triplanetary, first in the lensman seriesby e. e. "doc" smith chapter 1 arisia and eddore two thousand million or so years ago two galaxieswere colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other. a couple of hundreds of millionsof years either way do not matter, since at least that much time was required for theinter-passage. at about that same timeâ€”within the same plus-or-minus ten percent marginof error, it is believedâ€”practically all of the suns of both those galaxies becamepossessed of planets. there is much evidence to support the beliefthat it was not merely a coincidence that
so many planets came into being at about thesame time as the galactic inter-passage. another school of thought holds that it was pure coincidence;that all suns have planets as naturally and as inevitably as cats have kittens. be that as it may, arisian records are clearupon the point that before the two galaxies began to coalesce, there were never more thanthree solar systems present in either; and usually only one. thus, when the sun of theplanet upon which their race originated grew old and cool, the arisians were hard put toit to preserve their culture, since they had to work against time in solving the engineeringproblems associated with moving a planet from an older to a younger sun.
since nothing material was destroyed whenthe eddorians were forced into the next plane of existence, their historical records alsohave become available. those recordsâ€”folios and tapes and playable discs of platinum alloy,resistant indefinitely even to eddore’s noxious atmosphereâ€”agree with those of the arisiansupon this point. immediately before the coalescence began there was one, and only one, planetarysolar system in the second galaxy; and, until the advent of eddore, the second galaxy wasentirely devoid of intelligent life. thus for millions upon untold millions ofyears the two races, each the sole intelligent life of a galaxy, perhaps of an entire space-timecontinuum, remained completely in ignorance of each other. both were already ancient atthe time of the coalescence. the only other
respect in which the two were similar, however,was in the possession of minds of power. since arisia was earth-like in composition,atmosphere, and climate, the arisians were at that time distinctly humanoid. the eddorianswere not. eddore was and is large and dense; its liquid a poisonous, sludgy syrup; itsatmosphere a foul and corrosive fog. eddore was and is unique; so different from any otherworld of either galaxy that its very existence was inexplicable until its own records revealedthe fact that it did not originate in normal space-time at all, but came to our universefrom some alien and horribly different other. as differed the planets, so differed the peoples.the arisians went through the usual stages of savagery and barbarism on the way to civilization.the age of stone. the ages of bronze, of iron,
of steel, and of electricity. indeed, it isprobable that it is because the arisians went through these various stages that all subsequentcivilizations have done so, since the spores which burgeoned into life upon the coolingsurfaces of all the planets of the commingling galaxies were arisian, not eddorian, in origin.eddorian spores, while undoubtedly present, must have been so alien that they could notdevelop in any one of the environments, widely variant although they are, existing naturallyor coming naturally into being in normal space and time. the arisiansâ€”especially after atomic energyfreed them from physical laborâ€”devoted themselves more and ever more intensively to the explorationof the limitless possibilities of the mind.
even before the coalescence, then, the arisianshad need neither of space-ships nor of telescopes. by power of mind alone they watched the lenticularaggregation of stars which was much later to be known to tellurian astronomers as lundmark’snebula approach their own galaxy. they observed attentively and minutely and with high elationthe occurrence of mathematical impossibility; for the chance of two galaxies ever meetingin direct, central, equatorial-plane impact and of passing completely through each otheris an infinitesimal of such a high order as to be, even mathematically, practically indistinguishablefrom zero. they observed the birth of numberless planets,recording minutely in their perfect memories every detail of everything that happened;in the hope that, as ages passed, either they
or their descendants would be able to developa symbology and a methodology capable of explaining the then inexplicable phenomenon. carefree,busy, absorbedly intent, the arisian mentalities roamed throughout spaceâ€”until one of themstruck an eddorian mind. while any eddorian could, if it chose, assumethe form of a man, they were in no sense man-like. nor, since the term implies a softness anda lack of organization, can they be described as being amoeboid. they were both versatileand variant. each eddorian changed, not only its shape, but also its texture, in accordancewith the requirements of the moment. each producedâ€”extrudedâ€”members whenever andwherever it needed them; members uniquely appropriate to the task then in work. if hardnesswas indicated, the members were hard; if softness,
they were soft. small or large, rigid or flexible;joined or tentacularâ€”all one. filaments or cables; fingers or feet; needles or maulsâ€”equallysimple. one thought and the body fitted the job. they were asexual: sexless to a degree unapproachedby any form of tellurian life higher than the yeasts. they were not merely hermaphroditic,nor androgynous, nor parthenogenetic. they were completely without sex. they were also,to all intents and purposes and except for death by violence, immortal. for each eddorian,as its mind approached the stagnation of saturation after a lifetime of millions of years, simplydivided into two new-old beings. new in capacity and in zest; old in ability and in power,since each of the two "children" possessed
in toto the knowledges and the memories oftheir one "parent." and if it is difficult to describe in wordsthe physical aspects of the eddorians, it is virtually impossible to write or to draw,in any symbology of civilization, a true picture of an eddorian’sâ€”any eddorian’sâ€”mind.they were intolerant, domineering, rapacious, insatiable, cold, callous, and brutal. theywere keen, capable, persevering, analytical, and efficient. they had no trace of any ofthe softer emotions or sensibilities possessed by races adherent to civilization. no eddorianever had anything even remotely resembling a sense of humor. while not essentially bloodthirstyâ€”thatis, not loving bloodshed for its own sweet
sakeâ€”they were no more averse to blood-lettingthan they were in favor of it. any amount of killing which would or which might advancean eddorian toward his goal was commendable; useless slaughter was frowned upon, not becauseit was slaughter, but because it was uselessâ€”and hence inefficient. and, instead of the multiplicity of goalssought by the various entities of any race of civilization, each and every eddorian hadonly one. the same one: power. power! p-o-w-e-r!! since eddore was peopled originally by variousraces, perhaps as similar to each other as are the various human races of earth, it isunderstandable that the early history of the planetâ€”while it was still in its own space,that isâ€”was one of continuous and ages-long
war. and, since war always was and probablyalways will be linked solidly to technological advancement, the race now known simply as"the eddorians" became technologists supreme. all other races disappeared. so did all otherforms of life, however lowly, which interfered in any way with the masters of the planet. then, all racial opposition liquidated andovermastering lust as unquenched as ever, the surviving eddorians fought among themselves:"push-button" wars employing engines of destruction against which the only possible defense wasa fantastic thickness of planetary bedrock. finally, unable either to kill or to enslaveeach other, the comparatively few survivors made a peace of sorts. since their own spacewas practically barren of planetary systems,
they would move their planet from space tospace until they found one which so teemed with planets that each living eddorian couldbecome the sole master of an ever increasing number of worlds. this was a program verymuch worthwhile, promising as it did an outlet for even the recognizedly insatiable eddoriancraving for power. therefore the eddorians, for the first time in their prodigiously longhistory of fanatical non-cooperation, decided to pool their resources of mind and of materialand to work as a group. union of a sort was accomplished eventually;neither peaceably nor without highly lethal friction. they knew that a democracy, by itsvery nature, was inefficient; hence a democratic form of government was not even considered.an efficient government must of necessity
be dictatorial. nor were they all exactlyalike or of exactly equal ability; perfect identity of any two such complex structureswas in fact impossible, and any difference, however slight, was ample justification forstratification in such a society as theirs. thus one of them, fractionally more powerfuland more ruthless than the rest, became the all-highestâ€”his ultimate supremacyâ€”anda group of about a dozen others, only infinitesimally weaker, became his council; a cabinet whichwas later to become known as the innermost circle. the tally of this cabinet varied somewhatfrom age to age; increasing by one when a member divided, decreasing by one when a jealousfellow or an envious underling managed to perpetrate a successful assassination.
and thus, at long last, the eddorians beganreally to work together. there resulted, among other things, the hyper-spatial tube and thefully inertialess driveâ€”the drive which was, millions of years later, to be givento civilization by an arisian operating under the name of bergenholm. another result, whichoccured shortly after the galactic inter-passage had begun, was the eruption into normal spaceof the planet eddore. "i must now decide whether to make this spaceour permanent headquarters or to search farther," the all-highest radiated harshly to his council."on the one hand, it will take some time for even those planets which have already formedto cool. still more will be required for life to develop sufficiently to form a part ofthe empire which we have planned or to occupy
our abilities to any great degree. on theother, we have already spent millions of years in surveying hundreds of millions of continua,without having found anywhere such a profusion of planets as will, in all probability, soonfill both of these galaxies. there may also be certain advantages inherent in the factthat these planets are not yet populated. as life develops, we can mold it as we please.krongenes, what are your findings in regard to the planetary possibilities of other spaces?" the term "krongenes" was not, in the acceptedsense, a name. or, rather, it was more than a name. it was a key-thought, in mental shorthand;a condensation and abbreviation of the life-pattern or ego of that particular eddorian.
"not at all promising, your supremacy," krongenesreplied promptly. "no space within reach of my instruments has more than a small fractionof the inhabitable worlds which will presently exist in this one." "very well. have any of you others any validobjections to the establishment of our empire here in this space? if so, give me your thoughtnow." no objecting thoughts appeared, since noneof the monsters then knew anything of arisia or of the arisians. indeed, even if they hadknown, it is highly improbable that any objection would have been raised. first, because noeddorian, from the all-highest down, could conceive or would under any circumstancesadmit that any race, anywhere, had ever approached
or ever would approach the eddorians in anyquality whatever; and second, because, as is routine in all dictatorships, disagreementwith the all-highest did not operate to lengthen the span of life. "very well. we will now confer as to … buthold! that thought is not one of ours! who are you, stranger, to dare to intrude thusupon a conference of the innermost circle?" "i am enphilistor, a younger student, of theplanet arisia." this name, too, was a symbol. nor was the young arisian yet a watchman,as he and so many of his fellows were so soon to become, for before eddore’s arrival arisiahad had no need of watchmen. "i am not intruding, as you know. i have not touched any one ofyour minds; have not read any one of your
thoughts. i have been waiting for you to noticemy presence, so that we could become acquainted with each other. a surprising development,trulyâ€”we have thought for many cycles of time that we were the only highly advancedlife in this universe…." "be silent, worm, in the presence of the masters.land your ship and surrender, and your planet will be allowed to serve us. refuse, or evenhesitate, and every individual of your race shall die." "worm? masters? land my ship?" the young arisian’sthought was pure curiosity, with no tinge of fear, dismay, or awe. "surrender? serveyou? i seem to be receiving your thought without ambiguity, but your meaning is entirely…."
"address me as ‘your supremacy’," the all-highestdirected, coldly. "land now or die nowâ€”this is your last warning." "your supremacy? certainly, if that is thecustomary form. but as to landingâ€”and warningâ€”and dyingâ€”surely you do not think that i ampresent in the flesh? and can it be possible that you are actually so aberrant as to believethat you can kill meâ€”or even the youngest arisian infant? what a peculiarâ€”what anextraordinaryâ€”psychology!" "die, then, worm, if you must have it so!"the all-highest snarled, and launched a mental bolt whose energies were calculated to slayany living thing. enphilistor, however, parried the viciousattack without apparent effort. his manner
did not change. he did not strike back. the eddorian then drove in with an analyzingprobe, only to be surprised againâ€”the arisian’s thought could not be traced! and enphilistor,while warding off the raging eddorian, directed a quiet thought as though he were addressingsomeone close by his side: "come in, please, one or more of the elders.there is a situation here which i am not qualified to handle." "we, the elders of arisia in fusion, are here."a grave, deeply resonant pseudo-voice filled the eddorians’ minds; each perceived in three-dimensionalfidelity an aged, white-bearded human face. "you of eddore have been expected. the courseof action which we must take has been determined
long since. you will forget this incidentcompletely. for cycles upon cycles of time to come no eddorian shall know that we arisiansexist." even before the thought was issued the fusedelders had gone quietly and smoothly to work. the eddorians forgot utterly the incidentwhich had just happened. not one of them retained in his conscious mind any inkling that eddoredid not possess the only intelligent life in space. and upon distant arisia a full meeting ofminds was held. "but why didn’t you simply kill them?" enphilistorasked. "such action would be distasteful in the extreme, of courseâ€”almost impossibleâ€”buteven i can perceive…." he paused, overcome
by his thought. "that which you perceive, youth, is but avery small fraction of the whole. we did not attempt to slay them because we could nothave done so. not because of squeamishness, as you intimate, but from sheer inability.the eddorian tenacity of life is a thing far beyond your present understanding; to haveattempted to kill them would have rendered it impossible to make them forget us. we musthave time … cycles and cycles of time." the fusion broke off, pondered for minutes,then addressed the group as a whole: "we, the elder thinkers, have not shared fullywith you our visualization of the cosmic all, because until the eddorians actually appearedthere was always the possibility that our
findings might have been in error. now, however,there is no doubt. the civilization which has been pictured as developing peacefullyupon all the teeming planets of two galaxies will not now of itself come into being. weof arisia should be able to bring it eventually to full fruition, but the task will be longand difficult. "the eddorians’ minds are of tremendous latentpower. were they to know of us now, it is practically certain that they would be ableto develop powers and mechanisms by the use of which they would negate our every effortâ€”theywould hurl us out of this, our native space and time. we must have time … given time,we shall succeed. there shall be lenses … and entities of civilization worthy in every respectto wear them. but we of arisia alone will
never be able to conquer the eddorians. indeed,while this is not yet certain, the probability is exceedingly great that despite our utmostefforts at self-development our descendants will have to breed, from some people to evolveupon a planet not yet in existence, an entirely new raceâ€”a race tremendously more capablethan oursâ€”to succeed us as guardians of civilization." centuries passed. millenia. cosmic and geologicages. planets cooled to solidity and stability. life formed and grew and developed. and aslife evolved it was subjected to, and strongly if subtly affected by, the diametrically opposedforces of arisia and eddore. chapter 2
the fall of atlantis 1. eddore "members of the innermost circle, whereveryou are and whatever you may be doing, tune in!" the all-highest broadcast. "analysisof the data furnished by the survey just completed shows that in general the great plan is progressingsatisfactorily. there seem to be only four planets which our delegates have not beenor may not be able to control properly: sol iii, rigel iv, velantia iii, and palain vii.all four, you will observe, are in the other galaxy. no trouble whatever has developedin our own. "of these four, the first requires drasticand immediate personal attention. its people,
in the brief interval since our previous generalsurvey, have developed nuclear energy and have fallen into a cultural pattern whichdoes not conform in any respect to the basic principles laid down by us long since. ourdeputies there, thinking erroneously that they could handle matters without reportingfully to or calling for help upon the next higher operating echelon, must be disciplinedsharply. failure, from whatever cause, can not be tolerated. "gharlane, as master number two, you willassume control of sol iii immediately. this circle now authorizes and instructs you totake whatever steps may prove necessary to restore order upon that planet. examine carefullythis data concerning the other three worlds
which may very shortly become troublesome.is it your thought that one or more others of this circle should be assigned to workwith you, to be sure that these untoward developments are suppressed?" "it is not, your supremacy," that worthy decided,after a time of study. "since the peoples in question are as yet of low intelligence;since one form of flesh at a time is all that will have to be energized; and since the techniqueswill be essentially similar; i can handle all four more efficiently alone than withthe help or cooperation of others. if i read this data correctly, there will be need ofonly the most elementary precaution in the employment of mental force, since of the fourraces, only the velantians have even a rudimentary
knowledge of its uses. right?" "we so read the data." surprisingly enough,the innermost circle agreed unanimously. "go, then. when finished, report in full." "i go, all-highest. i shall render a completeand conclusive report." 2. arisia "we, the elder thinkers in fusion, are spreadingin public view, for study and full discussion, a visualization of the relationships existingand to exist between civilization and its irreconcilable and implacable foe. severalof our younger members, particularly eukonidor, who has just attained watchmanship, have requestedinstruction in this matter. being as yet immature,
their visualizations do not show clearly whynedanillor, kriedigan, drounli, and brolenteen, either singly or in fusion, have in the pastperformed certain acts and have not performed certain others; or that the future actionsof those moulders of civilization will be similarly constrained. "this visualization, while more complex, morecomplete, and more detailed than the one set up by our forefathers at the time of the coalescence,agrees with it in every essential. the five basics remain unchanged. first: the eddorianscan be overcome only by mental force. second: the magnitude of the required force is suchthat its only possible generator is such an organization as the galactic patrol towardwhich we have been and are working. third:
since no arisian or any fusion of arisianswill ever be able to spear-head that force, it was and is necessary to develop a raceof mentality sufficient to perform that task. fourth: this new race, having been instrumentalin removing the menace of eddore, will as a matter of course displace the arisians asguardians of civilization. fifth: the eddorians must not become informed of us until sucha time as it will be physically, mathematically impossible for them to construct any effectivecounter-devices." "a cheerless outlook, truly," came a somberthought. "not so, daughter. a little reflection willshow you that your present thinking is loose and turbid. when that time comes, every arisianwill be ready for the change. we know the
way. we do not know to what that way leads;but the arisian purpose in this phase of existenceâ€”this space-time continuumâ€”will have been fulfilledand we will go eagerly and joyfully on to the next. are there any more questions?" there were none. "study this material, then, each of you, withexceeding care. it may be that some one of you, even a child, will perceive some facetof the truth which we have missed or have not examined fully; some fact or implicationwhich may be made to operate to shorten the time of conflict or to lessen the number ofbudding civilizations whose destruction seems to us at present to be sheerly unavoidable."
hours passed. days. no criticisms or suggestionswere offered. "we take it, then, that this visualizationis the fullest and most accurate one possible for the massed intellect of arisia to constructfrom the information available at the moment. the moulders therefore, after describing brieflywhat they have already done, will inform us as to what they deem it necessary to do inthe near future." "we have observed, and at times have guided,the evolution of intelligent life upon many planets," the fusion began. "we have, to thebest of our ability, directed the energies of these entities into the channels of civilization;we have adhered consistently to the policy of steering as many different races as possibletoward the intellectual level necessary for
the effective use of the lens, without whichthe proposed galactic patrol cannot come into being. "for many cycles of time we have been workingas individuals with the four strongest races, from one of which will be developed the peoplewho will one day replace us as guardians of civilization. blood lines have been established.we have encouraged matings which concentrate traits of strength and dissipate those ofweakness. while no very great departure from the norm, either physically or mentally, willtake place until after the penultimates have been allowed to meet and to mate, a definitegeneral improvement of each race has been unavoidable.
"thus the eddorians have already interestedthemselves in our budding civilization upon the planet tellus, and it is inevitable thatthey will very shortly interfere with our work upon the other three. these four youngcivilizations must be allowed to fall. it is to warn every arisian against well-meantbut inconsidered action that this conference was called. we ourselves will operate throughforms of flesh of no higher intelligence than, and indistinguishable from, the natives ofthe planets affected. no traceable connection will exist between those forms and us. noother arisians will operate within extreme range of any one of those four planets; theywill from now on be given the same status as has been so long accorded eddore itself.the eddorians must not learn of us until after
it is too late for them to act effectivelyupon that knowledge. any chance bit of information obtained by any eddorian must be obliteratedat once. it is to guard against and to negate such accidental disclosures that our watchmenhave been trained." "but if all of our civilizations go down…."eukonidor began to protest. "study will show you, youth, that the generallevel of mind, and hence of strength, is rising," the fused elders interrupted. "the trend isever upward; each peak and valley being higher than its predecessor. when the indicated levelhas been reachedâ€”the level at which the efficient use of the lens will become possibleâ€”wewill not only allow ourselves to become known to them; we will engage them at every point."
"one factor remains obscure." a thinker brokethe ensuing silence. "in this visualization i do not perceive anything to preclude thepossibility that the eddorians may at any time visualize us. granted that the eldersof long ago did not merely visualize the eddorians, but perceived them in time-space surveys;that they and subsequent elders were able to maintain the status quo; and that the eddorianway of thought is essentially mechanistic, rather than philosophic, in nature. thereis still a possibility that the enemy may be able to deduce us by processes of logicalone. this thought is particularly disturbing to me at the present time because a rigidstatistical analysis of the occurrences upon those four planets shows that they cannotpossibly have been due to chance. with such
an analysis as a starting point, a mind ofeven moderate ability could visualize us practically in toto. i assume, however, that this possibilityhas been taken into consideration, and suggest that the membership be informed." "the point is well taken. the possibilityexists. while the probability is very great that such an analysis will not be made untilafter we have declared ourselves, it is not a certainty. immediately upon deducing ourexistence, however, the eddorians would begin to build against us, upon the four planetsand elsewhere. since there is only one effective counter-structure possible, and since we eldershave long been alert to detect the first indications of that particular activity, we know thatthe situation remains unchanged. if it changes,
we will call at once another full meetingof minds. are there any other matters of moment…? if not, this conference will dissolve." 3. atlantis ariponides, recently elected faros of atlantisfor his third five-year term, stood at a window of his office atop the towering farostery.his hands were clasped loosely behind his back. he did not really see the tremendousexpanse of quiet ocean, nor the bustling harbor, nor the metropolis spread out so magnificentlyand so busily beneath him. he stood there, motionless, until a subtle vibration warnedhim that visitors were approaching his door. "come in, gentlemen…. please be seated."he sat down at one end of a table molded of
transparent plastic. "psychologist talmonides,statesman cleto, minister philamon, minister marxes and officer artomenes, i have askedyou to come here personally because i have every reason to believe that the shieldingof this room is proof against eavesdroppers; a thing which can no longer be said of oursupposedly private television channels. we must discuss, and if possible come to somedecision concerning, the state in which our nation now finds itself. "each of us knows within himself exactly whathe is. of our own powers, we cannot surely know each others’ inward selves. the toolsand techniques of psychology, however, are potent and exact; and talmonides, after exhaustiveand rigorous examination of each one of us,
has certified that no taint of disloyaltyexists among us." "which certification is not worth a damn,"the burly officer declared. "what assurance do we have that talmonides himself is notone of the ringleaders? mind you, i have no reason to believe that he is not completelyloyal. in fact, since he has been one of my best friends for over twenty years, i believeimplicitly that he is. nevertheless the plain fact is, ariponides, that all the precautionsyou have taken, and any you can take, are and will be useless insofar as definite knowledgeis concerned. the real truth is and will remain unknown." "you are right," the psychologist conceded."and, such being the case, perhaps i should
withdraw from the meeting." "that wouldn’t help, either." artomenes shookhis head. "any competent plotter would be prepared for this, as for any other contingency.one of us others would be the real operator." "and the fact that our officer is the onewho is splitting hairs so finely could be taken to indicate which one of us the realoperator could be," marxes pointed out, cuttingly. "gentlemen! gentlemen!" ariponides protested."while absolute certainty is of course impossible to any finite mind, you all know how talmonideswas tested; you know that in his case there is no reasonable doubt. such chance as exists,however, must be taken, for if we do not trust each other fully in this undertaking, failureis inevitable. with this word of warning i
will get on with my report. "this worldwide frenzy of unrest followedclosely upon the controlled liberation of atomic energy and may beâ€”probably isâ€”traceableto it. it is in no part due to imperialistic aims or acts on the part of atlantis. thisfact cannot be stressed too strongly. we never have been and are not now interested in empire.it is true that the other nations began as atlantean colonies, but no attempt was evermade to hold any one of them in colonial status against the wish of its electorate. all nationswere and are sister states. we gain or lose together. atlantis, the parent, was and isa clearing-house, a co-ordinator of effort, but has never claimed or sought authorityto rule; all decisions being based upon free
debate and free and secret ballot. "but now! parties and factions everywhere,even in old atlantis. every nation is torn by internal dissensions and strife. nor isthis all. uighar as a nation is insensately jealous of the islands of the south, who inturn are jealous of maya. maya of bantu, bantu of ekopt, ekopt of norheim, and norheim ofuighar. a vicious circle, worsened by other jealousies and hatreds intercrossing everywhere.each fears that some other is about to try to seize control of the entire world; andthere seems to be spreading rapidly the utterly baseless belief that atlantis itself is aboutto reduce all other nations of earth to vassalage. "this is a bald statement of the present conditionof the world as i see it. since i can see
no other course possible within the constitutedframework of our democratic government, i recommend that we continue our present activities,such as the international treaties and agreements upon which we are now at work, intensifyingour effort wherever possible. we will now hear from statesman cleto." "you have outlined the situation clearly enough,faros. my thought, however, is that the principal cause of the trouble is the coming into beingof this multiplicity of political parties, particularly those composed principally ofcrackpots and extremists. the connection with atomic energy is clear: since the atomic bombgives a small group of people the power to destroy the world, they reason that it therebyconfers upon them the authority to dictate
to the world. my recommendation is merelya special case of yours; that every effort be made to influence the electorates of norheimand of uighar into supporting an effective international control of atomic energy." "you have your data tabulated in symbolics?"asked talmonides, from his seat at the keyboard of a calculating machine. "yes. here they are." "thanks." "minister philamon," the faros announced. "as i see itâ€”as any intelligent man shouldbe able to see itâ€”the principal contribution
of atomic energy to this worldwide chaos wasthe complete demoralization of labor," the gray-haired minister of trade stated, flatly."output per man-hour should have gone up at least twenty percent, in which case priceswould automatically have come down. instead, short-sighted guilds imposed drastic curbson production, and now seem to be surprised that as production falls and hourly wagesrise, prices also rise and real income drops. only one course is possible, gentlemen; labormust be made to listen to reason. this feather-bedding, this protected loafing, this…." "i protest!" marxes, minister of work, leapedto his feet. "the blame lies squarely with the capitalists. their greed, their rapacity,their exploitation of…."
"one moment, please!" ariponides rapped thetable sharply. "it is highly significant of the deplorable condition of the times thattwo ministers of state should speak as you two have just spoken. i take it that neitherof you has anything new to contribute to this symposium?" both claimed the floor, but both were refusedit by vote. "hand your tabulated data to talmonides,"the faros directed. "officer artomenes?" "you, our faros, have more than intimatedthat our defense program, for which i am primarily responsible, has been largely to blame forwhat has happened," the grizzled warrior began. "in part, perhaps it wasâ€”one must be blindindeed not to see the connection, and biased
indeed not to admit it. but what should ihave done, knowing that there is no practical defense against the atomic bomb? every nationhas them, and is manufacturing more and more. every nation is infested with the agents ofevery other. should i have tried to keep atlantis toothless in a world bristling with fangs?and could iâ€”or anyone elseâ€”have succeeded in doing so?" "probably not. no criticism was intended;we must deal with the situation as it actually exists. your recommendations, please?" "i have thought this thing over day and night,and can see no solution which can be made acceptable to ourâ€”or to any realâ€”democracy.nevertheless, i have one recommendation to
make. we all know that norheim and uigharare the sore spotsâ€”particularly norheim. we have more bombs as of now than both ofthem together. we know that uighar’s super-sonic jobs are ready. we don’t know exactly whatnorheim has, since they cut my intelligence line a while back, but i’m sending over anotheroperativeâ€”my best man, tooâ€”tonight. if he finds out that we have enough advantagein speed, and i’m pretty sure that we have, i say hit both norheim and uighar right then,while we can, before they hit us. and hit them hardâ€”pulverize them. then set up aworld government strong enough to knock out any nationâ€”including atlantisâ€”that willnot cooperate with it. this course of action is flagrantly against all international lawand all the principles of democracy, i know;
and even it might not work. it is, however,as far as i can see, the only course which can work." "youâ€”we allâ€”perceive its weaknesses."the faros thought for minutes. "you cannot be sure that your intelligence has locatedall of the danger points, and many of them must be so far underground as to be safe fromeven our heaviest missiles. we all, including you, believe that the psychologist is rightin holding that the reaction of the other nations to such action would be both unfavorableand violent. your report, please, talmonides." "i have already put my data into the integrator."the psychologist punched a button and the mechanism began to whir and to click. "i haveonly one new fact of any importance; the name
of one of the higher-ups and its corollaryimplication that there may be some degree of cooperation between norheim and uighar…." he broke off as the machine stopped clickingand ejected its report. "look at that graphâ€”up ten points in sevendays!" talmonides pointed a finger. "the situation is deteriorating faster and faster. the conclusionis unavoidableâ€”you can see yourselves that this summation line is fast approaching unityâ€”thatthe outbreaks will become uncontrollable in approximately eight days. with one slightexceptionâ€”hereâ€”you will notice that the lines of organization and purpose are as randomas ever. in spite of this conclusive integration i would be tempted to believe that this seeminglack of coherence was due to insufficient
dataâ€”that back of this whole movement thereis a carefully-set-up and completely-integrated planâ€”except for the fact that the factionsand the nations are so evenly matched. but the data are sufficient. it is shown conclusivelythat no one of the other nations can possibly win, even by totally destroying atlantis.they would merely destroy each other and our entire civilization. according to this forecast,in arriving at which the data furnished by our officer were prime determinants, thatwill surely be the outcome unless remedial measures be taken at once. you are of coursesure of your facts, artomenes?" "i am sure. but you said you had a name, andthat it indicated a norheim-uighar hookup. what is that name?"
"an old friend of yours…." "lo sung!" the words as spoken were a curseof fury. "none other. and, unfortunately, there isas yet no course of action indicated which is at all promising of success." "use mine, then!" artomenes jumped up andbanged the table with his fist. "let me send two flights of rockets over right now thatwill blow uigharstoy and norgrad into radioactive dust and make a thousand square miles aroundeach of them uninhabitable for ten thousand years! if that’s the only way they can learnanything, let them learn!" "sit down, officer," ariponides directed,quietly. "that course, as you have already
pointed out, is indefensible. it violatesevery prime basic of our civilization. moreover, it would be entirely futile, since this resultantmakes it clear that every nation on earth would be destroyed within the day." "what, then?" artomenes demanded, bitterly."sit still here and let them annihilate us?" "not necessarily. it is to formulate plansthat we are here. talmonides will by now have decided, upon the basis of our pooled knowledge,what must be done." "the outlook is not good: not good at all,"the psychologist announced, gloomily. "the only course of action which carries any promisewhatever of successâ€”and its probability is only point one eightâ€”is the one recommendedby the faros, modified slightly to include
artomenes’ suggestion of sending his bestoperative on the indicated mission. for highest morale, by the way, the faros should alsointerview this agent before he sets out. ordinarily i would not advocate a course of action havingso little likelihood of success; but since it is simply a continuation and intensificationof what we are already doing, i do not see how we can adopt any other." "are we agreed?" ariponides asked, after ashort silence. they were agreed. four of the conferees filedout and a brisk young man strode in. although he did not look at the faros his eyes askedquestions. "reporting for orders, sir." he saluted theofficer punctiliously.
"at ease, sir." artomenes returned the salute."you were called here for a word from the faros. sir, i present captain phryges." "not orders, son … no." ariponides’ righthand rested in greeting upon the captain’s left shoulder, wise old eyes probed deeplyinto gold-flecked, tawny eyes of youth; the faros saw, without really noticing, a flamingthatch of red-bronze-auburn hair. "i asked you here to wish you well; not only for myself,but for all our nation and perhaps for our entire race. while everything in my beingrebels against an unprovoked and unannounced assault, we may be compelled to choose betweenour officer’s plan of campaign and the destruction of civilization. since you already know thevital importance of your mission, i need not
enlarge upon it. but i want you to know fully,captain phryges, that all atlantis flies with you this night." "th … thank you, sir." phryges gulped twiceto steady his voice. "i’ll do my best, sir." and later, in a wingless craft flying towardthe airfield, young phryges broke a long silence. "so that is the faros … i like him, officer… i have never seen him close up before … there’s something about him…. he isn’tlike my father, much, but it seems as though i have known him for a thousand years!" "hm … m … m. peculiar. you two are a lotalike, at that, even though you don’t look anything like each other. … can’t put afinger on exactly what it is, but it’s there."
although artomenes nor any other of his timecould place it, the resemblance was indeed there. it was in and back of the eyes; itwas the "look of eagles" which was long later to become associated with the wearers of arisia’slens. "but here we are, and your ship’s ready. luck, son." "thanks, sir. but one more thing. if it shouldâ€”ifi don’t get backâ€”will you see that my wife and the baby are…?" "i will, son. they will leave for north mayatomorrow morning. they will live, whether you and i do or not. anything else?" "no, sir. thanks. goodbye."
the ship was a tremendous flying wing. a standardcommercial job. emptyâ€”passengers, even crewmen, were never subjected to the brutal accelerationsregularly used by unmanned carriers. phryges scanned the panel. tiny motors were pullingtapes through the controllers. every light showed green. everything was set. donninga water-proof coverall, he slid through a flexible valve into his acceleration-tankand waited. a siren yelled briefly. black night turnedblinding white as the harnessed energies of the atom were released. for five and six-tenthsseconds the sharp, hard, beryllium-bronze leading edge of the back-sweeping v slicedits way through ever-thinning air. the vessel seemed to pause momentarily; pausedand bucked viciously. she shuddered and shivered,
tried to tear herself into shreds and chunks;but phryges in his tank was unconcerned. earlier, weaker ships went to pieces against the solid-seemingwall of atmospheric incompressibility at the velocity of sound; but this one was builtsolidly enough, and powered to hit that wall hard enough, to go through unharmed. the hellish vibration ceased; the fantasticviolence of the drive subsided to a mere shove; phryges knew that the vessel had leveled offat its cruising speed of two thousand miles per hour. he emerged, spilling the least possibleamount of water upon the polished steel floor. he took off his coverall and stuffed it backthrough the valve into the tank. he mopped and polished the floor with towels, whichlikewise went into the tank.
he drew on a pair of soft gloves and, by manualcontrol, jettisoned the acceleration tank and all the apparatus which had made thatunloading possible. this junk would fall into the ocean; would sink; would never be found.he examined the compartment and the hatch minutely. no scratches, no scars, no mars;no tell-tale marks or prints of any kind. let the norskies search. so far, so good. back toward the trailing edge then, to a smallescape-hatch beside which was fastened a dull black ball. the anchoring devices went outfirst. he gasped as the air rushed out into near-vacuum, but he had been trained to takesudden and violent fluctuations in pressure. he rolled the ball out upon the hatch, wherehe opened it; two hinged hemispheres, each
heavily padded with molded composition resemblingsponge rubber. it seemed incredible that a man as big as phryges, especially when wearinga parachute, could be crammed into a space so small; but that lining had been moldedto fit. this ball had to be small. the ship, eventhough it was on a regularly-scheduled commercial flight, would be scanned intensively and continuouslyfrom the moment of entering norheiman radar range. since the ball would be invisible onany radar screen, no suspicion would be aroused; particularly sinceâ€”as far as atlantean intelligencehad been able to discoverâ€”the norheimans had not yet succeeded in perfecting any deviceby the use of which a living man could bail out of a super-sonic plane.
phryges waitedâ€”and waitedâ€”until the secondhand of his watch marked the arrival of zero time. he curled up into one half of the ball;the other half closed over him and locked. the hatch opened. ball and closely-prisonedman plummeted downward; slowing abruptly, with a horrible deceleration, to terminalvelocity. had the air been any trifle thicker the atlantean captain would have died thenand there; but that, too, had been computed accurately and phryges lived. and as the ball bulleted downward on a screamingslant, it shrank! this, too, the atlanteans hoped, was newâ€”asynthetic which air-friction would erode away, molecule by molecule, so rapidly that no perceptiblefragment of it would reach ground.
the casing disappeared, and the yielding porouslining. and phryges, still at an altitude of over thirty thousand feet, kicked awaythe remaining fragments of his cocoon and, by judicious planning, turned himself so thathe could see the ground, now dimly visible in the first dull gray of dawn. there wasthe highway, paralleling his line of flight; he wouldn’t miss it more than a hundred yards. he fought down an almost overwhelming urgeto pull his rip-cord too soon. he had to waitâ€”wait until the last possible secondâ€”because parachuteswere big and norheiman radar practically swept the ground. low enough at last, he pulled the ring. z-r-r-e-e-kâ€”whap!the chute banged open; his harness tightened
with a savage jerk, mere seconds before hishard-sprung knees took the shock of landing. that was closeâ€”too close! he was white andshaking, but unhurt, as he gathered in the billowing, fighting sheet and rolled it, togetherwith his harness, into a wad. he broke open a tiny ampoule, and as the drops of liquidtouched it the stout fabric began to disappear. it did not burn; it simply disintegrated andvanished. in less than a minute there remained only a few steel snaps and rings, which theatlantean buried under a meticulously-replaced circle of sod. he was still on schedule. in less than threeminutes the signals would be on the air and he would know where he wasâ€”unless the norskshad succeeded in finding and eliminating the
whole atlantean under-cover group. he presseda stud on a small instrument; held it down. a line burned green across the dialâ€”flaredredâ€”vanished. "damn!" he breathed, explosively. the strengthof the signal told him that he was within a mile or so of the hide-outâ€”first-classcomputationâ€”but the red flash warned him to keep away. kinnexaâ€”it had better be kinnexa!â€”wouldcome to him. how? by air? along the road? through the woodson foot? he had no way of knowingâ€”talking, even on a tight beam, was out of the question.he made his way to the highway and crouched behind a tree. here she could come at himby any route of the three. again he waited, pressing infrequently a stud of his sender.
a long, low-slung ground-car swung aroundthe curve and phryges’ binoculars were at his eyes. it was kinnexaâ€”or a duplicate.at the thought he dropped his glasses and pulled his gunsâ€”blaster in right hand, air-pistolin left. but no, that wouldn’t do. she’d be suspicious, tooâ€”she’d have to beâ€”and thatcar probably mounted heavy stuff. if he stepped out ready for business she’d fry him, andquick. maybe notâ€”she might have protectionâ€”but he couldn’t take the chance. the car slowed; stopped. the girl got out,examined a front tire, straightened up, and looked down the road, straight at phryges’hiding place. this time the binoculars brought her up to little more than arm’s length. tall,blonde, beautifully built; the slightly crooked
left eyebrow. the thread-line of gold betrayinga one-tooth bridge and the tiny scar on her upper lip, for both of which he had been responsibleâ€”shealways did insist on playing cops-and-robbers with boys older and bigger than herselfâ€”itwas kinnexa! not even norheim’s science could imitate so perfectly every personalizing characteristicof a girl he had known ever since she was knee-high to a duck! the girl slid back into her seat and the heavycar began to move. open-handed, phryges stepped out into its way. the car stopped. "turn around. back up to me, hands behindyou," she directed, crisply. the man, although surprised, obeyed. not untilhe felt a finger exploring the short hair
at the back of his neck did he realize whatshe was seekingâ€”the almost imperceptible scar marking the place where she bit him whenshe was seven years old! "oh, fry! it is you! really you! thank thegods! i’ve been ashamed of that all my life, but now…." he whirled and caught her as she slumped,but she did not quite faint. "quick! get in … drive on … not too fast!"she cautioned, sharply, as the tires began to scream. "the speed limit along here isseventy, and we can’t be picked up." "easy it is, kinny. but give! what’s the score?where’s kolanides? or rather, what happened to him?"
"dead. so are the others, i think. they puthim on a psycho-bench and turned him inside out." "but the blocks?" "didn’t holdâ€”over here they add such trimmingsas skinning and salt to the regular psycho routine. but none of them knew anything aboutme, nor about how their reports were picked up, or i’d have been dead, too. but it doesn’tmake any difference, fryâ€”we’re just one week too late." "what do you mean, too late? speed it up!"his tone was rough, but the hand he placed on her arm was gentleness itself.
"i’m telling you as fast as i can. i pickedup his last report day before yesterday. they have missiles just as big and just as fastas oursâ€”maybe more soâ€”and they are going to fire one at atlantis tonight at exactlyseven o’clock." "tonight! holy gods!" the man’s mind raced. "yes." kinnexa’s voice was low, uninflected."and there was nothing in the world that i could do about it. if i approached any oneof our places, or tried to use a beam strong enough to reach anywhere, i would simply havegot picked up, too. i’ve thought and thought, but could figure out only one thing that mightpossibly be of any use, and i couldn’t do that alone. but two of us, perhaps…."
"go on. brief me. nobody ever accused youof not having a brain, and you know this whole country like the palm of your hand." "steal a ship. be over the ramp at exactlyseven pay emma. when the lid opens, go into a full-power dive, beam artomenesâ€”if i hada second before they blanketed my waveâ€”and meet their rocket head-on in their own launching-tube." this was stark stuff, but so tense was themoment and so highly keyed up were the two that neither of them saw anything out of theordinary in it. "not bad, if we can’t figure out anythingbetter. the joker being, of course, that you didn’t see how you could steal a ship?"
"exactly. i can’t carry blasters. no womanin norheim is wearing a coat or a cloak now, so i can’t either. and just look at this dress!do you see any place where i could hide even one?" he looked, appreciatively, and she had thegrace to blush. "can’t say that i do," he admitted. "but i’drather have one of our own ships, if we could make the approach. could both of us make it,do you suppose?" "not a chance. they’d keep at least one maninside all the time. even if we killed everybody outside, the ship would take off before wecould get close enough to open the port with the outside controls."
"probably. go on. but first, are you surethat you’re in the clear?" "positive." she grinned mirthlessly. "thefact that i am still alive is conclusive evidence that they didn’t find out anything about me.but i don’t want you to work on that idea if you can think of a better one. i’ve gotpassports and so on for you to be anything you want to be, from a tube-man up to an ekoptianbanker. ditto for me, and for us both, as mr. and mrs." "smart girl." he thought for minutes, thenshook his head. "no possible way out that i can see. the sneak-boat isn’t due for aweek, and from what you’ve said it probably won’t get here. but you might make it, atthat. i’ll drop you somewhere…."
"you will not," she interrupted, quietly butdefinitely. "which would you ratherâ€”go out in a blast like that one will be, beside agood atlantean, or, after deserting him, be psychoed, skinned, salted, andâ€”still aliveâ€”drawnand quartered?" "together, then, all the way," he assented."man and wife. touristsâ€”newlywedsâ€”from some town not too far away. pretty well fixed,to match what we’re riding in. can do?" "very simple." she opened a compartment andselected one of a stack of documents. "i can fix this one up in ten minutes. we’ll haveto dispose of the rest of these, and a lot of other stuff, too. and you had better getout of that leather and into a suit that matches this passport photo."
"right. straight road for miles, and nothingin sight either way. give me the suit and i’ll change now. keep on going or stop?" "better stop, i think," the girl decided."quicker, and we’ll have to find a place to hide or bury this evidence." while the man changed clothes, kinnexa collectedthe contraband, wrapping it up in the discarded jacket. she looked up just as phryges wasadjusting his coat. she glanced at his armpits, then stared. "where are your blasters?" she demanded. "theyought to show, at least a little, and even i can’t see a sign of them."
he showed her. "but they’re so tiny! i never saw blasterslike that!" "i’ve got a blaster, but it’s in the tailpocket. these aren’t. they’re air-guns. poisoned needles. not worth a damn beyond a hundredfeet, but deadly close up. one touch anywhere and the guy dies right then. two seconds max." "nice!" she was no shrinking violet this youngatlantean spy. "you have spares, of course, and i can hide two of them easily enough inleg-holsters. gimme, and show me how they work." "standard controls, pretty much like blasters.like so." he demonstrated, and as he drove
sedately down the highway the girl sewed industriously. the day wore on, nor was it uneventful. oneincident, in factâ€”the detailing of which would serve no useful purpose hereâ€”was ofsuch a nature that at its end: "better pin-point me, don’t you think, onthat ramp?" phryges asked, quietly. "just in case you get scragged in one of these brawlsand i don’t?" "oh! of course! forgive me, fryâ€”it slippedmy mind completely that you didn’t know where it was. area six; pin-point four seven threedash six oh five. "got it." he repeated the figures. but neither of the atlanteans was "scragged",and at six p.m. an allegedly honeymooning
couple parked their big roadster in the garageat norgrad field and went through the gates. their papers, tickets included, were in perfectorder; they were as inconspicuous and as undemonstrative as newlyweds are wont to be. no more so, andno less. strolling idly, gazing eagerly at each newthing, they made their circuitous way toward a certain small hangar. as the girl had said,this field boasted hundreds of super-sonic fighters, so many that servicing was a round-the-clockroutine. in that hangar was a sharp-nosed, stubby-v’d flyer, one of norheim’s fastest.it was serviced and ready. it was too much to hope, of course, that thevisitors could actually get into the building unchallenged. nor did they.
"back, you!" a guard waved them away. "getback to the concourse, where you belongâ€”no visitors allowed out here!" f-f-t! f-f-t! phryges’ air-gun broke intosoft but deadly coughing. kinnexa whirledâ€”hands flashing down, skirt flying up-and ran. guardstried to head her off; tried to bring their own weapons to bear. triedâ€”failedâ€”died. phryges, too, ran; ran backward. his blasterwas out now and flaming, for no living enemy remained within needle range. a rifle bulletw-h-i-n-g-e-d past his head, making him duck involuntarily and uselessly. rifles were bad;but their hazard, too, had been considered and had been accepted.
kinnexa reached the fighter’s port, openedit, sprang in. he jumped. she fell against him. he tossed her clear, slammed and doggedthe door. he looked at her then, and swore bitterly. a small, round hole marred the bridgeof her nose: the back of her head was gone. he leaped to the controls and the fleet littleship screamed skyward. he cut in transmitter and receiver, keyed and twiddled briefly.no soap. he had been afraid of that. they were already blanketing every frequency hecould employ; using power through which he could not drive even a tight beam a hundredmiles. but he could still crash that missile in itstube. orâ€”could he? he was not afraid of other norheiman fighters; he had a long leadand he rode one of their very fastest. but
since they were already so suspicious, wouldn’tthey launch the bomb before seven o’clock? he tried vainly to coax another knot out ofhis wide-open engines. with all his speed, he neared the pin-pointjust in time to see a trail of super-heated vapor extending up into and disappearing beyondthe stratosphere. he nosed his flyer upward, locked the missile into his sights, and leveledoff. although his ship did not have the giant rocket’s acceleration, he could catch it beforeit got to atlantis, since he did not need its altitude and since most of its journeywould be made without power. what he could do about it after he caught it he did notknow, but he’d do something. he caught it; and, by a feat of piloting tobe appreciated only by those who have handled
planes at super-sonic speeds, he matched itscourse and velocity. then, from a distance of barely a hundred feet, he poured his heaviestshells into the missile’s war-head. he couldn’t be missing! it was worse than shooting sittingducksâ€”it was like dynamiting fish in a bucket! nevertheless, nothing happened. the thingwasn’t fuzed for impact, then, but for time; and the activating mechanism would be shell-andshock-proof. but there was still a way. he didn’t needto call artomenes now, even if he could get through the interference which the fast-approachingpursuers were still sending out. atlantean observers would have lined this stuff up longsince; the officer would know exactly what was going on.
driving ahead and downward, at maximum power,phryges swung his ship slowly into a right-angle collision course. the fighter’s needle nosestruck the war-head within a foot of the atlantean’s point of aim, and as he died phryges knewthat he had accomplished his mission. norheim’s missile would not strike atlantis, but wouldfall at least ten miles short, and the water there was very deep. very, very deep. atlantiswould not be harmed. it might have been better, however, if phrygeshad died with kinnexa on norgrad field; in which case the continent would probably haveendured. as it was, while that one missile did not reach the city, its frightful atomiccharge exploded under six hundred fathoms of water, ten scant miles from atlantis’ harbor,and very close to an ancient geological fault.
artomenes, as phryges had surmised, had hadtime in which to act, and he knew much more than phryges did about what was coming towardatlantis. too late, he knew that not one missile, but seven, had been launched from norheim,and at least five from uighar. the retaliatory rockets which were to wipe out norgrad, uigharstoy,and thousands of square miles of environs were on their way long before either bombor earthquake destroyed all of the atlantean launching ramps. but when equilibrium was at last restored,the ocean rolled serenely where a minor continent had been. chapter 3
the fall of rome like two high executives of a tellurian corporationdiscussing business affairs during a chance meeting at one of their clubs, eddore’s allhighest and gharlane, his second in command, were having the eddorian equivalent of anafter-business-hours chat. "you did a nice job on tellus," the all-highestcommended. "on the other three, too, of course, but tellus was so far and away the worst ofthe lot that the excellence of the work stands out. when the atlantean nations destroyedeach other so thoroughly i thought that this thing called ‘democracy’ was done away withforever, but it seems to be mighty hard to kill. however, i take it that you have thisrome situation entirely under control?"
"definitely. mithradates of pontus was mine.so were both sulla and marius. through them and others i killed practically all of thebrains and ability of rome, and reduced that so-called ‘democracy’ to a howling, aimlessmob. my nero will end it. rome will go on by momentumâ€”outwardly, will even appearto growâ€”for a few generations, but what nero will do can never be undone." "good. a difficult task, truly." "not difficult, exactly … but it’s so damnedsteady." gharlane’s thought was bitter. "but that’s the hell of working with such short-livedraces. since each creature lives only a minute or so, they change so fast that a man can’ttake his mind off of them for a second. i’ve
been wanting to take a little vacation tripback to our old time-space, but it doesn’t look as though i’ll be able to do it untilafter they get some age and settle down." "that won’t be too long. life-spans lengthen,you know, as races approach their norms." "yes. but none of the others is having halfthe trouble that i am. most of them, in fact, have things coming along just about the waythey want them. my four planets are raising more hell than all the rest of both galaxiesput together, and i know that it isn’t meâ€”next to you, i’m the most efficient operator we’vegot. what i’m wondering about is why i happen to be the goat." "precisely because you are our most efficientoperator." if an eddorian can be said to smile,
the all-highest smiled. "you know, as wellas i do, the findings of the integrator." "yes, but i am wondering more and more asto whether to believe them unreservedly or not. spores from an extinct life-formâ€”suitableenvironmentsâ€”operation of the laws of chanceâ€”tommyrot! i am beginning to suspect that chance is beingstrained beyond its elastic limit, for my particular benefit, and as soon as i can findout who is doing that straining there will be one empty place in the innermost circle." "have a care, gharlane!" all levity, all casualnessdisappeared. "whom do you suspect? whom do you accuse?" "nobody, as yet. the true angle never occurredto me until just now, while i have been discussing
the thing with you. nor shall i either suspector accuse, ever. i shall determine, then i shall act." "in defiance of me? of my orders?" the all-highestdemanded, his short temper flaring. "say, rather, in support," the lieutenantshot back, unabashed. "if some one is working on me through my job, what position are youprobably already in, without knowing it? assume that i am right, that these four planets ofmine got the way they are because of monkey business inside the circle. who would be next?and how sure are you that there isn’t something similar, but not so far advanced, alreadyaimed at you? it seems to me that serious thought is in order."
"perhaps so…. you may be right…. therehave been a few nonconformable items. taken separately, they did not seem to be of anyimportance; but together, and considered in this new light…." thus was borne out the conclusion of the arisianelders that the eddorians would not at that time deduce arisia; and thus eddore lost itschance to begin in time the forging of a weapon with which to oppose effectively arisia’sâ€”civilization’sâ€”galacticpatrol, so soon to come into being. if either of the two had been less suspicious,less jealous, less arrogant and domineeringâ€”in other words, had not been eddoriansâ€”thishistory of civilization might never have been written; or written very differently and byanother hand.
both were, however, eddorians. in the brief interval between the fall ofatlantis and the rise of rome to the summit of her power, eukonidor of arisia had agedscarcely at all. he was still a youth. he was, and would be for many centuries to come,a watchman. although his mind was powerful enough to understand the elders’ visualizationof the course of civilizationâ€”in fact, he had already made significant progress in hisown visualization of the cosmic allâ€”he was not sufficiently mature to contemplate unmovedthe events which, according to all arisian visualizations, were bound to occur. "your feeling is but natural, eukonidor."drounli, the moulder principally concerned
with the planet tellus, meshed his mind smoothlywith that of the young watchman. "we do not enjoy it ourselves, as you know. it is, however,necessary. in no other way can the ultimate triumph of civilization be assured." "but can nothing be done to alleviate…?"eukonidor paused. drounli waited. "have you any suggestionsto offer?" "none," the younger arisian confessed. "buti thought … you, or the elders, so much older and stronger … could…." "we can not. rome will fall. it must be allowedto fall." "it will be nero, then? and we can do nothing?"
"nero. we can do little enough. our formsof fleshâ€”petronius, acte, and the othersâ€”will do whatever they can; but their powers willbe exactly the same as those of other human beings of their time. they must be and willbe constrained, since any show of unusual powers, either mental or physical, would bedetected instantly and would be far too revealing. on the other hand, neroâ€”that is, gharlaneof eddoreâ€”will be operating much more freely." "very much so. practically unhampered, exceptin purely physical matters. but, if nothing can be done to stop it…. if nero must beallowed to sow his seeds of ruin…." and upon that cheerless note the conferenceended. 3. rome
"but what have you, livius, or any of us,for that matter, got to live for?" demanded patroclus the gladiator of his cell-mate."we are well fed, well kept, well exercised; like horses. but, like horses, we are lowerthan slaves. slaves have some freedom of action; most of us have none. we fightâ€”fight whoeveror whatever our cursed owners send us against. those of us who live fight again; but theend is certain and comes soon. i had a wife and children once. so did you. is there anychance, however slight, that either of us will ever know them again; or learn even whetherthey live or die? none. at this price, is your life worth living? mine is not." livius the bithynian, who had been staringout past the bars of the cubicle and over
the smooth sand of the arena toward nero’sgarlanded and purple-bannered throne, turned and studied his fellow gladiator from toeto crown. the heavily-muscled legs, the narrow waist, the sharply-tapering torso, the enormousshoulders. the leonine head, surmounted by an unkempt shock of red-bronze-auburn hair.and, lastly, the eyesâ€”gold-flecked, tawny eyesâ€”hard and cold now with a ferocity anda purpose not to be concealed. "i have been more or less expecting somethingof this sort," livius said then, quietly. "nothing overtâ€”you have builded well, patroclusâ€”butto one who knows gladiators as i know them there has been something in the wind for weekspast. i take it that someone swore his life for me and that i should not ask who thatfriend might be."
"one did. you should not." "so be it. to my unknown sponsor, then, andto the gods, i give thanks, for i am wholly with you. not that i have any hope. althoughyour tribe breeds menâ€”from your build and hair and eyes you descend from spartacus himselfâ€”youknow that even he did not succeed. things now are worse, infinitely worse, than theywere in his day. no one who has ever plotted against nero has had any measure of success;not even his scheming slut of a mother. all have died, in what fashions you know. nerois vile, the basest of the base. nevertheless, his spies are the most efficient that theworld has ever known. in spite of that, i feel as you do. if i can take with me twoor three of the praetorians, i die content.
but by your look, your plan is not what ithought, to storm vainly nero’s podium yonder. have you, by any chance, some trace of hopeof success?" "more than a trace; much more." the thracian’steeth bared in a wolfish grin. "his spies are, as you say, very good. but, this time,so are we. just as hard and just as ruthless. many of his spies among us have died; most,if not all, of the rest are known. they, too, shall die. glatius, for instance. once ina while, by the luck of the gods, a man kills a better man than he is; but glatius has doneit six times in a row, without getting a scratch. but the next time he fights, in spite of nero’sprotection, glatius dies. word has gone out, and there are gladiators’ tricks that neronever heard of."
"quite true. one question, and i too may beginto hope. this is not the first time that gladiators have plotted against ahenobarbus. before theplotters could accomplish anything, however, they found themselves matched against eachother and the signal was always for death, never for mercy. has this…?" livius paused. "it has not. it is that which gives me thehope i have. nor are we gladiators alone in this. we have powerful friends at court; oneof whom has for days been carrying a knife sharpened especially to slip between nero’sribs. that he still carries that knife and that we still live are proofs enough for methat ahenobarbus, the matricide and incendiary, has no suspicion whatever of what is goingon."
(at this point nero on his throne burst intoa roar of laughter, his gross body shaking with a merriment which petronius and tigellinusascribed to the death-throes of a christian woman in the arena.) "is there any small thing which i should betold in order to be of greatest use?" livius asked. "several. the prisons and the pits are socrowded with christians that they die and stink, and a pestilence threatens. to mendmatters, some scores of hundreds of them are to be crucified here tomorrow." "why not? everyone knows that they are poisonersof wells and murderers of children, and practitioners
of magic. wizards and witches." "true enough." patroclus shrugged his massiveshoulders. "but to get on, tomorrow night, at full dark, the remaining hundreds who havenot been crucified are to beâ€”have you ever seen sarmentitii and semaxii?" "once only. a gorgeous spectacle, truly, almostas thrilling as to feel a man die on your sword. men and women, wrapped in oil-soakedgarments smeared with pitch and chained to posts, make splendid torches indeed. you mean,then, that…?" "aye. in caesar’s own garden. when the lightis brightest nero will ride in parade. when his chariot passes the tenth torch our allyswings his knife. the praetorians will rush
around, but there will be a few moments ofconfusion during which we will go into action and the guards will die. at the same timeothers of our party will take the palace and kill every man, woman, and child adherentto nero." "very niceâ€”in theory." the bithynian wasfrankly skeptical. "but just how are we going to get there? a few gladiatorsâ€”such championsas patroclus of thraceâ€”are at times allowed to do pretty much as they please in theirfree time, and hence could possibly be on hand to take part in such a brawl, but mostof us will be under lock and guard." "that too, has been arranged. our allies nearthe throne and certain other nobles and citizens of rome, who have been winning large sumsby our victories, have prevailed upon our
masters to give a grand banquet to all gladiatorstomorrow night, immediately following the mass crucifixion. it is going to be held inthe claudian grove, just across from caesar’s gardens." "ah!" livius breathed deep; his eyes flashed."by baal and bacchus! by the round, high breasts of isis! for the first time in years i beginto live! our masters die first, then and there … but holdâ€”weapons?" "will be provided. bystanders will have them,and armor and shields, under their cloaks. our owners first, yes; and then the praetorians.but note, livius, that tigellinus, the commander of the guard, is mineâ€”mine alone. i, personally,am going to cut his heart out."
"granted. i heard that he had your wife fora time. but you seem quite confident that you will still be alive tomorrow night. bybaal and ishtar, i wish i could feel so! with something to live for at last, i can feelmy guts turning to waterâ€”i can hear charon’s oars. like as not, now, some toe-dancing striplingof a retiarius will entangle me in his net this very afternoon, and no mercy signal hasbeen or will be given this day. such is the crowd’s temper, from caesar down, that evenyou will get ‘pollice verso’ if you fall." "true enough. but you had better get overthat feeling, if you want to live. as for me, i’m safe enough. i have made a vow tojupiter, and he who has protected me so long will not desert me now. any man or any thingwho faces me during these games, dies."
"i hope so, sin … but listen! the horns… and someone is coming!" the door behind them swung open. a lanista,or master of gladiators, laden with arms and armor, entered. the door swung to and waslocked from the outside. the visitor was obviously excited, but stared wordlessly at patroclusfor seconds. "well, iron-heart," he burst out finally,"aren’t you even curious about what you have got to do today?" "not particularly," patroclus replied, indifferently."except to dress to fit. why? something special?" "extra special. the sensation of the year.fermius himself. unlimited. free choice of weapons and armor."
"fermius!" livius exclaimed. "fermius thegaul? may athene cover you with her shield!" "you can say that for me, too," the lanistaagreed, callously. "before i knew who was entered, like a fool, i bet a hundred sesterceson patroclus here, at odds of only one to two, against the field. but listen, bronze-head.if you get the best of fermius, i’ll give you a full third of my winnings." "thanks. you’ll collect. a good man, fermius,and smart. i’ve heard a lot about him, but never saw him work. he has seen me, whichisn’t so good. both heavy and fastâ€”somewhat lighter than i am, and a bit faster. he knowsthat i always fight thracian, and that i’d be a fool to try anything else against him.he fights either thracian or samnite depending
upon the opposition. against me his best betwould be to go samnite. do you know?" "no. they didn’t say. he may not decide untilthe last moment." "unlimited, against me, he’ll go samnite.he’ll have to. these unlimiteds are tough, but it gives me a chance to use a new tricki’ve been working on. i’ll take that sword thereâ€”no scabbardâ€”and two daggers, besidesmy gladius. get me a mace; the lightest real mace they’ve got in their armory." "a mace! fighting thracian, against a samnite?" "exactly. a mace. am i going to fight fermius,or do you want to do it yourself?" the mace was brought and patroclus bangedit, with a two-handed roundhouse swing, against
a stone of the wall. the head remained solidupon the shaft. good. they waited. trumpets blared; the roar of the vast assemblagesubsided almost to silence. "grand champion fermius versus grand championpatroclus," came the raucous announcement. "single combat. any weapons that either choosesto use, used in any way possible. no rest, no intermission. enter!" two armored figures strode toward the centerof the arena. patroclus’ armor, from towering helmet down, and including the shield, wasof dully-gleaming steel, completely bare of ornament. each piece was marred and scarred;very plainly that armor was for use and had been used. on the other hand, the samnitehalf-armor of the gaul was resplendent with
the decorations affected by his race. fermius’helmet sported three brilliantly-colored plumes, his shield and cuirass, enameled in half thecolors of the spectrum, looked as though they were being worn for the first time. five yards apart, the gladiators stopped andwheeled to face the podium upon which nero lolled. the buzz of conversationâ€”the macehad excited no little comment and speculationâ€”ceased. patroclus heaved his ponderous weapon intothe air; the gaul whirled up his long, sharp sword. they chanted in unison: "ave, caesar imperator!morituri te salutant!" the starting-flag flashed downward; and atits first sight, long before it struck the
ground, both men moved. fermius whirled andleaped; but, fast as he was, he was not quite fast enough. that mace, which had seemed soheavy in the thracian’s hands a moment before, had become miraculously maneuverableâ€”itwas hurtling through the air directly toward the middle of his body! it did not strikeits goalâ€”patroclus hoped that he was the only one there who suspected that he had notexpected it to touch his opponentâ€”but in order to dodge the missile fermius had tobreak his stride; lost momentarily the fine co-ordination of his attack. and in that momentpatroclus struck. struck, and struck again. but, as has been said, fermius was both strongand fast. the first blow, aimed backhand at his bare right leg, struck his shield instead.the left-handed stab, shield-encumbered as
the left arm was, ditto. so did the next trial,a vicious forehand cut. the third of the mad flurry of swordcuts, only partially deflectedby the sword which fermius could only then get into play, sheared down and a red, a green,and a white plume floated toward the ground. the two fighters sprang apart and studiedeach other briefly. from the gladiators’ standpoint, this hadbeen the veriest preliminary skirmishing. that the gaul had lost his plumes and thathis armor showed great streaks of missing enamel meant no more to either than that thethracian’s supposedly surprise attack had failed. each knew that he faced the deadliestfighter of his world; but if that knowledge affected either man, the other could not perceiveit.
but the crowd went wild. nothing like thatfirst terrific passage-at-arms had ever before been seen. death, sudden and violent, hadbeen in the air. the arena was saturated with it. hearts had been ecstatically in throats.each person there, man or woman, had felt the indescribable thrill of deathâ€”vicariously,safelyâ€”and every fiber of their lusts demanded more. more! each spectator knew that one ofthose men would die that afternoon. none wanted, or would permit them both to live. this wasto the death, and death there would be. women, their faces blotched and purple withemotion, shrieked and screamed. men, stamping their feet and waving their arms, yelled andswore. and many, men and women alike, laid wagers.
"five hundred sesterces on fermius!" one shouted,tablet and stylus in air. "taken!" came an answering yell. "the gaulis doneâ€”patroclus all but had him there!" "one thousand, you!" came another challenge."patroclus missed his chance and will never get anotherâ€”a thousand on fermius!" "two thousand!" "five thousand!" "ten!" the fighters closedâ€”swungâ€”stabbed. shieldsclanged vibrantly under the impact of fended strokes, swords whined and snarled. back andforthâ€”circlingâ€”giving and taking groundâ€”for
minute after endless minute that desperatelyfurious exhibition of skill, of speed and of power and of endurance went on. and asit went on, longer and longer past the time expected by even the most optimistic, tensionmounted higher and higher. blood flowed crimson down the gaul’s bareleg and the crowd screamed its approval. blood trickled out of the joints of the thracian’sarmor and it became a frenzied mob. no human body could stand that pace for long.both men were tiring fast, and slowing. with the drive of his weight and armor, patroclusforced the gaul to go where he wanted him to go. then, apparently gathering his everyresource for a final effort, the thracian took one short, choppy step forward and swungstraight down, with all his strength.
the blood-smeared hilt turned in his hands;the blade struck flat and broke, its length whining viciously away. fermius, althoughstaggered by the sheer brute force of the abortive stroke, recovered almost instantly;dropping his sword and snatching at his gladius to take advantage of the wonderful opportunitythus given him. but that breaking had not been accidental;patroclus made no attempt to recover his balance. instead, he ducked past the surprised andshaken gaul. still stooping, he seized the mace, which everyone except he had forgotten,and swung; swung with all the totalized and synchronized power of hands, wrists, arms,shoulders, and magnificent body. the iron head of the ponderous weapon struckthe center of the gaul’s cuirass, which crunched
inward like so much cardboard. fermius seemedto leave the ground and, folded around the mace, to fly briefly through the air. as hestruck the ground, patroclus was upon him. the gaul was probably already deadâ€”thatblow would have killed an elephantâ€”but that made no difference. if that mob knew thatfermius was dead, they might start yelling for his life, too. hence, by lifting his headand poising his dirk high in air, he asked of caesar his imperial will. the crowd, already frantic, had gone starkmad at the blow. no thought of mercy could or did exist in that insanely bloodthirstythrong; no thought of clemency for the man who had fought such a magnificent fight. incooler moments they would have wanted him
to live, to thrill them again and yet again;but now, for almost half an hour, they had been loving the hot, the suffocating thrillof death in their throats. now they wanted, and would have, the ultimate thrill. "death!" the solid structure rocked to thecrescendo roar of the demand. "death! death!" nero’s right thumb pressed horizontally againsthis chest. every vestal was making the same sign. pollice verso. death. the strained andstrident yelling of the mob grew even louder. patroclus lowered his dagger and deliveredthe unnecessary and unfelt thrust; andâ€” "peractum est!" arose one deafening yell. thus the red-haired thracian lived; and also,somewhat to his own surprise, did livius.
"i’m glad to see you, bronze-heart, by thewhite thighs of ceres, i am!" that worthy exclaimed, when the two met, the followingday. patroclus had never seen the bithynian so buoyant. "pallas athene covered you, likei asked her to. but by the red beak of thoth and the sacred zaimph of tanit, it gave methe horrors when you made that throw so quick and missed it, and i went as crazy as therest of them when you pulled the real coup. but now, curse it, i suppose that we’ll allhave to be on the lookout for itâ€”or no, unlimiteds aren’t common, thank ninib thesmiter and his scarlet spears!" "i hear you didn’t do so badly, yourself,"patroclus interrupted his friend’s loquacity. "i missed your first two, but i saw you takekalendios. he’s a high-raterâ€”one of the
best of the localsâ€”and i was afraid he mightsnare you, but from the looks of you, you got only a couple of stabs. nice work." "prayer, my boy. prayer is the stuff. i prayedto ’em in order, and hit the jackpot with shamash. my guts curled up again, like theybelong, and i knew that the portents were all in my favor. besides, when you were walkingout to meet fermius, did you notice that red-headed greek posturer making passes at you?" "huh? don’t be a fool. i had other thingsto think of." "so i figured. so did she, probably, becauseafter a while she came around behind with a lanista and made eyes at me. i must havethe next best shape to you here, i guess.
what a wench! anyway, i felt better and better,and before she left i knew that no damn retiarius that ever waved a trident could put a netpast my guard. and they couldn’t either. a couple more like that and i’ll be a grandchampion myself. but they’re digging holes for the crosses and there’s the horn thatthe feast is ready. this show is going to be really good." they ate, hugely and with unmarred appetite,of the heaped food which nero had provided. they returned to their assigned places tosee crosses, standing as close together as they could be placed and each bearing a sufferingchristian, filling the whole vast expanse of the arena.
and, if the truth must be told, those twomen enjoyed thoroughly every moment of that long and sickeningly horrible afternoon. theywere the hardest products of the hardest school the world has ever known: trained rigorouslyto deal out death mercilessly at command; to accept death unflinchingly at need. theyshould not and can not be judged by the higher, finer standards of a softer, gentler day. the afternoon passed; evening approached.all the gladiators then in rome assembled in the claudian grove, around tables creakingunder their loads of food and wine. women, too, were there in profusion; women for thetaking and yearning to be taken; and the tide of revelry ran open, wide, and high. althoughall ate and apparently drank with abandon,
most of the wine was in fact wasted. and asthe sky darkened, most of the gladiators, one by one, began to get rid of their femalecompanions upon one pretext or another and to drift toward the road which separated thefestivities from the cloaked and curious throng of lookers-on. at full dark, a red glare flared into thesky from caesar’s garden and the gladiators, deployed now along the highway, dashed acrossit and seemed to wrestle briefly with cloaked figures. then armed, more-or-less-armoredmen ran back to the scene of their reveling. swords, daggers, and gladii thrust, stabbed,and cut. tables and benches ran red; ground and grass grew slippery with blood.
the conspirators turned then and rushed towardthe emperor’s brilliantly torch-lit garden. patroclus, however, was not in the van. hehad had trouble in finding a cuirass big enough for him to get into. he had been delayed furtherby the fact that he had had to kill three strange lanistae before he could get at hisowner, the man he really wanted to slay. he was therefore some little distance behindthe other gladiators when petronius rushed up to him and seized him by the arm. white and trembling, the noble was not nowthe exquisite arbiter elegantiae; nor the imperturbable augustian. "patroclus! in the name of bacchus, patroclus,why do the men go there now? no signal was
givenâ€”i could not get to nero!" "what?" the thracian blazed. "vulcan and hisfiends! it was givenâ€”i heard it myself! what went wrong?" "everything." petronius licked his lips. "iwas standing right beside him. no one else was near enough to interfere. it wasâ€”shouldhave beenâ€”easy. but after i got my knife out i couldn’t move. it was his eyes, patroclusâ€”iswear it, by the white breasts of venus! he has the evil eyeâ€”i couldn’t move a muscle,i tell you! then, although i didn’t want to, i turned and ran!" "how did you find me so quick?"
"iâ€”iâ€”iâ€”don’t know," the frantic arbiterstuttered. "i ran and ran, and there you were. but what are weâ€”youâ€”going to do?" patroclus’ mind raced. he believed implicitlythat jupiter guarded him personally. he believed in the other gods and goddesses of rome. hemore than half believed in the multitudinous deities of greece, of egypt, and even of babylon.the other world was real and close; the evil eye only one of the many inexplicable factsof every-day life. nevertheless, in spite of his credulityâ€”or perhaps in part becauseof itâ€”he also believed firmly in himself; in his own powers. wherefore he soon cameto a decision. "jupiter, ward from me ahenobarbus’ evil eye!"he called aloud, and turned.
"where are you going?" petronius, still shaking,demanded. "to do the job you swore to do, of courseâ€”tokill that bloated toad. and then to give tigellinus what i have owed him so long." at full run, he soon overtook his fellows,and waded resistlessly into the fray. he was grand champion patroclus, working at his trade;the hard-learned trade which he knew so well. no praetorian or ordinary soldier could standbefore him save momentarily. he did not have all of his thracian armor, but he had enough.man after man faced him, and man after man died. and nero, sitting at ease with a beautifulboy at his right and a beautiful harlot at
his left, gazed appreciatively through hisemerald lens at the flaming torches; the while, with a very small fraction of his eddorianmind, he mused upon the matter of patroclus and tigellinus. should he let the thracian kill the commanderof his guard? or not? it didn’t really matter, one way or the other. in fact, nothing aboutthis whole foul planetâ€”this ultra-microscopic, if offensive, speck of cosmic dust in theeddorian scheme of thingsâ€”really mattered at all. it would be mildly amusing to watchthe gladiator consummate his vengeance by carving the roman to bits. but, on the otherhand, there was such a thing as pride of workmanship. viewed in that light, the thracian could notkill tigellinus, because that bit of corruption
had a few more jobs to do. he must descendlower and lower into unspeakable depravity, finally to cut his own throat with a razor.although patroclus would not know itâ€”it was better technique not to let him know itâ€”thethracian’s proposed vengeance would have been futility itself compared with that which theluckless roman was to wreak on himself. wherefore a shrewdly-placed blow knocked thehelmet from patroclus’ head and a mace crashed down, spattering his brains abroad. thus ended the last significant attempt tosave the civilization of rome; in a fiasco so complete that even such meticulous historiansas tacitus and suetonius mention it merely as a minor disturbance of nero’s garden party.
the planet tellus circled its sun some twentyhundred times. sixty-odd generations of men were born and died, but that was not enough.the arisian program of genetics required more. therefore the elders, after due deliberation,agreed that that civilization, too, must be allowed to fall. and gharlane of eddore, recalledto duty from the middle of a much-too-short vacation, found things in very bad shape indeedand went busily to work setting them to rights. he had slain one fellow-member of the innermostcircle, but there might very well have been more than one master involved. chapter 4 1918
sobbing furiously, captain ralph kinnisonwrenched at his stickâ€”with half of his control surfaces shot away the crate was hellishlylogy. he could step out, of course, the while saluting the victorious jerries, but he wasn’ton fireâ€”yetâ€”and hadn’t been hitâ€”yet. he ducked and flinched sidewise as anotherburst of bullets stitched another seam along his riddled fuselage and whanged against hisdead engine. afire? not yetâ€”good! maybe he could land the heap, after all! slowlyâ€”oh, so sluggishlyâ€”the spad beganto level off, toward the edge of the wheatfield and that friendly, inviting ditch. if thekrauts didn’t get him with their next pass…. he heard a chattering beneath himâ€”brownings,by god!â€”and the expected burst did not come.
he knew that he had been just about over thefront when they conked his engine; it was a toss-up whether he would come down in enemyterritory or not. but now, for the first time in ages, it seemed, there were machine-gunsgoing that were not aimed at him! his landing-gear swished against stubble andhe fought with all his strength of body and of will to keep the spad’s tail down. he almostsucceeded; his speed was almost spent when he began to nose over. he leaped, then, andas he struck ground he curled up and rolledâ€”he had been a motorcycle racer for yearsâ€”feelingas he did so a wash of heat: a tracer had found his gas-tank at last! bullets were thuddinginto the ground; one shrieked past his head as, stooping over, folded into the smallestpossible target, he galloped awkwardly toward
the ditch. the brownings still yammered, filling thesky with cupro-nickeled lead; and while kinnison was flinging himself full length into theprotecting water and mud, he heard a tremendous crash. one of those huns had been too intenton murder; had stayed a few seconds too long; had come a few meters too close. the clamor of the guns stopped abruptly. "we got one! we got one!" a yell of exultation. "stay down! keep low, you boneheads!" roareda voice of authority, quite evidently a sergeant’s. "wanna get your blocks shot off? take downthem guns; we gotta get to hell out of here.
hey, you flyer! are you o.k., or wounded,or maybe dead?" kinnison spat out mud until he could talk."o.k.!" he shouted, and started to lift an eye above the low bank. he stopped, however,as whistling metal, sheeting in from the north, told him that such action would be decidedlyunsafe. "but i ain’t leaving this ditch right nowâ€”sounds mighty hot out there!" "you said it, brother. it’s hotter than thehinges of hell, from behind that ridge over there. but ooze down that ditch a piece, aroundthe first bend. it’s pretty well in the clear there, and besides, you’ll find a ledge ofrocks running straight across the flat. cross over there and climb the hillâ€”join us bythat dead snag up there. we got to get out
of here. that sausage over there must haveseen this shindig and they’ll blow this whole damn area off the map. snap it up! and you,you goldbricks, get the lead out of your pants!" kinnison followed directions. he found theledge and emerged, scraping thick and sticky mud from his uniform. he crawled across thelittle plain. an occasional bullet whined through the air, far above him; but, as thesergeant had said, this bit of terrain was "in the clear." he climbed the hill, approachedthe gaunt, bare tree-trunk. he heard men moving, and cautiously announced himself. "ok., fella," came the sergeant’s deep bass."yeah, it’s us. shake a leg!" "that’s easy!" kinnison laughed for the firsttime that day. "i’m shaking already, like
a hula-hula dancer’s empennage. what outfitis this, and where are we?" "brroom!" the earth trembled, the air vibrated.below and to the north, almost exactly where the machine-guns had been, an awe-inspiringcloud billowed majestically into the air; a cloud composed of smoke, vapor, pulverizedearth, chunks of rock, and debris of what had been trees. nor was it alone. "crack! bang! tweet! boom! wham!" shells ofall calibers, high explosive and gas, came down in droves. the landscape disappeared.the little company of americans, in complete silence and with one mind, devoted themselvesto accumulating distance. finally, when they had to stop for breath:
"section b, attached to the 76th field artillery,"the sergeant answered the question as though it had just been asked. "as to where we are,somewhere between berlin and paris is about all i can tell you. we got hell knocked outof us yesterday, and have been running around lost ever since. they shot off a rally signalon top of this here hill, though, and we was just going to shove off when we seen the krautschasing you." "thanks. i’d better rally with you, i guessâ€”findout where we are, and what’s the chance of getting back to my own outfit." "damn slim, i’d say. boches are all aroundus here, thicker than fleas on a dog." they approached the summit, were challenged,were accepted. they saw a gray-haired manâ€”an
old man, for such a locationâ€”seated calmlyupon a rock, smoking a cigarette. his smartly-tailored uniform, which fitted perfectly his not-so-slenderfigure, was muddy and tattered. one leg of his breeches was torn half away, revealinga blood-soaked bandage. although he was very evidently an officer, no insignia were visible.as kinnison and the gunners approached, a first lieutenantâ€”practically spic-and-spanâ€”spoketo the man on the rock. "first thing to do is to settle the matterof rank," he announced, crisply. "i’m first lieutenant randolph, of…." "rank, eh?" the seated one grinned and spatout the butt of his cigarette. "but then, it was important to me, too, when i was afirst lieutenantâ€”about the time that you
were born. slayton, major-general." "oh … excuse me, sir…." "skip it. how many men you got, and what arethey?" "seven, sir. we brought in a wire from inf…." "a wire! hellanddamnation, why haven’t yougot it with you, then? get it!" the crestfallen officer disappeared; the generalturned to kinnison and the sergeant. "have you got any ammunition, sergeant?" "yes, sir. about thirty belts." "thank god! we can use it, and you. as foryou, captain, i don’t know…."
the wire came up. the general seized the instrumentand cranked. "get me spearmint … spearmint? slaytonâ€”giveme weatherby…. this is slayton … yes, but … no, but i want … hellanddamnation,weatherby, shut up and let me talkâ€”don’t you know that this wire’s apt to be cut anysecond? we’re on top of hill fo-wer, ni-yun, sev-enâ€”that’s rightâ€”about two hundredmen; maybe three. compositeâ€”somebody, apparently, from half the outfits in france. too fastand too farâ€”both flanks wide openâ€”cut off … hello! hello! hello!" he dropped theinstrument and turned to kinnison. "you want to go back, captain, and i need a runnerâ€”bad.want to try to get through?" "yes, sir."
"first phone you come to, get spearmintâ€”generalweatherby. tell him slayton says that we’re cut off, but the germans aren’t in much forcenor in good position, and for god’s sake to get some air and tanks in here to keep themfrom consolidating. just a minute. sergeant, what’s your name?" he studied the burly non-comminutely. "wells, sir." "what would you say ought to be done withthe machine-guns?" "cover that ravine, there, first. then setup to enfilade if they try to come up over there. then, if i could find any more guns,i’d…." "enough. second lieutenant wells, from now.ghq will confirm. take charge of all the guns
we have. report when you have made disposition.now, kinnison, listen. i can probably hold out until tonight. the enemy doesn’t knowyet that we’re here, but we are due for some action pretty quick now, and when they locateusâ€”if there aren’t too many of their own units here, tooâ€”they’ll flatten this hilllike a table. so tell weatherby to throw a column in here as soon as it gets dark, andto advance eight and sixty, so as to consolidate this whole area. got it?" "got a compass?" "pick up a tin hat and get going. a hair northof due west, about a kilometer and a half. keep cover, because the going will be tough.then you’ll come to a road. it’s a mess, but
it’s oursâ€”or was, at last accountsâ€”sothe worst of it will be over. on that road, which goes south-west, about two kilometersfurther, you’ll find a postâ€”you’ll know it by the motorcycles and such. phone fromthere. luck!" bullets began to whine and the general droppedto the ground and crawled toward a coppice, bellowing orders as he went. kinnison crawled,too, straight west, availing himself of all possible cover, until he encountered a sergeant-majorreclining against the south side of a great tree. "cigarette, buddy?" that wight demanded. "sure. take the pack. i’ve got another that’lllast meâ€”maybe more. but what the hell goes
on here? who ever heard of a major generalgetting far enough up front to get shot in the leg, and he talks as though he were figuringon licking the whole german army. is the old bird nuts, or what?" "not so you would notice it. didn’cha everhear of ‘hellandamnation’ slayton? you will, buddy, you will. if pershing doesn’t givehim three stars after this, he’s crazier than hell. he ain’t supposed to be on combat atallâ€”he’s from ghq and can make or break anybody in the aef. out here on a look-seetrip and couldn’t get back. but you got to hand it to himâ€”he’s getting things organizedin great shape. i came in with himâ€”i’m about all that’s left of them that didâ€”just waitingfor this breeze to die down, but its getting
worse. we’d better duckâ€”over there!" bullets whistled and stormed, breaking moretwigs and branches from the already shattered, practically denuded trees. the two slid precipitatelyinto the indicated shell-hole, into stinking mud. wells’ guns burst into action. "damn! i hated to do this," the sergeant grumbled,"on accounta i just got half dry." "wise me up," kinnison directed. "the morei know about things, the more apt i am to get through." "this is what is left of two battalions, anda lot of casuals. they made objective, but it turns out the outfits on their right andleft couldn’t, leaving their flanks right
out in the open air. orders come in by blinkerto rectify the line by falling back, but by then it couldn’t be done. under observation." kinnison nodded. he knew what a barrage wouldhave done to a force trying to cross such open ground in daylight. "one man could prob’ly make it, though, ifhe was careful and kept his eyes wide open," the sergeant-major continued. "but you ain’tgot no binoculars, have you?" "no." "get a pair easy enough. you saw them bootswithout any hobnails in ’em, sticking out from under some blankets?"
"yes. i get you." kinnison knew that combatofficers did not wear hobnails, and usually carried binoculars. "how come so many at once?" "just about all the officers that got thisfar. conniving, my guess is, behind old slayton’s back. anyway, a kraut aviator spots ’em anddives. our machine-guns got him, but not until after he heaved a bomb. dead center. christ,what a mess! but there’s six-seven good glasses in there. i’d grab one myself, but the generalwould see itâ€”he can see right through the lid of a mess-kit. well, the boys have shutthose krauts up, so i’ll hunt the old man up and tell him what i found out. damn thismud!" kinnison emerged sinuously and snaked hisway to a row of blanket covered forms. he
lifted a blanket and gasped: then vomitedup everything, it seemed, that he had eaten for days. but he had to have the binoculars. he got them. then, still retching, white and shaken, hecrept westward; availing himself of every possible item of cover. for some time, from a point somewhere northof his route, a machine-gun had been intermittently at work. it was close; but the very loudnessof its noise, confused as it was by resounding echoes, made it impossible to locate at allexactly the weapon’s position. kinnison crept forward inchwise; scanning every foot of visibleterrain through his powerful glass. he knew
by the sound that it was german. more, sincewhat he did not know about machine-guns could have been printed in bill-poster type uponthe back of his hand, he knew that it was a maxim, model 1907â€”a mean, mean gun. hededuced that it was doing plenty of damage to his fellows back on the hill, and thatthey had not been able to do much of anything about it. and it was beautifully hidden; evenhe, close as he must be, couldn’t see it. but damn it, there had to be a…. minute after minute, unmoving save for thetraverse of his binoculars, he searched, and finally he found. a tiny plumeâ€”the veriestwispâ€”of vapor, rising from the surface of the brook. steam! steam from the cooling jacketof that maxim 1907! and there was the tube!
cautiously he moved around until he couldtrace that tube to its business endâ€”the carefully-hidden emplacement. there it was!he couldn’t maintain his westward course without them spotting him; nor could he go aroundfar enough. and besides … and besides that, there would be at least a patrol, if it hadn’tgone up the hill already. and there were grenades available, right close…. he crept up to one of the gruesome objectshe had been avoiding, and when he crept away he half-carried, half-dragged three grenadesin a canvas bag. he wormed his way to a certain boulder. he straightened up, pulled threepins, swung his arm three times. bang! bam! pow! the camouflage disappeared;so did the shrubbery for yards around. kinnison
had ducked behind the rock, but he duckedstill deeper as a chunk of something, its force pretty well spent, clanged against hissteel helmet. another object thudded beside himâ€”a leg, gray-clad and wearing a heavyfield boot! kinnison wanted to be sick again, but he hadneither the time nor the contents. and damn! what lousy throwing! he had neverbeen any good at baseball, but he supposed that he could hit a thing as big as that gun-pitâ€”butnot one of his grenades had gone in. the crew would probably be deadâ€”from concussion,if nothing elseâ€”but the gun probably wasn’t even hurt. he would have to go over thereand cripple it himself. he wentâ€”not exactly boldlyâ€”forty-fivein hand. the germans looked dead. one of them
sprawled on the parapet, right in his way.he gave the body a shove, watched it roll down the slope. as it rolled, however, itcame to life and yelled; and at that yell there occurred a thing at which young kinnison’shair stood straight up inside his iron helmet. on the gray of the blasted hillside hithertounseen gray forms moved; moved toward their howling comrade. and kinnison, blessing forthe first time in his life his inept throwing arm, hoped fervently that the maxim was stillin good working order. a few seconds of inspection showed him thatit was. the gun had practically a full belt and there was plenty more. he placed a boxâ€”hewould have no number two to help him hereâ€”took hold of the grips, shoved off the safety,and squeezed the trip. the gun roaredâ€”what
a gorgeous, what a heavenly racket that maximmade! he traversed until he could see where the bullets were striking: then swung thestream of metal to and fro. one belt and the germans were completely disorganized; twobelts and he could see no signs of life. he pulled the maxim’s block and threw it away;shot the water-jacket full of holes. that gun was done. nor had he increased his ownhazard. unless more germans came very soon, nobody would ever know who had done what,or to whom. he slithered away; resumed earnestly his westwardcourse: going as fast asâ€”sometimes a trifle faster thanâ€”caution would permit. but therewere no more alarms. he crossed the dangerously open ground; sulked rapidly through the frightfullyshattered wood. he reached the road, strode
along it around the first bend, and stopped,appalled. he had heard of such things, but he had never seen one; and mere descriptionhas always been and always will be completely inadequate. now he was walking right intoitâ€”the thing he was to see in nightmare for all the rest of his ninety-six years oflife. actually, there was very little to see. theroad ended abruptly. what had been a road, what had been wheatfields and farms, whathad been woods, were practically indistinguishable, one from the other; were fantastically andimpossibly the same. the entire area had been churned. worseâ€”it was as though the groundand its every surface object had been run through a gargantuan mill and spewed abroad.splinters of wood, riven chunks of metal,
a few scraps of bloody flesh. kinnison screamed,then, and ran; ran back and around that blasted acreage. and as he ran, his mind built uppictures; pictures which became only the more vivid because of his frantic efforts to wipethem out. that road, the night before, had been oneof the world’s most heavily traveled highways. motorcycles, trucks, bicycles. ambulances.kitchens. staff-cars and other automobiles. guns; from seventy-fives up to the big boys,whose tremendous weight drove their wide caterpillar treads inches deep into solid ground. horses.mules. and peopleâ€”especially peopleâ€”like himself. solid columns of men, marching asfast as they could stepâ€”there weren’t trucks enough to haul them all. that road had beencrowdedâ€”jammed. like state and madison at
noon, only more so. over-jammed with all thepersonnel, all the instrumentation and incidentalia, all the weaponry, of war. and upon that teeming, seething highway therehad descended a rain of steel-encased high explosive. possibly some gas, but probablynot. the german high command had given orders to pulverize that particular area at thatparticular time; and hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of german guns, in a micrometrically-synchronizedsymphony of firepower, had pulverized it. just that. literally. precisely. no road remained;no farm, no field, no building, no tree or shrub. the bits of flesh might have come fromhorse or man or mule; few indeed were the scraps of metal which retained enough of theiroriginal shape to show what they had once
been. kinnison ranâ€”or staggeredâ€”around thatobscene blot and struggled back to the road. it was shell-pocked, but passable. he hopedthat the shell-holes would decrease in number as he went along, but they did not. the enemyhad put this whole road out of service. and that farm, the p.c., ought to be around thenext bend. it was, but it was no longer a post of command.either by directed fireâ€”star-shell illuminationâ€”or by uncannily accurate chart-work, they hadput some heavy shell exactly where they would do the most damage. the buildings were gone;the cellar in which the p.c. had been was now a gaping crater. parts of motorcyclesand of staff cars littered the ground. stark
tree trunksâ€”all bare of leaves, some rivenof all except the largest branches, a few stripped even of barkâ€”stood gauntly. ina crotch of one, kinnison saw with rising horror, hung the limp and shattered nakedtorso of a man; blown completely out of his clothes. shells wereâ€”had been, right alongâ€”comingover occasionally. big ones, but high; headed for targets well to the west. nothing closeenough to worry about. two ambulances, a couple of hundred meters apart, were coming; workingtheir way along the road, between the holes. the first one slowed … stopped. "seen anybodyâ€”look out! duck!"
kinnison had already heard that unmistakable,unforgettable screech, was already diving headlong into the nearest hole. there wasa crash as though the world were falling apart. something smote him; seemed to drive him bodilyinto the ground. his light went out. when he recovered consciousness he was lying upona stretcher; two men were bending over him. "what hit me?" he gasped. "am i…?" he stopped.he was afraid to ask: afraid even to try to move, lest he should find that he didn’t haveany arms or legs. "a wheel, and maybe some of the axle, of theother ambulance, is all," one of the men assured him. "nothing much; you’re practically asgood as ever. shoulder and arm bunged up a little and somethingâ€”maybe shrapnel, thoughâ€”pokedyou in the guts. but we’ve got you all fixed
up, so take it easy and…." "what we want to know is," his partner interrupted,"is there anybody else alive up here?" "uh-huh," kinnison shook his head. "o.k. just wanted to be sure. lots of businessback there, and it won’t do any harm to have a doctor look at you." "get me to a ‘phone, as fast as you can,"kinnison directed, in a voice which he thought was strong and full of authority, but whichin fact was neither. "i’ve got an important message for general weatherby, at spearmint." "better tell us what it is, hadn’t you?" theambulance was now jolting along what had been
the road. "they’ve got phones at the hospitalwhere we’re going, but you might faint or something before we get there." kinnison told, but fought to retain what consciousnesshe had. throughout that long, rough ride he fought. he won. he himself spoke to generalweatherbyâ€”the doctors, knowing him to be a captain of aviation and realizing that hismessage should go direct, helped him telephone. he himself received the general’s sizzlinglysulphurous assurance that relief would be sent and that that quadruply-qualified linewould be rectified that night. then someone jabbed him with a needle andhe lapsed into a dizzy, fuzzy coma, from which he did not emerge completely for weeks. hehad lucid intervals at times, but he did not,
at the time or ever, know surely what wasreal and what was fantasy. there were doctors, doctors, doctors; operations,operations, operations. there were hospital tents, into which quiet men were carried;from which still quieter men were removed. there was a larger hospital, built of wood.there was a machine that buzzed and white-clad men who studied films and papers. there werescraps of conversation. "belly wounds are bad," kinnison thoughtâ€”hewas never sureâ€”that he heard one of them say. "and such contusions and multiple andcompound fractures as those don’t help a bit. prognosis unfavorableâ€”distinctly soâ€”butwe’ll soon see what we can do. interesting case … fascinating. what would you do, doctor,if you were doing it?"
"i’d let it alone!" a younger, stronger voicedeclared, fervently. "multiple perforations, infection, extravasation, oedemaâ€”uh-uh!i am watching, doctor, and learning!" another interlude, and another. another. andothers. until finally, orders were given which kinnison did not hear at all. "adrenalin! massage! massage hell out of him!" kinnison again came toâ€”partially to, ratherâ€”anguishedin every fiber of his being. somebody was sticking barbed arrows into every square inchof his skin; somebody else was pounding and mauling him all over, taking particular painsto pummel and to wrench at all the places where he hurt the worst. he yelled at thetop of his voice; yelled and swore bitterly:
"quit it!" being the expurgated gist of hisluridly profane protests. he did not make nearly as much noise as he supposed, but hemade enough. "thank god!" kinnison heard a lighter, softervoice. surprised, he stopped swearing and tried to stare. he couldn’t see very well,either, but he was pretty sure that there was a middle-aged woman there. there was,and her eyes were not dry. "he is going to live, after all!" as the days passed, he began really to sleep,naturally and deeply. he grew hungrier and hungrier, and they wouldnot give him enough to eat. he was by turns sullen, angry, and morose.
in short, he was convalescent. for captain ralph k. kinnison, the war wasover. chapter 5 1941 chubby, brownette eunice kinnison sat in arocker, reading the sunday papers and listening to her radio. her husband ralph lay sprawledupon the davenport, smoking a cigarette and reading the current issue of extraordinarystories against an unheard background of music. mentally, he was far from tellus, flittingin his super-dreadnaught through parsec after parsec of vacuous space.
the music broke off without warning and thereblared out an announcement which yanked ralph kinnison back to earth with a violence almostphysical. he jumped up, jammed his hands into his pockets. "pearl harbor!" he blurted. "how in…. howcould they have let them get that far?" "but frank!" the woman gasped. she had notworried much about her husband; but frank, her son…. "he’ll have to go…." her voicedied away. "not a chance in the world." kinnison didnot speak to soothe, but as though from sure knowledge. "designing engineer for lockwood?he’ll want to, all right, but anyone who was ever even exposed to a course in aeronauticalengineering will sit this war out."
"but they say it can’t last very long. itcan’t, can it?" "i’ll say it can. loose talk. five years minimumis my guessâ€”not that my guess is any better than anybody else’s." he prowled around the room. his somber expressiondid not lighten. "i knew it," the woman said at length. "you,tooâ€”even after the last one…. you haven’t said anything, so i thought, perhaps…." "i know i didn’t. there was always the chancethat we wouldn’t get drawn into it. if you say so, though, i’ll stay home." "am i apt to? i let you go when you were reallyin danger…."
"what do you mean by that crack?" he interrupted. "regulations. one year too oldâ€”thank heaven!" "so what? they’ll need technical experts,bad. they’ll make exceptions." "possibly. desk jobs. desk officers don’tget killed in actionâ€”or even wounded. why, perhaps, with the children all grown up andmarried, we won’t even have to be separated." "another angleâ€”financial." "pooh! who cares about that? besides, fora man out of a job…." "from you, i’ll let that one pass. thanks,eunieâ€”you’re an ace. i’ll shoot ’em a wire." the telegram was sent. the kinnisons waited.and waited. until, about the middle of january,
beautifully-phrased and beautifully-mimeographedletters began to arrive. "the war department recognizes the value ofyour previous military experience and appreciates your willingness once again to take up armsin defense of the country … veteran officer’s questionnaire … please fill out completely… form 191a … form 170 in duplicate … form 315…. impossible to forecast the extentto which the war department may ultimately utilize the services which you and thousandsof others have so generously offered … form … form…. not to be construed as meaningthat you have been permanently rejected … form … advise you that while at the present timethe war department is unable to use you…." "wouldn’t that fry you to a crisp?" kinnisondemanded. "what in hell have they got in their
headsâ€”sawdust? they think that because i’mfifty one years old i’ve got one foot in the graveâ€”i’ll bet four dollars that i’m inbetter shape than that cursed major general and his whole damned staff!" "i don’t doubt it, dear." eunice’s smile was,however, mostly of relief. "but here’s an adâ€”it’s been running for a week." "chemical engineers … shell loading plant… within seventy-five miles of townville … over five years experience … organicchemistry … technology … explosives…." "they want you," eunice declared, soberly. "well, i’m a ph.d. in organic. i’ve had morethan five years experience in both organic
chemistry and technology. if i don’t knowsomething about explosives i did a smart job of fooling dean montrose, back at gosh whattauniversity. i’ll write ’em a letter." he wrote. he filled out a form. the telephonerang. "kinnison speaking … yes … dr. sumner?oh, yes, chief chemist…. that’s itâ€”one year over age, so i thought…. oh, that’sa minor matter. we won’t starve. if you can’t pay a hundred and fifty i’ll come for a hundred,or seventy five, or fifty…. that’s all right, too. i’m well enough known in my own fieldso that a title of junior chemical engineer wouldn’t hurt me a bit … o.k., i’ll seeyou about one o’clock … stoner and black, inc., operators, entwhistle ordnance plant,entwhistle, missikota…. what! well, maybe
i could, at that…. goodbye." he turned to his wife. "you know what? theywant me to come down right away and go to work. hot dog! am i glad that i told thatlouse hendricks exactly where he could stick that job of mine!" "he must have known that you wouldn’t signa straight-salary contract after getting a share of the profits so long. maybe he believedwhat you always say just before or just after kicking somebody’s teeth down their throats;that you’re so meek and mildâ€”a regular milquetoast. do you really think that they’ll want youback, after the war?" it was clear that eunice was somewhat concerned concerning kinnison’sjoblessness; but kinnison was not.
"probably. that’s the gossip. and i’ll comebackâ€”when hell freezes over." his square jaw tightened. "i’ve heard of outfits stupidenough to let their technical brains go because they could sellâ€”for a whileâ€”anything theyproduced, but i didn’t know that i was working for one. maybe i’m not exactly a timid soul,but you’ll have to admit that i never kicked anybody’s teeth out unless they tried to kickmine out first." entwhistle ordnance plant covered twenty-oddsquare miles of more or less level land. ninety-nine percent of its area was "inside the fence."most of the buildings within that restricted area, while in reality enormous, were dwarfedby the vast spaces separating them; for safety-distances are not small when tnt and tetryl by the tonare involved. those structures were built
of concrete, steel, glass, transite, and tile. "outside the fence" was different. this wasthe administration area. its buildings were tremendous wooden barracks, relatively closetogether, packed with the executive, clerical, and professional personnel appropriate toan organization employing over twenty thousand men and women. well inside the fence, but a safety-distanceshort of the one lineâ€”loading line number oneâ€”was a long, low building, quite inadequatelynamed the chemical laboratory. "inadequately" in that the chief chemist, a highly capableâ€”ifmore than a little cantankerousâ€”explosives engineer, had already gathered into his chemicalsection most of development, most of engineering,
and all of physics, weights and measures,and weather. one room of the chemical laboratoryâ€”in thecorner most distant from administrationâ€”was separated from the rest of the building bya sixteen-inch wall of concrete and steel extending from foundation to roof withouta door, window, or other opening. this was the laboratory of the chemical engineers,the boys who played with explosives high and low; any explosion occurring therein couldnot affect the chemical laboratory proper or its personnel. entwhistle’s main roads were paved; but infebruary of 1942, such minor items as sidewalks existed only on the blue-prints. entwhistle’ssoil contained much clay, and at that time
the mud was approximately six inches deep.hence, since there were neither inside doors nor sidewalks, it was only natural that thetechnologists did not visit at all frequently the polished-tile cleanliness of the laboratory.it was also natural enough for the far larger group to refer to the segregated ones as exilesand outcasts; and that some witty chemist applied to that isolated place the name "siberia." the name stuck. more, the engineers seizedit and acclaimed it. they were siberians, and proud of it, and siberians they remained;long after entwhistle’s mud turned into dust. and within the year the siberians were tobecome well and favorably known in every ordnance plant in the country, to many high executiveswho had no idea of how the name originated.
kinnison became a siberian as enthusiasticallyas the youngest man there. the term "youngest" is used in its exact sense, for not one ofthem was a recent graduate. each had had at least five years of responsible experience,and "cappy" sumner kept on building. he hired extravagantly and fired ruthlesslyâ€”to theminds of some, senselessly. but he knew what he was doing. he knew explosives, and he knewmen. he was not liked, but he was respected. his building was good. being one of the only two "old" men thereâ€”andthe other did not stay longâ€”kinnison, as a junior chemical engineer, was not at firstaccepted without reserve. apparently he did not notice that fact, but went quietly abouthis assigned duties. he was meticulously careful
with, but very evidently not in any fear of,the materials with which he worked. he pelleted and tested tracer, igniter, and incendiarycompositions; he took his turn at burning out rejects. whenever asked, he went out onthe lines with any one of them. his experimental tetryls always "miked" tosize, his tnt melt-poursâ€”introductory to loading forty-millimeter on the three lineâ€”cameout solid, free from checks and cavitations. it became evident to those young but keenminds that he, alone of them all, was on familiar ground. they began to discuss their problemswith him. out of his years of technological experience, and by bringing everyone presentinto the discussion, he either helped them directly or helped them to help themselves.his stature grew.
black-haired, black-eyed "tug" tugwell, twohundred pounds of ex-football-player in charge of tracer on the seven line, called him "uncle"ralph, and the habit spread. and in a couple of weeksâ€”at about the same time that "injun"abernathy was slightly injured by being blown through a door by a minor explosion of hisigniter on the eight lineâ€”he was promoted to full chemical engineer; a promotion whichwent unnoticed, since it involved only changes in title and salary. three weeks later, however, he was made seniorchemical engineer, in charge of melt-pour. at this there was a celebration, led by "blondie"wanacek, a sulphuric-acid expert handling tetryl on the two. kinnison searched minutelyfor signs of jealousy or antagonism, but could
find none. he went blithely to work on thesix line, where they wanted to start pouring twenty-pound fragmentation bombs, ably assistedby tug and by two new men. one of these was "doc" or "bart" barton, who, the grapevinesaid, had been hired by cappy to be his assistant. his motto, like that of rikki-tikki-tavi,was to run and find out, and he did so with glee and abandon. he was a good egg. so wasthe other newcomer, "charley" charlevoix, a prematurely gray paint-and-lacquer expertwho had also made the siberian grade. a few months later, sumner called kinnisoninto the office. the latter went, wondering what the old hard-shell was going to cry aboutnow; for to be called into that office meant only one thingâ€”censure.
"kinnison, i like your work," the chief chemistbegan, gruffly, and kinnison’s mouth almost dropped open. "anybody who ever got a ph.d.under montrose would have to know explosives, and the f.b.i. report on you showed that youhad brains, ability, and guts. but none of that explains how you can get along so wellwith those damned siberians. i want to make you assistant chief and put you in chargeof siberia. formally, i meanâ€”actually, you have been for months." "why, no … i didn’t…. besides, how aboutbarton? he’s too good a man to kick in the teeth that way." "admitted." this did surprise kinnison. hehad never thought that the irascible and tempestuous
chief would ever confess to a mistake. thiswas a cappy he had never known. "i discussed it with him yesterday. he’s a damned goodmanâ€”but it’s decidedly questionable whether he has got whatever it is that made tugwell,wanacek and charlevoix work straight through for seventy two hours, napping now and thenon benches and grabbing coffee and sandwiches when they could, until they got that fragbomb straightened out." sumner did not mention the fact that kinnisonhad worked straight through, too. that was taken for granted. "well, i don’t know." kinnison’s head wasspinning. "i’d like to check with barton first. o.k.?"
"i expected that. o.k." kinnison found barton and led him out behindthe testing shed. "bart, cappy tells me that he figures on kickingyou in the face by making me assistant and that you o.k.’d it. one word and i’ll tellthe old buzzard just where to stick the job and exactly where to go to do it." "reaction, perfect. yield, one hundred percent."barton stuck out his hand. "otherwise, i would tell him all that myself and more. as it is,uncle ralph, smooth out the ruffled plumage. they’d go to hell for you, wading in standingstraight upâ€”they might do the same with me in the driver’s seat, and they might not.why take a chance? you’re it. some things
about the deal i don’t like, of courseâ€”butat that, it makes me about the only man working for stoner and black who can get a releaseany time a good permanent job breaks. i’ll stick until then. o.k.?" it was unnecessaryfor barton to add that as long as he was there he would really work. "i’ll say it’s o.k.!" and kinnison reportedto sumner. "all right, chief, i’ll try itâ€”if you cansquare it with the siberians." "that will not be too difficult." nor was it. the siberians’ reaction broughta lump to kinnison’s throat. "ralph the first, czar of siberia!" they yelled."long live the czar! kowtow, serfs and vassals,
to czar ralph the first!" kinnison was still glowing when he got homethat night, to the government housing project and to the three-room "mansionette" in whichhe and eunice lived. he would never forget the events of that day. "what a gang! what a gang! but listen, aceâ€”theywork under their own powerâ€”you couldn’t keep those kids from working. why should iget the credit for what they do?" "i haven’t the foggiest." eunice wrinkledher foreheadâ€”and her noseâ€”but the corners of her mouth quirked up. "are you quite surethat you haven’t had anything to do with it? but supper is readyâ€”let’s eat."
more months passed. work went on. absorbingwork, and highly varied; the details of which are of no importance here. paul jones, a big,hard, top-drawer chicle technologist, set up the four line to pour demolition blocks.frederick hinton came in, qualified as a siberian, and went to work on anti-personnel mines. kinnison was promoted again: to chief chemist.he and sumner had never been friendly; he made no effort to find out why cappy had quit,or had been terminated, whichever it was. this promotion made no difference. barton,now assistant, ran the whole chemical section save for one unitâ€”siberiaâ€”and did a superlativejob. the chief chemist’s secretary worked for barton, not for kinnison. kinnison wasthe czar of siberia.
the anti-personnel mines had been giving trouble.too many men were being killed by prematures, and nobody could find out why. the problemwas handed to siberia. hinton tackled it, missed, and called for help. the siberiansrallied round. kinnison loaded and tested mines. so did paul and tug and blondie. kinnisonwas testing, out in the firing area, when he was called to administration to attenda staff meeting. hinton relieved him. he had not reached the gate, however, when a guardcar flagged him down. "sorry, sir, but there has been an accidentat pit five and you are needed out there." "accident! fred hinton! is he…?" "i’m afraid so, sir."
it is a harrowing thing to have to help gatherup what fragments can be found of one of your best friends. kinnison was white and sickas he got back to the firing station, just in time to hear the chief safety officer say: "must have been carelessnessâ€”rank carelessness.i warned this man hinton myself, on one occasion." "carelessness, hell!" kinnison blazed. "youhad the guts to warn me once, too, and i’ve forgotten more about safety in explosivesthan you ever will know. fred hinton was not carelessâ€”if i hadn’t been called in, thatwould have been me." "what is it, then?" "i don’t knowâ€”yet. i tell you now, though,major moulton, that i will know, and the minute
i find out i’ll talk to you again." he went back to siberia, where he found tugand paul, faces still tear-streaked, staring at something that looked like a small pieceof wire. "this is it, uncle ralph," tug said, brokenly."don’t see how it could be, but it is." "what is what?" kinnison demanded. "firing pin. brittle. when you pull the safety,the force of the spring must break it off at this constricted section here." "but damn it, tug, it doesn’t make sense.it’s tension … but waitâ€”there’d be some horizontal component, at that. but they’dhave to be brittle as glass."
"i know it. it doesn’t seem to make much sense.but we were there, you knowâ€”and i assembled every one of those god damned mines myself.nothing else could possibly have made that mine go off just when it did." "o.k., tug. we’ll test ’em. call bart inâ€”hecan have the scale-lab boys rig us up a gadget by the time we can get some more of thosepins in off the line." they tested a hundred, under the normal tensionof the spring, and three of them broke. they tested another hundred. five broke. they staredat each other. "that’s it." kinnison declared. "but thiswill stink to high heavenâ€”have inspection break out a new lot and we’ll test a thousand."
of that thousand pins, thirty two broke. "bart, will you dictate a one-page preliminaryreport to vera and rush it over to building one as fast as you can? i’ll go over and tellmoulton a few things." major moulton was, as usual, "in conference,"but kinnison was in no mood to wait. "tell him," he instructed the major’s privatesecretary, who had barred his way, "that either he will talk to me right now or i will calldistrict safety over his head. i’ll give him sixty seconds to decide which." moulton decided to see him. "i’m very busy,doctor kinnison, but…." "i don’t give a swivel-eyed tinker’s damnhow busy you are. i told you that the minute
i found out what was the matter with the m2mine i’d talk to you again. here i am. brittle firing pins. three and two-tenths percentdefective. so i’m…." "very irregular, doctor. the matter will haveto go through channels…." "not this one. the formal report is goingthrough channels, but as i started to tell you, this is an emergency report to you aschief of safety. since the defect is not covered by specs, neither process nor ordnance canreject except by test, and whoever does the testing will very probably be killed. therefore,as every employee of stoner and black is not only authorized but positively instructedto do upon discovering an unsafe condition, i am reporting it direct to safety. sincemy whiskers are a trifle longer than an operator’s,
i am reporting it direct to the head of thesafety division; and i am telling you that if you don’t do something about it damnedquickâ€”stop production and slap a hold order on all the m2ap’s you can reachâ€”i’ll calldistrict and make you personally responsible for every premature that occurs from now on." since any safety man, anywhere, would muchrather stop a process than authorize one, and since this particular safety man lovedto throw his weight around, kinnison was surprised that moulton did not act instantly. the factthat he did not so act should have, but did not, give the naive kinnison much informationas to conditions existing outside the fence. "but they need those mines very badly; theyare an item of very heavy production. if we
stop them … how long? have you any suggestions?" "yes. call district and have them rush througha change of specâ€”include heat-treat and a modified charpy test. in the meantime, wecan get back into full production tomorrow if you have district slap a hundred-per-centinspection onto those pins." "excellent! we can do thatâ€”very fine work,doctor! miss morgan, get district at once!" this, too, should have warned kinnison, butit did not. he went back to the laboratory. tempus fugited. orders came to get ready to load m67 h.e.,a.t. (105 m/m high explosive, armor tearing) shell on the nine, and the siberians wentjoyously to work upon the new load. the explosive
was to be a mixture of tnt and a polysyllabiccompound, everything about which was highly confidential and restricted. "but what the hell’s so hush-hush about thatstuff?" demanded blondie, who, with five or six others, was crowding around the czar’sdesk. unlike the days of cappy sumner, the private office of the chief chemist was nowas much siberia as siberia itself. "the germans developed it originally, didn’t they?" "yes, and the italians used it against theethiopiansâ€”which was why their bombs were so effective. but it says ‘hush-hush,’ sothat’s the way it will be. and if you talk in your sleep, blondie, tell betty not tolisten."
the siberians worked. the m67 was put intoproduction. it was such a success that orders for it came in faster than they could be filled.production was speeded up. small cavitations began to appear. nothing serious, since theypassed inspection. nevertheless, kinnison protested, in a formal report, receipt ofwhich was formally acknowledged. general somebody-or-other, entwhistle’s commandingofficer, whom none of the siberians had ever met, was transferred to more active duty,and a colonelâ€”snodgrass or some such nameâ€”took his place. ordnance got a new chief inspector. an m67, entwhistle loaded, prematured in agun-barrel, killing twenty seven men. kinnison protested again, verbally this time, at astaff meeting. he was assuredâ€”verballyâ€”that
a formal and thorough investigation was beingmade. later he was informedâ€”verbally and without witnessesâ€”that the investigationhad been completed and that the loading was not at fault. a new commanding officerâ€”lieutenant-colonelfranklinâ€”appeared. the siberians, too busy to do more than glanceat newspapers, paid very little attention to a glider-crash in which several notableswere killed. they heard that an investigation was being made, but even the czar did notknow until later that washington had for once acted fast in correcting a bad situation;that inspection, which had been under production, was summarily divorced therefrom. and gossipspread abroad that stillman, then head of the inspection division, was not a big enoughman for the job. thus it was an entirely unsuspecting
kinnison who was called into the innermostprivate office of thomas keller, the superintendent of production. "kinnison, how in hell do you handle thosesiberians? i never saw anything like them before in my life." "no, and you never will again. nothing onearth except a war could get them together or hold them together. i don’t ‘handle’ themâ€”theycan’t be ‘handled’. i give them a job to do and let them do it. i back them up. that’sall." "umngpf." keller grunted. "that’s a hell ofa formulaâ€”if i want anything done right i’ve got to do it myself. but whatever yoursystem is, it works. but what i wanted to
talk to you about is, how’d you like to behead of the inspection division, which would be enlarged to include your present chemicalsection?" "huh?" kinnison demanded, dumbfounded. "at a salary well up on the confidential scale."keller wrote a figure upon a piece of paper, showed it to his visitor, then burned it inan ash-tray. kinnison whistled. "i’d like itâ€”for morereasons than that. but i didn’t know that youâ€”or have you already checked with thegeneral and mr. black?" "naturally," came the smooth reply. "in fact,i suggested it to them and have their approval. perhaps you are curious to know why?"
"i certainly am." "for two reasons. first, because you havedeveloped a crew of technical experts that is the envy of every technical man in thecountry. second, you and your siberians have done every job i ever asked you to, and doneit fast. as a division head, you will no longer be under me, but i am right, i think, in assumingthat you will work with me just as efficiently as you do now?" "i can’t think of any reason why i wouldn’t."this reply was made in all honesty; but later, when he came to understand what keller hadmeant, how bitterly kinnison was to regret its making!
he moved into stillman’s office, and foundthere what he thought was ample reason for his predecessor’s failure to make good. tohis way of thinking it was tremendously over-staffed, particularly with assistant chief inspectors.delegation of authority, so widely preached throughout entwhistle ordnance plant, hadnot been given even lip service here. stillman had not made a habit of visiting the lines;nor did the chief line inspectors, the boys who really knew what was going on, ever visithim. they reported to the assistants, who reported to stillman, who handed down hisjovian pronouncements. kinnison set out, deliberately this time,to mold his key chief line inspectors into just such a group as the siberians alreadywere. he released the assistants to more productive
work; retaining of stillman’s office staffonly a few clerks and his private secretary, one celeste de st. aubin, a dynamic, vivaciousâ€”attimes explosiveâ€”brunette. he gave the boys on the lines full authority; the few who couldnot handle the load he replaced with men who could. at first the chief line inspectorssimply could not believe; but after the affair of the forty millimeter, in which kinnisonrammed the decision of his subordinate past keller, past the general, past stoner andblack, and clear up to the commanding officer before he made it stick, they were his toa man. others of his section heads, however, remainedaloof. pettler, whose technical section was now part of inspection, and wilson, of gages,were two of those who talked largely and glowingly,
but acted obstructively if they acted at all.as weeks went on, kinnison became wiser and wiser, but made no sign. one day, during alull, his secretary hung out the "in conference" sign and went into kinnison’s private office. "there isn’t a reference to any such investigationanywhere in central files." she paused, as if to add something, then turned to leave. "as you were, celeste. sit down. i expectedthat. suppressedâ€”if made at all. you’re a smart girl, celeste, and you know the ropes.you know that you can talk to me, don’t you?" "yes, but this is … well, the word is goingaround that they are going to break you, just as they have broken every other good man onthe reservation."
"i expected that, too." the words were quietenough, but the man’s jaw tightened. "also, i know how they are going to do it." "how?" "this speed-up on the nine. they know thati won’t stand still for the kind of casts that keller’s new procedure, which goes intoeffect tonight, is going to produce … and this new c.o. probably will." silence fell, broken by the secretary. "general sanford, our first c.o., was a soldier,and a good one," she declared finally. "so was colonel snodgrass. lieutenant colonelfranklin wasn’t; but he was too much of a
man to do the dir …" "dirty work," dryly. "exactly. go on." "and stoner, the new york halfâ€”ninety fivepercent, reallyâ€”of stoner and black, inc., is a big time operator. so we get this damnednincompoop of a major, who doesn’t know a f-u-s-e from a f-u-z-e, direct from a wallstreet desk." "so what?" one must have heard ralph kinnisonsay those two words to realize how much meaning they can be made to carry. "so what!" the girl blazed, wringing her hands."ever since you have been over here i have been expecting you to blow upâ€”to smash somethingâ€”inspite of the dozens of times you have told
me ‘a fighter can not slug effectively, celeste,until he gets both feet firmly planted.’ whenâ€”whenâ€”are you going to get your feet planted?" "never, i’m afraid," he said glumly, and shestared. "so i’ll have to start slugging with at least one foot in the air." that startled her. "explain, please?" "i wanted proof. stuff that i could take tothe districtâ€”that i could use to tack some hides out flat on a barn door with. do i getit? i do not. not a shred. neither can you. what chance do you think there is of evergetting any real proof?" "very little," celeste admitted. "but youcan at least smash pettler, wilson, and that
crowd. how i hate those slimy snakes! i wishthat you could smash tom keller, the poisonous moron!" "not so much moronâ€”although he acts likeone at timesâ€”as an ignorant puppet with a head swelled three sizes too big for hishat. but you can quit yapping about sluggingâ€”fireworks are due to start at two o’clock tomorrow afternoon,when drake is going to reject tonight’s run of shell." "really? but i don’t see how either pettleror wilson come in." "they don’t. a fight with those small fryâ€”evensmashing themâ€”wouldn’t make enough noise. keller."
"keller!" celeste squealed. "but you’ll…." "i know i’ll get fired. so what? by tacklinghim i can raise enough hell so that the big shots will have to cut out at least some ofthe rough stuff. you’ll probably get fired too, you knowâ€”you’ve been too close to mefor your own good." "not me." she shook her head vigorously. "theminute they terminate you, i quit. poof! who cares? besides, i can get a better job intownville." "without leaving the project. that’s whati figured. it’s the boys i’m worried about. i’ve been getting them ready for this forweeks." "but they will quit, too. your siberiansâ€”yourinspectorsâ€”of a surety they will quit, every
one!" "they won’t release them; and what stonerand black will do to them, even after the war, if they quit without releases, shouldn’tbe done to a dog. they won’t quit, eitherâ€”at least if they don’t try to push them aroundtoo much. keller’s mouth is watering to get hold of siberia, but he’ll never make it,nor any one of his stooges…. i’d better dictate a memorandum to black on that now,while i’m calm and collected; telling him what he’ll have to do to keep my boys fromtearing entwhistle apart." "but do you think he will pay any attentionto it?" "i’ll say he will!" kinnison snorted. "don’tkid yourself about black, celeste. he’s a
smart man, and before this is done he’ll knowthat he’ll have to keep his nose clean." "but youâ€”how can you do it?" celeste marveled."me, i would urge them on. few would have the patriotism…." "patriotism, hell! if that were all, i wouldhave stirred up a revolution long ago. it’s for the boys, in years to come. they’ve gotto keep their noses clean, too. get your notebook, please, and take this down. rough draftâ€”i’mgoing to polish it up until it has teeth and claws in every line." and that evening, after supper, he informedeunice of all the new developments. "is it still o.k. with you," he concluded,"for me to get myself fired off of this high-salaried
job of mine?" "certainly. being you, how can you do anythingelse? oh, how i wish i could wring their necks!" that conversation went on and on, but additionaldetails are not necessary here. shortly after two o’clock of the followingafternoon, celeste took a call; and listened shamelessly. "kinnison speaking." "tug, uncle ralph. the casts sectioned justlike we thought they would. dead ringers for plate d. so drake hung a red ticket on everytray. piddy was right there, waiting, and started to raise hell. so i chipped in, andhe beat it so fast that i looked to see his
coat-tail catch fire. drake didn’t quite liketo call you, so i did. if piddy keeps on going at the rate he left here, he’ll be in keller’soffice in nothing flat." "o.k., tug. tell drake that the shell he rejectedare going to stay rejected, and to come in right now with his report. would you liketo come along?" "would i!" tugwell hung up and: "but do you want him here, doc?" celeste asked,anxiously, without considering whether or not her boss would approve of her eavesdropping. "i certainly do. if i can keep tug from blowinghis top, the rest of the boys will stay in line."
a few minutes later tugwell strode in, bringingwith him drake, the chief line inspector of the nine line. shortly thereafter the officedoor was wrenched open. keller had come to kinnison, accompanied by the superintendentwhom the siberians referred to, somewhat contemptuously, as "piddy." "damn your soul, kinnison, come out hereâ€”iwant to talk to you!" keller roared, and doors snapped open up and down the long corridor. "shut up, you god damned louse!" this fromtugwell, who, black eyes almost emitting sparks, was striding purposefully forward. "i’ll sockyou so damned hard that…." "pipe down, tug, i’ll handle this." kinnison’svoice was not loud, but it had then a peculiarly
carrying and immensely authoritative quality."verbally or physically; however he wants to have it." he turned to keller, who had jumped backwardinto the hall to avoid the young siberian. "as for you, keller, if you had the brainsthat god gave bastard geese in ireland, you would have had this conference in private.since you started it in public, however, i’ll finish it in public. how you came to pickme for a yes-man i’ll never knowâ€”just one more measure of your stupidity, i suppose." "those shell are perfect!" keller shouted."tell drake here to pass them, right now. if you don’t, by god i’ll…."
"shut up!" kinnison’s voice cut. "i’ll dothe talkingâ€”you listen. the spec says quote shall be free from objectionable cavitationunquote. the line inspectors, who know their stuff, say that those cavitations are objectionable.so do the chemical engineers. therefore, as far as i am concerned, they are objectionable.those shell are rejected, and they will stay rejected." "that’s what you think," keller raged. "butthere’ll be a new head of inspection, who will pass them, tomorrow morning!" "in that you may be half right. when you getdone licking black’s boots, tell him that i am in my office."
kinnison re-entered his suite. keller, swearing,strode away with piddy. doors clicked shut. "i am going to quit, uncle ralph, law or nolaw!" tugwell stormed. "they’ll run that bunch of crap through, and then…." "will you promise not to quit until they do?"kinnison asked, quietly. "huh?" "what?" tugwell’s eyesâ€”and celeste’sâ€”werepools of astonishment. celeste, being on the inside, understood first. "ohâ€”to keep his nose cleanâ€”i see!" sheexclaimed. "exactly. those shell will not be accepted,nor any like them. on the surface, we got licked. i will get fired. you will find, however,that we won this particular battle. and if
you boys stay here and hang together and keepon slugging you can win a lot more." "maybe, if we raise enough hell, we can makethem fire us, too?" drake suggested. "i doubt it. but unless i’m wrong, you canjust about write your own ticket from now on, if you play it straight." kinnison grinnedto himself, at something which the young people could not see. "you told me what stoner and black would doto us," tugwell said, intensely. "what i’m afraid of is that they’ll do it to you." "they can’t. not a chance in the world," kinnisonassured him. "you fellows are youngâ€”not established. but i’m well-enough known inmy own field so that if they tried to black-ball
me they’d just get themselves laughed at,and they know it. so beat it back to the nine, you kids, and hang red tickets on everythingthat doesn’t cross-section up to standard. tell the gang goodbye for meâ€”i’ll keep youposted." in less than an hour kinnison was called intothe office of the president. he was completely at ease; black was not. "it has been decided to … uh … ask foryour resignation," the president announced at last. "save your breath," kinnison advised. "i camedown here to do a job, and the only way you can keep me from doing that job is to fireme."
"that was not … uh … entirely unexpected.a difficulty arose, however, in deciding what reason to put on your termination papers." "i can well believe that. you can put downanything you like," kinnison shrugged, "with one exception. any implication of incompetenceand you’ll have to prove it in court." "incompatibility, say?" "o.k." "miss briggsâ€”’incompatibility with the highestechelon of stoner and black, inc.,’ please. you may as well wait, dr. kinnison; it willtake only a moment." "fine. i’ve got a couple of things to say.first, i know as well as you do that you’re
between scylla and charybdisâ€”damned if youdo and damned if you don’t." "certainly not! ridiculous!" black blustered,but his eyes wavered. "where did you get such a preposterous idea? what do you mean?" "if you ram those sub-standard h.e.a.t. shellthrough, you are going to have some more prematures. not manyâ€”the stuff is actually almost goodenoughâ€”one in ten thousand, say: perhaps one in fifty thousand. but you know damnedwell that you can’t afford any. what my siberians and inspectors know about you and keller andpiddy and the nine line would be enough; but to cap the climax that brainless jackal ofyours let the cat completely out of the bag this afternoon, and everybody in buildingone was listening. one more premature would
blow entwhistle wide openâ€”would start somethingthat not all the politicians in washington could stop. on the other hand, if you scrapthose lots and go back to pouring good loads, your mr. stoner, of new york and washington,will be very unhappy and will scream bloody murder. i’m sure, however, that you won’toffer any plate d loads to ordnanceâ€”in view of the temper of my boys and girls, and thenumber of people who heard your dumb stooge give you away, you won’t dare to. in fact,i told some of my people that you wouldn’t; that you are a smart enough operator to keepyour nose clean." "you told them!" black shouted, in anger anddismay. "yes? why not?" the words were innocent enough,but kinnison’s expression was full of meaning.
"i don’t want to seem trite, but you are justbeginning to find out that honesty and loyalty are a hell of a hard team to beat." "get out! take these termination papers andget out!" and doctor ralph k. kinnison, head high, strodeout of president black’s office and out of entwhistle ordnance plant. chapter 6 nineteen hundred and… unknown. "theodore k. kinnison!" a crisp, clear voicesnapped from the speaker of an apparently cold, ordinary-enough-looking radio-televisionset.
a burly young man caught his breath sharplyas he leaped to the instrument and pressed an inconspicuous button. "theodore k. kinnison acknowledging!" theplate remained dark, but he knew that he was being scanned. "operation bullfinch!" the speaker blatted. kinnison gulped. "operation bullfinchâ€”off!"he managed to say. "off!" he pushed the button again and turned to facethe tall, trim honey-blonde who stood tensely poised in the archway. her eyes were wideand protesting; both hands clutched at her
throat. "uh-huh, sweets, they’re comingâ€”over thepole," he gritted. "two hours, more or less." "oh, ted!" she threw herself into his arms.they kissed, then broke away. the man picked up two large suitcases, alreadypackedâ€”everything else, including food and water, had been in the car for weeksâ€”andmade strides. the girl rushed after him, not bothering even to close the door of the apartment,scooping up en passant a leggy boy of four and a chubby, curly-haired girl of two orthereabouts. they ran across the lawn toward a big, low-slung sedan. "sure you got your caffeine tablets?" he demandedas they ran.
"uh-huh." "you’ll need ’em. drive like the devilâ€”stayahead! you canâ€”this heap has got the legs of a centipede and you’ve got plenty of gasand oil. eleven hundred miles from anywhere and a population of one-tenth per square mileâ€”you’llbe safe there if anybody is." "it isn’t us i’m worried aboutâ€”it’s you!"she panted. "technos’ wives get a few minutes’ notice ahead of the h-blastâ€”i’ll be aheadof the rush and i’ll stay ahead. it’s you, tedâ€”you!" "don’t worry, keed. that popcycle of minehas got legs, too, and there won’t be so much traffic, the way i’m going."
"oh, blast! i didn’t mean that, and you knowit!" they were at the car. while he jammed thetwo bags into an exactly-fitting space, she tossed the children into the front seat, slidlithely under the wheel, and started the engine. "i know you didn’t, sweetheart. i’ll be back."he kissed her and the little girl, the while shaking hands with his son. "kidlets, youand mother are going out to visit grand-dad kinnison, like we told you all about. lotsof fun. i’ll be along later. now, lady lead-foot, scramâ€”and shovel on the coal!" the heavy vehicle backed and swung; gravelflew as the accelerator-pedal hit the floor. kinnison galloped across the alley and openedthe door of a small garage, revealing a long,
squat motorcycle. two deft passes of his handsand two of his three spotlights were no longer whiteâ€”one flashed a brilliant purple, theother a searing blue. he dropped a perforated metal box into a hanger and flipped a switchâ€”apeculiarly-toned siren began its ululating shriek. he took the alley turn at an angleof forty-five degrees; burned the pavement toward diversey. the light was red. no matterâ€”everybody hadstoppedâ€”that siren could be heard for miles. he barreled into the intersection; his step-plateground the concrete as he made a screaming left turn. a sirenâ€”creeping up from behind. city tone.two red spotsâ€”city copâ€”so soonâ€”good!
he cut his gun a trifle, the other bike camealongside. "is this it?" the uniformed rider yelled,over the coughing thunder of the competing exhausts. "yes!" kinnison yelled back. "clear diverseyto the outer drive, and the drive south to gary and north to waukegan. snap it up!" the white-and-black motorcycle slowed; shotover toward the curb. the officer reached for his microphone. kinnison sped on. at cicero avenue, althoughhe had a green light, traffic was so heavy that he had to slow down; at pulaski two policemenwaved him through a red. beyond sacramento
nothing moved on wheels. seventy … seventy five … he took the bridgeat eighty, both wheels in air for forty feet. eighty five … ninety … that was aboutall he could do and keep the heap on so rough a road. also, he did not have diversey allto himself any more; blue-and-purple-flashing bikes were coming in from every side-street.he slowed to a conservative fifty and went into close formation with the other riders. the h-blastâ€”the city-wide warning for theplanned and supposedly orderly evacuation of all chicagoâ€”sounded, but kinnison didnot hear it. across the park, edging over to the left sothat the boys going south would have room
to make the turnâ€”even such riders as thoseneed some room to make a turn at fifty miles per hour! under the viaductâ€”biting brakes and squealingtires at that sharp, narrow, right-angle left turnâ€”north on the wide, smooth drive! that highway was made for speed. so were thosemachines. each rider, as he got into the flat, lay down along his tank, tucked his chin behindthe cross-bar, and twisted both throttles out against their stops. they were in a hurry.they had a long way to go; and if they did not get there in time to stop those trans-polaratomic missiles, all hell would be out for noon.
why was all this necessary? this organization,this haste, this split-second timing, this city-wide exhibition of insane hippodromeriding? why were not all these motorcycle-racers stationed permanently at their posts, so asto be ready for any emergency? because america, being a democracy, could not strike first,but had to waitâ€”wait in instant readinessâ€”until she was actually attacked. because every goodtechno in america had his assigned place in some american defense plan; of which operationbullfinch was only one. because, without the presence of those technos at their every-dayjobs, all ordinary technological work in america would perforce have stopped. a branch road curved away to the right. scarcelyslowing down, kinnison bulleted into the turn
and through an open, heavily-guarded gate.here his mount and his lights were passwords enough: the real test would come later. heapproached a towering structure of alloyâ€”jammed on his brakesâ€”stopped beside a soldier who,as soon as kinnison jumped off, mounted the motorcycle and drove it away. kinnison dashed up to an apparently blankwall, turned his back upon four commissioned officers holding cocked forty-fives at theready, and fitted his right eye into a cup. unlike fingerprints, retinal patterns cannotbe imitated, duplicated, or altered; any imposter would have died instantly, without arrestor question. for every man who belonged aboard that rocket had been checked and testedâ€”howhe had been checked and tested!â€”since one
spy, in any one of those technos’ chairs,could wreak damage untellable. the port snapped open. kinnison climbed aladder into the large, but crowded, operations room. "hi, teddy!" a yell arose. "hi, walt! hi-ya, red! what-ho, baldy!" andso on. these men were friends of old. "where are they?" he demanded. "is our stuffgetting away? lemme take a peek at the ball!" "i’ll say it is! o.k., ted, squeeze in here!" he squeezed in. it was not a ball, but a hemisphere,slightly oblate and centered approximately by the north pole. a multitude of red dotsmoved slowlyâ€”a hundred miles upon that map
was a small distanceâ€”northward over canada;a closer-packed, less numerous group of yellowish-greens, already on the american side of the pole,was coming south. as had been expected, the americans had moremissiles than did the enemy. the other belief, that america had more adequate defenses andbetter-trained, more highly skilled defenders, would soon be put to test. a string of blue lights blazed across thecontinent, from nome through skagway and wallaston and churchill and kaniapiskau to belle isle;america’s first line of defense. regulars all. ambers almost blanketed those blues;their combat rockets were already grabbing altitude. the second line, from portland,seattle, and vancouver across to halifax,
also showed solid green, with some flashesof amber. part regulars; part national guard. chicago was in the third line, all nationalguard, extending from san francisco to new york. greenâ€”alert and operating. so werethe fourth, the fifth, and the sixth. operation bullfinch was clicking; on schedule to thesecond. a bell clanged; the men sprang to their stationsand strapped down. every chair was occupied. combat rocket number one oh six eight five,full-powered by the disintegrating nuclei of unstable isotopes, took off with a whooshingroar which even her thick walls could not mute. the technos, crushed down into their form-fittingcushions by three g’s of acceleration, clenched
their teeth and took it. higher! faster! the rocket shivered and trembledas it hit the wall at the velocity of sound, but it did not pause. higher! faster! higher! fifty miles high.one hundred … five hundred … a thousand … fifteen hundred … two thousand! halfa radiusâ€”the designated altitude at which the chicago contingent would go into action. acceleration was cut to zero. the technos,breathing deeply in relief, donned peculiarly-goggled helmets and set up their panels. kinnison stared into his plate with everythinghe could put into his optic nerve. this was
not like the ball, in which the lights wereelectronically placed, automatically controlled, clear, sharp, and steady. this was radar.a radar considerably different from that of 1948, of course, and greatly improved, butstill pitifully inadequate in dealing with objects separated by hundreds of miles andtraveling at velocities of thousands of miles nor was this like the practice cruises, inwhich the targets had been harmless barrels or equally harmless dirigible rockets. thiswas the real thing; the targets today would be lethal objects indeed. practice gunnery,with only a place in the proficiency list at stake, had been exciting enough: this wastoo excitingâ€”much too excitingâ€”for the keenness of brain and the quickness and steadinessof eye and of hand so soon to be required.
a target? or was it? yesâ€”three or four ofthem! "target oneâ€”zone ten," a quiet voice spokeinto kinnison’s ear and one of the white specks upon his plate turned yellowish green. thesame words, the same lights, were heard and seen by the eleven other technos of sectora, of which kinnison, by virtue of standing at the top of his combat rocket’s proficiencylist, was sector chief. he knew that the voice was that of sector a’s fire control officer,whose duty it was to determine, from courses, velocities, and all other data to be had fromground and lofty observers, the order in which his sector’s targets should be eliminated.and sector a, an imaginary but sharply-defined cone, was in normal maneuvering the hottestpart of the sky. fire control’s "zone ten"
had informed him that the object was at extremerange and hence there would be plenty of time. nevertheless: "lawrenceâ€”two! doyleâ€”one! drummondâ€”standby with three!" he snapped, at the first word. in the instant of hearing his name each technostabbed down a series of studs and there flowed into his ears a rapid stream of figuresâ€”theup-to-the-second data from every point of observation as to every element of motionof his target. he punched the figures into his calculator, which would correct automaticallyfor the motion of his own vesselâ€”glanced once at the printed solution of the problemâ€”trampeddown upon a pedal once, twice, or three times, depending upon the number of projectiles hehad been directed to handle.
kinnison had ordered lawrence, a better shotthan doyle, to launch two torpedoes; neither of which, at such long range, was expectedto strike its mark. his second, however, should come close; so close that the instantaneousdata sent back to both screensâ€”and to kinnison’sâ€”by the torpedo itself would make the target asitting duck for doyle, the less proficient follower. drummond, kinnison’s number three, would notlaunch his missiles unless doyle missed. nor could both drummond and harper, kinnison’snumber two, be "out" at once. one of the two had to be "in" at all times, to take kinnison’splace in charge of the sector if the chief were ordered out. for while kinnison couldorder either harper or drummond on target,
he could not send himself. he could go outonly when ordered to do so by fire control: sector chiefs were reserved for emergencyuse only. "target twoâ€”zone nine," fire control said. "carney, two. french, one. day, stand by withthree!" kinnison ordered. "damn itâ€”missed!" this from doyle. "buckfeverâ€”no end." "o.k., boyâ€”that’s why we’re starting sosoon. i’m shaking like a vibrator myself. we’ll get over it…." the point of light which represented targetone bulged slightly and went out. drummond had connected and was back "in".
"target threeâ€”zone eight. fourâ€”eight,"fire control remarked. "target threeâ€”higgins and green; harperstand by. fourâ€”case and santos: lawrence." after a minute or two of actual combat thetechnos of sector a began to steady down. stand-by men were no longer required and wereno longer assigned. "target forty-oneâ€”six," said fire control;and: "lawrence, two. doyle, two," ordered kinnison.this was routine enough, but in a moment: "ted!" lawrence snapped. "missedâ€”wideâ€”bothbarrels. forty-one’s dodgingâ€”manned or directedâ€”coming like hellâ€”watch it, doyleâ€”watch it!" "kinnison, take it!" fire control barked,voice now neither low nor steady, and without
waiting to see whether doyle would hit ormiss. "it’s in zone three alreadyâ€”collision course!" "harper! take over!" kinnison got the data, solved the equations,launched five torpedoes at fifty gravities of acceleration. one … twoâ€”three-four-five;the last three as close together as they could fly without setting off their proximity fuzes. communications and mathematics and the electronicbrains of calculating machines had done all that they could do; the rest was up to humanskill, to the perfection of co-ordination and the speed of reaction of human mind, nerve,and muscle.
kinnison’s glance darted from plate to panelto computer-tape to meter to galvanometer and back to plate; his left hand moved intiny arcs the knobs whose rotation varied the intensities of two mutually perpendicularcomponents of his torpedoes’ drives. he listened attentively to the reports of triangulatingobservers, now giving him data covering his own missiles, as well as the target object.the fingers of his right hand punched almost constantly the keys of his computer; he correctedalmost constantly his torpedoes’ course. "up a hair," he decided. "left about a point." the target moved away from its predicted path. down twoâ€”left threeâ€”down a hairâ€”right!the thing was almost through zone two; was
blasting into zone one. he thought for a second that his first torpwas going to connect. it almost didâ€”only a last-instant, full-powered side thrust enabledthe target to evade it. two numbers flashed white upon his plate; his actual error, exactto the foot of distance and to the degree on the clock, measured and transmitted backto his board by instruments in his torpedo. working with instantaneous and exact data,and because the enemy had so little time in which to act, kinnison’s second projectilemade a very near miss indeed. his third was a graze; so close that its proximity fuzefunctioned, detonating the cyclonite-packed war-head. kinnison knew that his third wentoff, because the error-figures vanished, almost
in the instant of their coming into being,as its detecting and transmitting instruments were destroyed. that one detonation mighthave been enough; but kinnison had had one glimpse of his errorâ€”how small it was!â€”andhad a fraction of a second of time. hence four and five slammed home; dead center. whateverthat target had been, it was no longer a threat. "kinnison, in," he reported briefly to firecontrol, and took over from harper the direction of the activities of sector a. the battle went on. kinnison sent harper anddrummond out time after time. he himself was given three more targets. the first wave ofthe enemyâ€”what was left of itâ€”passed. sector a went into action, again at extremerange, upon the second. its remains, too,
plunged downward and onward toward the distantground. the third wave was really tough. not thatit was actually any worse than the first two had been, but the cr10685 was no longer gettingthe data which her technos ought to have to do a good job; and every man aboard her knewwhy. some enemy stuff had got through, of course; and the observatories, both on theground and above itâ€”the eye of the whole american defenseâ€”had suffered heavily. nevertheless, kinnison and his fellows werenot too perturbed. such a condition was not entirely unexpected. they were now veterans;they had been tried and had not been found wanting. they had come unscathed through abath of fire the like of which the world had
never before known. give them any kind ofcomputation at allâ€”or no computation at all except old cr10685’s own radar and theirown torps, of which they still had plentyâ€”and they could and would take care of anythingthat could be thrown at them. the third wave passed. targets became fewerand fewer. action slowed down … stopped. the technos, even the sector chiefs, knewnothing whatever of the progress of the battle as a whole. they did not know where theirrocket was, or whether it was going north, east, south, or west. they knew when it wasgoing up or down only by the "seats of their pants." they did not even know the natureof the targets they destroyed, since upon their plates all targets looked alikeâ€”small,bright, greenish-yellow spots. hence:
"give us the dope, pete, if we’ve got a minuteto spare," kinnison begged of his fire control officer. "you know more than we doâ€”give!" "it’s coming in now," came the prompt reply."six of those targets that did such fancy dodging were atomics, aimed at the lines.five were dirigibles, with our number on ’em. you fellows did a swell job. very little oftheir stuff got throughâ€”not enough, they say, to do much damage to a country as bigas the u.s.a. on the other hand, they stopped scarcely any of oursâ€”they apparently didn’thave anything to compare with you technos. "but all hell seems to be busting loose, allover the world. our east and west coasts are both being attacked, they say; but are holding.operation daisy and operation fairfield are
clicking, just like we did. europe, they say,is going to hellâ€”everybody is taking pot-shots at everybody else. one report says that thesouth american nations are bombing each other … asia, too … nothing definite; as straightdope comes in i’ll relay it to you. "we came through in very good shape, considering… losses less than anticipated, only seven percent. the first lineâ€”as you know alreadyâ€”tooka god-awful shellacking; in fact, the churchill-belcher section was practically wiped out, which waswhat lost us about all of our observation…. we are now just about over the southern endof hudson bay, heading down and south to join in making a vertical fleet formation … nomore waves coming, but they say to expect attacks from low-flying combat rocketsâ€”theregoes the alert! on your toes, fellowsâ€”but
there isn’t a thing on sector a’s screen…." there wasn’t. since the cr10685 was divingdownward and southward, there wouldn’t be. nevertheless, some observer aboard that rocketsaw that atomic missile coming. some fire control officer yelled orders; some technosdid their bestâ€”and failed. and such is the violence of nuclear fission;so utterly incomprehensible is its speed, that theodore k. kinnison died without realizingthat anything whatever was happening to his ship or to him. gharlane of eddore looked upon ruined earth,his handiwork, and found it good. knowing that it would be many of hundreds of tellurianyears before that planet would again require
his personal attention, he went elsewhere;to rigel four, to palain seven, and to the solar system of velantia, where he found thathis creatures the overlords were not progressing according to schedule. he spent quite a littletime there, then searched minutely and fruitlessly for evidence of inimical activity within theinnermost circle. and upon far arisia a momentous decision wasmade: the time had come to curb sharply the hitherto unhampered eddorians. "we are ready, then, to war openly upon them?"eukonidor asked, somewhat doubtfully. "again to cleanse the planet tellus of dangerousradioactives and of too-noxious forms of life is of course a simple matter. from our protectedareas in north america a strong but democratic
government can spread to cover the world.that government can be extended easily enough to include mars and venus. but gharlane, whois to operate as roger, who has already planted, in the adepts of north polar jupiter, theseeds of the jovian wars…." "your visualization is sound, youth. thinkon." "those interplanetary wars are of course inevitable,and will serve to strengthen and to unify the government of the inner planets … providedthat gharlane does not interfere…. oh, i see. gharlane will not at first know; sincea zone of compulsion will be held upon him. when he or some eddorian fusion perceivesthat compulsion and breaks itâ€”at some such time of high stress as the nevian incidentâ€”itwill be too late. our fusions will be operating.
roger will be allowed to perform only suchacts as will be for civilization’s eventual good. nevia was selected as prime operatorbecause of its location in a small region of the galaxy which is almost devoid of solidiron and because of its watery nature; its aquatic forms of life being precisely thosein which the eddorians are least interested. they will be given partial neutralizationof inertia; they will be able to attain velocities a few times greater than that of light. thatcovers the situation, i think?" "very good, eukonidor," the elders approved."a concise and accurate summation." hundreds of tellurian years passed. the aftermath.reconstruction. advancement. one worldâ€”two worldsâ€”three worldsâ€”united, harmonious,friendly. the jovian wars. a solid, unshakeable
union. nor did any eddorian know that such fantasticallyrapid progress was being made. indeed, gharlane knew, as he drove his immense ship of spacetoward sol, that he would find tellus inhabited by peoples little above savagery. and it should be noted in passing that notonce, throughout all those centuries, did a man named kinnison marry a girl with red-bronze-auburnhair and gold-flecked, tawny eyes. chapter 7 pirates of space apparently motionless to her passengers andcrew, the interplanetary liner hyperion bored
serenely onward through space at normal acceleration.in the railed-off sanctum in one corner of the control room a bell tinkled, a smotheredwhirr was heard, and captain bradley frowned as he studied the brief message upon the tapeof the recorderâ€”a message flashed to his desk from the operator’s panel. he beckoned,and the second officer, whose watch it now was, read aloud: "reports of scout patrols still negative." "still negative." the officer scowled in thought."they’ve already searched beyond the widest possible location of wreckage, too. two unexplaineddisappearances inside a monthâ€”first the dione, then the rheaâ€”and not a plate nora lifeboat recovered. looks bad, sir. one
might be an accident; two might possibly bea coincidence…." his voice died away. "but at three it would get to be a habit,"the captain finished the thought. "and whatever happened, happened quick. neither of themhad time to say a wordâ€”their location recorders simply went dead. but of course they didn’thave our detector screens nor our armament. according to the observatories we’re in clearether, but i wouldn’t trust them from tellus to luna. you have given the new orders, ofcourse?" "yes, sir. detectors full out, all three coursesof defensive screen on the trips, projectors manned, suits on the hooks. every object detectedto be investigated immediatelyâ€”if vessels, they are to be warned to stay beyond extremerange. anything entering the fourth zone is
to be rayed." "rightâ€”we are going through!" "but no known type of vessel could have madeaway with them without detection," the second officer argued. "i wonder if there isn’t somethingin those wild rumors we’ve been hearing lately?" "bah! of course not!" snorted the captain."pirates in ships faster than lightâ€”sub-ethereal raysâ€”nullification of gravity mass withoutinertiaâ€”ridiculous! proved impossible, over and over again. no, sir, if pirates are operatingin spaceâ€”and it looks very much like itâ€”they won’t get far against a good big battery fullof kilowatt-hours behind three courses of heavy screen, and good gunners behind multiplexprojectors. they’re good enough for anybody.
pirates, neptunians, angels, or devilsâ€”inships or on broomsticksâ€”if they tackle the hyperion we’ll burn them out of the ether!" leaving the captain’s desk, the watch officerresumed his tour of duty. the six great lookout plates into which the alert observers peeredwere blank, their far-flung ultra-sensitive detector screens encountering no obstacleâ€”theether was empty for thousands upon thousands of kilometers. the signal lamps upon the pilot’spanel were dark, its warning bells were silent. a brilliant point of white light in the centerof the pilot’s closely ruled micrometer grating, exactly upon the cross-hairs of his directors,showed that the immense vessel was precisely upon the calculated course, as laid down bythe automatic integrating course plotters.
everything was quiet and in order. "all’s well, sir," he reported briefly tocaptain bradleyâ€”but all was not well. dangerâ€”more serious by far in that it wasnot externalâ€”was even then, all unsuspected, gnawing at the great ship’s vitals. in a lockedand shielded compartment, deep down in the interior of the liner, was the great air purifier.now a man leaned against the primary ductâ€”the aorta through which flowed the stream of pureair supplying the entire vessel. this man, grotesque in full panoply of space armor,leaned against the duct, and as he leaned a drill bit deeper and deeper into the steelwall of the pipe. soon it broke through, and the slight rush of air was stopped by theinsertion of a tightly fitting rubber tube.
the tube terminated in a heavy rubber balloon,which surrounded a frail glass bulb. the man stood tense, one hand holding before his silica-and-steel-helmetedhead a large pocket chronometer, the other lightly grasping the balloon. a sneering grinwas upon his face as he waited the exact second of actionâ€”the carefully predetermined instantwhen his right hand, closing, would shatter the fragile flask and force its contents intothe primary air stream of the hyperion! far above, in the main saloon, the regularevening dance was in full swing. the ship’s orchestra crashed into silence, there wasa patter of applause, and clio marsden, radiant belle of the voyage, led her partner out ontothe promenade and up to one of the observation plates.
"oh, we can’t see the earth any more!" sheexclaimed. "which way do you turn this, mr. costigan?" "like this," and conway costigan, burly youngfirst officer of the liner, turned the dials. "thereâ€”this plate is looking back, or down,at tellus; this other one is looking ahead." earth was a brilliantly shining crescent farbeneath the flying vessel. above her, ruddy mars and silvery jupiter blazed in splendorineffable against a background of utterly indescribable blacknessâ€”a background thicklybesprinkled with dimensionless points of dazzling brilliance which were the stars. "oh, isn’t it wonderful!" breathed the girl,awed. "of course, i suppose that it’s old
stuff to you, but i’m a ground-gripper, youknow, and i could look at it forever, i think. that’s why i want to come out here after everydance. you know, i…." her voice broke off suddenly, with a queer,rasping catch, as she seized his arm in a frantic clutch and as quickly went limp. hestared at her sharply, and understood instantly the message written in her eyesâ€”eyes nowenlarged, staring, hard, brilliant, and full of soul-searing terror as she slumped down,helpless but for his support. in the act of exhaling as he was, lungs almost entirelyempty, yet he held his breath until he had seized the microphone from his belt and hadsnapped the lever to "emergency." "control room!" he gasped then, and everyspeaker throughout the great cruiser of the
void blared out the warning as he forced hisalready evacuated lungs to absolute emptiness. "vee-two gas! get tight!" writhing and twisting in his fierce struggleto keep his lungs from gulping in a draft of that noxious atmosphere, and with the unconsciousform of the girl draped limply over his left arm, costigan leaped toward the portal ofthe nearest lifeboat. orchestra instruments crashed to the floor and dancing couples felland sprawled inertly while the tortured first officer swung the door of the lifeboat openand dashed across the tiny room to the air-valves. throwing them wide open, he put his mouthto the orifice and let his laboring lungs gasp their eager fill of the cold blast roaringfrom the tanks. then, air-hunger partially
assuaged, he again held his breath, brokeopen the emergency locker, donned one of the space-suits always kept there, and openedits valves wide in order to flush out of his uniform any lingering trace of the lethalgas. he then leaped back to his companion. shuttingoff the air, he released a stream of pure oxygen, held her face in it, and made shiftto force some of it into her lungs by compressing and releasing her chest against his own body.soon she drew a spasmodic breath, choking and coughing, and he again changed the gaseousstream to one of pure air, speaking urgently as she showed signs of returning consciousness. "stand up!" he snapped. "hang onto this braceand keep your face in this air-stream until
i get a suit around you! got me?" she nodded weakly, and, assured that she couldhold herself at the valve, it was the work of only a minute to encase her in one of theprotective coverings. then, as she sat upon a bench, recovering her strength, he flippedon the lifeboat’s visiphone projector and shot its invisible beam up into the controlroom, where he saw space-armored figures furiously busy at the panels. "dirty work at the cross-roads!" he blazedto his captain, man to manâ€”formality disregarded, as it so often was in the triplanetary service."there’s skulduggery afoot somewhere in our primary air! maybe that’s the way they gotthose other two shipsâ€”pirates! might have
been a timed bombâ€”don’t see how anybodycould have stowed away down there through the inspections, and nobody but franklin canneutralize the shield of the air roomâ€”but i’m going to look around, anyway. then i’lljoin you fellows up there." "what was it?" the shaken girl asked. "i thinkthat i remember your saying ‘vee-two gas.’ that’s forbidden! anyway, i owe you my life,conway, and i’ll never forget itâ€”never. thanksâ€”but the othersâ€”how about all therest of us?" "it was vee-two, and it is forbidden," costiganreplied grimly, eyes fast upon the flashing plate, whose point of projection was now deepin the bowels of the vessel. "the penalty for using it or having it is death on sight.gangsters and pirates use it, since they have
nothing to lose, being on the death list already.as for your life, i haven’t saved it yetâ€”you may wish i’d let it ride before we get done.the others are too far gone for oxygenâ€”couldn’t have brought even you around in a few moreseconds, quick as i got to you. but there’s a sure antidoteâ€”we all carry it in a lock-boxin our armorâ€”and we all know how to use it, because crooks all use vee-two and sowe’re always expecting it. but since the air will be pure again in half an hour we’ll beable to revive the others easily enough if we can get by with whatever is going to happennext. there’s the bird that did it, right in the air-room. it’s the chief engineer’ssuit, but that isn’t franklin that’s in it. some passengerâ€”disguisedâ€”slugged the chiefâ€”tookhis suit and projectorsâ€”hole in ductâ€”p-s-s-t!
all washed out! maybe that’s all he was scheduledto do to us in this performance, but he’ll do nothing else in his life!" "don’t go down there!" protested the girl."his armor is so much better than that emergency suit you are wearing, and he’s got mr. franklin’slewiston, besides!" "don’t be an idiot!" he snapped. "we can’thave a live pirate aboardâ€”we’re going to be altogether too busy with outsiders directly.don’t worry, i’m not going to give him a break. i’ll take a standishâ€”i’ll rub him out likea blot. stay right here until i come back after you," he commanded, and the heavy doorof the lifeboat clanged shut behind him as he leaped out into the promenade.
straight across the saloon he made his way,paying no attention to the inert forms scattered here and there. going up to a blank wall,he manipulated an almost invisible dial set flush with its surface, swung a heavy dooraside, and lifted out the standishâ€”a fearsome weapon. squat, huge, and heavy, it resembledsomewhat an overgrown machine rifle, but one possessing a thick, short telescope, withseveral opaque condensing lenses and parabolic reflectors. laboring under the weight of thething, he strode along corridors and clambered heavily down short stairways. finally he cameto the purifier room, and grinned savagely as he saw the greenish haze of light obscuringthe door and wallsâ€”the shield was still in place; the pirate was still inside, stillflooding with the terrible vee two the hyperion’s
primary air. he set his peculiar weapon down, unfoldedits three massive legs, crouched down behind it, and threw in a switch. dull red beamsof frightful intensity shot from the reflectors and sparks, almost of lightning proportions,leaped from the shielding screen under their impact. roaring and snapping, the conflictwent on for seconds, then, under the superior force of the standish, the greenish radiancegave way. behind it the metal of the door ran the gamut of colorâ€”red, yellow, blindingwhiteâ€”then literally exploded; molten, vaporized, burned away. through the aperture thus madecostigan could plainly see the pirate in the space-armor of the chief engineerâ€”an armorwhich was proof against rifle fire and which
could reflect and neutralize for some littletime even the terrific beam costigan was employing. nor was the pirate unarmedâ€”a vicious flareof incandescence leaped from his lewiston, to spend its force in spitting, cracklingpyrotechnics against the ether-wall of the squat and monstrous standish. but costigan’sinfernal engine did not rely only upon vibratory destruction. at almost the first flash ofthe pirate’s weapon the officer touched a trigger, there was a double report, ear-shatteringin that narrowly confined space, and the pirate’s body literally flew into mist as a half-kilogramshell tore through his armor and exploded. costigan shut off his beam, and with not theslightest softening of one hard lineament stared around the air-room; making sure thatno serious damage had been done to the vital
machinery of the air-purifierâ€”the very lungsof the great space-ship. dismounting the standish, he lugged it backup to the main saloon, replaced it in its safe, and again set the combination lock.thence to the lifeboat, where clio cried out in relief as she saw that he was unhurt. "oh, conway, i’ve been so afraid somethingwould happen to you!" she exclaimed, as he led her rapidly upward toward the controlroom. "of course you …" she paused. "sure," he replied, laconically. "nothingto it. how do you feelâ€”about back to normal?" "all right, i think, except for being scaredto death and just about out of control. i don’t suppose that i’ll be good for anything,but whatever i can do, count me in on."
"fineâ€”you may be needed, at that. everybody’sout, apparently, except those like me, who had a warning and could hold their breathuntil they got to their suits." "but how did you know what it was? you can’tsee it, nor smell it, nor anything." "you inhaled a second before i did, and isaw your eyes. i’ve been in it beforeâ€”and when you see a man get a jolt of that stuffjust once, you never forget it. the engineers down below got it first, of courseâ€”it musthave wiped them out. then we got it in the saloon. your passing out warned me, and luckilyi had enough breath left to give the word. quite a few of the fellows up above shouldhave had time to get awayâ€”we’ll see ’em all in the control room."
"i suppose that was why you revived meâ€”inpayment for so kindly warning you of the gas attack?" the girl laughed; shaky, but game. "something like that, probably," he answered,lightly. "here we areâ€”now we’ll soon find out what’s going to happen next." in the control room they saw at least a dozenarmored figures; not now rushing about, but seated at their instruments, tense and ready.fortunate it was that costiganâ€”veteran of space as he was, though young in yearsâ€”hadbeen down in the saloon; fortunate that he had been familiar with that horrible outlawedgas; fortunate that he had had presence of mind enough and sheer physical stamina enoughto send his warning without allowing one paralyzing
trace to enter his own lungs. captain bradley,the men on watch, and several other officers in their quarters or in the wardroomsâ€”space-hardenedveterans allâ€”had obeyed instantly and without question the amplifiers’ gasped command to"get tight". exhaling or inhaling, their air-passages had snapped shut as that dread "vee-two" washeard, and they had literally jumped into their armored suits of spaceâ€”flushing themout with volume after volume of unquestionable air; holding their breath to the last possiblesecond, until their straining lungs could endure no more. costigan waved the girl to a vacant bench,cautiously changing into his own armor from the emergency suit he had been wearing, andapproached the captain.
"anything in sight, sir?" he asked, saluting."they should have started something before this." "they’ve started, but we can’t locate them.we tried to send out a general sector alarm, but had hardly started when they blanketedour wave. look at that!" following the captain’s eyes, costigan staredat the high powered set of the ship’s operator. upon the plate, instead of a moving, living,three-dimensional picture, there was a flashing glare of blinding white light; from the speaker,instead of intelligible speech, was issuing a roaring, crackling stream of noise. "it’s impossible!" bradley burst out, violently."there’s not a gram of metal inside the fourth
zoneâ€”within a hundred thousand kilometersâ€”andyet they must be close to send such a wave as that. but the second thinks notâ€”whatdo you think, costigan?" the bluff commander, reactionary and of the old school as was hisbreed, was furiousâ€”baffled, raging inwardly to come to grips with the invisible and indetectablefoe. face to face with the inexplicable, however, he listened to the younger men with unusualtolerance. "it’s not only possible; it’s quite evidentthat they’ve got something we haven’t." costigan’s voice was bitter. "but why shouldn’t theyhave? service ships never get anything until it’s been experimented with for years, butpirates and such always get the new stuff as soon as it’s discovered. the only goodthing i can see is that we got part of a message
away, and the scouts can trace that interferenceout there. but the pirates know that, tooâ€”it won’t be long now," he concluded, grimly. he spoke truly. before another word was saidthe outer screen flared white under a beam of terrific power, and simultaneously thereappeared upon one of the lookout plates a vivid picture of the pirate vesselâ€”a huge,black torpedo of steel, now emitting flaring offensive beams of force. instantly the powerful weapons of the hyperionwere brought to bear, and in the blast of full-driven beams the stranger’s screens flamedincandescent. heavy guns, under the recoil of whose fierce salvos the frame of the giantglobe trembled and shuddered, shot out their
tons of high-explosive shell. but the piratecommander had known accurately the strength of the liner, and knew that her armament wasimpotent against the forces at his command. his screens were invulnerable, the giant shellswere exploded harmlessly in mid-space, miles from their objective. and suddenly a frightfulpencil of flame stabbed brilliantly from the black hulk of the enemy. through the emptyether it tore, through the mighty defensive screens, through the tough metal of the outerand inner walls. every ether-defense of the hyperion vanished, and her acceleration droppedto a quarter of its normal value. "right through the battery room!" bradleygroaned. "we’re on the emergency drive now. our rays are done for, and we can’t seem toput a shell anywhere near her with our guns!"
but ineffective as the guns were, they weresilenced forever as a frightful beam of destruction stabbed relentlessly through the control room,whiffing out of existence the pilot, gunnery, and lookout panels and the men before them.the air rushed into space, and the suits of the three survivors bulged out into drum-headtightness as the pressure in the room decreased. costigan pushed the captain lightly towarda wall, then seized the girl and leaped in the same direction. "let’s get out of here, quick!" he cried,the miniature radio instruments of the helmets automatically taking up the duty of transmittingspeech as the sound disks refused to function. "they can’t see usâ€”our ether wall is stillup and their spy-rays can’t get through it
from the outside, you know. they’re workingfrom blue-prints, and they’ll probably take your desk next," and even as they boundedtoward the door, now become the outer seal of an airlock, the pirates’ beam tore throughthe space which they had just quitted. through the airlock, down through severallevels of passengers’ quarters they hurried, and into a lifeboat, whose one doorway commandedthe full length of the third loungeâ€”an ideal spot, either for defense or for escape outwardby means of the miniature cruiser. as they entered their retreat they felt their weightbegin to increase. more and more force was applied to the helpless liner, until it wasmoving at normal acceleration. "what do you make of that, costigan?" askedthe captain. "tractor beams?"
"apparently. they’ve got something, all right.they’re taking us somewhere, fast. i’ll go get a couple of standishes, and another suitof armorâ€”we’d better dig in," and soon the small room became a veritable fortress, housingas it did those two formidable engines of destruction. then the first officer made anotherand longer trip, returning with a complete suit of triplanetary space armor, exactlylike those worn by the two men, but considerably smaller. "just as an added factor of safety, you’dbetter put this on, clioâ€”those emergency suits aren’t good for much in a battle. idon’t suppose that you ever fired a standish, did you?"
"no, but i can soon learn how to do it," shereplied pluckily. "two is all that can work here at once, butyou should know how to take hold in case one of us goes out. and while you’re changingsuits you’d better put on some stuff i’ve got hereâ€”service special phones and detectors.stick this little disk onto your chest with this bit of tape; low down, out of sight.just under your wishbone is the best place. take off your wrist-watch and wear this onecontinuouslyâ€”never take it off for a second. put on these pearls, and wear them all thetime, too. take this capsule and hide it against your skin, some place where it can’t be foundexcept by the most rigid search. swallow it in an emergencyâ€”it goes down easily andworks just as well inside as outside. it is
the most important thing of allâ€”you canget along with it alone if you lose everything else, but without that capsule the whole system’sshot to pieces. with that outfit, if we should get separated, you can talk to usâ€”we’reboth wearing ’em, although in somewhat different forms. you don’t need to talk loudâ€”justa mutter will be enough. they’re handy little outfitsâ€”almost impossible to find, and capableof a lot of things." "thanks, conwayâ€”i’ll remember that, too,"clio replied, as she turned toward the tiny locker to follow his instructions. "but won’tthe scouts and patrols be catching us pretty quick? the operator sent a warning." "afraid the ether’s empty, as far as we’reconcerned."
captain bradley had stood by in silent astonishmentduring this conversation. his eyes had bulged slightly at costigan’s "we’re both wearing’em," but he had held his peace and as the girl disappeared a look of dawning comprehensioncame over his face. "oh, i see, sir," he said, respectfullyâ€”farmore respectfully than he had ever before addressed a mere first officer. "meaning thatwe both will be wearing them shortly, i assume. ‘service specials’â€”but you didn’t specifyexactly what service, did you?" "now that you mention it, i don’t believethat i did," costigan grinned. "that explains several things about youâ€”particularlyyour recognition of vee-two and your uncanny control and speed of reaction. but aren’tyou…."
"no," costigan interrupted. "this situationis apt to get altogether too serious to overlook any bets. if we get away, i’ll take them awayfrom her and she’ll never know that they aren’t routine equipment. as for you, i know thatyou can and do keep your mouth shut. that’s why i’m hanging this junk on youâ€”i had alot of stuff in my kit, but i flashed it all with the standish except what i brought inhere for us three. whether you think so or not, we’re in a real jamâ€”our chance of gettingaway is mighty close to zero…." he broke off as the girl came back, now toall appearances a small triplanetary officer, and the three settled down to a long and eventlesswait. hour after hour they flew through the ether, but finally there was a lurching swingand an abrupt increase in their acceleration.
after a short consultation captain bradleyturned on the visiray set and, with the beam at its minimum power, peered cautiously downward,in the direction opposite to that in which he knew the pirate vessel must be. all threestared into the plate, seeing only an infinity of emptiness, marked only by the infinitelyremote and coldly brilliant stars. while they stared into space a vast area of the heavenswas blotted out and they saw, faintly illuminated by a peculiar blue luminescence, a vast ballâ€”asphere so large and so close that they seemed to be dropping downward toward it as thoughit were a world! they came to a stopâ€”paused, weightlessâ€”a vast door slid smoothly asideâ€”theywere drawn upward through an airlock and floated quietly in the air above a small, but brightly-lightedand orderly city of metallic buildings! gently
the hyperion was lowered, to come to restin the embracing arms of a regulation landing cradle. "well, wherever it is, we’re here," remarkedcaptain bradley, grimly, and: "and now the fireworks start," assented costigan,with a questioning glance at the girl. "don’t mind me," she answered his unspokenquestion. "i don’t believe in surrendering, either." "right," and both men squatted down behindthe ether-walls of their terrific weapons; the girl prone behind them. they had not long to wait. a group of humanbeingsâ€”men and to all appearances americansâ€”appeared
unarmed in the little lounge. as soon as theywere well inside the room, bradley and costigan released upon them without compunction thefull power of their frightful projectors. from the reflectors, through the doorway,there tore a concentrated double beam of pure destructionâ€”but that beam did not reachits goal. yards from the men it met a screen of impenetrable density. instantly the gunnerspressed their triggers and a stream of high-explosive shells issued from the roaring weapons. butshells, also, were futile. they struck the shield and vanishedâ€”vanished without explodingand without leaving a trace to show that they had ever existed. costigan sprang to his feet, but before hecould launch his intended attack a vast tunnel
appeared beside himâ€”something had gone throughthe entire width of the liner, cutting effortlessly a smooth cylinder of emptiness. air rushedin to fill the vacuum, and the three visitors felt themselves seized by invisible forcesand drawn into the tunnel. through it they floated, up to and over buildings, finallyslanting downward toward the door of a great high-towered structure. doors opened beforethem and closed behind them, until at last they stood upright in a room which was evidentlythe office of a busy executive. they faced a desk which, in addition to the usual equipmentof the business man, carried also a bewilderingly complete switchboard and instrument panel. seated impassively at the desk there was agray man. not only was he dressed entirely
in gray, but his heavy hair was gray, hiseyes were gray, and even his tanned skin seemed to give the impression of grayness in disguise.his overwhelming personality radiated an aura of graynessâ€”not the gentle gray of the dove,but the resistless, driving gray of the super-dreadnought; the hard, inflexible, brittle gray of thefracture of high-carbon steel. "captain bradley, first officer costigan,miss marsden," the man spoke quietly, but crisply. "i had not intended you two men tolive so long. that is a detail, however, which we will pass by for the moment. you may removeyour suits." neither officer moved, but both stared backat the speaker, unflinchingly. "i am not accustomed to repeating instructions,"the man at the desk continued; voice still
low and level, but instinct with deadly menace."you may choose between removing those suits and dying in them, here and now." costigan moved over to clio and slowly tookoff her armor. then, after a flashing exchange of glances and a muttered word, the two officersthrew off their suits simultaneously and fired at the same instant; bradley with his lewiston,costigan with a heavy automatic pistol whose bullets were explosive shells of tremendouspower. but the man in gray, surrounded by an impenetrable wall of force, only smiledat the fusillade, tolerantly and maddeningly. costigan leaped fiercely, only to be hurledbackward as he struck that unyielding, invisible wall. a vicious beam snapped him back intoplace, the weapons were snatched away, and
all three captives were held to their formerpositions. "i permitted that, as a demonstration of futility,"the gray man said, his hard voice becoming harder, "but i will permit no more foolishness.now i will introduce myself. i am known as roger. you probably have heard nothing ofme: very few tellurians have, or ever will. whether or not you two live depends solelyupon yourselves. being something of a student of men, i fear that you will both die shortly.able and resourceful as you have just shown yourselves to be, you could be valuable tome, but you probably will notâ€”in which case you shall, of course, cease to exist. that,however, in its proper timeâ€”you shall be of some slight service to me in the processof being eliminated. in your case, miss marsden,
i find myself undecided between two coursesof action; each highly desirable, but unfortunately mutually exclusive. your father will be gladto ransom you at an exceedingly high figure, but in spite of that fact i may decide touse you in a research upon sex." "yes?" clio rose magnificently to the occasion.fear forgotten, her courageous spirit flashed from her clear young eyes and emanated fromher taut young body, erect in defiance. "you may think that you can do anything with methat you please, but you can’t!" "peculiarâ€”highly perplexingâ€”why shouldthat one stimulus, in the case of young females, produce such an entirely disproportionatereaction?" roger’s eyes bored into clio’s; the girl shivered and looked away. "but sexitself, primal and basic, the most widespread
concomitant of life in this continuum, iscompletely illogical and paradoxical. most bafflingâ€”decidedly, this research on sexmust go on." roger pressed a button and a tall, comelywoman appearedâ€”a woman of indefinite age and of uncertain nationality. "show miss marsden to her apartment," he directed,and as the two women went out a man came in. "the cargo is unloaded, sir," the newcomerreported. "the two men and the five women indicated have been taken to the hospital." "very well, dispose of the others in the usualfashion." the minion went out, and roger continued, emotionlessly:
"collectively, the other passengers may beworth a million or so, but it would not be worthwhile to waste time upon them." "what are you, anyway?" blazed costigan, helplessbut enraged beyond caution. "i have heard of mad scientists who tried to destroy theearth, and of equally mad geniuses who thought themselves napoleons capable of conqueringeven the solar system. whichever you are, you should know that you can’t get away withit." "i am neither. i am, however, a scientist,and i direct many other scientists. i am not mad. you have undoubtedly noticed severalpeculiar features of this place?" "yes, particularly the artificial gravityand those screens. an ordinary ether-wall
is opaque in one direction, and doesn’t barmatterâ€”yours are transparent both ways and something more than impenetrable to matter.how do you do it?" "you could not understand them if i explainedthem to you, and they are merely two of our smaller developments. i do not intend to destroyyour planet earth; i have no desire to rule over masses of futile and brainless men. ihave, however, certain ends of my own in view. to accomplish my plans i require hundredsof millions in gold and other hundreds of millions in uranium, thorium, and radium;all of which i shall take from the planets of this solar system before i leave it. ishall take them in spite of the puerile efforts of the fleets of your triplanetary league.
"this structure was designed by me and builtunder my direction. it is protected from meteorites by forces of my devising. it is indetectableand invisibleâ€”ether waves are bent around it without loss or distortion. i am discussingthese points at such length so that you may realize exactly your position. as i have intimated,you can be of assistance to me if you will." "now just what could you offer any man tomake him join your outfit?" demanded costigan, venomously. "many things," roger’s cold tone betrayedno emotion, no recognition of costigan’s open and bitter contempt. "i have under me manymen, bound to me by many ties. needs, wants, longings, and desires differ from man to man,and i can satisfy practically any of them.
many men take delight in the society of youngand beautiful women, but there are other urges which i have found quite efficient. greed,thirst for fame, longing for power, and so on, including many qualities usually regardedas ‘noble.’ and what i promise, i deliver. i demand only loyalty to me, and that onlyin certain things and for a relatively short period. in all else, my men do as they please.in conclusion, i can use you two conveniently, but i do not need you. therefore you may choosenow between my service andâ€”the alternative." "exactly what is the alternative?" "we will not go into that. suffice it to saythat it has to do with a minor research, which is not progressing satisfactorily. it willresult in your extinction, and perhaps i should
mention that that extinction will not be particularlypleasant." "i say no, you…." bradley roared. he intendedto give an unexpurgated classification, but was rudely interrupted. "hold on a minute!" snapped costigan. "howabout miss marsden?" "she has nothing to do with this discussion,"returned roger, icily. "i do not bargainâ€”in fact, i believe that i shall keep her fora time. she has it in mind to destroy herself if i do not allow her to be ransomed, butshe will find that door closed to her until i permit it to open." "in that case, i string along with the chiefâ€”takewhat he started to say about you and run it
clear across the board for me!" barked costigan. "very well. that decision was to be expectedfrom men of your type." the gray man touched two buttons and two of his creatures enteredthe room. "put these men into two separate cells on the second level," he ordered. "searchthem; all their weapons may not have been in their armor. seal the doors and mount specialguards, tuned to me here." imprisoned they were, and carefully searched;but they bore no arms, and nothing had been said concerning communicators. even if suchinstruments could be concealed, roger would detect their use instantly. at least, so ranhis thought. but roger’s men had no inkling of the possibility of costigan’s "servicespecial" phones, detectors, and spy-rayâ€”instruments
of minute size and of infinitesimal power,but yet instruments which, working as they were below the level of the ether, were effectiveat great distances and caused no vibrations in the ether by which their use could be detected.and what could be more innocent than the regulation personal equipment of every officer of space?the heavy goggles, the wrist-watch and its supplementary pocket chronometer, the flash-lamp,the automatic lighter, the sender, the money-belt? all these items of equipment were examinedwith due care; but the cleverest minds of the triplanetary service had designed thosecommunicators to pass any ordinary search, however careful, and when costigan and bradleywere finally locked into the designated cells they still possessed their ultra-instruments.
chapter 8 in roger’s planetoid in the hall clio glanced around her wildly,seeking even the narrowest avenue of escape. before she could act, however, her body wasclamped as though in a vise, and she struggled, motionless. "it is useless to attempt to escape, or todo anything except what roger wishes," the guide informed her somberly, snapping offthe instrument in her hand and thus restoring to the thoroughly cowed girl her freedom ofmotion. "his lightest wish is law," she continuedas they walked down a long corridor. "the
sooner you realize that you must do exactlyas he pleases, in all things, the easier your life will be." "but i wouldn’t want to keep on living!" cliodeclared, with a flash of spirit. "and i can always die, you know." "you will find that you cannot," the passionlesscreature returned, monotonously. "if you do not yield, you will long and pray for death,but you will not die unless roger wills it. look at me: i cannot die. here is your apartment.you will stay here until roger gives further orders concerning you." the living automaton opened a door and stoodsilent and impassive while clio, staring at
her in horror, shrank past her and into thesumptuously furnished suite. the door closed soundlessly and utter silence descended asa pall. not an ordinary silence, but the indescribable perfection of the absolute silence, completeabsence of all sound. in that silence clio stood motionless. tense and rigid, hopeless,despairing, she stood there in that magnificent room, fighting an almost overwhelming impulseto scream. suddenly she heard the cold voice of roger, speaking from the empty air. "you are over-wrought, miss marsden. you canbe of no use to yourself or to me in that condition. i command you to rest; and, toinsure that rest, you may pull that cord, which will establish about this room an etherwall: a wall to cut off even this my voice…."
the voice ceased as she pulled the cord savagelyand threw herself upon a divan in a torrent of gasping, strangling, but rebellious sobs.then again came a voice, but not to her ears. deep within her, pervading every bone andmuscle, it made itself felt rather than heard. "clio?" it asked. "don’t talk yet…." "conway!" she gasped in relief, every fiberof her being thrilled into new hope at the deep, well-remembered voice of conway costigan. "keep still!" he snapped. "don’t act so happy!he may have a spy-ray on you. he can’t hear me, but he may be able to hear you. when hewas talking to you you must have noticed a sort of rough, sandpapery feeling under thatnecklace i gave you? since he’s got an ether-wall
around you the beads are dead now. if youfeel anything like that under the wrist-watch, breathe deeply, twice. if you don’t feel anythingthere, it’s safe for you to talk, as loud as you please." "i don’t feel anything, conway!" she rejoiced.tears forgotten, she was her old, buoyant self again. "so that wall is real, after all?i only about half believed it." "don’t trust it too much, because he can cutit off from the outside any time he wants to. remember what i told you: that necklacewill warn you of any spy-ray in the ether, and the watch will detect anything below thelevel of the ether. it’s dead now, of course, since our three phones are direct-connected;i’m in touch with bradley, too. don’t be too
scared; we’ve got a lot better chance thani thought we had." "what? you don’t mean it!" "absolutely. i’m beginning to think that maybewe’ve got something he doesn’t know existsâ€”our ultra-wave. of course i wasn’t surprised whenhis searchers failed to find our instruments, but it never occurred to me that i might havea clear field to use them in! i can’t quite believe it yet, but i haven’t been able tofind any indication that he can even detect the bands we are using. i’m going to lookaround over there with my spy-ray … i’m looking at you nowâ€”feel it?" "yes, the watch feels that way, now."
"fine! not a sign of interference over here,either. i can’t find a trace of ultra-waveâ€”anything below ether-level, you knowâ€”anywhere inthe whole place. he’s got so much stuff that we’ve never heard of that i supposed of coursehe’d have ultra-wave, too; but if he hasn’t, that gives us the edge. well, bradley andi’ve got a lot of work to do…. wait a minute, i just had a thought. i’ll be back in abouta second." there was a brief pause, then the soundless,but clear voice went on: "good hunting! that woman that gave you theblue willies isn’t aliveâ€”she’s full of the prettiest machinery and circuits you eversaw!" "oh, conway!" and the girl’s voice broke inan engulfing wave of thanksgiving and relief.
"it was so unutterably horrible, thinkingof what must have happened to her and to others like her!" "he’s running a colossal bluff, i think. he’sgood, all right, but he lacks quite a lot of being omnipotent. but don’t get too cocky,either. plenty has happened to plenty of women here, and men tooâ€”and plenty may happento us unless we put out a few jets. keep a stiff upper lip, and if you want us, yell.’bye!" the silent voice ceased, the watch upon clio’swrist again became an unobtrusive timepiece, and costigan, in his solitary cell far belowher tower room, turned his peculiarly goggled eyes toward other scenes. his hands, apparentlyidle in his pockets, manipulated tiny controls;
his keen, highly-trained eyes studied everyconcealed detail of mechanism of the great globe. finally, he took off the goggles andspoke in a low voice to bradley, confined in another windowless room across the hall. "i think i’ve got dope enough, captain. i’vefound out where he put our armor and guns, and i’ve located all the main leads, controls,and generators. there are no ether-walls around us here, but every door is shielded, and thereare guards outside our doorsâ€”one to each of us. they’re robots, not men. that makesit harder, since they’re undoubtedly connected direct to roger’s desk and will give an alarmat the first hint of abnormal performance. we can’t do a thing until he leaves his desk.see that black panel, a little below the cord-switch
to the right of your door? that’s the conduitcover. when i give you the word, tear that off and you’ll see one red wire in the cable.it feeds the shield-generator of your door. break that wire and join me out in the hall.sorry i had only one of these ultra-wave spies, but once we’re together it won’t be so bad.here’s what i thought we could do," and he went over in detail the only course of actionwhich his survey had shown to be possible. "there, he’s left his desk!" costigan exclaimedafter the conversation had continued for almost an hour. "now as soon as we find out wherehe’s going, we’ll start something … he’s going to see clio, the swine! this changesthings, bradley!" his hard voice was a curse. "somewhat!" blazed the captain. "i know howyou two have been getting on all during the
cruise. i’m with you, but what can we do?" "we’ll do something," costigan declared grimly."if he makes a pass at her i’ll get him if i have to blow this whole sphere out of space,with us in it!" "don’t do that, conway," clio’s low voice,trembling but determined, was felt by both men. "if there’s a chance for you to get awayand do anything about fighting him, don’t mind me. maybe he only wants to talk aboutthe ransom, anyway." "he wouldn’t talk ransom to youâ€”he’s goingto talk something else entirely," costigan gritted, then his voice changed suddenly."but say, maybe it’s just as well this way. they didn’t find our specials when they searchedus, you know, and we’re going to do plenty
of damage right soon now. roger probably isn’ta fast workerâ€”more the cat-and-mouse type, i’d sayâ€”and after we get started he’ll havesomething on his mind besides you. think you can stall him off and keep him interestedfor about fifteen minutes?" "i’m sure i canâ€”i’ll do anything to helpus, or you, get away from this horrible…." her voice ceased as roger broke the ether-wallof her apartment and walked toward the divan, upon which she crouched in wide-eyed, helpless,trembling terror. "get ready, bradley!" costigan directed tersely."he left clio’s ether-wall off, so that any abnormal signals would be relayed to him fromhis deskâ€”he knows that there’s no chance of anyone disturbing him in that room. buti’m holding a beam on that switch, so that
the wall is on, full strength. no matter whatwe do now, he can’t get a warning. i’ll have to hold the beam exactly in place, though,so you’ll have to do the dirty work. tear out that red wire and kill those two guards.you know how to kill a robot, don’t you?" "yesâ€”break his eye-lenses and his ear-drumsand he’ll stop whatever he’s doing and send out distress calls…. got ’em both. now what?" "open my doorâ€”the shield switch is to theright." costigan’s door flew open and the triplanetarycaptain leaped into the room. "now for our armor!" he cried. "not yet!" snapped costigan. he was standingrigid, goggled eyes staring immovably at a
spot on the ceiling. "i can’t move a millimeteruntil you’ve closed clio’s ether-wall switch. if i take this ray off it for a second we’resunk. five floors up, straight ahead down a corridorâ€”fourth door on right. when you’reat the switch you’ll feel my ray on your watch. snap it up!" "right," and the captain leaped away at apace to be equalled by few men of half his years. soon he was back, and after costigan had testedthe ether-wall of the "bridal suite" to make sure that no warning signal from his deskor his servants could reach roger within it, the two officers hurried away toward the roomin which their space-armor was.
"too bad they don’t wear uniforms," pantedbradley, short of breath from the many flights of stairs. "might have helped some as disguise." "i doubt itâ€”with so many robots around,they’ve probably got signals that we couldn’t understand anyway. if we meet anybody it’llmean a battle. hold it!" peering through walls with his spy-ray, costigan had seen two menapproaching, blocking an intersecting corridor into which they must turn. "two of ’em, aman and a robotâ€”the robot’s on your side. we’ll wait here, right at the cornerâ€”whenthey round it take ’em!" and costigan put away his goggles in readiness for strife. all unsuspecting, the two pirates came intoview, and as they appeared the two officers
struck. costigan, on the inside, drove a short,hard right low into the human pirate’s abdomen. the fiercely-driven fist sank to the wristinto the soft tissues and the stricken man collapsed. but even as the blow landed costiganhad seen that there was a third enemy, following close behind the two he had been watching,a pirate who was even then training a ray projector upon him. reacting automatically,costigan swung his unconscious opponent around in front of him, so that it was into an enemy’sbody that the vicious ray tore, and not into his own. crouching down into the smallestpossible compass, he straightened out with the lashing force of a mighty steel spring,hurling the corpse straight at the flaming mouth of the projector. the weapon crashedto the floor and dead pirate and living went
down in a heap. upon that heap costigan hurledhimself, feeling for the pirate’s throat. but the fellow had wriggled clear, and counteredwith a gouging thrust that would have torn out the eyes of a slower man, following itup instantly with a savage kick for the groin. no automaton this, geared and set to performcertain fixed duties with mechanical precision, but a lithe, strong man in hard training,fighting with every foul trick known to his murderous ilk. but costigan was no tyro in the art of dirtyfighting. few indeed were the maiming tricks of foul combat unknown to even the rank andfile of the highly efficient under-cover branch of the triplanetary service; and costigan,a sector chief, knew them all. not for pleasure,
sportsmanship, nor million-dollar purses didthose secret agents use nature’s weapons. they came to grips only when it could notpossibly be avoided, but when they were forced to fight in that fashion they went in withbut one grim purposeâ€”to kill, and to kill in the shortest possible space of time. thusit was that costigan’s opening soon came. the pirate launched a vicious coup de sabot,which costigan avoided by a lightning shift. it was a slight shift, barely enough to makethe kicker miss, and two powerful hands closed upon that flying foot in midair like the sprungjaws of a bear-trap. closed and twisted viciously, in the same fleeting instant. there was ashriek, smothered as a heavy boot crashed to its carefully predetermined markâ€”thepirate was out, definitely and permanently.
the struggle had lasted scarcely ten seconds,coming to its close just as bradley finished blinding and deafening the robot. costiganpicked up the projector, again donned his spy-ray goggles, and the two hurried on. "nice work, chiefâ€”it must be a gift to rough-housethe way you do," bradley exclaimed. "that’s why you took the live one?" "practice helps some, tooâ€”i’ve been in brawlsbefore, and i’m a lot younger and maybe a bit faster than you are," costigan explainedbriefly, penetrant gaze rigidly to the fore as they ran along one corridor after another. several more guards, both living and mechanical,were encountered on the way, but they were
not permitted to offer any opposition. costigansaw them first. in the furious beam of the projector of the dead pirate they were riveninto nothingness, and the two officers sped on to the room which costigan had locatedfrom afar. the three suits of triplanetary space armor had been locked up in a cabinet;a cabinet whose doors costigan literally blew off with a blast of force rather than consumetime in tracing the power leads. "i feel like something now!" costigan, oncemore encased in his own armor, heaved a great sigh of relief. "rough-and-tumble’s all rightwith one or two, but that generator room is full of grief, and we won’t have any too muchstuff as it is. we’ve got to take clio’s suit alongâ€”we’ll carry it down to the door ofthe power room, drop it there, and pick it
up on the way back." contemptuous now of possible guards, the armoredpair strode toward the power plantâ€”the very heart of the immense fortress of space. guardswere encountered, and captainsâ€”officers who signaled frantically to their chief, sincehe alone could unleash the frightful forces at his command, and who profanely wonderedat his unwonted silenceâ€”but the enemy beams were impotent against the ether walls of thatarmor; and the pirates, without armor in the security of their own planetoid as they were,vanished utterly in the ravening beams of the twin lewistons. as they paused beforethe door of the power room, both men felt clio’s voice raised in her first and lastappeal, an appeal wrung from her against her
will by the extremity of her position. "conway! hurry! his eyesâ€”they’re tearingme apart! hurry, dear!" in the horror-filled tones both men read clearlyâ€”however inaccuratelyâ€”thegirl’s dire extremity. each saw plainly a happy, carefree young earth-girl, upon herfirst trip into space, locked inside an ether-wall with an over-brained, under-conscienced humanmachineâ€”a super-intelligent, but lecherous and unmoral mechanism of flesh and blood,acknowledging no authority, ruled by nothing save his own scientific drivings and the almostequally powerful urges of his desires and passions! she must have fought with everyresource at her command. she must have wept and pleaded, stormed and raged, feigned submissionand played for timeâ€”and her torment had
not touched in the slightest degree the mercilessand gloating brain of the being who called himself roger. now his tantalizing, ruthlesscat-play would be done, the horrible gray-brown face would be close to hersâ€”she wailed herfinal despairing message to costigan and attacked that hideous face with the fury of a tigress. costigan bit off a bitter imprecation. "holdhim just a second longer, sweetheart!" he cried, and the power room door vanished. through the great room the two lewistons sweptat full aperture and at maximum power, two rapidly-opening fans of death and destruction.here and there a guard, more rapid than his fellows, trained a futile projectorâ€”a projectorwhose magazine exploded at the touch of that
frightful field of force, liberating instantaneouslyits thousands upon thousands of kilowatt-hours of-stored-up energy. through the delicatelyadjusted, complex mechanisms the destroying beams tore. at their touch armatures burnedout, high-tension leads volatilized in crashing, high-voltage arcs, masses of metal smokedand burned in the path of vast forces now seeking the easiest path to neutralization,delicate instruments blew up, copper ran in streams. as the last machine subsided intoa semi-molten mass of metal the two wreckers, each grasping a brace, felt themselves becomeweightless and knew that they had accomplished the first part of their program. costigan leaped for the outer door. his thetask to go to clio’s aidâ€”bradley would follow
more slowly, bringing the girl’s armor andtaking care of any possible pursuit. as he sailed through the air he spoke. "coming, clio! all right, girl?" questioningly,half fearfully. "all right, conway." her voice was almostunrecognizable, broken in retching agony. "when everything went crazy he … found outthat the ether-wall was up and … forgot all about me. he shut it off … and seemedto go crazy too … he is floundering around like a wild man now … i’m trying to keep… him from … going downstairs." "good girlâ€”keep him busy one minute moreâ€”he’sgetting all the warnings at once and wants to get back to his board. but what’s the matterwith you? did he … hurt you, after all?"
"oh, no, not thatâ€”he didn’t do anythingbut look at meâ€”but that was bad enoughâ€”but i’m sickâ€”horribly sick. i’m falling … i’mso dizzy that i can scarcely see … my head is breaking up into little pieces … i justknow i’m going to die, conway! oh … oh!" "oh, is that all!" in his sheer relief thatthey had been in time, costigan did not think of sympathizing with clio’s very real presentdistress of mind and body. "i forgot that you’re a ground-gripperâ€”that’s just a littletouch of space-sickness. it’ll wear off directly…. all right, i’m coming! let go of him and getas far away from him as you can!" he was now in the street. perhaps two hundredfeet distant and a hundred feet above him was the tower room in which were clio androger. he sprang directly toward its large
window, and as he floated "upward" he correctedhis course and accelerated his pace by firing backward at various angles with his heavyservice pistol, uncaring that at the point of impact of each of those shells a smallblast of destruction erupted. he missed the window a trifle, but that did not matterâ€”hisflaming lewiston opened a way for him, partly through the window, partly through the wall.as he soared through the opening he trained projector and pistol upon roger, now almostto the door, noticing as he did so that clio was clinging convulsively to a lamp-bracketupon the wall. door and wall vanished in the lewiston’s terrific beam, but the pirate stoodunharmed. neither ravening ray nor explosive shell could harm himâ€”he had snapped on theprotective shield whose generator was always
upon his person. when clio reported that roger seemed to gocrazy and was floundering around like a wild man, she had no idea of how she was understandingthe actual situation; for gharlane of eddore, then energizing the form of flesh that wasroger, had for the first time in his prodigiously long life met in direct conflict with an overwhelmingsuperior force. roger had been sublimely confident that hecould detect the use, anywhere in or around his planetoid, of ultra-wave. he had beenequally sure that he could control directly and absolutely the physical activities ofany number of these semi-intelligent "human beings".
but four arisians in fusionâ€”drounli, brolenteen,nedanillor, and kriediganâ€”had been on guard for weeks. when the time came to act, theyacted. roger’s first thought, upon discovering whattremendous and inexplicable damage had already been done, was to destroy instantly the twomen who were doing it. he could not touch them. his second was to blast out of existencethis supposedly human female, but no more could he touch her. his fiercest mental boltsspent themselves harmlessly three millimeters away from her skin; she gazed into his eyescompletely unaware of the torrents of energy pouring from them. he could not even aim aweapon at her! his third was to call for help to eddore. he could not. the sub-ether wasclosed; nor could he either discover the manner
of its closing or trace the power which waskeeping it closed! his eddorian body, even if he could recreateit here, could not withstand the environmentâ€”this roger-thing would have to do whatever it could,unaided by gharlane’s mental powers. and, physically, it was a very capable body indeed.also, it was armed and armored with mechanisms of gharlane’s own devising; and eddore’s second-in-commandwas in no sense a coward. but roger, while not exactly a ground-gripper,did not know how to handle himself without weight; whereas costigan, given six wallsagainst which to push, was even more efficient in weightless combat than when handicappedby the force of gravitation. keeping his projector upon the pirate, he seized the first clubto handâ€”a long, slender pedestal of metalâ€”launched
himself past the pirate chief. with all themomentum of his mass and velocity and all the power of his good right arm he swung thebar at the pirate’s head. that fiercely-driven mass of metal should have taken head fromshoulders, but it did not. roger’s shield of force was utterly rigid and impenetrable;the only effect of the frightful blow was to set him spinning, end over end, like theflying baton of an acrobatic drum-major. as the spinning form crashed against the oppositewall of the room bradley floated in, carrying clio’s armor. without a word the captain loosenedthe helpless girl’s grip upon the bracket and encased her in the suit. then, supportingher at the window, he held his lewiston upon the captive’s head while costigan propelledhim toward the opening. both men knew that
roger’s shield of force must be threatenedevery instantâ€”that if he were allowed to release it he probably would bring to beara hand-weapon even superior to their own. braced against the wall, costigan sightedalong roger’s body toward the most distant point of the lofty dome of the artificialplanet and gave him a gentle push. then, each grasping clio by an arm, the two officersshoved mightily with their feet and the three armored forms darted away toward their onlyhope of escapeâ€”an emergency boat which could be launched through the shell of the greatglobe. to attempt to reach the hyperion and to escape in one of her lifeboats would havebeen useless; they could not have forced the great gates of the main airlocks and no otherexits existed. as they sailed onward through
the air, costigan keeping the slowly-floatingform of roger enveloped in his beam, clio began to recover. "suppose they get their gravity fixed?" sheasked, apprehensively. "and they’re raying us and shooting at us!" "they may have it fixed already. they undoubtedlyhave spare parts and duplicate generators, but if they turn it on the fall will killroger too, and he wouldn’t like that. they’ll have to get him down with a helicopter orsomething, and they know that we’ll get them as fast as they come up. they can’t hurt uswith hand-weapons, and before they can bring up any heavy stuff they’ll be afraid to useit, because well be too close to their shell.
"i wish we could have brought roger along,"he continued, savagely, to bradley. "but you were right, of courseâ€”it’d be altogethertoo much like a rabbit capturing a wildcat. my lewiston’s about done right now, and therecan’t be much left of yoursâ€”what he’d do to us would be a sin and a shame." now at the great wall, the two men heavedmightily upon a lever, the gate of the emergency port swung slowly open, and they entered theminiature cruiser of the void. costigan, familiar with the mechanism of the craft from carefulstudy from his prison cell, manipulated the controls. through gate after massive gatethey went, until finally they were out in open space, shooting toward distant tellusat the maximum acceleration of which their
small craft was capable. costigan cut the other two phones out of circuitand spoke, his attention fixed upon some extremely distant point. "samms!" he called sharply. "costigan. we’reout … all right … yes … sure … absolutely … you tell ’em, sammy, i’ve got companyhere." through the sound-disks of their helmets thegirl and the captain had heard costigan’s share of the conversation. bradley staredat his erstwhile first officer in amazement, and even clio had often heard that mighty,half-mythical name. surely that bewildering young man must rank high, to speak so familiarlyto virgil samms, the all-powerful head of
the space-pervading service of the triplanetaryleague! "you’ve turned in a general call-out," bradleystated, rather than asked. "long agoâ€”i’ve been in touch right along,"costigan answered. "now that they know what to look for and know that ether-wave detectorsare useless, they can find it. every vessel in seven sectors, clear down to the scoutpatrols, is concentrating on this point, and the call is out for all battleships and cruisersafloat. there are enough operatives out there with ultra-waves to locate that globe, andonce they spot it they’ll point it out to all the other vessels." "but how about the other prisoners?" askedthe girl. "they’ll be killed, won’t they?"
"hard telling," costigan shrugged. "dependson how things turn out. we lack a lot of being safe ourselves yet." "what’s worrying me mostly is our own chance,"bradley assented. "they will chase us, of course." "sure, and they’ll have more speed than wehave. depends on how far away the nearest triplanetary vessels are. but we’ve done everythingwe can do, for now." silence fell, and costigan cut in clio’s phoneand came over to the seat upon which she was reclining, white and strickenâ€”worn out bythe horrible and terrifying ordeals of the last few hours. as he seated himself besideher she blushed vividly, but her deep blue
eyes met his gray ones steadily. "clio, i … we … you … that is," he flushedhotly and stopped. this secret agent, whose clear, keen brain no physical danger couldcloud; who had proved over and over again that he was never at a loss in any emergency,however desperateâ€”this quick-witted officer floundered in embarrassment like any schoolboy;but continued, doggedly: "i’m afraid that i gave myself away back there, but…." "we gave ourselves away, you mean," she filledin the pause. "i did my share, but i won’t hold you to it if you don’t wantâ€”but i knowthat you love me, conway!" "love you!" the man groaned, his face linedand hard, his whole body rigid. "that doesn’t
half tell it, clio. you don’t need to holdmeâ€”i’m held for life. there never was a woman who meant anything to me before, andthere never will be another. you’re the only woman that ever existed. it isn’t that. can’tyou see that it’s impossible?" "of course i can’tâ€”it isn’t impossible,at all." she released her shields, four hands met and tightly clasped, and her low voicethrilled with feeling as she went on: "you love me and i love you. that is all that matters." "i wish it were," costigan returned bitterly,"but you don’t know what you’d be letting yourself in for. it’s who and what you areand who and what i am that’s griping me. you, clio marsden, curtis marsden’s daughter. nineteenyears old. you think you’ve been places and
done things. you haven’t. you haven’t seenor done anythingâ€”you don’t know what it’s all about. and whom am i to love a girl likeyou? a homeless spacehound who hasn’t been on any planet three weeks in three years.a hard-boiled egg. a trouble-shooter and a brawler by instinct and training. a sp …" hebit off the word and went on quickly: "why, you don’t know me at all, and there’s a lotof me that you never will knowâ€”that i can’t let you know! you’d better lay off me, girl,while you can. it’ll be best for you, believe me." "but i can’t, conway, and neither can you,"the girl answered softly, a glorious light in her eyes. "it’s too late for that. on theship it was just another of those things,
but since then we’ve come really to know eachother, and we’re sunk. the situation is out of control, and we both know itâ€”and neitherof us would change it if we could, and you know that, too. i don’t know very much, iadmit, but i do know what you thought you’d have to keep from me, and i admire you allthe more for it. we all honor the service, conway dearestâ€”it is only you men who havemade and are keeping the three planets fit places to live inâ€”and i know that any oneof virgil samms’ assistants would have to be a man in a thousand million…." "what makes you think that?" he demanded sharply. "you told me so yourself, indirectly. whoelse in the three worlds could possibly call
him ‘sammy?’ you are hard, of course, butyou must be soâ€”and i never did like soft men, anyway. and you brawl in a good cause.you are very much a man, my conway; a real, real man, and i love you! now, if they catchus, all rightâ€”we’ll die together, at least!" she finished, intensely. "you’re right, sweetheart, of course," headmitted. "i don’t believe that i could really let you let me go, even though i know youought to," and their hands locked together even more firmly than before. "if we everget out of this jam i’m going to kiss you, but this is no time to be taking off yourhelmet. in fact, i’m taking too many chances with you in keeping your shields off. snap’em on againâ€”they ought to be getting fairly
close by this time." hands released and armor again tight, costiganwent over to join bradley at the control board. "how are they coming, captain?" he asked. "not so good. quite a ways off yet. at leastan hour, i’d say, before a cruiser can get within range." "i’ll see if i can locate any of the pirateschasing us. if i do it’ll be by accident; this little spy-ray isn’t good for much exceptclose work. i’m afraid the first warning we’ll have will be when they take hold of us witha tractor or spear us with a needle. probably a beam, though; this is one of their emergencylifeboats and they wouldn’t want to destroy
it unless they have to. also, i imagine thatroger wants us alive pretty badly. he has unfinished business with all three of us,and i can well believe that his ‘not particularly pleasant extinction’ will be even less soafter the way we rooked him." "i want you to do me a favor, conway." clio’sface was white with horror at the thought of facing again that unspeakable creatureof gray. "give me a gun or something, please. i don’t want him ever to look at me that wayagain, to say nothing of what else he might do, while i’m alive." "he won’t," costigan assured her, narrow ofeye and grim of jaw. he was, as she had said, hard. "but you don’t want a gun. you mightget nervous and use it too soon. i’ll take
care of you at the last possible moment, becauseif he gets hold of us we won’t stand a chance of getting away again." for minutes there was silence, costigan surveyingthe ether in all directions with his ultra-wave device. suddenly he laughed, and the othersstared at him in surprise. "no, i’m not crazy," he told them. "this isreally funny; it had never occurred to me that the ether-walls of all these ships makethem invisible. i can see them, of course, with this sub-ether spy, but they can’t seeus! i knew that they should have overtaken us before this. i’ve finally found them. they’vepassed us, and are now tacking around, waiting for us to do something so that they can seeus! they’re heading right into the fleetâ€”they
think they’re safe, of course, but what asurprise they’ve got coming to them!" but it was not only the pirates who were tobe surprised. long before the pirate ship had come within extreme visibility range ofthe triplanetary fleet it lost its invisibility and was starkly outlined upon the lookoutplates of the three fugitives. for a few seconds the pirate craft seemed unchanged, then itbegan to glow redly, with a red that seemed to become darker as it grew stronger. thenthe sharp outlines blurred, puffs of air burst outward, and the metal of the hull becamea viscous, fluid-like something, flowing away in a long, red streamer into seemingly emptyspace. costigan turned his ultra-gaze into that space and saw that it was actually farfrom empty. there lay a vast something, formless
and indefinite even to his sub-etheral vision;a something into which the viscid stream of transformed metal plunged. plunged and vanished. powerful interference blanketed his ultra-waveand howled throughout his body; but in the hope that some parts of his message mightget through he called samms, and calmly and clearly he narrated everything that had justhappened. he continued his crisp report, neglecting not the smallest detail, while their tinycraft was drawn inexorably toward a redly impermeable veil; continued it until theirlifeboat, still intact, shot through that veil and he found himself unable to move.he was conscious, he was breathing normally, his heart was beating; but not a voluntarymuscle would obey his will!
chapter 9 fleet against planetoid one of the newest and fleetest of the patrolvessels of the triplanetary league, the heavy cruiser chicago of the north american divisionof the tellurian contingent, plunged stolidly through interplanetary vacuum. for five longweeks she had patrolled her allotted volume of space. in another week she would reportback to the city whose name she bore, where her space-weary crew, worn by their long "tour"in the awesomely oppressive depths of the limitless void, would enjoy to the full theirfortnight of refreshing planetary leave. she was performing certain routine tasksâ€”chartingmeteorites, watching for derelicts and other
obstructions to navigation, checking in constantlywith all scheduled space-ships in case of need, and so onâ€”but primarily she was awarship. she was a mighty engine of destruction, hunting for the unauthorized vessels of whateverpower or planet it was that had not only defied the triplanetary league, but was evidentlyattempting to overthrow it; attempting to plunge the three planets back into the ghastlysink of bloodshed and destruction from which they had so recently emerged. every space-shipwithin range of her powerful detectors was represented by two brilliant, slowly-movingpoints of light; one upon a greater micrometer screen, the other in the "tank," the immense,three-dimensional, minutely cubed model of the entire solar system.
a brilliantly intense red light flared upona panel and a bell clanged brazenly the furious signals of the sector alarm. simultaneouslya speaker roared forth its message of a ship in dire peril. "sector alarm! n.a.t. hyperion gassed withvee-two. nothing detectable in space, but…." the half-uttered message was drowned out ina crackling roar of meaningless noise, the orderly signals of the bell became a hideousclamor, and the two points of light which had marked the location of the liner disappearedin widely spreading flashes of the same high-powered interference. observers, navigators, and controlofficers were alike dumbfounded. even the captain, in the shell-proof, shock-proof,and doubly ray-proof retreat of his conning
compartment, was equally at a loss. no shipor thing could possibly be close enough to be sending out interfering waves of such tremendouspowerâ€”yet there they were! "maximum acceleration, straight for the pointwhere the hyperion was when her tracers went out," the captain ordered, and through thefringe of that widespread interference he drove a solid beam, reporting concisely toghq. almost instantly the emergency call-out came roaring inâ€”every vessel of the sector,of whatever class or tonnage, was to concentrate upon the point in space where the ill-fatedliner had last been known to be. hour after hour the great globe drove on atmaximum acceleration, captain and every control officer alert and at high tension. but inquartermasters’ department, deep down below
the generator rooms, no thought was givento such minor matters as the disappearance of a hyperion. the inventory did not balance,and two q.m. privates were trying, profanely and without success, to find the discrepancy. "charged calls for mark twelve lewistons,none requisitioned, on hand eighteen thous…." the droning voice broke off short in the middleof a word and the private stood rigid, in the act of reaching for another slip, everyfaculty concentrated upon something imperceptible to his companion. "come on, cleveâ€”snap it up!" the secondcommanded, but was silenced by a vicious wave of the listener’s hand.
"what!" the rigid one exclaimed. "reveal ourselves!why, it’s…. oh, all right…. oh, that’s it … uh-huh … i see … yes, i’ve gotit solid. so long!" the inventory sheets fell unheeded from hishand, and his fellow private stared after him in amazement as he strode over to thedesk of the officer in charge. that officer also stared as the hitherto easy-going andgold-bricking cleve saluted crisply, showed him something flat in the palm of his lefthand, and spoke. "i’ve just got some of the funniest ordersever put out, lieutenant, but they came from ‘way, ‘way up. i’m to join the brass hatsin the center. you’ll know all about it directly, i imagine. cover me up as much as you can,will you?" and he was gone.
unchallenged he made his way to the controlroom, and his curt "urgent report for the captain" admitted him there without question.but when he approached the sacred precincts of the captain’s own and inviolate room, hewas stopped in no uncertain fashion by no less a personage than the officer of the day. "… and report yourself under arrest immediately!"the o.d. concluded his brief but pointed speech. "you were right in stopping me, of course,"the intruder conceded, unmoved. "i wanted to get in there without giving everythingaway, if possible, but it seems that i can’t. well, i’ve been ordered by virgil samms toreport to the captain, at once. see this? touch it!" he held out a flat, insulated disk,cover thrown back to reveal a tiny golden
meteor, at the sight of which the officer’struculent manner altered markedly. "i’ve heard of them, of course, but i neversaw one before," and the officer touched the shining symbol lightly with his finger, jerkingbackward as there shot through his whole body a thrilling surge of power, shouting intohis very bones an unpronounceable syllableâ€”the password of the triplanetary service. "genuineor not, it gets you to the captain. he’ll know, and if it’s a fake you’ll be breathingspace in five minutes." projector at the ready, the officer of theday followed cleve into the holy of holies. there the grizzled four-striper touched thegolden meteor lightly, then drove his piercing gaze deep into the unflinching eyes of theyounger man. but that captain had won his
high rank neither by accident nor by "pull"â€”heunderstood at once. "it must be an emergency," he growled, half-audibly,still staring at his lowly q-m clerk, "to make samms uncover this way." he turned andcurtly dismissed the wondering o.d. then: "all right! out with it!" "serious enough so that every one of us afloathas just received orders to reveal himself to his commanding officer and to anyone else,if necessary to reach that officer at onceâ€”orders never before issued. the enemy have been located.they have built a base, and have ships better than our best. base and ships cannot be seenor detected by any ether wave. however, the service has been experimenting for years witha new type of communicator beam; and, while
pretty crude yet, it was given to us whenthe dione went out without leaving a trace. one of our men was in the hyperion, managedto stay alive, and has been sending data. i am instructed to attach my new phone setto one of the universal plates in your conning room, and to see what i can find." "go to it!" the captain waved his hand andthe operative bent to his task. "commanders of all vessels of the fleet!"the headquarters speaker, receiver sealed upon the wave-length of the admiral of thefleet, broke the long silence. "all vessels in sectors l to r, inclusive, will interlocklocation signals. some of you have received, or will receive shortly, certain communicationsfrom sources which need not be mentioned.
those commanders will at once send out redk4 screens. vessels so marked will act as temporary flagships. unmarked vessels willproceed at maximum to the nearest flagship, grouping about it in the regulation squadroncone in order of arrival. squadrons most distant from objective point designated by flagshipobservers will proceed toward it at maximum; squadrons nearest it will decelerate or reversevelocityâ€”that point must not be approached until full fleet formation has been accomplished.heavy and light cruisers of all other sectors inside the orbit of mars…." the orders wenton, directing the mobilization of the stupendous forces of the league, so that they would bein readiness in the highly improbable event of the failure of the massed power of sevensectors to reduce the pirate base.
in those seven sectors perhaps a dozen vesselsthrew out enormous spherical screens of intense red light, and as they did so their tracerpoints upon all the interlocked lookout plates also became ringed about with red. towardthose crimson markers the pilots of the unmarked vessels directed their courses at their utmostpower; and while the white lights upon the lookout plates moved slowly toward and clusteredabout the red ones the ultra-instruments of the service operatives were probing into space,sweeping the neighborhood of the computed position of the pirate’s stronghold. but the object sought was so far away thatthe small spy-ray sets of the service men, intended as they were for close range work,were unable to make contact with the invisible
planetoid for which they were seeking. inthe captain’s sanctum of the chicago, the operative studied his plate for only a minuteor two, then shut off his power and fell into a brown study, from which he was rudely aroused. "aren’t you even going to try to find them?"demanded the captain. "no," cleve returned shortly. "no useâ€”nothalf enough power or control. i’m trying to think … maybe … say, captain, will youplease have the chief electrician and a couple of radio men come in here?" they came, and for hours, while the otherultra-wave men searched the apparently empty ether with their ineffective beams, the threetechnical experts and the erstwhile quartermaster’s
clerk labored upon a huge and complex ultra-waveprojectorâ€”the three blindly and with doubtful questions; the one with sure knowledge atleast of what he was trying to do. finally the thing was done, the crude, but efficientgraduated circles were set, and the tubes glowed redly as their massed output droveinto a tight beam of ultra-vibration. "there it is, sir," cleve reported, aftersome ten minutes of manipulation, and the vast structure of the miniature world flashedinto being upon his plate. "you may notify the fleetâ€”coordinates h 11.62, ra 124-31-16,and dx about 173.2." the report made and the assistants out ofthe room, the captain turned to the observer and saluted gravely.
"we have always known, sir, that the servicehad men; but i had no idea that any one man could possibly do, on the spur of the moment,what you have just doneâ€”unless that man happened to be lyman cleveland." "oh, it doesn’t…." the observer began, butbroke off, muttering unintelligibly at intervals; then swung the visiray beam toward the earth.soon a face appeared upon the plate; the keen, but careworn face of virgil samms! "hello, lyman," his voice came clearly fromthe speaker, and the captain gaspedâ€”his ultra-wave observer and sometime clerk waslyman cleveland himself, probably the greatest living expert in beam transmission! "i knewthat you’d do something, if it could be done.
how about itâ€”can the others install similarsets on their ships? i’m betting that they can’t." "probably not," cleveland frowned in thought."this is a patchwork affair, made of gunny sacks and hay-wire. i’m holding it togetherby main strength and awkwardness, and even at that, it’s apt to go to pieces any minute." "can you rig it up for photography?" "i think so. just a minuteâ€”yes, i can. why?" "because there’s something going on out therethat neither we nor apparently the pirates know anything about. the admiralty seems tothink that it’s the jovians again, but we
don’t see how it can beâ€”if it is, they havedeveloped a lot of stuff that none of our agents has even suspected," and he recountedbriefly what costigan had reported to him, concluding: "then there was a burst of interferenceâ€”onthe ultra-band, mind youâ€”and i’ve heard nothing from him since. therefore i want youto stay out of the battle entirely. stay as far away from it as you can and still getgood pictures of everything that happens. i will see that orders are issued to the chicagoto that effect." "but listen…." "those are orders!" snapped samms. "it isof the utmost importance that we know every detail of what is going to happen. the answeris pictures. the only possibility of obtaining
pictures is that machine you have just developed.if the fleet wins, nothing will be lost. if the fleet losesâ€”and i am not half as confidentof success as the admiral isâ€”the chicago doesn’t carry enough power to decide the issue,and we will have the pictures to study, which is all-important. besides, we have probablylost conway costigan today, and we don’t want to lose you, too." cleveland remained silent, pondering thisstartling news, but the grizzled captain, veteran of the fourth jovian war that he was,was not convinced. "we’ll blow them out of space, mr. samms!"he declared. "you just think you will, captain. i havesuggested, as forcibly as possible, that the
general attack be withheld until after a thoroughinvestigation is made, but the admiralty will not listen. they see the advisability of withdrawinga camera ship, but that is as far as they will go." "and that’s plenty far enough!" growled thechicago’s commander, as the beam snapped off. "mr. cleveland, i don’t like the idea of runningaway under fire, and i won’t do it without direct orders from the admiral." "of course you won’tâ€”that’s why you aregoing…." he was interrupted by a voice from the headquartersspeaker. the captain stepped up to the plate and, upon being recognized, he received theexact orders which had been requested by the
chief of the triplanetary service. thus it was that the chicago reversed heracceleration, cut off her red screen, and fell rapidly behind, while the vessels followingher shot away toward another crimson-flaring loader. farther and farther back she dropped,back to the limiting range of the mechanism upon which cleveland and his highly-trainedassistants were hard at work. and during all this time the forces of the seven sectorshad been concentrating. the pilot vessels, with their flaming red screens, each followedby a cone of space-ships, drew closer and closer together, approaching the fearlessâ€”thebritish super-dreadnought which was to be the flagship of the fleetâ€”the mightiestand heaviest space-ship which had yet lifted
her stupendous mass into the ether. now, systematically and precisely, the greatcone of battle was coming into being; a formation developed during the jovian wars while theforces of the three planets were fighting in space for their very civilizations’ existence,and one never used since the last space-fleets of jupiter’s murderous hordes had been wipedout. the mouth of that enormous hollow cone wasa ring of scout patrols, the smallest and most agile vessels of the fleet. behind themcame a somewhat smaller ring of light cruisers, then rings of heavy cruisers and of lightbattleships, and finally of heavy battleships. at the apex of the cone, protected by allthe other vessels of the formation and in
best position to direct the battle, was theflagship. in this formation every vessel was free to use her every weapon, with a minimumof danger to her sister ships; and yet, when the gigantic main projectors were operatedalong the axis of the formation, from the entire vast circle of the cone’s mouth thereflamed a cylindrical field of force of such intolerable intensity that in it no conceivablesubstance could endure for a moment! the artificial planet of metal was now closeenough so that it was visible to the ultra-vision of the service men, so plainly visible thatthe cigar-shaped warships of the pirates were seen issuing from the enormous airlocks. aseach vessel shot out into space it sped straight for the approaching fleet without waitingto go into any formationâ€”gray roger believed
his structures invisible to triplanetary eyes,thought that the presence of the fleet was the result of mathematical calculations, andwas convinced that his mighty vessels of the void would destroy even that vast fleet withoutthemselves becoming known. he was wrong. the foremost vessels were allowed actually toenter the mouth of that conical trap before an offensive move was made. then the vice-admiralin command of the fleet touched a button, and simultaneously every generator in everytriplanetary vessel burst into furious activity. instantly the hollow volume of the immensecone became a coruscating hell of resistless energy, an inferno which with the velocityof light extended itself into a far-reaching cylinder of rapacious destruction. ether-wavesthey were, it is true, but vibrations driven
with such fierce intensity that the screensof deflection surrounding the pirate vessels could not handle even a fraction of theirawful power. invisibility lost, their defensive screens flared briefly; but even the enormousforce backing roger’s inventions, far greater than that of any single triplanetary vessel,could not hold off the incredible violence of the massed attack of the hundreds of mightyvessels composing the fleet. their defensive screens flared briefly, then went down; theirgreat hulls first glowing red, then shining white, then in a brief moment exploding intoflying masses of red hot, molten, and gaseous metal. a full two-thirds of roger’s force was caughtin that raging, incandescent beam; caught
and obliterated: but the remainder did notretreat to the planetoid. darting out around the edge of the cone at a stupendous acceleration,they attacked its flanks and the engagement became general. but now, since enough beamswere kept upon each ship of the enemy so that invisibility could not be restored, each triplanetarywar vessel could attack with full efficiency. magnesium flares and star-shells illuminatedspace for a thousand miles, and from every unit of both fleets was being hurled everyitem of solid, explosive and vibratory destruction known to the warfare of that age. offensivebeams, rods and daggers of frightful power struck and were neutralized by defensive screensequally capable; the long range and furious dodging made ordinary solid, or even atomic-explosiveprojectiles useless; and both sides were filling
all space with such a volume of blanketingfrequencies that such radio-dirigible atomics as were launched could not be controlled,but darted madly and erratically hither and thither, finally to be exploded or volatilizedharmlessly in mid-space by the touch of some fiercely insistant, probing beam of force. individually, however, the pirate vesselswere far more powerful than those of the fleet, and that superiority soon began to make itselffelt. the power of the smaller ships began to fail as their accumulators became dischargedunder the awful drain of the battle, and vessel after vessel of the triplanetary fleet washurled into nothingness by the concentrated blasts of the pirates’ rays. but the triplanetaryforces had one great advantage. in furious
haste the service men had been altering thecontrols of the dirigible atomic torpedoes, so that they would respond to ultra-wave control;and, few in number though they were, each was highly effective. a hard-eyed observer, face almost againsthis plate and both hands and both feet manipulating controls, hurled the first torpedo. propellingrockets viciously aflame, it twisted and looped around the incandescent rods of destructionso thickly and starkly outlined, under perfect control; unaffected by the hideous distortionof all ether-borne signals. through a pirate screen it went, and under the terrific blastof its detonation the entire midsection of the stricken battleship vanished. it shouldhave been out, coldâ€”but to the amazement
of the observers, both ends kept on fightingwith scarcely lessened power! two more of the frightful bombs had to be launchedâ€”eachremaining section had to be blown to bitsâ€”before those terrible beams went out! not a man inthat great fleet had even an inkling of the truth; that those great vessels, those awfulengines of destruction, did not contain a single living creature: that they were mannedand fought by automatons; robots controlled by keen-eyed, space-hardened veterans insidethe pirates’ planetoid! but they were to receive an inkling of it.as ship after ship of the pirate fleet was destroyed, roger realized that his navy wasbeaten, and forthwith all his surviving vessels darted toward the apex of the cone, wherethe heaviest battleships were stationed. there
each hurled itself upon a triplanetary warship,crashing to its own destruction, but in that destruction insuring the loss of one of theheaviest vessels of the enemy. thus passed the fearless, and twenty of the finest space-shipsof the fleet as well. but the ranking officer assumed command, the war-cone was re-formed,and, yawning maw to the fore, the great formation shot toward the pirate stronghold, now nearat hand. it again launched its stupendous cylinder of annihilation, but even as themighty defensive screens of the planetoid flared into incandescently furious defense,the battle was interrupted and pirates and triplanetarians learned alike that they werenot alone in the ether. space became suffused with a redly impenetrableopacity, and through that indescribable pall
there came reaching huge arms of force incredible;writhing, coruscating beams of power which glowed a baleful, although almost imperceptible,red. a vessel of unheard-of armament and power, hailing from the then unknown solar systemof nevia, had come to rest in that space. for months her commander had been searchingfor one ultra-precious substance. now his detectors had found it; and, feeling neitherfear of triplanetarian weapons nor reluctance to sacrifice those thousands of triplanetarianlives, he was about to take it! chapter 10 within the red veil nevia, the home planet of the marauding space-ship,would have appeared peculiar indeed to terrestrial
senses. high in the deep red heavens a ferventblue sun poured down its flood of brilliant purplish light upon a world of water. nota cloud was to be seen in that flaming sky, and through that dustless atmosphere the eyecould see the horizonâ€”a horizon three times as distant as the one to which we are accustomedâ€”witha distinctness and clarity impossible in our terra’s dust-filled air. as that mighty sundropped below the horizon the sky would fill suddenly with clouds and rain would fall violentlyand steadily until midnight. then the clouds would vanish as suddenly as they had comeinto being, the torrential downpour would cease, and through that huge world’s wonderfullytransparent gaseous envelope the full glory of the firmament would be revealed. not thefirmament as we know itâ€”for that hot blue
sun and nevia, her one planet-child, werelight-years distant from old sol and his numerous broodâ€”but a strange and glorious firmamentcontaining few constellations familiar to earthly eyes. out of the vacuum of space a fish-shaped vesselof the voidâ€”the vessel that was to attack so boldly both the massed fleet of triplanetaryand roger’s planetoidâ€”plunged into the rarefied outer atmosphere, and crimson beams of forcetore shriekingly through the thin air as it braked its terrific speed. a third of thecircumference of nevia’s mighty globe was traversed before the velocity of the craftcould be reduced sufficiently to make a landing possible. then, approaching the twilight zone,the vessel dived vertically downward, and
it became evident that nevia was neither entirelyaqueous nor devoid of intelligent life. for the blunt nose of the space-ship was pointingtoward what was evidently a half-submerged city, a city whose buildings were flat-topped,hexagonal towers, exactly alike in size, shape, color, and material. these buildings werearranged as the cells of a honeycomb would be if each cell were separated from its neighborsby a relatively narrow channel of water, and all were built of the same white metal. manybridges and more tubes extended through the air from building to building, and the watery"streets" teemed with swimmers, with surface craft, and with submarines. the pilot, stationed immediately below theconical prow of the space-ship, peered intently
through thick windows which afforded unobstructedvision in every direction. his four huge and contractile eyes were active, each operatingindependently in sending its own message to his peculiar but capable brain. one was watchingthe instruments, the others scanned narrowly the immense, swelling curve of the ship’sbelly, the water upon which his vessel was to land, and the floating dock to which itwas to be moored. four handsâ€”if hands they could be calledâ€”manipulated levers and wheelswith infinite delicacy of touch, and with scarcely a splash the immense mass of thenevian vessel struck the water and glided to a stop within a foot of its exact berth. four mooring bars dropped neatly into theirsockets and the captain-pilot, after locking
his controls in neutral, released his safetystraps and leaped lightly from his padded bench to the floor. scuttling across the floorand down a runway upon his four short, powerful, heavily scaled legs, he slipped smoothly intothe water and flashed away, far below the surface. for nevians are true amphibians.their blood is cold; they use with equal comfort and efficiency gills and lungs for breathing;their scaly bodies are equally at home in the water or in the air; their broad, flatfeet serve equally well for running about upon a solid surface or for driving theirstreamlined bodies through the water at a pace few fishes can equal. through the water the nevian commander dartedalong, steering his course accurately by means
of his short, vaned tail. through an openingin a wall he sped and along a submarine hallway, emerging upon a broad ramp. he scurried upthe incline and into an elevator which lifted him to the top of the hexagon, directly intothe office of the secretary of commerce of all nevia. "welcome, captain nerado!" the secretary waveda tentacular arm and the visitor sprang lightly upon a softly cushioned bench, where he layat ease, facing the official across his low, flat "desk." "we congratulate you upon thesuccess of your final trial flight. we received all your reports, even while you were travelingat ten times the velocity of light. with the last difficulties overcome, you are now readyto start?"
"we are ready," the captain-scientist replied,soberly. "mechanically, the ship is as nearly perfect as our finest minds can make her.she is stocked for two years. all the iron-bearing suns within reach have been plotted. everythingis ready except the iron. of course the council refused to allow us any of the national supplyâ€”howmuch were you able to purchase for us in the market?" "nearly ten pounds…." "ten pounds! why, the securities we left withyou could not have bought two pounds, even at the price then prevailing!" "no, but you have friends. many of us believein you, and have dipped into our own resources.
you and your fellow scientists of the expeditionhave each contributed his entire personal fortune; why should not some of the rest ofus also contribute, as private citizens?" "wonderfulâ€”we thank you. ten pounds!" thecaptain’s great triangular eyes glowed with an intense violet light. "at least a yearof cruising. but … what if, after all, we should be wrong?" "in that case you shall have consumed tenpounds of irreplaceable metal." the secretary was unmoved. "that is the viewpoint of thecouncil and of almost everyone else. it is not the waste of treasure they object to;it is the fact that ten pounds of iron will be forever lost."
"a high price, truly," the columbus of neviaassented. "and after all, i may be wrong." "you probably are wrong," his host made startlinganswer. "it is practically certainâ€”it is almost a demonstrable mathematical factâ€”thatno other sun within hundreds of thousands of light-years of our own has a planet. inall probability nevia is the only planet in the entire universe. we are very probablythe only intelligent life in the universe. there is only one chance in numberless millionsthat anywhere within the cruising range of your newly perfected space-ship there maybe an iron-bearing planet upon which you can effect a landing. there is a larger chance,however, that you may be able to find a small, cold, iron-bearing cosmic bodyâ€”small enoughso that you can capture it. although there
are no mathematics by which to evaluate theprobability of such an occurrence, it is upon that larger chance that some of us are stakinga portion of our wealth. we expect no return whatever, but if you should by some miraclehappen to succeed, what then? deep seas being made shallow, civilization extending itselfover the globe, science advancing by leaps and bounds, nevia becoming populated as sheshould be peopledâ€”that, my friend, is a chance well worth taking!" the secretary called in a group of guards,who escorted the small package of priceless metal to the space-ship. before the massivedoor was sealed the friends bade each other farewell.
"… i will keep in touch with you on theultra-wave," the captain concluded. "after all, i do not blame the council for refusingto allow the other ship to go out. ten pounds of iron will be a fearful loss to the world.if we should find iron, however, see to it that she loses no time in following us." "no fear of that! if you find iron she willset out at once, and all space will soon be full of vessels. goodbye." the last opening was sealed and nerado shotthe great vessel into the air. up and up, out beyond the last tenuous trace of atmosphere,on and on through space it flew with ever-increasing velocity until nevia’s gigantic blue sun hadbeen left so far behind that it became a splendid
blue-white star. then, projectors cut offto save the precious iron whose disintegration furnished them power, for week after weekcaptain nerado and his venturesome crew of scientists drifted idly through the illimitablevoid. there is no need to describe in detail nerado’stremendous voyage. suffice it to say that he found a g-type dwarf star possessing planetsâ€”notone planet only, but six … seven … eight … yes, at least nine! and most of thoseworlds were themselves centers of attraction around which were circling one or more worldlets!nerado thrilled with joy as he applied a full retarding force, and every creature aboardthat great vessel had to peer into a plate or through a telescope before he could believethat planets other than nevia did in reality
exist! velocity checked to the merest crawl, as space-speedsgo, and with electro-magnetic detector screens full out, the nevian vessel crept toward oursun. finally the detectors encountered an obstacle, a conductive substance which thepatterns showed conclusively to be practically pure iron. ironâ€”an enormous mass of itâ€”floatingalone out in space! without waiting to investigate the nature, appearance, or structure of theprecious mass, nerado ordered power into the converters and drove an enormous softeningfield of force upon the objectâ€”a force of such a nature that it would condense the metalliciron into an allotropic modification of much smaller bulk; a red, viscous, extremely denseand heavy liquid which could be stored conveniently
in his tanks. no sooner had the precious fluid been storedaway than the detectors again broke into an uproar. in one direction was an enormous massof iron, scarcely detectable; in another a great number of smaller masses; in a thirdan isolated mass, comparatively small in size. space seemed to be full of iron, and neradodrove his most powerful beam toward distant nevia and sent an exultant message. "we have found ironâ€”easily obtained andin unthinkable quantityâ€”not in fractions of milligrams, but in millions upon unmeasuredmillions of tons! send our sister ship here at once!"
"nerado!" the captain was called to one ofthe observation plates as soon as he had opened his key. "i have been investigating the massof iron now nearest us, the small one. it is an artificial structure, a small space-boat,and there are three creatures in itâ€”monstrosities certainly, but they must possess some intelligenceor they could not be navigating space." "what? impossible!" exclaimed the chief explorer."probably, then, the other wasâ€”but no matter, we had to have the iron. bring the boat inwithout converting it, so that we may study at our leisure both the beings and their mechanisms,"and nerado swung his own visiray beam into the emergency boat, seeing there the armoredfigures of clio marsden and the two triplanetary officers.
"they are indeed intelligent," nerado commented,as he detected and silenced costigan’s ultra-beam communicator. "not, however, as intelligentas i had supposed," he went on, after studying the peculiar creatures and their tiny space-shipmore in detail. "they have immense stores of iron, yet use it for nothing other thanbuilding material. they make little and inefficient use of atomic energy. they apparently havea rudimentary knowledge of ultra-waves, but do not use them intelligentlyâ€”they cannotneutralize even these ordinary forces we are now employing. they are of course more intelligentthan the lower ganoids, or even than some of the higher fishes, but by no stretch ofthe imagination can they be compared to us. i am quite relievedâ€”i was afraid that inmy haste i might have slain members of a highly
developed race." the helpless boat, all her forces neutralized,was brought up close to the immense flying fish. there flaming knives of force slicedher neatly into sections and the three rigid armored figures, after being bereft of theirexternal weapons, were brought through the airlocks and into the control room, whilethe pieces of their boat were stored away for future study. the nevian scientists firstanalyzed the air inside the space-suits of the terrestrials, then carefully removed theprotective coverings of the captives. costiganâ€”fully conscious through it alland now able to move a little, since the peculiar temporary paralysis was wearing offâ€”bracedhimself for he knew not what shock, but it
was needless; their grotesque captors werenot torturers. the air, while somewhat more dense than earth’s and of a peculiar odor,was eminently breathable, and even though the vessel was motionless in space an almost-normalgravitation gave them a large fraction of their usual weight. after the three had been relieved of theirpistols and other articles which the nevians thought might prove to be weapons, the strangeparalysis was lifted entirely. the earthly clothing puzzled the captors immensely, butso strenuous were the objections raised to its removal that they did not press the point,but fell back to study their find in detail. then faced each other the representativesof the civilizations of two widely separated
solar systems. the nevians studied the humanbeings with interest and curiosity blended largely with loathing and repulsion; the threeterrestrials regarded the unmoving, expressionless "faces"â€”if those coned heads could be saidto possess such thingâ€”with horror and disgust, as well as with other emotions, each accordingto his type and training. for to human eyes the nevian is a fearful thing. even todaythere are few terrestrialsâ€”or solarians, for that matterâ€”who can look at a nevian,eye to eye, without feeling a creeping of the skin and experiencing a "gone" sensationin the pit of the stomach. the horny, wrinkled, drought-resisting martian, whom we all knowand rather like, is a hideous being indeed. the bat-eyed, colorless, hairless, practicallyskinless venerian is worse. but they both
are, after all, remote cousins of terra’shumanity, and we get along with them quite well whenever we are compelled to visit marsor venus. but the neviansâ€” the horizontal, flat, fish-like body is notso bad, even supported as it is by four short, powerful, scaly, flat-footed legs; and terminatingas it does in the weird, four-vaned tail. the neck, even, is endurable, although itis long and flexible, heavily scaled, and is carried in whatever eye-wringing loopsor curves the owner considers most convenient or ornamental at the time. even the smellof a nevianâ€”a malodorous reek of over-ripe fishâ€”does in time become tolerable, especiallyif sufficiently disguised with creosote, which purely terrestrial chemical is the most highlyprized perfume of nevia. but the head! it
is that member that makes the nevian so appallingto earthly eyes, for it is a thing utterly foreign to all solarian history or experience.as most tellurians already know, it is fundamentally a massive cone, covered with scales, basedspearhead-like upon the neck. four great sea-green, triangular eyes are spaced equidistant fromeach other about half way up the cone. the pupils are contractile at will, like the eyesof the cat, permitting the nevian to see equally well in any ordinary extreme of light or darkness.immediately below each eye springs out a long, jointless, boneless, tentacular arm; an armwhich at its extremity divides into eight delicate and sensitive, but very strong, "fingers."below each arm is a mouth: a beaked, needle-tusked orifice of dire potentialities. finally, underthe overhanging edge of the cone-shaped head
are the delicately-frilled organs which serveeither as gills or as nostrils and lungs, as may be desired. to other nevians the eyesand other features are highly expressive, but to us they appear utterly cold and unmoving.terrestrial senses can detect no changes of expression in a nevian’s "face." such werethe frightful beings at whom the three prisoners stared with sinking hearts. but if we human beings have always considerednevians grotesque and repulsive, the feeling has always been mutual. for those "monstrous"beings are a highly intelligent and extremely sensitive race, and ourâ€”to usâ€”trim andgraceful human forms seem to them the very quintessence of malformation and hideousness.
"good heavens, conway!" clio exclaimed, shrinkingagainst costigan as his left arm flashed around her. "what horrible monstrosities! and theycan’t talkâ€”not one of them has made a soundâ€”suppose they can be deaf and dumb?" but at the same time nerado was addressinghis fellows. "what hideous, deformed creatures they are!truly a low form of life, even though they do possess some intelligence. they cannottalk, and have made no signs of having heard our words to themâ€”do you suppose that theycommunicate by sight? that those weird contortions of their peculiarly placed organs serve asspeech?" thus both sides, neither realizing that theother had spoken. for the nevian voice is
pitched so high that the lowest note audibleto them is far above our limit of hearing. the shrillest note of a terrestrial piccolois to them so profoundly low that it cannot be heard. "we have much to do." nerado turned away fromthe captives. "we must postpone further study of the specimens until we have taken aboarda full cargo of the iron which is so plentiful here." "what shall we do with them, sir?" asked oneof the nevian officers. "lock them in one of the storage rooms?" "oh, no! they might die there, and we mustby all means keep them in good condition,
to be studied most carefully by the fellowsof the college of science. what a commotion there will be when we bring in this groupof strange creatures, living proof that there are other suns possessing planets; planetswhich are supporting organic and intelligent life! you may put them in three communicatingrooms, say in the fourth sectionâ€”they will undoubtedly require light and exercise. lockall the exits, of course, but it would be best to leave the doors between the roomsunlocked, so that they can be together or apart, as they choose. since the smallestone, the female, stays so close to the larger male, it may be that they are mates. but sincewe know nothing of their habits or customs, it will be best to give them all possiblefreedom compatible with safety."
nerado turned back to his instruments andthree of the frightful crew came up to the human beings. one walked away, waving a coupleof arms in an unmistakable signal that the prisoners were to follow him. the three obedientlyset out after him, the other two guards falling behind. "now’s our best chance!" costigan muttered,as they passed through a low doorway and entered a narrow corridor. "watch that one ahead ofyou, clioâ€”hold him for a second if you can. bradley, you and i will take the two behindusâ€”now!" costigan stooped and whirled. seizing a cable-likearm, he pulled the outlandish head down, the while the full power of his mighty right legdrove a heavy service boot into the place
where scaly neck and head joined. the nevianfell, and instantly costigan leaped at the leader, ahead of the girl. leaped; but droppedto the floor, again paralyzed. for the nevian leader had been alert, his four eyes coveringthe entire circle of vision, and he had acted rapidly. not in time to stop costigan’s firstberserk attackâ€”the first officer’s reactions were practically instantaneous and he movedfastâ€”but in time to retain command of the situation. another nevian appeared, and whilethe stricken guard was recovering, all four arms wrapped tightly around his convulsivelylooping, writhing neck, the three helpless terrestrials were lifted into the air andcarried bodily into the quarters to which nerado had assigned them. not until they hadbeen placed upon cushions in the middle room
and the heavy metal doors had been lockedupon them did they again find themselves able to use arms or legs. "well, that’s another round we lose," costigancommented, cheerfully. "a guy can’t mix it very well when he can neither kick, strike,nor bite. i expected those lizards to rough me up then, but they didn’t." "they don’t want to hurt us. they want totake us home with them, wherever that is, as curiosities, like wild animals or something,"decided the girl, shrewdly. "they’re pretty bad, of course, but i like them a lot betterthan i do roger and his robots, anyway." "i think you have the right idea, miss marsden,"bradley rumbled. "that’s it, exactly. i feel
like a bear in a cage. i should think you’dfeel worse than ever. what chance has an animal of escaping from a menagerie?" "these animals, lots. i’m feeling better andbetter all the time," clio declared, and her serene bearing bore out her words. "you twogot us out of that horrible place of roger’s, and i’m pretty sure that you will get us awayfrom here, somehow or other. they may think we’re stupid animals, but before you two andthe triplanetary patrol and the service get done with them they’ll have another thinkcoming." "that’s the old fight, clio!" cheered costigan."i haven’t got it figured out as close as you have, but i get about the same answer.these four-legged fish carry considerably
heavier stuff than roger did, i’m thinking;but they’ll be up against something themselves pretty quick that is no light-weight, believeme!" "do you know something, or are you just whistlingin the dark?" bradley demanded. "i know a little; not much. engineering andresearch have been working on a new ship for a long time; a ship to travel so much fasterthan light that it can go anywhere in the galaxy and back in a month or so. new sub-etherdrive, new atomic power, new armament, new everything. only bad thing about it is thatit doesn’t work so good yetâ€”it’s fuller of bugs than a venerian’s kitchen. it hasblown up five times that i know of, and has killed twenty-nine men. but when they getit licked they’ll have something!"
"when, or if?" asked bradley, pessimistically. "i said when!" snapped costigan, his voicecutting. "when the service goes after anything they get it, and when they get it it stays…."he broke off abruptly and his voice lost its edge. "sorry. didn’t mean to get high, buti think we’ll have help, if we can keep our heads up a while. and it looks goodâ€”theseare first-class cages they’ve given us. all the comforts of home, even to lookout plates.let’s see what’s going on, shall we?" after some experimenting with the unfamiliarcontrols costigan learned how to operate the nevian visiray, and upon the plate they sawthe cone of battle hurling itself toward roger’s planetoid. they saw the pirate fleet rushout to do battle with triplanetary’s massed
forces, and with bated breath they watchedevery maneuver of that epic battle to its savagely sacrificial end. and that same battlewas being watched, also with the most intense interest, by the nevians in their controlroom. "it is indeed a bloodthirsty combat," musednerado at his observation plate. "and it is peculiarâ€”or rather, probably only to beexpected from a race of such a low stage of developmentâ€”that they employ only ether-borneforces. warfare seems universal among primitive typesâ€”indeed, it is not so long ago thatour own cities, few in number though they are, ceased fighting each other and combinedagainst the semicivilized fishes of the greater deeps."
he fell silent, and for many minutes watchedthe furious battle between the two navies of the void. that conflict ended, he watchedthe triplanetary fleet reform its battle cone and rush upon the planetoid. "destruction, always destruction," he sighed,adjusting his power switches. "since they are bent upon mutual destruction i can seeno purpose in refraining from destroying all of them. we need the iron, and they are auseless race." he launched his softening, converting fieldof dull red energy. vast as that field was, it could not encompass the whole fleet, buthalf of the lip of the gigantic cone soon disappeared, its component vessels subsidinginto a sluggishly flowing stream of allotropic
iron. the fleet, abandoning its attack uponthe planetoid, swung its cone around, to bring the flame-erupting axis to bear upon the formlesssomething dimly perceptible to the ultra-vision of samms’ observers. furiously the giganticcomposite beam of the massed fleet was hurled, nor was it alone. for gharlane had known, ever since the easyescape of his human prisoners, that something was occurring which was completely beyondhis experience, although not beyond his theoretical knowledge. he had found the sub-ether closed;he had been unable to make his sub-ethereal weapons operative against either the threecaptives or the war-vessels of the triplanetary patrol. now, however, he could work in thesub-ethereal murk of the newcomers; a light
trial showed him that if he so wished he coulduse sub-ethereal offenses against them. what was the real meaning of those facts? he had become convinced that those three personswere no more human than was roger himself. who or what was activating them? it was definitelynot eddorian workmanship; no eddorian would have developed those particular techniques,nor could possibly have developed them without his knowledge. what, then? to do what hadbeen done necessitated the existence of a race as old and as capable as the eddorians,but of an entirely different nature; and, according to eddore’s vast information center,no such race existed or ever had existed. those visitors, possessing mechanisms supposedlyknown only to the science of eddore, would
also be expected to possess the mental powerswhich had been exhibited. were they recent arrivals from some other space-time continuum?probably notâ€”eddorian surveys had found no trace of any such life in any reachableplenum. since it would be utterly fantastic to postulate the unheralded appearance oftwo such races at practically the same moment, the conclusion seemed unavoidable that theseas yet unknown beings were the protectorsâ€”the activators, ratherâ€”of the two triplanetaryofficers and the woman. this view was supported by the fact that while the strangers had attackedtriplanetary’s fleet and had killed thousands of triplanetary’s men, they had actually rescuedthose three supposedly human beings. the planetoid, then would be attacked next. very well, hewould join triplanetary in attacking themâ€”with
weapons no more dangerous to them than triplanetary’sownâ€”the while preparing his real attack, which would come later. roger issued orders;and waited; and thought more and more intensely upon one point which remained obscureâ€”why,when the strangers themselves destroyed triplanetary’s fleet, had roger been unable to use his mostpotent weapons against that fleet? thus, then, for the first time in triplanetary’shistory, the forces of law and order joined hands with those of piracy and banditry againsta common foe. rods, beams, planes, and stilettos of unbearable energy the doomed fleet launched,in addition to its terrifically destructive main beam: roger hurled every material weaponat his command. but bombs, high-explosive shells, even the ultra-deadly atomic torpedoes,alike were ineffective; alike simply vanished
in the redly murky veil of nothingness. andthe fleet was being melted. in quick succession the vessels flamed red, shrank together, gaveout their air, and merged their component iron into the intensely crimson, sullenlyviscous stream which was flowing through the impenetrable veil against which both triplanetariansand pirates were directing their terrific offense. the last vessel of the attacking cone havingbeen converted and the resulting metal stored away, the neviansâ€”as roger had anticipatedâ€”turnedtheir attention toward the planetoid. but that structure was no feeble warship. it hadbeen designed by, and built under the personal supervision of, gharlane of eddore. it waspowered, equipped, and armed to meet any emergency
which gharlane’s tremendous mind had beenable to envision. its entire bulk was protected by the shield whose qualities had so surprisedcostigan; a shield far more effective than any tellurian scientist or engineer wouldhave believed possible. the voracious converting beam of the nevians,below the level of the ether though it was, struck that shield and rebounded; defeatedand futile. struck again, again rebounded; then struck and clung hungrily, licking outover that impermeable surface in darting tongues of flame as the surprised nerado doubled andthen quadrupled his power. fiercer and fiercer the nevian flood of force drove in. the wholeimmense globe of the planetoid became one scintillant ball of raw, red energy; but stillthe pirates’ shield remained intact.
gray roger sat coldly motionless at his greatdesk, the top of which was now swung up to become a panel of massed and tiered instrumentsand controls. he could carry this load foreverâ€”but unless he was very wrong, this load wouldchange shortly. what then? the essence that was gharlane could not be killedâ€”could noteven be hurtâ€”by any physical, chemical, or nuclear force. should he stay with theplanetoid to its end, and thus perforce return to eddore with no material evidence whatever?he would not. too much remained undone. any report based upon his present informationcould be neither complete nor conclusive, and reports submitted by gharlane of eddoreto the coldly cynical and ruthlessly analytical innermost circle had always been and alwayswould be both.
it was a fact that there existed at leastone non-eddorian mind which was the equal of his own. if one, there would be a raceof such minds. the thought was galling; but to deny the existence of a fact would be theessence of stupidity. since power of mind was a function of time, that race must beof approximately the same age as his own. therefore the eddorian information center,which by the inference of its completeness denied the existence of such a race, was wrong.it was not complete. why was it not complete? the only possiblereason for two such races remaining unaware of the existence of each other would be thedeliberate intent of one of them. therefore, at some time in the past, the two races hadbeen in contact for at least an instant of
time. all eddorian knowledge of that meetinghad been suppressed and no more contacts had been allowed to occur. the conclusion reached by gharlane was a disturbingthing indeed; but, being an eddorian, he faced it squarely. he did not have to wonder howsuch a suppression could have been accomplishedâ€”he knew. he also knew that his own mind containedeverything known to his every ancestor since the first eddorian was: the probability wasexceedingly great that if any such contact had ever been made his mind would still containat least some information concerning it, however carefully suppressed that knowledge had been. he thought. back … back … farther back… farther still….
and as he thought, an interfering force beganto pluck at him; as though palpable tongs were pulling out of line the mental probewith which he was exploring the hitherto unplumbed recesses of his mind. "ah … so you do not want me to remember?"roger asked aloud, with no change in any lineament of his hard, gray face. "i wonder … do youreally believe that you can keep me from remembering? i must abandon this search for the moment,but rest assured that i shall finish it very shortly." "here is the analysis of his screen, sir."a nevian computer handed his chief a sheet of metal, bearing rows of symbols.
"ah, a polycyclic … complete coverage … ascreen of that type was scarcely to have been expected from such a low form of life," neradocommented, and began to adjust dials and controls. as he did so the character of the clingingmantle of force changed. from red it flamed quickly through the spectrum, became unbearablyviolet, then disappeared; and as it disappeared the shielding wall began to give way. it didnot cave in abruptly, but softened locally, sagging into a peculiar grouping of valleysand ridgesâ€”contesting stubbornly every inch of position lost. roger experimented briefly with inertialessness.no use. as he had expected, they were prepared for that. he summoned a few of the ablestof his scientist-slaves and issued instructions.
for minutes a host of robots toiled mightily,then a portion of the shield bulged out and became a tube extending beyond the attackinglayers of force; a tube from which there erupted a beam of violence incredible. a beam behindwhich was every erg of energy that the gigantic mechanisms of the planetoid could yield. abeam that tore a hole through the redly impenetrable nevian field and hurled itself upon the innerscreen of the fish-shaped cruiser in frenzied incandescence. and was there, or was therenot, a lesser eruption upon the other sideâ€”an almost imperceptible flash, as though somethinghad shot from the doomed planetoid out into space? nerado’s neck writhed convulsively as histortured drivers whined and shrieked at the
terrific overload; but roger’s effort wasfar too intense to be long maintained. generator after generator burned out, the defensivescreen collapsed, and the red converter beam attacked voraciously the unresisting metalof those prodigious walls. soon there was a terrific explosion as the pent-up air ofthe planetoid broke through its weakening container, and the sluggish river of allotropiciron flowed in an ever larger stream, ever faster. "it is well that we had an unlimited supplyof iron." nerado almost tied a knot in his neck as he spoke in huge relief. "with butthe seven pounds remaining of our original supply, i fear that it would have been difficultto parry that last thrust."
"difficult?" asked the second in command."we would now be free atoms in space. but what shall i do with this iron? our reservoirswill not hold more than half of it. and how about that one ship which remains untouched?" "jettison enough supplies from the lower holdsto make room for this lot. as for that one ship, let it go. we will be overloaded asit is, and it is of the utmost importance that we get back to nevia as soon as possible." this, if gharlane could have heard it, wouldhave answered his question. all arisia knew that it was necessary for the camera-shipto survive. the nevians were interested only in iron; but the eddorian, being a perfectionist,would not have been satisfied with anything
less than the complete destruction of everyvessel of triplanetary’s fleet. the nevian space-ship moved away, sluggishlynow because of its prodigious load. in their quarters in the fourth section the three terrestrials,who had watched with strained attention the downfall and absorption of the planetoid,stared at each other with drawn faces. clio broke the silence. "oh, conway, this is ghastly! it’s … it’sjust simply too damned perfectly horrible!" she gasped, then recovered a measure of hercustomary spirit as she stared in surprise at costigan’s face. for it was thoughtful,his eyes were bright and keenâ€”no trace of fear or disorganization was visible in anyline of his hard young face.
"it’s not so good," he admitted frankly. "iwish i wasn’t such a dumb cluckâ€”if lyman cleveland or fred rodebush were here theycould help a lot, but i don’t know enough about any of their stuff to flag a hand-car.i can’t even interpret that funny flashâ€”if it really was a flashâ€”that we saw." "why bother about one little flash, afterall that really did happen?" asked clio, curiously. "you think roger launched something? he couldn’thaveâ€”i didn’t see a thing," bradley argued. "i don’t know what to think. i’ve never seenanything material sent out so fast that i couldn’t trace it with an ultra-waveâ€”buton the other hand, roger’s got a lot of stuff that i never saw anywhere else. however, idon’t see that it has anything to do with
the fix we’re in right nowâ€”but at that,we might be worse off. we’re still breathing air, you notice, and if they don’t blanketmy wave i can still talk." he put both hands into his pockets and spoke. "samms? costigan. put me on a recorder, quickâ€”iprobably haven’t got much time," and for ten minutes he talked, concisely and as rapidlyas he could utter words, reporting clearly and exactly everything that had transpired.suddenly he broke off, writhing in agony. frantically he tore his shirt open and hurleda tiny object across the room. "wow!" he exclaimed. "they may be deaf, butthey can certainly detect an ultra-wave, and what an interference they can set up on it!no, i’m not hurt," he reassured the anxious
girl, now at his side, "but it’s a good thingi had you out of circuitâ€”it would have jolted you loose from six or seven of your back teeth." "have you any idea where they’re taking us?"she asked soberly. "no," he answered flatly, looking deep intoher steadfast eyes. "no use lying to youâ€”if i know you at all you’d rather take it standingup. that talk of jovians or neptunians is the bunkâ€”nothing like that ever grew inour solarian system. all the signs say that we’re going for a long ride." chapter 11 nevian strife
the nevian space-ship was hurtling upon itsway. space-navigators both, the two terrestrial officers soon discovered that it was eventhen moving with a velocity far above that of light and that it must be acceleratingat a high rate, even though to them it seemed stationaryâ€”they could feel only a gravitationalforce somewhat less than that of their native earth. bradley, seasoned old campaigner that he was,had retired promptly as soon as he had completed a series of observations, and was sleepingsoundly upon a pile of cushions in the first of the three inter-connecting rooms. in themiddle room, which was to be clio’s, costigan was standing very close to the girl, but wasnot touching her. his body was rigid, his
face was tense and drawn. "you are wrong, conway; all wrong," clio wassaying, very seriously. "i know how you feel, but it’s false chivalry." "that isn’t it, at all," he insisted, stubbornly."it isn’t only that i’ve got you out here in space, in danger and alone, that’s stoppingme. i know you and i know myself well enough to know that what we start now we’ll go throughwith for life. it doesn’t make any difference, that way, whether i start making love to younow or whether i wait until we’re back on tellus; but i’m telling you that for yourown good you’d better pass me up entirely. i’ve got enough horsepower to keep away fromyou if you tell me toâ€”not otherwise."
"i know it, both ways, dear, but…." "but nothing!" he interrupted. "can’t youget it into your skull what you’ll be letting yourself in for if you marry me? assume thatwe get back, which isn’t sure, by any means. but even if we do, some dayâ€”and maybe soon,too, you can’t tellâ€”somebody is going to collect fifty grams of radium for my head." "fifty gramsâ€”and everybody knows that sammshimself is rated at only sixty? i knew that you were somebody, conway!" clio exclaimed,undeterred. "but at that, something tells me that any pirate will earn even that muchreward several times over before he collects it. don’t be silly, my dearâ€”goodnight."
she tipped her head back, holding up to himher red, sweetly curved, smiling lips, and his arms swept around her. her arms went uparound his neck and they stood, clasped together in the motionless ecstasy of love’s firstembrace. "girl, girl, how i love you!" costigan’s voicewas husky, his usually hard eyes were glowing with a tender light. "that settles that. i’llreally live now, anyway, while…." "stop it!" she commanded, sharply. "you’regoing to live until you die of old ageâ€”see if you don’t. you’ll simply have to, conway!" "that’s so, tooâ€”no percentage in dying now.all the pirates between tellus and andromeda couldn’t take me after thisâ€”i’ve got toomuch to live for. well, goodnight, sweetheart,
i’d better beat itâ€”you need some sleep." the lovers’ parting was not as simple andstraightforward a procedure as costigan’s speech would indicate, but finally he didseek his own room and relaxed upon a pile of cushions, his stern visage transformed.instead of the low metal ceiling he saw a beautiful, oval, tanned young face, framedin a golden-blonde corona of hair. his gaze sank into the depths of loyal, honest, darkblue eyes; and looking deeper and deeper into those blue wells he fell asleep. upon hisface, too set and grim by far for a man of his yearsâ€”the lives of sector chiefs ofthe triplanetary service were not easy, nor as a rule were they longâ€”there lingeredas he slept that newly-acquired softness of
expression, the reflection of his transcendenthappiness. for eight hours he slept soundly, as was hiswont, then, also according to his habit and training he came wide awake, with no intermediatestage of napping. "clio?" he whispered. "awake, girl?" "awake!" her voice come through the ultraphone, relief in every syllable. "good heavens, i thought you were going to sleep until wegot to wherever it is that we’re going! come on in, you twoâ€”i don’t see how you can possiblysleep, just as though you were home in bed." "you’ve got to learn to sleep anywhere ifyou expect to keep in…." costigan broke off as he opened the door and saw clio’s wanface. she had evidently spent a sleepless
and wracking eight hours. "good lord, clio,why didn’t you call me?" "oh, i’m all right, except for being a littlejittery. no need of asking how you feel, is there?" "noâ€”i feel hungry," he answered cheerfully."i’m going to see what we can do about itâ€”or say, guess i’ll see whether they’re stillinterfering on samms’ wave." he took out the small, insulated case andtouched the contact stud lightly with his finger. his arm jerked away powerfully. "still at it," he gave the unnecessary explanation."they don’t seem to want us to talk outside, but his interference is as good as my talkingâ€”theycan trace it, of course. now i’ll see what
i can find out about our breakfast." he stepped over to the plate and shot itsprojector beam forward into the control room, where he saw nerado lying, doglike, at hisinstrument panel. as costigan’s beam entered the room a blue light flashed on and the nevianturned an eye and an arm toward his own small observation plate. knowing that they werenow in visual communication, costigan beckoned an invitation and pointed to his mouth inwhat he hoped was the universal sign of hunger. the nevian waved an arm and fingered controls,and as he did so a wide section of the floor of clio’s room slid aside. the opening thusmade revealed a table which rose upon its low pedestal, a table equipped with threesoftly-cushioned benches and spread with a
glittering array of silver and glassware. bowls and platters of a dazzlingly white metal,narrow-waisted goblets of sheerest crystal; all were hexagonal, beautifully and intricatelycarved or etched in apparently conventional marine designs. and the table utensils ofthis strange race were peculiar indeed. there were tearing forceps of sixteen needle-sharpcurved teeth; there were flexible spatulas; there were deep and shallow ladles with flexibleedges; there were many other peculiarly-curved instruments at whose uses the terrestrialscould not even guess; all having delicately-fashioned handles to fit the long slender fingers ofthe nevians. but if the table and its appointments weresurprising to the terrestrials, revealing
as they did a degree of culture which noneof them had expected to find in a race of beings so monstrous, the food was even moresurprising, although in another sense. for the wonderful crystal goblets were filledwith a grayish-green slime of a nauseous and over-powering odor, the smaller bowls werefull of living sea spiders and other such delicacies; and each large platter containeda fish fully a foot long, raw and whole, garnished tastefully with red, purple, and green strandsof seaweed! clio looked once, then gasped, shutting hereyes and turning away from the table, but costigan flipped the three fish into a platterand set it aside before he turned back to the visiplate.
"they’ll go good fried," he remarked to bradley,signaling vigorously to nerado that the meal was not acceptable and that he wanted to talkto him, in person. finally he made himself clear, the table sank down out of sight, andthe nevian commander cautiously entered the room. at costigan’s insistence, he came up to thevisiplate, leaving near the door three alert and fully-armed guards. the man then shotthe beam into the galley of the pirate’s lifeboat, suggesting that they should be allowed tolive there. for some time the argument of arms and fingers ragedâ€”though not exactlyfluent conversation, both sides managed to convey their meanings quite clearly. neradowould not allow the terrestrials to visit
their own shipâ€”he was taking no chancesâ€”butafter a thorough ultra-ray inspection he did finally order some of his men to bring intothe middle room the electric range and a supply of terrestrial food. soon the nevian fishwere sizzling in a pan and the appetizing odors of coffee and browning biscuit permeatedthe room. but at the first appearance of those odors the nevians departed hastily, contentto watch the remainder of the curious and repulsive procedure in their visiray plates. breakfast over and everything made tidy andship-shape, costigan turned to clio. "look here, girl; you’ve got to learn howto sleep. you’re all in. your eyes look like you’ve been on a martian picnic and you didn’teat half enough breakfast. you’ve got to sleep
and eat to keep fit. we don’t want you passingout on us, so i’ll put out this light, and you’ll lie down here and sleep until noon." "oh, no, don’t bother. i’ll sleep tonight.i’m quite…." "you’ll sleep now," he informed her, levelly."i never thought of you being nervous, with bradley and me on each side of you. we’reboth right here now, though, and we’ll stay here. we’ll watch over you like a couple ofold hens with one chick between them. come on; lie down and go bye-bye." clio laughed at the simile, but lay down obediently.costigan sat upon the edge of the great divan holding her hand, and they chatted idly. thesilences grew longer, clio’s remarks became
fewer, and soon her long-lashed eyelids felland her deep, regular breathing showed that she was sound asleep. the man stared at her,his very heart in his eyes. so young, so beautiful, so lovelyâ€”and how he did love her! he wasnot formally religious, but his every thought was a prayer. if he could only get her outof this mess … he wasn’t fit to live on the same planet with her, but … just givehim one chance, god … just one! but costigan had been laboring for days undera terrific strain, and had been going very short on sleep. half hypnotized by his ownmixed emotions and by his staring at the smooth curves of clio’s cheek, his own eyes closedand, still holding her hand, he sank down into the soft cushions beside her and intooblivion.
thus sleeping hand in hand like two childrenbradley found them, and a tender, fatherly expression came over his face as he lookeddown at them. "nice little girl, clio," he mused, "and whenthey made costigan they broke the mold. they’ll doâ€”about as fine a couple of kids as oldtellus ever produced. i could do with some more sleep myself." he yawned prodigiously,lay down at clio’s left, and in minutes was himself asleep. hours later, both men were awakened by a merrypeal of laughter. clio was sitting up, regarding them with sparkling eyes. she was refreshed,buoyant, ravenously hungry and highly amused. costigan was amazed and annoyed at what heconsidered a failure in a self-appointed task;
bradley was calm and matter-of-fact. "thanks for being such a nice body-guard,you two." clio laughed again, but sobered quickly. "i slept wonderfully well, but iwonder if i can sleep tonight without making you hold my hand all night?" "oh, he doesn’t mind doing that," bradleycommented. "mind it!" costigan exclaimed, and his eyesand his tone spoke volumes. they prepared and ate another meal, one towhich clio did full justice. rested and refreshed, they had begun to discuss possibilities ofescape when nerado and his three armed guards entered the room. the nevian scientist placeda box upon a table and began to make adjustments
upon its panels, eyeing the terrestrials attentivelyafter each setting. after a time a staccato burst of articulate speech issued from thebox, and costigan saw a great light. "you’ve got itâ€”hold it!" he exclaimed, wavinghis arms excitedly. "you see, clio, their voices are pitched either higher or lowerthan oursâ€”probably higherâ€”and they’ve built an audio-frequency changer. he’s nobody’sfool, that lizard!" nerado heard costigan’s voice, there was nodoubt of that. his long neck looped and twisted in nevian gratification; and although neitherside could understand the other, both knew that intelligent speech and hearing were attributescommon to the two races. this fact altered markedly the relations between captors andcaptives. the nevians admitted among themselves
that the strange bipeds might be quite intelligent,after all; and the terrestrials at once became more hopeful. "it isn’t so bad, if they can talk," costigansummed up the situation. "we might as well take it easy and make the best of it, particularlysince we haven’t been able to figure out any possible way of getting away from them. theycan talk and hear, and we can learn their language in time. maybe we can make some kindof a deal with them to take us back to our own system, if we can’t make a break." the nevians being as eager as the terrestrialsto establish communication, nerado kept the newly devised frequency changer in constantuse. there is no need of describing at length
the details of that interchange of languages.suffice it to say that starting at the very bottom they learned as babies learn, but withthe great advantage over babies of possessing fully developed and capable brains. and whilethe human beings were learning the tongue of nevia, several of the amphibians (and incidentallyclio marsden) were learning triplanetarian; the two officers knowing well that it wouldbe much easier for the nevians to learn the logically-built common language of the threeplanets than to master the senseless intricacies of english. in a short time the two parties were ableto understand each other after a fashion, by using a weird mixture of both languages.as soon as a few ideas had been exchanged,
the nevian scientists built transformers smallenough to be worn collar-like by the terrestrials, and the captives were allowed to roam at willthroughout the great vessel; only the compartment in which was stored the dismembered piratelifeboat being sealed to them. thus it was that they were not left long in doubt whenanother fish-shaped cruiser of the void was revealed upon their lookout plates in theawful emptiness of interstellar space. "this is our sister-ship going to your solariansystem for a cargo of the iron which is so plentiful there," nerado explained to hisinvoluntary guests. "i hope the gang has got the bugs worked outof our super-ship!" costigan muttered savagely to his companions as nerado turned away. "ifthey have, that outfit will get something
more than a load of iron when they get there!" more time passed, during which a blue-whitestar separated itself from the infinitely distant firmament and began to show a perceptibledisk. larger and larger it grew, becoming bluer and bluer as the flying space-ship approachedit, until finally nevia could be seen, apparently close beside her parent orb. heavily laden though the vessel was, suchwas her power that she was soon dropping vertically downward toward a large lagoon in the middleof the nevian city. that bit of open water was devoid of life, for this was to be noordinary landing. under the terrific power of the beams braking the descent of that unimaginableload of allotropic iron the water seethed
and boiled; and instead of floating gracefullyupon the surface of the sea, this time the huge ship of space sank like a plummet tothe bottom. having accomplished the delicate feat of docking the vessel safely in the immensecradle prepared for her, nerado turned to the tellurians, who, now under guard, hadbeen brought before him. "while our cargo of iron is being discharged,i am to take you three specimens to the college of science, where you are to undergo a thoroughphysical and psychological examination. follow "wait a minute!" protested costigan, witha quick and furtive wink at his companions. "do you expect us to go through water, andat this frightful depth?" "certainly," replied the nevian, in surprise."you are air-breathers, of course, but you
must be able to swim a little, and this slightdepthâ€”but little more than thirty of your metersâ€”will not trouble you." "you are wrong, twice," declared the terrestrial,convincingly. "if by ‘swimming’ you mean propelling yourself in or through the water, we knownothing of it. in water over our heads we drown helplessly in a minute or two, and thepressure at this depth would kill us instantly." "well, i could take a lifeboat, of course,but that …" the nevian captain began, doubtfully, but broke off at the sound of a staccato callfrom his signal panel. "captain nerado, attention!" "nerado," he acknowledged into a microphone.
"the third city is being attacked by the fishesof the greater deeps. they have developed new and powerful mobile fortresses mountingunheard-of weapons and the city reports that it cannot long withstand their attack. theyare asking for all possible help. your vessel not only has vast stores of iron, but alsomounts weapons of power. you are requested to proceed to their aid at the earliest possiblemoment." nerado snapped out orders and the liquid ironfell in streams from wide-open ports, forming a vast, red pool in the bottom of the dock.in a short time the great vessel was in equilibrium with the water she displaced, and as soonas she had attained a slight buoyancy the ports snapped shut and nerado threw on thepower.
"go back to your own quarters and stay thereuntil i send for you," the nevian directed, and as the terrestrials obeyed the curt ordersthe cruiser tore herself from the water and flashed up into the crimson sky. "what a barefaced liar!" bradley exclaimed.the three, transformers cut off, were back in the middle room of their suite. "you canoutswim an otter, and i happen to know that you came up out of the old dz83 from a depthof…." "maybe i did exaggerate a trifle," costiganinterrupted, "but the more helpless he thinks we are the better for us. and we want to stayout of any of their cities as long as we can, because they may be hard places to get outof. i’ve got a couple of ideas, but they aren’t
ripe enough to pick yet…. wow! how thisbird’s been traveling! we’re there already! if he hits the water going like this, he’llsplit himself, sure!" with undiminished velocity they were flashingdownward in a long slant toward the beleaguered third city, and from the flying vessel therewas launched toward the city’s central lagoon a torpedo. no missile this, but a capsulecontaining a full ton of allotropic iron, which would be of more use to the nevian defendersthan millions of men. for the third city was sore pressed indeed. around it was one unbrokenring of boiling, exploding waterâ€”water billowing upward in searing, blinding bursts of super-heatedsteam, or being hurled bodily in all directions in solid masses by the cataclysmic forcesbeing released by the embattled fishes of
the greater deeps. her outer defenses werealready down, and even as the terrestrials stared in amazement another of the immensehexagonal buildings burst into fragments; its upper structure flying wildly into scrapmetal, its lower half subsiding drunkenly below the surface of the boiling sea. the three earth-people seized whatever supportswere at hand as the nevian space-ship struck the water with undiminished speed, but theprecaution was needlessâ€”nerado knew thoroughly his vessel, its strength and its capabilities.there was a mighty splash, but that was all. the artificial gravity was unchanged by theimpact; to the passengers the vessel was still motionless and on even keel as, now a submarine,she snapped around like a very fish and attacked
the rear of the nearest fortress. for fortresses they were; vast structuresof green metal, plowing forward implacably upon immense caterpillar treads. and as theycrawled they destroyed, and costigan, exploring the strange submarine with his visiray beam,watched and marveled. for the fortresses were full of water; water artificially cooled andaerated, entirely separate from the boiling flood through which they moved. they weremanned by fish some five feet in length. fish with huge, goggling eyes; fish plentifullyequipped with long, armlike tentacles; fish poised before control panels or darting aboutintent upon their various duties. fish with brains, waging war!
nor was their warfare ineffectual. their heat-raysboiled the water for hundreds of yards before them and their torpedoes were exploding againstthe nevian defenses in one appallingly continuous concussion. but most potent of all was a weaponunknown to triplanetary warfare. from a fortress there would shoot out, with the speed of ameteor, a long, jointed, telescopic rod; tipped with a tiny, brilliantly-shining ball. wheneverthat glowing tip encountered any obstacle, that obstacle disappeared in an explosionworld-wracking in its intensity. then what was left of the rod, dark now, would be retractedinto the fortress-only to emerge again in a moment with a tip once more shining andpotent. nerado, apparently as unfamiliar with thepeculiar weapon as were the terrestrials,
attacked cautiously; sending out far to thefore his murkily impenetrable screens of red. but the submarine was entirely non-ferrous,and its officers were apparently quite familiar with nevian beams which licked at and clungto the green walls in impotent fury. through the red veil came stabbing ball after ball,and only the most frantic dodging saved the space-ship from destruction in those firstfew furious seconds. and now the nevian defenders of the third city had secured and were employingthe vast store of allotropic iron so opportunely delivered by nerado. from the city there pushed out immense netsof metal, extending from the surface of the ocean to its bottom; nets radiating such terrificforces that the very water itself was beaten
back and stood motionless in vertical, glassywalls. torpedoes were futile against that wall of energy. the most fiercely driven raysof the fishes flamed incandescent against it, in vain. even the incredible violenceof a concentration of every available force-ball against one point could not break through.at that unimaginable explosion water was hurled for miles. the bed of the ocean was not onlyexposed, but in it there was blown a crater at whose dimensions the terrestrials darednot even guess. the crawling fortresses themselves were thrown backward violently and the veryworld was rocked to its core by the concussion, but that iron-driven wall held. the massivenets swayed and gave back, and tidal waves hurled their mountainously destructive massesthrough the third city, but the mighty barrier
remained intact. and nerado, still attackingtwo of the powerful tanks with his every weapon, was still dodging those flashing balls chargedwith the quintessence of destruction. the fishes could not see through the sub-etherealveil, but all the gunners of the two fortresses were combing it thoroughly with ever-lengthening,ever-thrusting rods, in a desperate attempt to wipe out the new and apparently all-powerfulnevian submarine whose sheer power was slowly but inexorably crushing even their giganticwalls. "well, i think that right now’s the best chancewe’ll ever have of doing something for ourselves." costigan turned away from the absorbing scenespictured upon the visiplate and faced his two companions.
"but what can we possibly do?" asked clio. "whatever it is, we’ll try it!" bradley exclaimed. "anything’s better than staying here and lettingthem analyze usâ€”no telling what they’d do to us," costigan went on. "i know a lot more about things than theythink i do. they never did catch me using my spy-rayâ€”it’s on an awfully narrow beam,you know, and uses almost no power at allâ€”so i’ve been able to dope out quite a lot ofstuff. i can open most of their locks, and i know how to run their small boats. thisbattle, fantastic as it is, is deadly stuff, and it isn’t one-sided, by any means, either,so that every one of them, from nerado down,
seems to be on emergency duty. there are noguards watching us, or stationed where we want to goâ€”our way out is open. and onceout, this battle is giving us our best possible chance to get away from them. there’s so muchemission out there already that they probably couldn’t detect the driving force of the lifeboat,and they’ll be too busy to chase us, anyway." "once out, then what?" asked bradley. "we’ll have to decide that before we start,of course. i’d say make a break back for earth. we know the direction and we’ll have plentyof power." "but good heavens, conway, it’s so far!" exclaimedclio. "how about food, water, and airâ€”would we ever get there?"
"you know as much about that as i do. i thinkso, but of course anything might happen. this ship is none too big, is considerably slowerthan the big space-ship, and we’re a long ways from home. another bad thing is the foodquestion. the boat is well stocked according to nevian ideas, but it’s pretty foul stufffor us to eat. however, it’s nourishing, and we’ll have to eat it, since we can’t carryenough of our own supplies to the boat to last long. even so, we may have to go on shortrations, but i think that we’ll be able to make it. on the other hand, what happens ifwe stay here? they will find us sooner or later, and we don’t know any too much aboutthese ultra-weapons. we are land-dwellers, and there is little if any land on this planet.then, too, we don’t know where to look for
what land there may be, and even if we couldfind it, we know that it is all over-run with amphibians already. there’s a lot of thingsthat might be better, but they might be a lot worse, too. how about it? do we try ordo we stay here?" "we try it!" exclaimed clio and bradley, asone. "all right. i’d better not waste any moretime talkingâ€”let’s go!" stepping up to the locked and shielded door,he took out a peculiarly built torch and pointed it at the nevian lock. there was no light,no noise, but the massive portal swung smoothly open. they stepped out and costigan relockedand reshielded the entrance. "how … what…." clio demanded.
"i’ve been going to school for the last fewweeks," costigan grinned, "and i’ve picked up quite a few things here and thereâ€”literally,as well as figuratively. snap it up, guys! our armor is stored with the pieces of thepirates’ lifeboat, and i’ll feel a lot better when we’ve got it on and have hold of a fewlewistons." they hurried down corridors, up ramps, andalong hallways, with costigan’s spy-ray investigating the course ahead for chance nevians. bradleyand clio were unarmed, but the operative had found a piece of flat metal and had groundit to a razor edge. "i think i can throw this thing straight enoughand fast enough to chop off a nevian’s head before he can put a paralyzing ray on us,"he explained grimly, but he was not called
upon to show his skill with the improvisedcleaver. as he had concluded from his careful survey,every nevian was at some control or weapon, doing his part in that frightful combat withthe denizens of the greater deeps. their path was open; they were neither molested nor detectedas they ran toward the compartment within which was sealed all their belongings. thedoor of that room opened, as had the other, to costigan’s knowing beam; and all threeset hastily to work. they made up packs of food, filled their capacious pockets withemergency rations, buckled on lewistons and automatics, donned their armor, and clampedinto their external holsters a full complement of additional weapons.
"now comes the ticklish part of the business,"costigan informed the others. his helmet was slowly turning this way and that, and theothers knew that through his spy-ray goggles he was studying their route. "there’s onlyone boat we stand a chance of reaching, and somebody’s mighty apt to see us. there’s alot of detectors up there, and we’ll have to cross a corridor full of communicator beams.there, that line’s offâ€”scoot!" at his word they dashed out into the halland hurried along for minutes, dodging sharply to right or left as the leader snapped outorders. finally he stopped. "here’s those beams i told you about. we’llhave to roll under ’em. they’re less than waist highâ€”right there’s the lowest one.watch me do it, and when i give you the word,
one at a time, you do the same. keep lowâ€”don’tlet an arm or a leg get up into a ray or they may see us." he threw himself flat, rolled upon the floora yard or so, and scrambled to his feet. he gazed intently at the blank wall for a space. "bradleyâ€”now!" he snapped, and the captainduplicated his performance. but clio, unused to the heavy and cumbersomespace-armor she was wearing, could not roll in it with any degree of success. when costiganbarked his order she tried, but stopped, floundering almost directly below the network of invisiblebeams. as she struggled one mailed arm went up, and costigan saw in his ultra-gogglesthe faint flash as the beam encountered the
interfering field. but already he had acted.crouching low, he struck down the arm, seized it, and dragged the girl out of the zone ofvisibility. then in furious haste he opened a nearby door and all three sprang into atiny compartment. "shut off all the fields of your suits, sothat they can’t interfere!" he hissed into the utter darkness. "not that i’d mind killinga few of them, but if they start an organized search we’re sunk. but even if they did geta warning by touching your glove, clio, they probably won’t suspect us. our rooms are stillshielded, and the chances are that they’re too busy to bother much about us, anyway." he was right. a few beams darted here andthere, but the nevians saw nothing amiss and
ascribed the interference to the falling intothe beam of some chance bit of charged metal. with no further misadventures the fugitivesgained entrance to the nevian lifeboat, where costigan’s first act was to disconnect onesteel boot from his armor of space. with a sigh of relief he pulled his foot out of it,and from it carefully poured into the small power-tank of the craft fully thirty poundsof allotropic iron! "i pinched it off them," he explained, inanswer to amazed and inquiring looks, "and maybe you don’t think it’s a relief to getit out of that boot! i couldn’t steal a flask to carry it in, so this was the only placei could put it. these lifeboats are equipped with only a couple of grams of iron apiece,you know, and we couldn’t get half-way back
to tellus on that, even with smooth going;and we may have to fight. with this much to go on, though, we could go to andromeda, fightingall the way. well, we’d better break away." costigan watched his plate closely; and, whenthe maneuvering of the great vessel brought his exit port as far away as possible fromthe third city and the warring tanks, he shot the little cruiser out and away. straightout into the ocean it sped, through the murky red veil, and darted upward toward the surface.the three wanderers sat tense, hardly daring to breathe, staring into the platesâ€”clioand bradley pushing at mental levers and stepping down hard upon mental brakes in unconsciousefforts to help costigan dodge the beams and rods of death flashing so appallingly closeupon all sides. out of the water and into
the air the darting, dodging lifeboat flashedin safety; but in the air, supposedly free from menace, came disaster. there was a crunching,grating shock and the vessel was thrown into a dizzy spiral, from which costigan finallyleveled it into headlong flight away from the scene of battle. watching the pyrometerswhich recorded the temperature of the outer shell, he drove the lifeboat ahead at thehighest safe atmospheric speed while bradley went to inspect the damage. "pretty bad, but better than i thought," thecaptain reported. "outer and inner plates broken away on a seam. we wouldn’t hold cottonwaste, let alone air. any tools aboard?" "someâ€”and what we haven’t got we’ll make,"costigan declared. "we’ll put a lot of distance
behind us, then we’ll fix her up and get awayfrom here." "what are those fish, anyway, conway?" clioasked, as the lifeboat tore along. "the nevians are bad enough, heaven knows, but the veryidea of intelligent and educated fish is enough to drive one mad!" "you know nerado mentioned several times the’semicivilized fishes of the greater deeps’?" he reminded her. "i gather that there areat least three intelligent races here. we know twoâ€”the nevians, who are amphibians,and the fishes of the greater deeps. the fishes of the lesser deeps are also intelligent.as i get it, the nevian cities were originally built in very shallow water, or perhaps wereupon islands. the development of machinery
and tools gave them a big edge on the fish;and those living in the shallow seas, nearest the islands, gradually became tributary nations,if not actually slaves. those fish not only serve as food, but work in the mines, hatcheries,and plantations, and do all kinds of work for the nevians. those so-called ‘lesser deeps’were conquered first, of course, and all their races of fish are docile enough now. but thedeep-sea breeds, who live in water so deep that the nevians can hardly stand the pressuredown there, were more intelligent to start with, and more stubborn besides. but the mostvaluable metals here are deep downâ€”this planet is very light for its size, you knowâ€”sothe nevians kept at it until they conquered some of the deep-sea fish, too, and put ’emto work. but those high-pressure boys were
nobody’s fools. they realized that as timewent on the amphibians would get further and further ahead of them in development, so theylet themselves be conquered, learned how to use the nevians’ tools and everything elsethey could get hold of, developed a lot of new stuff of their own, and now they’re outto wipe the amphibians off the map completely, before they get too far ahead of them to handle." "and the nevians are afraid of them, and wantto kill them all, as fast as they possibly can," guessed clio. "that would be the logical thing, of course,"commented bradley. "got pretty nearly enough distance now, costigan?"
"there isn’t enough distance on the planetto suit me," costigan replied. "we’ll need all we can get. a full diameter away fromthat crew of amphibians is too close for comfortâ€”their detectors are keen." "then they can detect us?" clio asked. "oh,i wish they hadn’t hit usâ€”we’d have been away from here long ago." "so do i," costigan agreed, feelingly. "butthey didâ€”no use squawking. we can rivet and weld those seams, and things could bea lot worseâ€”we are still breathing air!" in silence the lifeboat flashed onward, andhalf of nevia’s mighty globe was traversed before it was brought to a halt. then in furioushaste the two officers set to work, again
to make their small craft sound and spaceworthy. chapter 12 worm, submarine, and freedom since both costigan and bradley had oftenwatched their captors at work during the long voyage from the solar system to nevia, theywere quite familiar with the machine tools of the amphibians. their stolen lifeboat,being an emergency craft, of course carried full repair equipment; and to such good purposedid the two officers labor that even before their air-tanks were fully charged, all thedamage had been repaired. the lifeboat lay motionless upon the mirror-smoothsurface of the ocean. captain bradley had
opened the upper port and the three stoodin the opening, gazing in silence toward the incredibly distant horizon, while powerfulpumps were forcing the last possible ounces of air into the storage cylinders. mile uponstrangely flat mile stretched that waveless, unbroken expanse of water, merging finallyinto the violent redness of the nevian sky. the sun was setting; a vast ball of purpleflame dropping rapidly toward the horizon. darkness came suddenly as that seething balldisappeared, and the air became bitterly cold, in sharp contrast to the pleasant warmth ofa moment before. and as suddenly clouds appeared in blackly banked masses and a cold, drivingrain began to beat down. "br-r-r, it’s cold! let’s go inâ€”oh! shutthe door!" clio shrieked, and leaped wildly
down into the compartment below, out of costigan’sway, for he and bradley had also seen slithering toward them the frightful arm of the thing. almost before the girl had spoken costiganhad leaped to the controls, and not an instant too soon; for the tip of that horrible tentacleflashed into the rapidly narrowing crack just before the door clanged shut. as the powerfultoggles forced the heavy wedges into engagement and drove the massive disk home, that grislytip fell severed to the floor of the compartment and lay there, twitching and writhing witha loathesome and unearthly vigor. two feet long the piece was, and larger than a strongman’s leg. it was armed with spiked and jointed metallic scales, and instead of sucking disksit was equipped with a series of mouthsâ€”mouths
filled with sharp metallic teeth which gnashedand ground together furiously, even though sundered from the horrible organism whichthey were designed to feed. the little submarine shuddered in every plateand member as monstrous coils encircled her and tightened inexorably in terrific, ripplingsurges eloquent of mastodonic power; and a strident vibration smote sickeningly uponterrestrial ear-drums as the metal spikes of the monstrosity crunched and ground uponthe outer plating of their small vessel. costigan stood unmoved at the plate, watching intently;hands ready upon the controls. due to the artificial gravity of the lifeboat it seemedperfectly stationary to its occupants. only the weird gyrations of the pictures upon thelookout screens showed that the craft was
being shaken and thrown about like a rat inthe jaws of a terrier; only the gauges revealed that they were almost a mile below the surfaceof the ocean already, and were still going downward at an appalling rate. finally cliocould stand no more. "aren’t you going to do something, conway?"she cried. "not unless i have to," he replied, composedly."i don’t believe that he can really hurt us, and if i use force of any kind i’m afraidthat it will kick up enough disturbance to bring nerado down on us like a hawk onto achicken. however, if he takes us much deeper i’ll have to go to work on him. we’re gettingdown pretty close to our limit, and the bottom’s a long ways down yet."
deeper and deeper the lifeboat was draggedby its dreadful opponent, whose spiked teeth still tore savagely at the tough outer platingof the craft, until costigan reluctantly threw in his power switches. against the full propellantthrust the monster could draw them no lower, but neither could the lifeboat make any headwaytoward the surface. the pilot then turned on his beams, but found that they were ineffective.so closely was the creature wrapped around the submarine that his weapons could not bebrought to bear upon it. "what can it possibly be, anyway, and whatcan we do about it?" clio asked. "i thought at first it was something likea devilfish, or possibly an overgrown starfish, but it isn’t," costigan made answer. "it mustbe a kind of flat worm. that doesn’t sound
reasonableâ€”the thing must be all of a hundredmeters longâ€”but there it is. the only thing left to do that i can think of is to try toboil him alive." he closed other circuits, diffusing a terrificbeam of pure heat, and the water all about them burst into furious clouds of steam. theboat leaped upward as the metallic fins of the gigantic worm fanned vapor instead ofwater, but the creature neither released its hold nor ceased its relentlessly grindingattack. minute after minute went by, but finally the worm dropped limply awayâ€”cooked throughand through; vanquished only by death. "now we’ve put our foot in it, clear to theneck!" costigan exclaimed, as he shot the lifeboat upward at its maximum power. "lookat that! i knew that nerado could trace us,
but i didn’t have any idea that they could!" staring with costigan into the plate, bradleyand the girl saw, not the nevian sky-rover they had expected, but a fast submarine cruiser,manned by the frightful fishes of the greater deeps. it was coming directly toward the lifeboat,and even as costigan hurled the little vessel off at an angle and then sped upward intothe air, one of the deadly offensive rods, tipped with its glowing ball of pure destruction,flashed through the spot where they would have been had they held their former course. but powerful as were the propellant forcesof the lifeboat and fiercely though costigan applied them, the denizens of the deep clampeda tractor beam upon the flying vessel before
it had gained a mile of altitude. costiganaligned his every driving projector as his vessel came to an abrupt halt in the invisiblegrip of the beam, then experimented with various dials. "there ought to be some way of cutting thatbeam," he pondered audibly, "but i don’t know enough about their system to do it, and i’mafraid to monkey around with things too much, because i might accidentally release the screenswe’ve already got out, and they’re stopping altogether too much stuff for us to do withoutthem right now." he frowned as he studied the flaring defensivescreens, now radiating an incandescent violet under the concentration of forces being hurledagainst them by the warlike fishes, then stiffened
suddenly. "i thought soâ€”they can shoot ’em!" he exclaimed,throwing the lifeboat into a furious corkscrew turn, and the very air blazed into flamingsplendor as a dazzlingly scintillating ball of energy sped past them and high into theair beyond. then for minutes a spectacular battle raged.the twisting, turning, leaping airship, small as she was and agile, kept on eluding theexplosive projectiles of the fishes, and her screens neutralized and re-radiated the fullpower of the attacking beams. moreâ€”since costigan did not need to think of sparinghis iron, the ocean around the great submarine began furiously to boil under the full-drivenoffensive beams of the tiny nevian ship. but
escape costigan could not. he could not cutthat tractor beam and the utmost power of his drivers could not wrest the lifeboat fromits tenacious clutch. and slowly but inexorably the ship of space was being drawn downwardtoward the ship of ocean’s depths. downward, in spite of the utmost possible effort ofevery projector and generator; and clio and bradley, sick at heart, looked once at eachother. then they looked at costigan, who, jaw hard set and eyes unflinchingly upon hisplate, was concentrating his attack upon one turret of the green monster as they settledlower and lower. "if this is … if our number is going up,conway," clio began, unsteadily. "not yet, it isn’t!" he snapped. "keep a stiffupper lip, girl. we’re still breathing air,
and the battle’s not over yet!" nor was it; but it was not costigan’s efforts,mighty though they were, that ended the attack of the fishes of the greater deeps. the tractorbeams snapped without warning, and so prodigious were the forces being exerted by the lifeboatthat as it hurled itself away the three passengers were thrown violently to the floor, in spiteof the powerful gravity controls. scrambling up on hands and knees, bracing himself asbest he could against the terrific forces, costigan managed finally to force a hand upto his panel. he was barely in time; for even as he cut the driving power to its normalvalue the outer shell of the lifeboat was blazing at white heat from the friction ofthe atmosphere through which it had been tearing
with such an insane acceleration! "oh, i seeâ€”nerado to the rescue," costigancommented, after a glance into the plate. "i hope that those fish blow him clear outof the galaxy!" "why?" demanded clio. "i should think thatyou’d…." "think again," he advised her. "the worsenerado gets licked the better for us. i don’t really expect that, but if they can keep himbusy long enough, we can get far enough away so that he won’t bother about us any more." as the lifeboat tore upward through the airat the highest permissible atmospheric velocity bradley and clio peered over costigan’s shouldersinto the plate, watching in fascinated interest
the scene which was being kept in focus uponit. the nevian ship of space was plunging downward in a long, slanting dive, her terrificbeams of force screaming out ahead of her. the beams of the little lifeboat had boiledthe waters of the ocean; those of the parent craft seemed literally to blast them out ofexistence. all about the green submarine there had been volumes of furiously-boiling waterand dense clouds of vapor; now water and fog alike disappeared, converted into transparentsuper-heated steam by the blasts of nevian energy. through that tenuous gas the enormousmass of the submarine fell like a plummet, her defensive screens flaming an almost invisibleviolet, her every offensive weapon vomiting forth solid and vibratory destruction towardthe nevian cruiser so high in the angry, scarlet
heavens. for miles the submarine dropped, until thefrightful pressure of the depth drove water into nerado’s beam faster than his forcescould volatilize it. then in that seething funnel there was waged a starkly fantasticconflict. at its wildly turbulent bottom lay the submarine, now apparently trying to escape,but held fast by the tractors of the space-ship; at its top, smothered almost to the pointof invisibility by billowing masses of steam, hung poised the nevian cruiser. as the atmosphere had grown thinner and thinnerwith increasing altitude costigan had regulated his velocity accordingly, keeping the outershell of the vessel at the highest temperature
consistent with safety. now beyond measurableatmospheric pressure, the shell cooled rapidly and he applied full touring acceleration.at an appalling and constantly increasing speed the miniature space-ship shot away fromthe strange, red planet; and smaller and smaller upon the plate became its picture. the greatvessel of the void had long since plunged beneath the surface of the sea, to come moreclosely to grips with the vessel of the fishes; for a long time nothing of the battle hadbeen visible save immense clouds of steam, blanketing hundreds of square miles of theocean’s surface. but just before the picture became too small to reveal details a few tinydark spots appeared above the banks of cloud, now brilliantly illuminated by the rays ofthe rising sunâ€”dots which might have been
fragments of either vessel, blown bodily fromthe depths of the ocean and, riven asunder, hurled high into the air by the incredibleforces at the command of the other. nevia a tiny moon and the fierce blue sunrapidly growing smaller in the distance, costigan swung his visiray beam into the line of traveland turned to his companions. "well, we’re off," he said, scowling. "i hopeit was nerado that got blown up back there, but i’m afraid it wasn’t. he whipped two ofthose submarines that we know of, and probably half their fleet besides. there’s no particularreason why that one should be able to take him, so it’s my idea that we should get readyfor great gobs of trouble. they’ll chase us, of course; and i’m afraid that with theirpower, they’ll catch us."
"but what can we do, conway?" asked clio. "several things," he grinned. "i managed toget quite a lot of dope on that paralyzing ray and some of their other stuff, and wecan install the necessary equipment in our suits easily enough." they removed their armor, and costigan explainedin detail the changes which must be made in the triplanetary field generators. all threeset vigorously to workâ€”the two officers deftly and surely; clio uncertainly and withmany questions, but with undaunted spirit. finally, having done everything they coulddo to strengthen their position, they settled down to the watchful routine of the flight,with every possible instrument set to detect
any sign of the pursuit they so feared. chapter 13 the hill the heavy cruiser chicago hung motionlessin space, thousands of miles distant from the warring fleets of space-ships so viciouslyattacking and so stubbornly defending roger’s planetoid. in the captain’s sanctum lymancleveland crouched tensely above his ultracameras, his sensitive fingers touching lightly theirmicrometric dials. his body was rigid, his face was set and drawn. only his eyes moved;flashing back and forth between his instruments and the smoothly-running strands of spring-steelwire upon which were being recorded the frightful
scenes of carnage and destruction. silent and bitterly absorbed, though surroundedby staring officers whose fervent, almost unconscious cursing was prayerful in its intensity,the visiray expert kept his ultra-instruments upon that awful struggle to its dire conclusion.flawlessly those instruments noted every detail of the destruction of roger’s fleet, of thetransformation of the armada of triplanetary into an unknown fluid, and finally of thedissolution of the gigantic planetoid itself. then furiously cleveland drove his beam againstthe crimsonly opaque obscurity into which the peculiar, viscous stream of substancewas disappearing. time after time he applied his every watt of power, with no result. avast volume of space, roughly ellipsoidal
in shape, was closed to him by forces entirelybeyond his experience or comprehension. but suddenly, while his rays were still tryingto pierce that impenetrable murk, it disappeared instantly and without warning: the illimitableinfinity of space once more lay revealed upon his plates and his beams flashed unimpededthrough the void. "back to tellus, sir?" the chicago’s captainbroke the strained silence. "i wouldn’t say so, if i had the say." cleveland,baffled and frustrated, straightened up and shut off his cameras. "we should report backas soon as possible, of course, but there seems to be a lot of wreckage out there yetthat we can’t photograph in detail at this distance. a close study of it might help usa lot in understanding what they did and how
they did it. i’d say that we should get close-upsof whatever is left, and do it right away, before it gets scattered all over space; butof course i can’t give you orders." "you can, though," the captain made surprisinganswer. "my orders are that you are in command of this vessel." "in that case we will proceed at full emergencyacceleration to investigate the wreckage," cleveland replied, and the cruiserâ€”solesurvivor of triplanetary’s supposedly invincible forceâ€”shot away with every projector deliveringits maximum blast. as the scene of the disaster was approachedthere was revealed upon the plates a confused mass of debris; a mass whose individual unitswere apparently moving at random, yet which
was as a whole still following the orbit ofroger’s planetoid. space was full of machine parts, structural members, furniture, flotsamof all kinds; and everywhere were the bodies of men. some were encased in space-suits,and it was to these that the rescuers turned firstâ€”space-hardened veterans though themen of the chicago were, they did not care even to look at the others. strangely enough,however, not one of the floating figures spoke or moved, and space-line men were hurriedlysent out to investigate. "all dead." quickly the dread report cameback. "been dead a long time. the armor is all stripped off the suits, and all the generatorsand other apparatus are all shot. something funny about it, tooâ€”none of them seem tohave been touched, but the machinery of the
suits seems to be about half missing." "i’ve got it all on the reels, sir." cleveland,his close-up survey of the wreckage finished, turned to the captain. "what they’ve justreported checks up with what i have photographed everywhere. i’ve got an idea of what mighthave happened, but it’s so new that i’ll have to have some evidence before i’ll believeit myself. you might have them bring in a few of the armored bodies, a couple of thoseswitchboards and panels floating around out there, and half a dozen miscellaneous piecesof junkâ€”the nearest things they get hold of, whatever they happen to be." "then back to tellus at maximum?"
"rightâ€”back to tellus, as fast as we canpossibly get there." while the chicago hurtled through space atfull power, cleveland and the ranking officers of the vessel grouped themselves about thesalvaged wreckage. familiar with space-wrecks as were they all, none of them had ever seenanything like the material before them. for every part and instrument was weirdly andmeaninglessly disintegrated. there were no breaks, no marks of violence, and yet nothingwas intact. bolt-holes stared empty, cores, shielding cases and needles had disappeared,the vital parts of every instrument hung awry, disorganization reigned rampant and supreme. "i never imagined such a mess," the captainsaid, after a long and silent study of the
objects. "if you have a theory to cover that,cleveland, i would like to hear it!" "i want you to notice something first," theexpert replied. "but don’t look for what’s thereâ€”look for what isn’t there." "well, the armor is gone. so are the shieldingcases, shafts, spindles, the housings and stems …" the captain’s voice died away ashis eyes raced over the collection. "why everything that was made of wood, bakelite, copper, aluminum,silver, bronze, or anything but steel hasn’t been touched, and every bit of that is gone.but that doesn’t make senseâ€”what does it mean?" "i don’t knowâ€”yet," cleveland replied, slowly."but i’m afraid that there’s more, and worse."
he opened a space-suit reverently, revealingthe face; a face calm and peaceful, but utterly, sickeningly white. still reverently, he madea deep incision in the brawny neck, severing the jugular vein, then went on, soberly: "you never imagined such a thing as whiteblood, either, but it all checks up. someway, somehow, every atom of free or combined ironin this whole volume of space was made off with." "huh? how come? and above all, why?" fromthe amazed and staring officers. "you know as much as i do," grimly, ponderingly."if it were not for the fact that there are solid asteroids of iron out beyond mars, iwould say that somebody wanted iron badly
enough to wipe out the fleet and the planetoidto get it. but anyway, whoever they were, they carried enough power so that our armamentdidn’t bother them at all. they simply took the metal they wanted and went away with itâ€”sofast that i couldn’t trace them with an ultra-beam. there’s only one thing plain; but that’s soplain that it scares me stiff. this whole affair spells intelligence, with a capital’i’, and that intelligence is anything but friendly. i want to put fred rodebush at workon this just as fast as i can get him." he stepped over to his ultra-projector andput in a call for virgil samms, whose face soon appeared upon his screen. "we got it all, virgil," he reported. "it’ssomething extraordinaryâ€”bigger, wider, and
deeper than any of us dreamed. it may be urgent,too, so i think i had better shoot the stuff in on an ultra-beam and save some time. fredhas a telemagneto recorder there that he can synchronize with this outfit easily enough.right?" "right. good work, lymanâ€”thanks," came backterse approval and appreciation, and soon the steel wires were again flashing from reelto reel. this time, however, their varying magnetic charges were so modulating ultra-wavesthat every detail of that calamitous battle of the void was being screened and recordedin the innermost private laboratory of the triplanetary service. eager though he naturally was to join hisfellow-scientists, cleveland was not impatient
during the long, but uneventful journey backto earth. there was much to study, many improvements to be made in his comparatively crude firstultra-camera. then, too, there were long conferences with samms, and particularly with rodebush,the nuclear physicist, who would have to do much of the work involved in solving the riddlesof the energies and weapons of the nevians. thus it did not seem long before green terragrew large beneath the flying sphere of the chicago. "going to have to circle it once, aren’t you?"cleveland asked the chief pilot. he had been watching that officer closely for minutes,admiring the delicacy and precision with which the great vessel was being maneuvered preliminaryto entering the earth’s atmosphere.
"yes," the pilot replied. "we had to comein in the shortest possible time, and that meant a velocity here that we can’t checkwithout a spiral. however, even at that we saved a lot of time. you can save quite abit more, though, by having a rocket-plane come out to meet us somewhere around fifteenor twenty thousand kilometers, depending upon where you want to land. with their drivesthey can match our velocity and still make the drop direct." "guess i’ll do thatâ€”thanks," and the operativecalled his chief, only to learn that his suggestion had already been acted upon. "we beat you to it, lyman," samms smiled."the silver sliver is out there now, looping
to match your course, acceleraction, and velocityat twenty two thousand kilometers. you’ll be ready to transfer?" "i’ll be ready," and the quartermaster’s ex-clerkwent to his quarters and packed his dunnage-bag. in due time the long, slender body of therocket-plane came into view, creeping "down" upon the space-ship from "above," and clevelandbade his friends goodbye. donning a space-suit, he stationed himself in the starboard airlock.its atmosphere was withdrawn, the outer door opened, and he glanced across a bare hundredfeet of space at the rocket-plane which, keel ports fiercely aflame, was braking her terrificspeed to match the slower pace of the gigantic sphere of war. shaped like a toothpick, needle-pointedfore and aft, with ultra-stubby wings and
vanes, with flush-set rocket ports everywhere,built of a lustrous, silvery alloy of noble and almost infusible metalsâ€”such was theprivate speedboat of triplanetary’s head man. the fastest thing known, whether in planetaryair, the stratosphere, or the vacuous depth of interplanetary space, her first flashingtrial spins had won her the nickname of the silver sliver. she had had a more formal name,but that title had long since been buried in the departmental files. lower and lower dropped the speedboat, herrockets flaming ever brighter, until her slender length lay level with the airlock door. thenher blasting discharges subsided to the power necessary to match exactly the chicago’s acceleration.
"ready to cut, chicago! give me a three-secondcall!" snapped from the pilot room of the sliver. "ready to cut!" the pilot of the chicago replied."seconds! three! two! one! cut!" at the last word the power of both vesselswas instantly cut off and everything in them became weightless. in the tiny airlock ofthe slender plane crouched a space-line man with coiled cable in readiness, but he wasnot needed. as the flaring exhausts ceased cleveland swung out his heavy bag and steppedlightly off into space, and in a right line he floated directly into the open port ofthe rocket-plane. the door clanged shut behind him and in a matter of moments he stood inthe control room of the racer, divested of
his armor and shaking hands with his friendand co-laborer, frederick rodebush. "well, fritz, what do you know?" clevelandasked, as soon as greetings had been exchanged. "how do the various reports dovetail together?i know that you couldn’t tell me anything on the wave, but there’s no danger of eavesdroppershere." "you can’t tell," rodebush soberly replied."we’re just beginning to wake up to the fact that there are a lot of things we don’t knowanything about. better wait until we’re back at the hill. we have a full set of ultra screensaround there now. there’s a couple of other good reasons, tooâ€”it would be better forboth of us to go over the whole thing with virgil, from the ground up; and we can’t doany more talking, anyway. our orders are to
get back there at maximum, and you know whatthat means aboard the sliver. strap yourself solid in that shock-absorber there, and here’sa pair of ear-plugs." "when the sliver really cuts loose it meansa rough party, all right," cleveland assented, snapping about his body the heavy spring-strapsof his deeply cushioned seat, "but i’m just as anxious to get back to the hill as anybodycan be to get me there. all set." rodebush waved his hand at the pilot and thepurring whisper of the exhausts changed instantly to a deafening, continuous explosion. themen were pressed deeply into their shock-absorbing chairs as the silver sliver spun around herlongitudinal axis and darted away from the chicago with such a tremendous accelerationthat the spherical warship seemed to be standing
still in space. in due time the calculatedmidpoint was reached, the slim space-plane rolled over again, and, mad acceleration nowreversed, rushed on toward the earth, but with constantly diminishing speed. finallya measurable atmospheric pressure was encountered, the needle prow dipped downward, and the silversliver shot forward upon her tiny wings and vanes, nose-rockets now drumming in staccatothunder. her metal grew hot; dull red, bright red, yellow, blinding white; but it neithermelted nor burned. the pilot’s calculations had been sound, and though the limiting pointof safety of temperature was reached and steadily held, it was not exceeded. as the densityof the air increased so decreased the velocity of the man-made meteorite. so it was thata dazzling lance of fire sped high over seattle,
lower over spokane, and hurled itself eastward,a furiously flaming arrow; slanting downward in a long, screaming dive toward the heartof the rockies. as the now rapidly cooling greyhound of the skies passed over the westernranges of the bitter roots it became apparent that her goal was a vast, flat-topped, conicalmountain, shrouded in violet light; a mountain whose height awed even its stupendous neighbors. while not artificial, the hill had been alteredmarkedly by the engineers who had built into it the headquarters of the triplanetary service.its mile-wide top was a jointless expanse of gray armor steel; the steep, smooth surfaceof the truncated cone was a continuation of the same immensely thick sheet of metal. noknown vehicle could climb that smooth, hard,
forbidding slope of steel; no known projectilecould mar that armor; no known craft could even approach the hill without detection.could not approach it at all, in fact, for it was constantly inclosed in a vast hemisphereof lambent violet flame through which neither material substance nor destructive ray couldpass. as the silver sliver, crawling along at abare five hundred miles an hour, approached that transparent, brilliantly violet wallof destruction, a light of the same color filled her control room and as suddenly wentout; flashing on and off again and again. "giving us the once-over, eh?" cleveland asked."that’s something new, isn’t it?" "yes, it’s a high-powered ultra-wave spy,"rodebush returned. "the light is simply a
warning, which can be carried if desired.it can also carry voice and vision…." "like this," samms’ voice interrupted froma speaker upon the pilot’s panel and his clear-cut face appeared upon the television screen."i don’t suppose fred thought to mention it, but this is one of his inventions of the lastfew days. we are just trying it out on you. it doesn’t mean a thing though, as far asthe sliver is concerned. come ahead!" a circular opening appeared on the wall offorce, an opening which disappeared as soon as the plane had darted through it; and atthe same time her landing-cradle rose into the air through a great trap-door. slowlyand gracefully the space-plane settled downward into that cushioned embrace. then cradle andnestled sliver sank from view and, turning
smoothly upon mighty trunnions, the plug ofarmor drove solidly back into its place in the metal pavement of the mountain’s loftysummit. the cradle-elevator dropped rapidly, coming to rest many levels down in the heartof the hill, and cleveland and rodebush leaped lightly out of their transport, through herstill hot outer walls. a door opened before them and they found themselves in a largeroom of unshadowed daylight illumination; the office of the chief of the triplanetaryservice. calmly efficient executives sat at their desks, concentrating upon problems orat ease, according to the demands of the moment; agents, secretaries, and clerks, men and women,went about their wonted tasks; televisotypes and recorders flashed busily but silentlyâ€”eachperson and machine an integral part of the
service which for so many years had been carryingan ever-increasing share of the load of governing the three planets. "right of way, norma?" rodebush paused beforethe desk of virgil samms’ private secretary. she pressed a button and the door behind herswung wide. "you two do not need to be announced," theattractive young woman smiled. "go right in." samms met them at the door eagerly, shakinghands particularly vigorously with cleveland. "congratulations on that camera, lyman!" heexclaimed. "you did a wonderful piece of work on that. help yourselves to smokes and sitdownâ€”there are a lot of things we want to talk over. your pictures carried most of thestory, but they would have left us pretty
much at sea without costigan’s reports. butas it was, fred here and his crew worked out most of the answers from the dope the twoof you got; and what few they haven’t got yet they soon will have." "nothing new on conway?" cleveland was almostafraid to ask the question. "no." a shadow came over samms’ face. "i’mafraid … but i’m hoping it’s only that those creatures, whatever they are, have taken himso far away he can’t reach us." "they certainly are so far away that we can’treach them," rodebush volunteered. "we can’t even get their ultra-wave interference anymore." "yes, that’s a hopeful sign," samms went on."i hate to think of conway costigan checking
out. there, fellows, was a real observer.he was the only man i have ever known who combined the two qualities of the perfectwitness. he could actually see everything he looked at, and could report it truly, tothe last, least detail. take all this stuff, for instance; especially their ability totransform iron into a fluid allotrope, and in that form to use its atomicâ€”nuclear?â€”energyas power. something brand new, and yet he described their converters and projectorsso minutely that fred was able to work out the underlying theory in three days, and totie it in with our own super-ship. my first thought was that we’d have to rebuild it iron-free,but fred showed me my errorâ€”you found it first yourself, of course."
"it wouldn’t do any good to make the shipnon-ferrous unless you could so change our blood chemistry that we could get along withouthemoglobin, and that would be quite a feat," cleveland agreed. "then, too, our most vitalelectrical machinery is built around iron cores. we’ll also have to develop a screenfor those forcesâ€”screens, rather, so powerful that they can’t drive anything through them." "we’ve been working along those lines eversince you reported," rodebush said, "and we’re beginning to see light. and in that same connectionit’s no wonder that we couldn’t handle our super-ship. we had some good ideas, but theywere wrongly applied. however, things look quite promising now. we have the transformationof iron all worked out in theory, and as soon
as we get a generator going we can straightenout everything else in short order. and think what that unlimited power means! all the powerwe wantâ€”power enough even to try out such hitherto purely theoretical possibilitiesas the neutralization of the inertia of matter!" "hold on!" protested samms. "you certainlycan’t do that! inertia isâ€”must beâ€”a basic attribute of matter, and surely cannot bedone away with without destroying the matter itself. don’t start anything like that, fredâ€”idon’t want to lose you and lyman, too." "don’t worry about us, chief," rodebush repliedwith a smile. "if you will tell me what matter is, fundamentally, i may agree with you….no? well, then, don’t be surprised at anything that happens. we are going to do a lot ofthings that nobody on the three planets ever
thought of doing before." thus for a long time the argument and discussionwent on, to be interrupted by the voice of the secretary. "sorry to disturb you, mr. samms, but somethings have come up that you will have to handle. knobos is calling from mars. he hascaught the endymion, and has killed about half her crew doing it. milton has finallyreported from venus, after being out of touch for five days. he trailed the wintons intothalleron swamp. they crashed him there, and he won out and has what he went after. andjust now i got a flash from fletcher, in the asteroid belt. i think that he has finallytraced that dope line. but knobos is on nowâ€”what
do you want him to do about the endymion?" "tell him toâ€”no, put him on here, i’d bettertell him myself," samms directed, and his face hardened in ruthless decision as thehorny, misshapen face of the martian lieutenant appeared upon the screen. "what do you think,knobos? shall they come to trial or not?" "not." "i don’t think so, either. it is better thata few gangsters should disappear in space than that the patrol should have to put downanother uprising. see to it." "right." the screen darkened and samms spoketo his secretary. "put milton and fletcher on whenever they come in." he turned to hisguests. "we’ve covered the ground quite thoroughly.
goodbyeâ€”i wish i could go with you, buti’ll be pretty well tied up for the next week or two." "’tied up’ doesn’t half express it," rodebushremarked as the two scientists walked along a corridor toward an elevator. "he probablyis the busiest man on three planets." "as well as the most powerful," clevelandsupplemented. "and very few men could use his power as fairlyâ€”but he’s welcome toit, as far as i’m concerned. i’d have the pink fantods for a month if i had to do onlyonce what he’s just doneâ€”and to him it’s just part of a day’s work." "you mean the endymion? what else could hedo?"
"nothingâ€”that’s the hell of it. it had tobe done, since bringing them to trial would mean killing half the people of morseca; butat the same time it’s a ghastly thing to order a job of deliberate, cold-blooded, and illegalmurder." "you’re right, of course, but you would …" hebroke off, unable to put his thoughts into words. for while inarticulate, man-like, concerningtheir deepest emotions, in both men was ingrained the code of the organization; both knew thatto every man chosen for it the service was everything, himself nothing. "but enough of that, we’ll have plenty ofgrief of our own right here." rodebush changed the subject abruptly as they stepped intoa vast room, almost filled by the immense
bulk of the boiseâ€”the sinister space-shipwhich, although never flown, had already lined with black so many pages of triplanetary’sroster. she was now, however, the center of a furious activity. men swarmed over her andthrough her, in the orderly confusion of a fiercely driven but carefully planned programof reconstruction. "i hope your dope is right, fritz!" clevelandcalled, as the two scientists separated to go to their respective laboratories. "if itis, we’ll make a perfect lady out of this unmanageable man-killer yet!" chapter 14 the super-ship is launched
after weeks of ceaseless work, during whichwas lavished upon her every resource of mind and material afforded by three planets, theboise was ready for her maiden flight. as nearly ready, that is, as the thought andlabor of man could make her. rodebush and cleveland had finished their last rigid inspectionof the aircraft and, standing beside the center door of the main airlock, were talking withtheir chief. "you say that you think that it’s safe, andyet you won’t take a crew," samms argued. "in that case it isn’t safe enough for youtwo, either. we need you too badly to permit you to take such chances." "you’ve got to let us go, because we are theonly ones who are at all familiar with her
theory," rodebush insisted. "i said, and istill say, that i think it is safe. i can’t prove it, however, even mathematically; becauseshe’s altogether too full of too many new and untried mechanisms, too many extrapolationsbeyond all existing or possible data. theoretically, she is sound, but you know that theory cango only so far, and that mathematically negligible factors may become operative at those velocities.we do not need a crew for a short trip. we can take care of any minor mishaps, and ifour fundamental theories are wrong, all the crews between here and jupiter wouldn’t doany good. therefore we two are goingâ€”alone." "well, be very careful, anyway. i wish thatyou could start out slow and take it easy." "in a way, so do i, but she wasn’t designedto neutralize half of gravity, nor half of
the inertia of matterâ€”it’s got to be everythingor nothing, as soon as the neutralizers go on. we could start out on the projectors,of course, instead of on the neutralizers, but that wouldn’t prove anything and wouldonly prolong the agony." "well, then, be as careful as you can." "we’ll do that, chief," cleveland put in."we think as much of us as anybody else doesâ€”maybe moreâ€”and we aren’t committing suicide ifwe can help it. and remember about everybody staying inside when we take offâ€”it’s barelypossible that we’ll take up a lot of room. goodbye!" "goodbye, fellows!"
the massive insulating doors were shut, themetal side of the mountain opened, and huge, squat caterpillar tractors came roaring andclanking into the room. chains and cables were made fast and, mighty steel rails groaningunder the load, the space-ship upon her rolling ways was dragged out of the hill and far outupon the level floor of the valley before the tractors cast off and returned to thefortress. "everybody is under cover," samms informedrodebush. the chief was staring intently into his plate, upon which was revealed the controlroom of the untried super-ship. he heard rodebush speak to cleveland; heard the observer’s briefreply; saw the navigator push the switch-buttonâ€”then the communicator plate went blank. not theordinary blankness of a cut-off, but a peculiarly
disquieting fading out into darkness. andwhere the great space-ship had rested there was for an instant nothing. exactly nothingâ€”avacuum. vessel, falsework, rollers, trucks, the enormous steel i-beams of the tracks,even the deep-set concrete piers and foundations and a vast hemisphere of the solid ground;all disappeared utterly and instantaneously. but almost as suddenly as it had been formedthe vacuum was filled by a cyclonic rush of air. there was a detonation as of a hundredvicious thunderclaps made one, and through the howling, shrieking blasts of wind thererained down upon valley, plain, and metaled mountain a veritable avalanche of debris;bent, twisted, and broken rails and beams, splintered timbers, masses of concrete, andthousands of cubic yards of soil and rock.
for the atomic-powered "rodebush-cleveland"neutralizers were more powerful by far, and had a vastly greater radius of action, thanthe calculations of their designers had shown; and for a moment everything within a hundredyards or so of the boise behaved as though it were an integral part of the vessel. then,left behind immediately by the super-ship’s almost infinite velocity, all this materialhad again become subject to all of nature’s every-day laws and had crashed back to theground. "could you hold your beam, randolph?" samms’voice cut sharply through the daze of stupefaction which held spellbound most of the denizensof the hill. but all were not so heldâ€”no conceivable emergency could take the attentionof the chief ultra-wave operator from his
instruments. "no, sir," radio center shot back. "it fadedout and i couldn’t recover it. i put everything i’ve got behind a tracer on that beam, buthaven’t been able to lift a single needle off the pin." "and no wreckage of the vessel itself," sammswent on, half audibly. "either they have succeeded far beyond their wildest hopes or else … moreprobably…." he fell silent and switched off the plate. were his two friends, thoseintrepid scientists, alive and triumphant, or had they gone to lengthen the list of victimsof that man-killing space-ship? reason told him that they were gone. they must be gone,or else the ultra-beamsâ€”energies of such
unthinkable velocity of propagation that man’smost sensitive instruments had never been able even to estimate itâ€”would have heldthe ship’s transmitter in spite of any velocity attainable by matter under any conceivableconditions. the ship must have been disintegrated as soon as rodebush released his forces. andyet, had not the physicist dimly foreseen the possibility of such an actual velocityâ€”orhad he? however, individuals could come and go, but the service went on. samms squaredhis shoulders unconsciously; and slowly, grimly, made his way back to his private office. "mr. fairchild would like to have a momentas soon as possible, sir," his secretary informed him even before he sat down. "senator morganhas been here all day, you know, and he insists
on seeing you personally." "oh, that kind, eh? all right, i’ll see him.get fairchild, please … dick? can you talk, or is he there listening?" "no, he’s heckling saunders at the moment.he’s been here long enough. can you take a minute and throw him out?" "of course, if you say so, but why not throwthe hooks into him yourself, as usual?" "he wants to lay down the law to you, personally.he’s a big shot, you know, and his group is kicking up quite a row, so it might be betterto have it come straight from the top. besides, you’ve got a unique knackâ€”when you throwa harpoon, the harpoonee doesn’t forget it."
"all right. he’s the uplifter and leveler-off.down with triplanetary, up with national sovereignty. we’re power-mad dictatorsâ€”iron-heel-on-thenecks-of-the-people, and so on. but what’s he like, personally? thick-skinned, of courseâ€”gota brain?" "rhinoceros. he’s got a brain, but it’s definitelyweaseloid. bear downâ€”sink it in full length, and then twist it." "o.k. you’ve got a harpoon, of course?" "three of ’em!" fairchild, head of triplanetary’spublic relations, grinned with relish. "boss jim towne owns him in fee simple. the numberof his hot lock box is n469t414. his subbest sub-rosa girl-friend is fi-chi le bay … yes,everything that the name implies. she got
a super-deluxe fur coatâ€”martian tekkyl,no lessâ€”out of that mackenzie river power deal. triple play, you might sayâ€”clanderto morgan to le bay." "nice. bring him in." "senator morgan, mr. samms," fairchild madethe introduction and the two men sized each other up in lightning glances. samms saw abig man, florid, somewhat inclined toward corpulence, with the surface genialityâ€”andthe shrewd calculating eyesâ€”of the successful politician. the senator saw a tall, hard-trainedman in his forties; a lean, keen, smooth-shaven face; a shock of red-bronze-auburn hair acouple of weeks overdue for a cutting; a pair of gold-flecked tawny eyes too penetrant forcomfort.
"i trust, senator, that fairchild has takencare of you satisfactorily?" "with one or two exceptions, yes." since sammsdid not ask what the exceptions could be, morgan was forced to continue. "i am here,as you know, in my official capacity as chairman of the pernicious activities committee ofthe north american senate. it has been observed for years that the published reports of yourorganization have left much unsaid. it is common knowledge that high-handed outrageshave been perpetrated; if not by your men themselves, in such circumstances that youragents could not have been ignorant of them. therefore it has been decided to make a first-handand comprehensive investigation, in which matter your mr. fairchild has not been atall cooperative."
"who decided to make this investigation?" "why, the north american senate, of course,through its pernicious activities…." "i thought so." samms interrupted. "don’tyou know, senator, that the hill is not a part of the north american continent? thatthe triplanetary service is responsible only to the triplanetary council?" "quibbling, sir, and outmoded! this, sir,is a democracy!" the senator began to orate. "all that will be changed very shortly, andif you are as smart as you are believed to be, i need only say that you and those ofyour staff who cooperate…." "you need say nothing at all." samms’ voicecut. "it has not been changed yet. the government
of north america rules its continent, as dothe other continental governments. the combined continental governments of the three planetsform the triplanetary council, which is a non-political body, the members of which holdoffice for life and which is the supreme authority in any matter, small or large, affecting morethan one continental government. the council has two principal operating agencies; thetriplanetary patrol, which enforces its decisions, rules, and regulations, and the triplanetaryservice, which performs such other tasks as the council directs. we have no interest inthe purely internal affairs of north america. have you any information to the contrary?" "more quibbling!" the senator thundered. "thisis not the first time in history that a ruthless
dictatorship has operated in the disguiseof a democracy. sir, i demand full access to your files, so that i can spread beforethe north american senate the full facts of the various matters which i mentioned to fairchildâ€”oneof which was the affair of the pelarion. in a democracy, sir, facts should not be hidden;the people must and shall be kept completely informed upon any matter which affects theirwelfare or their political lives!" "is that so? if i should ask, then, for thepurpose of keeping the triplanetary council, and through it your constituents, fully informedas to the political situation in north america, you would undoubtedly give me the key to safe-depositbox n469t414? for it is common knowledge, in the council at least, that there is a certainamount ofâ€”shall we say turbidity?â€”in the
supposedly pellucid reaches of north americanpolitics." "what? preposterous!" morgan made a heroiceffort, but could not quite maintain his poise. "private papers only, sir!" "perhaps. certain of the councillors believe,however mistakenly, that there are several things of interest there: such as the recordof certain transactions involving one james f. towne; references to and details concerningdealingsâ€”not to say dealsâ€”with mackenzie power, specifically with mackenzie power’smr. clander; and perhaps a juicy bit or two concerning a person known as le bay and atekkyl coat. of interest no end, don’t you think, to the dear people of north america?"
as samms drove the harpoon in and twistedit, the big man suffered visibly. nevertheless: "you refuse to cooperate, eh?" he blustered."very well, i will goâ€”but you have not heard the last of me, samms!" "no? probably not. but remember, before youdo any more rabble-rousing, that this lock-box thing is merely a sample. we of the serviceknow a lot of things that we do not mention to anybodyâ€”except in self-defense." "i am holding fletcher, mr. samms. shall iput him on now?" norma asked, as the completely deflated morgan went out. "yes, please…. hello, sid; mighty glad tosee youâ€”we were scared for a while. how
did you make out, and what was it?" "hi, chief! mostly hadive. some heroin, andquite a bit of martian ladolian. lousy job, thoughâ€”three of the gang got away, and tookabout a quarter of the loot with them. that was what i want to talk to you about in sucha hurryâ€”fake meteors; the first i ever saw." samms straightened up in his chair. "just a second. norma, put redmond on herewith us…. listen, harry. now, fletcher, did you see that fake meteor yourself? touchit?" "both. in fact, i’ve still got it. one ofthe runners, pretending to be a service man, flashed it on me. it’s really good, too, chief.even now, i can’t tell it from my own except
that mine is in my pocket. shall i send itin?" "by all means; to dr. h.d. redmond, head ofresearch. keep on slugging, sidâ€”goodbye. now, harry, what do you think? it could beone of our own, you know." "could be, but probably isn’t. we’ll knowas soon as we get it in the lab. chances are, though, that they have caught up with us again.after all, that was to be expectedâ€”anything that science can synthesize, science can analyze;and whatever the morals and ethics of the pirates may be, they have got brains." "and you haven’t been able to devise anythingbetter?" "variations only, which wouldn’t take muchtime to solve. fundamentally, the present
meteor is the best we know." "got anybody you would like to put on it,immediately?" "of course. one of the new boys will be perfectfor the job, i think. name of bergenholm. quite a character. brilliant, erratic, flashesof sheer genius that he can’t explain, even to us. i’ll put him on it right away." "thanks a lot. and now, norma, please keepeverybody off my neck that you can. i want to think." and think he did; keen eyes clouded, staringunseeingly at the papers littering his desk. triplanetary needed a symbolâ€”a somethingâ€”whichwould identify a service man anywhere, at
any time, under any circumstances, withoutdoubt or question … something that could not be counterfeited or imitated, to say nothingof being duplicated … something that no scientist not of triplanetary service couldpossibly imitate … better yet, something that no one not of triplanetary could evenwear…. samms grinned fleetingly at that thought.a tall order one calling for a deus ex machina with a vengeance…. but damn it, there oughtto be some way to…. "excuse me, sir." his secretary’s voice, usuallyso calm and cool, trembled as she broke in on his thinking. "commissioner kinnison iscalling. something terrible is going on again, out toward orion. here he is," and there appearedupon samms’ screen the face of the commissioner
of public safety, the commander-in-chief oftriplanetary’s every armed force; whether of land or of water, of air or of empty space. "they’ve come back, virgil!" the commissionerrapped out without preliminary or greeting. "four vessels goneâ€”a freighter and a passengerliner, with her escort of two heavy cruisers. all in sector m, dx about 151. i have orderedall traffic out of space for the duration of the emergency, and since even our warshipsseem useless, every ship is making for the nearest dock at maximum. how about that newflyer of yoursâ€”got anything that will do us any good?" no one beyond the "hill’s" shieldingscreens knew that the boise had already been launched.
"i don’t know. we don’t even know whetherwe have a super-ship or not," and samms described briefly the beginningâ€”and very probablythe endingâ€”of the trial flight, concluding: "it looks bad, but if there was any possibleway of handling her, rodebush and cleveland did it. all our tracers are negative yet,so nothing definite has…." he broke off as a frantic call came in fromthe pittsburgh station for the commissioner; a call which samms both heard and saw. "the city is being attacked!" came the urgentmessage. "we need all the reenforcements you can send us!" and a picture of the beleagueredcity appeared in ghastly detail upon the screens of the observers; a view being recorded fromthe air. it required only seconds for the
commissioner to order every available manand engine of war to the seat of conflict; then, having done everything they could do,kinnison and samms stared in helpless, fascinated horror into their plates, watching the scenesof carnage and destruction depicted there. the nevian vesselâ€”the sister-ship, the craftwhich costigan had seen in mid-space as it hurtled earthward in response to nerado’ssummonsâ€”hung poised in full visibility high above the metropolis. scornful of the pitifulweapons wielded by man, she hung there, her sinister beauty of line sharply defined againstthe cloudless sky. from her shining hull there reached down a tenuous but rigid rod of crimsonenergy; a rod which slowly swept hither and thither as the nevians searched out the richestdeposits of the precious metal for which they
had come so far. iron, once solid, now a viscousred liquid, was sluggishly flowing in an ever-thickening stream up that intangible crimson duct andinto the capacious storage tanks of the nevian raider; and wherever that flaming beam wentthere went also ruin, destruction and death. office buildings, skyscrapers towering majesticallyin their architectural symmetry and beauty, collapsed into heaps of debris as their steelskeletons were abstracted. deep into the ground the beam bored; flood, fire, and explosionfollowing in its wake as the mazes of underground piping disappeared. and the humanity of thebuildings died: instantaneously and painlessly, never knowing what struck them, as the life-bearingiron of their bodies went to swell the nevian stream.
pittsburgh’s defenses had been feeble indeed.a few antiquated railway rifles had hurled their shells upward in futile defiance, andhad been quietly absorbed. the district planes of triplanetary, newly armed with iron-drivenultra-beams, had assembled hurriedly and had attacked the invader in formation, with butlittle more success. under the impact of their beams, the stranger’s screens had flared white,then poised ship and flying squadron had alike been lost to view in a murkily opaque shroudof crimson flame. the cloud had soon dissolved, and from the place where the planes had beenthere floated or crashed down a litter of non-ferrous wreckage. and now the cone ofspace-ships from the buffalo base of triplanetary was approaching pittsburgh hurling itselftoward the nevian plunderer and toward known,
gruesome, and hopeless defeat. "stop them, rod!" samms cried. "it’s sheerslaughter! they haven’t got a thingâ€”they aren’t even equipped yet with the iron drive!" "i know it," the commissioner groaned, "andadmiral barnes knows it as well as we do, but it can’t be helpedâ€”wait a minute! thewashington cone is reporting. they’re as close as the other, and they have the new armament.philadelphia is close behind, and so is new york. now perhaps we can do something!" the buffalo flotilla slowed and stopped, andin a matter of minutes the detachments from the other bases arrived. the cone was formedand, iron-driven vessels in the van, the old-type
craft far in the rear, it bore down upon thenevian, vomiting from its hollow front a solid cylinder of annihilation. once more the screensof the nevian flared into brilliance, once more the red cloud of destruction was flungabroad. but these vessels were not entirely defenseless. their iron-driven ultra-generatorsthrew out screens of the nevians’ own formulae, screens of prodigious power to which the energiesof the amphibians clung and at which they clawed and tore in baffled, wildly coruscantdisplays of power unthinkable. for minutes the furious conflict raged, while the inconceivableenergy being dissipated by those straining screens hurled itself in terribly destructivebolts of lightning upon the city far beneath. no battle of such incredible violence couldlong endure. triplanetary’s ships were already
exerting their utmost power, while the nevians,contemptuous of solarian science, had not yet uncovered their full strength. thus thelast desperate effort of mankind was proved futile as the invaders forced their beamsdeeper and deeper into the overloaded defensive screens of the war-vessels; and one by onethe supposedly invincible space-ships of humanity dropped in horribly dismembered ruin uponthe ruins of what had once been pittsburgh. chapter 15 specimens only too well founded was costigan’s convictionthat the submarine of the deep-sea fishes had not been able to prevail against nerado’sformidable engines of destruction. for days
the nevian lifeboat with its three terrestrialpassengers hurtled through the interstellar void without incident, but finally the operative’sfears were realizedâ€”his far flung detector screens reacted; upon his observation platethey could see nerado’s mammoth space-ship, in full pursuit of its fleeing lifeboat! "on your toes, folksâ€”it won’t be long now!"costigan called, and bradley and clio hurried into the tiny control room. armor donned and tested, the three terrestrialsstared into the observation plates, watching the rapidly-enlarging picture of the nevianspace-ship. nerado had traced them and was following them, and such was the power ofthe great vessel that the now inconceivable
velocity of the lifeboat was the veriest crawlin comparison to that of the pursuing cruiser. "and we’ve hardly started to cover the distanceback to tellus. of course you couldn’t get in touch with anybody yet?" bradley stated,rather than asked. "i kept trying, of course, until they blanketedmy wave, but all negative. thousands of times too far for my transmitter. our only hopeof reaching anybody was the mighty slim chance that our super-ship might be prowling aroundout here already, but it isn’t, of course. here they are!" reaching out to the control panel, costiganviciously shot out against the great vessel wave after wave of lethal vibrations, underwhose fiercely clinging impacts the nevian
defensive screens flared white; but, strangelyenough, their own screens did not radiate. as if contemptuous of any weapons the lifeboatmight wield, the mother ship simply defended herself from the attacking beams, in muchthe same fashion as a wildcat mother wards off the claws and teeth of her spitting, snarlingkitten who is resenting a touch of needed maternal discipline. "they probably wouldn’t fight us, at that,"clio first understood the situation. "this is their own lifeboat, and they want us alive,you know." "there’s one more thing we can tryâ€”hangon!" costigan snapped, as he released his screens and threw all his power into one enormouspressor beam.
the three were thrown to the floor and heldthere by an awful weight as the lifeboat darted away at the stupendous acceleration of thebeam’s reaction against the unimaginable mass of the nevian sky-rover; but the flight wasof short duration. along that pressor beam there crept a dull red rod of energy, whichsurrounded the fugitive shell and brought it slowly to a halt. furiously then costiganset and reset his controls, launching his every driving force and his every weapon,but no beam could penetrate that red murk, and the lifeboat remained motionless in space.no, not motionlessâ€”the red rod was shortening, drawing the truant craft back toward the launchingport from which she had so hopefully emerged a few days before. back and back it was drawn;costigan’s utmost efforts futile to affect
by a hair’s breadth its line of motion. throughthe open port the boat slipped neatly, and as it came to a halt in its original positionwithin the multi-layered skin of the monster, the prisoners heard the heavy doors clangshut behind them, one after another. and then sheets of blue fire snapped and crackledabout the three suits of triplanetary armorâ€”the two large human figures and the small oneswere outlined starkly in blinding blue flame. "that’s the first thing that has come offaccording to schedule." costigan laughed, a short, fierce bark. "that is their paralyzingray, we’ve got it stopped cold, and we’ve each got enough iron to hold it forever." "but it looks as though the best we can dois a stalemate," bradley argued. "even if
they can’t paralyze us, we can’t hurt them,and we are heading back for nevia." "i think nerado will come in for a conference,and we’ll be able to make terms of some kind. he must know what these lewistons will do,and he knows that we’ll get a chance to use them, some way or other, before he gets tous again," costigan asserted, confidentlyâ€”but again he was wrong. the door opened, and through it there waddled,rolled, or crawled a metal-clad monstrosityâ€”a thing with wheels, legs and writhing tentaclesof jointed bronze; a thing possessed of defensive screens sufficiently powerful to absorb thefull blast of the triplanetary projectors without effort. three brazen tentacles reachedout through the ravening beams of the lewistons,
smashed them to bits, and wrapped themselvesin unbreakable shackles about the armored forms of the three human beings. through thedoor the machine or creature carried its helpless load, and out into and along a main corridor.and soon the three terrestrials, without arms, without armor, and almost without clothing,were standing in the control room, again facing the calm and unmoved nerado. to the surpriseof the impetuous costigan, the nevian commander was entirely without rancor. "the desire for freedom is perhaps commonto all forms of animate life," he commented, through the transformer. "as i told you before,however, you are specimens to be studied by the college of science, and you shall be sostudied in spite of anything you may do. resign
yourselves to that." "well, say that we don’t try to make any moretrouble; that we cooperate in the examination and give you whatever information we can,"costigan suggested. "then you will probably be willing to give us a ship and let us goback to our own world?" "you will not be allowed to cause any moretrouble," the amphibian declared, coldly. "your cooperation will not be required. wewill take from you whatever knowledge and information we wish. in all probability youwill never be allowed to return to your own system, because as specimens you are too uniqueto lose. but enough of this idle chatterâ€”take them back to their quarters!"
back to their three inter-communicating roomsthe prisoners were led under heavy guard; and, true to his word, nerado made certainthat they had no more opportunities to escape. to nevia the space-ship sped without incident,and in manacles the terrestrials were taken to the college of science, there to undergothe physical and psychical examinations which nerado had promised them. nor had the nevian scientist-captain erredin stating that their cooperation was neither needed nor desired. furious but impotent,the human beings were studied in laboratory after laboratory by the coldly analytical,unfeeling scientists of nevia, to whom they were nothing more or less than specimens;and in full measure they came to know what
it meant to play the part of an unknown, lowlyorganism in a biological research. they were photographed, externally and internally. everybone, muscle, organ, vessel, and nerve was studied and charted. every reflex and reactionwas noted and discussed. meters registered every impulse and recorders filmed every thought,every idea, and every sensation. endlessly, day after day, the nerve-wracking torturewent on, until the frantic subjects could bear no more. white-faced and shaking, cliofinally screamed wildly, hysterically, as she was being strapped down upon a laboratorybench; and at the sound costigan’s nerves, already at the breaking point, gave way inan outburst of berserk fury. the man’s struggles and the girl’s shriekswere alike futile, but the surprised nevians,
after a consultation, decided to give thespecimens a vacation. to that end they were installed, together with their earthly belongings,in a three-roomed structure of transparent metal, floating in the large central lagoonof the city. there they were left undisturbed for a timeâ€”undisturbed, that is, exceptby the continuous gaze of the crowd of hundreds of amphibians which constantly surroundedthe floating cottage. "first we’re bugs under a microscope," bradleygrowled, "then we’re goldfish in a bowl. i don’t know that…." he broke off as two of their jailers enteredthe room. without a word into the transformers they seized bradley and clio. as those tentaculararms stretched out toward the girl, costigan
leaped. a vain attempt. in midair the paralyzingbeam of the nevians touched him and he crashed heavily to the crystal floor; and from thatfloor he looked on in helpless, raging fury while his sweetheart and his captain werecarried out of their prison and into a waiting submarine. chapter 16 super-ship in action doctor frederick rodebush sat at the controlpanel of triplanetary’s newly reconstructed super-ship; one finger poised over a smallblack button. facing the unknown though the physicist was, yet he grinned whimsicallyat his friend.
"something, whatever it is, is about to occur.the boise is about to take off. ready, cleve?" "shoot!" laconically. cleveland also was constitutionallyunable to voice his deeper sentiments in time of stress. rodebush drove his finger down, and instantlyover both men there came a sensation akin to a tremendously intensified vertigo; buta vertigo as far beyond the space-sickness of weightlessness as that horrible sensationis beyond mere earthly dizziness. the pilot reached weakly toward the board, but his leadenhands refused utterly to obey the dictates of his reeling mind. his brain was a writhing,convulsive mass of torment indescribable; expanding, exploding, swelling out with anunendurable pressure against its confining
skull. fiery spirals, laced with streaming,darting lances of black and green, flamed inside his bursting eyeballs. the universespun and whirled in mad gyrations about him as he reeled drunkenly to his feet, staggeringand sprawling. he fell. he realized that he was falling, yet he could not fall! thrashingwildly, grotesquely in agony, he struggled madly and blindly across the room, directlytoward the thick steel wall. the tip of one hair of his unruly thatch touched the wall,and the slim length of that single hair did not even bend as its slight strength broughtto an instant halt the hundred-and-eighty-odd pounds of massâ€”mass now entirely withoutinertiaâ€”that was his body. but finally the sheer brain power of the manbegan to triumph over his physical torture.
by force of will he compelled his graspinghands to seize a life-line, almost meaningless to his dazed intelligence; and through thatnightmare incarnate of hellish torture he fought his way back to the control board.hooking one leg around a standard, he made a seemingly enormous effort and depresseda red button; then fell flat upon the floor, weakly but in a wave of relief and thankfulness,as his racked body felt again the wonted phenomena of weight and of inertia. white, trembling,frankly and openly sick, the two men stared at each other in half-amazed joy. "it worked," cleveland smiled wanly as herecovered sufficiently to speak, then leaped to his feet. "snap it up, fred! we must befalling fastâ€”we’ll be wrecked when we hit!"
"we’re not falling anywhere." rodebush, forebodingin his eyes, walked over to the main observation plate and scanned the heavens. "however, it’snot as bad as i was afraid it might be. i can still recognize a few of the constellations,even though they are all pretty badly distorted. that means that we can’t be more than a coupleof light-years or so away from the solar system. of course, since we had so little thrust on,practically all of our energy and time was taken up in getting out of the atmosphere.even at that, though, it’s a good thing that space isn’t a perfect vacuum, or we wouldhave been clear out of the universe by this time." "huh? what are you talking about? impossible!where are we, anyway? then we must be making
mil…. oh, i see!" cleveland exclaimed, somewhatincoherently, as he also stared into the plate. "right. we aren’t traveling at allâ€”now."rodebush replied. "we are perfectly stationary relative to tellus, since we made that hopwithout inertia. we must have attained one hundred percent neutralizationâ€”one hundredpoint oh oh oh oh ohâ€”which we didn’t quite expect. therefore we must have stopped instantaneouslywhen our inertia was restored. incidentally, that original, pre-inertialess velocity ‘intrinsic’velocity, suppose we could call it?â€”is going to introduce plenty of complications, butwe don’t have to worry about them right now. also, it isn’t where we are that is worryingmeâ€”we can get fixes on enough recognizable stars to find that out in short orderâ€”it’swhen."
"that’s right, too. say we’re two light yearsaway from home. you think maybe that we’re two years older now than we were ten minutesago? interesting no endâ€”and distinctly possible. maybe even probableâ€”i wouldn’t knowâ€”there’sbeen a lot of discussion on that theory, and as far as i know we’re the first ones whoever had a chance to prove or disprove it absolutely. let’s snap back to tellus andfind out, right now." "we’ll do that, after a little more experimenting.you see, i had no intention of giving us such a long push. i was going to throw the switchesin and out, but you know what happened. however, there’s one good thing about itâ€”it’s worthtwo years of anybody’s life to settle that relativity-time thing definitely, one wayor the other."
"i’ll say it is. but say, we’ve got a lotof power on our ultra-wave; enough to reach tellus, i think. let’s locate the sun andget in touch with samms." "let’s work on these controls a little first,so we’ll have something to report. out here’s a fine place to try the ship outâ€”nothingin the way." "all right with me. but i would like to findout whether i’m two years older than i think i am, or not!" then for four hours they put the great super-shipthrough her paces, just as test-pilots check up on every detail of performance of an airplaneof new and radical design. they found that the horrible vertigo could be endured, perhapsin time even conquered as space-sickness could
be conquered, by a strong will in a soundbody; and that their new conveyance had possibilities of which even rodebush had never dreamed.finally, their most pressing questions answered, they turned their most powerful ultra-beamcommunicator toward the yellowish star which they knew to be old sol. "samms … samms." cleveland spoke slowlyand distinctly. "rodebush and cleveland reporting from the ‘space-eating wampus’, now directlyin line with beta ursae minoris from the sun, distance about two point two light years.it will take six bands of tubes on your tightest beam, lsv3, to reach us. barring a touch ofan unusually severe type of space-sickness, everything worked beautifully; even betterthan either of us dared to believe. there’s
something we want to know right awayâ€”havewe been gone four hours and some odd minutes, or better than two years?" he turned to rodebush and went on: "nobody knows how fast this ultra-wave travels,but if it goes as fast as we did coming out it’s no creeper. i’ll give him about thirtyminutes, then shoot in another…." but, interrupting cleveland’s remark, thecare-ravaged face of virgil samms appeared sharp and clear upon the plate and his voicesnapped curtly from the speaker. "thank god you’re alive, and twice that thatthe ship works!" he exclaimed. "you’ve been gone four hours, eleven minutes, and fortyone seconds, but never mind about abstract
theorizing. get back here, to pittsburgh,as fast as you can drive. that nevian vessel or another one like her is mopping up thecity, and has destroyed half the fleet already!" "we’ll be back there in nine minutes!" rodebushsnapped into the transmitter. "two to get from here to atmosphere, four from atmospheredown to the hill, and three to cool off. notify the full four-shift crewâ€”everybody we’vepicked out. don’t need anybody else. ship, equipment, and armament are ready!" "two minutes to atmosphere? think you cando it?" cleveland asked, as rodebush flipped off the power and leaped to the control panel."you might, though, at that." "we could do it in less than that if we hadto. we used scarcely any power at all coming
out, and i’m going to use quite a lot goingback," the physicist explained rapidly, as he set the dials which would determine theirflashing course. the master switches were thrown and the pangsof inertialessness again assailed themâ€”but weaker far this time than ever beforeâ€”andupon their lookout plates they beheld a spectacle never before seen by eye of man. for the ultra-beam,with its heterodyned vision, is not distorted by any velocity yet attained, as are the ether-bornerays of light. converted into light only at the plate, it showed their progress as trulyas though they had been traveling at a pace to be expressed in the ordinary terms of milesper hour. the yellow star that was the sun detached itself from the firmament and leapedtoward them, swelling visibly, momently, into
a blinding monster of incandescence. and towardthem also flung the earth, enlarging with such indescribable rapidity that clevelandprotested involuntarily, in spite of his knowledge of the peculiar mechanics of the vessel inwhich they were. "hold it, fred, hold it! way ’nuff!" he exclaimed. "i’m using only a few thousand kilograms ofthrust, and i’ll cut that as soon as we touch atmosphere, long before she can even beginto heat," rodebush explained. "looks bad, but we’ll stop without a jar." "what would you call this kind of flight,fritz?" cleveland asked. "what’s the opposite of ‘inert’?"
"damned if i know. isn’t any, i guess. light?no … how would ‘free’ be?" "not bad. ‘free’ and ‘inert’ maneuvering,eh? o.k." flying "free", then, the super-ship came fromher practically infinite velocity to an almost instantaneous halt in the outermost, mosttenuous layer of the earth’s atmosphere. her halt was but momentary. inertia restored,she dropped at a sharp angle downward. more than dropped; she was forced downward by onefull battery of projectors; projectors driven by iron-powered generators. soon they wereover the hill, whose violet screens went down at a word. flaming a dazzling white from the frictionof the atmosphere through which she had torn
her way, the boise slowed abruptly as sheneared the ground, plunging toward the surface of the small but deep artificial lake belowthe hill’s steel apron. into the cold waters the space-ship dove, and even before theycould close over her, furious geysers of steam and boiling water erupted as the stubbornalloy gave up its heat to the cooling liquid. endlessly the three necessary minutes draggedtheir slow way into time, but finally the water ceased boiling and rodebush tore theship from the lake and hurled her into the gaping doorway of her dock. the massive doorsof the airlocks opened, and while the full crew of picked men hurried aboard with theirpersonal equipment, samms talked earnestly to the two scientists in the control room.
"… and about half the fleet is still inthe air. they aren’t attacking; they are just trying to keep her from doing much more damageuntil you can get there. how about your take-off? we can’t launch you againâ€”the tracks aregoneâ€”but you handled her easily enough coming in?" "that was all my fault," rodebush admitted."i had no idea that the fields would extend beyond the hull. we’ll take her out on theprojectors this time, though, the same as we brought her inâ€”she handles like a bicycle.the projector blast tears things up a little, but nothing serious. have you got that pittsburghbeam for me yet? we’re about ready to go." "here it is, doctor rodebush," came norma’svoice, and upon the screen there flashed into
being the view of the events transpiring abovethat doomed city. "the dock is empty and sealed against your blast." "goodbye, and power to your tubes!" came samms’ringing voice. as the words were being spoken mighty blastsof power raved from the driving projectors, and the immense mass of the super-ship shotout through the portals and upward into the stratosphere. through the tenuous atmospherethe huge globe rushed with ever-mounting speed, and while the hope of triplanetary drove eastwardrodebush studied the ever-changing scene of battle upon his plate and issued detailedinstructions to the highly trained specialists manning every offensive and defensive weapon.
but the nevians did not wait to join battleuntil the newcomers arrived. their detectors were sensitiveâ€”operative over untold thousandsof milesâ€”and the ultra-screen of the hill had already been noted by the invaders asthe earth’s only possible source of trouble. thus the departure of the boise had not goneunnoticed, and the fact that not even with his most penetrant rays could he see intoher interior had already given the nevian commander some slight concern. therefore assoon as it was determined that the great globe was being directed toward pittsburgh the fish-shapedcruiser of the void went into action. high in the stratosphere, speeding eastward,the immense mass of the boise slowed abruptly, although no projector had slackened its effort.cleveland, eyes upon interferometer grating
and spectrophotometer charts, fingers flyingover calculator keys, grinned as he turned toward rodebush. "just as you thought, skipper; an ultra-bandpusher. c4v63l29. shall i give him a little pull?" "not yet; let’s feel him out a little beforewe force a close-up. we’ve got plenty of mass. see what he does when i put full push on theprojectors." as the full power of the tellurian vesselwas applied the nevian was forced backward, away from the threatened city, against thefull drive of her every projector. soon, however, the advance was again checked, and both scientistsread the reason upon their plates. the enemy
had put down reenforcing rods of tremendouspower. three compression members spread out fanwise behind her, bracing her against alow mountainside, while one huge tractor beam was thrust directly downward, holding in anunbreakable grip a cylinder of earth extending deep down into bedrock. "two can play at that game!" and rodebushdrove down similar beams, and forward-reaching tractors as well. "strap yourselves in solid,everybody!" he sounded in general warning. "something is going to give way somewheresoon, and when it does we’ll get a jolt!" and the promised jolt did indeed come soon.prodigiously massive and powerful as the nevian was, the boise was even more massive and morepowerful; and as the already enormous energy
feeding the tractors, pushers, and projectorswas raised to its inconceivable maximum, the vessel of the enemy was hurled upward, backward;and that of earth shot ahead with a bounding leap that threatened to strain even her mightymembers. the nevian anchor rods had not broken; they had simply pulled up the vast cylindersof solid rock that had formed their anchorages. "grab him now!" rodebush yelled, and evenwhile an avalanche of falling rock was burying the countryside cleveland snapped a tractorray upon the flying fish and pulled tentatively. nor did the nevian now seem averse to comingto grips. the two warring super-dreadnoughts darted toward each other, and from the invaderthere flooded out the dread crimson opacity which had theretofore meant the doom of allthings solarian. flooded out and engulfed
the immense globe of humanity’s hope in itsspreading cloud of redly impenetrable murk. but not for long. triplanetary’s super-shipboasted no ordinary terrestrial defense, but was sheathed in screen after screen of ultra-vibrations:imponderable walls, it is true, but barriers impenetrable to any unfriendly wave. to theouter screen the red veil of the nevians clung tenaciously, licking greedily at every squareinch of the shielding sphere of force, but unable to find an opening through which tofeed upon the steel of the boise’s armor. "get backâ€”’way back! go back and help pittsburgh!"rodebush drove an ultra communicator beam through the murk to the instruments of theterrestrial admiral; for the surviving warships of the fleetâ€”its most powerful unitsâ€”werehurling themselves forward, to plunge into
that red destruction. "none of you will lasta second in this red field. and watch out for a violet field pretty soonâ€”it’ll beworse than this. we can handle them alone, i think; but if we can’t, there’s nothingin the system that can help us!" and now the hitherto passive screen of thesuper-ship became active. at first invisible, it began to glow in fierce violet light, andas the glow brightened to unbearable intensity the entire spherical shield began to increasein size. driven outward from the super-ship as a center, its advancing surface of seethingenergy consumed the crimson murk as a billow of blast-furnace heat consumes the cloud ofsnowflakes in the air above its cupola. nor was the red death-mist all that was consumed.between that ravening surface and the armor
skin of the boise there was nothing. no debris,no atmosphere, no vapor, no single atom of material substanceâ€”the first time in terrestrialexperience that an absolute vacuum had ever been attained! stubbornly contesting every foot of way lost,the nevian fog retreated before the violet sphere of nothingness. back and back it fell,disappearing altogether from all space as the violet tide engulfed the enemy vessel;but the flying fish did not disappear. her triple screens flashed into furiously incandescentsplendor and she entered unscathed that vacuous sphere, which collapsed instantly into anenormously elongated ellipsoid, at each focus a madly warring ship of space.
then in that tube of vacuum was waged a spectacularduel of ultra-weaponsâ€”weapons impotent in air, but deadly in empty space. beams, rays,and rods of titanic power smote crackingly against ultra-screens equally capable. timeafter time each contestant ran the gamut of the spectrum with his every available ultra-force,only to find all channels closed. for minutes the terrible struggle went on, then: "cooper, adlington, spencer, dutton!" rodebushcalled into his transmitter. "ready? can’t touch him on the ultra, so i’m going ontothe macro-bands. give him everything you have as soon as i collapse the violet. go!" at the word the violet barrier went down,and with a crash as of a disrupting universe
the atmosphere rushed into the void. and throughthe hurricane there shot out the deadliest material weapons of triplanetary. torpedoesâ€”non-ferrous,ultra-screened, beam-dirigible torpedoes charged with the most effective forms of materialdestruction known to man. cooper hurled his canisters of penetrating gas, adlington hisallotropic-iron atomic bombs, spencer his indestructible armor-piercing projectiles,and dutton his shatterable flasks of the quintessence of corrosionâ€”a sticky, tacky liquid of suchdire potency that only one rare solarian element could contain it. ten, twenty, fifty, a hundredwere thrown as fast as the automatic machinery could launch them; and the nevians found themadversaries not to be despised. size for size, their screens were quite as capable as thoseof the boise. the nevians’ destructive rays
glanced harmlessly from their shields, andthe nevians’ elaborate screens, neutralized at impact by those of the torpedoes, wereimpotent to impede their progress. each projectile must needs be caught and crushed individuallyby beams of the most prodigious power; and while one was being annihilated dozens morewere rushing to the attack. then while the twisting, dodging invader was busiest withthe tiny but relentless destroyers, rodebush launched his heaviest weapon. the macro-beams! prodigious streamers of bluish-greenflame which tore savagely through course after course of nevian screen! malevolent fangs,driven with such power and velocity that they were biting into the very walls of the enemyvessel before the amphibians knew that their
defensive shells of force had been punctured!and the emergency screens of the invaders were equally futile. course after course wassent out, only to flare viciously through the spectrum and to go black. outfought at every turn, the now franticallydodging nevian leaped away in headlong flight, only to be brought to a staggering, crashinghalt as cleveland nailed her with a tractor beam. but the tellurians were to learn thatthe nevians held in reserve a means of retreat. the tractor snappedâ€”sheared off squarelyby a sizzling plane of forceâ€”and the fish-shaped cruiser faded from cleveland’s sight, justas the boise had disappeared from the communicator plates of radio center, back in the hill,when she was launched. but though the plates
in the control room could not hold the nevian,she did not vanish beyond the ken of randolph, now communications officer in the super-ship.for, warned and humiliated by his losing one speeding vessel from his plates in radio center,he was now ready for any emergency. therefore as the nevian fled randolph’s spy-ray heldher, automatically behind it as there was the full output of twelve special banks ofiron-driven power tubes; and thus it was that the vengeful earthmen flashed immediatelyalong the nevians’ line of flight. inertialess now, pausing briefly from time to time toenable the crew to accustom themselves to the new sensations, triplanetary’s super-shippursued the invader; hurtling through the void with a velocity unthinkable.
"he was easier to take than i thought he wouldbe," cleveland grunted, staring into the plate. "i thought he had more stuff, too," rodebushassented, "but i guess costigan got almost everything they had. if so, with all our ownstuff and most of theirs besides, we should be able to take them. conway’s data indicatedthat they have only partial neutralization of inertiaâ€”if it’s one hundred percent we’llnever catch themâ€”but it isn’tâ€”there they are!" "and this time i’m going to hold her or burnout all our generators trying," cleveland declared, grimly. "are you fellows down thereable to handle yourselves yet? fine! start throwing out your cans!"
space-hardened veterans, all, the other tellurianofficers had fought off the horrible nausea of inertialessness, just as rodebush and clevelandhad done. again the ravening green macro-beams tore at the flying cruiser, again the mightyframes of the two space-ships shuddered sickeningly as cleveland clamped on his tractor rod, againthe highly dirigible torpedoes dashed out with their freights of death and destruction.and again the nevian shear-plane of force slashed at the boise’s tractor beam; but thistime the mighty puller did not give way. sparkling and spitting high-tension sparks, the planebit deeply into the stubborn rod of energy. brighter, thicker, and longer grew the dischargesas the gnawing plane drew more and more power; but in direct ratio to that power the rodgrew larger, denser, and ever harder to cut.
more and more vivid became the pyrotechnicdisplay, until suddenly the entire tractor rod disappeared. at the same instant a blastof intolerable flame erupted from the boise’s flank and the whole enormous fabric of hershook and quivered under the force of a terrific detonation. "randolph! i don’t see them! are they attackingor running?" rodebush demanded. he was the first to realize what had happened. "runningâ€”fast!" "just as well, perhaps, but get their line.adlington!" "here!"
"good! was afraid you were goneâ€”that wasone of your bombs, wasn’t it?" "yes. well launched, just inside the screens.don’t see how it could have detonated unless something hot and hard struck it in the tube;it would need about that much time to explode. good thing it didn’t go off any sooner, ornone of us would have been here. as it is, area six is pretty well done in, but the bulkheadsheld the damage to six. what happened?" "we don’t know, exactly. both generators onthe tractor beam went out. at first, i thought that was all, but my neutralizers are deadand i don’t know what else. when the g-4’s went out the fusion must have shorted theneutralizers. they would make a mess; it must have burned a hole down into number six tube.cleveland and i will come down, and we’ll
all look around." donning space-suits, the scientists let themselvesinto the damaged compartment through the emergency airlocks, and what a sight they saw! bothouter and inner walls of alloy armor had been blown away by the awful force of the explosion.jagged plates hung awry; bent, twisted and broken. the great torpedo tube, with all itsintricate automatic machinery, had been driven violently backward and lay piled in hideousconfusion against the backing bulkheads. practically nothing remained whole in the entire compartment. "nothing much we can do here," rodebush saidfinally, through his transmitter. "let’s go see what number four generator looks like."
that room, although not affected by the explosionfrom without, had been quite as effectively wrecked from within. it was still stiflinglyhot; its air was still reeking with the stench of burning lubricant, insulation, and metal;its floor was half covered by a semi-molten mass of what had once been vital machinery.for with the burning out of the generator bars the energy of the disintegrating allotropiciron had had no outlet, and had built up until it had broken through its insulation and inan irresistible flood of power had torn through all obstacles in its path to neutralization. "hm … m … m. should have had an automaticshut-offâ€”one detail we overlooked," rodebush mused. "the electricians can rebuild thisstuff here, thoughâ€”that hole in the hull
is something else again." "i’ll say it’s something else," the grizzledchief engineer agreed. "she’s lost all her spherical strengthâ€”anchoring a tractor withthis ship now would turn her inside out. back to the nearest triplanetary shop for us, iwould say." "come again, chief!" cleveland advised theengineer. "none of us would live long enough to get there. we can’t travel inertialessuntil the repairs are made, so if they can’t be made without very much traveling, it’sjust too bad." "i don’t see how we could support our jacks…" the engineer paused, then went on: "if you can’t give me mars or tellus, how aboutsome other planet? i don’t care about atmosphere,
or about anything but mass. i can stiffenher up in three or four days if i can sit down on something heavy enough to hold ourjacks and presses; but if we have to rig up space-cradles around the ship herself it’lltake a long timeâ€”months, probably. haven’t got a spare planet on hand, have you?" "we might have, at that," rodebush made surprisinganswer. "a couple of seconds before we engaged we were heading toward a sun with at leasttwo planets. i was just getting ready to dodge them when we cut the neutralizers, so theyshould be fairly close somewhereâ€”yes, there’s the sun, right over there. rather pale andsmall; but it’s close, comparatively speaking. we’ll go back up into the control room andfind out about the planets."
the strange sun was found to have three largeand easily located children, and observation showed that the crippled space-ship couldreach the nearest of these in about five days. power was therefore fed to the driving projectors,and each scientist, electrician, and mechanic bent to the task of repairing the ruined generators;rebuilding them to handle any load which the converters could possibly put upon them. fortwo days the boise drove on, then her acceleration was reversed, and finally a landing was effectedupon the forbidding, rocky soil of the strange world. it was larger than the earth, and of a somewhatstronger gravitation. although its climate was bitterly cold, even in its short daytime,it supported a luxuriant but outlandish vegetation.
its atmosphere, while rich enough in oxygenand not really poisonous, was so rank with indescribably fetid vapors as to be scarcelybreatheable. but these things bothered the engineers not at all. paying no attentionto temperature or to scenery and without waiting for chemical analysis of the air, the space-suitedmechanics leaped to their tasks; and in only a little more time than had been mentionedby the chief engineer the hull and giant frame of the super-ship were as staunch as of yore. "all right, skipper!" came finally the welcomeword. "you might try her out with a fast hop around this world before you shove off inearnest." under the fierce blast of her projectors thevessel leaped ahead, and time after time,
as rodebush hurled her mass upon tractor beamor pressor, the engineers sought in vain for any sign of weakness. the strange planet halfgirdled and the severest tests passed flawlessly, rodebush reached for his neutralizer switches.reached and paused, dumbfounded, for a brilliant purple light had sprung into being upon hispanel and a bell rang out insistently. "what the hell!" rodebush shot out an exploringbeam along the detector line and gasped. he stared, mouth open, then yelled: "roger is here, rebuilding his planetoid!stations all!" chapter 17 roger carries on
as has been intimated, gray roger did notperish in the floods of nevian energy which destroyed his planetoid. while those terrificstreamers of force emanating from the crimson obscurity surrounding the amphibians’ space-shipwere driving into his defensive screens he sat impassive and immobile at his desk, hishard gray eyes moving methodically over his instruments and recorders. when the clinging mantle of force changedfrom deep red into shorter and even shorter wave-lengths, however: "baxter, hartkopf, chatelier, anandrusung,penrose, nishimura, mirsky …" he called off a list of names. "report to me here atonce!"
"the planetoid is lost," he informed his selectgroup of scientists when they had assembled, "and we must abandon it in exactly fifteenminutes, which will be the time required for the robots to fill this first section withour most necessary machinery and instruments. pack each of you one box of the things hemost wishes to take with him, and report back here in not more than thirteen minutes. saynothing to anyone else." they filed out calmly, and as they passedout into the hall baxter, perhaps a trifle less case-hardened than his fellows, at leastvoiced a thought for those they were so brutally deserting. "i say, it seems a bit thick to dash off thisway and leave the rest of them; but still,
i suppose…." "you suppose correctly." bland and heartlessnishimura filled in the pause. "a small part of the planetoid may be able to escape; which,to me at least, is pleasantly surprising news. it cannot carry all our men and mechanisms,therefore only the most important of both are saved. what would you? for the rest itis simply what you call ‘the fortune of war,’ no?" "but the beautiful …" began the amorouschatelier. "hush, fool!" snorted hartkopf. "one wordof that to the ear of roger and you too left behind are. of such non-essentials the universefull is, to be collected in times of ease,
but in times hard to be disregarded. und thisis a time of schrecklichkeit indeed!" the group broke up, each man going to hisown quarters; to meet again in the first section a minute or so before the zero time. roger’s"office" was now packed so tightly with machinery and supplies that but little room was leftfor the scientists. the gray monstrosity still sat unmoved behind his dials. "but of what use is it, roger?" the russianphysicist demanded. "those waves are of some ultra-band, of a frequency immensely higherthan anything heretofore known. our screens should not have stopped them for an instant.it is a mystery that they have held so long, and certainly this single section will notbe permitted to leave the planetoid without
being destroyed." "there are many things you do not know, mirsky,"came the cold and level answer. "our screens, which you think are of your own devising,have several improvements of my own in the formulae, and would hold forever had i thepower to drive them. the screens of this section, being smaller, can be held as long as willbe found necessary." "power!" the dumbfounded russian exclaimed."why, we have almost infinite powerâ€”unlimitedâ€”sufficient for a lifetime of high expenditure!" but roger made no reply, for the time of departurewas at hand. he pressed down a tiny lever, and a mechanism in the power room threw inthe gigantic plunger switches which launched
against the nevians the stupendous beam whichso upset the complacence of nerado the amphibianâ€”the beam into which was poured recklessly everyresource of power afforded by the planetoid, careless alike of burnout and of exhaustion.then, while all of the attention of the nevians and practically all of their maximum possiblepower output was being devoted to the neutralization of that last desperate thrust, the metal wallof the planetoid opened and the first section shot out into space. full-driven as they were,roger’s screens flared white as he drove through the temporarily lessened attack of the nevians;but in their preoccupation the amphibians did not notice the additional disturbanceand the section tore on, unobserved and undetected. far out in space, roger raised his eyes fromthe instrument panel and continued the conversation
as though it had not been interrupted. "everything is relative, mirsky, and you havemisused gravely the term ‘unlimited.’ our power was, and is, very definitely limited.true, it then seemed ample for our needs, and is far superior to that possessed by theinhabitants of any solar system with which i am familiar; but the beings behind thatred screen, whoever they are, have sources of power as far above ours as ours are abovethose of the solarians." "how do you know?" "that power, what is it?" "we have, then, the analyses of those fieldsrecorded!" came simultaneous questions and
exclamations. "their source of power is the intra-atomicenergy of iron. complete; not the partial liberation incidental to the nuclear fissionof such unstable isotopes as those of thorium, uranium, plutonium, and so on. therefore muchremains to be done before i can proceed with my planâ€”i must have the most powerful structurein the macrocosmic universe." roger thought for minutes, nor did any oneof his minions break the silence. gharlane of eddore did not have to wonder why suchincredible advancement could have been made without his knowledge: after the fact, heknew. he had been and was still being hampered by a mind of power; a mind with which, indue time, he would come to grips.
"i now know what to do," he went on presently."in the light of what i have learned, the losses of time, life, and treasureâ€”eventhe loss of the planetoidâ€”are completely insignificant." "but what can you do about it?" growled therussian. "many things. from the charts of the recorderswe can compute their fields of force, and from that point it is only a step to theirmethod of liberating the energy. we shall build robots. they shall build other robots,who shall in turn construct another planetoid; one this time that, wielding the theoreticalmaximum of power, will be suited to my needs." "and where will you build it? we are marked.invisibility now is useless. triplanetary
will find us, even if we take up an orbitbeyond that of pluto!" "we have already left your solarian systemfar behind. we are going to another system; one far enough removed so that the spy-raysof triplanetary will never find us, and yet one that we can reach in a reasonable lengthof time with the energies at our command. some five days will be required for the journey,however, and our quarters are cramped. therefore make places for yourselves wherever you can,and lessen the tedium of those days by working upon whatever problems are most pressing inyour respective researches." the gray monster fell silent, immersed inwhat thoughts no one knew, and the scientists set out to obey his orders. baxter, the britishchemist, followed penrose, the lantern-jawed,
saturnine american engineer and inventor,as he made his way to the furthermost cubicle of the section. "i say, penrose, i’d like to ask you a coupleof questions, if you don’t mind?" "go ahead. ordinarily it’s dangerous to bea cackling hen anywhere around him, but i don’t imagine that he can hear anything herenow. his system must be pretty well shot to pieces. you want to know all i know aboutroger?" "exactly so. you have been with him so muchlonger than i have, you know. in some ways he impresses one as being scarcely human,if you know what i mean. ridiculous, of course, but of late i have been wondering whetherhe really is human. he knows too much, about
too many things. he seems to be acquaintedwith many solar systems, to visit which would require lifetimes. then, too, he has droppedremarks which would imply that he actually saw things that happened long before any livingman could possibly have been born. finally, he looksâ€”well, peculiarâ€”and certainlydoes not act human. i have been wondering, and have been able to learn nothing abouthim; as you have said, such talk as this aboard the planetoid was not advisable." "you needn’t worry about being paid your price;that’s one thing. if we liveâ€”and that was part of the agreement, you knowâ€”we willget what we sold out for. you will become a belted earl. i have already made millions,and shall make many more. similarly, chatelier
has had and will have his women, anandrusungand nishimura their cherished revenges, hartkopf his power, and so on." he eyed the other speculatively,then went on: "i might as well spill it all, since i’llnever have a better chance and since you should know as much as the rest of us do. you’rein the same boat with us and tarred with the same brush. there’s a lot of gossip, thatmay or may not be true, but i know one very startling fact. here it is. my great-great-grandfatherleft some notes which, taken in connection with certain things i myself saw on the planetoid,prove beyond question that our roger went to harvard university at the same time hedid. roger was a grown man then, and the elder penrose noted that he was marked, like this,"and the american sketched a cabalistic design.
"what!" baxter exclaimed. "an adept of northpolar jupiterâ€”then?" "yes. that was before the first jovian war,you know, and it was those medicine-menâ€”really high-caliber scientistsâ€”that prolonged thatwar so…." "but i say, penrose, that’s really a bit thick.when they were wiped out it was proved a lot of hocus-pocus…." "if they were wiped out," penrose interruptedin turn. "some of it may have been hocus-pocus, but most of it certainly was not. i’m notasking you to believe anything except that one fact; i’m just telling you the rest ofit. but it is also a fact that those adepts knew things and did things that take a lotof explaining. now for the gossip, none of
which is guaranteed. roger is supposed tobe of tellurian parentage, and the story is that his father was a moon-pirate, his mothera greek adventuress. when the pirates were chased off the moon they went to ganymede,you know, and some of them were captured by the jovians. it seems that roger was bornat an instant of time sacred to the adepts, so they took him on. he worked his way upthrough the forbidden society as all adepts did, by various kinds of murder and job lotsof assorted deviltries, until he got clear to the topâ€”the seventy-seventh mystery…." "the secret of eternal youth!" gasped baxter,awed in spite of himself. "right, and he stayed chief devil, in spiteof all the efforts of all his ambitious sub-devils
to kill him, until the turning-point of thefirst jovian war. he cut away then in a space-ship, and ever since then he has been workingâ€”andworking hardâ€”on some stupendous plan of his own that nobody else has ever got evenan inkling of. that’s the story. true or not, it explains a lot of things that no othertheory can touch. and now i think you’d better shuffle along; enough of this is a great plenty!" baxter went to his own cubby, and each manof gray roger’s cold-blooded crew methodically took up his task. true to prediction, in fivedays a planet loomed beneath them and their vessel settled through a reeking atmospheretoward a rocky and forbidding plain. then for hours they plunged along, a few thousandfeet above the surface of that strange world,
while roger with his analytical detectorssought the most favorable location from which to wrest the materials necessary for his programof construction. it was a world of cold; its sun was distant,pale, and wan. it had monstrous forms of vegetation, of which each branch and member writhed andfought with a grotesque and horrible individual activity. ever and anon a struggling partbroke from its parent plant and darted away in independent existence; leaping upon andconsuming or being consumed by a fellow creature equally monstrous. this flora was of a uniformcolor, a lurid, sickly yellow. in form some of it was fern-like, some cactus-like, somevaguely tree-like; but it was all outrageous, inherently repulsive to all solarian senses.and no less hideous were the animal-like forms
of life which slithered and slunk rapaciouslythrough that fantastic pseudo-vegetation. snake-like, reptile-like, bat-like, the creaturessquirmed, crawled, and flew; each covered with a dankly oozing yellow hide and eachmotivated by twin common impulsesâ€”to kill and insatiably and indiscriminately to devour.over this reeking wilderness roger drove his vessel, untouched by its disgusting, its appallingferocity and horror. "there should be intelligence, of a kind,"he mused, and swept the surface of the planet with an exploring beam. "ah, yes, there isa city, of sorts," and in a few minutes the outlaws were looking down upon a metal-walledcity of roundly conical buildings. inside these structures and between and aroundthem there scuttled formless blobs of matter,
one of which roger brought up into his vesselby means of a tractor. held immovable by the beam it lay upon the floor, a strangely extensile,amoeba-like, metal-studded mass of leathery substance. of eyes, ears, limbs, or organsit apparently had none, yet it radiated an intensely hostile aura; a mental effluviumconcentrated of rage and of hatred. "apparently the ruling intelligence of theplanet," roger commented. "such creatures are useless to us; we can build machines inhalf the time that would be required for their subjugation and training. still, it shouldnot be permitted to carry back what it may have learned of us." as he spoke the adeptthrew the peculiar being out into the air and dispassionately rayed it out of existence.
"that thing reminds me of a man i used toknow, back in penobscot." penrose was as coldly callous as his unfeeling master. "the evenest-temperedman in townâ€”mad all the time!" eventually roger found a location which satisfiedhis requirements of raw materials, and made a landing upon that unfriendly soil. sweepingbeams denuded a great circle of life, and into that circle leaped robots. robots requiringneither rest nor food, but only lubricants and power; robots insensible alike to thatbitter cold and to that noxious atmosphere. but the outlaws were not to win a footholdupon that inimical planet easily, nor were they to hold it without effort. through theweird vegetation of the circle’s bare edge there scuttled and poured along a horde ofthe metal-studded menâ€”if "men" they might
be calledâ€”who, ferocity incarnate, rushedthe robot line. mowed down by hundreds, still they came on; willing, it seemed to spendany number of lives in order that one living creature might once touch a robot with oneoutthrust metallic stud. whenever that happened there was a flash of lightning, the heavysmoke of burning insulation, grease, and metal, and the robot went down out of control. recallinghis remaining automatons, roger sent out a shielding screen, against which the defendersof their planet raged in impotent fury. for days they hurled themselves and their everyforce against that impenetrable barrier, then withdrew: temporarily stopped, but by no meansacknowledging defeat. then while roger and his cohorts directedaffairs from within their comfortable and
now sufficiently roomy vessel, there cameinto being around it an industrial city of metal peopled by metallic and insensate mechanisms.mines were sunk, furnaces were blown in, smelters belched forth into the already unbearableair their sulphurous fumes, rolling mills and machine shops were built and were equipped;and as fast as new enterprises were completed additional robots were ready to man them.in record time the heavy work of girders, members, and plates was well under way; andshortly thereafter light, deft, multi-fingered mechanisms began to build and to install theprodigious amount of precise machinery required by the vastness of the structure. as soon as he was sure that he would be completelyfree for a sufficient length of time, roger-gharlane
assembled, boiled down and concentrated, hisevery mental force. he probed then, very gently, for whatever it was that had been and wasstill blocking him. he found itâ€”synchronized with itâ€”and in the instant hurled againstit the fiercest thrust possible for his eddorian mind to generate: a bolt whose twin had slainmore than one member of eddore’s innermost circle; a bolt whose energies, he had previouslyfelt sure, would slay any living thing save only his ultimate supremacy, the all-highestof eddore. now, however, and not completely to his surprise,that blast of force was ineffective; and the instantaneous riposte was of such intensityas to require for its parrying everything that gharlane had. he parried it, howeverbarely, and directed a thought at his unknown
opponent. "you, whoever you may be, have found out thatyou cannot kill me. no more can i kill you. so be it. do you still believe that you cankeep me from remembering whatever it was that my ancestor was compelled to forget?" "now that you have obtained a focal pointwe cannot prevent you from remembering; and merely to hinder you would be pointless. youmay remember in peace." back and back went gharlane’s mind. centuries… millenia … cycles … eons. the trace grew dim, almost imperceptible, deeply buriedbeneath layer upon layer of accretions of knowledge, experience, and sensation whichno one of many hundreds of his ancestors had
even so much as disturbed. but every iotaof knowledge that any of his progenitors had ever had was still his. however dim, howeverdeeply buried, however suppressed and camouflaged by inimical force, he could now find it. he found it, and in the instant of its findingit was as though enphilistor the arisian spoke directly to him; as though the fused eldersof arisia triedâ€”vainly nowâ€”to erase from his own mind all knowledge of arisia’s existence.the fact that such a race as the arisians had existed so long ago was bad enough. thatthe arisians had been aware throughout all those ages of the eddorians, and had beenable to keep their own existence secret, was worse. the crowning fact that the arisianshad had all this time in which to work unopposed
against his own race made even gharlane’sindomitable ego quail. this was important. such minor matters asthe wiping out of non-conforming culturesâ€”the extraordinarily rapid growth of which wasnow explainedâ€”must wait. eddore must revise its thinking completely; the pooled and integratedmind of the innermost circle must scrutinize every fact, every implication and connotation,of this new-old knowledge. should he flash back to eddore, or should he wait and takethe planetoid, with its highly varied and extremely valuable contents? he would wait;a few moments more would be a completely negligible addition to the eons of time which had alreadyelapsed since action should have been begun. the rebuilding of the planetoid, then, wenton. roger had no reason to suspect that there
was anything physically dangerous within hundredsof millions of miles. nevertheless, since he knew that he could no longer depend uponhis own mental powers to keep him informed as to all that was going on around him, itwas his custom to scan, from time to time, all nearby space by means of ether-borne detectors.thus it came about that one day, as he sent out his beam, his hard gray eyes grew evenharder. "mirsky! nishimura! penrose! come here!" heordered, and showed them upon his plate an enormous sphere of steel, its offensive beamsflaming viciously. "is there any doubt whatever in your minds as to the system to which thatship belongs?" "none at allâ€”solarian," replied the russian."to narrow it still further, triplanetarian.
while larger than any i have ever seen before,its construction is unmistakable. they managed to trace us, and are testing out their weaponsbefore attacking. do we attack or do we run away?" "if triplanetarian, and it surely is, we attack,"coldly. "this one section is armed and powered to defeat triplanetary’s entire navy. we shalltake that ship, and shall add its slight resources to our own. and it may even be that they havepicked up the three who escaped me … i have never been balked for long. yes, we shalltake that vessel. and those three sooner or later. except for the fact that their escapefrom me is a matter which should be corrected, i care nothing whatever about either bradleyor the woman. costigan, however, is in a different
category … costigan handled me…." diamond-hardeyes glared balefully at the urge of thoughts to a clean and normal mind unthinkable. "to your posts," he ordered. "the machineswill continue to function under their automatic controls during the short time it will requireto abate this nuisance." "one moment!" a strange voice roared fromthe speakers. "consider yourselves under arrest, by order of the triplanetary council! surrenderand you shall receive impartial hearing; fight us and you shall never come to trial. fromwhat we have learned of roger, we do not expect him to surrender, but if any of you othermen wish to avoid immediate death, leave your vessel at once. we will come back for youlater."
"any of you wishing to leave this vessel havemy full permission to do so," roger announced, disdaining any reply to the challenge of theboise. "any such, however, will not be allowed inside the planetoid area after the rest ofus return from wiping out that patrol. we attack in one minute." "would not one do better by stopping on?"baxter, in the quarters of the american, was in doubt as to the most profitable courseto pursue. "i should leave immediately if i thought that that ship could win; but ido not fancy that it can, do you?" "that ship? one triplanetary ship againstus?" penrose laughed raucously. "do as you please. i’d go in a minute if i thought thatthere was any chance of us losing; but there
isn’t, so i’m staying. i know which side mybread’s buttered on. those cops are bluffing, that’s all. not bluffing exactly, either,because they’ll go through with it as long as they last. foolish, but it’s a way theyhaveâ€”they’ll die trying every time instead of running away, even when they know they’relicked before they start. they don’t use good judgment." "none of you are leaving? very well, you eachknow what to do," came roger’s emotionless voice. the stipulated minute having elapsed,he advanced a lever and the outlaw cruiser slid quietly into the air. toward the poised boise roger steered. withinrange, he flung out a weapon new-learned and
supposedly irresistible to any ferrous thingor creature, the red converter-field of the nevians. for roger’s analytical detector hadstood him in good stead during those frightful minutes in the course of which the planetoidhad borne the brunt of nerado’s super-human attack; in such good stead that from the recordsof those ingenious instruments he and his scientists had been able to reconstruct notonly the generators of the attacking forces, but also the screens employed by the amphibiansin the neutralization of similar beams. with a vastly inferior armament the smallest ofroger’s vessels had defeated the most powerful battleships of triplanetary; what had he tofear in such a heavy craft as the one he now was driving, one so superlatively armed andpowered? it was just as well for his peace
of mind that he had no inkling that the harmless-lookingsphere he was so blithely attacking was in reality the much-discussed, half-mythicalsuper-ship upon which the triplanetary service had been at work so long; nor that its alreadyunprecedented armament had been reenforced, thanks to that hated costigan, with roger’sown every worthwhile idea, as well as with every weapon and defense known to that arch-nevian,nerado! unknowing and contemptuous, roger launchedhis converter field, and instantly found himself fighting for his very life. for from rodebushat the controls down, the men of the boise countered with wave after wave and with salvoafter salvo of vibratory and material destruction. no thought of mercy for the men of the pirateship could enter their minds. the outlaws
had each been given a chance to surrender,and each had refused it. refusing, they knew, as the triplanetarians knew and as all modernreaders know, meant that they were staking their lives upon victory. for with modernarmaments few indeed are the men who live through the defeat in battle of a war-vesselof space. roger launched his field of red opacity, butit did not reach even the boise’s screens. all space seemed to explode into violet splendoras rodebush neutralized it, drove it back with his obliterating zone of force; but eventhat all-devouring zone could not touch roger’s peculiarly efficient screen. the outlaw vesselstood out, unharmed. ultra-violet, infra-red, pure heat, infra-sound, solid beams of high-tension,high-frequency stuff in whose paths the most
stubborn metals would be volatilized instantly,all iron-driven; every deadly and torturing vibration known was hurled against that screen:but it, too, was iron-driven, and it held. even the awful force of the macro-beam wasdissipated by itâ€”reflected, hurled away on all sides in coruscating torrents of blinding,dazzling energy. cooper, adlington, spencer, and dutton hurled against it their bombs andtorpedoesâ€”and still it held. but roger’s fiercest blasts and heaviest projectiles wereequally impotent against the force-shields of the super-ship. the adept, having no likingfor a battle upon equal terms, then sought safety in flight, only to be brought to acrashing, stunning halt by a massive tractor beam.
"that must be that polycyclic screen thatconway reported on." cleveland frowned in thought. "i’ve been doing a lot of work onthat, and i think i’ve calculated an opener for it, fred, but i’ll have to have numberten projector and the whole output of number ten power room. can you let me play with thatmuch juice for a while? all right, blake, tune her up to fifty-five thousandâ€”there,hold it! now, you other fellows, listen! i’m going to try to drill a hole through thatscreen with a hollow, quasi-solid beam; like a diamond drill cutting out a core. you won’tbe able to shove anything into the hole from outside the beam, so you’ll have to steeryour cans out through the central orifice of number ten projectorâ€”that’ll be cold,since i’m going to use only the outer ring.
i don’t know how long i’ll be able to holdthe hole open, though, so shoot them along as fast as you can. ready? here goes!" he pressed a series of contacts. far below,in number ten converter room, massive switches drove home and the enormous mass of the vesselquivered under the terrific reaction of the newly-calculated, semi-material beam of energythat was hurled out, backed by the mightiest of all the mighty converters and generatorsof triplanetary’s super-dreadnaught. that beam, a pipe-like hollow cylinder of intolerableenergy, flashed out, and there was a rending, tearing crash as it struck roger’s hithertoimpenetrable wall. struck and clung, grinding, boring in, while from the raging inferno thatmarked the circle of contact of cylinder and
shield the pirate’s screen radiated scintillatingtorrents of crackling, streaming sparks, lightning like in length and in intensity. deeper and deeper the gigantic drill was driven.it was through! pierced roger’s polycyclic screen; exposed the bare metal of roger’swalls! and now, concentrated upon one point, flamed out in seemingly redoubled fury triplanetary’sraging beamsâ€”in vain. for even as they could not penetrate the screen, neither could theypenetrate the wall of cleveland’s drill, but rebounded from it in the cascaded brillianceof thwarted lightning. "oh, what a dumb-bell i am!" groaned cleveland."why, oh why didn’t i have somebody rig up a secondary sx7 beam on ten’s inner rings?hop to it, will you, blake, so that we’ll
have it in case they are able to stop thecans?" but the pirates could not stop all of triplanetary’sprojectiles, now hurrying along inside the pipe as fast as they could be driven. in fact,for a few minutes gray roger, knowing that he faced the first real defeat of his longlife, paid no attention to them at all, nor to any of his useless offensive weapons: hestruggled only to break away from the savage grip of the boise’s tractor rod. futile. hecould neither cut nor stretch that inexorably anchoring beam. then he devoted his everyresource to the closing of that unbelievable breach in his shield. equally futile. hismost desperate efforts resulted only in more frenzied displays of incandescence along thecurved surface of contact of that penetrant
cylinder. and through that terrific conduitcame speeding package after package of destruction. bombs, armor-piercing shells, gas shells ofpoisonous and corrosive fluids followed each other in close succession. the surviving scientistsof the planetoid, expert gunners and ray-men all, destroyed many of the projectiles, butit was not humanly possible to cope with them all. and the breach could not be forced shutagainst the all but irresistible force of cleveland’s "opener". and with all his powerroger could not shift his vessel’s position in the grip of triplanetary’s tractors sufficientlyto bring a projector to bear upon the super-ship along the now unprotected axis of that narrow,but deadly tube. thus it was that the end came soon. a war-headtouched steel plating and there ensued a space-wracking
explosion of atomic iron. gaping wide, helpless,with all defenses down, other torpedoes entered the stricken hulk and completed its destructioneven before they could be recalled. atomic bombs literally volatilized most of the piratevessel; vials of pure corrosion began to dissolve the solid fragments of her substance intodripping corruption. reeking gasses filled every cranny of circumambient space as whatwas left of roger’s battle cruiser began the long plunge to the ground. the super-shipfollowed the wreckage down, and rodebush sent out an exploring spy-ray. "… resistance was such that it was necessaryto employ corrosive, and ship and contents were completely disintegrated," he dictated,a little later, into his vessel’s log. "while
there were of course no remains recognizableas human, it is certain that roger and his last eleven men died; since it is clear thatthe circumstances and conditions were such that no life could possibly have survived." it is true that the form of flesh which hadbeen known as roger was destroyed. the solids and liquids of its substance were resolvedinto their component molecules or atoms. that which had energized that form of flesh, however,could not be harmed by any physical force, however applied. therefore that which maderoger what he was; the essence which was gharlane of eddore; was actually back upon his nativeplanet even before rodebush completed his study of what was left of the pirates’ vessel.
the innermost circle met, and for a spaceof time which would have been very long indeed for any earthly mind those monstrous beingconsidered as one multi-ply intelligence every newly-exposed phase and facet of the truth.at the end, they knew the arisians as well as the arisians knew them. the all-highestthen called a meeting of all the minds of eddore. "… hence it is clear that these arisians,while possessing minds of tremendous latent capability, are basically soft, and thereforeinefficient," he concluded. "not weak, mind you, but scrupulous and unrealistic; and itis by taking advantage of these characteristics that we shall ultimately triumph."
"a few details, all-highest, if your ultimatesupremacy would deign," a lesser eddorian requested. "some of us have not been ableto perceive at all clearly the optimum lines of action." "while detailed plans of campaign have notyet been worked out, there will be several main lines of attack. a purely military undertakingwill of course be one, but it will not be the most important. political action, by meansof subversive elements and obstructive minorities, will prove much more useful. most productiveof all, however, will be the operations of relatively small but highly organized groupswhose functions will be to negate, to tear down and destroy, every bulwark of what theweak and spineless adherents of civilization
consider the finest things in lifeâ€”love,truth, honor, loyalty, purity, altruism, decency, and so on." "ah, love … extremely interesting. supremacy,this thing they call sex," gharlane offered. "what a silly, what a meaningless thing itis! i have studied it intensively, but am not yet fully enough informed to submit acomplete and conclusive report. i do know, however, that we can and will use it. in ourhands, vice will become a potent weapon indeed. vice … drugs … greed … gambling … extortion… blackmail … lust … abduction … assassination … ah-h-h!" "exactly. there will be room, and need, forthe fullest powers of every eddorian. let
me caution you all, however, that little ornone of this work is to be done by any of us in person. we must work through echelonupon echelon of higher and lower executives and supervisors if we are to control efficientlythe activities of the thousands of billions of operators which we must and will have atwork. each echelon of control will be vastly greater in number than the one immediatelyabove it, but correspondingly lower in the individual power of its component personnel.the sphere of activity of each supervisor, however small or great, will be clearly andsharply defined. rank, from the operators at planetary-population levels up to and includingthe eddorian directorate, will be a linear function of ability. absolute authority willbe delegated. full responsibility will be
assumed. those who succeed will receive advancementand satisfaction of desire; those who fail will die. "since the personnel of the lower echelonswill be of small value and easy of replacement, it is of little moment whether or not theybecome involved in reverses affecting the still lower echelons whose activities theydirect. the echelon immediately below us of eddore, howeverâ€”and incidentally, it ismy thought that the ploorans will best serve as our immediate underlingsâ€”must never,under any conditions, allow any hint of any of its real business to become known eitherto any member of any lower echelon or to any adherent of civilization. this point is vital;everyone here must realize that only in that
way can our own safety remain assured, andmust take pains to see to it that any violator of this rule is put instantly to death. "those of you who are engineers will designever more powerful mechanisms to use against the arisians. psychologists will devise andput into practice new methods and techniques, both to use against the able minds of thearisians and to control the activities of mentally weaker entities. each eddorian, whateverhis field or his ability, will be given the task he is best fitted to perform. that isall." and upon arisia, too, while there was no surprise,a general conference was held. while some of the young watchmen may have been glad thatthe open conflict for which they had been
preparing so long was now about to break,arisia as a whole was neither glad nor sorry. in the great scheme of things which was thecosmic all, this whole affair was an infinitesimal incident. it had been foreseen. it had come.each arisian would do to the fullest extent of his ability that which the very fact ofhis being an arisian would compel him to do. it would pass. "in effect, then, our situation has not reallychanged," eukonidor stated, rather than asked, after the elders had again spread their visualizationfor public inspection and discussion. "this killing, it seems, must go on. this stumbling,falling, and rising; this blind groping; this futility; this frustration; this welter ofcrime, disaster, and bloodshed. why? it seems
to me that it would be much betterâ€”cleaner,simpler, faster, more efficient, and involving infinitely less bloodshed and sufferingâ€”forus to take now a direct and active part, as the eddorians have done and will continueto do." "cleaner, youth, yes; and simpler. easier;less bloody. it would not, however, be better; or even good; because no end-point would everbe attained. young civilizations advance only by overcoming obstacles. each obstacle surmounted,each step of progress made, carries its suffering as well as its reward. we could negate theefforts of any echelon below the eddorians themselves, it is true. we could so protectand shield each one of our protege races that not a war would be waged and not a law wouldbe broken. but to what end? further contemplation
will show you immature thinkers that in sucha case not one of our races would develop into what the presence of the eddorians hasmade it necessary for them to become. "from this it follows that we would neverbe able to overcome eddore; nor would our conflict with that race remain indefinitelyat stalemate. given sufficient time during which to work against us, they will be ableto win. however, if every arisian follows his line of action as it is laid out in thisvisualization, all will be well. are there any more questions?" "none. the blanks which you may have leftcan be filled in by a mind of very moderate power."
"look here, fred." cleveland called attentionto the plate, upon which was pictured a horde of the peculiar inhabitants of that ghastlyplanet, wreaking their frenzied electrical wrath upon everything within the circle baredof native life by roger’s destructive beams. "i was just going to suggest that we cleanup the planetoid that roger started to build, but i see that the local boys and girls areattending to it." "just as well, perhaps. i would like to stayand study these people a little while, but we must get back onto the trail of the nevians,"and the boise leaped away into space, toward the line of flight of the amphibians. they reached that line and along it they traveledat full normal blast. as they traveled their
detecting receivers and amplifiers were reachingout with their utmost power; ultra-instruments capable of rendering audible any signal originatingwithin many light-years of them, upon any possible communications band. and constantlyat least two men, with every sense concentrated in their ears, were listening to those instruments. listeningâ€”straining to distinguish in thedeafening roar of background noise from the over-driven tubes any sign of voice or ofsignal: listeningâ€”while, millions upon millionsof miles beyond even the prodigious reach of those ultra-instruments, three human beingswere even then sending out into empty space an almost hopeless appeal for the help sodesperately needed!
chapter 18 the specimens escape knowing well that conversation with its fellowsis one of the greatest needs of any intelligent being, the nevians had permitted the terrestrialspecimens to retain possession of their ultra-beam communicators. thus it was that costigan hadbeen able to keep in touch with his sweetheart and with bradley. he learned that each hadbeen placed upon exhibition in a different nevian city; that the three had been separatedin response to an insistent popular demand for such a distribution of the peculiar, buthighly interesting creatures from a distant solar system. they had not been harmed. infact, each was visited daily by a specialist,
who made sure that his charge was being keptin the pink of condition. as soon as he became aware of this conditionof things costigan became morose. he sat still, drooped, and pined away visibly. he refusedto eat, and of the worried specialist he demanded liberty. then, failing in that as he knewhe would fail, he demanded something to do. they pointed out to him, reasonably enough,that in such a civilization as theirs there was nothing he could do. they assured himthat they would do anything they could to alleviate his mental suffering, but that sincehe was a museum piece he must see, himself, that he must be kept on display for a shorttime. wouldn’t he please behave himself and eat, as a reasoning being should? costigansulked a little longer, then wavered. finally
he agreed to compromise. he would eat andexercise if they would fit up a laboratory in his apartment, so that he could continuethe studies he had begun upon his own native planet. to this they agreed, and thus it cameabout that one day the following conversation was held: "clio? bradley? i’ve got something to tellyou this time. haven’t said anything before, for fear things might not work out, but theydid. i went on a hunger strike and made them give me a complete laboratory. as a chemisti’m a damn good electrician; but luckily, with the sea-water they’ve got here, it’sa very simple thing to make…." "hold on!" snapped bradley. "somebody maybe listening in on us!"
"they aren’t. they can’t, without my knowingit, and i’ll cut off the second anybody tries to synchronize with my beam. to resumeâ€”makingvee-two is a very simple process, and i’ve got everything around here that’s hollow clearfull of it…." "how come they let you?" asked clio. "oh, they don’t know what i’m doing. theywatched me for a few days, and all i did was make up and bottle the weirdest messes imaginable.then i finally managed to separate oxygen and nitrogen, after trying hard all of oneday; and when they saw that i didn’t know anything about either one of them or whatto do with them after i had them, they gave me up in disgust as a plain dumb ape and haven’tpaid any attention to me since. so i’ve got
me plenty of kilograms of liquid vee-two,all ready to touch off. i’m getting out of here in about three minutes and a half, andi’m coming over after you folks, in a new, iron-powered space-speedster that they don’tknow i know anything about. they’ve just given it its final tests, and it’s the slickestthing you ever saw." "but conway, dearest, you can’t possibly rescueme," clio’s voice broke. "why, there are thousands of them, all around here. if you can get away,go, dear, but don’t…." "i said i was coming after you, and if i getaway i’ll be there. a good whiff of this stuff will lay out a thousand of them just as easilyas it will one. here’s the idea. i’ve made a gas mask for myself, since i’ll be in itwhere it’s thick, but you two won’t need any.
it’s soluble enough in water so that threeor four thicknesses of wet cloth over your noses will be enough. i’ll tell you when towet down. we’re going to break away or go out tryingâ€”there aren’t enough amphibiansbetween here and andromeda to keep us humans cooped up like menagerie animals forever!but here comes my specialist with the keys to the city; time for the overture to start.see you later!" the nevian physician directed his key tubeupon the transparent wall of the chamber and an opening appeared, an opening which vanishedas soon as he had stepped through it; costigan kicked a valve open; and from various innocenttubes there belched forth into the water of the central lagoon and into the air over ita flood of deadly vapor. as the nevian turned
toward the prisoner there was an almost inaudiblehiss and a tiny jet of the frightful, outlawed stuff struck his open gills, just below hishuge, conical head. he tensed momentarily, twitched convulsively just once, and fellmotionless to the floor. and outside, the streams of avidly soluble liquefied gas rushedout into air and into water. it spread, dissolved, and diffused with the extreme mobility whichis one of its characteristics; and as it diffused and was borne outward the nevians in theirmassed hundreds died. died not knowing what killed them, not knowing even that they died.costigan, bitterly resentful of the inhuman treatment accorded the three and fiercelyanxious for the success of his plan of escape, held his breath and, grimly alert, watchedthe amphibians die. when he could see no more
motion anywhere he donned his gas-mask, strappedupon his back a large canister of the poisonâ€”his capacious pockets were already full of smallercontainersâ€”and two savagely exultant sentences escaped him. "i am a poor, ignorant specimen of ape thatcan be let play with apparatus, am i?" he rasped, as he picked up the key tube of thespecialist and opened the door of his prison. "they’ll learn now that it ain’t safe to judgeby the looks of a flea how far he can jump!" he stepped out through the opening into thewater, and, burdened as he was, made shift to swim to the nearest ramp. up it he ran,toward a main corridor. but ahead of him there was wafted a breath of dread vee-two, andwhere that breath went, went also unconsciousnessâ€”an
unconsciousness which would deepen graduallyinto permanent oblivion save for the prompt intervention of one who possessed, not onlythe necessary antidote, but the equally important knowledge of exactly how to use it. upon thefloor of that corridor were strewn nevians, who had dropped in their tracks. past or overtheir bodies costigan strode, pausing only to direct a jet of lethal vapor into whateverbranching corridor or open door caught his eye. he was going to the intake of the city’sventilation plant, and no unmasked creature dependent for life upon oxygen could bar hispath. he reached the intake, tore the canister from his back, and released its full, vastvolume of horrid contents into the primary air stream of the entire city.
and all throughout that doomed city neviansdropped; quietly and without a struggle, unknowing. busy executives dropped upon their cushioned,flat-topped desks; hurrying travelers and messengers dropped upon the floors of thecorridors or relaxed in the noxious waters of the ways; lookouts and observers droppedbefore their flashing screens; central operators of communications dropped under the winkinglights of their panels. observers and centrals in the outlying sections of the city wonderedbriefly at the unwonted universal motionlessness and stagnation; then the racing taint in waterand in air reached them, too, and they ceased wonderingâ€”forever. then through those quiet halls costigan stalkedto a certain storage room, where with all
due precaution he donned his own suit of triplanetaryarmor. making an ungainly bundle of the other solarian equipment stored there, he draggedit along behind him as he clanked back toward his prison, until he neared the dock at whichwas moored the nevian space-speedster which he was determined to take. here, he knew,was the first of many critical points. the crew of the vessel was aboard, and, with itsindependent air-supply, unharmed. they had weapons, were undoubtedly alarmed, and werevery probably highly suspicious. they, too, had ultra-beams and might see him, but hisvery closeness to them would tend to protect him from ultra-beam observation. thereforehe crouched tensely behind a buttress, staring through his spy-ray goggles, waiting for amoment when none of the nevians would be near
the entrance, but grimly resolved to act instantlyshould he feel any touch of a spying ultra-beam. "here’s where the pinch comes," he growledto himself. "i know the combinations, but if they’re suspicious enough and act quickenough they can seal that door on me before i can get it open, and then rub me out likea blot; but … ah!" the moment had arrived, before the touch ofany revealing ray. he trained the key-tube, the entrance opened, and through that openingin the instant of its appearance there shot a brittle bulb of glass, whose breaking meantdeath. it crashed into fragments against a metallic wall and costigan, entering the vessel,consigned its erstwhile crew one by one to the already crowded waters of the lagoon.he then leaped to the controls and drove the
captured speedster through the air, to plungeit down upon the surface of the lagoon beside the door of the isolated structure which hadfor so long been his prison. carefully he transferred to the vessel the motley assortmentof containers of vee-two, and after a quick check-up to make sure that he had overlookednothing, he shot his craft straight up into the air. then only did he close his ultra-wavecircuits and speak. "clio, bradleyâ€”i got away clean, withouta bit of trouble. now i’m coming after you, clio." "oh, it’s wonderful that you got away, conway!"the girl exclaimed. "but hadn’t you better get captain bradley first? then, if anythingshould happen, he would be of some use, while
i…." "i’ll knock him into an outside loop if hedoes!" the captain snorted, and costigan went on: "you won’t need to. you come first, clio,of course. but you’re too far away for me to see you with my spy, and i don’t want touse the high-powered beam of this boat for fear of detection; so you’d better keep ontalking, so that i can trace you." "that’s one thing i am good at!" clio laughedin sheer relief. "if talking were music, i’d be a full brass band!" and she kept up a flowof inconsequential chatter until costigan told her that it was no longer necessary;that he had established the line.
"any excitement around there yet?" he askedher then. "nothing unusual that i can see," she replied."why? should there be some?" "i hope not, but when i made my getaway icouldn’t kill them all, of course, and i thought maybe they might connect things up with myjail-break and tell the other cities to take steps about you two. but i guess they’re prettywell disorganized back there yet, since they can’t know who hit them, or what with, orwhy. i must have got about everybody that wasn’t sealed up somewhere, and it doesn’tstand to reason that those who are left can check up very closely for a while yet. butthey’re nobody’s foolsâ€”they’ll certainly get conscious when i snatch you, maybe before… there, i see your city, i think."
"what are you going to do?" "same as i did back there, if i can. poisontheir primary air and all the water i can reach…." "oh, conway!" her voice rose to a scream."they must knowâ€”they’re all getting out of the water and are rushing inside the buildingsas fast as they possibly can!" "i see they are," grimly. "i’m right overyou now, ‘way up. been locating their primary intake. they’ve got a dozen ships around it,and have guards posted all along the corridors leading to it; and those guards are wearingmasks! they’re clever birds, all right, those amphibiansâ€”they know what they got backthere and how they got it. that changes things,
girl! if we use gas here we won’t stand achance in the world of getting old bradley. stand by to jump when i open that door!" "hurry, dear! they are coming out here afterme!" "sure they are." costigan had already seenthe two nevians swimming out toward clio’s cage, and had hurled his vessel downward ina screaming power dive. "you’re too valuable a specimen for them to let you be gassed,but if they can get there before i do they’re traveling fools!" he miscalculated slightly, so that insteadof coming to a halt at the surface of the liquid medium the speedster struck with acrash that hurled solid masses of water for
hundreds of yards. but no ordinary crash couldharm that vessel’s structure, her gravity controls were not overloaded, and she shotback to the surface; gallant ship and reckless pilot alike unharmed. costigan trained hiskey-tube upon the doorway of clio’s cell, then tossed it aside. "different combination over here!" he barked."got to cut you outâ€”lie down in that far corner!" his hands flashed over the panel, and as cliofell prone without hesitation or question a heavy beam literally blasted away a largeportion of the roof of the structure. the speedster shot into the air and dropped downuntil she rested upon the tops of opposite
walls; walls still glowing, semi-molten. thegirl piled a stool upon the table and stood upon it, reached upward and seized the mailedhands extended downward toward her. costigan heaved her up into the vessel with a powerfuljerk, slammed the door shut, leaped to the controls, and the speedster darted away. "your armor’s in that bundle there. betterput it on, and check your lewistons and pistolsâ€”no telling what kind of jams we’ll get into,"he snapped, without turning. "bradley, start talking … all right, i’ve got your line.better get your wet rags ready and get organized generallyâ€”every second will count by thetime we get there. we’re coming so fast that our outer plating’s white hot, but it maynot be fast enough, at that."
"it isn’t fast enough, quite," bradley announced,calmly. "they’re coming out after me now." "don’t fight them and probably they won’tparalyze you. keep on talking, so that i can find out where they take you." "no good, costigan." the voice of the oldspacehound did not reveal a sign of emotion as he made his dread announcement. "they haveit all figured out. they’re not taking any chances at allâ€”they’re going to paral…."his voice broke off in the middle of the word. with a bitter imprecation costigan flashedon the powerful ultra-beam projector of the speedster and focused the plate upon bradley’sprison; careless now of detection, since the nevians were already warned. upon that platehe watched the nevians carry the helpless
body of the captain into a small boat, andcontinued to watch as they bore it into one of the largest buildings of the city. up aseries of ramps they took the still form, placing it finally upon a soft couch in anenormous and heavily guarded central hall. costigan turned to his companion, and eventhrough the helmets she could see plainly the white agony of his expression. he moistenedhis lips and tried twice to speakâ€”tried and failed; but he made no move either tocut off their power or to change their direction. "of course," she approved steadily. "we aregoing through. i know that you want to run with me, but if you actually did it i wouldnever want to see you or hear of you again, and you would hate me forever."
"hardly that." the anguish did not leave hiseyes and his voice was hoarse and strained, but his hands did not vary the course of thespeedster by so much as a hair’s breadth. "you’re the finest little fellow that everwaved a plume, and i would love you no matter what happened. i’d trade my immortal soulto the devil if it would get you out of this mess, but we’re both in it up to our necksand we can’t back out now. if they kill him we beat itâ€”he and i both knew that it wason the chance of that happening that i took you firstâ€”but as long as all three of usare alive it’s all three or none." "of course," she said again, as steadily,thrilled this time to the depths of her being by the sheer manhood of him who had thus simplyvoiced his code; a man of such fiber that
neither love of life nor his infinitely greaterlove for her could make him lower its high standard. "we are going through. forget thati am a woman. we are three human beings, fighting a world full of monsters. i am simply oneof us three. i will steer your ship, fire your projectors, or throw your bombs. whatcan i do best?" "throw bombs," he directed, briefly. he knewwhat must be done were they to have even the slightest chance of winning clear. "i’m goingto blast a hole down into that auditorium, and when i do you stand by that port and startdropping bottles of perfume. throw a couple of big ones right down the shaft i make, andthe rest of them most anywhere, after i cut the wall open. they’ll do good wherever theyhit, land or water."
"but captain bradleyâ€”he’ll be gassed, too."her fine eyes were troubled. "can’t be helped. i’ve got the antidote, andit’ll work any time under an hour. that’ll be lots of timeâ€”if we aren’t gone in lessthan ten minutes we’ll be staying here. they’re bringing in platoons of militia in full armor,and if we don’t beat those boys to it we’re in for plenty of grief. all rightâ€”startthrowing!" the speedster had come to a halt directlyover the imposing edifice within which bradley was incarcerated, and a mighty beam had flareddownward, digging a fiery well through floor after floor of stubborn metal. the ceilingof the amphitheater was pierced. the beam expired. down into that assembly hall theredropped two canisters of vee-two, to crash
and to fill its atmosphere with imperceptibledeath. then the beam flashed on again, this time at maximum power, and with it costiganburned away half of the entire building. burned it away until room above room gaped open,shelf-like, to outer atmosphere; the great hall now resembling an over-size pigeon-holesurrounded by smaller ones. into that largest pigeon-hole the speedster darted, and cushioneddesks and benches crashed down; crushed flat under its enormous weight as it came to restupon the floor. every available guard had been thrown intothat room, regardless of customary occupation or of equipment. most of them had been ordinarywatchmen, not even wearing masks, and all such were already down. many, however, weremasked, and a few were dressed in full armor.
but no portable armor could mount defensesof sufficient power to withstand the awful force of the speedster’s weapons, and oneflashing swing of a projector swept the hall almost clear of life. "can’t shoot very close to bradley with thisbig beam, but i’ll mop up on the rest of them by hand. stay here and cover me, clio!" costiganordered, and went to open the port. "i can’tâ€”i won’t!" clio replied instantly."i don’t know the controls well enough. i’d kill you or captain bradley, sure; but i canshoot, and i’m going to!" and she leaped out, close upon his heels. thus, flaming lewiston in one hand and barkingautomatic in the other, the two mailed figures
advanced toward bradley, now doubly helpless;paralyzed by his enemies and gassed by his friends. for a time the nevians melted awaybefore them, but as they approached more nearly the couch upon which the captain was theyencountered six figures encased in armor fully as capable as their own. the beams of thelewistons rebounded from that armor in futile pyrotechnics, the bullets of the automaticsspattered and exploded impotently against it. and behind that single line of armoredguards were massed perhaps twenty unarmored, but masked, soldiers; and scuttling up theramps leading into the hall were coming the platoons of heavily armored figures whichcostigan had previously seen. decision instantly made, costigan ran backtoward the speedster, but he was not deserting
his companions. "keep the good work up!" he instructed thegirl as he ran. "i’ll pick those jaspers off with a pencil and then stand off the bunchthat’s coming while you rub out the rest of that crew there and drag bradley back here." back at the control panel, he trained a narrow,but intensely dense beamâ€”quasi-solid lightningâ€”and one by one the six armored figures fell. then,knowing that clio could handle the remaining opposition, he devoted his attention to thereenforcements so rapidly approaching from the sides. again and again the heavy beamlashed out, now upon this side, now upon that, and in its flaming path nevians disappeared.and not only neviansâ€”in the incredible energy
of that beam’s blast floor, walls, ramps,and every material thing vanished in clouds of thick and brilliant vapor. the room temporarilyclear of foes, he sprang again to clio’s assistance, but her task was nearly done. she had "rubbedout" all opposition and, tugging lustily at bradley’s feet, had already dragged him almostto the side of the speedster. "at-a-girl, clio!" cheered costigan, as hepicked up the burly captain and tossed him through the doorway. "highly useful, girlof my dreams, as well as ornamental. in with you, and we’ll go places!" but getting the speedster out of the now completelyruined hall proved to be much more of a task than driving it in had been, for scarcelyhad costigan closed his locks than a section
of the building collapsed behind them, cuttingoff their retreat. nevian submarines and airships were beginning to arrive upon the scene, andwere beaming the building viciously in an attempt to entrap or to crush the foreignersin its ruins costigan managed finally to blast his way out, but the nevians had had timeto assemble in force and he was met by a concentrated storm of beams and of metal from every inimicalweapon within range. but not for nothing had conway costigan selectedfor his dash for liberty the craft which, save only for the two immense interstellarcruisers, was the most powerful vessel ever built upon red nevia. and not for nothinghad he studied minutely and to the last, least detail every item of its controls and of itsarmament during wearily long days and nights
of solitary imprisonment. he had studied itunder test, in action, and at rest; studied it until he knew thoroughly its every possibilityâ€”andwhat a ship it was! the atomic-powered generators of his shielding screens handled with easethe terrific load of the nevians’ assault, his polycyclic screens were proof againstany material projectile, and the machines supplying his offensive weapons with powerwere more than equal to their tasks. driven now at full rating those frightful beams lashedout against the nevians blocking the way, and under their impacts her screens flaredbrilliantly through the spectrum and went down. and in the instant of their failurethe enemy vessel was literally blown into nothingnessâ€”no unprotected metal, howeverresistant, could exist for a moment in the
pathway of those iron-driven tornadoes ofpure energy. ship after ship of the nevians plunged towardthe speedster in desperately suicidal attempts to ram her down, but each met the same flamingfate before it could reach its target. then from the grouped submarines far below therereached up red rods of force, which seized the space-ship and began relentlessly to drawher down. "what are they doing that for, conway? theycan’t fight us!" "they don’t want to fight us. they want tohold us, but i know what to do about that, too," and the powerful tractor rods snappedas a plane of pure force knifed through them. upward now at the highest permissible velocitythe speedster leaped, and past the few ships
remaining above her she dodged; nothing nowbetween her and the freedom of boundless space. "you did it, conway; you did it!" clio exulted."oh, conway, you’re just simply wonderful!" "i haven’t done it yet," costigan cautionedher. "the worst is yet to come. nerado. he’s why they wanted to hold us back, and why iwas in such a hurry to get away. that boat of his is bad medicine, girl, and we wantto put plenty of kilometers behind us before he gets started." "but do you think he will chase us?" "think so? i know so! the mere facts thatwe are rare specimens and that he told us that we were going to stay there all the restof our lives would make him chase us clear
to lundmark’s nebula. besides that, we steppedon their toes pretty heavily before we left. we know altogether too much now to be letget back to tellus; and finally, they’d all die of acute enlargement of the spleen ifwe get away with this prize ship of theirs. i hope to tell you they’ll chase us!" he fell silent, devoting his whole attentionto his piloting, driving his craft onward at such velocity that its outer plating heldsteadily at the highest point of temperature compatible with safety. soon they were outin open space, hurtling toward the sun under the drive of every possible watt of power,and costigan took off his armor and turned toward the helpless body of the captain.
"he looks so … so … so dead, conway! areyou really sure that you can bring him to?" "absolutely. lots of time yet. just threesimple squirts in the right places will do the trick." he took from a locked compartmentof his armor a small steel box, which housed a surgeon’s hypodermic and three vials. one,two, three, he injected small, but precisely measured amounts of the fluids into the threevital localities, then placed the inert form upon a deeply cushioned couch. "there! that’ll take care of the gas in fiveor six hours. the paralysis will wear off long before that, so he’ll be all right whenhe wakes up; and we’re going away from here with everything we can put out. i’ve doneeverything i know how to do, for the present."
then only did costigan turn and look down,directly into clio’s eyes. wide, eloquent blue eyes that gazed back up into his, tenderand unafraid; eyes freighted with the oldest message of woman to chosen man. his hard youngface softened wonderfully as he stared at her; there were two quick steps and they werein each other’s arms. lips upon eager lips, blue eyes to gray, motionless they stood claspedin ecstasy; thinking nothing of the dreadful past, nothing of the fearful future, consciousonly of the glorious, wonderful present. "clio mine … darling … girl, girl, howi love you!" costigan’s deep voice was husky with emotion. "i haven’t kissed you for seventhousand years! i don’t rate you, by a million steps; but if i can just get you out of thismess, i swear by all the gods of interplanetary
space…." "you needn’t, lover. rate me? good heavens,conway! it’s just the other way…." "stop it!" he commanded in her ear. "i’m stilldizzy at the idea of your loving me at all, to say nothing of loving me this way! butyou do, and that’s all i ask, here or hereafter." "love you? love you!" their mutual embracetightened and her low voice thrilled brokenly as she went on: "conway dearest … i can’tsay a thing, but you know…. oh, conway!" after a time clio drew a long and tremulous,but supremely happy breath as the realities of their predicament once more obtruded themselvesupon her consciousness. she released herself gently from costigan’s arms.
"do you really think that there is a chanceof us getting back to the earth, so that we can be together … always?" "a chance, yes. a probability, no," he replied,unequivocally. "it depends upon two things. first, how much of a start we got on nerado.his ship is the biggest and fastest thing i ever saw, and if he strips her down anddrives herâ€”which he willâ€”he’ll catch us long before we can make tellus. on the otherhand, i gave rodebush a lot of data, and if he and lyman cleveland can add it to theirown stuff and get that super-ship of ours rebuilt in time, they’ll be out here on theprowl; and they’ll have what it takes to give even nerado plenty of argument. no use worryingabout it, anyway. we won’t know anything until
we can detect one or the other of them, andthen will be the time to do something about it." "if nerado catches us, will you…." she paused. "rub you out? i will not. even if he doescatch us, and takes us back to nevia, i won’t. there’s lots more time coming onto the clock.nerado won’t hurt either of us badly enough to leave scars, either physical, mental, ormoral. i’d kill you in a second if it were roger; he’s dirty. he’s meanâ€”he’s thoroughlybad. but nerado’s a good enough old scout, in his way. he’s big and he’s clean. you know,i could really like that fish if i could meet him on terms of equality sometime?"
"i couldn’t!" she declared vigorously. "he’scrawly and scaly and snaky; and he smells so … so…." "so rank and fishy?" costigan laughed deeply."details, girl; mere details. i’ve seen people who looked like money in the bank and whosmelled like a bouquet of violets that you couldn’t trust half the length of nerado’sneck." "but look what he did to us!" she protested."and they weren’t trying to recapture us back there; they were trying to kill us." "that was perfectly all right, what he didand what they didâ€”what else could they have done?" he wanted to know. "and while you’relooking, look at what we did to themâ€”plenty,
i’d say. but we all had it to do, and neitherside will blame the other for doing it. he’s a square shooter, i tell you." "well, maybe, but i don’t like him a bit,and let’s not talk about him any more. let’s talk about us. remember what you said once,when you advised me to ‘let you lay,’ or whatever it was?" woman-like, she wished to dip againlightly into the waters of pure emotion, even though she had such a short time before ledthe man out of their profoundest depths. but costigan, into whose hard life love of womanhad never before entered, had not yet recovered sufficiently from his soul-shaking plungeto follow her lead. inarticulate, distrusting his newly found supreme happiness, he mustneeds stay out of those enchanted waters or
plunge again. and he was afraid to plungeâ€”diffident,still deeming himself unworthy of the miracle of this wonder-girl’s loveâ€”even though everyfiber of his being shrieked its demand to feel again that slender body in his arms.he did not consciously think those thoughts. he acted them without thinking; they wereprime basics in that which made conway costigan what he was. "i do remember, and i still think it’s a soundidea, even though i am too far gone now to let you put it into effect," he assured her,half seriously. he kissed her, tenderly and reverently, then studied her carefully. "butyou look as though you’d been on a martian picnic. when did you eat last?"
"i don’t remember, exactly. this morning,i think." "or maybe last night, or yesterday morning?i thought so! bradley and i can eat anything that’s chewable, and drink anything that willpour, but you can’t. i’ll scout around and see if i can’t fix up something that you’llbe able to eat." he rummaged through the store-rooms, emergingwith sundry viands from which he prepared a highly satisfactory meal. "think you can sleep now, sweetheart?" aftersupper, once more within the circle of costigan’s arms, clio nodded her head against his shoulder. "of course i can, dear. now that you are withme, out here alone, i’m not a bit afraid any
more. you will get us back to earth some way,sometime; i just know that you will. good-night, conway." "good-night, clio … little sweetheart,"he whispered, and went back to bradley’s side. in due time the captain recovered consciousness,and slept. then for days the speedster flashed on toward our distant solar system; days duringwhich her wide-flung detector screens remained cold. "i don’t know whether i’m afraid they’ll hitsomething or afraid that they won’t," costigan remarked more than once, but finally thosetenuous sentinels did in fact encounter an interfering vibration. along the detectorline a visibeam sped, and costigan’s face
hardened as he saw the unmistakable outlineof nerado’s interstellar cruiser, far behind them. "well, a stern chase always was a long one,"costigan said finally. "he can’t catch us for plenty of days yet … now what?" forthe alarms of the detectors had broken out anew. there was still another point of interferenceto be investigated. costigan traced it, and there, almost dead ahead of them, betweenthem and their sun, nearing them at the incomprehensible rate of the sum of the two vessels’ velocities,came another cruiser of the nevians! "must be the sister-ship, coming back fromour system with a load of iron," costigan deduced. "heavily loaded as she is, we maybe able to dodge her; and she’s coming so
fast that if we can stay out of her rangewe’ll be all rightâ€”he won’t be able to stop for probably three or four days. but if oursuper-ship is anywhere in these parts, now’s the time for her to rally ’round!" he gave the speedster all the side-thrustshe would take; then, putting every available communicator tube behind a tight beam, heaimed it at sol and began sending out a long-continued call to his fellows of the triplanetary service. nearer and nearer the nevian flashed, tryingwith all her power to intercept the speedster; and it soon became evident that, heavily ladenthough she was, she could make enough sideway to bring her within range at the time of meeting.
"of course, they’ve got partial neutralizationof inertia, the same as we have," costigan cogitated, "and by the way he’s coming i’dsay that he had orders to blow us out of the etherâ€”he knows as well as we do that hecan’t capture us alive at anything like the relative velocities we’ve got now. i can’tgive her any more side thrust without overloading the gravity controls, so overloaded they’vegot to be. strap down, you two, because they may go out entirely!" "do you think that you can pull away fromthem, conway?" clio was staring in horrified fascination into the plate, watching the picturedvessel increase in size, moment by moment. "i don’t know whether i can or not, but i’mgoing to try. just in case we don’t, though,
i’m going to keep on yelling for help. insolid? all right, boat, do your stuff!" chapter 19 giants meet "check your blast, fred, i think that i hearsomething trying to come through!" cleveland called out, sharply. for days the boise hadtorn through the illimitable reaches of empty space, and now the long vigil of the keen-earedlisteners was to be ended. rodebush cut off his power, and through the crackling roarof tube noise an almost inaudible voice made itself heard. "… all the help you can give us. sammsâ€”clevelandâ€”rodebushâ€”anybodyof triplanetary who can hear me, listen! this
is costigan, with miss marsden and captainbradley, heading for where we think the sun is, from right ascension about six hours,declination about plus fourteen degrees. distance unknown, but probably a good many light-years.trace my call. one nevian ship is overhauling us slowly, another is coming toward us fromthe sun. we may or may not be able to dodge it, but we need all the help you can giveus. sammsâ€”rodebushâ€”clevelandâ€”anybody of triplanetary…." endlessly the faint, faint voice went on,but rodebush and cleveland were no longer listening. sensitive ultra-loops had beenswung, and along the indicated line shot triplanetary’s super-ship at a velocity which she had neverbefore even approached; the utterly incomprehensible,
almost incalculable velocity attained by inertialessmatter driven through an almost perfect vacuum by the boise’s maximum projector blastsâ€”ablast which would lift her stupendous normal tonnage against a gravity five times thatof earth. at the full frightful measure of that velocity the super-ship literally annihilateddistance, while ahead of her the furiously driven spy-ray beam fanned out in quest ofthe three triplanetarians who were calling for help. "got any idea how fast we’re going?" rodebushdemanded, glancing up for an instant from the observation plate. "we should be ableto see him, since we could hear him, and our range is certainly as great as anything hecan have."
"no. can’t figure velocity without any reliabledata on how many atoms of matter exist per cubic meter out here." cleveland was staringat the calculator. "it’s constant, of course, at the value at which the friction of themedium is equal to our thrust. incidentally, we can’t hold it too long. we’re running atemperature, which shows that we’re stepping along faster than anybody ever computed before.also, it points out the necessity for something that none of us ever anticipated needing inan open-space driveâ€”refrigerators or radiating wall-shields or repellers or something ofthe sort. but to get back to our velocityâ€”taking throckmorton’s estimates it figures somewherenear the order of magnitude of ten to the twenty-seventh. fast enough, anyway, so thatyou’d better bend an eye on that plate. even
after you see them you won’t know where theyreally are, because we don’t know any of the velocities involvedâ€”our own, theirs, orthat of the beamâ€”and we may be right on top of them." "or, if we happen to be outrunning the beam,we won’t see them at all. that makes it nice piloting." "how are you going to handle things when weget there?" "lock to them and take them aboard, if we’rein time. if not, if they are fighting alreadyâ€”there they are!" the picture of the speedster’s control roomflashed upon the speaker.
"hi, fritz! hi, cleve! welcome to our city!where are you?" "we don’t know," cleveland snapped back, "andwe don’t know where you are, either. can’t figure anything without data. i see you’restill breathing air. where are the nevians? how much time have we got yet?" "not enough, i’m afraid. by the looks of thingsthey will be within range of us in a couple of hours, and you haven’t even touched ourdetector screen yet." "a couple of hours!" in his relief clevelandshouted the words. "that’s time to burnâ€”we can be just about out of the galaxy in that…."he broke off at a yell from rodebush. "broadcast, spud, broadcast!" the physicisthad cried, as costigan’s image had disappeared
utterly from his plate. he cut off the boise’s power, stopping herinstantaneously in mid-space, but the connection had been broken. costigan could not possiblyhave heard the orders to change his beam signal to a broadcast, so that they could pick itup; nor would it have done any good if he had heard and had obeyed. so immeasurablygreat had been their velocity that they had flashed past the speedster and were now unknownthousandsâ€”or millionsâ€”of miles beyond the fugitives they had come so far to help;far beyond the range of any possible broadcast. but cleveland understood instantly what hadhappened. he now had a little data upon which to work, and his hands flew over the keysof the calculator.
"back blast, at maximum, seventeen seconds!"he directed crisply. "not exact, of course, but that will put us close enough so thatwe can find ’em with our detectors." for the calculated seventeen seconds the super-shipretraced her path, at the same awful speed with which she had come so far. the blastexpired and there, plainly limned upon the observation plates, was the nevian speedster. "as a computer, you’re good, cleve," rodebushapplauded. "so close that we can’t use the neutralizers to catch him. if we use one dyneof drive we’ll overshoot a million kilometers before i could snap the switch." "and yet he’s so far away and going so fastthat if we keep our inertia on it’ll take
all day at full blast to overtakeâ€”no, waita minuteâ€”we could never catch him." cleveland was puzzled. "what to do? shunt in a potentiometer?" "no, we don’t need it." rodebush turned tothe transmitter. "costigan! we are going to take hold of you with a very light tractorâ€”atracer, reallyâ€”and whatever you do, don’t cut it, or we can’t reach you in time. itmay look like a collision, but it won’t beâ€”we’ll just touch you, without even a jar." "a tractorâ€”inertialess?" cleveland wondered. "sure. why not?" rodebush set up the beamat its absolute minimum of power and threw in the switch.
while hundreds of thousands of miles separatedthe two vessels and the attractor was exerting the least effort of which it was capable,yet the super-ship leaped toward the smaller craft at a pace which covered the interveningdistance in almost no time at all. so rapidly were the objectives enlarging upon the platesthat the automatic focusing devices could scarcely function rapidly enough to keep themin place. cleveland flinched involuntarily and seized his arm-rests in a spasmodic clutchas he watched this, the first inertialess space-approach; and even rodebush, who knewbetter than anyone else what to expect, held his breath and swallowed hard at the unbelievablerate at which the two vessels were rushing together.
and if these two, who had rebuilt the super-ship,could hardly control themselves, what of the three in the speedster, who knew nothing whateverof the wonder-craft’s potentialities? clio, staring into the plate with costigan, utteredone piercing shriek as she sank her fingers into his shoulders. bradley swore a mightydeep-space oath and braced himself against certain annihilation. costigan stared foran instant, unable to believe his eyes; then, in spite of the warning, his hand darted towardthe studs which would cut the beam. too late. before his flying fingers could reach thebuttons the boise was upon them; had struck the speedster in direct central impact. movingat the full measure of her unthinkable velocity though the super-ship was in the instant ofimpact, yet the most delicate recording instruments
of the speedster could not detect the slightestshock as the enormous globe struck the comparatively tiny torpedo and clung to it; accommodatinginstantaneously and effortlessly her own terrific pace to that of the smaller and infinitelyslower craft. clio sobbed in relief and costigan, one arm around her, sighed hugely. "hey, you spacelugs!" he cried. "glad to seeyou, and all that, but you might as well kill a man outright as scare him to death! so that’sthe super-ship, huh? some ship!" "hi-ya, murf! hi, spud!" came from the speaker. "murf? spud? how come?" clio, practicallyrecovered now, glanced upward questioningly. it was plain that she did not quite know whetheror not to like the nicknames which the rescuers
were calling her conway. "my middle name is murphy, so they’ve calledme things like that ever since i was so high." costigan indicated a length of approximatelytwelve inches. "and now you’ll probably live long enoughâ€”i hopeâ€”to hear me called alot worse stuff than that." "don’t talk that wayâ€”we’re safe now, con… spud? it’s nice that they like you so muchâ€”but they would, of course." she snuggledeven closer, and both listened to what rodebush was saying. "… realize myself that it would look sobad; it scared me as much as it did anybody. yes, this is it. she really worksâ€”thanksmore than somewhat to conway costigan, by
the way. but you had better transfer. if you’llget your things…." "’things’ is good!" costigan laughed, andclio giggled sunnily. "we’ve made so many transfers already thatwhat you see is all we’ve got," bradley explained. "we’ll bring ourselves, and we’ll hurry. thatnevian is coming up fast." "is there anything on this ship you fellowswant?" costigan asked. "there may be, but we haven’t any locks bigenough to let her inside and we haven’t time to study her now. you might leave her controlsin neutral, so that we can calculate her position if we should want her later on." "all right." the three armor-clad figuresstepped into the boise’s open lock, the tractor
beam was cut off, and the speedster flashedaway from the now stationary super-ship. "better let formalities go for a while," captainbradley interrupted the general introductions taking place. "i was scared out of nine years’growth when i saw you coming at us, and maybe i’ve still got the humps; but that nevianis coming up fast, and if you don’t already know it i can tell you that she’s no lightcruiser." "that’s so, too," costigan agreed. "have youfellows got enough stuff so that you think you can take him? you’ve got the legs on him,anywayâ€”you can certainly run if you want to!" "run?" cleveland laughed. "we have a boneof our own to pick with that ship. we licked
her to a standstill once, until we burnedout a set of generators, and since we got them fixed we’ve been chasing her all overspace. we were chasing her when we picked up your call. see there? she’s doing the running." the nevian was running, in truth. her commanderhad seen and had recognized the great vessel which had flashed out of nowhere to the rescueof the three fugitives from nevia; and, having once been at grips with that vengeful super-dreadnaught,he had little stomach for another encounter. therefore his side-thrust was now being exertedin the opposite direction; he was frankly trying to put as much distance as possiblebetween himself and triplanetary’s formidable warship. in vain. a light tractor was clampedon and the boise flashed up to close range
before rodebush restored her inertia and clevelandbrought the two vessels relatively to rest by increasing gradually his tractor’s pull.and this time the nevian could not cut the tractor. again that shearing plane of forcebit into it and tore at it, but it neither yielded nor broke. the rebuilt generatorsof number four were designed to carry the load, and they carried it. and again triplanetary’severy mighty weapon was brought into play. the "cans" were thrown, ultra-and infra-beamswere driven, the furious macro-beam gnawed hungrily at the nevian’s defenses; and oneby one those defenses went down. in desperation the enemy commander threw his every generatorbehind a polycyclic screen; only to see cleveland’s even more powerful drill bore relentlesslythrough it. after that puncturing, the end
came soon. a secondary sx7 beam was now inplace on mighty ten’s inner rings, and one fierce blast blew a hole completely throughthe nevian cruiser. into that hole entered adlington’s terrific bombs and their gruesomefellows, and where they entered, life departed. all defenses vanished, and under the blastsof the boise’s batteries, now unopposed, the metal of the nevian vessel exploded into awidely spreading cloud of vapor. sparkling vapor, with perhaps here and there a dropletor two of material which had been only liquefied. so passed the sister-ship, and rodebush turnedhis plates upon the vessel of nerado. but that highly intelligent amphibian had seenall that had occurred. he had long since given over the pursuit of the speedster, and hedid not rush in to do hopeless battle beside
his fellow nevians against the tellurians.his analytical detectors had written down each detail of every weapon and of every screenemployed; and even while prodigious streamers of force were raving out from his vessel,braking her terrific progress and swinging her around in an immense circle back towardfar nevia, his scientists and mechanics were doubling and redoubling the power of his alreadytitanic installations, to match and if possible to overmatch those of triplanetary’s super-dreadnaught. "do we kill him now or do we let him suffera while longer?" costigan demanded. "i don’t think so, yet," rodebush replied."would you, cleve?" "not yet," said cleveland, grimly, readingthe other’s thought and agreeing with it.
"let him pilot us to nevia; we might not beable to find it without a guide. while we’re at it we want to so pulverize that crowd thatif they never come near the solarian system again they’ll think it’s twenty minutes toosoon." thus it was that the boise, increasing herfew dynes of driving force at a rate just sufficient to match her quarry’s acceleration,pursued the nevian ship. apparently exerting every effort, she never came quite withinrange of the fleeing raider; yet never was she so far behind that the nevian space-shipwas not in clear register upon her observation nor was nerado alone in strengthening hisvessel. costigan knew well and respected highly the nevian scientist-captain, and at his suggestionmuch time was spent in reenforcing the super-ship’s
armament to the iron-driven limit of theoreticaland mechanical possibility. in mid-space, however, the nevian slowed down. "what gives?" rodebush demanded of the groupat large. "not turn-over time already, is it?" "no." cleveland shook his head. "not for atleast a day yet." "cooking up something on nevia, is my guess,"costigan put in. "if i know that lizard at all, he wired aheadâ€”specifications for thewelcoming committee. we’re getting there too fast, so he’s stalling. check?" "check." rodebush agreed. "but there’s nouse of us waiting, if you’re sure you know
which one of those stars up ahead is nevia.do you, cleve?" "definitely." "the only other thing is, then, shall we blowthem out of the ether first?" "you might try," costigan remarked. "thatis, if you’re damned sure that you can run if you have to." "huh? run?" demanded rodebush. "just that. it’s spelled r-u-n, run. i knowthose freaks better than you do. believe me, fritz, they’ve got what it takes." "could be, at that," rodebush admitted. "we’llplay it safe."
the boise leaped upon the nevian, every weaponaflame. but, as costigan had expected, nerado’s vessel was completely ready for any emergency.and, unlike her sister-ship, she was manned by scientists well versed in the fundamentaltheory of the weapons with which they fought. beams, rods, and lances of energy flamed andflared; planes and pencils cut, slashed, and stabbed; defensive screens glowed redly orflashed suddenly into intensely brilliant, coruscating incandescence. crimson opacitystruggled sullenly against violet curtain of annihilation. material projectiles andtorpedoes were launched under full beam control; only to be exploded harmlessly in mid-space,to be blasted into nothingness, or to disappear innocuously against impenetrable polycyclicscreens. even cleveland’s drill was ineffective.
both vessels were equipped completely withiron-driven mechanisms; both were manned by scientists capable of wringing the highestpossible measure of power from their installations. neither could harm the other. the boise flashed away; reached nevia in minutes.down into the crimson atmosphere she dropped, down toward the city which costigan knew wasnerado’s home port. "hold up a bit!" costigan cautioned, sharply."there’s something down there that i don’t like!" as he spoke there shot upward from the citya multitude of flashing balls. the nevians had mastered the secret of the explosive ofthe fishes of the greater deeps, and were
launching it in a veritable storm againstthe tellurian visitor. "those?" asked rodebush, calmly. the detonatingballs of destruction were literally annihilating even the atmosphere beyond the polycyclicscreen, but that barrier was scarcely affected. "no. that." costigan pointed out a hemisphericaldome which, redly translucent, surrounded a group of buildings towering high above theirneighbors. "neither those high towers nor those screens were there the last time i wasin this town. nerado was stalling for time, and that’s what they’re doing down thereâ€”that’sall those fire-balls are for. good sign, tooâ€”they aren’t ready for us yet. we’d better take’em while the taking’s good. if they were ready for us, our play would be to get outof here while we’re all in one piece."
nerado had been in touch with the scientistsof his city; he had been instructing them in the construction of converters and generatorsof such weight and power that they could crush even the defenses of the super-ship. the mechanismswere not, however, ready; the entirely unsuspected possibilities of speed inherent in absoluteinertialessness had not entered into nerado’s calculations. "better drop a few cans down onto that dome,fellows," rodebush suggested to his gunners. "we can’t," came adlington’s instant reply."no use trying itâ€”that’s a polycyclic screen. can you drill it? if you can, i’ve got a realbomb hereâ€”that special we builtâ€”that will do the trick if you can protect it from themuntil it gets down into the water."
"i’ll try it," cleveland answered, at a nodfrom the physicist. "i couldn’t drill nerado’s polycyclics, but i couldn’t use any momentumon him. couldn’t ram himâ€”he fell back with my thrust. but that screen down there can’tback away from us, so maybe i can work on it. get your special ready. hang on, everybody!" the boise looped upward, and from an altitudeof miles dove straight down through a storm of force-balls, beams, and shells; a divechecked abruptly as the hollow tube of energy which was cleveland’s drill snarled savagelydown ahead of her and struck the shielding hemisphere with a grinding, lightning-spittingshock. as it struck, backed by all the enormous momentum of the plunging space-ship and drivenby the full power of her prodigious generators
it bored in, clawing and gouging viciouslythrough the tissues of that rigid and unyielding barrier of pure energy. then, mighty drilland plunging mass against iron-driven wall, eye-tearing and furiously spectacular warfarewas waged. well it was for triplanetary that day thatits super-ship carried ample supplies of allotropic iron; well it was that her originally gargantuanconverters and generators had been doubled and quadrupled in power on the long nevianway! for that ocean-girdled fortress was powered to withstand any conceivable assaultâ€”butthe boise’s power and momentum were now inconceivable; and every watt and every dyne was solidlybehind that hellishly flaming, that voraciously tearing, that irresistibly ravening cylinderof energy incredible!
through the nevian shield that cylinder gnawedits frightful way, and down its protecting length there drove adlington’s "special" bomb."special" it was indeed; so great of girth that it could barely pass through the centralorifice of ten’s mighty projector, so heavily charged with sensitized atomic iron that itsdetonation upon any planet would not have been considered for an instant if that planet’sintegrity meant anything to its attackers. down the shielding pipe of force the "special"screamed under full propulsion, and beneath the surface of nevia’s ocean it plunged. "cut!" yelled adlington, and as the scintillatingdrill expired the bomber pressed his detonating switch.
for moments the effect of the explosion seemedunimportant. a dull, low rumble was all that was to be heard of a concussion that jarredred nevia to her very center; and all that could be seen was a slow heaving of the water.but that heaving did not cease. slowly, so slowly it seemed to the observers now highin the heavens, the waters rose up and parted; revealing a vast chasm blown deep into theocean’s rocky bed. higher and higher the lazy mountains of water reared; effortlessly topick up, to smash, to grind into fragments, and finally to toss aside every building,every structure, every scrap of material substance pertaining to the whole nevian city. flattened out, driven backward for miles,the buffeted waters were pressed, leaving
exposed bare ground and broken rock whereonce had been the ocean’s busy floor. tremendous blasts of incandescent gas raved upward, jarringeven the enormous mass of the super-ship poised so high above the site of the explosion. thenthe displaced millions of tons of water rushed to make even more complete the already totaldestruction of the city. the raging torrents poured into that yawning cavern, filled it,and piled mountainously above it; receding and piling up, again and again; causing tidalwaves which swept a full half of nevia’s mighty, watery globe. that city was silencedâ€”forever. "my … god!" cleveland was the first to breakthe awed, the stunned, silence. he licked his lips. "but we had it to do … and atthat, it’s not as bad as what they did to
pittsburghâ€”they would have evacuated allexcept military personnel." "of course … what next?" asked rodebush."look around, i suppose, to see if they have any more…." "oh, no, conwayâ€”no! don’t let them!" cliowas sobbing openly. "i’m going to my room and crawl under the bedâ€”i’ll see that sightall the rest of my life!" "steady, clio." costigan’s arm tightened aroundher. "we’ll have to look, but we won’t find any more. oneâ€”if they could have finisheditâ€”would have been enough." again and again the boise circled the world.no more super-powered installations were being built. and, surprisingly enough, the neviansmade no demonstration of hostility.
"i wonder why?" rodebush mused. "of course,we aren’t attacking them, either, but you’d think … do you suppose that they are waitingfor nerado?" "probably." costigan paused in thought. "we’dbetter wait for him, too. we can’t leave things this way." "but if we can’t force engagement … a stalemate…."cleveland’s voice was troubled. "we’ll do something!" costigan declared. "thisthing has got to be settled, some way or other, before we leave here. first, try talking.i’ve got an idea that … anyway, it can’t do any harm, and i know that he can hear andunderstand you." nerado arrived. instead of attacking, hisship hung quietly poised, a mile or two away
from the equally undemonstrative boise. rodebushdirected a beam. "captain nerado, i am rodebush of triplanetary.what do you wish to do about this situation?" "i wish to talk to you." the nevian’s voicecame clearly from the speaker. "you are, i now perceive, a much higher form of life thanany of us had thought possible; a form perhaps as high in evolution as our own. it is a pitythat we did not take the time for a full meeting of minds when we first neared your planet,so that much life, both tellurian and nevian, might have been spared. but what is past cannotbe recalled. as reasoning beings, however, you will see the futility of continuing acombat in which neither is capable of winning victory over the other. you may, of course,destroy more of our nevian cities, in which
case i should be compelled to go and destroysimilarly upon your earth; but, to reasoning minds, such a course would be sheerest stupidity." rodebush cut the communicator beam. "does he mean it?" he demanded of costigan."it sounds perfectly reasonable, but…." "but fishy!" cleveland broke in. "altogethertoo reasonable to be true!" "he means it. he means every word of it,"costigan assured his fellows. "i had an idea that he would take it that way. that’s theway they are. reasonable; passionless. funnyâ€”they lack a lot of things that we have; but they’vegot stuff that i wish more of us tellurians had, too. give me the plateâ€”i’ll talk fortriplanetary," and the beam was restored.
"captain nerado," he greeted the nevian commander."having been with you and among your people, i know that you mean what you say and thatyou speak for your race. similarly, i believe that i can speak for the triplanetary councilâ€”thegoverning body of three of the planets of our solar systemâ€”in saying that there isno need for any more conflict between our peoples. i also was compelled by circumstancesto do certain things which i now wish could be undone; but as you have said, the pastis past. our two races have much to gain from each other by friendly exchanges of materialsand of ideas, while we can expect nothing except mutual extermination if we elect tocontinue this warfare. i offer you the friendship of triplanetary. will you release your screensand come aboard to sign a treaty?"
"my screens are down. i will come." rodebushlikewise cut off his power, although somewhat apprehensively, and a nevian lifeboat enteredthe main airlock of the boise. then, at a table in the control room of triplanetary’sfirst super-ship, there was written the first inter-systemic treaty. upon one side werethe three nevians; amphibious, cone-headed, loop-necked, scaly, four-legged things tous monstrosities: upon the other were human beings; air-breathing, round-headed, short-necked,smooth-bodied, two-legged creatures equally monstrous to the fastidious nevians. yet eachof these representatives of two races so different felt respect for the other race increase withinhim minute by minute as the conversation went on.
the nevians had destroyed pittsburgh, butadlington’s bomb had blown an important nevian city completely out of existence. one nevianvessel had wiped out a triplanetarian fleet; but costigan had depopulated one nevian city,had seriously damaged another, and had beamed down many nevian ships. therefore loss oflife and material damage could be balanced off. the solarian system was rich in iron,to which the nevians were welcome; red nevia possessed abundant stores of substances whichupon earth were either rare or of vital importance, or both. therefore commerce was to be encouraged.the nevians had knowledges and skills unknown to earthly science, but were entirely ignorantof many things commonplace to us. therefore interchange of students and of books was highlydesirable. and so on.
thus was signed the triplanetario-nevian treatyof eternal peace. nerado and his two companions were escorted ceremoniously to their vessel,and the boise took off inertialess for earth, bearing the good news that the nevian menacewas no more. clio, now a hardened spacehound, immune evento the horrible nausea of inertialessness, wriggled lithely in the curve of costigan’sarm and laughed up at him. "you can talk all you want to, conway murphyspud costigan, but i don’t like them the least little bit. they give me goose-bumps all over.i suppose that they are really estimable folks; talented, cultured, and everything; but justthe same i’ll bet that it will be a long, long time before anybody on earth will really,truly like them!"