exclaimed it involuntarily. Her outflung hand had unwittingly gripped my wrist, caught the electrode there. The touch burned her, and close-circuited my robe. There was a hiss. My current burned out the tiny fuses.
My invisibility was gone! I stood, a tall black-hooded figure, revealed to the gaze of anyone who might be near!
The futile plans of humans! We had planned so carefully! Our calculations, our hopes of what we could do, came clattering now in a sudden wreckage around us.
If I were seen with her, then her own disguise would probably be discovered. That above everything would be disaster!
"Anita, get away from me! I must try it alone!"
* * * * *
I could hide somewhere, repair the cloak perhaps. Or, since now I was armed, why could I not boldly start an assault?
"Gregg, we must get you back to your cubby!" She was clinging to me in a panic.
"No! You run! Get away from me! Don't you understand? George Prince has no business here with me! They'd kill you!"
Or worse—- Miko would discover it was Anita, not George Prince.
"Gregg, let's get back to the deck."
I pushed at her. Both of us in sudden confusion.
From behind me there came a shout. That accursed steward! He had returned, to investigate perhaps what George Prince was doing in this corridor. He heard our voices; his shout in the silence of the ship sounded horribly loud. The white-clothed shape of him was in the nearby doorway. He stood stricken in surprise at seeing me. And then turned to run.
I fired my paralyzing cylinder through my cloak. Got him! He fell. I shoved Anita violently.
"Run! Tell Miko to come—tell him you heard a shout! He won't suspect you!"
"You mustn't be found out! You're our only hope, Anita! I'll hide, fix the cloak, or get back to my cubby. We'll try it again."
It decided her. She scurried down the corridor. I whirled the other way. The steward's shout might not have been heard.
Then realization flashed to me. That steward would be revived. He was one of Miko's men: for two voyages he had been a spy upon the Planetara. He would be revived and tell what he had seen and heard. Anita's disguise would be revealed.
A cold-blooded killing I do protest went against me. But it was necessary. I flung myself upon him. I beat his skull with the metal of my cylinder.
I stood up. My hood had fallen back from my head. I wiped my bloody hands on my useless cloak. I had smashed the cylinder.
* * * * *
Anita's voice! A sharp note of horror and warning. I became aware that in the corridor, forty feet down its dim length, Miko had appeared, with Anita behind him. His rifle-bullet-projector was leveled. It spat at me. But Anita had pulled at his arm.
The explosive report was sharply deafening in the confined space of the corridor. With a spurt of flame the leaden pellet struck over my head against the vaulted ceiling.
Miko was struggling with Anita. "Prince, you idiot!"
"Miko, don't! It's Haljan! Don't kill him—"
The turmoil brought members of the crew. From the shadowed oval near me they came running. I flung the useless cylinder at them. But I was trapped in the narrow passage.
I might have fought my way out. Or Miko might have shot me. But there was the danger that, in her horror, Anita would betray herself.
I backed against the wall. "Don't kill me! See, I will not fight!"
I flung up my arms. And the crew, emboldened, and courageous under Miko's gaze, leaped on me and bore me down.
The futile plans of humans! Anita and I had planned so carefully, and in a few brief minutes of action it had come only to this!
A Woman of Mars
"So, Gregg Haljan, you are not as loyal as you pretend!"
Miko was livid with suppressed anger. They had stripped the cloak from me, and flung me back in my cubby. Miko was now confronting me; at the door Moa stood watching. And Anita was behind her. I sat outwardly defiant and sullen on my bunk. But I was alert and tense, fearful still of what Anita's emotion might betray her into doing.
"Not so loyal," Miko repeated. "And a fool! Do you think I am such a child you can escape me!"
He swung around. "How did he get out of here? Prince, you came in here!"
My heart was wildly thumping. But Anita retorted with a touch of spirit:
"I came to tell him what you commanded. To check Hahn's latest figures—and to be ready to take the controls when we go into the asteroid's atmosphere."
"Well, how did he get out?"
"How should I know?" she parried. Little actress! Her spirit helped to allay my fear. She held her cloak close around her in the fashion they had come to expect from the George Prince who had just buried his sister. "How should I know, Miko? I sealed his door."
"But did you?"
"Of course he did," Moa put in.
"Ask your look-outs," said Anita. "They saw me—I waved to them just as I sealed the door."
I ventured, "I have been taught to open doors." I managed a sly, lugubrious smile. "I shall not try it again, Miko."
Nothing had been said about my killing of the steward. I thanked my constellations now that he was dead. "I shall not try it again," I repeated.
A glance passed between Miko and his sister. Miko said abruptly, "You seem to realize that it is not my purpose to kill you. And you presume upon it."
"I shall not again." I eyed Moa. She was gazing at me steadily. She said, "Leave me with him, Miko...." She smiled. "Gregg Haljan, we are no more than twenty thousand miles from the asteroid now. The calculations for retarding are now in operation."
* * * * *
It was what had taken Miko below, that and trouble with the ventilating system, which was soon rectified. But the retarding of the ship's velocity when nearing a destination required accurate manipulation. These brigands were fearful of their own skill. That was obvious. It gave me confidence. I was really needed. They would not harm me. Except for Miko's impulsive temper, I was in no danger from them—not now, certainly.
Moa was saying, "I think I may make you understand, Gregg. We have tremendous riches within our grasp."
"I know it," I added with sudden thought. "But there are many with whom to divide this treasure...."
Miko caught my intended implication. "By the infernal, this fellow may have felt he could seize the treasure for himself! Because he is a navigator!"
Moa said vehemently, "Do not be an idiot, Gregg! You could not do it! There will be fighting with Grantline."
My purpose was accomplished. They seemed to see me a willing outlaw like themselves. As though it were a bond between us. And they could win me.
"Leave me with him," said Moa.
Miko acquiesced. "For a few minutes only." He proffered a heat-ray cylinder, but she refused it.
"I am not afraid of him."
Miko swung on me. "Within an hour we will be nearing the atmosphere. Will you take the controls?"
* * * * *
He set his heavy jaw. His eyes bored into me. "You're a strange fellow, Haljan. I can't make you out. I am not angry now. Do you think, when I am deadly serious, that I mean what I say?"
His calm words set a sudden shiver over me. I checked my smile.
"Yes," I said.
"Well then, I will tell you this: not for all of Prince's well-meaning interference, or Moa's liking for you, or my own need of your skill, will I tolerate more trouble from you. The next time—I will kill you. Do you believe me?"
"That is all I want to say. You kill my men, and my sister says I must not hurt you. I am not a child to be ruled by a woman!"
He held his huge fist before my face. "With these fingers I will twist your neck! Do you believe it?"
"Yes." I did indeed.
He swung on his heel. "If Moa wants to try and put sense into your head—I hope she does. Bring him to the lounge when you are finished, Moa. Come, Prince—Hahn will need us." He chuckled grimly. "Hahn seems to fear we will plunge into this asteroid like a wild comet gone suddenly tangent!"
Anita moved aside to let him through the door. I caught a glimpse of her set white face as she followed him down the deck.
Then Moa's bulk blocked the doorway. She faced me.
"Sit where you are, Gregg." She turned and closed the door upon us. "I am not afraid of you. Should I be?"
"No," I said.
She came and sat down beside me. "If you should attempt to leave this room, the stern look-out has orders to bore you through."
"I have no intention of leaving the room," I retorted. "I do not want to commit suicide."
"I thought you did. You seem minded in such a fashion. Gregg, why are you so foolish?"
* * * * *
I remained silent.
"Why?" she demanded.
I said carefully, "This treasure—you are many who will divide it. You have all these men on the Planetara. And in Ferrok-Shahn, others, no doubt."
I paused. Would she tell me? Could I make her talk of that other brigand ship which Miko had said was waiting on Mars? I wondered if he had been able to signal it. The distance from here to Mars was great; yet upon other voyages Snap's signals had gotten through. My heart sank at the thought. Our situation here was desperate enough. The passengers soon would be cast upon the asteroid: there would be left only Snap, Anita and myself. We might recapture the ship, but I doubted it now. My thoughts were turning to our arrival upon the Moon. We three might, perhaps, be able to thwart the attack upon Grantline, hold the brigands off until help from the Earth might come.
But with another brigand ship, fully manned and armed, coming from Mars, the condition would be immeasurably worse. Grantline had some twenty men, and his camp, I knew, would be reasonably fortified. I knew, too, that Johnny Grantline would fight to his last man.
Moa was saying, "I would like to tell you our plans, Gregg."
Her gaze was on my face. Keen eyes, but they were luminous now—an emotion in them sweeping her. But outwardly she was calm, stern-lipped.
"Well, why don't you tell me?" I said. "If I am to help you...."
"Gregg, I want you with us. Don't you understand? We are not many. My brother and I are guiding this affair. With your help, I would feel differently."
"The ship at Ferrok-Shahn—"
* * * * *
My fears were realized. She said, "I think our signals reached it. Dean tried, and Coniston was checking him."
"You think the ship is coming?"
"Where will it join us?"
"At the Moon. We will be there in thirty hours. Your figures gave that, did they not, Gregg?"
"Yes. And the other ship—how fast is it?"
"Quite fast. In eight days—or nine, perhaps—it will reach the Moon."
She seemed willing enough to talk. There was indeed, no particular reason for reticence; I could not, she naturally felt, turn the knowledge to account.
"Manned—" I prompted.
"About forty men."
"And armed? Long range projectors?"
"You ask very avid questions, Gregg!"
"Why should I not? Don't you suppose I'm interested?" I touched her. "Moa, did it ever occur to you, if once you and Miko trusted me—which you don't—I might show more interest in joining you?"
The look on her face emboldened me. "Did you ever think of that, Moa? And some arrangement for my share of this treasure? I am not like Johnson, to be hired for a hundred pounds of gold-leaf."
"Gregg, I will see that you get your share. Riches, for you—and me."
"I was thinking, Moa, when we land at the Moon to-morrow—where is our equipment?"
The Moon, with its lack of atmosphere, needed special equipment. I had never heard Carter mention what apparatus the Planetara was carrying.
* * * * *
Moa laughed. "We have located air-suits and helmets—a variety of suitable apparatus, Gregg. But we were not foolish enough to leave Great-New York on this voyage without our own arrangements. My brother, and Coniston and Prince—all of us shipped crates of freight consigned to Ferrok-Shahn—and Rankin had special baggage marked 'theatrical apparatus.'"
I understood it now. These brigands had boarded the Planetara with their own Moon equipment, disguised as freight and personal baggage. Shipped in bond, to be inspected by the tax officials of Mars.
"It is on board now. We will open it when we leave the asteroid, Gregg. We are well equipped."
She bent toward me. And suddenly her long lean fingers were gripping my shoulders.
"Gregg, look at me!"
I gazed into her eyes. There was passion there; and her voice was suddenly intense.
"Gregg, I told you once a Martian girl goes after what she wants. It is you I want—"
Not for me to play like a cad upon a woman's emotions! "Moa, you flatter me."
"I love you." She held me off, gazing at me. "Gregg—"
I must have smiled. And abruptly she released me.
"So you think it amusing?"
"No. But on Earth—"
"We are not on the Earth. Nor am I of the Earth!" She was gauging me keenly. No note of pleading was in her voice; a stern authority; and the passion was swinging to anger.
"I am like my brother: I do not understand you, Gregg Haljan. Perhaps you think you are clever? It seems stupidity, the fatuousness of man!"
"Perhaps," I said.
* * * * *
There was a moment of silence. "Gregg, I said I loved you. Have you no answer?"
"No." In truth, I did not know what sort of answer it would be best to make. Whatever she must have read in my eyes, it stirred her to fury. Her fingers with the strength of a man in them, dug into my shoulders. Her gaze searched me.
"You think you love someone else? Is that it?"
That was horribly startling; but she did not mean it just that way. She amended with caustic venom: "That little Anita Prince! You thought you loved her! Was that it?"
But I hardly deceived her. "Sacred to her memory! Her ratlike little face—soft voice like a purring, sniveling cat! Is that what you're remembering, Gregg Haljan?" she sneered.
I tried to laugh. "What nonsense!"
"Is it? Then why are you cold under my touch? Am I—a girl descended from the Martian flame-workers—impotent now to awaken a man?"
A woman scorned! In all the Universe there could be no more dangerous an enemy. An incredible venom shot from her eyes.
"That miserable mouselike creature! Well for her that my brother killed her."
It struck me cold. If Anita was unmasked, beyond all the menace of Miko's wooing, I knew that the venom of Moa's jealousy was a greater danger.
I said sharply, "Don't be simple, Moa!" I shook off her grip. "You imagine too much. You forget that I am a man of the Earth and you a girl of Mars."
"Is that reason why we should not love?"
"No. But our instincts are different. Men of the Earth are born to the chase."
* * * * *
I was smiling. With thought of Anita's danger I could find it readily in my heart to dupe this Amazon.
"Give me time, Moa. You attract me."
"Do you think so?" I gripped her arm with all the power of my fingers. It must have hurt her, but she gave no sign; her gaze clung to me steadily.
"I don't know what to think, Gregg Haljan...."
I held my grip. "Think what you like. Men of Earth have been known to kill the thing they love."
"You want me to fear you?"
She smiled scornfully. "That is absurd."
I released her. I said earnestly, "I want you to realize that if you treat me fairly, I can be of great advantage to this venture. There will be fighting—I am fearless."
Her venomous expression was softening. "I think that is true, Gregg."
"And you need my navigating skill. Even now I should be in the turret."
I stood up. I half expected she would stop me, but she did not. I added, "Shall we go?"
She stood beside me. Her height brought her face level with mine.
"I think you will cause no more trouble, Gregg?"
"Of course not. I am not wholly witless."
"You have been."
"Well, that is over." I hesitated. Then I added, "A man of Earth does not yield to love when there is work to do. This treasure—"
I think that of everything I said, this last most convinced her.
She interrupted, "That I understand." Her eyes were smoldering. "When it is over—when we are rich—then I will claim you, Gregg."
* * * * *
She turned from me. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. No! I must get that sheet of Hahn's last figures."
"Are they checked?"
"Yes." I picked the sheet up from my desk. "Hahn is fairly accurate, Moa."
"A fool nevertheless. An apprehensive fool."
A comradeship seemed coming between us. It was my purpose to establish it.
"Are we going to maroon Dr. Frank with the passengers?" I asked.
"But he may be of use to us." I wanted Dr. Frank kept aboard. I still felt that there was a chance for us to recapture the ship.
But Moa shook her head decisively. "My brother has decided not. We will be well rid of Dr. Frank. Are you ready, Gregg?"
She opened the door. Her gesture reassured the look-out, who was alertly watching the stern watch-tower.
I stepped out, and followed her forward along the deck, which now was bright with the radiance of the nearby asteroid.
Marooned on an Asteroid
A fair little world. I had thought so before; and I thought so now as I gazed at the asteroid hanging so close before our bow. A huge, thin crescent, with the Sun off to one side behind it. A silver crescent, tinged with red. From this near viewpoint, all of the little globe's disc was visible. The shadowed portion lay dimly red, mysteriously; the sunlit crescent—widening visibly is we approached—was gleaming silver. Inky moonlike shadows in the hollows, brilliant light upon the mountain heights. The seas lay in gray patches. The convexity of the disc was sharply defined. So small a world! Fair and beautiful, shrouded with clouded areas.
"Where is Miko?"
"In the lounge, Gregg."
"Can we stop there?"
Moa turned into the lounge archway. Strange, tense scene. I saw Anita at once. Her robed figure lurked in an inconspicuous corner; her eyes were upon me as Moa and I entered, but she did not move. The thirty-odd passengers were huddled in a group. Solemn, white-faced men, frightened women. Some of them were sobbing. One Earth-woman—a young widow—sat holding her little girl, and wailing with uncontrolled hysteria. The child knew me. As I appeared now, with my gold-laced white coat over my shoulders, the little child seemed to see in my uniform a mark of authority. She left her mother and ran to me.
"You, please—you will help us? My moms is crying."
I sent her gently back. But there came upon me then a compassion for these innocent passengers, fated to have embarked upon this ill-starred voyage. Herded here in this cabin, with brigands like pirates of old guarding them. Waiting now to be marooned on an uninhabited asteroid roaming in space. A sense of responsibility swept me. I swung upon Miko. He stood with a nonchalant grace, lounging against the wall with a cylinder dangling in his hand. He anticipated me.
"So, Haljan—she put some sense into your head? No more trouble? Then get into the turret. Moa, stay there with him. Send Hahn here. Where is that ass Coniston? We will be in the atmosphere shortly."
I said, "No more trouble from me, Miko. But these passengers—what preparation are you making for them on the asteroid?"
* * * * *
He stared in surprise. Then he laughed. "I am no murderer. The crew is preparing food, all we can spare. And tools. They can build themselves shelter—they will be picked up in a few weeks."
Dr. Frank was here. I caught his gaze, but he did not speak. On the lounge couches there still lay the quarter-score bodies. Rankin, who had been killed by Blackstone in the fight; a man passenger killed; a woman and a man wounded.
Miko added, "Dr. Frank will take his medical supplies—he will care for the wounded. There are other bodies among the crew." His gesture was deprecating. "I have not buried them. We will put them ashore; easier that way."
The passengers were all eyeing me. I said:
"You have nothing to fear. I will guarantee you the best equipment we can spare. You will give them apparatus with which to signal?" I demanded of Miko.
"Yes. Get to the turret."
I turned away, with Moa after me. Again the little girl ran forward.
"Come—speak to my moms! She is crying."
It was across the cabin from Miko. Coniston had appeared from the deck; it created a slight diversion. He joined Miko.
"Wait," I said to Moa. "She is afraid of you. This is humanity."
I pushed Moa back. I followed the child. I had seen that Venza was sitting with the child's weeping mother. This was a ruse to get word with me.
I stood before the terrified woman while the little girl clung to my legs.
I said gently, "Don't be so frightened. Dr. Frank will take care of you. There is no danger—you will be safer on the asteroid than here on the ship."
I leaned down and touched her shoulder. "There is no danger."
* * * * *
I was between Venza and the open cabin. Venza whispered swiftly, "When we are landing, Gregg, I want you to make a commotion—anything—just as the women passengers go ashore."
"Why? No, of course you will have food, Mrs. Francis."
"Never mind! An instant. Just confusion. Go, Gregg—don't speak now!"
I raised the child. "You take care of mother." I kissed her.
From across the cabin Miko's sardonic voice made me turn. "Touching sentimentality, Haljan! Get to your post in the turret!"
His rasping note of annoyance brooked no delay. I set the child down. I said, "I will land us in an hour. Depend on it."
Hahn was at the controls when Moa and I reached the turret.
"You will land us safely, Haljan?" he demanded anxiously.
I pushed him away. "Miko wants you in the lounge."
"You take command here?"
"Of course, Hahn. I am no more anxious for a crash than you."
He sighed with relief. "That is true. I am no expert at atmospheric entry, Haljan—nor Coniston, nor Miko."
"Have no fear. Sit down, Moa."
I waved to the look-out in the forward watch-tower, and got his routine gesture. I rang the corridor bells, and the normal signals came promptly back.
"It's correct, Hahn. Get away with you." I called after him. "Tell Miko that things are all right here."
Hahn's small dark figure, lithe as a leopard in his tight fitting trousers and jacket with his robe now discarded, went swiftly down the spider incline and across the deck.
"Moa, where is Snap? By the infernal, if he has been injured!—"
* * * * *
Up on the helio-room bridge the brigand guard still sat. Then I saw that Snap was out there sitting with him. I waved from the turret window, and Snap's cheery gesture answered me. His voice carried down through the silver moonlight: "Land us safely, Gregg. These weird amateur navigators!"
Within the hour I had us dropping into the asteroid's atmosphere. The ship heated steadily. The pressure went up. It kept me busy with the instruments and the calculations. But my signals were always promptly answered from below. The brigand crew did its part efficiently.
At a hundred and fifty thousand feet I shifted the gravity plates to the landing combinations, and started the electronic engines.
"All safe, Gregg?" Moa sat at my elbow; her eyes, with what seemed a glow of admiration in them, followed my busy routine activities.
"Yes. The crew works well."
The electronic streams flowed out like a rocket tail behind us. The Planetara caught their impetus. In the rarified air, our bow lifted slightly, like a ship riding a gentle ground swell. At a hundred thousand feet we sailed gently forward, hull down to the asteroid's surface, cruising to seek a landing space.
A little sea was now beneath us. A shadowed sea, deep purple in the night down there. Occasional green-verdured islands showed, with the lines of white surf marking them. Beyond the sea, a curving coastline was visible. Rocky headlines, behind which mountain foothills rose in serrated, verdured ranks. The sunlight edged the distant mountains; and presently this rapidly turning little world brought the sunlight forward.
* * * * *
It was day beneath us. We slid gently downward. Thirty thousand feet now, above a sparkling blue ocean. The coastline was just ahead: green with a lush, tropical vegetation. Giant trees, huge-leaved. Long dangling vines; air plants, with giant pods and vivid orchidlike blossoms.
I sat at the turret window, staring through my glasses. A fair little world, yet obviously uninhabited. I could fancy that all this was newly-sprung vegetation. This asteroid had whirled in from the cold of the interplanetary space far outside our Solar System. A few years ago—as time might be measured astronomically, it was no more than yesterday—this fair landscape was congealed white and bleak, with a sweep of glacial ice. But the seeds of life miraculously were here. The miracle of life! Under the warming, germinating sunlight, the verdure sprung.
"Can you find landing space, Gregg?"
Moa's question brought back my wandering fancies. I saw an upland glade, a level spread of ferns with the forest banked around it. A cliff-height nearby, frowning down at the sea.
"Yes. I can land us there." I showed her through the glasses. I rang the sirens, and we spiraled, descending further. The mountain tops were now close beneath us. Clouds were overhead, white masses with blue sky behind them. A day of brilliant sunlight. But soon, with our forward cruising, it was night. The sunlight dropped beneath the sharply convex horizon; the sea and the land went purple.
A night of brilliant stars; the Earth was a blazing blue-red point of light. The heavens visibly were revolving; in an hour or so it would be daylight again.
On the forward deck now Coniston had appeared, commanding half a dozen of the crew. They were carrying up caskets of food and the equipment which was to be given the marooned passengers. And making ready the disembarking incline, loosening the seals of the side-dome windows.
Sternward on the deck, by the lounge oval, I could see Miko standing. And occasionally the roar of his voice at the passengers sounded.
* * * * *
My vagrant thought flung back into Earth's history. Like this, ancient travelers of the surface of the sea were herded by pirates to walk the plank, or put ashore, marooned upon some fair desert island of the tropic Spanish main.
Hahn came mounting our turret incline. "All is well, Gregg Haljan?"
"Get to your work," Moa told him sharply. "We land in an hour-quadrant."
He retreated, joining the bustle and confusion which now was beginning on the deck. It struck me—could I turn that confusion to account? Would it be possible, now at the last moment, to attack these brigands? Snap still sat outside the helio-room doorway. But his guard was alert, with upraised projector. And that guard, I saw, in his position high amidships, commanded all the deck.
And I saw too, as the passengers now were herded in a line from the lounge oval, that Miko had roped and bound all of the men. And a clanking chain connected them. They came like a line of convicts, marching forward, and stopped on the open deck-space near the base of the turret. Dr. Frank's grim face gazed up at me.
Miko ordered the women and children in a group beside the chained men. His words to them reached me: "You are in no danger. When we land, be careful. You will find gravity very different—this is a very small world."
I flung on the landing lights; the deck glowed with the blue radiance; the search-beams shot down beside our hull. We hung now a thousand feet above the forest glade. I cut off the electronic streams. We poised, with the gravity-plates set at normal, and only a gentle night-breeze to give us a slight side drift. This I could control with the lateral propeller rudders.
For all my busy landing routine, my mind was on other things. Venza's swift words back there in the lounge. I was to create a commotion while the passengers were landing. Why? Had she and Dr. Frank, perhaps, some last minute desperate purposes?
* * * * *
I determined I would do what she said. Shout, or mis-order the lights. That would be easy. But to what advantage?
I was glad it was night—I had, indeed, calculated our descent so that the landing would be in darkness. But to what purpose? These brigands were very alert. There was nothing I could think of to do which would avail us anything more than a possible swift death under Miko's anger.
"Well done, Gregg!" said Moa.
I cut off the last of the propellers. With scarcely a perceptible jar, the Planetara grounded, rose like a feather and settled to rest in the glade. The deep purple night with stars overhead was around us. I hissed out our interior air through the dome and hull-ports, and admitted the night-air of the asteroid. My calculations—of necessity mere mathematical approximations—proved fairly accurate. In temperature and pressure there was no radical change as the dome-windows slid back.
We had landed. Whatever Venza's purpose, her moment was at hand. I was tense. But I was aware also, that beside me Moa was very alert. I had thought her unarmed. She was not. She sat back from me; in her hand was a small thin knife-blade.
She murmured tensely, "You have done your part, Gregg. Well and skillfully done. Now we will sit here quietly and watch them land."
Snap's guard was standing, keenly watching. The look-outs in the forward and stern towers were also armed; I could see them both gazing keenly down at the confusion of the blue-lit deck.
The incline went over the hull-side and touched the ground.
"Enough!" Miko roared. "The men first. Hahn, move the women back! Coniston, pile those caskets to the side. Get out of the way, Prince."
* * * * *
Anita was down there. I saw her at the edge of the group of women. Venza was near her.
Miko shoved her. "Get out of the way, Prince. You can help Coniston. Have the things ready to throw off."
Five of the steward-crew were at the head of the incline. Miko shouted up at me:
"Haljan, hold our shipboard gravity normal."
"Yes," I responded.
I had done so. Our magnitizers had been adjusted to the shifting calculations of our landing. They were holding now at intensities, so that upon the Planetara no change from fairly normal Earth-gravity was apparent. I rang a tentative inquiry signal; the operator in the hull-magnetizer control answered that he was at his post.
The line of men were first to descend. Dr. Frank led them. He flashed a look of farewell up at me and Snap as he went down the incline with the chained men passengers after him.
Motley procession! Twenty odd, dishevelled, half-clothed men of three worlds. The changing, lightening gravity on the incline caught them. Dr. Frank bounded up to the rail under the impetus of his step: caught and held himself, drew himself back. The line swayed. In the dim, blue-lit glare it seemed unreal, crazy. A grotesque dream of men descending a plank.
They reached the forest glade. Stood swaying, afraid at first to move. The purple night crowded them; they stood gazing at this strange world, their new prison.
"Now the women."
Miko was shoving the women to the head of the incline. I could feel Moa's steady gaze upon me. Her knife-blade gleamed in the turret light.
She murmured again, "In a few minutes you can ring us away, Gregg."
* * * * *
I felt like an actor awaiting his cue in the wings of some turgid drama the plot of which he did not know. Venza was near the head of the incline. Some of the women and children were on it. A woman screamed. Her child had slipped from her hand, bounded up over the rail, and fallen. Hardly fallen—floated down to the ground, with flailing arms and legs, landing in the dark ferns, unharmed. Its terrified wail came up.
There was a confusion on the incline. Venza, still on the deck, seemed to send a look of appeal to the turret. My cue?
I slid my hand to the light switchboard. It was near my knees. I pulled a switch. The blue-lit deck beneath the turret went dark.
I recall an instant of horrible, tense silence, and in the gloom beside me I was aware of Moa moving. I felt a thrill of instinctive fear—would she plunge that knife into me?
The silence of the darkened deck was broken with a confusion of sounds. A babble of voices; a woman passenger's scream; shuffling of feet; and above it all, Miko's roar:
"Stand quiet! Everyone! No movement!"
On the descending incline there was chaos. The disembarking women were clinging to the gang-rail; some of them had evidently surged over it and fallen. Down on the ground in the purple-shadowed starlight I could vaguely see the chained line of men. They too were in confusion, trying to shove themselves toward the fallen women.
"Light those tubes! Gregg Haljan! By the Almighty, Moa, are you up there? What is wrong? The light-tubes—"
Dark drama of unknown plot! I wonder if I should try and leave the turret. Where was Anita? She had been down there on the deck when I flung out the lights.
I think twenty seconds would have covered it all. I had not moved. I thought, "Is Snap concerned with this?"
Moa's knife could have stabbed me. I felt her lunge against me; and suddenly I was gripping her, twisting her wrist. But she flung the knife away. Her strength was almost the equal of my own. Her hand went for my throat, and with the other hand she was fumbling.
* * * * *
The deck abruptly sprang into light again. Moa had found the switch and threw it back.
She fought me as I tried to reach the switch. I saw down on the deck Miko gazing up at us. Moa panted, "Gregg—stop! If he—sees you doing this, he'll kill you—"
The scene down there was almost unchanged. I had answered my cue. To what purpose? I saw Anita near Miko. The last of the women were on the plank.
I had stopped struggling with Moa. She sat back, panting; and then she called: "Sorry, Miko. It will not happen again."
Miko was in a towering rage. But he was too busy to bother with me; his anger swung on those nearest him. He shoved the last of the women violently at the incline. She bounded over. Her body, with the gravity-pull of only a few Earth-pounds, sailed in an arc and dropped to the sward near the swaying line of men.
Miko swung back. "Get out of my way!" A sweep of his huge arm knocked Anita sidewise. "Prince, damn you, help me with those boxes!"
The frightened stewards were lifting the boxes, square metal storage-chests each as long as a man, packed with food, tools, and equipment.
"Here, get out of my way, all of you!"
My breath came again; Anita nimbly retreated before Miko's angry rush. He dashed at the stewards. Three of them held a box. He took it from them; raised it at the top of the incline. Poised it over his head an instant, with his massive arms like gray pillars beneath it. And flung it. The box catapulted, dropped; and then, passing the Planetara's gravity area, it sailed in a long flat arc over the forest glade and crashed into the purple underbrush.
"Give me another!"
* * * * *
The stewards pushed another at him. Like an angry Titan, he flung it. And another. One by one the chests sailed out and crashed.
"There is your food—go pick it up! Haljan, make ready to ring us away!"
On the deck lay the dead body of Rance Rankin, which the stewards had carried out. Miko seized it, flung it.
"There! Go to your last resting place!"
And the other bodies. Balch Blackstone, Captain Carter, Johnson—Miko flung them. And the course masters and those of our crew who had been killed; the stewards appeared with them; Miko unceremoniously cast them off.
The passengers were all on the ground now. It was dim down there. I tried to distinguish Venza, but could not. I could see Dr. Frank's figure at the end of the chained line of men. The passengers were gazing in horror at the bodies hurtling over them.
Moa prompted me. "Tell him yes!"
I called, "Yes!" Had Venza failed in her unknown purpose? It seemed so. On the helio-room bridge Snap and his guard stood like silent statues in the blue-lit gloom.
The disembarkation was over.
"Close the ports," Miko commanded.
The incline came folding up with a clatter. The port and dome-windows slid closed. Moa hissed against my ear:
"If you want life, Gregg Haljan, you will start your duties!"
Venza had failed. Whatever it was, it had come to nothing. Down in the purple forest, disconnected now from the ship, the last of our friends stood marooned. I could distinguish them through the blur of the closed dome—only a swaying, huddled group was visible. But my fancy pictured this last sight of them—Dr. Frank, Venza, Shac and Dud Ardley.
They were gone. There were left only Snap, Anita, and myself.
* * * * *
I was mechanically ringing us away. I heard my sirens sounding down below, with the answering clangs here in the turret. The Planetara's respiratory controls started; the pressure equalizers began operating, and the gravity plates shifted into lifting combinations.
The ship was hissing and quivering with it, combined with the grating of the last of the dome ports. And Miko's command:
Hahn had been mingled with the confusion of the deck, though I had hardly noticed him; Coniston had remained below, with the crew answering my signals. Hahn stood now with Miko, gazing down through a deck window. Anita was alone at another.
I lifted us gently, bow first, with a repulsion of the bow plates. And started the central electronic engine. Its thrust from our stern moved us diagonally over the purple forest trees.
The glade slid downward and away. I caught a last vague glimpse of the huddled group of marooned passengers, staring up at us. Left to their fate, alone on this deserted little world.
With the three engines going we slid smoothly upward. The forest dropped, a purple spread of tree-tops, edged with starlight and Earth-light. The sharply curving horizon seemed following us up. I swung on all the power. We mounted at a forty degree angle, slowly circling, with a bank of clouds over us to the side and the shining little sea beneath.
"Very good, Gregg." In the turret light Moa's eyes blazed at me. "I do not know what you meant by darkening the deck-lights." Her fingers dug at my shoulders. "I will tell my brother it was an error."
I said, "An error—yes."
"An error? I don't know what it was. But you have me to deal with now. You understand? I will tell my brother so. You said, 'On Earth a man may kill the thing he loves.' A woman of Mars may do that! Beware of me, Gregg Haljan."
Her passion-filled eyes bored into me. Love? Hate? The venom of a woman scorned—a mingling of turgid emotions....
* * * * *
I twisted away from her grip and ignored her; she sat back, silently watching my busy activities; the calculations of the shifting conditions of gravity, pressures, temperatures; a checking of the score or more of instruments on the board before me.
Mechanical routine. My mind went to Venza, back there on the asteroid. The wandering little world was already shrinking to a convex surface beneath us. Venza, with her last unknown play, gone to failure. Had I failed my cue? Whatever my part, it seemed now that I must have horribly mis-acted it.
The crescent Earth was presently swinging over our bow. We rocketed out of the asteroid's shadow. The glowing, flaming Sun appeared, making a crescent of the Earth. With the glass I could see our tiny Moon, visually seeming to hug the limb of its parent Earth.
We were away upon our course for the Moon. My mind flung ahead. Grantline with his treasure, unsuspecting this brigand ship. And suddenly, beyond all thought of Grantline and his treasure, there came to me a fear for Anita. In God's truth I had been, so far, a very stumbling inept champion—doomed to failure with everything I tried. It swept me, so that I cursed my own incapacity. Why had I not contrived to have Anita desert at the asteroid? Would it not have been far better for her there? Taking her chance for rescue with Dr. Frank, Venza and the others?
But no! I had, like an inept fool, never thought of that! Had left her here on board at the mercy of these outlaws.
And I swore now that, beyond everything, I would protect her.
Futile oath! If I could have seen ahead a few hours! But I sensed the catastrophe. There was a shudder within me as I sat in that turret, docilely guiding us out through the asteroid's atmosphere, heading us upon our course for the Moon.
In the Zed-light Glow
"Try again. By the infernal, Snap Dean, if you do anything to balk us!"
Miko scanned the apparatus with keen eyes. How much technical knowledge of signaling instruments did this brigand leader have? I was tense and cold with apprehension as I sat in a corner of the helio-room, watching Snap. Could Miko be fooled? Snap, I knew, was trying to fool him.
The Moon spread close beneath us. My log-chart, computed up to thirty minutes past, showed us barely some thirty thousand miles over the Moon's surface. The globe lay in quadrature beneath our bow quarter—a huge quadrant spreading across the black starry vault of the lower heavens. A silver quadrant. The sunset caught the Lunar mountains, flung slanting shadows over the empty Lunar plains. All the disc was plainly visible. The mellow Earth-light glowed serene and pale to illumine the Lunar night.
The Planetara was bathed in silver. A brilliant silver glare swept the forward deck, clean white and splashed with black shadows. We had partly circled the Moon, so as now to approach it from the Earthward side. I had worked with extreme concentration through the last few hours, plotting the trajectory of our curving sweep, setting the gravity plates with constantly shifting combinations. And with it a necessity for the steady retarding of our velocity.
* * * * *
Miko for a time was at my elbow in the turret. I had not seen Coniston and Hahn of recent hours. I had slept, awakened refreshed, and had a meal. Coniston and Hahn remained below, one or the other of them always with the crew to execute my sirened orders. Then Coniston came to take my place in the turret, and I went with Miko to the helio-room.
"You are skilful, Haljan." A measure of grim approval was in Miko's voice. "You evidently have no wish to try and fool me in this navigation."
I had not, indeed. It is delicate work at best, coping with the intricacies of celestial mechanics upon a semicircular trajectory with retarding velocity, and with a make-shift crew we could easily have come upon real difficulty.
We hung at last, hull-down, facing the Earthward hemisphere of the Lunar disc. The giant ball of the Earth lay behind and above us—the Sun over our stern quarter. With forward velocity almost checked, we poised, and Snap began his signals to the unsuspecting Grantline.
My work momentarily was over. I sat watching the helio-room. Moa was here, close beside me; I felt always her watchful gaze, so that even the play of my expression needed reining.
Miko worked with Snap. Anita too was here. To Miko and Moa it was the somber, taciturn George Prince, shrouded always in his black mourning cloak, disinclined to talk; sitting alone, brooding and cowardly sullen.
Miko repeated, "By the infernal, if you try to fool me, Snap Dean!"
The small metal room, with its grid floor and low-arched ceiling, glared with moonlight through its windows. The moving figures of Snap and Miko were aped by the grotesque, misshapen shadows of them on the walls. Miko gigantic—a great, menacing ogre. Snap small and alert—a trim, pale figure in his tight-fitting white trousers, broad-flowing belt, and white shirt open at the throat. His face was pale and drawn from lack of sleep and the torture to which Miko had subjected him. But he grinned at the brigand's words, and pushed his straggling hair closer under the red eyeshade.
"I'm doing my best, Miko—you can believe it."
* * * * *
The room over long periods was deadly silent, with Miko and Snap bending watchfully at the crowded banks of instruments. A silence in which my own pounding heart seemed to echo. I did not dare look at Anita, nor she at me. Snap was trying to signal Earth, not the Moon! His main helios were set in the reverse. The infra-red waves, flung from the bow window, were of a frequency which Snap and I believed that Grantline could not pick up. And over against the wall, close beside me and seemingly ignored by Snap, there was a tiny ultra-violet sender. Its faint hum and the quivering of its mirrors had so far passed unnoticed.
Would some Earth-station pick it up? I prayed so. There was a thumb nail mirror here which could bring an answer. I prayed that it might swing.
Would some Earth telescope be able to see us? I doubted it. The pinpoint of the Planetara's infinitesimal bulk would be beyond them.
Long silences, broken only by the faint hiss and murmur of Snap's instruments.
"Shall I try the 'graphs, Miko?"
I helped him with the spectroheliograph. At every level the plates showed us nothing save the scarred and pitted Moon-surface. We worked for an hour. There was nothing. Bleak cold night on the Moon here beneath us. A touch of fading sunlight upon the Apennines. Up near the South Pole, Tycho with its radiating open rills stood like a grim dark maw.
Miko bent over a plate. "Something here? Is there?"
An abnormality upon the frowning ragged cliffs of Tycho? We thought so. But then it seemed not.
* * * * *
Another hour. No signal came from Earth. If Snap's calls were getting through we had no evidence of it. Abruptly Miko strode at me from across the room. I went cold and tense; Moa shifted, alert to my every movement. But Miko was not interested in me. A sweep of his clenched fist knocked the ultra-violet sender and its coils and mirrors in a tinkling crash to the grid at my feet.
"We don't need that, whatever it is!"
He rubbed his knuckles where the violet waves had tinged them, and turned grimly back to Snap.
"Where are your Gamma ray mirrors? If the treasure is exposed—"
This Martian's knowledge was far greater than we believed. He grinned sardonically at Anita. "If our treasure is on this hemisphere, Prince, we should pick up Gamma rays? Don't you think so? Or is Grantline so cautious it will all be protected?"
Anita spoke in a careful, throaty drawl. "The Gamma rays came plain enough when we passed here on the way out."
"You should know," grinned Miko. "An expert eavesdropper, Prince—I will say that for you. Come Dean, try something else. By God, if Grantline does not signal us, I will be likely to blame you—my patience is shortening. Shall we go closer, Haljan?"
"I don't think it would help," I said.
He nodded. "Perhaps not. Are we checked?"
"Yes." We were poised, very nearly motionless. "If you wish an advance, I can ring it. But we need a surface destination now."
"True, Haljan." He stood thinking. "Would a zed-ray penetrate those crater-cliffs? Tycho, for instance, at this angle?"[B]
"It might," Snap agreed. "You think he may be on the Northern inner side of Tycho?"
"He may be anywhere," said Miko shortly.
"If you think that," Snap persisted, "suppose we swing the Planetara over the South Pole. Tycho, viewed from there—"
"And take another quarter-day of time?" Miko sneered. "Flash on your zed-ray; help him hook it up, Haljan."
[B] An allusion to the use of the zed-ray light for making spectro-photographs of what might be behind obscuring rock masses, similar to the old-style X-ray.
* * * * *
I moved to the lens-box of the spectroheliograph. It seemed that Snap was very strangely reluctant: Was it because he knew that the Grantline camp lay concealed on the north inner wall of Tycho's giant ring? I thought so. But Snap flashed a queer look at Anita. She did not see it, but I did. And I could not understand it.
My accursed, witless incapacity! If only I had taken warning!
"Here," commanded Miko. "A score of 'graphs with the zed-ray. I tell you I will comb this surface if we have to stay here until our ship comes from Ferrok-Shahn to join us!"
The Martian brigands were coming. Miko's signals had been answered. In ten days the other brigand ship, adequately manned and armed, would be here.
Snap helped me connect the zed-ray. He did not dare even to whisper to me, with Moa hovering always so close. And for all Miko's sardonic smiling, we knew that he would tolerate nothing from us now. He was fully armed, and so was Moa.
I recall that Snap several times tried to touch me significantly. Oh, if only I had taken warning!
We finished our connecting. The dull gray point of zed-ray gleamed through the prisms, to mingle with the moonlight entering the main lens. I stood with the shutter trip.
"The same interval, Snap?"
Beside me, I was aware of a faint reflection of the zed-light—a gray Cathedral shaft crossing the helio-room and falling upon the opposite wall. An unreality there, as the zed-light faintly strove to penetrate the metal room-side.
I said, "Shall I make the exposure?"
* * * * *
Snap nodded. But that 'graph was never made. An exclamation from Moa made us all turn. The Gamma mirrors were quivering! Grantline had picked our signals! With what undoubtedly was an intensified receiving equipment which Snap had not thought Grantline able to use, he had caught our faint zed-rays, which Snap was sending only to deceive Miko. And Grantline had recognized the Planetara, and had released his occulting screens surrounding the radium ore. The Gamma rays were here, unmistakable!
And upon their heels came Grantline's message. Not in the secret system he had arranged with Snap, but unsuspectingly in open code. I could read the swinging mirror, and so could Miko.
And Miko decoded it triumphantly aloud:
"Surprised but pleased your return. Approach Mid-Northern hemisphere, region of Archimedes, forty thousand toises[C] off nearest Apennine range."
The message broke off. But even its importance was overshadowed. Miko stood in the center of the helio-room, triumphantly reading the light-indicator. Its beam swung on the scale, which chanced to be almost directly over Anita's head. I saw Miko's expression change. A look of surprise, amazement came to him.
He gasped. He stood staring. Almost stupidly staring for an instant. And as I regarded him with fascinated horror, there came upon his heavy gray face a look of dawning comprehension. And I heard Snap's startled intake of breath. He moved to the spectroheliograph, where the zed-ray connections were still humming.
But with a leap Miko flung him away. "Off with you! Moa, watch him! Haljan, don't move!"
[C] About fifty miles.
* * * * *
Again Miko stood staring. Oh dear God, I saw now that he was staring at Anita!
"Why George Prince! How strange you look!"
Anita did not move. She was stricken with horror: she shrank back against the wall, huddled in her cloak. Miko's sardonic voice came again:
"How strange you look. Prince!" He took a step forward. He was grim and calm. Horribly calm. Deliberate. Gloating—like a great gray monster in human form toying with a fascinated, imprisoned bird.
"Move just a little Prince. Let the zed-ray light fall more fully."
Anita's head was bare. That pale, Hamletlike face. Dear God, the zed-light reflection lay gray and penetrating upon it!
Miko took another step. Peering. Grinning. "How amazing, George Prince! Why, I can hardly believe it!"
Moa was armed with an electronic cylinder. For all her amazement—what turgid emotions sweeping her I can only guess—she never took her eyes from Snap and me.
"Back! Don't move, either of you!" She hissed it at us.
Then Miko leaped at Anita like giant gray leopard pouncing.
"Away with that cloak, Prince!"
* * * * *
I stood cold and numbed. And realization came at last. The faint zed-light glow had fallen by chance upon Anita's face. Penetrated the flesh; exposed, faintly glowing, the bone-line of her jaw. Unmasked the waxen art of Glutz.
And Miko had seen it.
"Why George, how surprising! Away with that cloak!"
He seized her wrist, drew her forward, beyond the shaft of zed-light, into the brilliant light of the Moon. And ripped her cloak from her. The gentle curves of her woman's figure were so unmistakable!
And as Miko gazed at them, all his calm triumph swept away.
I heard Moa mutter: "So that is it?" A venomous flashing look—a shaft from me to Anita and back again. "So that is it?"
Miko's great arms gathered her up as though she were a child. "So I have you back; from the dead delivered back to me!"
"Gregg!" Snap's warning, and his grip over my shoulders brought me a measure of sanity. I had tensed to spring. I stood quivering, and Moa thrust her weapon against my face. The helio mirrors were swaying again with another message from Grantline. But it came ignored by us all.
In the glare of moonlight by the forward window, Miko held Anita, his great hands pawing her with triumphant possessive caresses.
"So, little Anita, you are given back to me."
Against her futile struggles he held her.
Dear God, if only I had had the wit to have prevented this!
The Grantline Camp
In the mid-northern hemisphere upon the Earthward side of the Moon, the giant crater of Archimedes stood brooding in silent majesty. Grim, lofty walls, broken, pitted and scarred, rising precipitous to the upper circular rim. Night had just fallen. The sunlight clung to the crater-heights; it tinged with flame the jagged peaks of the Apennine Mountains which rose in tiers at the horizon; and it flung great inky shadows over the intervening lowlands.
Northward, the Mare Imbrium stretched mysterious and purple, its million rills and ridges and crater holes flattened by distance and the gathering darkness into a seeming level surface. The night slowly deepened. The dead-black vault of the sky blazed with its brilliant starry gems. The gibbous Earth hung high above the horizon, motionless, save for the invisible pendulum sway over the tiny arc, of its libration: widening to quadrature, casting upon the bleak naked Lunar landscape its mellow Earth-glow.
Slow, measured process, this coming of the Lunar night! For an Earth-day the sunset slowly faded on the Apennines; the poised Earth widened a little further—an Earth-day of time, with the Earth-disc visibly rotating, the faint tracery of its oceans and continents passing in slow, majestic review.
Another Earth-day interval. Then another. And another. Full night now enveloped Archimedes. Splotches of Earth-light and starlight sheen slowly shifted as the night advanced.
Between the great crater and the nearby mountains, the broken, pseudo-level lowlands lay wan in the Earth-light. A few hundred miles, as distance would be measured upon Earth. A million million rills were here. Valleys and ridges, ravines, sharp-walled canyons, cliffs and crags—tiny craters like pock-marks.
Naked, gray porous rock everywhere. This denuded landscape! Cracked and scarred and tumbled, as though some inexorable Titan torch had seared and crumbled and broken it, left it now congealed like a wind-lashed sea abruptly frozen into immobility.
* * * * *
Moonlight upon Earth so gently shines to make romantic a lover's smile! But the reality of the Lunar night is cold beyond human rationality. Cold and darkly silent. Grim desolation. Awesome. Majestic. A frowning majesty that even to the most intrepid human beholder is inconceivably forbidding.
And there were humans here now. On this tumbled plain, between Archimedes and the mountains, one small crater amid the million of its fellows was distinguished this night by the presence of humans. The Grantline camp! It huddled in the deepest purple shadows on the side of a bowl-like pit, a crudely circular orifice with a scant two miles across its rippling rim. There was faint light here to mark the presence of the living intruders. The blue-glow radiance of Morrell tube-lights under a spread of glassite.
The Grantline camp stood mid-way up one of the inner cliff-walls of the little crater. The broken, rock-strewn floor, two miles wide, lay five hundred feet below the camp. Behind it, the jagged precipitous cliff rose another five hundred to the heights of the upper rim. A broad level shelf hung midway up the cliff, and upon it Grantline had built his little group of glassite dome shelters. Viewed from above there was the darkly purple crater floor, the upflung circular rim where the Earth-light tinged the spires and crags with yellow sheen; and on the shelf, like a huddled group of birds nests, Grantline's domes clung and gazed down upon the inner valley.
Intricate task, the building of these glassite shelters! There were three. The main one stood close at the brink of the ledge. A quadrangle of glassite walls, a hundred feet in length by half as wide, and a scant ten feet high to its flat-arched dome roof. Built for this purpose in Great-New York, Grantline had brought his aluminite girders and braces and the glassite panels in sections.
* * * * *
The air here on the Moon surface was negligible—a scant one five-thousandth of the atmospheric pressure at the sea-level on Earth. But within the glassite shelter, a normal Earth-pressure must be maintained. Rigidly braced double walls to withstand the explosive tendency, with no external pressure to counteract it. A tremendous necessity for mechanical equipment had burdened Grantline's small ship to its capacity. The chemistry of manufactured air, the pressure equalizers, renewers, respirators, the lighting and temperature-maintenance systems—all the mechanics of a space-flyer were here.
And within the glassite double walls, there was necessity for a constant circulation of the Erentz temperature insulating system.[D]
There was this main Grantline building, stretching low and rectangular along the front edge of the ledge. Within it were living rooms, messroom and kitchen. Fifty feet behind it, connected by a narrow passage of glassite, was a similar, though smaller structure. The mechanical control rooms, with their humming, vibrating mechanisms were here. And an instrument room with signaling apparatus, senders, receivers, mirror-grids and audiphones of several varieties; and an electro-telescope, small but modern, with dome overhead like a little Earth observatory.
From this instrument building, beside the connecting pedestrian passage, wire cables for light, and air-tubes and strings and bundles of instrument wires ran to the main structure—gray snakes upon the porous, gray Lunar rock.
The third building seemed a lean-to banked against the cliff-wall, a slanting shed-wall of glassite fifty feet high and two hundred in length. Under it, for months Grantline's borers had dug into the cliff. Braced tunnels were here, penetrating back and downward into this vein of radio-active rock.
[D] An intricate system of insulation against extremes of temperature, developed by the Erentz Kinetic Energy Corporation in the twenty-first century. Within the hollow double shell of a shelter-wall, or an explorer's helmet-suit, or a space-flyer's hull, an oscillating semi-vacuum current was maintained—an extremely rarified air, magnetically charged, and maintained in rapid oscillating motion. Across this field the outer cold, or heat, as the case might be, could penetrate only with slow radiation. This Erentz system gave the most perfect temperature insulation known in its day. Without it, interplanetary flight would have been impossible.
And it served a double purpose. Developed at first for temperature insulation only, the Erentz system surprisingly brought to light one of the most important discoveries made in the realm of physics of the century. It was found that any flashing, oscillating current, whether electronic, or the semi-vacuum of rarified air—or even a thin sheet of whirling fluid—gave also a pressure-insulation. The kinetic energy of the rapid movement was found to absorb within itself the latent energy of the unequal pressure.
(The intricate postulates and mathematical formulae necessary to demonstrate the operation of the physical laws involved would be out of place here.)