The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 112
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Vera grimaced. "But we've got to do something," she said. "We can't even make them disappear at all, any more. And it's becoming a full time job just to keep them outside the walls."
"And sooner or later," interjected Lazar, "we're not going to be strong enough to keep them out...."
"The snake! The snake!" screamed Marsha. "It's coming in again!"
The huge black head was already through a portal.
"Stop the snake, everyone!" yelled Brunei. Eyes were riveted on the ugly serpent, in intense concentration.
After five minutes, it was obviously a stalemate. The snake had not been able to advance, nor could the humans force it to retreat.
Then smoke began to rise behind the far wall.
"The dragon's burning down the wall!" shrieked Lazar. "Stop him!"
They concentrated on the dragon. The smoke disappeared.
But the snake began to advance again.
"They're too strong!" moaned Brunei. "We can't hold them back."
They stopped the snake for a few moments, but the smoke began to billow again.
"They're gonna break through!" screamed Donner. "We can't stop 'em!"
"What are we gonna do?"
Creakings, cracklings, groanings, as the walls began to crack and blister and shake.
Suddenly Bram Daker stood up, his dark eyes aflame.
"Only one thing's strong enough!" he bellowed. "Earth! Earth! EARTH! Think of Earth! All of you! We're back on Earth. Visualize it, make it real, and the monsters'll have to disappear."
"But where on Earth?" said Vera, bewildered.
"The s.p.a.ceport!" shouted Brunei. "The s.p.a.ceport! We all remember the s.p.a.ceport."
"We're back on Earth! The s.p.a.ceport!"
The garden was beginning to flicker. It became red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, invisible; then back again through the spectrum the other way-violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, invisible.
Back and forth, like a pendulum through the spectrum....
Oliver Brunei's head hurt unbearably, he could see the pain on the other faces, but he allowed only one thought to fill his being-Earth! The s.p.a.ceport! EARTH!
More and more, faster and faster, the garden flickered, and now it was the old common room again, and that was flickering.
Light was flickering, mind was flickering, time, too, seemed to flicker....
Only Earth! thought Brunei. Earth doesn't flicker, the s.p.a.ceport doesn't flicker.
Now all the flickerings, of color, time, mind and dimensions, were coalescing into one gigantic vortex, that was a thing neither of time, nor s.p.a.ce, nor mind, but all three somehow fused into one....
They're screaming! Brunei thought. Listen to the horrible screams! Suddenly he noticed that he, too, was screaming.
The vortex was growing, swirling, undulating, and it, too, began to flicker....
There was an unbearable, impossible pain, and....
The sight of stars.h.i.+p Number Thirteen suddenly appearing out of nowhere, and sitting itself calmly down in the middle of the s.p.a.ceport was somewhat disconcerting to the s.p.a.ceport officials. Especially since at the very moment it appeared, and even afterward, they continued to have visual and laser contact with its image, over three light-months from Earth.
However, the Solar Government itself was much more pragmatic. One instant, stars.h.i.+p Thirteen had been light-months from Earth, the next it was sitting in the s.p.a.ceport. Therefore, stars.h.i.+p Thirteen had exceeded the speed of light somehow. Therefore, it was possible to exceed the speed of light, and a thorough examination of the s.h.i.+p and its contents would show how.
Therefore.... You idiots, throw a security cordon around that s.h.i.+p!
In such matters, the long-conditioned reflexes of the Solar Government worked marvelously. Before the air-waves had cooled, two hundred heavily armed soldiers had surrounded the s.h.i.+p.
Two hours later, the Solar co-ordinator was on the scene, with ten Orders of Sol to present to the returning heroes, and a large well-armored vehicle to convey them to laboratories, where they would be gone over with the proverbial fine-tooth comb.
An honor guard of two hundred men standing at attention made a pathway from the s.h.i.+p's main hatch to the armored carrier, in front of which stood the Solar Co-ordinator, with his ten medals.
They opened the hatch.
One, two, five, seven, ten dazed and bewildered "heroes" staggered past the honor guard, to face the Co-ordinator.
He opened his mouth to begin his welcoming speech, and start the five years of questioning and experiments which would eventually kill five of the crew and give Man the secret of faster-than-light drive.
But instead of speaking, he screamed.
So did two hundred heavily armed soldiers.
Because, out of stars.h.i.+p Thirteen's main hatch sauntered a twelve-foot green dragon, followed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a pterodactyl, a vampire bat with a five-foot wingspan, an old-fas.h.i.+oned red, spade-tailed demon, and finally, big as a horse's, the pop-eyed head of an enormous black serpent....
IN THE ORBIT OF SATURN.
By R. F. Starzl
The Celestia, gliding through s.p.a.ce toward t.i.tan, major satellite of Saturn, faltered in her course. Her pa.s.sengers, mostly mining engineers and their wives, stockholders, and a sprinkling of visitors, were aware of a cessation of the heavens' apparent gyrations, due to the halting of the s.h.i.+p's rotation on its axis. At the same time the s.h.i.+p's fict.i.tious gravity, engendered by the centrifugal force of its rotation, ceased, so that pa.s.sengers, most of whom were a.s.sembled in the main salon, which occupied the entire mids.h.i.+p section, drifted away from the curved floor, whose contour followed that of the outer skin, to flounder in helpless confusion.
A woman screamed. A rasping sound, as of metal sc.r.a.ping against the hull, came from one point in the circ.u.mference, and here the portholes were obscured by a dark ma.s.s that blotted out the stars.
An old man, clinging to a luxuriously upholstered chair, and pale with fright, cried: "It's those d.a.m.ned pirates. If they find out who I am it'll break the company to ransom me."
"If the company thinks it worth while to ransom you," retorted his youngish, saturnine companion, who seemed less scared than annoyed.
Questions darted back and forth. No word came from the control room forward, and little of what transpired outside could be seen through the thick gla.s.s ports. The pirate s.h.i.+p loomed over them like a monstrous leech, its bolts sharply etched in black and white by the sunlight from their stern. Beyond that was only the velvety darkness--the absolute vacuity of s.p.a.ce that carries no sound, refracts no light. A battle was raging out there, but of that nothing could be seen or heard in the salon. Only a dull, booming vibration through the flyer's hull, made by the rockets in a useless effort to shake off their captor.
Of all the pa.s.sengers, none understood the situation as well as Quirl Finner. In imagination he followed the desperate struggle that was going on out there, for the men who were selling their lives were his companions in arms, the s.h.i.+p's guard of the redoubtable I.F.P., the Interplanetary Flying Police who carried the law of white men to the outermost orbit of the solar system.
Quirl bristled, but he maintained his pose of indifference--of the sightseeing pa.s.senger who depended blindly on the s.h.i.+p's crew for his own safety. In appearance he might easily have been the pampered son of some millionaire that he impersonated. His close-fitting silken tunic of blue, with its bright yellow roll-collar, the turban of fine yellow lace, the close-fitting trousers that showed his lithe yet powerfully molded legs, the thin-soled low boots--all proclaimed him the typical time-killing dandy of the times. His superb proportions made him look smaller, lighter than he really was, and his lean features, which under the I.F.P. skullcap would have looked hawk-like, were sufficiently like the patrician fineness of the character part he was playing. Young men of means in the year 2159 were by no means without their good points. They indulged in athletic sports to counteract the softening influence of idleness, and so Quirl Finner had no misgivings about the success of his disguise.
Yet he could not refrain from listening intently for every sound that penetrated the hull. His part was to be captured by the pirate, who had been named "The Solar Scourge" by sensational newscasters, and to learn all he could, and eventually to be ransomed by a "wealthy father" with his priceless information. So he waited, chafing, while men he knew, men who had faced the perils of s.p.a.ce with him, met their death.
After a time there came the sudden crackling of the air-tight bulkhead which separated the salon from the forward sections. Quirl knew what this meant. The pirates had succeeded in breaching a hole through the s.h.i.+p's skin, and the air of the forward section had rushed into s.p.a.ce. It was sickening to think of those brave men up there caught in the suddenly formed vacuum. Long before the bulkhead had ceased crackling he knew they were dead, and that the pirate crew had entered, wearing vacuum suits, and was even then replenis.h.i.+ng the air so the pa.s.sengers could be taken alive.
They had been in the prison hold of the pirate s.h.i.+p for five days, terrestrial time. This was nothing like the s.p.a.cious quarters they had occupied before. A cross-section of their prison would have looked like a wedge with a quarter circle for its blunt end. The curved wall of the great cylindrical projectile, nearly a hundred feet in diameter, was their floor, on which they could walk like flies on the inside of a wheel rim. The walls of the room, on two sides, converged toward the top, until they joined the sides of a well-like tunnel that ran from the nose of the s.h.i.+p to its tail, where the rocket nozzles were. A door pierced the tunnel side, and under this door was a metal platform, from which one could either climb into the pa.s.sage or down a ladder into the hold. A pirate guard held this platform, from where he could peer over the top of a curtain which gave scant privacy to the men and women prisoners on either side of it.
On the floor-plates, without even the meager comfort of the dried Martian weeds that had been given to the women, sat or lay the men. They showed their dejection, their faces covered with new growths of beard, their clothes crumpled and torn. The only furniture consisted of a long, light metal table on the women's side, securely bolted to the floor. The prisoners were obliged to stand at this when eating their meals. The whole cheerless scene was coldly illuminated by a single light-emanating disk just under the guard's platform.
Steps echoed hollowly metallic from above. Quirl wondered if it was already time for the galley boy to bring the immense bowl of hot stew for the noon meal.
It was not. It was Moby Gore, the huge and overbearing first mate of the pirates on his daily mission of inspection and prisoner baiting. Quirl crept further into his corner. It would be fatal to his plan for him to attract the attention of this petty tyrant. It was hard enough to keep away from him--to crush back the almost overwhelming desire to fly at him, fists hammering.
Gore came down the ladder deliberately, pausing on the lower steps to look around with his little, pig's eyes. His head was set well forward on his thick, muscular neck, so that he had to look out from under his beetling brows in a manner peculiarly ape-like. His heavy face was smooth-shaven, and his blue-black jowls and chin looked painfully smooth. His coa.r.s.e, black hair was brushed back and plastered firmly to his bullet head.
His body was heavy, but moved with deadly smoothness and precision. The customary harness which pa.s.sed around his naked torso supported a double-barreled ironizing electrocution pistol, and also a short, savagely k.n.o.bbed riot club. Depending from the belt at his waist were short pants, which displayed the thick, hairy legs with their cable-like muscles. On his feet were thick socks, so that his toes were able to curl around the rungs of the ladder.
Satisfied with his quick, darting inspection, Gore now came all the way down. At the foot of the ladder lay an elderly man in the oblivion of sleep. Gore's foot came down on the thin chest. With savage pleasure he bore down, so that the old man's startled squawk ended in a fit of coughing. Gore cuffed him aside roughly, growling: "Old squiffer! Let that learn you to sleep out of the way!" He laughed coa.r.s.ely when one of the prisoners, with the temerity of anonymity, started to boo, but received no support.
Carelessly Gore pa.s.sed among the prisoners. Here and there he halted, s.n.a.t.c.hing some article of finery or inconspicuous bit of jewelry that he had overlooked before. They shrank from him, only too glad to see him pa.s.s on to the next unfortunate.
"You, there!" Gore rasped, indicating Quirl with his stubby forefinger. "Come on out o' there, you!"
Quirl hoped that the brutal mate would not hear the thudding of his beating heart, or that if he did, he would take it for fear. He came slowly toward Gore, who was greedily eyeing the young man's brightly colored and valuable tunic. Quirl came too slowly.
"What do you take me for?" Gore bellowed in unreasonable anger. He strode forward, the prisoners scattering before him. His large, knotty hand closed on Quirl's arm, and jerked, with the intention of whirling this reluctant prisoner across the room. But Quirl was heavier, and his arm harder, than Gore had supposed. The hand came away, and with a tearing scream, the beautiful silk garment ripped off, ruined, disclosing Quirl's white and well-knit body.
"You done that a-purpose!" Gore roared, and then his great ape's arms were around Quirl, trying to break his back.
But that seemingly slight body would not bend, and, as much as Gore might tug and heave, he could not force Quirl back. The little pig-eyes glared, and there was death in them. Suddenly Gore let go. His hand leaped to the short club at his side, and he swung the weapon in a vicious arc. Quirl's relaxed forearm met it, sapping most of its force. Yet when it struck his head it seemed to burst like a ball of fire. He crashed against the wall and sank to the floor only half conscious.
"Gore! Gore!" yelled the guard from the platform, "'member how sore the Old Man was about the last terrie you killed? Better lay off."
"Shut yo'r d.a.m.ned mug!" Gore yelled back. But he gave up his idea of kicking the prisoner, and with a menacing glare for the guard, pa.s.sed on.
As Quirl's mind slowly cleared he congratulated himself for his repression. During his struggle with Gore his hand had come in contact with the b.u.t.t of the mate's electrogun. He could easily have pulled it out of its holster and turned it against its owner. But this hasty action would not only have a.s.sured his own death, but would have destroyed the only chance the I.F.P. had of learning "The Scourge's" secrets.
Gore slowly worked his way to the women's side of the hold. Here, much to the amus.e.m.e.nt of the guard and himself, he began stripping off their long, flowing robes, disclosing their nude bodies. He seemed to see particular humor to heaping indignity on the older women, commenting coa.r.s.ely on their shortcomings. The men viewed this with set, pale faces. But none dared to interfere. In their midst was an object lesson, his head swathed in bandages. He had been the first to resent this exhibition, an almost daily event, when the mate's roving eye had happened to alight upon his wife.
All at once Gore's careless and derogatory progress was halted, and he stared with terrifying intentness at the girl who had until that day managed to escape his notice. Gore had torn off a nondescript black cape that had covered her head and face, and the golden silk robe she wore. To Quirl, watching from a s.p.a.ce of some sixty feet, her beauty came like a shock. He remembered her as Lenore Hyde, whom he had seen only once before as she emerged briefly from her stateroom.
About five feet, six inches tall, her slim figure was dwarfed by the huge bulk of the mate. Her golden hair tumbled over her slim shoulders, almost to her waist, where a ta.s.seled cord held the clinging silk close to her. Her face, so white that it seemed like silver in that gorgeous setting, was cold and defiant. There was no fear in those deep blue eyes under the straight brows--only loathing and contempt.
Gore was not concerned with the personal feelings of his prize. He licked his wide, cruel lips, seizing the girl's arms as in a vise. His other big, dirty hand slipped into the collar of her robe.
But the ripping of fabric did not come. Instead there was a sharp crack, and Gore, too surprised even to move, stared at the little man who had hit him.
Again crack! The impact of fist on jaw. The blow was too weak to hurt this toughened veteran of countless battles. But slowly a tide of dull red welled up over the bull neck, turning the blue-black jowls to purple, and the walls echoed to Gore's roar of anger.
Again the fists of the smaller man smacked, this time drawing a trickle of blood from Gore's mouth. Then the thick fingers closed on the brave pa.s.senger's wrist, and the tremendous muscles swelled as, with a quick movement, Gore thrust his adversary back of him, grasping the other wrist also. Then with slow, irresistible motion, he began drawing the thin arms forward, stretching them, until the unfortunate man, drawn against the barrier of Gore's back, began to shriek with pain.
Still Gore pulled, grinning evilly, and his victim's shoulder blades lifted under the tight skin of his back as they took the strain. Shriek followed shriek, until the guard on the platform glanced furtively out into the central well. There came a dry, tearing crackle as the bones of the arms were drawn out of their sockets, and then the shrieks ceased as merciful unconsciousness came. Gore tossed the limp body carelessly away.
"The beast!" Quirl gritted his teeth. But he stayed where he was, hiding his clenched fist, for his was a specific a.s.signment, and men of the I.F.P. know the meaning of the word "duty."
In a better humor again, Gore looked around.
"Come on, you little ginny!" he chortled. "I see you! Come to Moby, my beauty. You'll be queen of the hold, and this scurvy litter will kiss your feet every day."
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 112
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 112 summary
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