At the slow speed we were traveling the drone of our motors was hardly audible to us, and I felt sure that it could not be heard on the ground. Once their curiosity was satisfied, our captors paid little or no attention to me and left me free to come and go as I wished. I made my way cautiously toward the children, but ran into a solid wall. Remembering Jim's words, I made my way back toward him without displaying any interest.
* * * * *
Jim could probably have wandered around as I did had he wished, but he chose to occupy his time differently. With his notebook and pencil he carried on an extensive conversation, if that term can be applied to a crudely executed set of drawings, with the leader of the beetles. I was not especially familiar with the methods of control of space ships and I could make nothing of the maze of dials and switches on the instrument board.
For half an hour we drifted slowly along. Presently one of the beetles approached, seized my arm and turned me about. With one of his arms he pointed ahead. A mile away I could see another space flyer similar to the one we were on.
"Here comes another one, Jim." I called.
"Yes, I saw it some time ago. I don't know where the third one is."
"Are there three of them?"
"Yes. Three of them came here yesterday and are exploring the country round about here. They are scouts sent out from the fleet of our brother planet to see if the road was clear and what the world was like. They spotted the hole through the layer with their telescope and sent their fleet out to pay us a visit. He tells me that the scouts have reported favorably and that the whole fleet, several thousand ships, as near as I can make out, are expected here this evening."
"Have you solved the secret of their invisibility?"
* * * * *
"Partly. It is as I expected. The walls of the ship are double, the inner one of metal and the outer one of vitrolene or some similar perfectly transparent substance. The space between the walls is filled with some substance which will bend both visible and ultra-violet rays along a path around the ship and then lets them go in their original direction. The reason why we can see through the walls and see the protective coating of that ship coming is that they are generating some sort of a ray here which acts as a carrier for the visible light rays. I don't know what sort of a ray it is, but when I get a good look at their generators, I may be able to tell. Are you beginning to itch and burn?"
"Yes, I believe that I am, although I hadn't noticed it until you spoke."
"I have been noticing it for some time. From its effects on the skin, I am inclined to believe it to be a ray of very short wave-length, possibly something like our X-ray, or even shorter."
"Have you found out what they intend to do with us?"
"I don't think they have decided yet. Possibly they are going to take us up to the leader of their fleet and let him decide. The cuss that is in command of this ship seems surprised to death to find out that I can comprehend the principles of his ship. He seems to think that I am a sort of a rara avis, a freak of nature. He intimated that he would recommend that we be used for vivisection."
"It's not much more worse than the fate they design for the rest of their captives, at that."
"What is that?"
"It's a long story that I'll have to tell you later. I want to watch this meeting."
* * * * *
The other ship had approached to within a few yards and floated stationary, while some sort of communication was exchanged between the two. I could not fathom the method used, but the commander of our craft clamped what looked like a pair of headphones against his body and plugged the end of a wire leading from them into his instrument board. From time to time various colored lights glowed on the board before him. After a time he uncoupled his device from the board, and one of the long rods shot out from our ship to the other. It returned in a moment clamped around the body of a young girl. As the came on board, she was lowered onto the deck beside the other children. Like them, she was stiff and motionless. I gave an exclamation and sprang forward.
Jim's voice recalled me to myself, and I watched the child laid with the others with as disinterested an expression as I could muster. I had never made a mistake in following Jim Carpenter's lead and I knew that somewhere in his head a plan was maturing which might offer us some chance of escape.
Our ship moved ahead down a long slant, gradually dropping nearer to the ground. I watched the maneuver with interest while Jim, with his friend the beetle commander, went over the ship. The insect was evidently amused at Jim and was determined to find out the limits of his intelligence, for he pointed out various controls and motors of the ship and made elaborate sketches which Jim seemed to comprehend fairly well.
* * * * *
One of the beetles approached the control board and motioned me back. I stepped away from the board; evidently a port in the side of the vessel opened, for I felt a breath of air and could hear the hum of the city. I walked to the side and glanced down, and found that we were floating about twenty feet off the ground over a street on the edge of the city. On the street a short distance ahead of us two children, evidently returning from school, to judge by the books under their arms, were walking unsuspectingly along. A turn of the dial sped up our motors, and as the hum rang out in a louder key the children looked upward. Two of the long flexible wires shot out and wrapped themselves about the children; screaming, they were lifted into the space flyer. The port through which they came in shut with a clang and the ship rose rapidly into the air. The children were released from the wires which coiled themselves up on deck and the beetle who had operated them stepped forward and grasped the nearer of the children, a boy of about eleven, by the arm. He raised the boy, who was paralyzed with terror, up toward his head and gazed steadily into his eyes. Slowly the boy ceased struggling and became white and rigid. The beetle laid him on the deck and turned to the girl. Involuntarily I gave a shout and sprang forward, but Jim grasped me by the arm.
"Keep quiet, you darned fool!" he cried. "We can do nothing now. Wait for a chance!"
"We can't stand here and see murder done!" I protested.
"It's not murder. Pete, those children aren't being hurt. They are being hypnotized so that they can be transported to Mercury."
"Why are they taking them to Mercury?" I demanded.
"As nearly as I can make out, there is a race of men up there who are subject to these beetles. This ship is radium propelled, and the men and women are the slaves who work in the radium mines. Of course the workers soon become sexless, but others are kept for breeding purposes to keep the race alive. Through generations of in-breeding, the stock is about played out and are getting too weak to be of much value.
"The Mercurians have been studying the whole universe to find a race which will serve their purpose and they have chosen us to be the victims. When their fleet gets here, they plan to capture thousands of selected children and carry them to Mercury in order to infuse their blood into the decadent race of slaves they have. Those who are not suitable for breeding when they grow up will die as slaves in the radium mines."
* * * * *
"Horrible!" I gasped. "Why are they taking children, Jim? Wouldn't adults suit their purpose better?"
"They are afraid to take adults. On Mercury an earthman would have muscles of unheard of power and adults would constantly strive to rise against their masters. By getting children, they hope to raise them to know nothing else than a life of slavery and get the advantage of their strength without risk. It is a clever scheme."
"And are we to stand here and let them do it?"
"Not on your life, but we had better hold easy for a while. If I can get a few minutes more with that brute I'll know enough about running this ship that we can afford to do away with them. You have a pistol, haven't you?"
"The devil! I thought you had. I have an automatic, but it only carries eight shells. There are eleven of these insects and unless we can get the jump on them, they'll do us. I saw what looks like a knife lying near the instrument board; get over near it and get ready to grab it as soon as you hear my pistol. These things are deaf and if I work it right I may be able to do several of them in before they know what's happening. When you attack, don't try to ram them in the back; their backplates are an inch thick and will be proof against a knife thrust. Aim at their eyes; if you can blind them, they'll be helpless. Do you understand?"
"I'll do my best, Jim," I replied. "Since you have told me their plans I am itching to get at them."
* * * * *
I edged over toward the knife, but as I did so I saw a better weapon. On the floor lay a bar of silvery metal about thirty inches long and an inch in diameter. I picked it up and toyed with it idly, meanwhile edging around to get behind the insect which I had marked for my first attentions. Jim was talking again by means of the notebook with his beetle friend. They walked around the ship, examining everything in it.
"Are you ready, Pete?" came Jim's voice at last.
"All set," I replied, getting a firmer grasp on my bar and edging toward one of the insects.
"Well, don't start until I fire. You notice the bug I am talking to? Don't kill him unless you have to. This ship is a little too complicated for me to fathom, so I want this fellow taken prisoner. We'll use him as our engineer when we take control."
"All right, get ready."
I kept my eye on Jim. He had drawn the beetle with whom he was talking to a position where they were behind the rest. Jim pointed at something behind the insect's back and the beetle turned. As it did so, Jim whipped out his pistol and, taking careful aim, fired at one of the insects.
As the sound of the shot rang out I raised my bar and leaped forward. I brought it down with crushing force on the head of the nearest beetle. My victim fell forward, and I heard Jim's pistol bark again; but I had no time to watch him. As the beetle I struck fell the others turned and I had two of them coming at me with outstretched arms, ready to grasp me. I swung my bar, and the arm of one of them fell limp; but the other seized me with both its hands, and I felt the cruel hooks of its lower arms against the small of my back.
* * * * *
One of my arms was still free; I swung my bar again, and it struck my captor on the back of the head. It was stunned by the blow and fell. I seized the knife from the floor, and threw myself down beside it and struck at its eyes, trying to roll it over so as to protect me from the other who was trying to grasp me.
I felt hands clutch me from behind; I was wrenched loose from the body of my victim and lifted into the air. I was turned about and stared hard into the implacable crystalline eyes of one of the insects. For a moment my senses reeled and then, without volition, I dropped my bar. I remembered the children and realized that I was being hypnotized. I fought against the feeling, but my senses reeled and I almost went limp, when the sound of a pistol shot, almost in my ear, roused me. The spell of the beetle was momentarily broken. I thrust the knife which I still grasped at the eyes before me. My blow went home, but the insect raised me and bent me toward him until my head lay on top of his and the huge horns which adorned his head began to close. Another pistol shot sounded, and I was suddenly dropped.
I grasped my bar as I fell and leaped up. The flyer was a shambles. Dead insects lay on all sides while Jim, smoking pistol in hand, was staring as though fascinated into the eyes of one of the surviving beetles. I ran forward and brought my bar down on the insect's head, but as I did so I was grasped from behind.
"Jim, help!" I cried as I was swung into the air. The insect whirled me around and then threw me to the floor. I had an impression of falling; then everything dissolved in a flash of light. I was unconscious only for a moment, and I came to to find Jim Carpenter standing over me, menacing my assailant with his gun.
"Thanks, Jim," I said faintly.
"If you're conscious again, get up and get your bar," he replied. "My pistol is empty and I don't know how long I can run a bluff on this fellow."
* * * * *
I scrambled to my feet and grasped the bar. Jim stepped behind me and reloaded his pistol.
"All right," he said when he had finished. "I'll take charge of this fellow. Go around and see if the rest are dead. If they aren't when you find them, see that they are when you leave them. We're taking no prisoners."
I went the rounds of the prostrate insects. None of them were beyond moving except two whose heads had been crushed by my bar, but I obeyed Jim's orders. When I rejoined him with my bloody bar, the only beetle left alive was the commander, whom Jim was covering with his pistol.
"Take the gun," he said when I reported my actions, "and give me the bar."
We exchanged weapons and Jim turned to the captive.
"Now, old fellow," he said grimly, "either you run this ship as I want you to, or you're a dead Indian. Savvy?"
He took his pencil and notebook from his pocket and drew a sketch of our Hadley space ship. On the other end of the sheet he drew a picture of the Mercurian ship, and then drew a line connecting the two. The insect looked at the sketch but made no movement.
"All right, if that's the way you feel about it," said Jim. He raised the bar and brought it down with crushing force on one of the insect's lower arms. The arm fell as though paralyzed and a blue light played across the beetle's eyes. Jim extended the sketch again and raised the bar threateningly. The beetle moved over to the control board, Jim following closely, and set the ship in motion. Ten minutes later it rested on the ground beside the ship in which we had first taken the air.
* * * * *
Following Jim's pictured orders the beetle opened the door of the Mercurian ship and followed Jim into the Hadley. As we emerged from the Mercurian ship I looked back. It had vanished completely.
"The children, Jim!" I gasped.
"I haven't forgotten them," he replied, "but they are all right for the present. If we turned them loose now, we'd have ninety reporters around us in ten minutes. I want to get our generators modified first."
He pointed toward the spot where the Mercurian ship had stood and then toward our generators. The beetle hesitated, but Jim swung his bar against the insect's side in a vicious blow. Again came the play of blue light over the eyes; the beetle bent over our generaters and set to work. Jim handed me the bar and bent over to help. They were both mechanics of a high order and they worked well together; in an hour the beetle started the generators and swung one of the searchlights toward his old ship. It leaped into view on the radium coated screen.
"Good business!" ejaculated Jim. "We'll repair this door; then we'll be ready to release the children and start out."
* * * * *
We followed the beetle into the Mercurian ship, which it seemed to be able to see. It opened a door leading into another compartment of the flyer, and before us lay the bodies of eight children. The beetle lifted the first one, a little girl, up until his many-faceted eyes looked full into the closed ones of the child. There was a flicker of an eyelash, a trace of returning color, and then a scream of terror from the child. The beetle set the girl down and Jim bent over her.
"It's all right now, little lady," he said, clumsily smoothing her hair.
"You're safe now. Run along to your mother. First Mortgage, take charge of her and take her outside. It isn't well for children to see these things."
The child clung to my hand: I led her out of the ship, which promptly vanished as we left it. One by one, seven other children joined us, the last one, a miss of not over eight, in Jim's arms. The beetle followed behind him.
"Do any of you know where you are?" asked Jim as he came out.
"I do, sir," said one of the boys. "I live close to here."
"All right, take these youngsters to your house and tell your mother to telephone their parents to come and get them. If anyone asks you what happened, tell them to see Jim Carpenter to-morrow. Do you understand?"
"All right, run along then. Now, First Mortgage, let's go hunting."
* * * * *
We wired our captive up so securely that I felt that there was no possible chance of his escape; then, with Jim at the controls and me at the guns, we fared forth in search of the invaders. Back and forth over the city we flew without sighting another spaceship in the air. Jim gave an exclamation of impatience and swung on a wider circle, which took us out over the water. I kept the searchlights working. Presently, far ahead over the water, a dark spot came into view. I called to Jim and we approached it at top speed.
"Don't shoot until we are within four hundred yards," cautioned Jim.
I held my fire until we were within the specified distance. The newcomer was another of the Mercurian space-ships; with a feeling of joy I swung my beam until the cross-hairs of the screen rested full on the invader.
"All ready!" I sung out.
"If you are ready, Gridley, you may fire!" replied Jim. I pressed the gun button. The crash of the gun was followed by another report from outside as the radite shell burst against the Mercurian flyer. The deadly explosive did its work, and the shattered remains of the wreck fell, to be engulfed in the sea below.
"That's one!" cried Jim. "I'm afraid we won't have time to hunt up the other right now. This bug told me that the other Mercurians are due here to-day, and I think we had better form ourselves into a reception committee and go up to the hole to meet them."
* * * * *
He sent the ship at high speed over the city until we hovered over the laboratory. We stopped for a moment, and Jim stepped to the radio telephone.
"Hello, Williams," he said, "how are things going? That's fine. In an hour, you say? Well, speed it up as much as you can; we may call for it soon."
He turned both stern motors to full power, and we shot up like a rocket toward the hole in the protective layer through which the invaders had entered. In ten minutes we were at the altitude of the guard ships and Jim asked if anything had been seen. The report was negative; Jim left them below the layer and sent our flyer up through the hole into space. We reached the outer surface in another ten minutes and we were none too soon. Hardly had we debouched from the hole than ahead of us we saw another Mercurian flyer. It was a lone one, and Jim bent over the captive and held a hastily made sketch before him. The sketch showed three Mercurian flyers, one on the ground, one wrecked and the third one in the air. He touched the drawing of the one in the air and pointed toward our port hole and looked questioningly at the beetle. The insect inspected the flyer in space and nodded.
"Good!" cried Jim. "That's the third of the trio who came ahead as scouts. Get your gun ready, First Mortgage: we're going to pick him off."
Our ship approached the doomed Mercurian. Again I waited until we were within four hundred yards; then I pressed the button which hurled it, a crumpled wreck, onto the outer surface of the heaviside layer.
"Two!" cried Jim as we backed away.
"Here come plenty more," I cried as I swung the searchlight. Jim left his controls, glanced at the screen and whistled softly. Dropping toward us from space were hundreds of the Mercurian ships.
"We got here just in time," he said. "Break out your extra ammunition while I take to the hole. We can't hope to do that bunch alone, so we'll fight a rearguard action."
* * * * *
Since our bow gun would be the only one in action, I hastily moved the spare boxes of ammunition nearer to it while Jim maneuvered the Hadley over the hole. As the Mercurian fleet came nearer he started a slow retreat toward the earth. The Mercurians overtook us rapidly; Jim locked his controls at slow speed down and hurried to the bow gun.
"Start shooting as soon as you can," he said. "I'll keep the magazine filled."
I swung the gun until the cross-hairs of the screen rested full on the leading ship and pressed the button. My aim was true, and the shattered fragments of the ship fell toward me. The balance of the fleet slowed down for an instant; I covered another one and pressed my button. The ship at which I had aimed was in motion and I missed it, but I had the satisfaction of seeing another one fall in fragments. Jim was loading the magazine as fast as I fired. I covered another ship and fired again. A third one of our enemies fell in ruins. The rest paused and drew off.
"They're retreating, Jim!" I cried.
"Cease firing until they come on again," he replied is he took the shells from the magazines of the other guns and piled them near the bow gun.
I held my fire for a few minutes. The Mercurians retreated a short distance and then came on again with a rush. Twenty times my gun went off as fast as I could align it and press the trigger, and eighteen of the enemy ships were in ruins. Again the Mercurians retreated. I held my fire. We were falling more rapidly now and far below we could see the black spots which were the guard ships. I told Jim that they were in sight; he stepped to the radio telephone and ordered them to keep well away from the hole.
* * * * *
Again the Mercurian ships came on with a rush, this time with beams of orange light stabbing a way before them. When I told Jim of this he jumped to the controls and shot our ship down at breakneck speed.
"I don't know what sort of fighting apparatus they have, but I don't care to face it," he said to me. "Fire if they get close; but I hope to get out of the hole before they are in range."
Fast as we fell, the Mercurians were coming faster, and they were not over eight hundred yards from us when he reached the level of the guard ships. Jim checked our speed; I managed to pick off three more of the invaders before we moved away from the hole. Jim stopped the side motion and jumped to the radio telephone.
"Hello, Williams!" he shouted into the instrument. "Are you ready down there? Thank God! Full power at once, please!
"Watch what happens," he said to me, as he turned from the instrument.
Some fifty of the Mercurian flyers had reached our level and had started to move toward us before anything happened. Then from below came a beam of intolerable light. Upward it struck, and the Mercurian ships on which it impinged disappeared in a flash of light.
"A disintegrating ray," explained Jim. "I suspected that it might be needed and I started Williams to rigging it up early this morning. I hated to use it because it may easily undo the work that six years have done in healing the break in the layer, but it was necessary. That ends the invasion, except for those ten or twelve ships ahead of us. How is your marksmanship? Can you pick off ten in ten shots?"
"Watch me," I said grimly as the ship started to move.
* * * * *
Pride goeth ever before a fall: it took me sixteen shots to demolish the eleven ships which had escaped destruction from the ray. As the last one fell in ruins, Jim ordered the ray shut off. We fell toward the ground.
"What are we going to do with our prisoner?" I asked.
Jim looked at the beetle meditatively.
"He would make a fine museum piece if he were stuffed," he said, "but on the whole, I think we'll let him go. He is an intelligent creature and will probably be happier on Mercury than anywhere else. What do you say that we put him on his ship and turn him loose?"
"To lead another invasion?" I asked.
"I think not. He has seen what has happened to this one and is more likely to warn them to keep away. In any event, if we equip the guard ships with a ray that will show the Mercurian ships up and keep the disintegrating ray ready for action, we needn't fear another invasion. Let's let him go."
"It suits me all right, Jim, but I hold out for one thing. I will never dare to face McQuarrie again if I fail to get a picture of him. I insist on taking his photograph before we turn him loose."
"All right, go ahead," laughed Jim. "He ought to be able to stand that, if you'll spare him an interview."
An hour later we watched the Mercurian flyer disappear into space.
"I hope I've seen the last of those bugs," I said as the flyer faded from view.
"I don't know," said Jim thoughtfully. "If I have interpreted correctly the drawings that creature made, there is a race of manlike bipeds on Mercury who are slaves to those beetles and who live and die in the horrible atmosphere of a radium mine. Some of these days I may lead an expedition to our sister planet and look into that matter."
MECHANICAL VOICES FOR PHONE NUMBERS
New developments whereby science goes still farther in its assumption of human attributes were described and demonstrated recently by Sergius P. Grace, Assistant Vice-President of Bell Telephone Laboratories, where the developments were conceived and worked out.
One development described, and soon to be put into service in New York, transforms a telephone number dialed by a subscriber into speech. Although the subscriber says not a word the number dialed is spoken aloud to the operator.
The device is expected to simplify and speed the hooking together of automatic and voice-hand-operated telephone exchanges, and also to speed long-distance calls from automatic phones through rural exchanges.
The numbers which can thus be spoken are recorded on talkie films and those which are to go into use here have already been made, all by an Irish girl said to have the best voice among the city's "number, please" girls.
Mr. Grace demonstrated this device by carrying into the audience a telephone with a long cord connected with a loud speaker on the stand, which represented central. A member of the audience was requested to dial a number, and choose 5551-T, the letter T representing the exchange.
This number the spectator dialed on the phone Mr. Grace carried. There was no sound but the clicking of the dial. Then, two seconds later, the loudspeaker spoke up clearly, in an almost human voice, "5551 T."
As for the recording of the sound films, there is a film for each of the ten Arabic numerals from zero to nine, and these wound on revolving drums. The dial on the telephone automatically sets in action the drum corresponding to the numeral moved on the dial.
Another development which sounds promising for bashful suitors and other timid souls, enables a person to store within himself electrically a message he desires to deliver and then to deliver it without speaking, simply by putting a finger to the ear of the person for whom the message is intended.
This Mr. Grace demonstrated. He spoke into a telephone transmitter and his words were clearly heard by all in the audience, by means of amplifiers. At the same time a part of the electrical current from the amplifier, representing the sentence he voiced, was stored in a "delay circuit," another recent invention of the laboratories. After being stored four and a half seconds this current was transformed to a high voltage and passed into Mr. Grace's body. He then put his finger against the ear of a member of the audience, who heard in his brain the same sentence. The ear drum and surrounding tissues are made to act as one plate of a condenser-receiver, Mr. Grace explained, with the vibrations of the drum interpreted by the brain.
A new magnetic metal, "perminvar," and a new insulating material, "para gutta," which make possible construction of a telephone cable across the Atlantic to supplement the radio systems, were also described. Actual construction of the cable is expected to be started in 1930, Mr. Grace said.
Earth, the Marauder
CONCLUSION OF A THREE-PART NOVEL
By Arthur J. Burks
Stranger, more thrilling even than had been the flight of the Earth after being forced out of its orbit, was the flight of those dozen aircars of the Moon, bearing the rebels of Dalis' Gens back to Earth.
[Sidenote: Martian fire-balls and the terrific Moon-cubes wreak tremendous destruction on helpless Earth in the final death struggle of the warring worlds.]
For the light which glowed from the bodies of the rebels, which had been given them by their passage through the white flames, was transmitted to the cars themselves, so that they glowed as with an inner radiance of their own—like comets flashing across the night.
Strange alchemy, which Sarka wondered about and, wondering, looked ahead to the time when he should be able, within his laboratory, to analyze the force it embodied, and thus gain new scientific knowledge of untold value to people of the Earth.
As the cars raced across outer darkness, moving at top speed, greater than ever attained before by man, greater than even these mighty cars had traveled, Sarka looked ahead, and wondered about the fearful report his father had just given him.
That there was an alliance between Mars and the Moon seemed almost unbelievable. How had they managed the first contact, the first negotiations leading to the compact between two such alien peoples? Had there been any flights exchanged by the two worlds, surely the scientists of Earth would have known about it. But there had not, though there had been times and times when Sarka had peered closely enough at the surface of both the Moon and of Mars to see the activities, or the results of the activities, of the peoples of the two worlds.
Somehow, however, communication, if Sarka the Second had guessed correctly, had been managed between Mars and the Moon; and now that the Earth was a free flying orb the two were in alliance against it, perhaps for the same reason that the Earth had gone a-voyaging.
* * * * *
Side by side sat Sarka and Jaska, their eager eyes peering through the forward end of the flashing aircar toward the Earth, growing minute by minute larger. They were able, after some hours, to make out the outlines of what had once been continents, to see the shadows in valleys which had once held the oceans of Earth....
And always, as they stared and literally willed the cubes which piloted and were the motive power of the aircars to speed and more speed, that marvelous display of interplanetary fireworks which had aroused the concern of Sarka the Second.
What were those lights? Whence did they emanate? Sarka the Second had said that they came from Mars, yet Mars was invisible to those in the speeding aircars, which argued that it was hidden behind the Earth. There was no way of knowing how close it was to the home of these rebels of Dalis' Gens.
And ever, as they flashed forward, Sarka was recalling that vague hint on the lips of Jaska, to the effect that Luar, for all her sovereignty of the Moon, might be, nonetheless, a native of the Earth. But....
How? Why? When? There were no answers to any of the questions yet. If she were a native of Earth, how had she reached the Moon? When had she been sent there? Who was she? Her name, Luar, was a strange one, and Sarka studied it for many minutes, rolling the odd syllables of it over his tongue, wondering where, on the Earth, he had heard names, or words, similar to it. This produced no result, until he tried substituting various letters; then, again, adding various letters. When he achieved a certain result at last, he gasped, and his brain was a-whirl.
* * * * *
Luar, by the addition of the letter n, between the u and the a, became Lunar, meaning "of the Moon!" Yet Lunar was unmistakably a word derived from the language of the Earth! It was possible, of course, that this was mere coincidence; but, taken in connection with the suspicions of Jaska, and the incontrovertible fact that Luar resembled people of the Earth, Sarka did not believe in this particular whim of coincidence.
Who was Luar?
His mind went back to the clucking sounds which, among the Gnomes of the Moon, passed for speech. He pondered anew. He shaped his lips, as nearly as possible, to make the clucking sounds he had heard, and discovered that it was very difficult to manage the letter n!
The conclusion was inescapable: This woman, Luar, had once been Lunar, the n, down the centuries, being dropped because difficult for the Gnomes to pronounce.
"Yes, Jaska," he said suddenly, "somewhere on Earth, when we reach it, we may discover the secret of Luar—and know far more about Dalis than we have ever known before!"
Jaska merely smiled her inscrutable smile, and did not answer. By intuition, she already knew. Let Sarka arrive at her conclusion by scientific methods if he desired, and she would simply smile anew.
Sarka thought of the manner in which Jaska and he had been transported to the Moon; of how much Dalis seemed to know of the secrets of the laboratory of the Sarkas. Might he not have known, two centuries ago, of the Secret Exit Dome, and somehow managed to make use of it in some ghastly experiment? And still the one question remained unanswered: Who was Luar?
* * * * *
The Earth was now so close that details were plainly seen. The Himalayas were out of sight, over the Earth, and by a mental command Sarka managed to change slightly the course of the dozen aircars. By passing over the curve of the Earth at a high altitude, he hoped also to see from above something of the result of the strange aerial bombardment of which his father had spoken.
In their flight, which had been, to them a flight through the glories of a super-heavenly Universe, they had lost all count of time. Neither Sarka nor Jaska, nor yet the people in those other aircars, could have told how long they had been flying, when, coming over the curve of the Earth, at an elevation of something like three miles, they were able at last to see into the area which had once housed the Gens of Dalis.
A gasp of horror escaped the lips of Sarka and of Jaska.
The Gens of Dalis had occupied all the territory northward to the Pole, from a line drawn east and west through the southernmost of what had once been the Hawaiian Islands. Upon this area had struck the strange blue light from the deep Cone of the Moon.
Here, however, the light was invisible, and Sarka flew on in fear that somehow his aircars would blunder into it, and be destroyed—for that the blue light was an agent of ghastly destruction became instantly apparent.
* * * * *
The dwellings of the Gens of Dalis were broken and smashed into chaotic ruins. Over all the area, and even into the area of the Gens southward of that which had been Dalis, the blind gods of destruction had practically made a clean sweep. Sarka had opportunity to thank God that, at the time the blue column had struck the Earth, it had struck at the spot which had been almost emptied of people, and realized that blind chance had caused it. For, in order for the Gens of Dalis to be in position to launch their attack against the Moon, he had managed, by manipulating the speed of the Beryls, to bring that area into position directly opposite the Moon.
Had it been otherwise, the blue column might have struck anywhere, and wiped out millions of lives!
"God, Jaska," murmured Sarka. "Look!"
Think of a shoreline, once lined with mighty buildings, after the passage of a tidal wave greater than ever before known to man. The devastation would be indescribable. Multiply that shoreline by the vast area which had housed the Gens of Dalis, and the mental picture is almost too big to grasp. Chaos, catastrophe, approaching an infinity of destruction.
The materials of which the vast buildings, set close together, had been made, had been twisted into grotesque, nightmarish shapes, and the whole fused into a burned and gleaming mass—which covered half of what had once been a mighty ocean—as though a bomb larger and more devastating than ever imagined of man, a bomb large enough to rock the Earth, had landed in the midst of the area once occupied by the Gens of Dalis!
Yet, Sarka knew, remembering the murmuring of the blue column as it came out of the cone, all this devastation had been caused in almost absolute silence. People could have watched and seen these deserted buildings slowly fuse together, run together as molten metal runs together, like the lava from a volcano of long ago under the ponderous moving to and fro of some invisible, juggernautlike agency.
* * * * *
Sarka shuddered, trying to picture in his mind the massing of the minions of Mars, who thus saw a new country given into their hands—if they could take it. Had the Earth been taken by surprise? Had Sarka the Second been able to prepare for the approaching catastrophe?
"Father," he sent his thoughts racing on ahead of him, "are those lights which are striking the Earth causing any damage?"
"Only," came back the instant answer, "in that they destroy the courage of the people of the Earth! The people, however, now know that Sarka is returning, and their courage rises again! The flames are merely a hint of what faces us; but the people will rise and follow you wherever you lead!"
So, as they raced across the area of devastation, the face of Sarka became calm again. On a chance, he sent a single sentence of strange meaning to his father.
"The ruler of the Moon is a woman called Luar, which seems a contraction of Lunar!"
For many minutes Sarka the Second made no answer. When it came it startled Sarka to the depths of him, despite the fact that he had expected to be startled.
"There was a woman named Lunar!"
Sarka Commands Again
Ahead, through the storms which still hung tenaciously to the roof of the world, flashed those dozen aircars of the Moon. Now Sarka could plainly see the dome of his laboratory, and from the depths of him welled up that strange glow which Earthlings recognize as the joy of returning home, than which there is none, save the love for a woman, greater.
Now he could see the effect of those flares, or lights, from Mars, which impinged on the face of the Earth, though he could see no purpose in them, no reason for their being, since they seemed to do no damage at all, though the effect of them was weird in the extreme.
Outer darkness, rent with ripping, roaring storms, flurries of ice, snow and sleet, shot through and through by balls of lambent flames in unguessable numbers. Eery lights which struck the surface of the Earth, bounded away and, half a mile or so from the surface again, burst into flaming pin-wheels, like skyrockets of ancient times. Strange lights, causing weird effects, but producing no damage at all, save to lessen to some extent the courage of Earthlings, because they did not understand these things. And always, down the ages, man had stood most in fear of the Unknown.
* * * * *
Sarka peered off across the heavens where a ball of flame now seemed to be rising over the horizon, and was amazed at the size of this planet. Mars was close to Earth, so close that, had they possessed aircars like those of the Moon-people—which remained to be seen—they could easily have attacked the Earth.
Across the face of the Earth flashed those fiery will-o'-the-wisps from Mars, without rhyme or reason; yet Sarka knew positively that they possessed some meaning, and that the Earth had been forced thus close to Mars for a purpose. What that purpose was must yet be discovered.
Then, under the aircars, the laboratory of Sarka.
Down dropped the aircars to a landing near the laboratory, and to the cubes in the forepeak of each Sarka sent the mental command:
"Assure yourselves that the aircars will remain where they are! Muster inside the laboratory, keeping well away from the Master Beryl!"
Then to the people who had returned, clothed in strange radiance, from the Moon with Sarka and with Jaska he spoke:
"Leave the cars and enter my laboratory, where further orders will be given you!"
With Jaska still by his side, Sarka entered the laboratory through the Exit Dome. Inside, clothing was swiftly brought for the rebels, for Sarka and for Jaska. But, even when they were clothed, these people who had come back seemed to glow with an inner radiance which transfigured them.
Sarka the Second, his face drawn and pale, came from the Observatory to meet his son, and the two were clasped in each other's arms for a moment. Sarka the Second, who had looked no older than his son, seemed to have aged a dozen centuries in the time Sarka had been gone.
But it was not of the threatened attack by Martians that Sarka the Second spoke. He made no statement. He merely asked a question:
"Was Lunar very beautiful, and just a bit unearthly in appearance?"
* * * * *
"Yes. Beautiful! Wondrously, fearfully beautiful: but I had the feeling that she had no heart or soul, no conscience: that she was somehow—well, bestial!"
A moan of anguish escaped Sarka the Second.
"Dalis again!" he ejaculated. "But much of the fault was mine! Before you were born, we scientists of Earth had already several times realized the necessity of expansion for the children of Earth if they were to continue. Dalis' proposal to my father was discarded, because it involved the wholesale taking of life. But after the oceans had been obliterated, and the human family still outgrew its bounds, Dalis came to my father and me with still another proposal. It involved a strange, other-worldly young woman whom he called Lunar! Her family—well, nothing was known about her, for her family could not be traced. Wiped out, I presume, in some inter-family quarrel, leaving her alone. Dalis found her, took an interest in her, and the very strangeness of her gave him his idea, which he brought to my father and me.
"His proposal was somewhat like that which you made when we sent the Earth out of its orbit into outer space, save that Dalis' scheme involved no such program. His was simply a proposal to somehow communicate with the Moon by the use of an interplanetary rocket that should carry a human passenger.
"He put the idea up to this girl, Lunar, and she did not seem to care one way or another. Dalis was all wrapped up in his ideas, and gave the girl the name of Lunar, as being symbolical of his plans for her. He coached and trained her against the consummation of his plan. We knew something, theoretically at least, about the conditions on the Moon, and everything possible was done for her, to make it feasible for her to exist on the Moon. My error was in ever permitting the experiment to be made, since if I had negatived the idea. Dalis would have gone no further!
"But I, too, was curious, and Lunar did not care. Well, the rocket was constructed, and shot outward into space by a series of explosions. No word was ever received from Lunar, though it was known that she landed on the Moon!
* * * * *
"I say no word was ever received, yet what you have intimated proves that Dalis has either been in mental communication with her, hoping to induce her to send a force against the Earth, and assist him in mastering the Earth, overthrowing we Sarkas—or has been biding his time against something of the thing we have now accomplished."
This seemed to clear up many things for Sarka, though it piled higher upon his shoulders the weight of his responsibilities. The other-worldliness of Lunar, called now Luar, explained her mastery of the Gnomes, and through them the cubes, and her knowledge of the omnipotent qualities of the white flames of the Moon's core, which might have been, it came to Sarka in a flash, the source of all life on the Moon in the beginning!
"But father," went on Sarka, "I don't see any sense in this aerial bombardment by Mars!"
"I believe," said Sarka the Second sadly, "that before another ten hours pass we shall know the worst there is to be known: but now, son, instead of going into attack against the Moon, we go into battle against the combined forces of Mars and of the Moon!"
* * * * *
Sarka now took command of the forces of the Earth. Swiftly he turned to the people of the Gens of Dalis who had come back with him.
"You will be divided into eleven equal groups, as nearly as possible. Father, will you please arrange the division? Each group will be attached to the staff of one of the Spokesman of the Gens, so that each Spokesman will have the benefit of your knowledge with reference to conditions on the Moon. Each group will re-enter its particular aircar, retaining control of the cube in each case, of course, and will at once repair to his proper station. Telepathy is the mode of communication with the cubes, and you rule them by your will. Each group, when assembled by my father, will choose a leader before quitting this laboratory, and such leader will remain in command of his group, under the overlordship of the Spokesman to whom he reports with his group. You understand!
"Your loyalty is unquestioned. You will consecrate your lives to the welfare of the Gens to which you are going, since you no longer have a Gens of your own!"
Sarka turned to the cubes, which had formed in a line just inside the Exit Dome, and issued a mental command to the cube that had piloted his aircar from the Moon. The cube faded out instantly, appearing immediately afterward on the table of the vari-colored lights.
"Father," said Sarka, "while I am issuing orders to the Spokesmen, please see if you can discover the secret of these cubes: how they are actuated, the real extent of their intelligence! The rest of you, with your cubes, depart immediately and report to your new Gens!"
* * * * *
Within ten minutes the divisions had been made, and the Radiant People had entered the aircars and, outside the laboratory, risen free of the Earth, and turned, each in its proper direction, for the Gens of its assignment. The Sarkas and Jaska watched them go.
There remained but one aircar, standing outside on half a dozen of those grim tentacles, with two tentacles swinging free, undulating to and fro like serpents. Harnessed electricity actuating the tentacles—cars and tentacles subservient to the cubes.
The aircars safely on their way, Sarka stepped to the Master Beryl, tuned it down to normal speed, and signalled the Spokesmen of the Gens.
"The Moon and Mars are in alliance against us, and Dalis has allied himself and his Gens with the ruler of the Moon! I don't know yet what form the attack will take, but know this: that the safety of the world, of all its people, rests in your hands, and that the war into which we are going is potentially more vast than expected when this venture began, and more devastating than the fight with the aircars of the Moon! Coming to you, in aircars which we managed to take from the Moon-people, are such of the people of the Gens of Dalis as were able to return with me. Question them, gather all the information you can about them, and through them keep control of the cubes which pilot the aircars, for in the cubes, I believe, lies the secret of our possible victory in the fight to come!"
* * * * *
Sarka scarcely knew why he had spoken the last sentence. It was as though something deep within him had risen up, commanded him to speak, and deeper yet, far back in his consciousness, was a mental picture of the devastation he had witnessed on his flight above the area that had once housed the Gens of Dalis.
For in that ghastly area, he believed, was embodied an idea greater than mere wanton destruction, just as there was an idea back of the fiery lights from Mars greater than mere display. Somehow the two were allied, and Sarka believed that, between the blue column, and the fiery lights from Mars, the fate of the world rested.
He could, he believed, by manipulation of the Beryls that yet remained, maneuver the world away from that blue column—which on the Earth was invisible. But to have done so would have thwarted the very purpose for which this mad voyage had been begun. The world had been started on its mad journey into space for the purpose of attacking and colonizing the Moon and Mars.
The Moon had been colonized by the Gens of Dalis, already in potential revolt against the Earth. Mars was next, and by forcing the Earth into close proximity to Mars the people of the Moon had played into the hands of Earth-people—if the people of Earth were capable of carrying out the program of expansion originally proposed by Sarka!
If they were not ... well, Sarka thought somewhat grimly, the resultant cataclysmic war would at least solve the problem of over-population! Inasmuch as the Earth was already committed to whatever might transpire, Sarka believed he should take a philosophic view of the matter!
* * * * *
Sarka turned to an examination of the Master Beryl, and even as he peered into the depths of it, he thought gratefully how nice it was to be home again, in his own laboratory, upon the world of his nativity. He even found it within his heart to feel somewhat sorry for Dalis, and to feel ashamed that he had, even in his heart, mistreated him.
Then he thought, with a tightening of his jaw muscles, of the casual way in which Dalis had destroyed Sarka the First, of his forcing his people to undergo the terrors of the lake of white flames without telling them the simple secret; of his betrayal of the Earth in his swift alliance with Luar; or Luar herself when, as Lunar, a strange waif of Earth, Dalis had sent her out as the first human passenger aboard a rocket to the Moon. All his pity vanished, though he still believed he had done right in sparing Dalis' life.
Suddenly there came an ominous humming in the Beryl, and simultaneously signals from the vari-colored lights on the table. Sarka whirled to the lights, noting their color, and mentally repeating the names of the Spokesmen who signalled him.
Even before he gave the signal that placed him in position to converse with them, he noted the strange coincidence. The Spokesmen who desired speech with him were tutelary heads of Gens whose borders touched the devasted area where Dalis had but recently been overlord!
An icy chill caressed his spine as he signalled the Spokesmen to speak.
"Yes, Vardee? Prull? Klaser? Cleric?"
* * * * *
The report of each of them was substantially the same, though couched in different words, words freighted heavily with strange terror.
"The devasted area has suddenly broken into movement! Throughout that portion of it visible from my Gens area, the fused mass of debris is bubbling, fermenting, walking into life! An aura of unearthly menace seems to flow outward from this heaving mass, and the whole is assuming a most peculiar radiance—cold gleaming, like distant starshine!"
"Wait!" replied Sarka swiftly. "Wait until the people I have sent you have arrived! Report to me instantly if the movement of the mass is noticeably augmented, and especially so if it seems to be breaking up, or coagulating into any sort of form whatever!"
Then he dimmed the lights, indicating that for the moment there was nothing more to be said. Just then his father, face very gray and very old, entered the room of the Master Beryl from the laboratory.
"Son!" he said. "The crisis is almost upon us! The Martians are coming!"
Cubes of Chaos
Sarka raced into the Observatory, wondering as he ran how the attack of the Martians would manifest itself; but scarcely prepared for the brilliant display which greeted his gaze. Compared to the oncoming flames from Mars, the preceding display of lights had been as nothing. The whole Heavens between the Earth and Mars seemed alight with an unearthly glare, as though the very heart of the sun had burst and hurled part of its flaming mass outward into space.
On it came with unbelievable speed.
But there was no telling, yet, the form of the things which were coming.
"What are they?" whispered Jaska, standing fearlessly at Sarka's side. "Interplanetary cars? Rockets? Balls of fire? Or beings of Mars?"
"I think," said Sarka, after studying the display for a few minutes, "that they are either rockets or fireballs, perhaps both together! But the Martians cannot consolidate any position on the Earth without coming to handgrips. Since they must know this, we can expect to see the people of Mars themselves when, or soon after, those balls of fire strike the Earth!"
Sarka raced back to the room of the Master Beryl as a strident humming came through to him.
* * * * *
The Spokesmen of the Gens whose borders touched those of the devasted Dalis area, were reporting again, and their voices were high pitched with fear that threatened to break the bounds of sanity.
"The ferment in the devasted area," was the gist of their report, "is assuming myriads of shapes! The fused mass has broken up into isolated masses, and each mass of itself is assuming one of the many forms!"
"What forms?" snapped Sarka. "Quickly!"
"Cubes! Thousands and millions of cubes, and the cubes themselves are forming into larger cubes, some square, some rectangular! In the midst of these formations are others, mostly columnar, each column consisting of cubes which have coalesced into the larger form from the same small cubes! The columnar formations are topped by globes which emit an ethereal radiance!"
"Listen!" Sarka's voice was vibrant with excitement. "Spokesmen of the Gens, make sure that every individual member of your Gens is fully equipped with flying clothing including belts and ovoids—prepared for an indefinite stay outside on the roof of the world! Get your people out swiftly, keeping them in formation! Keep about you those people of Dalis whom I sent you, and understand before you break contact with your Beryls, that instructions received from these people come from me! In turn, after you have quitted the hives, anything you wish to say to me you can repeat to any one of the glowing people of Dalis!"
The contacts were broken. Sarka stared into the Beryl, glancing swiftly in all directions, to see whether his orders were obeyed.
Out of the myriads of hives were flying the people of all the Gens of Earth, their vast numbers already darkening the roof of the world. The advance fires from Mars seemed to have no effect on them, which Sarka had expected, since the fires seemed to consume nothing they had touched previously.
* * * * *
By millions the people came forth. People dressed in the clothing of this Gens or that, wearing each the insignia of the house of his Spokesman. A brave show. Sarka could see the faces of many, now in light, now in shadow, as the advance fires of Mars lighted them for a moment in passing, then left them in shadow as the bursting balls of fire faded and died.
Strange, too, that the fireballs made no noise. Noiseless flame which rebounded from the surface of the Earth broke in silence, deluging the heavens with shooting stars of great brilliance. Through its display flew the people of the Gens, mustering in flight above flight, each to his own level, under command of the Spokesmen of the Gens.
"How long, father," queried Sarka, "should it take to empty the Gens areas?"
"The people of Earth have been waiting for word to go into battle since we first sent the people of Dalis against the Moon-men. They still are ready! The dwellings of our people, all of them, can be emptied within an hour!"
"I wonder," mused Sarka, "if that is soon enough!"
Perhaps yes, perhaps no. It would be a race, in any case. Sarka divided his attention between the rapidly changing formations of the Moon-cubes in that devasted area and the onrushing charge of the fire-balls from Mars. All were visible to him through the Master Beryl, and from the Observatory, though the Martian fire-balls were now so close that the vanguard of them could even be seen in the Master Beryl, adjusted to view only activities on the surface of the Earth.
Even as the last flights of the Gens of Earth were slipping into the icy air from the roof of the world, the Moon-cubes began their terrifying, appalling attack, every detail of which could be seen by Sarka from the Master Beryl.
* * * * *
Those columns, composed of cubes, seemed to be the leaders of a vast cube-army. The top of each of them was a gleaming globe whose eery light played over the country immediately surrounding each column, their weird light reflected in the squares, rectangles and globes that other cubes had formed.
Sarka sought swiftly among the columns for the one which might conceivably be in supreme command; but even as he sought the Moon-cubes moved to the attack. The globes on the tops of the columns dimmed their lights, and the squares, rectangles and globes got instantly into terrible motion.
Southward from the position in which they had formed they began to move, the squares and rectangles apparently sliding along the surface of the scarred and broken soil, the globes rolling.
Southward there was the vast wall of the Gens that bordered the devasted area in that direction, and the cube-army was instantly at full charge toward this, in what Sarka realized was, to be a war of demolition!
Within a minute, Sarka was conscious of a trembling of all the laboratory, and the eyes of Jaska were wide with fear. Swiftly the trembling grew, until sound now was added to the vast, awesome tremor—a vast, roaring crescendo of sound that mounted and mounted as the speed of the cube-army increased. The vanguard of the cube-army struck the dwelling of the Gens southward of that of Dalis, and a mighty, rocketing roar sounded in the Master Beryl, was audible inside the laboratory, even without the aid of the Beryl, at whose surface Sarka stared as a man fascinated, hypnotized.
* * * * *
The cube-army struck the dwellings, disappeared into them as though they had been composed of tissue paper, and continued on! Over the tops of the cube-army toppled the roofs of the dwellings, there, in the midst of the cubes, to be ground to powder, with a sound as of a million avalanches grinding together in some awesome, sun-size valley. Southward, in the wake of the chaotic charge, moved a mighty, gigantic crevasse, whose sides were the walls of the hives left standing. And still the cube-army moved in, grinding everything it touched to dust, trampling buildings into nothingness, destroying utterly along a front hundreds of miles wide, and as deep as the dwellings of men!
"God!" cried Sarka, his voice so tense that both his father and Jaska heard it above the roaring which shook and rocked the world. "Do you see? The Moon-cubes are destroying the dwelling of our people, and the Martians are to destroy the people who have fled!"
"There must be a way," said Sarka the Second quietly, "to circumvent the cubes! But what? Your will still rules the cubes which piloted you from the Moon?"
"Yes," replied Sarka tersely, "but there are only a dozen of the cubes. What can they do against countless millions of them? Cubes which are Moon-cubes, brought to the Earth in the heart of that blue column, here reformed to create an army which is invincible, because it cannot be slain! It means that the Moon-people themselves, thousands of miles out of our reach, have but to sit in comfort and watch their cube-slaves destroy us! When they have laid waste the Earth, the Martians have but to finish the fight!"
* * * * *
"If, beloved," said Jaska, "your will commands those twelve cubes, it can also command all the others, for they must be essentially the same. Call on the rebels of Dalis to help you!"
"Then what of the Spokesmen of the Gens, who will be out of contact with me?"
"They must stand on their own feet, must fight their own battle! Call to you the people who have passed through the white flames, and fight with the distant will of Luar and of Dalis for control of the cube-army!"
Again that exaltation, which convinced him he could move mountains with his two hands, coursed through the being of Sarka.
Quietly be answered Jaska.
"I believe you are right," he said softly. "Those of us who have passed through the flames which bore these Moon-cubes will control the cubes, even bend them to our will. The Spokesmen must vanquish the Martians or perish!"
Then he sent his mental commands to the Spokesmen:
"Meet the Martians when they arrive and destroy or drive them back! You live only if you win! We speak no more until victory is ours! People of the Gens of Dalis, go to the areas being devasted by the cubes, taking your cubes and aircars with you, and I will join you there! And Jaska with me!"
Sarka had not himself mentally spoken the last four words. Jaska had thought-spoken them, before he could prevent. He turned upon her, lips shaping a command that she remain behind. But she forestalled him.
"I, too, have been through the white flames! You may have need of all of us!"
The Struggle for Mastery
The people of all the Gens of Earth were now between two fires. The cube-army, ruled by the mistress of the Moon, was laying waste the dwellings of the Gens, destroying them with a speed and surety of which no earthquake, whatever its proportions, would have been capable. The Gens were forced out upon the roof of the world—where, scarcely had they maneuvered into their prearranged formations, than the Martians struck.
Those huge balls of fire, larger even than the aircars of the Moon, landed in vast and awe-inspiring numbers on the roof of the world—landed easily, with no apparent effort or shock. The light of them made all the world a place of vast radiance, save only that portion which was being destroyed by the cube-army, and this area had a cold, chill radiance of its own.
By groups and organisations the fire-balls of Mars landed, and rested quiescent on the surface of the globe.
Sarka, pausing only long enough in his laboratory to study this strange attack and to discover how it would get under way, was at the same time preparing to go forth to take his own strange part in the defensive action of Earthlings. A vast confidence was in him....
"We will lose millions of people, father," he said softly. "But it will end in our victory, in the most glorious war ever fought on this Earth!"
"That is true, my son!" replied the older man sadly.
* * * * *
For several minutes the vast fire-balls, which seemed to be monster glowing octagons, rested where they had landed, and even then the Gens of the people were closing on them, bringing their ray directors and atom-disintegrators into action.
Then, when the Earthlings would have destroyed the first of the vast fire-balls—and Sarka was noting that the flames which bathed the balls seemed to have no effect whatever on Earthlings, save to outline them in mantles of fire—the fire-balls wakened to new life.
They opened like the halves of peaches falling apart, and out upon the roof of the world poured the first Martians Earth had ever seen!
They were more than twice the size, on the average, of Earth people, and at first glance seemed to resemble them very much, save that their eyes, of which each Martian was possessed of two, were set on the ends of long tentacles which could stretch forth to a length of two feet or more from the eye-sockets and thus be turned in any direction. Each eye was independent of its neighbor, as one could look forward while the other looked backward, or one could look right while the other looked left.
Each Martian possessed two arms on each side of a huge, powerful torso, and legs that were like the bolls of trees, compared to the slender limbs of Earthlings. All the Martians seemed to be dressed in the skins of strange, vari-colored beasts. Each carried in his upper right hand a slender canelike thing some three feet in length, from whose tip there flashed those spurts of flame which had puzzled the Earth people before the actual launching of the attack.
* * * * *
Beyond these weapons, the Martians seemed to possess no weapons of offense at all, nor of defense.
"With our ray directors and atom-disintegrators," said Sarka, moving into the Exit Dome with Jaska, "we can blast them from the face of the Earth!"
But in a moment he realized that he had spoken too hastily.
The nearest fire-ball was, of course, within the area of the Gens of Cleric, and Sarka could here see with his naked eyes all that transpired. The Martian passengers, who moved swiftly away from their fire-ball vehicles, then a flight of the Gens of Cleric descended upon the fireball and its fleeing passengers, with tiny ray directors and atom-disintegrators held to the fore, ready for action.
The Martians, at some distance from their glowing vehicle, paused and formed a ragged line, facing the ball, staring at the descending people of the Gens of Cleric, their tentaclelike eyes waving to and fro, oddly like the tentacles of those aircars of the Moon.
The flight was hovering above the first fireball. In a second now, at the command of an underling, the ray directors would destroy fire-ball and Martians as thoroughly as though they had never existed at all.
* * * * *
But then a strange thing happened. At that exact moment, timing their actions to fractions of seconds, the Martians raised and pointed their canelike weapons of the spurting flames. They pointed them, however, not at the Earthlings, but at the fire-ball which had brought them to Earth!
Instantly the fire-ball exploded as with the roaring of a hundred mighty volcanoes—and the descending flight of the Gens of Cleric was blasted into countless fragments! Bits of them flew in all directions. Many dropped, the mangled, infinitesmal remains of them, down to the roof of Earth, while many were hurled skyward through formations above them—while those formations, to a height of a full two miles, were broken asunder. Many flights above that first flight were smashed and broken, their individual members hurled in all directions by that one single blast of a single fire-ball.
Individuals who escaped destruction were hurled end over end, upward through other flights higher above, and the whole aggregation of flights which had been concentrated on that first fire-ball was instantly demoralized, while full fifty per cent of its individuals were instantly torn to bits!
Sarka groaned to the depths of him.
"The leader of the Martians, or the master who sent them here, sent them here to win. For if they do not win, they cannot return to Mars, as they will have destroyed their vehicles! Their confidence is superhuman!"
"Have faith in the courage of Earthlings, son!" said Sarka.
It was much to ask, for if one single one of these fire-balls could wreak such havoc with the people of Earth, what would be the destruction by the countless other unexploded fireballs of the Martians?
* * * * *
Still, the Spokesmen themselves must discover a way to hold their own, to win against the Martians. For Sarka there was greater work to do. He must oppose the wills of Luar and of Dalis in a mighty mental conflict, which would decide whether the homes of men would be saved, or utterly destroyed by the Moon-cubes.
But as he left through the Exit Dome, with Jaska by his side, he shuddered, and was just a little sick inside as he saw the fearful result of that first explosion of a Martian fire-ball! Bits of human wreckage were scattered over the Earth for a great distance in all directions from where the fire-ball had exploded. And at that spot a gigantic crater had been torn in the roof of the world, going down to none knew what depths.
Even the Martians, here only to consolidate positions which had passed the demolition of the Moon-cubes, were capable of demolitions almost as ghastly and complete as those of the cubes!
The sound was incapable of being described, for outside the laboratory the sound of the advance of the Moon-cubes eating into the dwellings of men, tumbling them down, grinding them to powder, was cataclysmic in its mighty volume. A million express trains crashing head-on into walls of galvanized iron at top speed, simultaneously.
Ear-drum crashing blows as fireballs exploded. The screams and shrieks of maimed and dying Earthlings—of Earthlings unwounded but possessed of abysmal fear....
* * * * *
Then, resolutely, Sarka turned his back on the conflict between the Martians and the people of Earth, and hurtled across the devastated roof of the world toward that area which was feeling the destructive force of the vandal cube-army. As he flew, Jaska keeping pace with him in silence, his mind was busy.
Passage through the white flames of the Moon had given him the key. Those white flames—source of all life on the Moon—rendered almost godlike those whom it bathed ... gave them unbelievable access of mental brilliance ... were the source of that blue column which had forced the Earth outward toward Mars ... were the source, in some way, of the cubes themselves, as he and Jaska, after passing through them, owed their now near-divinity to the same white flames! Those flames had made Luar mistress of the Moon—therefore of the Gnomes and of the cubes! Therefore, Sarka, having been bathed in the flames, should make himself master of the cubes, if he could out-will the combined determinations of Luar and of Dalis!
His confidence was supreme as he fled through outer darkness toward the eery light which came from the area of demolitions. Looking ahead, he could see tiny glows in the sky, which he knew to be the rebels of Dalis' Gens, flying to keep their rendezvous with him.
Higher mounted his courage and his confidence as he approached the roaring crash, perpetual and always mounting, which showed him where the cube-army was busiest. The sound vibrated the very air, causing the bodies of Sarka to tingle with it, causing them to flutter and shake in their flight with its awesome power. But they did not hold back, flew onward through the gloom, leaving behind them the brightly lighted areas where Gens of Earth battled with the fireballs of the Martians, moving into the area of the eery glowing of the cubes.
* * * * *
Just as he approached the spot where mighty dwellings were tumbling before the march of the cube-army, he sent a single command toward the cube which had piloted him from the Moon.
"Come to me on the edge of the crevasse nearest the place of most destruction!"
Would the cube now be subservient to his will? He wondered. Everything depended upon that. If not, then he might as well try to stay the forces of a mighty avalanche with his breath, as halt the cube-army with his will.
But strangely enough, the closer he came to the vast area of tumbling dwellings the calmer he became, the more sure that he would win against the cubes.
For when he landed at the lip of the crevasse, across which he could look for a hundred miles, a single cube gleamed brightly almost at his feet, awaiting his orders!
One by one, by twos, threes, fours, dozens, came the glowing people who had been bathed in the white flames of the Moon's life-source, and as each dropped down beside him, Sarka gave a command.
"Drop down in the midst of the cubes! Make your own cube the rallying point for this vast army of cubes, force the cubes to desist in their mighty destruction, be subservient to your will—and do you, each of you, be subservient to my will!"
* * * * *
Away dropped the rebels, glowing points of white flame, dropping down the sides of the crevasse, a mighty, awesome canyon, into the very heart of the activity of the cubes, and from the brain of Sarka, aided by the will of Jaska, went forth a simple command:
"Cease your march of destruction, O Moon-cubes, and harken to the will of Sarka, your master! Draw back from your labors, and muster, not as squares, rectangles and columns, but as individual cubes, in the area already devastated by you! Rally about the glowing people who have passed through the flames which were your Moon-mother, and wait for orders! Take no further heed of commands from Dalis and Luar!"
Instantly it seemed to Sarka that he had drawn into some invisible vortex which tore at his brain, at his body, at his soul. Inside him a cold voice seemed to say:
"Fool, Sarka! My will is greater than yours!"
But though the force of the will of Luar, whose thought he recognized, tore at him, almost shriveled the soul and brain of him with its might, he continued to send his thought-command out to the Moon-cubes, forcing it through the wall of Luar's will, hurling it like invisible projectiles at the cube-army below.
Exultation possessed him, buoyed him up, gave him greater courage and confidence as the moments passed for even as all his being concentrated on the will-command to the cubes, his senses told him that the mighty sound of destruction was dying away, fading out.
* * * * *
Slower now the dwellings fell, slower moved the Moon-cubes; and as they slowed in their mighty march through the dwellings of men, so increased the confidence, the power of will, of Sarka and his people—the rebels of the Gens of Dalis.
Then, after an hour, whose mighty mental conflict had bathed Sarka in the perspiration of superhuman effort, the sound of destruction ceased all together, and the dwellings ceased to fall.
A silent shout, like an inborn paean of rejoicing, surged through Sarka as he noted the retreat from the dwellings of men, of the Moon-cubes! Back and back retreated the squares and the rectangles, the columns and the globes, breaking apart as they retreated.
Within fifteen minutes after the destruction had ceased, millions of gleaming cubes winked upward from the bottom of the crevasse—motionless, quiescent!
Sarka sent forth another thought.
"I am your master, O cubes of the Moon!"
No sound, no movement, answered him.
"Luar and Dalis are no longer able to command you!"
Still no sound or movement of the cubes.
* * * * *
Then, taking a deep breath, as of a swimmer preparing to dive into icy water, Sarka gave a new command.
"Dissolve! Reform on the roof of the world in globes! Roll over the face of the Earth, destroy the fire-balls of Mars—and take prisoners, inside the globes, the attackers from Mars!"
Instantly the gleaming cubes vanished, and darkness as of a mighty pit possessed the crevasse of destruction. Then, at the lip of the great crevasse, the cubes swept into form—myriads of globes which gleamed with the cold blue brilliance of the Moon!
They had no sooner formed as globes than they were in action again, rolling over the roof of the world as with a rising crescendo of thunder tumbling down the night-black sky. So mighty was their rush that the roof of the world trembled and shook.
Above their charge raced Sarka and Jaska, and with them the rebels of the Gens of Dalis.
All were present when the cubes crashed into the fire-balls from Mars, swept the Martians within themselves as prisoners, held them securely—and continued on, destroying the fire-balls in myriads. Here and there fire-balls exploded on contact, destroying the globes, which immediately reformed again, as though the explosions had not been felt at all.
* * * * *
Sarka had won the allegiance of the Moon-cubes, which had defeated and taken prisoners the Martians, destroying the vehicles in which they might have returned to Mars. And as realization came, darkness settled over the roof of the world; the last flare of Mars faded and died.
This done, the cubes formed in mighty rows, facing the laboratory of Sarka. His heart beating madly with exultation, Sarka studied them. Then he stepped into the Observatory, gazed away across the space which separated the Earth from the Moon, sent a mental message winging outward.
Faintly, fearfully, came the answer.
"We hear, O Sarka!"
"Shift the blue column away from the Earth! Do not interfere as we return to our orbit about the sun! Obey, or I combine the total knowledge of Mars, the Earth, and the Moon in an attack against you and your Martian ally! Inform your ally that their people will not return, that the Earth has need of them—but that two Gens of Earth will be received by Martians in perfect amity, and these Gens allowed biding places on Mars! Unless your ally obeys, the Martians in my hands will be destroyed!"
In an hour the answer came, the snarling thought-answer of Dalis.
"We hear! We obey! But Dalis is never beaten while he lives! His day will come!"
* * * * *
Sarka found himself feeling even a little sorry for sorely beaten Dalis; but his face was grim as he sent another command to the people of Dalis who had passed through the life-source of the Moon.
"Take command of the cubes, and force them to repair the damage which has been done to the dwellings of men—to repair them completely, over all the face of the Earth!"
As the glowing people hurried to obey, Sarka softly asked his father:
"But what shall we do with the Martians?"
Sarka the Second smiled.
"Release them and send them to the lowest level where, guarded by the cubes, they will be set to constructing fireballs like those in which they arrived for the use of Earth if Dalis, or the Martians, ever attack again! And, son...."
"Yes, O my father?" said Sarka softly.
"I have another suggestion for the employment of the cubes! Let them build aircars to be used by the Gens of Prull and of Klaser, as transportation to Mars whenever you are ready for them to go!"
Sarka smiled boyishly, happily.
"Yes, O my father; and is there anything else?"
"Yes! Take Jaska as your mate! Do you not see that she is waiting for you to speak?"
Sarka turned to Jaska, whose face was glorious in her surrender, and whose lips were parted in a loving smile—which faded only when Sarka's lips caressed it away.
Appears on Newsstands
THE FIRST THURSDAY IN EACH MONTH
I am taking the privilege of writing to you in an endeavor to show my appreciation of your magazine Astounding Stories.
Although I am an inveterate reader I must say that I have never read any book or magazine to come up to the above, and confess that though I am ignorant of the intricacies of science (and lacked interest in same prior to my reading your first issue) same is described so plainly that I have no trouble in fully understanding exactly what the author conveys. I must thank you for this other interest in the monotony of life.
Have pleasure of informing you that through my enthusiasm have created several subscribers, and on occasions when adopting the age old custom of placing my foot upon the rail and bending the elbow, have entered into many a conversation and discussion re the different stories included in your magazine.
I assure you of my whole-hearted support in the furthering of the popularity of your enjoyable and unique work in my country, and wish you every success in your venture.—M. B. Johnston, 237 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia.
Mr. Neal's Favorites
The other day I saw Astounding Stories on one of the newsstands. I purchased it, and after reading "Brigands of the Moon", I eagerly finished the rest of the magazine. I did not like "Out of the Dreadful Depths." In my opinion it should not be in a Science Fiction magazine. The only thing the matter with your magazine is that it is too small. I would like to read some stories in "our" magazine by Ed Earl Repp, David H. Keller, M. D., Miles J. Brewer, M. D., and Stanton Coblentz—Francis Neal, R. R. 4, Box 105, Kokomo, Ind.
No Ghost Stories
I received your April issue and I think it is the best yet. I have but one complaint to make, and that is your magazine seems to print some good science stories, but also has some stories which do not belong in a Science Fiction magazine. They might come under the name of weird tales. Is your magazine devoted to pure 100 per cent. Science Fiction? If so, I think you ought to leave out the ghost stories.—Louis Wentzler, 1933 Woodbine St., Brooklyn, N. Y.
From the Other Sex
You'll be surprised to hear from a girl, as I notice only boys wrote to praise your new magazine. I tried reading some of the Science Fiction magazines my brother buys every month but I'd start reading a story only to leave it unfinished. But your magazine is different. When I picked it up to read it I thought I'd soon throw it down and read something else, but the moment I started to read one of the stories of your new magazine I read it to the finish. I never read such vivid and exciting stories. Even my brother who loves all kinds of Science Fiction magazines couldn't stop praising your new magazine. He said Astounding Stories beats them all.
Some of our readers criticized your new magazine, and I haven't anything but disagreement for them. Yet, who am I, to judge persons who have read and know all about Science Fiction?
Will recommend your new magazine to all my friends.—Sue O'Bara, 13440 Barley Ave., Chicago, Illinois.
January Issue Was First
I have just finished reading the April issue of "our" magazine. Can mere words describe my feelings? I am classing the stories as follows: A—excellent; B—very good; C—good; D—passable; E—poor.
A—"Monsters of Moyen," "Vampires of Venus," "The Ray of Madness," "The Soul-Snatcher."
B—"The Man Who Was Dead."
C—None. D—None. E—None.
"Brigands of the Moon" is getting more and more interesting. Can you please tell me which month's issue was the first one, as I didn't procure the first two copies and should like to do so?—Eli Meltzer, 1466 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn, N. Y.
Just as soon as your new magazine came out I espied it. It eclipsed all the other magazines on the stand. As a cub magazine I couldn't ask for more.
I am going to comment on your stories now because I know you want me too, for I know you would like to know what sort of stories your readers like.
I have a lot to say about Ray Cummings. He is the best writer I have ever seen. His stories couldn't be beat. "Phantoms of Reality" was a corking good story, but I believe his new serial, "Brigands of the Moon," is going to be better. Captain S. P. Meek is a very good writer also. I take immense joy in his Dr. Bird stories. And we must not forget that great writer, Murray Leinster. His stories are really good.
I congratulate you on your new magazine, Mr. Editor.—Albert Philbrick, 117 N. Spring St., Springfield, Ohio.
"A Unique Magazine"
I've been trying to write your magazine for a long time, so here goes.
I've bought every copy from the first issue and sure think it is a good magazine. In fact I should say a unique magazine; there are but few magazines in its class among Science Fiction magazines. The stories come up to the standards of good Science Fiction, and some go far above it. A few stories I did not like were: "The Man Who Was Dead," "The Soul Snatcher," "The Corpse on the Grating" and "The Stolen Mind." The science in all these stories was very poor. But your magazine became better in my eyes when you published "Phantoms of Reality," "Tanks," "Old Crompton's Secret," "Brigands of the Moon," "Monsters of Moyen," and all of Captain S. P. Meek's stories. These were extraordinarily good stories.
Wesso's drawings are very good, and I hope you keep him. I have seen his drawings in another magazine for quite a time. I don't like the illustrations of your other artist. Could you, by chance, secure an artist by the name of Leo Morey or Hugh Mackay? They both illustrate for other Science Fiction magazines and are about as good as Wesso. Please keep the latter. And why don't you have him to do all of your illustrating?
Sorry to seem such a grouch, but I don't like your grade of paper either. And why not enlarge the magazine to about 11" x 9" by 1/2", and charge 25 cents for your thoroughly good magazine, apart from the defects I have mentioned.
About your authors. They are, for the most part, good. But they are mostly amateurs at writing Science Fiction stories. I am delighted to see such expert writers of Science Fiction as Harl Vincent, Ray Cummings, Victor Rousseau and Captain S. P. Meek writing for your magazine, but couldn't you include in your staff of authors A. Hyatt Verrill, Dr. Miles J. Breuer, Dr. David H. Keller, R. F. Starzl, and a few more such notable authors? I hope to see these authors in your magazine soon.—Linus Hogenmiller, 502 N. Washington St., Farmington, Mo.
The Star System!
One star means fairly good, two stars, good; three stars, excellent; four, extraordinary; no stars—just another story.
I give "Brigands of the Moon," by Ray Cummings, three stars; "The Atom-Smasher," by Victor Rousseau, three stars; "Murder Madness," by Murray Leinster, two stars; "Into the Ocean Depths," by S. P. Wright, two stars, and "The Jovian Jest," by L. Lorraine, no stars. It was short and sweet.
Wesso sure can draw. I would like to see a full page illustration for each story by him.
My favorite type of stories are interplanetary, and, second favorite, stories of future wars. Will you have many of them in the future? I like long stories like the novelette in the May issue of Astounding Stories—Jack Darrow, 4225 N. Spaulding Ave., Chicago, Illinois.
We Expect Not To
While going over your "The Readers' Corner" of the April issue, I noticed in your answer to one of the letters that you will avoid reprints. Now many of your readers have not read the older classics of Science Fiction. Would it not be a good idea to publish a reprint at least once a year? One of the suggestions given was Merritt's "Through the Dragon Glass." Another very interesting story, and one that I am sure almost all of your followers have not read, is "The Blind Spot," by Homer Flint.
I like the idea of having three members to a volume, as it will be much easier to bind. Now, starting with the April issue, I think that the best story in there is "Monsters of Moyen." "The Ray of Madness" was up to the usual standard of Capt. S. P. Meek's stories. "The Man Who Was Dead" was fairly good; average, I would say. I did not like "Vampires of Venus."
I say that the May issue was the best of the Astounding Stories. I was satisfied with every story in it. "Into the Ocean Depths" was the best story, "The Atom Smasher" being a close second. I like the way the story "Into the Ocean Depths" ended; a slight trace of sadness and not at all like the "and they lived happily ever after" ending. A real story.
I was disappointed in not finding any story concerning Dr. Bird in the April issue. Will any more be printed soon?
Before I close I would like a definite answer to this question: Will you ever, or in the near future, reprint any of the genre of Science Fiction, stories by the late master Garret P. Serviss, or from the pen of A. Merritt and H. G. Wells?—Nathan Greenfeld, 313 E. 70th St., New York City.
Although I am a reader of six Science Fiction magazines, I was more than glad to see the latest one out, Astounding Stories. Because the stories are all interesting. I consider Astounding Stories superior to most of the Science Fiction periodicals on the newsstands to-day.
My favorite stories are those of interplanetary voyages and other worlds. My favorite authors are: Ray Cummings, A. Merritt, Victor Rousseau, Murray Leinster, Arthur J. Burks and Harl Vincent. I hope that you will soon have stories by Edmond Hamilton and David H. Keller.
Now here is something I hope you will give some thought and consideration. I noticed that many of the readers wrote in, requesting reprints. I am one of those who would like to see you publish some reprints, especially stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt and Ray Cummings. These authors have written many masterpieces of Science Fiction. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for a person to get these stories. They could be made available easily if Astounding Stories would reprint them.
Most of the readers who object to reprints do so because they would hate to see a story by H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. I, myself, do not like these authors as they are too dull. But if you have only reprints by the three authors I mentioned and a few other popular writers, I am sure all the readers would welcome them. At least you could have a vote and see how they stand on reprints—Michael Fogaris, 157 Fourth St., Passaic, N. J.
Likes "The Readers' Corner"
Your "The Readers' Corner" interests me very much. It surely does show how your magazine pleases its readers. You cannot get too much science in your stories to suit me. Chemistry and physics more than anything else.